The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/11/14

Guests: Chris Murphy, Kevin Eckstrom

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Sources now tell NBC News that President Obama has nominated to be the new attorney general of the United States, Loretta Lynch, federal prosecutor, she will not get a confirmation vote any time soon. The democrats control the Senate right now. Democrats will continue to control the Senate through the lame duck period until the new Congress is sworn in January under the rules of the Senate right now. Anybody short of a Supreme Court Justice can be confirmed with a simple majority vote in the Senate. Democrats have a majority. There is no known democratic opposition to Loretta Lynch becoming the democratic attorney general. So if the democrats put her up now for confirmation, she would be confirmed, in all likelihood as attorney general of the United States. But apparently, they`re not going to do it. A top-ranking democratic Senate aide telling NBC News today that they will not put Loretta Lynch`s confirmation up for a vote during the lame duck session because, according to the democrats, there just isn`t enough time. The lame duck session is short. They say it`s a lot of work to confirm somebody and so they don`t plan on doing it. They don`t even plan on trying to do it. That puts the confirmation of President Obama`s attorney general nomination in the hands of this nice man, Kentucky republican Senator Mitch McConnell who will take over control of the United States Senate in January. Who here thinks it bodes well to President Obama`s nominees to help Mitch McConnell in charge of whether or not they get confirm now? Raise your hands. I can`t see your hands. Everybody who thinks that Mitch McConnell in the republicans are going to happily confirm President Obama`s nominees, especially for really high profile, really controversial jobs. Raise -- I can`t see any, raise your hands up higher. I can`t sigh see any of your hands at all. Anybody? But that is apparently what democrats are going to do to Loretta Lynch and to this nomination for attorney general. They`re going to hand it over to Mitch McConnell. Let him do it. Because as they say, there`s no time to do it in the meantime. Can`t possibly be done. The lame duck session is very, very, very busy. For example, when Congress comes back tomorrow for day one of the lame duck session, the House put out this very imposing document about what they`re going to be taking on in the lame duck. As you can see, there`s the Clifford P. Hansen Federal Courthouse Conveyance Act. There`s something Darrell Issa wants to do which is called the government reports elimination act. There`s also, how could I forget, reauthorizing the national estuary programs. Now, I bow to no one in my appreciation for our nation`s estuaries. But this is not actually a chop a block schedule. This is not actually them running full out. Can`t squeeze in another vote. We know it`s important, but there`s just no time. And it`s not like the democrats don`t realize how much time really is available in a lame duck session. And how much you can get done if you try. After the first midterms in the 2010 elections, the democrats lost a chunk of their majority in the Senate, they lost control of the House to the republicans in those 2010 midterms. But, after that midterm election in 2010, they came back for the lame duck session. And frankly, nobody thought they were going to get anything done. But they ran that short little lame duck session to Congress like a whirl wind. They got more done in that lame duck session than anybody would have guessed or anybody would have believed. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: The President thinks that funding the government, passing unemployment insurance extensions, don`t ask don`t tell repeal, the dream act, tax cuts and stark all can be done in the next -- ROBERT GIBBS, POLITICAL ADVISOR: Yes. TAPPER: Good luck. GIBBS: Well, thank you. Again, you`ll have a lot to cover. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: He did have a lot to cover. We all had a lot to cover. The list of stuff that they passed in that lame duck session after the last midterm in 2010, didn`t exactly match what that reporter Jake Tapper put to Robert Gibbs that day at the White House. But the list of stuff they did pass is actually longer and even more unbelievable. They kept that lame duck session going for 18 days but for 26 days, and over the course of those 26 days, they passed a tax cut compromise, imagine that, they extended unemployment insurance. They repealed don`t ask, don`t tell. That was during the lame duck act. On the same day, the President signed the don`t ask, don`t tell repeal sent to him by the lame duck Congress. That same lame duck Congress, ratified the START treaty, the nuclear treaty with Russia, and still that same day, Congress passed a bill providing health coverage for the 9?11 first responders. Plus, they passed a big, broad, new food safety bill, landmark food safety bill. And to put a cherry on top, they also found time to impeach a federal judge. So to have the same Democratic Party come back after the next midterm and say, you know, there isn`t really time to do anything in the lame duck this year, maybe the estuary thing, that`s probably all though. Probably all we have time for. I mean, really? What about 1998? That was the republicans that time. They came back after that election and decided to handle the tiny little procedural matter of impeaching the president of the United States. After that, the midterms, the republicans came back and did that in the lame duck session. But not before their House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned, and not before the guy who was supposed to replace Newt Gingrich as house speaker, he resigned too. All in the lame duck session. All in very, very, very dramatic fashion. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. BOB LIVINGSTON (R-LA), SPEAKER-ELECT: I will vote to impeach the president of the United States. And I ask that this case be considered by the United States Senate and that other body of this great Congress uphold their responsibility to render justice on these most serious charges. But to the President, I would say, sir, you have done great damage to this nation over this past year. And while your defenders are contending that further impeachment proceedings would only protract and exacerbate the damage to this country. I say that you have the power to terminate that damage and heal the wounds that you have created. You, sir, may resign your post. The House will be in order. And -- And -- the House will be in order. And I can only challenge you in such fashion if I am willing to heed my own words. To my colleagues, my friends and most especially my wife and family, I have hurt you all deeply and I beg your forgiveness. I was prepared to lead our narrow majority speaker and I believe I had in me to do a fine job. But I cannot do that job. Or be the kind of leader that I would like to be under current circumstances. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And so he resigned. So, that was a rather jam-packed lame duck session. House republicans forcing through the impeachment of President Clinton, House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigning. The guy set-up to replace him. I mean, Newt Gingrich resigned in the midst of those historical election losses that the republican suffered that year. And he had this huge ethics problems looming over him, as well. He resigned as House speaker after those elections. The new guy who was going to be the new house speaker, Bob Livingston, he resigns, as well, in a surprise announcement on the floor of the House confessing to his own sexual misconduct and he resigns right then and there after calling for the President`s resignation. At that point, they had to find another house speaker. Denny Hastert? Who`s he? Hey, Denny, you`re the new speaker. Guess what. Stuff happens in lame duck sessions. It`s a will session of Congress. I mean, estuary bills gets reauthorized, right? But bit stuff happens too. And they`re talking about now, oh, there`s only 15 days in the lame duck session before the end of the year. Only working days, 15 working days for this Congress? That`s like half their workdays for the whole year. And yes, that is kind of hyperbole, but not that much hyperbole. They don`t work at all. They`re going to work for 15 more days, they could move mountains compared to what they`ve been doing. For whatever reason, though, democrats in the Senate have decided that this lame duck session, while they are in charge of the Senate and the Senate has some stuff to do, they will not even try. Top of the list, they will not even try to get President Obama`s attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch confirmed while they have the power to do so. There have been as yet, no substantive objections raised to the Loretta Lynch nomination by anyone. But democrats not pushing the vote will give republicans plenty of time to come up with something. Republicans, of course, have been insisting on this. Republicans have been insisting ever since President Obama nominated Loretta Lynch that she not get a vote until they are in control of the Senate. Naturally, they don`t want anything to happen until they`re in control. But democrats don`t have to agree to that just because republicans are asking for it. I mean, democrats could listen politely, hear those republican demands say, no, and then hold the confirmation hearings on Loretta Lynch, confirm her as attorney general and she would become attorney general. That`s within their power to do. But they`re not. So, instead, who knows? Who knows what becomes of that nomination. Who knows what happens next. The republicans start off with a win before they`re even in power. And the Loretta Lynch nomination is not the only substantive matter that`s out there pending right now. Today, as you know, is the 11th day of November. Which means that in much of the western world today is Armistice Day putting that marks the end of fighting in World War I. We celebrated in this country, and I do mean celebrate it, as Veterans Day. Memorial Day is the more somber day holiday. Right? Memorial Day is that day that we honor people who have given their lives serving this country. Veterans Day is the day that we honor and recognize and say thank you to, and, yes, celebrate, everybody who has served their country. This is the day that we celebrate every veteran. It is a celebratory holiday. Tonight, there`s a big concert on the national mall in Washington which is a celebration of the troops and a salute to the troops and veterans. Lots of restaurants and businesses today get free stuff to anybody who can prove their veteran. Veterans today can get free pancakes at IHOPs and a free coffee at Starbucks, and visit to the buffet at golden corral. Veterans Day is a day to celebrate and honor and thank everybody who has served. Vice President Joe Biden today was at Arlington National Cemetery for Veterans Day and he spoke in moving terms about both veterans and military families. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VICE PRES. JOE BIDEN (D), UNITED STATES: The English poet John Milton once wrote they also serve who only stand and wait. They also serve who only stand and wait. When our son Bo, a major in the Delaware National Guard was deployed to Iraq for a year, my wife, who is a professor, would leave early for school and I`d get up and I`d walk into this little kitchen in the vice president`s home. And, without fail, I`d see her standing over the sink with a cup of coffee in her hand mouthing a prayer that the wife of the adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard gave her. You`ve all done that. You spouses. You moms. You dads. You children. When they were deployed, there wasn`t three hours that went by that they didn`t cross your mind. You all know what it`s like. And we owe you. We owe you as much as we owe your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives. As every adversary in every age who has ever come up against you has learned. American warriors never bend, never break, and never ever, ever yield. (APPLAUSE) And that`s why, as I tell every foreign leader I encounter, there`s never ever been a good bet to bet against the United States of America because we have you. God bless you all. And may God protect our troops. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Vice President Joe Biden speaking on the occasion of Veterans Day today at Arlington, Arlington National Cemetery. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is the first enlisted combat veteran in the first Vietnam veteran to serve as defense secretary in our country. And Secretary Hagel spoke today at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Secretary Hagel`s remarks were shorter and sort of more to the point, as he always is. But they did make a very, very timely point at the end. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The wall reminds us to be honest in our telling of history. There`s nothing to be gained by glossing over the darker portions of war, the Vietnam War that bitterly divided Americans. We must openly acknowledge pass mistakes. And we must learn from past mistakes. Because that is how we avoid repeating past mistakes. The wall reminds us that we must never take the security of our country for granted. Ever. And we must always question our policies that send our citizens to war, because our nation`s policies must always be worthy, worthy of the sacrifices we ask of the men and women who defend our country. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today speaking today at the Vietnam memorial. We must always question our policies that send our citizens to war. Our nation`s policies must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask of the men and women who defend our country. Always question our policies. One of the things that are pending right now before the U.S. Congress as they come back tomorrow, the day after Veterans Day to start this lame duck session of Congress, one of the things that`s on their plate immediately is a formal request that President Obama made of them on Monday of this week. President Obama announced that he wants to deploy another 1500 Americans to the fight against ISIS in Iraq. He says, that`s what the Pentagon since they need, he says, that`s commander in chief, he supports that request, but he will not actually start that deployment and call up those troops and send them until Congress votes on it. Until Congress finally for the first time weighs in on this current U.S. military fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Which they so far have completely dodged. The President wants Congress to authorize that military operation. He has a certain amount of leeway to authorize that on his own as president under the War Powers Resolution but that time is basically up and Congress now needs to authorize it. But it`s also directly asked for Congress right now in this lame duck session to fund this military operation. It`s been underway since August. So far, it`s costing $8 million a day. Plus, he wants to double the number of troops that are in this fight. Congress` input on that so far, has been confined to essentially commentary as private citizens, and making political ads. But as Congress, they have done nothing as Congress, nothing. Since the President made his formal request yesterday, one republican senator has said so far what he thinks of the request, the newly-elected republican senator from South Carolina Tim Scott, Senator Scott doesn`t sound too positive about it. He tells FOX News that he sees this request from the president as a blank check. You`re welcome to fill the checkout, sir. You`re welcome to write an actual check. In fact, that is what you are being asked to do. That`s the job of the Congress. Still unclear whether Congress will vote on this. So far the only reaction from republicans is that they don`t like the way that the President is asking them to vote on it. They`ve been very comfortable for months now, not voting on it at all or debating it at all or authorizing at all. But they are back tomorrow. A day after Veterans Day. And they`re being asked to weigh in specifically on our country sending more of our citizens to war and to funding the ones that are already there and the ones who are set to go. What will they do? Joining us now is Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Senator Murphy, it`s nice to have you here. Thanks for your time tonight. SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes. Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So, you have said clearly that you want Congress to have a debate and hold a vote on military action against ISIS. Do you think that will happen though? MURPHY: I think it has to happen. And I think there`s a growing recognition on both sides of the aisle that it must happen. In the lame duck session. Mainly for two reasons. One, it`s impossible at this point to ignore the constitutional imperative. The constitution in article one grants war-making power to the United States Congress and the United States Congress only. There is no existing authorization that permits this president to essentially deploy another several thousand troops to fight an enemy that has not been named yet by the United States Congress. And, so, we have a constitutional responsibility. But, second, Secretary Hagel referenced, it is incumbent upon us as a nation to make sure that we do not go into war, that we never go into war divided. We have a responsibility as Congress to debate this. And to authorize it so that we`re standing together. Now, I may not in the invoke for this authorization if it`s open ended. But if the executive is been holding off on bringing an authorization to Congress because it`s hard, because it might not pass, then actually that`s the reason why it must come before Congress. Because the worst thing to have happen is for the President to authorize a major new deployment of troops without the support of the Congress, which is representing American people. I think we`re going to vote on this. I think we`re going to start taking up on the Foreign Relations Committee this week. And I agree with you, that I think there`s more that we could do, but this is pretty important. MADDOW: The point that you just raise there about how people might vote on it, indeed how you might vote on it, depending on how it`s phrased and what`s specifically is been authorized or funded, I feel like that`s this really important black hole in this argument because the assumption is that Congress is unwilling particularly before an election to take any hard vote that might have partisan consequences. That might somehow divide people in a way that made one party look bad or one party uncomfortably look good or that might split a party. It`s not clear to me, at all, somebody who watches these things pretty closely, that there is any expected contour of how this vote would go. If I had to predict how this vote would go, either in numbers or attaching votes to personnel, specific personnel, I couldn`t do it. Does it seem clear to you that you would know how the vote would go? MURPHY: No, I don`t. In part because we don`t know what the vote language of the authorization would be. But, listen, this is part of a large-scale, long term abdication of foreign policymaking by the Congress to the President. Foreign policy is hard deciding when to go into war. Especially in this new global order where there aren`t well defined enemies, it`s hard. And so, it`s easy for Congress just to punt and say, well, the President will take care of it. And if it goes wrong, we`ll criticize. I think, that`s largely why Congress didn`t weigh in on Libya, because it wasn`t an easy call when we wanted to have our hands clean, if it didn`t go well. But that`s not actually how the constitution says it`s supposed to work. You know, what the President is likely going to ask for is an open ended authorization. He`s only the president for two more years. I largely trust President Obama when it comes to setting policy in confronting ISIS. But I`m not sure who the next president is going to be - - that maybe more than anything, is the reason why democrats should step up and put some constraints on this authorization. Because this is a war that is likely going to outlast this particular president and we don`t know who comes next. MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, your comments on this are both news making and also very clarifying in terms of what the stakes are. Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate it. MURPHY: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks. All right. We`ve got a lot more ahead tonight, including a strange vote counting process that is still going on in one big part of the country, some very unexpected numbers popping up from some still unresolved races. And lots more ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There is a federal governments and then there are, the 50 state governments. And a lot is left to the state governments to do themselves, just like, you know, run that state`s prisons, or set state tax laws, pave the roads, fund the schools. You know, a lot happens at the state level. But states are part of something larger as well. They have to follow the constitution of the United States, for example. States can`t do things that defy the federal constitution even if they want to as a state. The states also can defy federal law. But then there`s Arizona. Arizona just got in some of the late results from last week`s election. And one of the races that was too closed to call on election night has now been decided as an Arizona ballot measure that will the state of Arizona just basically declare independence from any federal law that they don`t like. So, there`s the United States of America, and then just above that, there`s the United States of Arizona, who does what they want. It`s kind of how things are in Arizona right now. In Gilbert, Arizona, which is on the outskirts of Phoenix, that`s a very, very conservative part of the state. We`ve been watching this controversy unfold. Where in the Tea Party majority on the local school board in Gilbert decided that they wanted to rip pages out of the Honors Biology textbooks that were being used in the district`s public high schools. The crime those textbooks committed is that they mentioned the word abortion. The textbooks are just dry, clinical textbooks. They don`t take a position on abortion, they simply say that it exists as a medical procedure. And so the conservatives on the local school board decided they would fix that by tearing out the relevant pages of the textbook. One of the school members explained, quote, "The cheapest, least disruptive way to solve this problem is to remove the page." But then an interesting thing happened on Election Day. Gilbert, Arizona voters voted to oust the Tea Party majority on that school board that had decided to rip out the pages of the textbook. The new majority on the school board is still conservative. It`s a very conservative area. But the new majority generally opposes the practice of ripping through facts out of students` textbooks. So, since we first learned about the ripping pages out of the textbook plan in Gilbert, Arizona, a few things have happened. First, I should tell you, we posted the pages online that the school board was planning on ripping out of the Honors Biology books. So you could see the pages that they wanted to sensor. And so, Arizona HonorsBiology.com. Arizona Honors Biology students can get back the pages that their school board was going to rip out and throw away from their books. Second, as I mentioned, the local voters of Gilbert, Arizona, on election night, they voted out the Tea Party majority that had decided to rip out the textbook pages. That`s why there`s interesting question about whether or not the Tea Partiers on the school board will go ahead and do it anyway, right? Whether they will go ahead and rip out the pages on the textbooks, before the new school board gets sworn in and seated in January. The ACLU of Arizona this week wrote a letter to the school board basically warning them to not do that with their lame duck period. I`m warning them, that if they decide to go ahead and rip those pages out of the books, the ACLU says they would be destroying public property and it would be against the law. There were apparently local rumors that one of the Tea Party school board members, this week was going to personally start going after the textbooks. She denied the rumor. But the ACLU has warned everyone off that kind of plan anyway with this letter to the superintendent. So now we`re sort of on the edge of our seats. We`re at the edge of our biology lab stools wondering what`s going to be the fate of the textbooks in the school districts with the outgoing majority wanting those pages ripped out and the incoming majority not wanting those pages ripped out. And now, in the meantime, new thing. We on the show have obtained and have been able to preserve online for eternity or until I forget to pay the bill one month, we have obtained and have posted online the pages from the other textbooks. The other boring, normal, High School biology textbooks that the Gilbert, Arizona school board wants to sharpie over or better yet just rip out. The first pages we posted were from the first book we knew they wanted to tear apart. They`re from the Honors Biology textbooks. That was the first one that we knew the school board wanted to sensor. Now we have obtained and have posted the pages from the AP biology textbooks which the school board also wants to sensor. It`s a whole different book. They wanted to rip these pages out too. You`ll see the pages when you go to ArizonaHonorsBiology.com, they`re lovely in their boring biologiness. So, if you want to brush up on how our babies made and how contraception works and all that stuff, at a tenth grade level, be my guest. And now if the Gilbert, Arizona School board does decide to go ahead with a stealth plan to start ripping the pages out of Science textbooks, now I think with these news pages that we have obtained, now I think we have got it covered. I think we have now covered online all of the books they want censored. So, High School kids of Arizona, if they do steal the stuff out of your books, ArizonaHonorsBiology.com is where you can get it again. Arizona may be conservative, but Arizona, you really are still part of the United States and you really can`t pretend some parts of biology don`t exist because they make you feel uggie. I mean, you can try. But, really, you cannot get away with it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There has been an important demotion in the news, a very high ranking official has been busted down to the minor leagues, for offenses that you will remember from the news when I described them. Nobody ever thought there were going to be consequences for this guy, but now, there are. He has been demoted majorly, actually in sort of historic terms. And that story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK, it`s April, 2004, middle of a presidential election year, right? And all of a sudden, the media takes a profound interest in the Democratic presidential candidate`s plans for Easter? Quote, "Politics cloud John Kerry`s Easter plans", "John Kerry`s communion controversy", "John Kerry`s Catholic problem." A sudden cause for concern about John Kerry`s Catholicism stemmed from a campaign stop in Missouri a few weeks prior when the Catholic archbishop of St. Louis announced that if John Kerry were to seek communion in town, the archbishop of St. Louis would refuse to give it to him. Before Senator Kerry came to town, the archbishop told the press, quote, "I would have to admonish John Kerry not to present himself for communion. I might give him a blessing or something." Or something. This was the run-up to a presidential election in the United States. And this Catholic archbishop makes a big public point saying that one of the two presidential candidates should be denied the sacraments of his faith because of his politics. But that was kind of the M.O. of this archbishop, this very, very political archbishop. That intervention of a presidential campaign happened in 2004. In 2007, he made another big public protest when he resigned from a hospital board in protest because he disagreed with a concert being held to benefit the hospital. He resigned in protest specifically at one of the performers at the benefit concert. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FATHER RAYMOND BURKE, ARCHBISHOP OF ST. LOUIS: My concern involves a fund raising event which was to take place this coming Saturday at the fund raising event, the featured artist will be Sheryl crow. It is unacceptable to the church that it`d feature any person who is in such grave error regarding the natural moral law and the church`s teaching. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Sheryl Crow was too publicly, politically sinful for Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis. So when the organizers of that hospital benefit refused to cut Sheryl Crow from the benefit concert event, Archbishop Burke resigned as chairman of the hospital`s board. That was 2007. So, it`s 2004 with the John Kerry thing, 2007 with the Sheryl Crow thing. And then in 2008, President Obama was elected. He was inaugurated in 2009. And a few months into his presidency, Notre Dame invited the new president to speak at graduation and to come receive an honorary degree. Archbishop Raymond Burke lost his mind about that. He reprimanded Notre Dame as a college saying that any honor they gave to President Obama would be, quote, "the greatest scandal." And then, a few months later, when Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy passed away, Archbishop Raymond Burke said that Ted Kennedy should never have been given a Catholic funeral. The archbishop went out of his way to say he would have denied Ted Kennedy a funeral in his faith because of what Archbishop Burke thought about Ted Kennedy`s politics. Now, at the time of all of this, the pope was the very conservative Pope Benedict. And Pope Benedict liked Archbishop Raymond Burke apparently, at least he rewarded him, it appeared, for his agro conservative politics here in the United States. He brought Archbishop Burke to Rome to become America`s highest ranking Vatican official. He made him effectively the chief judge of the Vatican Supreme Court. And Pope Benedict made him a cardinal. So, he`s no longer an archbishop. Now, his Cardinal Burke. With his new roles and his responsibilities, I should tell you, Cardinal Burke, one of the things people known for is that he was entitled to wear all of the ceremonial regalia that his position entailed. But you certainly don`t have to wear, just because you have that position, he actually showed so much interest in the most elaborate robes and outfits that his colleagues at the Vatican finally asked him to please tone it down in terms of what he was wearing. Cardinal Burke rose to power by being the guy in the Catholic Church who was willing to be the most interventionist in electoral politics from the conservative side. He did that here in the United States, and for years, both here in the United States and in Rome, he was rewarded by the church hierarchy for doing that. But, now, Pope Benedict has resigned. And since Pope Benedict unexpectedly resigned about a year and a half ago, the new pope, Pope Francis, has spent the past year and a half running things quite differently from his predecessor. You might have heard something about him. Well, now, those changes have come home to the highest-ranking American at the Vatican, to Cardinal Raymond Burke. Pope Francis has now removed Cardinal Burke from his post at the Vatican`s highest court. He is instead moved to a job that is most notable for its lack of any meaningful responsibilities. He`s no longer the supreme court at the Vatican. As "Washington Post" put it, quote, "It was as if Chief John Roberts had been sent to call balls and strikes at a little league game." The Catholic Church is 1.2 billion members strong. It has been a remarkably political entity for most of the time that it has existed. Cardinal Burke has spent much of his career using conservative politics and conservative intervention into American politics as the means of his advancement in the Catholic Church. Does his very public demotion now signal a fundamental shift in how the Catholic Church wants to operate in American politics? Or how it doesn`t want to? Joining us now is Kevin Eckstrom, editor in chief for the Religion News Service. Mr. Eckstrom, thanks very much for being here. I appreciate your time tonight. KEVIN ECKSTROM, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: Good to see you, Rachel. MADDOW: So, I`m a Catholic. I`m a lifelong Catholic. But I`m not sure I always understand the church hierarchy and what the titles mean and all of the different orders and all these things. How big a demotion was this for Cardinal Burke? ECKSTROM: As big as they get. This is like President Obama coming in and telling John Roberts from the Supreme Court, you know, I don`t like your style. I don`t like how you do things. And frankly, I don`t like you very much. So, you`re out of here. You`re fired. It is as big a fall for somebody in Cardinal Burke`s position as it probably possibly could be. MADDOW: What about the new job that he`s in? Is the new job that they have put him in an unimportant job? ECKSTROM: Not really. It`s a ceremonial job. I mean, the Knights of Malta, they`re a charitable organization that does good work and are important to the life of church. But, on a day-to-day level, it`s -- you know, there is no comparison. He`s the patron. So you know how the Prince of Wales is the patron of all of these different charities of Britain? That`s basically what his job is now in Rome. MADDOW: In terms of Pope Francis and actually previous popes as well, is it a known thing? Is it a thing that happens that popes do stuff like this to cardinals, to the princes of the church, in a way that essentially functions as a public reprimand? So, people, even who just follow the secular news realized that something big and political has happened here. ECKSTROM: Well, I mean, typically, you know, a pope gets to bring in his own cabinet. There`s nothing unusual about that. But typically, how it works is, you know, they`ll allow a cardinal to kind of age out of position. Or they`ll transfer to another job or another semi-important post. But Cardinal Burke is only 66 years old. He`s got another 14 years of power before he basically hits retirement age in the Vatican. So, he`s being pulled out of the game very, very early. And he`s deemed very, very publicly. You know, the great story of this is his demotion has been sort of rumored for weeks. And a reporter caught up with him at the big senate they had in Rome a couple weeks ago to talk about contraception and divorce and marriage. And the reporter asked Cardinal Burke, I hear you`re about to be demoted, is that true? He said yes, it is. And they said who told you? And Cardinal Burke shot back, well, who do you think? MADDOW: Wow. ECKSTROM: So this comes straight from the pope himself, which I think adds even more significance. This was not a mid level management reshuffle. This was a very public firing. MADDOW: In terms of Cardinal Burke and I guess particularly in his career as archbishop in the United States, he was interventionist in American politics, as a conservative into American politics. Does -- should we read anything into this in terms of how Pope Francis wants the church to relate to electoral politics? Is this a let`s get out of this business? Or is this a message that he wants to be interventionist in the other direction? Or is this unrelated? ECKSTROM: Well, it`s a little bit all of that. You know, it`s important to remember, when Cardinal Burke was transferred to Rome, he was, in some ways, exiled from the American church because a lot of American bishops didn`t like his politics and didn`t like his intervention with John Kerry and Sheryl Crow and all the others. They thought he was giving a bad name to the U.S. church so they wanted him out of here. So, they sort of - - they got him to Rome -- convinced the pope to send him to Rome so that they get him sort of out of their hair. I think, you know, it does send a subtle message about the church and politics. But what it really sends is from Pope Francis, a message that he`s going to get what he wants and it doesn`t matter who he has to fire in order to get it. You know, he was -- Pope Francis has been talking about opening up communion to divorced and re-married Catholics. The one man really standing in the way of all of this, he was the head of the court that decides was such things, was Cardinal Burke. MADDOW: Ahh, got it. ECKSTROM: So what this is, this is a power play. And it`s a very powerful power play by pope to say that he`s going to get what he wants and he`ll do what he needs to do to get it done, and it`s a signal to every other bishop in the world that if you want to be a part of this administration, you`ve got to learn how to play ball with this pope. MADDOW: Kevin Eckstrom, editor in chief for the Religion News Service -- usually, sports metaphors don`t help me. But in this case, turns out that`s exactly what I need. I really appreciate it, Kevin. Thanks very much. I appreciate it. ECKSTROM: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. Just ahead, a story I have been obsessed with for quite a while now and it keeps getting more and more mysterious over time. Perhaps you can help me figure it out. That`s ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: That mysterious story that I`m obsessed with is still to come. That`s the next story. But I have an election update for you in the meantime. One week out exactly from Election Day, there`s still an unresolved and still unfolding situation in the great state of Alaska. On election night in Alaska, the governor`s race there was too close to call. The incumbent Republican Governor Sean Parnell and the independent candidate challenging him were separated by only 3,000 votes. That was part of the drama. But there`s also drama in the U.S. Senate race. Incumbent Mark Begich trailing his Republican opponent by about 8,000 votes. Mark Begich did not concede that race. He said at the time because there were too many ballots that had yet to be counted, that yet to come in. And, you know, that`s often the refrain of the trailing candidate, right? And with 8,000 votes between them, it kind of looked like Mark Begich was trailing by enough that he really ought to cut bait. Why isn`t he conceding? Well, check this out. Usually counting up all of the uncounted ballots well after Election Day means tallying up maybe few thousand absentee ballots, even in a big well-populated state. In Alaska, which doesn`t have all that many people, it`s not a few thousand votes they`re waiting for. It`s 50,000 ballots that they know of so far, might be more. There are 50,000 ballots that have yet to be counted in Alaska. And that means nobody knows how these two big important races are going to turn out. And we may not for a while. But they`ve counted over 200,000 ballots, 50,000 still haven`t been tallied. We spoke to the Alaska Division of Elections, and they told us that they`re going to continue to count. They`re continuing counting until a week from tomorrow, November 19. But if they`ve got 50,000 at least still to go, this is going to be a long and tense process. Watch this space. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is an airboat. I have never been on an airboat, but I`d love to someday. They basically put a big airplane style propeller on the back of a flat bottom john boat that lets you navigate through water in which you would otherwise definitely get stuck. In the airboat, the propeller is all above water, so even in really shallow swampy water, you turn on the fan, zip around wherever you want, wrestle the alligator and you`re done. Very cool. An airboat is a very cool thing. But then there`s the airboat that lets you not just zip around the swamp, it lets you fly, because you strap the propeller to your body instead of to a boat. You put on a parachute and hey look, you are flying without a plane. I had never seen that technology, that kind of low tech jetpack technology before I saw these guys do it over a nuclear power plant. This is in France a couple of years ago. Dude straps the giant freaking propeller to his back, lays out his parachute, runs for it and takes off into the sky. Then he fly himself without an airplane all around over the top of the nuclear plant. And then he eventually lands inside the nuclear plant. But not before he drops a big scary smoke bomb on to the top of one of their reactors. This was a Greenpeace stunt a couple of years ago. The idea was to show that France was not taking security seriously enough at its nuclear plants. It was a couple of years ago. Now, something else is going on that is less gee wiz and more spooky. Over the past few week, at least 19 times, drones have reportedly been spotted flying over nuclear plants in France. Small drones. The nuclear energy operator in France admits that more than a dozen times in the last month, unidentified drones have been seen flying over their facilities. And apparently it`s not Greenpeace. At least Greenpeace says it isn`t them this time. They`re usually pretty happy to face the consequences and take responsibility for stunts like this. This time, nobody is claiming responsibility. These new drone flights have apparently happened mostly at night. It happened at multiple nuclear sites, but there`s no definitive list of where it`s happened. Maybe more than the 19 that had been reported. The government says the drones haven`t done any harm, but there are reports now that French police have been given authorization to shoot the drones down if they can. It`s kind of spooky enough on its own, right? Here`s the spookier thing. So, this has happened at least 19 times, at all these different sites all over the country. So, you think OK, there`s an activist out there who`s handy with a drone the way the Greenpeace activist was with the airboat, paraglide, paramotor thing. It turns out, this can`t just be the work of one guy or one person. At least once, "The Guardian" newspaper reports there were four separate drone flights at four different nuclear facilities all at once, four simultaneously in different places. "The Independent" also reports that the drones being used are not your typical toy drones. They`re said to be more complex helicopter-style drones that have pretty powerful engines that can fly for miles. They`ve reportedly been fitted with searchlights of a kind that can be linked to a camera. So, the French government has so far tried to deflect attention from this mystery by reiterating these drones don`t pose any threat to security at plants, but the French parliament announced that they`re holding public hearings on this starting later this month. The police are investigating this as a criminal matter. A few days ago, there did seem there was a break in the case when three people got arrested near the nuclear plant in possession of a model airplane, but apparently the police cleared those three people of any connection to the other drone flights. They were just people with a model airplane in the wrong place at the wrong time. While the French police were desperately trying to figure out who`s flying fleets of high-powered drone-coptors into the airspace above their nuclear plants for weeks now, including four of them simultaneously at different sites, with no clue as to who`s doing it and what their intentions are. We sometimes close this show with something we call a moment of geek. This is like a moment of geek eke. They`re investigating this thing now. They`re holding hearings. We`ll let you know more as we learn more. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Good evening, Lawrence. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END Content and programming copyright 2014 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2014 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.