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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/21/15

Guests: Jerry Jimison, Sherrilyn Ifill, Michael Schmidt

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: All right. That is "ALL IN" for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: There`s a billionaires kids` table? That`s awesome. HAYES: Yes, in Dubai. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: Thank you, man. Appreciate it. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Look, notice anything different? Notice anything different? Anything strange? Do I seem smaller than usual? Different set. Sometimes after a big night, like election night, or State of the Union night, when we have a big fancy desk, so everybody can be on set together, sometimes they forget to put it away. So we get to use the big fancy desk for the next day`s shows. I love the giant desk. If I can always have the giant desk, I would. That`s said, as cool as it is here at MSNBC, we all get to use the big set for a second night tonight. Lest we forget that we are the little sister around here, we are of the little sibling to NBC News. Lest we forget, "NBC Nightly News" tonight got to do their post-State of the Union broadcast tonight. Not just from a leftover big desk, like I get to. No, "NBC Nightly News" tonight got to do their newscast tonight from Cuba. Brian Williams and Andrea Mitchell and everybody from "NBC Nightly News" tonight got to do their live national newscast from Havana, from the streets in Havana, which is so cool for them to be able to get in there, and be able to do this broadcast. Of course, it also spotlights, though, what a big deal it is in the news right now, that tonight, right now, for the first time in 53 years, the government of the United States and the government of Cuba are negotiating reopening diplomat ties between our two countries. Starting this afternoon and into this evening, over the course of a big fancy dinner tonight in Havana, U.S. diplomats and Cuban diplomats have started the process of negotiating the reopening of an American embassy in Havana, and the reopening of a Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., and that is a big enough deal that we had "NBC Nightly News" live from Cuba tonight. It`s also a big enough deal that this guy was live in Cuba tonight. This is the Viktor Leonov. It`s a Russian Navy ship. It is universally described as a shy ship. It`s rigged with tons of antenna and radar arrays. Viktor Leonov is basically a floating listening post for spying on all kinds of different communications. And yesterday, as we were gearing up for the State of the Union Address here in this country, and it was the eve of these high-level talks starting in Cuba today, yesterday, Russia just straight up sailed this giant Russian Navy spy ship right up to the cruise ship dock in Havana harbor. They didn`t try to hide it, they didn`t try to make it look like something else, they just parked their big Russian spy ship in the most high-profile parking spot in the entire city of Havana. You can see it from all over, and there`s no bones about it. Everybody knows exactly what that is. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but Vladimir Putin is a small man. He`s a short guy. He is prone to unsubtle self-aggrandizing gesture of manliness when he thinks people aren`t taking him seriously. Sailing the Viktor Leonov into Havana harbor the day before the U.S. restarts relations with Cuba is basically Vladimir Putin`s latest desperate, shirtless horseback ride through international relations. But Putin`s spy ship is still sitting there tonight in the harbor. And the talks are under way in Havana. President Obama`s radical reset of our Cold War relationship with Cuba, it is a contentious thing inside the Beltway. If you have just read the Beltway press about the president`s decision on Cuba, you would think that it was this incredibly controversial, very politically risky thing that President Obama has done. It`s very unpopular move. That`s the way it seems when you read the Beltway press about it. That really is just a Beltway perception. Heading into the State of the Union last night, the public polling on this Cuba issue was very really striking. A NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll heading into the State of the Union last night, look at the polling, it showed that Americans are actually quite happy about this change in relations with Cuba, by a 2-1 margin. Americans never like anything by a 2-1 margin. But what President Obama has decided to do in Cuba turns out, you`d never know about reading it in the Beltway press, but turns out it`s really popular. And so, despite the Beltway press, that is why President Obama bragged on it at such length in the State of the Union last night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date. (APPLAUSE) When what you`re doing doesn`t work for 50 years, it`s time to try something new. This year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo. As -- (APPLAUSE) As his Holiness Pope Francis has said, diplomacy is the work of small steps. These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba. And after years in prison, we are overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs. (APPLAUSE) Welcome home, Alan. We`re glad you`re here. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Alan Gross was a contractor who was arrested and held in prison in Cuba for five years before President Obama negotiated his release, as part of the larger reset of relations with Cuba. It was a moving moment last night at the State of the Union. President Obama was able to welcome him back, and Alan Gross stood up and said "thank you, thank you, thank you" over and over again. Today, the day after the State of the Union, President Obama traveled across the country to have a private in-person one-on-one meeting with the family of another American man who was being held in jail overseas by yet another country with whom we have no diplomatic relations. His name is Saeed Abedini. He`s a Christian pastor from Boise, Idaho. He`s of Iranian descent. And in 2012, he was accused of undermining state security in that country. It seems like what he was doing was basically charity work, and networking with other Christians in Iran. Not exactly doing missionary work, but trying basically to help Christians set up ways to worship and practice their faith in private homes in that country. He has been in jail in Iran for over two years now. And when President Obama went on his big post-State of the Union address today, when he went to Boise, Idaho, today, he met with Saeed Abedini`s wife and young kids in Boise to talk to them about American efforts to get Saeed released. Like Alan Gross, Saeed Abedini is not exactly a household name. His case, though, has become a rallying point, an emotional rallying point for Christian activists around the country and for Saeed`s hometown of Boise and for politicians in his home state of Idaho, many of whom praised President Obama today for making this effort to meet with his family and reiterated their call for the U.S. government to do everything they can to get this guy freed from an Iranian prison. So, this ended up being a really interesting side trip for President Obama`s visit to Idaho today. That said, it`s pretty interesting in itself that President Obama was in freaking Idaho today. Idaho? Idaho, that -- yes, that Idaho. Leading up to the elections, the story about President Obama was that he was playing it totally safe, in terms of his travel. He did this whole pre-election tour, you might remember, where he just went to states he had already won twice in previous presidential elections. You would have been more likely to see him turn up in Moscow, Moscow, than in Moscow, Idaho, just a few weeks ago before the election. But elections are over. And today, there was President Obama in Boise meeting with that family in Boise, and giving a big speech at Boise State. And while he was there, giving that speech, he again went back and riffed on the same sort of emotional peak from the State of the Union last night. That point in the speech last night when he revisited his famous first national speech from 2004, the speech where he said there isn`t a liberal or a conservative America, but a United States of America. You know, the pundits like to slice and dice our countries into red states and blue states. He went back to that speech last night in the State of the Union, challenging the Senate who said that sentiment that made people -- made him such -- gave him such appeal as a national figure 10 years ago, that sentiment had been proven to be naive over the course of his presidency. President Obama went back to that last night in the State of the Union and he went back to it today when he was speaking not incidentally in one of the reddest states in the country. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: My job is to put forward what I think is best for America. The job of Congress then is to put forward alternative ideas, but they`ve got to be specific. They can`t just be no. I just want -- (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) I`m happy to start a conversation. Tell me how we`re going to do the things that need to be done. Tell me how we get to yes. I want to get to yes on more young people being able to afford college. I want to get to yes on more research and development funding. I want to get to yes for first class infrastructure to help our businesses succeed. I want to get to yes! But you`ve got to tell me, work with me here. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) Work with me. Come on. Don`t just say no. You know, whoever we are, whether we are Republicans, or Democrats, or independents, or young or old or black, white, gay, straight, we all share a common vision for our future. We want a better country for the next generation and for your kids` generation. And I want this country to be the one that shows the world what we know to be true, that we are not just a collection of red states and blue states, we are still the United States of America. That`s what we`re fighting for. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) That`s what we`re pushing for. If you agree with me, join me and let`s get to work. We`ve got a lot to do in this new century. Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama speaking tonight in Boise, Idaho, one of the reddest states in the country. Then, he headed out tonight from there to a state that is maybe even redder than Idaho. Tonight after Idaho, he headed out to the great state of Kansas. President Obama is not trying to win Idaho and Kansas in an election, either for himself or for any other Democrat. But this decision by the White House, after the State of the Union, to go to some of the most conservative states in the country, it shows sort of where their head is at right now. It shows their confidence. And just specifically their confidence that even in places where Democrats may not be able to win elections, at least in any great numbers, the White House still thinks, and the president still thinks that they can win the argument in those places. The polling on his speech last night, in a very big picture way, would seem to bear that out. Or at least give the White House more reason for that confidence. It was a big CNN poll on what people thought of the speech, found that 81 percent of people had either a very positive or somewhat positive reaction to the speech. Actually, an absolute majority of the people that CNN polled said they had a very positive response to the speech. It also seemed that the speech itself moved people more toward the president. Ahead of the speech, 57 percent of people in that same poll said they thought President Obama`s policies would move the country in the right direction. This is ahead of the speech, 57 percent of people think that. After people watched the speech, that number jumped 15 points, 72 percent of people felt after watching the State of the Union last night that President Obama`s policies will move the country in the right direction, 72 percent. Survey Monkey did a poll on the State of the Union for MSNBC last night. They found similar numbers, in terms of the satisfaction of what people heard from the president last night. Big majorities of the people saying the president`s policies would unite the country, specifically on the president`s tax plan, people in the polling from last night seemed to think that is a very good idea. Public Policy Polling found people supporting the president`s agenda overall by a 2-1 margin. They found the majority support for the president`s specific proposals for making community college free. Everybody getting paid sick leave. On the president`s biggest proposal, the one that everybody says is dead in the water with the Republican Congress, this tax polls -- this tax proposal, the PPP poll found there was actually a ton of support for the president`s big idea of middle class tax cuts paid for by bigger taxes on the very rich. They found support for the president`s tax plan among Democrats and among independents, and even there was a high number of Republicans who liked it than Republicans who said they didn`t like it. And there`s the president today, in red state Idaho, before heading to even redder state Kansas tonight. The itinerary itself is a show of confidence. The polling and the public reaction to last night`s speech appears to show that the confidence is warranted. What that translates to in the Beltway, what that translates to on Capitol Hill, what that translates to around the world with everything this president and administration wants to get done right now and for the next two years, that remains to be seen. But right now, what it feels like is a very, very confident president -- a very confident White House going full steam ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SUBTITLE: Today at the TRMS production meeting -- MADDOW: There should be a rule, it`s football. Stop saying balls, balls, balls, balls. Like it just -- like the number of times, the word balls. Like the innuendo is like, it just footballs, it`s footballs. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: Balls, balls, balls, balls. (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLPI) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. The Nielsen Media Research Company, chances are you have heard of Nielsen at some point, probably in relation to TV ratings, or Nielsen ratings as it sometimes called. Nielsen is sort of a standard when it comes to TV ratings. They measure who`s watching what all over the country. And one of the things that they do in pursuit of that is that they rank every single TV market in the United States. They rank all the media markets in the country from largest to smallest. The largest TV market in the country, number one on the list, probably not surprisingly, is New York City. The New York City market has 7 million homes with TVs. It`s the top market in the country. Number two on the list is the city of Los Angeles. Number three on the list is Chicago. And on and on it goes. Nielsen ranks a grand total of 210 markets in the country, 210. And number 210 on the list, the single smallest market in the entire country, is a place called Glendive, Montana. Glendive has just over 4,000 homes with TVs. It represents 0.004 percent of the entire U.S. TV watching population. But Glendive, Montana, is now national news. And that`s because of this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TV ANCHOR: Cleanup efforts are under way in Glendive while residents there are told not to drink water from the water supply. TV ANCHOR: Their recommendation comes after an oil spill into the Yellowstone River over the weekend. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Tonight, citizens of Glendive, Montana, have no access to municipal drinking water. There`s a "don`t drink the water" mandate in effect. That`s because of an oil pipeline that burst, and spewed its contents right into Glendive`s water supply. Glendive sits along the Yellowstone River in Montana. The Yellowstone River is one of our national treasures in terms of waterways. It`s the longest river without a dam on it in the lower 48 states. It`s a beautiful river. It is fragile. And the Yellowstone River for the second time now in five years is the site of a big oil spill. That has fouled the river and that is threatening the region. Back in July 2011, it was an ExxonMobil line that burst underneath the Yellowstone River. That oil spill dumped 60,000 gallons of oil into the river in Montana, caused an absolute mess. Oil washed up along 85 miles of Montana River bank. Over $130 million spent on that cleanup. Now just a few years later, just a few miles downstream, it has happened again. On Saturday, an oil pipeline operated by a company called Bridger Pipeline ruptured somewhere underneath the Yellowstone River, near the eastern Montana city of Glendive. The pipeline was eventually shut down but not before an estimated 40,000 gallons of oil were released into the river. And you`ll notice a key difference between this spill and the last one in 2011. The one in 2011, it happened in July. It happened during the summer months. They knew about the spill right away. The temperatures were temperate, they could see the oil, right? But the oil still ended up spoiling the river and the river bank for 85 miles downstream. Rivers are not static bodies of water that hold still. Water moves inexorably downstream in the river. And even though they caught the last spill in 2011 right away, it still took out 85 miles downstream from where the spill first happened. This new spill, on the other hand, this one has happened in the dead of winter. And there is a thick sheet of ice covering the river. Which means you can`t get to the oil. And you can`t see where it is. But it is in there. Tens of thousands of gallons of oil are in the river. And the oil, like the water, presumably is moving underneath the ice. And the cleanup crews, at least thus far, they can`t really get to the oil to try to take it out of the river. So, there is this immediate question, right, of how in the world they`re going to be able to clean this up before it spreads under the ice hundreds of miles downriver. But there`s also the issue of the damage that it`s already caused. Shortly after the spill, residents of Glendive started complaining of their drinking water smelling or tasting like oil or like diesel. The EPA came in, they tested the water, they found, sure enough, there are elevated oils of benzene in Glendive`s water supply. Benzene is a cancer-causing agent that is found in crude oil. There are high enough levels of benzene in the water in Glendive, that they instructed residents not to drink the water, not even to cook with the water. Truckloads of bottled water have been shipped into Glendive over the last few days for the residents there. At this point, it is unclear when the water there will be safe to drink again. Montana Governor Steve Bullock traveled to Glendive over the weekend. He has now declared a state of emergency in the area. It`s declared a disaster area in two Montana counties and he`s directed state agencies to essentially be all hands on deck right now, to deliver clean water to Glendive, and to fix this thing. With a two-foot-thick sheet of ice on top of all the oil, how are they supposed to fix this thing? Joining us now is the mayor of Glendive, Montana, Jerry Jimison. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I know it wasn`t easy logistically for you to be with us. Thanks for being here. MAYOR JERRY JIMISON, GLENDIVE, MONTANA: Rachel, thank you for having me. It`s a pleasure to make the trip. And you made a tough act to follow the president of the United States. I should have been on first. MADDOW: I`ll put in a word with the White House. Let me ask you how people are doing in Glendive? How is the water situation for folks right now? How are people holding up? JIMISON: You know, people are holding up well. The good thing about residents in Montana, eastern Montana particularly, is they have a lot of common sense. So, when they smelled their water, and it didn`t smell right, they quit drinking it. So, we have had no incidences of anybody getting sick. And that`s a good thing. The other good news is, and you already mentioned it, is both the state and federal government have stepped up to the plate big-time. Glendive right now looks like an ant hill with all the extra help we have in town, to try and mitigate this situation. And the other good thing is that the Bridger Pipeline Company has taken full ownership of the disaster, and have stepped up to the plate, and said they will make it right. So the Glendive residents are happy about that. MADDOW: In terms of the logistics about cleaning it up -- obviously, they`ve got the pipeline shut down. There`s no additional oil going into the river, but how thick is the ice on the river this time of year? And just mechanically, given the ice, what do they do to get to the oil and to get it out of there, if and when they can find it? JIMISON: Well, that`s a great question, Rachel, because like you said, we`ve never had anything like an oil break with ice over the top of the river, the water. And Bridger Pipeline has brought in, oh, maybe six or eight different companies to help with the cleanup. And they were smart enough to bring in a team from Canada that has experience in recovering oil from cold water situations, frozen rivers and lakes. And they are downstream from Glendive right now doing work on drilling holes across the river, and putting up barricades so anything coming under the ice, they can capture. The other good news is, is that the open water that we can see flying the river has an oil sheen on it. But it doesn`t look to be real heavy, or real thick at this time. I think you already hit on the main thing is, is that until the ice leaves, you know, they will have a hard time recovering it all. And in Glendive, our river usually goes out as far as ice-free anywhere from about February 15th to March 15th. So, we`re looking at least a couple more weeks of ice on the river. MADDOW: Are you at all worried that when ice out happens in the spring, that it`s sort of going to be like -- a little bit of a second spill of the oil they can`t locate now, that they`re going to find it, and that`s going to be bad news as well as good news? JIMISON: Well, I think that`s on everybody`s mind. I know the federal EPA out of Denver, we`re doing the I.C., incident command, on this spill, said that it could be a long-term cleanup due to the ice conditions on the river. And yes, that`s sort of an unknown right now is where the oil is, and how much of it is still there. MADDOW: Jerry Jimison, mayor of Glendive, Montana, mayor, our hearts go out to you. And good luck to your town as you deal with this catastrophe. I know you didn`t expect it, but I really appreciate you helping us understand what you`re going through, sir. JIMISON: Well, it`s been a pleasure talking to you, Rachel. It`s always nice to know that people in New York City care about us out here in the desert -- the bad lands of eastern Montana. So, thank you for caring. MADDOW: Absolutely, sir. Thank you. Pleasure to have you here. I should tell you also, that we did reach out to the Bridger Pipeline Company tonight and we invited them to come on the show. They were unable to come tonight. But that invitation still stands. As does all their river -- all their oil in that previously pristine river. I should also tell you that the root of the proposed Keystone pipeline crosses the Yellowstone River for about 40 miles, in other parts of Montana. All right. Lots more ahead tonight, including long overdue justice that`s finally being meted out in a way we didn`t necessarily expect. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, still ahead tonight, we`ve got late breaking developments concerning the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year. That incident as you know lit a fuse to discontent about race relations in this country. The news that`s breaking tonight involves the Ferguson police officer who was involved in that shooting, and the federal investigation, the Justice Department investigation into his actions. "The New York Times" reporter who has just broken that story tonight is going to be here live right here to tell us what happened, right after this. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, it`s been overshadowed by the State of the Union, but the Supreme Court is just minting news this week. We`ve got a ruling that started with this guy. His name is Robert MacLean. He sells home solar systems door to door in California. That`s his job now. But his job used to be that he was a U.S. air marshal. Federal air marshals work for the TSA undercover. Their job is to watch for trouble on airplanes, without themselves being noticed. After 9/11, federal air marshals became really important in terms of our national response to the threat of future attacks using airliners. Before 9/11, Robert MacLean had been working as a border patrol agent. But after 9/11 when they wanted to up the members of air marshals and increase their role in our national security, he got recruited to leave the border patrol and instead become an air marshal. And he took that job. Well, one day in 2003, working as an air marshal, he got a briefing. The briefing told the marshals that the latest threat to be worried about was on super long haul flights, overnight flights. Then, just a couple of days after that briefing, Robert MacLean said he got a text message from his boss at TSA saying basically, oh, by the way, we`re canceling all air marshal presence on all overnight flights. This is right after the briefing that said that overnight flights were the big threat. Now, they`re canceling air marshals on overnight flights. That seemed wrong to Mr. MacLean. He told his new bosses the policy did not seem safe. They told them there was nothing they could do, it was budget cuts. And so, Robert MacLean, the air marshal decided that he was going to blow the whistle. He passed along what he knew -- he passed it on anonymously to a reporter here at MSNBC. The resulting news coverage caused an immediate uproar. The day after MSNBC ran with that story, back in 2003, the TSA reversed its decision, and put the air marshals back onto those long haul flights. However, that air marshal, Robert MacLean, who tipped off the media, he got fired for his trouble. And that`s why Robert MacLean is now a door- to-door solar salesman instead of still be doing what he did before. That happened to him a decade ago. Well, finally, the wheels of justice turned in his favor. In a 7-2 decision, today the United States Supreme Court ruled that Robert MacLean should not have been fired as an air marshal for what he did. He should have been protected as a whistleblower who was acting for the good of the public. It took a decade but they finally got there. Also, at the same time there was this one as well. This is a second Supreme Court news bulletin on a separate case. And this case involves this man. Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth. Ryan Maseth was a Green Beret from Shaler, Pennsylvania. Staff Sergeant died in Iraq in 2008. But Staff Sergeant Maseth was not killed in combat. He was electrocuted in Iraq while he was taking a shower. The wiring for the water pump in the shower in his barracks hadn`t been grounded properly. So the water itself in the shower was electrified. He stepped into that water and he was killed. He was one of more than a dozen American troops who were electrocuted that way in their own barracks when they`re supposed to be over there fighting a war. When Sergeant Maseth`s family tried to sue the giant contractor that had done that work on the barracks, the company KBR, the courts here in this country dismissed their suit. The company argued that when they built that shoddy deadly housing for our troops, they were basically operating as an extension of the U.S. Army, and so they were immune, they couldn`t be sued. Well, the Supreme Court has now just ruled that those lawsuits against KBR can go ahead, that they can be sued for their work that killed American soldiers. That decision has been a long time coming. Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth died seven years ago in Iraq. But this is going to be a very deal. This is going to be relevant in terms of not just the electrocution in the barracks, but also the toxic burn pits that poison the troops, and all the other stuff that military contractors make billions off of, while the work that they got paid for killed Americans in uniform. That was the second really interesting news out of the Supreme Court this week. But there`s more. The biggest one is as yet unresolved. And it involves civil rights. Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving the Fair Housing Act. Fair Housing Act was signed into law in the immediate aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.`s assassination in 1968. President Johnson signed it a week after Martin Luther King was killed as basically a tribute to Dr. King and Dr. King`s fight to end racially segregated housing in this country. Well, the case that the Supreme Court took up and that they heard oral arguments in today comes from Dallas. There`s no real reason, no real legal imperative why the court had to take this Dallas case on the Fair Housing Act. But the fact that the court did take it up leads to speculation that the Roberts court went out of their way to take this case specifically so they can gut the Fair Housing Act, the way they gutted the Voting Rights Act a year and a half ago. Happy Martin Luther King Day. Joining us now is Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. She was at the Supreme Court today for the oral arguments on that important Civil Rights Act. Ms. Ifill, it`s nice to see you. Thank you very much for being here. SHERRILYN IFILL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So, heading into today`s arguments, is it right for me to say that there had been worries that the court was going to dismantle this law the way they took apart the Voting Rights Act, too? IFILL: Well, this is the third time, Rachel, that the Supreme Court has really reached out to take a case, asking the question asked in the case today, which is whether the disparate impact standard, a standard used in the Fair Housing Act cases, whether that standard really is cognizable under the act. And as you already stated, there really was no imperative to take this case. Every appellate court, federal appellate court that has looked at the question has decided it the same way, that yes, disparate impact can justify a claim under the Fair Housing Act. The agency that is charged with enforcing the Fair Housing Act, HUD, also agrees with that. Congress in 1988 when they amended the act suggested that they understood that disparate impact was a standard. And yet for the third time in four years, the Supreme Court has taken a case asking this question. The two previous cases were settled before the Supreme Court could hear oral argument. This one was not. And so, there were real worries. And I wouldn`t say that all those worries are ameliorated, that the court -- at least four members of the court -- are pretty aggressively pursuing this issue and are interested in this issue. So, we were all quite interested to see how the court would grapple with it today. MADDOW: Well, it`s always very hard to extrapolate from the oral arguments to how the court will eventually rule. We`ve all fallen down that -- sort of gone down that path and regretted it in the past. But with that said, when you were at the oral arguments today, what I`ve read about the oral arguments, maybe things didn`t go as bad as people expected for the Fair Housing Act? That maybe there were some signs that the court might not be as aggressive as people had worried? IFILL: Yes, I have to say. I think, you know, to be honest, many of us expected that there might be a great deal more overt hostility from some of the justices about the act. I think most interesting was really the line of analysis described by Justice Scalia. What he recognized was that the amendments to the act in 1988 carved out two exceptions to the disparate impact rule. And essentially, he followed a very logical argument, he said, well, why would they carve out exceptions in 1988 if they didn`t think that disparate impact in fact was a standard? You wouldn`t bother to create exceptions to something that didn`t exist. And at one point, he even got into a tussle with Justice Alito about it. Justice Alito tried to suggest that we shouldn`t look at 1988 and what the Congress did then to figure out what they meant in 1968. And Justice Scalia really fought back. And so, they were kind of in a little tussle about it. We were a little surprised by that, and, frankly, we were gratified by it. MADDOW: Scalia and Alito at odds is a very rare thing. The prospect of Antonin Scalia as a civil rights savior is also a hard thing to get your head around. But hopes spring eternal. Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund -- thank you for helping us understand this tonight. Nice to have you here. IFILL: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks. All right. Next up, we do have some late breaking news tonight. The Justice Department is reportedly about to weigh in on the Michael Brown case, on the Michael Brown police killing in Ferguson. We`ve got the reporter who has the scoop on that story tonight. Again, it`s a late breaking story. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, we`re going to have the Ferguson story for you in just a moment, that I just told you about. But right now, there is just breaking news to report tonight on Washington, a dramatic and very unexpected development in Congress. Tomorrow afternoon, the Republican-led House of Representatives was scheduled to debate and vote on an abortion ban. Tomorrow`s the 42nd anniversary of Roe versus Wade Supreme Court decision. House Republicans were going to make a statement about that anniversary by passing basically a federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks. This is one of the first pieces of legislation that House Republicans wanted to pass in the new Congress. That was their plan. House Republicans were going to take up that bill tomorrow. They were thought as having no issues in terms of whether or not they were going to pass it. But late tonight, just within the last few minutes, just since we`ve been on the air, this is apparently all falling apart. Look at this bulletin that just posted from the "Associated Press". House GOP abruptly -- do we have that? We don`t have the graphic? We just got the headline. House GOP abruptly drops plan to debate abortion bill after revolt by GOP women and others. GOP women? NBC News is now confirming tonight that House Republicans have pulled this bill from the floor tomorrow, after pushback from inside the Republican caucus, specifically from pushback by Republican anti-abortion women members of Congress. So, they`ve yanked their own bill. They`re going to apparently take up some other abortion funding bill in its place. But this is a developing story. We`ll keep you posted as we learn more. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There`s some late breaking news this evening about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, this past August. As you know, this case has been a national flash point. Michael Brown was unarmed when he was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. He was killed in the middle of the day, in the middle of the street, on a hot August day. After that shooting, after Ferguson erupted in night after night of occasionally violent protests and after the protests started spreading across the country, Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, he took meetings with protesters, and with police and local authorities. On that trip, he announced in addition to the local criminal investigation into the officer`s actions in that shooting, the federal Justice Department would also begin a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting. The Justice Department also opened a broader civil rights investigation into not just that shooting, but the actions of the entire Ferguson Police Department, the patterns of policing in that department. Well, after a St. Louis County grand jury in November decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson on any charges related to Michael Brown`s death, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that his department`s federal investigation into that shooting remained ongoing. He said, quote, "The federal inquiry has been independent from the local one from the start and remains so now." Well, tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting that the Justice Department has completed that investigation into the shooting. "The Times" cites three law enforcement sources and says this, quote, "Justice Department lawyers will recommend that no civil rights charges be brought against former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson after an FBI investigation found no evidence to support charges." Anticipating wide interest in this decision, "The Times" also reports that the Justice Department lawyers, quote, "are working on a legal memo explaining their recommendation." Joining us now is "New York Times" correspondent Michael Schmidt, who helped break this story tonight. Mr. Schmidt, thanks very much for being with us. MICHAEL SCHMIDT, NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: So, your report says you spoke with three law enforcement officials for this story. Did you get a specific answer from them as to why the Justice Department isn`t going to recommend civil rights charges in this case? SCHMIDT: It`s a very high threshold to make one of these cases. They basically have to show that there was malice in the intent of Darren Wilson. What they say is when they look at the evidence, that`s not there. What may be there is bad policing and bad decision making. But there was no premeditated decision that they found by Mr. Wilson to go after Mr. Brown. MADDOW: In terms of what you`re able to report and what happens in the process here, is it true that Attorney General Eric Holder still has some sort of bottom line final say in determining whether charges should be brought? We`re hearing that charges are not going to be brought, but a final decision hasn`t been announced yet, right? SCHMIDT: Look, it`s not done until it`s done, and anything could happen. But what did happen is that the FBI sent 40 agents in the days after the shooting to fan out in the neighborhood in Ferguson where the shooting happened. They interviewed 200 people and they came back and they started to re-create what happened based on what they had, along with evidence that was given to them by the police department. And when they did that, they didn`t come to a place where they could bring these charges. They didn`t come to a place that showed that Mr. Wilson had set out to do this, had set out to go after someone based on their race. MADDOW: In terms of the timing now and why we`re hearing about this now, is this at all related to the timing around the bigger issue at the Department of Justice, specifically Eric Holder planning to leave as attorney general, pending confirmation votes for the woman who President Obama named as his successor, is that at all tied to this? SCHMIDT: No, I don`t think so. We don`t know when they`re going to make this part public. But you have to remember, there`s the other part, the larger civil rights investigation and will the Justice Department demand there be a special independent overseer or judge to come in and say to the police department, you have to change your practices, you have to be more diverse. You can`t stop people, you can`t harass people in the way you were before. And that we don`t know the answer to. If we`re going to see action, it`s much more likely there than it is on Mr. Wilson. MADDOW: In terms of Eric Holder`s tenure as attorney general, it`s one of the things that he`s known for. He`s pretty aggressively used these types of investigations and the powers that he has at the Department of Justice to do those investigations and interventions in police departments across the country, hasn`t he? SCHMIDT: Correct. And they have a lot more leeway there. And there`s a lot more to work with. They`re looking at several years of police activity. In the case of Mister -- in the case of the officer, they`re just looking at this one incident and what happened there. Despite, you know, the fact that maybe the officer made a lot of decisions wrong here, not great policing decisions, they weren`t illegal based on federal law. And what happened was is that the FBI found similar conclusions to what the local authorities did. I don`t know that that`s going to change the minds of any people about this case, but that is certainly where we`re going to end up. MADDOW: "New York Times" correspondent Michael Schmidt, thanks for helping us to understand this tonight. And congratulations again on the scoop. Appreciate having you here. SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: All right. We`ve got more to come tonight. Please do stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Just want to recap the story that just broke here just a few minutes ago. Unexpectedly, House Republicans just pulled their own anti- abortion bill that they were expected to pass tomorrow on the anniversary of Roe versus Wade. This is a bill that would have banned abortions across the country after 20 weeks. There were reportedly objections within the House Republican conference by Republican female members of Congress. They were anti-abortion members of Congress, but they objected to some of the ways that this ban had been written. And now, House Republicans have pulled that bill, even though it was expected to pass tomorrow. That should make for some interesting politics on the anti-abortion side of the ledger tomorrow on the anniversary of Roe versus Wade. So, we`ll be keeping an eye on that. I think we`ll have further coverage on that over the course of the evening tonight here at MSNBC. But I have something else to tell you about that relates to the other side of Capitol Hill, in a very personal way. Earlier this month, on the first day of school, one important person who would expect to be there was missing. The top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, wasn`t there. You can`t blame the guy for not wanting his class photo to look like this. This is Senator Reid at home on the first day of school, on the way Republicans took over the Senate. As you can see, Senator Reid was pretty seriously banged up. On New Year`s Day, he had a terrible accident while exercising, using a resistance band. He was using a resistance band. It snapped while he was using it. It ended up breaking bones in his face, he broke ribs. He was really banged up. Since then, he`s been seen back at work in Washington, not looking his best but still back at it. Tonight, we learned Harry Reid is going to have to have surgery on his right eye. There had been worries that Senator Reid might lose vision in that eye because of injury, because of breaking all the bones around that eye. The surgery is to try to save his vision. The operation is scheduled for George Washington University in D.C. on Monday. Everybody obviously is hoping that it goes well. But you should know that the top Democrat in the Senate is not going to be at work for a while. He`s going to be laid up while he recovers. Obviously, from all of us, and from everybody, Senator Reid, get well soon. Good luck with the surgery. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow. But now, it`s time for "THE LAST WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Good evening, Lawrence. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. 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