IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/17/15

Guests: Russell Gold, Anne Gearan

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC ANCHOR: Naomi Schaefer Riley, Zac Bissonnette, thank you both. That is ALL IN for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. HAYES: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. You know the font size on newspapers used to be a lot smaller than it is now. Look. This, for example, this is the front page of the "New York Times" on April 30th, 1903. Makes you feel old, doesn`t it? It`s seven columns wide, what looked to be thousands of words in each columns just on the front page. Even the big stories could this little tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny headlines. But in this issue of "The New York Times" the lead story, front page, above the fold, right hand column, April 30th, 1903, was about a disaster in Canada. It happened to the town called Frank in Alberta, Canada. And it was the deadliest landslide ever in the history of that country. Those little towns at the foot of a mountain, basically, and for some as yet unexplained reason, in the middle of the night, in April 1903, the top of that mountain decided to slide down that mountain and bury the town at the base. There`re apparently had not been any warning signs. This is a reconstruction that was done years later to explain what it might have been like. Obviously, this isn`t footage of what happened. But the people on that poor town, they did not have any warning signs, they did not have any idea this is going to happen. The whole town overnight basically got buried while they slept in their beds. This is one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history. And today, that mountain top is still sitting at the foot of that mountain where the town used to be. And it makes sort of for a kind of eerie moon like landscape, right? All that mountain top land stone has slid into what used to be the valley, right? It still looks weird even more than a hundred years later. That side looks particularly weird right this second because there has just been a giant train crash at that exact site. Where that rail line crosses the 100-year-old rubble from that old famous deadly landslide in Canada? There was a derailment at that exact spot. Look at the landscape there. See all the piles of limestone around it? Because it`s on the rubble site. That`s where there was a train derailment this weekend on Saturday. This is on Alberta, Canada. The sight of the town formally known as Frank. It`s an oil country, the train that derailed was carrying rail cars full of crude oil from the Alberta oil fields. Twelve of those oil tanker cars derailed at that crashed site including a couple of them flipping entirely over, miraculously, none of those blew rail cars full of oil blew up in that crash, on Saturday. Not to worry, though. On that same day, there was another oil train derailment elsewhere in Canada where the oil tankers did blow up. That one was in Northern Ontario. It was rail cars again full of Alberta tar sands oil, headed east across Canada. And in Northern Ontario there was another giant derailment and in that one, same day as the other one, seven of those rail cars full of oil did blow up and they blew up in the way that oil cars do, which is that they give you a cinematic display of what the end of the world will probably look like. Both of those oil train crashes including the seven rail cars full of oil that did blew up, both of those crashes happened this weekend on Valentine`s Day. Then two days later, which is yesterday, this was the scene in West Virginia. About 30 miles outside the state capital of Charleston, West Virginia. Now this oil train it was 109 cars long. It was carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota through West Virginia, on its way to Yorktown, Virginia, where that oil is going to be loaded on to barges. They got a lot of these trains now traveling this route through towns large and small. And yesterday, for reasons that are still unexplained, on that 109-car long train, car number three, four, five, six, all the way back to car number 28 came off the rails. Seven of those cars that derailed did not blow up, but 19 of the cars that derailed did blow up. Nineteen cars full of oil, one after the other. Miraculously only one person was hurt in this conflagration in West Virginia yesterday. One man was hurt. He`s been hospitalized since the explosion. He`s been treated for inhalation injuries. He is the person who had the misfortune of being home when the derailment and the explosion happened. The explosion set his house on fire and destroyed this man`s house. Sent him to the hospital. It is a miracle that he was not killed. It is a miracle that no one else was injured. More than 2,000 people were evacuated from the local area. Power lines melted in this huge blast. Telephone poles caught fire. Hundreds of people are still without power tonight. People in multiple communities in West Virginia have been without running water now for more than 24 hours including a local hospital and nursing homes and schools. The local water company says they think they`ll be able to draw clean water from that river, where the crash happened. But even if people do start to get water running through their taps locally, everybody is being advised to still boil any water they might consume because nobody knows yet if it`s going to be safe. Yes. When we first reported on this derailment and this huge fire and these explosions on last night`s show, we`d taken -- all this footage that was taken over the course of the day, mostly by local residents showing what it had been like when the derailment happened, when those cars started to blow up, one by one. We talked on the phone to a local resident in Boomer, West Virginia, right across the river from where the explosion happened. This was the view from his living room. He had been home with his wife who was disabled when the explosion happened. He told us about what it sounded like but it looked like he said that noise was so loud and the explosion was so big that he and his wife were convinced that a full-sized jetliner had crashed into the ground across the river from their house in Boomer, West Virginia. He said he only learned when his wife got through to 911 that it had actually been a train derailment. So after talking to him on the show last night, we then went to a local reporter who was on the scene. This was about 9:30 p.m. last night Eastern Time. And the first thing that local reporter told me when I put him on the air last night was, "Oh, by the way, the fire is still burning." So we`ve been showing all this footage of the fire burning over the course of the day. I had no idea. I should have known. I mean, seeing how big the explosions were and the fires were yesterday. But this thing happened at 1:30 yesterday afternoon. By the time we are on the air last night at 9:30, talking to those guys, those fires were still burning while we were covering it on the air last night. And as of tonight, at least, as of when we got on the air six minutes ago, it`s still burning right now. This thing burned all day long last yesterday. All night long last night. All day long today. It`s still burning. These rail cars, each of them full of about 30,000 gallons of oil, have just been going off like bombs, one after the other. First responders couldn`t even get to those fires, leave alone put them out. This was the headline on "The Wall Street Journal" about it today. "Fires from Derailed CSX Train Allowed to Burn." Oh, allowed to? That is rather generous. I mean, allowing it to burn implies that you have a choice, that you could not allow it to burn if you wanted not to. I mean, how many options did the local fire crews along the Kanawha River in West Virginia -- how many options do they actually have for trying to put something like this out? The same thing happened just down the line in Lynchburg, Virginia, last year when the exact same kind of train with the exact same kind of rail cars following the exact same -- exact same route, taking the exact same oil on its same way to the exact same terminal in Yorktown, Virginia. Last year, that was Lynchburg, Virginia, when that train also derailed and blew up. You remember that incredibly dramatic footage from Lynchburg, Virginia. Again, all through a populated area. This is not the middle of nowhere. When those train cars went up in Lynchburg, Virginia, last year in these apocalyptic mushroom clouds of flame, local firefighters there too just had no choice. They just let that guy burn out. What else are you going to do? That kind of risk, the fact that this oil trains travel through lots and lots of very populated places. The fact that this is the increase that we`re experiencing right now. That`s between 2008 and five years later, 2013. This is the kind of increase we`re experiencing right now as a country in terms of the amount of oil being shipped by rail. It`s a multiple thousands percent increase in the number of these oil trains over the last five, six, seven years. I mean, that combined with what it looks like when this things blow up and how helpless we are as humans before the magnitude of this kind of disaster when it happens. A few options we have to contain the kind of damage or even put out the fires when this happens. You combine all of those things and yes, this is becoming a real source of concern. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, a lot of this stuff does move through our state. A lot of these tank cars apparently did not withstand this crash. Do changes need to be made? GOV. EARL TOMBLIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Well, you know, I think that`s something that the National Transportation Board and the federal agencies that regulate the railroad should be here later today to probably better answer that question. Obviously, we want to assure that the trains move through the state and on through the other state, they`re operating safely. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Governor Earl Tomblin of West Virginia today answering questions from reporters. For much of the day today, Governor Tomblin appeared alongside executives from the railroad, from CSX. To their credit, they did make themselves available for questions today about this oil train disaster, but that doesn`t mean they had very many answers. For example, quote, "We try to run a safe railroad. Obviously, something has gone wrong there in West Virginia." Yes, you think something has gone wrong? So that`s the basic truth here, though. Right. Stuff does go wrong. I mean, in West Virginia yesterday two days before that, it was two different oil trains and two different parts of Canada on the same day. Remember the huge derailment and oil train explosion in Casselton, North Dakota, that huge one where this footage is from? That`s from December 2013. But you know what? It then happened again in Casselton less than a year later. It happened again in Casselton just this past November. And this time they didn`t have to evacuate the whole town. This time they got lucky in part because the oil tanker cars that derailed and flipped over again and crashed again in the -- second Casselton oil train wreck, the train cars this time happened to be empty. Lucky, lucky Casselton, North Dakota, the train was going the other direction that time when it crashed. But before Casselton, it was that Lynchburg, Virginia, crash that they had to just let burn out. Before that it was the one in Alabama, before that the one -- it was the one in Quebec and Lac-Megantic, Canada. It happens. Stuff goes wrong. Oil trains derail. And crash. And blow up in huge apocalyptic fireballs that sometimes kill dozens of people. And part of the way to try to lessen that risk is to make the trains themselves safer, to make the cars that carry the oil more resistant to blowing up like it`s the end of the world. And that`s one ongoing fight now over what the standard should be for the kind of cars the oil goes into. But the other fight or at least which seems like what ought to be the other fight is over what is allowed to go into those train cars in the first place before they take off across the country. I mean, last year after the Quebec disaster, the one that killed 47 people. After the Quebec disaster, and then the Casselton giant explosion, and then the Lynchburg crashed and the giant explosion there. After all of those happened in relatively quick succession, it suddenly became a national news story that North Dakota, North Dakota specifically, was pumping oil on to oil trains that were then setting off all across the country. They`re putting oil on those trains that was particularly dangerous to put on trains. Here is what I mean. When oil is produced in Texas, like at the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, shale in Texas, oil producers there use a big piece of equipment called a stabilizer to basically take out of the oil what they call the light ends. The super flammable, basically, their natural gas components that are otherwise mixed in with their crude oil and that catch fire and explode really easily. They use this big stabilizer machines to remove all of those super flammable compounds from the oil before they transport that oil anywhere else. This is in Texas. Not exactly known as the land of onerous safety regulations, right? But Texas does that with the oil that they pump before they transport it. North Dakota does not do that. We`re experiencing this great energy renaissance in this country, right? The North Dakota oil fields have transformed the United States of America into a net energy producing nation, right? It is a legit oil rush in North Dakota. People are making their fortunes. They have Man Camps in North Dakota. Man Camps. To house all the people that are coming into that state to produce all of that oil. But even Texas is taking more care for the safety of the oil they`re shipping out of their oil fields than North Dakota is. Why doesn`t North Dakota have to do that, too? Well, here is the story for you. This is incredible. In September, North Dakota held hearings about whether or not they too should start doing that. Whether they too should start stabilizing their oil before they put it on to bomb trains and ship it off to the local rail crossing next to your kid`s elementary school. All right. The hearings were -- they were in September in North Dakota. They were fairly intense for North Dakota. People who were concerned on the safety side showed up to make the safety case, a lot of oil industry people showed up to make the oil industry not safety case. In the end, North Dakota decided to split the baby, sort of. They decided to kind of, sort of gesture in the direction of doing something to make the oil that they`re shipping more safe. The state of North Dakota decided late last year after the spate of terrible explosions and terrible publicity about how irresponsible they`re being, they decided to require not the kinds of stabilizers that they use in Texas, to make the oil less flammable when they ship it around the country. They decided instead that they would have oil producers in North Dakota do something with the existing equipment that they had on hand. They have them do something called conditioning the oil. So conditioning the oil is not the same as stabilizing it. It`s not the same as what they`re doing in Texas. It`s not as safe as what has to happen to the oil in another parts of the country. But at least, at least, North Dakota decided late last year to require oil producers to do some processing of the oil. To make it at least a little bit more safe before that stuff gets put into the rail cars and shipped to your town. Those new regulations in North Dakota were agreed upon in December, announced in December. They made this plan. They announced in December. We`re going to make the oil that we put in those bomb trains a little more safe. They agreed to do it in December, that regulation goes into effect April 1st. So that means after this. For the hundreds of people who live in these little towns in West Virginia who have been evacuated, who don`t have power, who don`t have water, who don`t know when they`re going to get water. For everybody who counts on that river as the source of their drinking water, for the guy who`s in the hospital tonight after his house was quite literally blown up by an apocalyptic fireball. Would it have made a difference if North Dakota had acted six weeks faster? Those regulations that are going into effect literally on April 1st, would they have kept those little towns from catching fire? Would they have kept that part of West Virginia safe? Are we actually doing anything that is going to make this safer in a material way and are we doing it fast enough? Joining us now is Russell Gold. He`s the senior energy reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." He`s the author of forthcoming book "The Boom. How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Change the World." Mr. Gold, thanks very much for joining us tonight. RUSSELL GOLD, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL SENIOR ENERGY REPORTER: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: So as they start to investigate what happens here in West Virginia, do we know anything about the crude that was on those rail cars in terms of its combustibility or safety, anything else? GOLD: Well, we know is from the Bakken shale in North Dakota and every time they go out and test the Bakken shale crude they find it that it is particularly combustible and volatile. So as you put it, it`s got a lot of light ends and it has a tendency to explode. This first caught our attention at "The Wall Street Journal" back in December when the videos, the amateur videos from Casselton, North Dakota, came out. And we are looking at these enormous fireballs coming out of these trains and asking ourselves, wait a second, this isn`t the crude we know. This isn`t the crude that we`ve grown used to. Crude doesn`t explode like that. So we began asking what is going on, and the answer we found was that up in North Dakota there is very little infrastructure. And essentially, instead of removing these light ends, ethanes, propanes, and shipping them off elsewhere, they were putting them into the crude and trying to get them out to coastal refineries to be processed, straight through West Virginia, Virginia, Philadelphia, Chicago, Portland, Oregon, et cetera, et cetera. MADDOW: So the towns -- I mean, the towns along the way have to thinking about who -- not just who gets to make the decision, but what`s likely to affect the decision of these oil producers about how safe this stuff is going to be that gets pumped through their towns. Is it honestly, prohibitively expensive for North Dakota oil producers to separate this stuff out? I would -- I would have no reason to doubt their case that it is prohibitively expensive, except for the fact that in Texas they think it`s OK to do. GOLD: Well, the equipment is not prohibitively expensive. It will add a few cents to the cost. But you can -- you can take a step above what they do right now which is basically heating it up to separate it. You can go one-step beyond to really stabilize it. The problem is once you removed it, what do you do with it? Because the North Dakota oil field has grown so quickly, that they don`t have crude oil pipelines, they don`t have enough gas pipelines and they certainly don`t have enough pipelines to move all these gas liquids anywhere. So essentially, in the rush to produce oil, to go from producing a 100,000 barrels a day to 1.2 million barrels a day, which is what North Dakota does right now, they`ve just -- they`ve moved very, very quickly. That`s really the only way to say it and they haven`t built all the infrastructure. If they have the pipelines in place, this would be a very easy fix. But they built the oil field first and now they`re building the pipelines and the infrastructure that really required to have safe operations. MADDOW: So in essence what they`re doing is they`re pumping oil plus other stuff, and they`re pumping the oil and selling the oil because they can and there`s a market for that. They`ve never bothered to create any sort of system for dealing with the other stuff, whether it is this -- these highly flammable compounds that they can deal with another oil fields, or the other kinds of waste that they still haven`t figured out how to process like the radioactive filter socks that they don`t know what to with it. And all of this other detritus that comes with -- and waste water disposal, all these other detritus that comes with oils, that comes with oil drilling, they just never had to get their ducks in a row on that stuff before they start to bring this stuff to market. GOLD: Well, essentially they pumped first and now they`re trying to figure out how to deal with this. I mean, you make good points. They are building salt water disposal wells right now as quickly as they can to get rid of some of this water that comes up. They`re trying to figure out what to do with these socks which catch materials. Yes. They are coming up with solutions sort of, as they go. MADDOW: They`re coming up with solutions or not and the rest of the country are paying a price for it, depending on where they can ship this stuff out to. It`s an incredible story. Russell Gold, senior energy reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," thanks for your time tonight, and I`m glad you`ve written a book on it because I feel like this is the story that needs telling at length. GOLD: Thank you. MADDOW: Thanks a lot for being with us. Thanks. GOLD: Appreciate it. MADDOW: All right. There`s a lot more ahead tonight, including Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren meeting in the same room with each other and the sky somehow refusing to fall. I know. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This was last Thursday on the show. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I usually would finish the report like this by saying watch this space. In this case really watch the space. This really feels like an outbreak of shenanigans. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was Thursday night. I had a Scooby sense that some shenanigans were on the way. Now tonight, those aforementioned shenanigans have arrived. And that story`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So there was an unexpected oh no, was just happens, kind a moment this morning when our brand new Secretary of Defense Ash Carter pulled up outside the Pentagon for his first day of work. Washington, D.C. is very, very icy right now. A lot of things have been shut down a couple of days in D.C. because of the weather but the icy conditions were not enough to put off Ash Carter`s swearing in ceremony at the White House today and then his trip to the Pentagon for his first day at work as our nation`s newest secretary of Defense. So his car pulled up to the Pentagon in very icy Washington, D.C. Our new Defense Secretary Ash Carter got out of the car, he greeted some people, he turned around, and then, well then something went down. And it went down and I have to tell you just off camera, but still, watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa, whoa. What happened? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Whoa, whoa, what happened is that Ashton Carter`s wife, Stephanie Carter, stepped out of that big car on to the icy road and she slipped, she fell down. And it`s a real blessing that she was not hurt when she fell down. I think it is also a small but significant blessing that the cameras did not actually capture the fall itself so she never has to see that on film, right? She got up, she was a champ about the whole thing. She joked about it as she made her way up the stairs with her husband, so it ended up OK. It happens to everyone. Also so does this. At least this happens to pretty much everyone who has ever met Vice President Joe Biden. During his White House swearing in ceremony, there was this moment when Vice President Biden was trying to get Mrs. Carter to stay on the stage, he was basically, trying to keep her from shying away from the attention and from the camera shots on her husband`s big day as he spoke to swearing-in ceremony. But he did so in his very Vice President Biden way, right. Gave her a quick shoulder massage, whispered something in here ear. Yes. She was a champ about that, too. And somewhere between the fall and the shoulder rub, we did get a brand new defense secretary. Ash Carter was sworn in officially. He got his first day on the job including a meeting with the president. He`s sworn in as of today. President Obama`s fourth defense secretary. President Obama nominated Ash Carter as defense secretary in December of last year. He sailed through his confirmation hearings. The vote on him in the Senate was 93-5. He was an uncontroversial highly qualified nominee who did really well during his confirmation hearings. That was Ash Carter. That was also Loretta Lynch. President Obama`s nominee to be the next attorney general. Loretta Lynch, an incredibly accomplished prosecutor, long and distinguish career, nobody who`s in the position to know has ever publically expressed anything but admiration and respect for her and for her record. She did great during her confirmation hearing. No one laid a glove on her. I mean, to the point of it actually getting a little weird because senators decided that since they couldn`t lay a glove on her, instead they just asked her questions about other people, get her to say stuff like this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: You`re not Eric Holder, are you? LORETTA LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: No, I`m not, sir. (LAUGHTER) CORNYN: So no one is suggesting that you are, but of course, Attorney General Holder`s record is heavy on our minds now. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Loretta Lynch was nominated for her job a month before Ash Carter was nominated for his job. And neither of them had a single hiccup in their confirmation, or faced a single scandal or a single scurrilous accusation, neither one of them even got a particularly hard question. But now Ash Carter is our nation`s defense secretary, and Loretta Lynch is still waiting for a vote. And for awhile, it seemed like Republican senators were admitting that there was no substance of objections to her nomination. For a while it really seemed like she was going to get a vote. But then for some reason they had paused. Now Loretta Lynch reportedly doesn`t have enough Republican support to win confirmation as attorney general. Republicans have cooled on her, whatever that means. And if you are confounded by this turn of events is because it is confounding. In part, because of what job she`s about to get, right? Or she`s supposed to get, right? Who she is supposed to replace? There`s almost no one Republicans in Congress object to more than they object to the current attorney general. It`s not a secret, right. Republicans in Congress don`t try to disguise their malevolence about Attorney General Eric Holder. And yet here they are with a highly qualified totally noncontroversial nominee to replace Eric Holder and get him out of the job. This is their chance to get rid of him but instead of voting on her, they`ve decided to keep Eric Holder around for awhile. Even Eric Holder seems genuinely perplexed by this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is ultimately up in Congress, as to when I actually leave office. (LAUGHTER) You`d think in some ways Loretta`s process would be sped up given their desire to see me out of office. But -- (LAUGHTER) Be that as it may, I`ve never -- logic has never been necessarily a guide up there. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Attorney General Eric Holder saying today basically, "Hey, Congress, you hate me. I know you hate me, everybody knows you hate me. This is your opportunity to get rid of me. You know that, right?" (LAUGHTER) Maybe -- so maybe the reason we can`t have a new attorney general is that Republicans love hating Eric Holder too much. They love hating him so much that they can`t rid of him. Maybe that`s what`s going on. They don`t want to be without him. They enjoy the hatred for him so much. Raising money off him or something, I don`t know. Or maybe it`s taken about five minutes into this current Congress for Republicans to go all Ted Cruz on this subject. It was Texas Senator Ted Cruz back in the fall who said Republicans should block all of President Obama`s nominees, however qualified, until President Obama changed his mind and reverse his decision on immigration policy. It was Ted Cruz who argued that Republicans should not only block all qualified nominees, he said they shouldn`t even in worry about shutting down the government. That would be totally worth it as a tool of leverage to get President Obama to change his mind on immigration and reverse his immigration policy. Republicans in Congress decided to not go a full Ted Cruz and shut down the whole government over President Obama`s immigration policy. They decided instead to do kind of a half Ted Cruz and just shut down the Department of Homeland Security. Funding for the Homeland Security Department will end next Thursday. If Republicans in Congress don`t act to fund that department. They say they won`t act to fund that department unless President Obama changes his immigration policy. The Republican Party also decided not to go a full Ted Cruz on blocking all qualified Obama nominees. After all they were happy to confirm Ash Carter, but they apparently are going sort of a half Ted Cruz on that strategy as well. They`re not blocking all of President Obama`s nominees, but they are blocking Loretta Lynch apparently as some sort of protest against President Obama`s policy on immigration. So good for Ted Cruz. He`s been half getting his way, right, on holding up everything in the government as a way of trying to block the president`s policy on immigration, as a way of trying to get the president to not implement that policy. Well, today the calculus on all of that changed in a pretty big way because today a conservative federal judge blocked President Obama`s immigration order anyway. The president said today his administration will appeal that ruling, but in the meantime the sole policy that the Republicans hate so much, it`s on hold, it`s not happening. It`s on hold because the Republican Party -- excuse me, it`s not on hold because the Republican Party made threats and promised to shut down Homeland Security. It`s not on hold because they said we can`t have a new attorney general. The reason the policy is on hold is because it`s getting held up in the courts. At least temporarily. And so now here`s the big unanswered question. Now that the conservative complaints about President Obama`s immigration policy are being handled in the courts, now that the judiciary is on that, does that mean that the country will please be allowed to have a Homeland Security Department again? Can we have a Homeland Security Department since the immigration is blocked? And can we have a new attorney general? Can we have any one of those? Or do you guys really just want to keep Eric Holder as attorney general forever? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: To the extent that political parties can be said to have souls, Senator Elizabeth Warren is all of that and a bag of chips, and a root beer, and flexi straw, and a cookie for the modern Democratic Party. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Now look, you build a factory, and then turn it into something terrific or a great idea, God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Elizabeth Warren gave that unscripted speech during her Senate campaign 2011, this year this Senator Warren keeps saying that she is not running for president in 2016. But she has, today, quietly become a signal that something is going on in the presidential race for 2016 that may be an unprecedented thing in American politics. And that story is next. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The Republican field for president feels -- what`s the word? Cluttered. They are all very nice people, I`m sure, but there are a lot of them. There`s some clutter. The Democratic field, however, not cluttered, spartan, ascetic, even minimalist. There is the former U.S. senator from the great state of Virginia, Jim Webb, who announced that he might be running late last year, launching this campaign with this video which he found lodged in a broken Fisher-Price camera from 1987. Despite that big launch, this weekend Senator Webb seemed to maybe change his mind saying in an interview that he might not be able to raise enough money to actually go through with running for president. Then there`s the former governor of Maryland, Martin O`Malley, who had an interesting and totally weird physical injury just happened to him. We are told that Martin O`Malley is apparently doing his campaigning now with his arm in a giant brace because he broke his elbow in a mysterious weight- lifting accident that no one will explain. Even with all of that, human interest intrigue, I mean, how does that happen, what does his injury look like, what does the brace look like. Even with that human interest level, we can`t show you a picture of him campaigning for president with his elbow brace cast on because we can`t find one anywhere because nobody is taking pictures of him as he travels around the country. There is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, technically independent senator. He may be running. He`s making noises to make it sound like he will run. I say this with absolutely no offense intended and I like Senator Sanders a lot. But I believe his run will probably be a run to get his ideas out there on a presidential platform more than anything else. There is a large and committed effort you may know among the Democratic Party faithful to try to draft Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to run. It really seems, though, like she is not going to. She`s not doing any of the things you would be typically doing. No. If you`re going to run for president. Today there was a little bit of a jolt of excitement in Democratic circles when the "New York Times" reported about a one-on-one meeting in December between Senator Warren and Hillary Clinton. It apparently happened at Mrs. Clinton`s house in Washington. Senator Clinton reaching out to Senator Warren to ask her to come over one-on-one without staffers and talk policy. What`s a tad unclear is exactly why this unnamed Democrat briefed on the meeting is leaking this news to the "New York Times" now if the meeting happened in December. One can only wonder about that. But what is clear is that Senator Elizabeth Warren really does not seem to be running for president, which then forces a difficult question of who is left and what that means for the Democratic chances of holding on to the White House in 2016. I mean, is Hillary Clinton going to run effectively if not literally unopposed? As a matter of history, that would be almost unprecedented for an open run for the presidency. In 1968, the Republican and Democratic Parties created what we now consider to be the modern nominating process, with binding primaries and binding caucuses instead of just working everything up by the insiders at the conventions. Since then, since 1968, you want to know how many non-incumbent nominees ran unopposed? Zero. None. I mean, the closest example is 2000 when Vice President Al Gore faced opposition in the form of former U.S. senator, Bill Bradley. That election, though, Al Gore won every single primary and every single caucus. He was also running as the sitting vice president at the time. And yes, there are a few years where there was one prohibitive front runner in Ronald Reagan in 1980, John Kerry 2004, Mitt Romney, frankly, in 2012, but there was at least some competition pushing that front runner, and that front runner in all those cases didn`t win 100 percent of the delegates. I mean, Hillary Clinton running de facto unopposed for the nomination? For an open seat? From what we can tell that would be unlike anything that has ever happened before in American politics. An unprecedented first. Which means that we can`t predict from history how exactly it would turn out. I mean, isn`t an uncontested nomination for Hillary Clinton a good thing? Where she`d be fresh as a daisy for the general election having been able to essentially sit out the primary season? Or would it be a bad thing for the Democrats` chances of hoping to hold on to the presidency? I mean, if a primary toughens you up for the general election? And she`s not really going to have one. Is there a plan in Hillary Clintonville to basically plan around that problem? To compensate for that difficulty that she oddly might have as the Republicans fight it out amongst themselves to pick a nominee to compete against her, and she just gets to walk to the general. Joining us now is Anne Gearan. She`s a political correspondent from "The Washington Post" assigned to cover Hillary Clinton and her possible upcoming campaign. Anne, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for being here. ANNE GEARAN, WASHINGTON POST REPORTER: Thank you. Glad to be here. MADDOW: Let me ask you first as a professional Hillary Clinton watcher now, as your job. Am I asking the right question? Do I -- the way I just framed this, is that the way they are approaching the prospect of her candidacy? GEARAN: Yes and a little bit no. MADDOW: OK. GEARAN: So on the yes front, certainly all of the many Hillary Clinton backers and Hillary Clinton insiders are delighted that at this point there isn`t some giant primary problem that she has to overcome, anything on the order of Barack Obama in 2008. It makes things a whole lot easier in terms of assembling a campaign operation, raising money, and as you alluded to in your intro, essentially coasting to what, at this point, looks like a nearly uncontested election. At the same time, many Democrats, including many who are close to her, know that that is, in many ways, unorthodox, and probably not a great idea in terms of having a battle tested ready candidate for the general. You don`t want all of the things that might come your way to hit you in the general election. You want some of that to be worked out in the primary. At least that`s sort of the general theory of why primary opposition is good. And she won`t, at this point have much. It certainly doesn`t look like she will. MADDOW: Is there any way that they`re thinking, as far as you know, that they can plan around that? I mean, I think part of the reason that people are so intrigued by this report today about the meeting between Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren is because part of the reason people want Elizabeth Warren to run is to give Hillary Clinton somebody to run against in the Democratic context, so Democratic ideas get flushed out and Democratic fights happened before the general election. The idea of them talking if not colluding while one of them is obviously going to run and one of them isn`t I think has piqued people`s interest in terms of how the Clinton campaign might get around this constraint that they have in terms of running an unprecedented no primary general election run-up. GEARAN: Absolutely, and it was a nice scoop that Maggie Abraham had today on that meeting. And you can only kind of imagine what the conversation must have been like. And given that it really does not look at all like Elizabeth Warren is going to mount a campaign of her own, she is a very smart politician and she is using her leverage in exactly, it seems to me, the most effective way, which is to -- and in this case she was invited by Hillary Clinton to come and talk to her. To keep Clinton honest, to say here is a -- you know, here I represent a very large potent and important part of the party, certainly a big important part -- particularly in the primary stages. And I am going to tell you -- Elizabeth Warren, I`m going to tell what that part of the party thinks. It`s not as if Hillary Clinton doesn`t know already, but here she has someone who kind of personifies something that Hillary Clinton is not. And that`s an important thing in the primary phase. At this point it`s the closest thing that Clinton has to primary opposition. An undeclared and extremely unlikely candidate embodying a thing that she is going to have to take in -- take on board and be able to reflect in order to get the kind of party support and enthusiasm that she needs. One thing that Clinton supporters don`t want to see is her close to a nomination and have the entire party be just bored stiff by the entire process. MADDOW: Right. Exactly. It`s one thing to consolidate the party behind you, it`s another thing to make everybody forget it`s happening because there`s no politics on TV anymore. GEARAN: Exactly. Exactly. MADDOW: Fascinating stuff. Anne Gearan, reporter for the "Washington Post." GEARAN: Thank you. MADDOW: Who has a particularly exciting beat right now. Anne, thanks very much. Appreciate it. All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Today is the last day in office for the longest serving governor of Oregon in the state`s history. He got elected to his first term in 1994, then another term in 1998. Then he took a few years off. Then he came back and he got elected again in 2010. And then he just got elected again in 2014. He just got elected again this past November. But today is Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber`s last day in office as he steps down from the governorship. Technically voluntarily but under a ton of pressure after all the other major Democratic leaders and elected officials in the state called for him to do so, and his ethics investigation of him spread from the state ethics commission to the state attorney general`s office to the FBI. Governor Kitzhaber leaves office under raging storm clouds of suspicion and recrimination, mostly about the role of his girlfriend in his administration, and alleged efforts of him to cover his tracks as governor once the investigations into her role started. Oregon is a state that has had far less than a state`s usual share of political scandal and corruption. And so from all accounts, Governor Kitzhaber leaving office under these terms, the scandal that got him to this point may have left the state more than a little shook up, which is a hard place to start if you are the new governor. But that is what Oregon gets tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. local time when Secretary of State Kate Brown is sworn in as Oregon`s 37th governor. Oregon doesn`t have a lieutenant governor so as secretary of state, Kate Brown is next in line. And becoming a new governor when you never expected to has got to be hard for anyone. Taking the reins of the state government that is in chaos and shock is a challenge for the ages. Good luck, brand new governor, Kate Brown, Oregon`s new governor as of 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We spend a lot of time on this show talking about people who give politics a bad name. Politicians who go bribe shopping like they`re going to pick up a quart of milk. Politicians who are convicted felons. Politicians who run as family values crusaders while they have a hooker thing going on, on the side. Politicians who steal speeches from WikiPedia or who steal quarters from parking meters. It`s hard to think sometimes why anyone would want to go into politics when you look at who goes into politics. But in today`s news we have found the cure for that feeling, and that story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Not quite a year ago, the brand new mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, was arrested in an FBI sting for taking thousands of dollars in bribes. The city council chose a state senator to fill his shoes. So when that senator resigned to take over as mayor of Charlotte, there was a vacancy seat for the Senate seat. Under the arcane rules of the local Democratic Party, 49 people gathered in a Charlotte church to choose the new senator for that now open seat. 49 people, there were four candidates. The winner with a grand total of 25 votes was this guy. His name is Jeff Jackson, although really the biggest winner of the night was Mr. Jackson`s stepson because Mr. Jackson had promised that if he won, he would get the kid a puppy. It think we have a picture of Jeff Jackson here. Yes. There he is. He`s an army veteran, he served in Afghanistan. Also serves as an assistant district attorney, prosecutor. You probably have heard that snowy, icy weather has been pounding North Carolina and much of the southeast these past couple of days. Well, Senator Jackson arrived at work this morning at the North Carolina state capital in the middle of the snowstorm and he discovered that he was alone there. Nobody else had showed up to work in the hall legislature. Now you or I, this is probably the time where if we were in the North Carolina state legislature, we`d think snow day, awesome, turn around and go home. But Senator Jeff Jackson didn`t do that. Instead he said, quoting from his Facebook page, quote, "I feel like I should hurry up and pass Medicaid expansion. Anything else while I`ve got the place to myself?" And then this, quote, "Just came back from the Senate chamber. All votes were unanimous, Medicaid expanded. Teachers paid." A few minutes later, "Independent redistricting, check. Invest heavily in wind and solar, check. Support early childhood education, check. Broad-based economic development, check. North Carolina is quickly becoming a national model for progress." Then about an hour in, "I`m now receiving lots of calls from actual lobbyists. Even the false appearance of power gets their attention." Another hour down, "Just had a big debate over whether to cut our university system even more. In a 1-0 vote, we decided that would be a terrible idea." Two hours later, "I just defeated a filibuster because I needed a drink of water. That removes any opposition to new childcare subsidies." In the end, Senator Jackson presided over a marathon five-hour, one lawmaker, totally fake, but very fun-to-watch legislative session. He was like a guy diving into his backyard snow drifts just because they were there. Winter gave Senator Jackson of North Carolina the chance to be a legislature of one today. And you know what? The guy dove right in -- almost the best new thing in the world today. It looks like weather has canceled all of North Carolina`s legislative business tomorrow, as well. Gleeful North Carolina State Senator Jeff Jackson, get back to work. I`m sure you have more to do. That does it for us tonight. 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