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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/23/15

Guests: Todd Gillman, Eliza Jane Schaeffer, Rachel Belin

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday. In the great state of Massachusetts, there are 40 seats in the Senate, 40. And right now, the party division looks like this. Do we have it? Ah, there it is. That`s the party division. Blue for Democrat, red for Republican. Aww! There are 34 Democrats in the Senate, six Republicans. But don`t feel bad for the six Republicans because there may only be six of them but every single one of them is a winner, by which I mean every one is a leader. The great Frank Phillips of "The Boston Globe" today reports that even though there are only six Republicans in the Senate, every one of them is a leader of the Republicans in the Senate. They have given every Republican in the Senate a leadership title, which by the way means they all get an extra $15,000 in their salary. If you check under your seat right now, you get a leadership job, you get a leadership job. Everyone gets a leadership job. If everybody is a leader, who follows the leaders, the other leaders. The best one is this guy, the Tea Party guy from Worcester, Mass. His leadership title is that he is the assistant minority whip, and that gets him an extra $15,000 a year. But what he is supposed to do for the extra $15,000 a year is he is supposed to as the assistant minority whip, he is supposed to whip the votes of all the Republican senators in the state who are not in the leadership to make sure all of the other senators do what the leadership tells them to do. The problem is, all of the Republican senators in the state are in the leadership. They called themselves all leaders. So, this guy literally has no work to do for the 15 grand, which is nice work if you can get it, because it is at the legislative level, such a one-party state. Massachusetts is one of those states that almost never makes national political news. Yes, occasionally something funny happens like when the last six Republicans left in the Senate decide that in their leadership race, they are all tied for first place, right? Sometimes it is something funny like that. Sometimes it`s less funny ha-ha than funny strange like when a Tea Party Republican won Ted Kennedy`s freaking U.S. Senate seat for a half term. That was very strange. That`s over now. So, Massachusetts does not usually make national political waves. And when it does it is almost always because of something quirky or funny. Right now, Massachusetts is trying its best to throw a really big rock into the very still waters of national Democratic politics. This is a column that just ran in the Sunday "Boston Globe" urging Senator Elizabeth Warren that she should run for president. This is another column, that just ran in the Sunday "Boston Globe" urging Senator Elizabeth Warren to please run for president. This is another column that just ran in the Sunday "Boston Globe" urging Elizabeth Warren to run for president. And this is the editorial that just ran in the Sunday "Boston Globe", alongside all of those other columns on the same day, all of the same page, imploring Senator Elizabeth Warren to please run for president. "Boston Globe", one of the best papers in the country, the dominant paper in the whole northeastern corridor of the country, "Boston Globe" just basically did a whole special section of the paper devoted to trying to persuade Senator Elizabeth Warren that she really ought to run for president this year, even though she clearly doesn`t want to. We called the editorial page editor of "The Globe" today to ask about this paper`s decision to go huge with this editorial push. "The Globe" told us they haven`t done an official archival search or anything, but as far as they know, this paper has never done anything like this before. They said they asked themselves what would be the most provocative, interesting way of getting the point across that they believe Elizabeth Warren should run for president and they decided on this full-blast approach with running all of these columns and this editorial all simultaneously. The editorial page editor told us that "The Globe" wants to, quote, "urge a discussion of the ideas that Elizabeth Warren represents on a national scale. We feel the best way to do that is for her to get into the primary". And so, then, make the case. They make the case over and over and over again, and again, what it amounts to a special section of "The Boston Globe." Democrats would be making as mistake if they let Hillary Clinton coast to the presidential nomination without real opposition, and as a national leader, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren can make sure that doesn`t happen. While Warren has repeatedly vowed that she won`t run for president herself, she ought to reconsider. She should not shrink from the chance to set the course for the Democratic Party or cede that task to Hillary Clinton without a fight. If Senator Warren put hers causes, and goals front and center as Democrats gather for forces for the crucial 2016 campaign, Elizabeth Warren could enrich the political process for years to come. That`s all from "The Globe" editorial, the columns that "The Globe" ran alongside that editorial makes the same case for a bunch of different angles. Warren is the Democrat best positioned to draw out Hillary Clinton in areas critical to the future of the Democratic Party. Elizabeth Warren would be a strong candidate. She could win. This moment was made for Elizabeth Warren. "The Globe" told us today what they have just done with this -- again, sort of editorial onslaught -- they told us it should not be mistaken as an endorsement of Elizabeth Warren for president. This is not a presidential endorsement. What they are endorsing is the primary process. They want Democrats to have a primary, and they think Elizabeth Warren would give her the best one. In other words, they`re not saying they want Elizabeth Warren to run for the presidency because they necessarily want her to win the presidency. They want her to run because her running would itself be good for the country and specifically good for the Democratic Party. Basically they are saying that her being in the race would pull the Democratic party to the least, or at least to the issues of middle-class economics and the absolutely stupefying levels of income inequality that we have that have been getting so much worse so fast even as the economy starts to get better. Even if she couldn`t win, at least her issues would be in the race. So, it`s -- I mean, it`s got to be weird, like if you are Elizabeth Warren, right? You open up the paper Sunday morning, good God, right, there`s the editorial, and there is a column, and there`s another column, and there`s another column -- the whole section of your hometown paper persuading you to run which you do not want to do. That`s got to be kind of a weird breakfast read, right? But it`s also an interesting argument that`s happening right now in Massachusetts. This argument about Elizabeth Warren, right? There`s this interesting argument that whether or not you can win, there might be value, there might be great value just in you running, just by running. If you run well, if you run in the right race at the right time, even if you don`t win, you can pretty radically change the direction and commitments of one of the two major political parties in this country. You can have a huge affect on national politics just by running -- which brings us to this guy, who today with great fanfare and a big speech at Liberty University in Virginia, today, Texas Senator Ted Cruz launched what I believe is his campaign for vice president of the United States. Technically, what Ted Cruz said today is that he is running for president of the United States, but -- ahh, at least nobody was handicapping the presidential race at this point seems to think there is any credible threat of that happening. Honestly, I don`t bet. I`m terrible at gambling. It makes me shaky. If I had to bet money on the 2016 presidential race, honestly, I think Elizabeth Warren has more of a chance of being elected in 2016 than Ted Cruz does, and that includes the fact he is running and she is not. Ted Cruz could not be elected president of the United States of America. Ted Cruz could be elected president of Texas. That may yet happen in our lifetimes, but there`s no I think reason to believe that Ted Cruz could win a national general election race. Him getting into that race is potentially important for the future of the Republican Party and the future of Ted Cruz, because if the Republican Party does pick a more establishment centrist candidate -- hi, Jeb Bush -- and it turns out the candidate needs a fire brand, super white wing Tea Party running mate, Ted Cruz may fit that bill, right? His best hope is that he positions himself well as a vice presidential pick for a more moderate Republican nominee. That does not seem out of the realm of possibility. You only need to persuade one person, right, when it comes to picking a vice presidential nominee. Stranger things have happened -- Sarah Palin. Even if Ted Cruz does not get picked for vice president, though, the fact that he is in the race and he`s going to be at all the events, he`s going to be at all the debates, that will likely have the effect of pushing all of the other Republican candidates for president and, therefore, Republican politics as a whole toward something that is closer to his image, further to the right. Ted Cruz is a good debater. His political strategy at the national level has been to take stake out a position that is more conservative, more uncompromising, more doctrinaire to the point of being impractical and derive any Republicans who don`t go along with him. At CPAC this year, all the other Republican candidates gave speeches how terrible President Obama is and how terrible Hillary Clinton is and how all the Democrats are. Ted Cruz gave a speech at CPAC about how terrible the Republicans are. So, he`s in now. He made the announcement today in a long speech he delivered without notes and without using a teleprompter. The venue was Liberty University, which is the very, very conservative school in Virginia, that was founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell. Kids at the Jerry Falwell university were actually required by the school today to go to this Ted Cruz event. Any kid who did not show up at this event today would face a fine of $10 that they would have to pay to the school if they did not attend today`s speech. And that did ensure a very full room for Senator Cruz today, but it also led to funny visuals like these Liberty University kids who clearly did not want to be fined $10, but also did not want anybody to think that their presence at the Tex Cruz event indicated their support for Ted Cruz running for president. Their t-shirts say "stand with Rand." This whole announcement was sort of a mix of very well-planned and very poorly planned. I mean, it`s nice to have a really big room filled with thousands of people. It`s not nice when you can tell some people have been conscripted to be there against their will. It was nice for his campaign that Senator Cruz had a text message number that he had ready and he reference in his speech where you could right then and there take out your cell phone and text to that number and sign up to support his campaign. That was nice to be well-prepared in that front. It was not so nice that anybody who wanted to check out or or any other reasonable thing you might look for on the web about him running were instead greeted with these Web sites. Look at, if you go -- OK. So if you go to, it`s just a splash of pages, support President Obama, immigration reform now. That is right now is for sale., if you type that in, it redirects you immediately to, oh, look, where you can sign up for Obamacare., maybe this is just me messing something up or I have a weird browser but this is what it brings up for me on my brother, just a slide show of random stock photos of inexplicable scenery with no words or anywhere to click. So, he`s the guy who`s first in. It`s this weird mix of well-prepared and well-choreographed on the one hand and this is Seriously? It`s going to go to a mix of, like, really well prepared and also. We`re also learning interesting details about the timing, some interesting questions about why now. Specifically why now? As recently as Saturday afternoon, Liberty University was not admitting that Ted Cruz was going to be speaking, though, this morning, let alone announcing this morning that he was running for president. They had Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on their schedule as the speaker for this event that the kids have to pay $10 if they don`t go to. Folks at the University say they only got a call from Ted Cruz`s people last week asking if he could come and make the presidential announcement at the university today. So, however long they may have been planning it for, the Liberty University part of it they have not been planning that long at all. Reporter Todd Gillman at "The Dallas Morning News" also had an interesting mini scoop about the timing and the planning behind what happened today. While everybody else was just marveling that Ted Cruz had just jumped right in and said, I`m running, while everybody was marveling that he decide to skip the damn exploratory phase that everybody goes through and instead just jumped right in, Todd Gillman at "The Dallas Morning News" reported today that quietly, almost secretly, last week Ted Cruz did form an official exploratory committee for president. He just didn`t tell anyone that he was doing it. He did not make an announcement about it. He gave it a title that nobody would associate with Ted Cruz running for president at all. So, for whatever reason, he apparently felt a need to set up an exploratory fund last week in order to do some of the housekeeping and organizational work you need to do to set up a run for president maybe. He did set something up quietly, very quietly last week. He just kept it completely out of the news. So, today, would feel like, oh, my God, the Beyonce`s record just showed up on iTunes. We didn`t know she was making one. Kind of a genius move, right? It`s kind of a genius move. You are prepping all of this time. Everybody else is prepping in public. You`re prepping quietly and secretly behind the scenes. But now, we know he really was prepping behind the scenes. Kind of a genius move and we would not have known about it had Todd Gillman not reported it today in Dallas. Joining us now is Todd Gillman, D.C. bureau chief for "The Dallas Morning News". He was in Lynchburg today for Senator Cruz`s announcement. And he`s followed Senator Cruz`s political career for years. Mr. Gillman, thank you very much for being here. TODD GILLMAN, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: It`s a pleasure, Rachel. MADDOW: I have to ask you about this exploratory committee. Before I saw you report on this, I had not realized he might have had to do stuff behind the scenes before making the big splashy announcement today. As far as you can tell, was -- did he keep it quiet so today would land with a bigger splash? GILLMAN: Oh, I think that`s right. I don`t think it is a major conspiracy. He clearly was going for the element of surprise and the dramatic effect of going straight to a formal campaign. I think the technicality of filing an exploratory committee was just something they did, as I understand it, from in speaking to senior strategist today, and I got to confess, I wasn`t the only reporter the strategist told this to. They just needed to do it so they could sign some contracts in the brief window between last week and this. MADDOW: We are seeing sort of a mix of granular detail about in some ways seeming very prepared, seeming very on the ball and in some ways dropping the ball entirely. The Web site thing is a nightmare. It would be one thing if it was and somebody snaked you for it a long time ago. But the fact it is,, They don`t really seem to have done anything protective in that regard. GILLMAN: You know, 20 years ago, we used to ask these candidates stupid questions like boxers or briefs, and I guess we need to ask them if they are a dotcom or dot-org kind of guy. And Ted Cruz is a dot-org kind of a guy. It is kind of bad planning I guess that they didn`t squat on the various names that might have been associated with Senator Cruz as somebody out there in cyberspace obviously did to preempt him and kind of, you know screw him up, I guess. MADDOW: Well, between that and Liberty University finding out about this, what he wanted to do very late. If it was last week with forming the mini exploratory committee in order to do those house cleanings, do you have any sense about the decision and the timing and why Senator Cruz might have seemingly rushed to get out there today? Why today? Why now? He obviously wanted to be first, but why has it happened the way it has? GILLMAN: Right, I don`t think it was rushed. Jerry Falwell Jr., the current president and son of the founder of Liberty University explained to his student body that he got a call from a Cruz aide about 10 days ago asking for this for forum. It happened to be the time slot that Terry McAuliffe occupied. McAuliffe didn`t want to be -- have his message stepped on by this and he stepped aside to give it up for Cruz. I think that Cruz decided to do it now as a strategy. He is lagging in the polls. He is down at about 4 or 5 percent in national polls probably doing a little bit better in places Iowa and South Carolina where the evangelical vote is more important within the Republican votes, the electorate. But strategically what he gets to do now is leapfrog in front of everybody else. Can you imagine how much attention someone now gets for forming an exploratory committee? How exciting is that going to be? We have somebody who is actively running for president. So, Cruz has kind of short-circuited that. He`s changed the rules of the game a little bit and the fact is there`s not that much time left. People are going to have to declare for president. The first debates if five months away. They need to start to raise money. Most of them are waiting until April 1st or later so they don`t have to worry about how much money they raise in this filing period for the FEC reports that are going to be due. Cruz is setting himself an ambitious target of raising a million or more in the next week before the end of the quarter so that he shows credibility in that regard. He is clearly going to be lagging people like Jeb Bush and some of the others in fund-raising. But being first out the gate gets you more attention than fifth out of the gate. MADDOW: Yes. GILLMAN: And now he has done it and done it in front of 8,000 or 10,000 people, it sets a bar higher for the next few people. MADDOW: That`s right. Everybody will have to have a trick or some story-telling device when they do it. Todd Gillman, D.C. bureau chief of the "Dallas Morning News" -- really helpful to have you here, Todd. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. GILLMAN: Sure one thing. MADDOW: I will say, one piece of the reaction to Ted Cruz declaring has been he`s going to have a real problem. He is not potentially a viable candidate because other senators hate him so much, but he is famously he most hated member of Congress when you poll other members of Congress about how they feel about each other. I got to say, I have faith that Ted Cruz will turn that no an asset in his political column. He`s going to run as the most hated man in Washington and try to turn it to his advantage. I don`t see that as a downside for him. I think he could run with that. We`ll see. Lots more ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Every day, toward the end of the business day, the White House Press Office sends out President Obama`s schedule for the next day. So, last night, just before 7:00 p.m., they sent out this daily guidance for what President Obama was going to do today. At 10:00 a.m., the president and the vice president had their daily intelligence briefing. At 10:10, the president goes to see the science fair. And in the afternoon, the president delivers remarks at a summit in Maryland. That was pretty much a typical thing, and that`s what the president had on the books for today officially. But there was an addendum. Late tonight, we learned about something that was not on the official schedule they hand out ahead of time. A few hours ago the White House Press Office disclosed an off-schedule meeting that took place today between President Obama and somebody named Hillary Clinton. Apparently, they didn`t announce in advance but President Obama met with Secretary Clinton this afternoon one-on-one at the White House. The report says the two met for about an hour and they discussed, quote, "a range of topics". What they talked about we don`t know. But we know that Hillary Clinton and President Obama met at the White House today in a meeting that the president did not allow to be publicized in advance. This is the part where we all say in unison, oh to be a fly on the wall. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Early this morning, at the start of the workweek, a woman went to open her office in Jackson, Mississippi. She went to the back door, as she usually does. And when she got there, she noticed one of the security cameras lying on the ground. It had been ripped off the usual spot on the roof. It was just laying on the pavement. The wires from that camera were dangling loose alongside the side of the building, and she saw a second security camera had been pulled off of its housing, as well. And it appeared that somebody had tried to cut the electrical wiring in to the building to wreck an expensive generator that state law requires that building to have on site. Inside she could hear the alarm going off when she got there. The business that is reporting this attack on their premises today is the last remaining abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. Supporters and defenders of that clinic painted it bright pink a few years ago, as a way of saying they were not budging, they were not hiding, they are not ashamed of their work. They wouldn`t be chased away. Their motto was, "This clinic stays open." Today with the discovery of this physical attack on that property, that motto becomes a watch word for the last clinic standing in Mississippi, this clinic stays open. The clinic says whoever attacked them last night ended up getting caught at least on video. Look at this, the clinic sent us the surveillance video from the clinic`s cameras just before those cameras with were knocked down. You see the figure in boots, maybe a hood some kind, maybe a mask you can see from the angle. They are carrying what might be a hatchet or some other sort of long-handled tool. The surveillance images again were taken early this morning just after midnight last night basically at the last open abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. These images are somebody who`s definitely lurking outside the clinic, who seems to want to do damage to the clinic itself. We don`t know. But right after these images were taken, the cameras that took these images were destroyed. We have been following the story of this clinic in Jackson for a few years now. Republicans in Mississippi have come up with a few ways think they could force the clinic to close. Most recently, they forced doctors to get admitting privileges from local hospitals which Mississippi officials expected and hoped would be impossible for the doctors and would there by result in the clinic being shut down. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) GOV. PHIL BRYANT (R), MISSISSIPPI: We`re going to try to work to end abortion in Mississippi. This is an historic day to begin that process. TATE REEVES, MISSISSIPPI LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Our goal needs to be to end all abortions in Mississippi. I believe the admitting privileges bill gives us the best chance to do that. STATE REP. BUBBA CARPENTER (R), MISSISSIPPI: We have literally stopped abortion in the state of Mississippi. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: You can`t stop a federally-protected right. But Mississippi has been very determined to try. This new way of attacking clinics through state laws, these new requirements about admitting privileges, they have turned out to be pretty unpopular with federal courts. Abortion is a federally protected right in this country and federal judges have blocked those Mississippi-style laws in some states. On Friday, a federal judge blocked the same kind of law in Wisconsin, just as judges have blocked those same kind of laws in Louisiana and Alabama. Last month, officials in Mississippi announced that they would keep fighting to get that admitting privileges law back in place to try to close that last remaining clinic in their state. That is how the fight is playing out on the courts. On the sidewalks, though, this is a very different kind of fight. Just like clinics around the country, this clinic in Mississippi has tried to shield its patients and staff from local protesters who show up day after day. The Jackson clinic has built up a day of defenders and escorts who try to keep the peace, try to keep the doors open. Over the past few days, a new a anti-abortion group has arrived in Jackson, but the clinic says is not just protesting but really harassing the clinic and people trying to use it. In kind of a signal flare, this last clinic in the state posted something online about these new arrivals that they describe as younger, more militant than usual haranguers out front. The clinic also posted pictures of the destruction when they opened the clinic today, with what looks to be an attempt to shut them down by pulling out wires and taking down the security cameras that monitor the clinic. We asked local police about the case. They did not get back to us. A local FBI office says they cannot comment on calls for help. But people at the clinic said they reached out to police and federal agents. They say what is happening now at this last clinic in Mississippi represents an unsettling change from the kind of challenges that they had faced before. Clinic`s director told us tonight that the clinic`s staff and its volunteer defenders from now are going to keep watch around the clock, 24 hours a day, at least while new heightened protests continue in Mississippi. Director Shannon Brewer told us today this, quote, "We`re going to be here. We`re not going anywhere. We are insisting that from this day to the end of this, we are going to be here." The clinic staff is, as I said, going to keep watch so they can stay open safely. They are going to be keeping watch around the clock tonight in Mississippi. We`ll let you know more as we learn more. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT UNITED STATES: Do you guys like inventing and building things like this? UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Uh-huh. OBAMA: Huh? UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Yes. OBAMA: You guys are very good at this. I`m so impressed. You are resetting it. UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: That`s our special page. OBAMA: That`s the page -- UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: The magic page. OBAMA: This is wonderful, guys. Can I take a picture with you? UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Sure. GIRLS: Which camera do we look at? OBAMA: I know. It`s confusing, isn`t it? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Today in Washington, D.C., it was the annual White House science fair, a tradition now in the Obama presidency. Kids across the country show off their science projects and inventions in an effort to better the world. Or sometimes just to shoot a marshmallow really far across the state dining room. Today, President Obama set in a tricked out wheelchair that uses 3D printed super practical modular accessories. He made waves in a mini hydro electric power demonstration. He consulted with the super girls of Girl Scout Troop 411 in Oklahoma. They created a page-turning machine out of Legos. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Where are those super girls? (APPLAUSE) Yes. You can`t -- they are standing up, but you can`t really see `em because they are in kindergarten and first grade. They realize some people who might be paralyzed or arthritic might have trouble turning pages on a book. So, they invented this page turner. It was awesome. It was working so well, despite the fact as they pointed out, this is a quote, they say, this is just a prototype. That`s what they said. So, this is just a -- I said how did you come up with the idea? Well, we had a brainstorming session. And then one of them asked, Mr. President, have you had brainstorming sessions? I said, yeah. But I didn`t come up with something as cool as this. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Where are those super girls? President Obama interacting with very earnest kids at the science fair is a nice illustration of what can go right between kids and politicians. The state of Kentucky today provided a nice illustration of the opposite. That story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: It`s easy to feel cynical about politics. It is also possible to have your faith restored in the most earnest possible way. Like for example, the story of Olivia McConnell who loves fossils and who knows how her state government works and who wrote to her state legislator in South Carolina and explained that one of the first vertebra fossils in the United States was discovered in her home state of South Carolina and most states have a state fossil but South Carolina didn`t, and South Carolina should have a state fossil and please would her state legislator try to make that happen. Signed, your friend, Olivia. And Olivia, age 8, thereby started the process of South Carolina choosing the wooly mammoth as its state fossil. The story got national attention and became, honestly, one of my favorite stories of the year last year. When a state senator of South Carolina decided that the idea of a fossil was just too much for his little brain and he decided to stop the bill from passing by adding in whole sections from the Book of Genesis into the bill`s language, stating that, yes, sure, South Carolina may have a wooly mammoth fossil, but that wooly mammoth was created on the sixth day with the beasts of the field and that must be in the law. Olivia`s bill got waylaid for a long time with the Old Testament diversion, but Olivia stuck with it, and she said she would stick with it forever, until she was 23 maybe, or maybe even until she was 40, but she did not have to stick with it until she was 40. South Carolina eventually came around in part because of her perseverance and South Carolina got its official state fossil, and Olivia says she wants to be a scientist -- but now, I prefer her to be governor or at least legislator, since she can get things done. And now, more cynicism antidote. This is the giant salamander, cute. It`s from Idaho. In 2012, an Idaho fourth grader wrote to her state legislator to see about getting the Idaho giant salamander designated as that state amphibian. That was 2012. She was in fourth grade. She got as far as the bill getting drafted. Couldn`t get a hearing. 2013, she tried again. Bill got printed. Couldn`t get a hearing. 2014, she tried again, got a hearing couldn`t get it passed. This year, she went back at it again. This is actually her fifth time, her fifth trip to the legislative session in her state trying to get this passed, and when they brought it up in January, they voted it down. They voted no. Conservative legislators raised an objection. They said, well, if Idaho officially professes its love for this giant salamander, maybe it will be declared endangered or something or communism, or whatever. The argument made absolutely no sense at all. There was no connection between picking a state amphibian and endangered species. But even though the argument made no sense, it still held the day. The only other argument that legislators articulated against the freaking salamander bill was that salamanders are gross and icky. Literally, that was their argument look at this. Look at this. Look -- memories of a childhood aversion to salamanders led Representative Ken Andrus to oppose state legislation that would have made the Idaho giant salamander the state amphibian. Quote, "When I grew up, when I was a young boy in our swimming hole, there were salamanders. And I learned to despise them. They were ugly, they were slimy, and they were creepy. And I`ve not gotten over that." Somebody give that man a noogie. But the girl who started the campaign in the fourth grade in Idaho, she did not give up. She said she would not give up and she hasn`t given up. She is now 14. She started this when she was in fourth grade. She`s now 14. And today, today, she started to win today, today. Her bill got through the Idaho house. Even though the guy who said he couldn`t vote for it because salamanders are ugly, he still voted no for that reason. But Ilah Hickman has stuck with in Idaho from 4th grade. She`s now 14. Another couple of years, she could have driven herself to meet with the state representatives blocking her bills, but she is now getting it done. And that earnest perseverance is infectious, especially when it has to survive in the face of so-called adult opposition that makes no sense or that is incredibly immature. And this doesn`t happen just around naming official state things. This is the scene in Frankfurt, Kentucky, this morning. Hundreds -- look at that, hundreds of students across the state along with parents, faculty and Kentucky state politicians, holding signs, giving speeches, everybody rallying at the state capital of Kentucky, trying to save something called House Bill 236. It`s a bill drafted by high school students. It would allow a student to be part of the search committee process for picking a superintendent of schools. Kentucky law currently blocks that. The high schoolers bill is straightforward. It is not a particularly controversial or ideologically polarizing thing. The students have a good case to make, right, that they want to be involved in decisions that affect them as students. As such, that bill quickly picked up sponsors and it sailed through the Kentucky House of Representatives. It passed by a vote of 88-5. But while that was going on, in what should have been completely unrelated news, at the same time a Republican state senator named C.B. Embry was working on something else. He was pushing a totally unrelated, very controversial bill that would mandate the use of specific bathrooms by students who are transgender. Also a Republican state senator named Albert Robinson, he at the time was pushing a bill about religious objections to things and freedom of speech. Both of those bills stalled out in the Kentucky house, the Democratically controlled Kentucky house. Neither of them have anything, I mean, absolutely to do with the high schoolers` bill. But those senators saw the high school kids` bill sailing through the house easily, and they thought, hmm, they attached their own super controversial going nowhere bills to the high schoolers` bill, essentially torpedoing it, not because they disagree with the high school kids` bill. In fact, one said he likes the bill, but he says he wanted to send a message to the Democrats by killing the high school kids` dreams with his idea he couldn`t get passed any way. Government is historically unpopular right now, historically unpopular. Last week, Gallup poll asked Americans what they think the biggest problem is facing our country right now, the largest number of respondents said that our number one problem is the government, our terrible government is the thing we feel worst and worry most about in the country in terms of our biggest problems. As the indelibly earnest, fossil loving, salamander promoting and good governance and sustain kids of America keep proving, that American cynicism of government, that nihilism about our government is not universal. Ignorant and craven state legislators all over the country are doing their best to make these kids lose their love of government and their belief that government can work for a constructive purpose. But those terrible legislators are up against perseverance and good cheer from kids that know we can do better and who are insisting that we do. Joining us are Eliza Jane Schaeffer. She`s a 16-year-old junior and a high school student, who has been one of the students pushing for HB 236 in Kentucky, and her adviser, Rachel Belin. Thanks to you both for being with us this evening. It`s ice to have you here. RACHEL BELIN, TEACHER AT HENRY CLAY HIGH SCHOOL: Thank you. Nice to be here. ELIZA JANE SCHAEFFER, STUDENT AT HENRY CLAY HIGH SCHOOL: Thanks for having us. MADDOW: Eliza Jane, I will start with you. As I understand it, in Kentucky, the legislative session ends tomorrow, which means we are sort of down to the wire. Where do you understand your bills chances are at this point? Do you think you`ve got any hope? SCHAEFFER: I would say it is 50/50. We are very hopeful. We are hoping maybe a compromise on the Senate leadership has been looking in to it. Like I said, we are hopeful that we will be able to pass but there`s always a chance that it`s not going to happen. If that is the case, then we will be back next year. MADDOW: Nice. Ms. Belin, let me ask today about that big rally today. A lot of your students, lots of supporters, a big, pretty diverse group out there. Are you surprised by the support that you`re getting and the attention that you`re getting as you guys keep pushing and pushing for this? BELIN: I am so blown away by the level of organization and the ability these students have had to mobilize, not only other students, but the adult community, as well. They have taken it upon themselves to do everything a high-level lobbying firm would do. And they are just doing this between their classes and school and their extracurricular activities and everything else they are supposed to do as volunteers. It was incredible today. Over 300 students turned out and many adult allies standing with us in support. It was a show of force for the desire of a lot of Kentucky youth to be civically engaged. That`s all they want is to be civically engaged and this bill is really a modest request to allow that to happen at the school level, a superintendent screening committee. MADDOW: Well, Eliza Jane, let me ask about the substance of that. Why do you think that this bill is so important? Why do you -- how do you think this would make things better? And what`s it been like for you to see it get banged around the way it has in the legislative process? SCHAEFFER: Well, in my opinion, education is the single most important service that a government can provide for its people. So, it`s really important that we get it right. And this education policy decisions are made by administrators, government officials, parents, teachers, but surprisingly not students who are the people who are in the system and living out the effects of the decisions every single day. So, I think we have a really important perspective to offer. And so, that`s why I think that it is important there be a student member on the screening committees. We are 100 percent of the superintendent constituents, yet we have zero representation on this committee. And it`s definitely been a wake up call to see what democracy really looks like in the real world. It is not exactly what I expected. There`s been a bit of a learning curve. MADDOW: I`ve got to say, though, I have to say, forgive the phrase, but has it been a bummer? I mean, did you think you would be taken more seriously on the merits? Were you bummed out to see it diverted in to all of the stuff that had nothing to do with your bill? SCHAEFFER: I would say bummed out would be a good description of how I felt. MADDOW: But now, perseverance, and we will find out whether Kentucky will do right by you guys tomorrow. But to hear you say you will be back no matter what, it is an impressive fight you are waging and it`s inspirational, especially for those who of us who are sometimes tempted to feel cynicism. You guys are the antidote to that. Good luck to you both. BELIN: Thank you. SCHAEFFER: Thank you. MADDOW: Thank you so much. All right. Rachel Belin, the adviser there, and Eliza Jane Schaeffer, from Kentucky, pushing for a bill that makes total sense that no one has come up with a substantive argument against. But they still can`t get it through. Come on Kentucky legislators, you`ve got one more day to get it through for these kids. All right. Still to come: nuns, really, really excited nuns, overexcited nuns you might say. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SUBTITLE: Today at the TRMS production meeting -- (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: They`re grabbing him. (INAUDIBLE) video. (CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: It`s like right at the top of that video. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re saying, please don`t hurt me. MADDOW: They`re going to eat -- oh! Okay. It`s really good. It`s really good. He`s like - (LAUGHTER) SUBTITLE: That really good thing is coming up. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We have a little bit of developing news tonight from the state of Utah, sort of unbelievable news. We were warned that this might happen. Now that it has happened, it still seems hard to believe, but it`s happened. Earlier this month, the Utah legislators voted to bring back the firing squad, as the preferred method of execution in Utah, if the state can`t get ahold of the drugs they would normally like to use to kill people. Utah currently has none of the drugs that they would like to use to put their prisoners to death. Like a lot of other states, Utah can`t get these drugs from suppliers anymore. Suppliers are increasingly refusing to sell lethal injection drugs to prisons. Because of that, a few weeks ago, Utah lawmakers said, well, OK, let`s just start shooting people then. The state`s governor, Gary Herbert, has been considering ever since whether or not he was going to sign that bill. He said publicly that he found the whole idea, quote, "a little bit gruesome." But tonight he decided to sign it. Utah Governor Gary Herbert has just signed the bill that will bring back the firing squad as a method of execution in Utah. Happy 2015. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: If it`s the pope versus the mafia, my money`s on the pope. Last year, Pope Francis basically declared war against organized crime. He excommunicated members of the mafia. He said they were condemned to hell unless they repent and quit. And then this weekend, the pope went to the mafia`s home territory. He went to a notorious mafia stronghold called Scampia in Italy. It`s a neighborhood in Naples. Pope Francis drove around in the pope mobile. While he was in mafia-controlled Scampia, he railed against organized crime and corruption, he said a corrupt society stinks. He celebrated mass in the main square in Naples. He urged people to resist the easy earnings and dishonest income that can come from organized crime. We do something on the show called now here`s a thing sometimes, where we present an amazing that has happened that you should just witness. The pope`s trip to Naples this weekend created a now here`s a thing moment that you probably seen today. Everybody`s been posting this all over Facebook and Twitter. It shows the pope in his pope mobile. Everybody`s yelling "Papa, Papa", and a man approaches and hands the pope a whole pizza. And watch, and the pope takes it, he takes the whole pizza, everybody cheers! A week ago, the pope told an interviewer the one thing he missed most about his pre-pope life is being able to go get a pizza without people bugging him. So, here you, here`s your pizza. That`s a thing that happened. That`s amazing. But you know what? There was actually an even better now here`s a thing moment from the same trip, from a meeting that the pope had with priests and religious leaders and nuns in Naples. The pope probably should have known something was going to happen when the nuns started clapping and waving at him like this. These are cloistered nuns. They don`t get out in the world ever. On Saturday, they got permission to come out just to see the pope. You can see how excited they are. How very excited they are to see them. When pope -- look, when Pope Francis sat down, they basically released the nuns, and bam, they just swarmed him. Where did he go? At this point, the cardinal got onto a microphone and urged the nuns to calm down. He said over the microphone, they are going to eat him! Level of excitement that they exhibited just from being able to wave to him should have been a warning about what would happen when they were allowed to touch him. Pope Francis, you know, he`s out there making decisions about how to spend his papacy, and what issues to work on, but occasionally amazing things happen all around him. He smiles through it all. Whoo! That is a thing that happened. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Good evening, Lawrence. Great to have you back. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END