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

The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/26/15

Guests: Kathryn Higgins

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: How the lobby and their lobbyist is really embarrassed about it. CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: Yes. All right. Good luck. MADDOW: Amazing stuff. Chris. Thanks, man. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. There`s a lot going on in the news today. We have got a big show tonight. Three years ago tomorrow, on March 27th, 2012, JetBlue Flight 191 took off from JFK Airport in New York City, heading west toward Las Vegas. About three hours from that New York -- into that New York to Las Vegas flight, things went very, very wrong in the cockpit of that plane. And it was not a mechanical problem. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Visually, you could tell that he was agitated and, you know, acting pecuniary. Very rapid head movements and hand movements. And mouth -- little bit of foaming at the mouth, was drinking lots and lots of water. REPORTER: JetBlue Flight 191 was flying from New York to Las Vegas when sources say the captain started erratically pushing buttons and steering the plane. The copilot persuaded became so concerned, he persuade him to go to the rest room. When an off-duty captain then enter the cockpit and locked the door, witnesses say the original captain lost control. PAUL DADAKITIS: He`s out of his mind, screaming and saying to the passengers, "Say your prayers, say your prayers." DAVID GONZALEZ: It appeared he was trying to open the door. I wasn`t going to let that happen. REPORTER: Five to six passengers, including Antolino (ph), quickly restrained him with seat belts, holding him to the floor, as the cockpit declared an in-flight emergency. FIRST OFFICER: JetBlue 191 emergency and we`re going to need authorities and medical to meet us at the airplane. REPORTER: Meanwhile, the restrained captain was talking about Israel, Iraq and Iran. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, they are going to take us down, they`re going to take us down. And then you know, he said, everybody, you know, say the Lord`s prayer, say the Lord`s prayer, just say the Lord`s prayer. They are going to take us down. REPORTER: NBC News aviation consultant, Captain John Cox. JOHN COX, NBC NEWS AVIATION CONSULTANT: This pilot was treated as any other passengers who is disruptive and who may be need to be restrained. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And the way they restrained the captain on that flight when he was going nuts is that they locked him out of the cockpit on that JetBlue plane. The JetBlue incident happened three years ago in March, 2012. It was long after the post-9/11 results went into effect mandating that the cockpit door be reinforced and bulletproof. The reason that JFK-Las Vegas flight landed safely three years ago, the reason it was not crash-landed somewhere is because passengers onboard that plane were able to grab, tackle and ultimately tie up the pilot while he was having what seemed to be the psychotic episode. And the only reason the passengers were able to get to him and do that is because the pilot either left the cockpit on his own nutty volition or possibly the copilot had his wits about him enough to realize that something was very wrong with the pilot and to trick the pilot into leaving the cockpit whereupon the lockable door of that cockpit meant that they could keep that apparently psychotic guy out and prevent him from getting back in to control the plane. That was March, 2012. Last year, in February, February, 2014, it was Ethiopian Airlines Flight 702. That flight left the capital of Ethiopia, headed for Italy. Once that flight was at cruising altitude, the pilot exited the cockpit to go use the rest room whereupon the copilot of that aircraft locked the pilot out. There were 202 people on board this flight. I don`t know if the passengers know what was going on at this point, with their pilot locked out of the cockpit and trying to get back in unsuccessfully. But what the Ethiopian Airlines copilot did once he was in the cockpit alone behind that locked door is that he kept steering that plane toward Europe but not toward Italy. He flew that plane to Switzerland instead and started circling the airport at Geneva telling the Geneva air traffic controllers that he wanted political asylum and please would they promise to not send him back to Ethiopia. The pilot on that plane never got back in the cockpit. The copilot who wanted asylum did safely land the plane in Switzerland. Once the plane was on the tarmac, apparently the copilot opened up the cockpit window and threw a rope out and tried to repel out of the plane that way. But they caught him and he was arrested and all the passengers were safe. So, that one, Ethiopian air one, that was not a plane crash but had that pilot not been able to impenetrably lock that cockpit door, this post- 9/11 reinforced cockpit door, right, he never would not have been able to pull off the hijacking because the pilot presumably would have been able to stop him. The one that is strikingly similar though to what just happened in the French Alps this week, with the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525, the one that basically reads like a dress rehearsal to the what just happened this week was the flight that happened in 2013 in Africa, in Southern Africa. There were 33 people on board this flight. The plane was flying east to west across the African continent, from Mozambique toward Angola. It was clear weather. The plane was safe at cruising altitude. There were two pilots in the cockpit, one captain, one first officer. And in this incident, against this was November 2013, in this incident the first officer, the copilot got up and left the cockpit to go to the bathroom. Once the copilot had left the cockpit and the door closed and locked behind him, the pilot apparently decided to deliberately crash that plane. The pilot put it into a steep dive over Botswana. The plane crashed at high-speed, that homicidal pilot killed himself and everybody on board the plane. But from that terrible wreckage that you see there in Botswana they were able to recover the voice recorder from that Mozambique airlines flight. This was two Novembers ago. And what the investigators heard on the cockpit voice recorder when they recovered it was the sound moments before that crash of somebody pounding and pounding and pounding on that cockpit door trying to get back in. But it was unsuccessful. That cockpit door was impenetrable and the plane crashed and everybody died. Post-9/11 safety standards, right? Once that door locks, nobody is getting in. And that new standard locked cockpit doors reinforced, electronically secured, bulletproof, force proof doors, that standard had been used on commercial aircraft since 9/11. It`s been used basically as a weapon, both for good, and for bad. You know, that JetBlue flight from New York to Las Vegas, the reinforced ok cockpit door was a very good thing there. That was the turning point in that pilot`s psychotic break. He apparently was fine when he first got into the cockpit. Something went wrong once he was in there. The copilot apparently reportedly noticed it was able to get that pilot out long enough to lock him out. That was how that flight was saved. The door was helpful there. In the Ethiopian incident though, the Ethiopian Air incident, the hijacking , that locked door is how the pilot was able to hijack the thing. Over Botswana, a year and a half ago, that cockpit door is how the homicidal pilot was able to crash the plane and kill everybody onboard. And now in the French Alps this week, French authorities say they believe it was the deliberate actions of the copilot that steered that Airbus 320 into the mountainside at 400 miles an hour. It was the locked, reinforced, impenetrable cockpit door that prevented the other pilot, prevented the captain of that aircraft from getting in and interrupting that plan and saving the plane. We were told last night that in the closing moments of the cockpit voice recording before the crash, you could hear somebody knocking to be let into the cockpit, and then knocking more insistently to be let into the cockpit, and then eventually trying to pound the door down to get into the cockpit. We were told that last night. What French investigators announced today is that in addition to that noise of the pilot trying to get back in, in addition to that noise, in the very last instant before the crash you could hear what sounded to be the passengers on that aircraft screaming, as they realized what the consequences were of this drama at the front of the cabin, this drama they could undoubtedly see happening at the cockpit door as they realized what the consequences of that drama were going to be for their speeding plane as it steered into those mountains. Planes do not crash often. Over the last 10 years, worldwide in terms of civilian airliners carrying 20 or more people, the total number of fatal crashes worldwide has ranged between five and 15 per year. But when planes crash, not because of mechanical failure or weather or accidental pilot error of some kind -- when planes crash because a pilot has become a mass murder, there is no technological panacea, at least not one that we understand yet. I mean, the double reinforced bulletproof doors put in place after 9/11 were obviously designed to stop a 9/11 style attack from ever happening again. They were designed to defeat a threat to the cockpit from hijackers coming forward through that cockpit door from the passenger compartment. Since the doors were strengthened in some instances, including this most recent one this week, the doors, the reinforced instead have enabled threats to passengers planes because those enabled threats emanated not from the passenger compartment but from the forward side of that cockpit door. But you know what? Before we ever had the reinforced doors, before we had the post-9/11 standards, we still had flesh and blood malfunctions in the cockpit before. We still had pilots as the problem. We still had pilot suicides/homicides. Pilot suicides/homicides that pilots or co- pilots were able to pull off even without an impenetrable door that they could use to lock themselves in. The Japan Airlines Flight in February 1982, where the pilot cancelled the auto pilot and steered the plane into a steep descent after suffering what the airline later called a mental aberration. The Japan Airlines copilot was there on that flight, was there in the cockpit trying to rescue the plane after it started diving, but he couldn`t pull the plane up in time. And that crash killed 24 people. In 1994, it was Morocco. The pilot disconnected the auto pilot and steered that plane into the Atlas Mountains. There was a copilot onboard that plane as well. She was apparently there in the cockpit as well. But she wasn`t enough to be able to stop that apparent deliberately caused crash and 44 deaths. In 1997, Indonesia, it was Silk Air. The first officer believed to have left the flight deck when the pilot, was believed to have left the flight deck when the pilot steered that Boeing 737 into a steep descent. There was no locked cockpit door preventing that first officer from getting back in to try to rescue that plane and the 104 people on board. But what the pilot had already done was enough. It was an irretrievable dive even though somebody else was there on the plane not trying to do the same thing and all 104 people died. The most famous one of these is the only apparent pilot induced mass murder that killed more people than the Germanwings flight this week. That was Egypt Air flight 990 which took off from JFK in New York City en route in Cairo on Halloween night in 1999. Thirty minutes after takeoff from JFK, the pilot got up to go to the bathroom, the first officer put the plane into the nosedive and shut down the engines. There was no locked cockpit door then. This was way pre-9/11. This was 1999. The pilot had gone to the bathroom. He came back into the cockpit. When he came back into the cockpit, the first officer, who had put the plane into this dive was saying, "I rely on God, I rely on God, I rely on God, I rely on God" over and over and over again like a mantra. And the pilot you can here him on the cockpit voice recorder is screaming at the first officer, what is happening? What is this? Did you shut the engines? Get away. And on the cockpit voice recorder, you can hear this frantic fight that goes for a surprising long time between the pilot trying to rescue the plane and copilot apparently trying to crash it as the plane is at this point approaching the sound barrier, faster than it ever should. And the copilot appears to be deliberately trying to crash the plane, "I rely on God, I rely on God" -- and the pilot is desperately trying to save the plane. And the two of them are the in the cockpit at the same time. It goes on and on. The two of them fighting it out in the cockpit, until the plane finally breaks up in the air just off Nantucket, and all 217 people on board die. Over the last 20 years, 24 pilots are believed to have deliberately killed themselves while flying planes. And most of those are just pilots killing themselves or very small numbers of others in very small planes. But in large passenger aircraft, pilots are some of the few people on earth to whom we give the opportunity that if they want to commit mass murder, or if they want to carry out a lone wolf terrorist attack, to a degree greater than almost anyone else on earth, we give them the power to take huge numbers of people with them with very little effort on their part. And with what we now know about Germanwings Flight 9525, and what this copilot apparently or at least allegedly deliberately did, we will inevitably now search for some technological fix to try to stop this from ever happening again -- and maybe there will be one. But what caused this is in the first place is not a technological problem. It was failure of flesh and blood. This was not technologically caused but rather a technologically enabled mass casualty human failure. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Lots still to come tonight, including some blue state chutzpah news that you will not hear anywhere else. And we got Richard Engel joining us live from the Middle East. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: No American pilot flying an American passenger aircraft has ever succeeded in a plot to commit suicide and kill all of his or her passengers by deliberately crashing the aircraft. That`s not to say that some haven`t tried unsuccessfully. That`s also not to say that foreign pilots haven`t been able to pull it off over American soil. And yes, flying by definition is pretty transnational global thing, planes and pilots cross national boundaries all day every day. But no U.S. pilot has carried out a mass murder suicide with a U.S. plane in the way that French investigators now say Germanwings Flight 9525 was deliberately crashed two days ago. Should we take comfort in that as Americans? Should we take comfort in that U.S. record? Is it luck or is it something else? Would it have been harder to do what just happened in the French Alps -- would it have been harder to do that here in the U.S.? Are there things we do in American aviation that they don`t do in Europe that might have helped prevent this, or stop it while it was in progress? Couple of things: compared with European carriers, U.S. airlines do not conduct stricter psychological screening of pilots. U.S. pilots have to get a physical once or twice a year if they are over 40. At that physical, the doctor can`t ask questions about the pilot`s mental or emotional state, but there is no formal psyche evaluation. Lufthansa, the parent company of the airline that went down in France, Lufthansa says it does basically the same thing, basically the same standards. There`s also the issue of air marshals, which people have been talking about a bit today. Again, though, not really a solid difference. In the U.S., there are a few thousand air marshals disperse among tens of thousands of domestic commercial flights every day. Some European countries have that, too. Again, this carrier that was the parent company of the plane that just crashed, Lufthansa -- Lufthansa is one of the companies that has been using air marshals since right after 9/11. But there are two areas in which the U.S. rules and the European rules diverge. And I`m interested in knowing whether or not they might have been materially significant here. The first one is about flight time. Under relatively recent new U.S. rules approved by the FAA less than two years ago, this copilot who`s suspected of crashing the Germanwings flight, he would not have been allowed to be a copilot on a U.S. aircraft, because he didn`t have enough flying hours. He didn`t have enough experience flying planes. This young co-pilot who allegedly intentionally crashed this plane, he had only 630 hours of flight time under his belt. The latest FAA rule in this for the U.S. requires you to have at least 1,500 hours of flight time in order to be a copilot. Again, he had 600 something. So, the old rule before it changed used to be that a copilot needed 250 hours. Now, it is 1,500 hours. That means this copilot would have been qualified to have to be a copilot in the U.S. before the rules changed two years ago, but not now. Is that materially significant? Would that have made a difference in this case? There`s obviously no way to tell retrospectively. I mean, maybe if this young man was disturbed it would have been noticed in an earlier training flight before he was in the cockpit and in control. Maybe? With hundreds more hours of training? We just don`t know. But there`s one other area as well where U.S. rules are tougher than Europe. And it`s the FAA rule requiring that two people have to be in the cockpit at all times. In Europe, a pilot or a copilot can be alone in the cockpit if one of the other people in the cockpit has to leave for some reason, like to go to the bathroom. On American carriers, if one pilot leaves the cockpit for any reason a flight attendant or a relief pilot has to go sit in there with the remaining pilot. Would this crash in the French Alps have been prevented if somebody else had been required to be in the cockpit with that copilot when he was trying to pull off whatever he was trying to pull off? Again, obviously, we will never know. These things don`t operate in retrospect. But that is the sort of question that airlines and airline regulators are asking themselves today. And now, several European airlines today have announced they will start using that American rule, the American rule of two for the cockpit, including Lufthansa. Joining us now is Kathryn Higgins. She`s a former National Transportation Safety Board member. Ms. Higgins, thank you very much for being with us. I appreciate your time. KITTY HIGGINS, FORMER NTSB MEMBER: Happy to be here. Thank you. MADDOW: Why does the U.S. have this rule, this rule of two for the cockpit? What`s the reasoning behind it? HIGGINS: Well, this was one of the changes that was made after 9/11 that frankly I don`t think many of us knew about. I didn`t until last night when we had the conversation. What was decided, and you think about it, it makes enormous sense and I believe it would have made a difference in this accident is that -- again to try create another layer of safety. So, if a pilot or copilot leaves the cockpit, the flight attendant goes in, not as I was told, to baby-sit the pilot or the copilot, but to be there when the pilot or copilot knocks on the door. The question is, is it the pilot or the copilot who is left? Or is it somebody with other intent? There is a peep hole they can look through and confirm it is the person who is supposed to be in the cockpit, so they can unlock the door. Simple but -- a simple human way to address a safety issue, but clearly, it would -- I believe would have been made a big difference in this accident. MADDOW: In terms of that locked door, and the protocols around it, we all watched Airbus 320 training videos today trying to understand the override process and what sort of fail-safes there are and what way there might be around a pilot trying to keep people out when the good guys ought to be able to get in. When that change was made about reinforced cockpit doors and these electronic locking systems, was a bag bad actor pilot like this apparent incident, was that discussed as something there should be work-arounds for or that might be a potentially negative consequence of making that cockpit door change? HIGGINS: I am not really familiar with all the thought process that went into this. I think since the rules were made and since the doors have been strengthened and locked, there has been a lot of discussion about whether this kind of scenario might happen. But I think at the time, there was a rush to try and harden those doors to prevent another 9/11, since we really had no idea at the time whether something else might happen. And that change was made very, very quickly. So I think it was done with the best of intentions based on what we knew at the time, what we could expect at the time. But, again, we -- there are unintended consequences. This is one of them. And as we look at coming out of this accident and think about, OK, what other changes are -- might be made, we need to be sure there aren`t yet again unintended consequences. MADDOW: Right. Exactly. In terms of -- I was trying to make a point about how similar European rules and regulations are to the U.S. regulations. There are a few interesting divergent points and it`s been interesting to see so many European carriers, including Lufthansa today saying they will align with what`s perceived to be the stricter safety standards around the two people in the cockpit rule that the U.S. uses, for example. But I wonder why there isn`t more alignment, even more alignment between U.S. and European, or U.S. and global regulations on these things? Obviously, international flights, by definition, cross between jurisdictions. Should there be more of a global regulatory approach to this? HIGGINS: Well, I think there should be one level of safety. And we have essentially one level of safety in the manufacture and certification of aircraft. The major airline manufacturers all have to be certified and they have to meet the standards of the regulators in the United States. It`s the FAA. In other countries, the French have a regulator as do other countries. They all have to meet that standard. And it`s accepted. As a result, we have incredibly safe aircraft like the A320. We don`t have the same level of safety in some of the other procedures. We have an international body called the International Aviation Certification Organization, but we don`t -- they make -- provide guidelines. In some cases, they provide rules. But I`ve learned that those rules aren`t always enforced and aren`t always implemented in the countries that have major air carriers. MADDOW: Fascinating. That`s -- we have essentially a global safety standard in terms of the physical equipment, but not in terms of either enforcement or the protocols that -- (CROSSTALK) HIGGINS: Right, in terms of training or some of the other things that we know are so important like this cockpit issue. MADDOW: That`s fascinating. Kathryn Higgins, former member of the NTSB, I didn`t understand that at all before you just said it. Thank you for helping us understand. It`s great to have you here. HIGGINS: Sure. MADDOW: Thank you. All right. Lots more ahead, including, hey, a new war. NBC`s Richard Engel is going to join us with the very latest live from the Middle East. Plus, lots more ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Much of our nation`s largest city smells like smoke tonight, including our offices for much of the afternoon today following a rather large explosion in a residential building in New York City neighborhood that`s called the East Village. That explosion started a fire in that building. The fire then spread to the building next door. Flames reaching 40 feet in the air. That fire eventually became a seven alarm blaze this afternoon before both buildings on Second Avenue in New York City partially collapsed. The blast and the subsequent fire appears to have been caused somehow by work being done to one of the building`s natural gas lines. The building had failed a meter inspection earlier in the day. Most of the residents of these two buildings did manage to evacuate safely before the buildings caught fire in the way that they did. But 12 people were injured in the initial explosion. Three of those people who were injured were injured critically. Very scary stuff in a packed urban environment today, on a block that I happen to know and love. Very scary stuff. We`ve got much more ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Cartoon time. Not in a good way, though. This is a political cartoon. Look closely at this -- that the U.S. military has just reportedly dropped from the air by the tens of thousands. They dropped 60,000 of these. And the sign up there in the left-hand corner of the cartoon, it says, ISIS recruiting office, with an arrow. And then there is this big line of recruits, young dark haired guys lined up in a line. On the right side of the cartoon, that`s a sign that says in Arabic, now serving number 6001. And then you see at the front of the line there, this guy looks all scared. He has just dropped the ticket in his hands, which said he is 6001. Now that he is at the front of the line and his number has called -- these guys, these monsters are about to grab that guy from the front of the line and they are going to feed him head first into this meat grinder, which says ISIS on the side of it. They are going to kill him in that meat grinder and turn him into a bloody pulp. It`s not exactly subtle. But this bloody warning, don`t join ISIS unless you want them to chew up in their meat grinder for young men, this unsubtle warning has just been dropped by U.S. military aircraft over the ISIS held city of Raqqa in Syria. It`s basically their capital city in Syria. ISIS`s strongest stronghold in that country. And this is apparently one way we are fighting against ISIS now. Pretty high quality cartoon propaganda saying, don`t join ISIS. U.S. warplanes also participated today for a second day in airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Iraqi city of Tikrit. We reported this last night, including the politically awkward fact that the U.S. is bombing in Tikrit in support of a three-week-old grounds operation against ISIS there that has been undertaken mostly by Shiite fighters being led by Iran`s revolutionary guard. Given our relationship with Iran, us fighting ISIS while Iran is fighting ISIS, that was awkward enough. But American forces actually participating alongside Iran in the exact same battle, that is more cognitive dissonance than U.S. officials are prepared to explain away. And so, we got this nice two-headed coin of an explanation today. These two headlines are great side by side. The Iranian side is insisting that the Shiite fighters on the ground in Tikrit stepped back from the ground battle there today in protest of these U.S. planes starting to bomb there. That`s how the Iranians are explaining it. And then the U.S. is insisting that actually, we made it a condition of our agreement to bomb there that the Shiite militias would have to step back. So, they are saying we are leave in protest of you. And the U.S. is saying, we told to you leave as a condition of us coming. Either way, it is just saving face. The militias may have paused for whatever reason on the ground while U.S. bombers took over part of that fight. But the fight is the same fight. Bottom line is that in Tikrit directly, the U.S. is helping Iran, and Iran is helping us in the fight against ISIS. As oogie that as makes everybody feel. And just to make it all the more discomforting, while we are fighting with Iran against ISIS in Iraq, we are also now supporting a whole new war against Iranian interests in the nation of Yemen. The Houthi Shiite rebels that have toppled the government in Yemen appeared to be taking over that country, those Houthi rebels are supported by Iran. Saudi Arabia last night started bombing those Houthi rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is trying to reinstate the toppled government which they supported. It is uncomfortable to say but Saudi Arabia usually likes the U.S. military to fight that country`s battles for them. This time, though, it`s the Saudis, full force, 100 Saudi planes, 100; 150,000 troops, which is a huge number of troops. There has not been a full scale invasion by those troops. That`s just what Saudi says they have mobilized. But the Saudis are suggesting that after the bombing mission with 100 planes starting last night, after the bombing mission, they are suggesting that the troops may move in. And it may not be just Saudi troops moving in, but it may also be Egyptian troops invading Yemen as well. The Saudis for what it`s worth, they chose to announce the start this war in the United States. They have their ambassador in the United States announce the start this war in Washington last night. That tells you something. The U.S. government has said so far that the U.S. is not directly participating in the bombing raids in Yemen in the sense that it is not U.S. pilots dropping bombs alongside Saudi pilots dropping bombs, but the White House does say the U.S. is actively involved in the fight by providing intelligence and logistical support. So, how big a war is this new war? How big will our involvement be? Will the low profile, but pretty effective U.S. war against al Qaeda that Special Forces have been waging in Yemen for a decade somehow get restarted in Yemen now, now that Saudi Arabia is helping. And they say they mobilized nine other countries to join them in this war. Effectively if not officially, this is a war against Iran. How is this going to go? How big is it going to get? And how entrench are we going to be in it? Ek! Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who joins us tonight from Istanbul. Richard has reported a lot from Yemen over the years. Richard, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here. RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It`s good to be with you. Yemen is one of the most interesting conflicts right now, and potentially the most explosive. This could escalate very quickly, especially when you have so many troops mobilized by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has built a powerful coalition with Egypt primarily, and you have the new leadership in Egypt run by the military that very much wants to flex its muscles, and Egypt just recently announced that it wants to lead a new -- effectively, a Pan Arab army. So, we are at a real inflection point in the Middle East. And I think we could see a lot of changing and very volatile dynamics in Yemen. But could I go back to one thing you were talking about Iran? MADDOW: Please, yes. ENGEL: It`s actually even weirder than you were describing. It`s actually even more convoluted than the convoluted strategy you were basically describing. The U.S. in Iraq -- we`ll just take Iraq. The U.S. right now is helping this mission in Tikrit, which is being backed by the militias, and as you said they are potentially going to boycott that operation, but the U.S. is backing the operation led by the militias. That`s in Iraq. In Syria, the U.S. is fighting against Iran and is an enemy of Iran, which supports Hezbollah and supports the government of Bashar Assad. But in Syria, the U.S. is also fighting with Iran against ISIS. So, in Iraq, we are against Iran -- sorry -- it`s even confusing for me and I`ve done this for 20 years. In Iraq, we are fighting with Iran. In Syria, we are fighting both with and against Iran. And in Yemen now, we are backing Saudi Arabia and Egypt and this other coalition, which is taking a strong stance against Iran. But we say we`re not going to get deeply involved we are just going to kinds of assist with some intelligence, while at the same time huge negotiations, profoundly important negotiations are underway in Switzerland with Iran. MADDOW: Richard, let me -- OK. ENGEL: So, it`s clear. It`s clear. MADDOW: Oh, yes, absolutely clear. ENGEL: I see a path in front of us that is totally clear. MADDOW: Let me ask you a really dumb question about that convoluted -- those convoluted facts of life. Obviously, the United States is the largest military on earth. Everybody in the United States has been worried for 30 years that we`re stretched too thin, we`re involved in too many places but we are used to it. Is Iran stretched a little thin right now? I mean, I realize they have a military, too. But right now, they are fighting actively in Iraq, actively in Syria, pretty actively in Yemen and even more than that. Plus, they`re Iran and they have to worry about the militia they maintain in Lebanon and all around. I mean, is Iran stretched a little bit thin here? ENGEL: Some people say no. Many military analysts I`ve spoken to say they are not really stretched thin. They see this as a strategic conflict. It`s not like they are fighting a war in Afghanistan thousands and thousands of miles away in a mountainous landlocked country that needs to be resupplied constantly with fuel brought in by contracting companies that have no bid contracts and costs that are limitless. Iran has in many ways wanted to draw the kingdom of Saudi Arabia into this proxy war. It has wanted Iran to get -- Saudi Arabia to get more involved in this fight. Iran is trying to rearrange the map of the Middle East right now. It is taking more territory and securing better alliances in Iraq. It is taking more territory and securing alliances in Syria. Both places there, it looks like it is winning. And it is spreading its influence very rapidly in Yemen. So, if you look at Iran and the amount of its sphere of influence, to use that old Cold War terminology, its sphere of influence is growing. And that`s not necessarily stretching itself too thin by maintaining bases in Iraq for a decade or until Afghanistan for a decade in a modern militarized fashion. MADDOW: Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspond end. I feel like this is page 1 of a 300 page book that we need to read together to understand this. ENGEL: There will be more pages to come. MADDOW: There will be more pages. Thank you, Richard. It`s great to see you, man. Thanks. All right. Up next, blue state chutzpah, and the mystical but discrete hotness of stenographers. Seriously. It`s weird, but stay with us. Meow. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Muppets are obviously perfect in every way. But Muppets for the most part they cannot flex their faces in complicated ways. This is not a problem. It just means one of the things they have gifted to us as a civilization is the Muppet smile, which looks like this. See -- do we have Kermit doing the Muppet smile? Kermit doing the Muppet smile? We have Elmo doing the Muppet smile. It`s the same thing. This is how Muppets smile when they are happy. See? Haaaa! When I am particularly happy, I also tend to do the Muppet smile. It just involves opening your mouth. Haaaa! That`s how you can tell a Muppet is happy. Last week, one American governor was so excited on camera. So excited to do something for her state, that she did the Muppet smile as well. Watch. Haaaa! She is very happy and she is very happy at an occasion from her state. What everybody is happen about here, what caused Oregon`s brand new governor, Kate Brown, to do the Muppet smile about, is her signing into law a bill that makes Oregon the first state in the nation where everybody gets registered to vote automatically. The Department of Motor Vehicles, you can think about it, they already know who in Oregon is a U.S. citizen, they know your age, they know your current address, they know whether you are registered to vote. This new law, Oregon became the first state in the country where you automatically get registered to vote by the state whether or not you ask for it. You can opt-out but if you don`t want to be registered, but you don`t opt out, the state registers you by default. This new law is expected to add hundreds of thousands of people to the voters` rolls in Oregon. And as of now, Oregon is the only state in the country that is doing this, at least as of now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. KATE BROWN (D), OREGON: I challenge every other state in this nation to examine their policies and find ways to ensure that there are as few barriers as possible in the way of a citizen`s right to vote. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Well, now, the first next state is answering Oregon`s challenge and saying that they, too, want to move to a system where everybody is automatically registered to vote. The next state is -- California. California`s new secretary of state now tells the "Sacramento Bee", quote, "If government knows who is here, who is 18, who is a citizen, why go through the hoops. Let`s just register folks automatically." Right. And, yes, this was a big deal, and they did it in Oregon. Hence the cake they had in the shape of the bill with everybody smiling. In Oregon, this new law is going to mean adding a few hundred thousand people to the voting rolls in Oregon. But if they do it in California, this same change wouldn`t add a couple hundred thousand people to the rolls. It would add something more like 7 million people to the voting rolls. Wow. And so far, it is just a proposal. But the secretary of state is behind it. And California is a blue state. And maybe we are starting to enter an era in which blue states innovate on small d democracy to get lots more people voting than the number of people who vote in the red states. Maybe that has finally started. One thing to watch in the next couple of days is the news about red states going in the opposite direction. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin -- obviously running for president -- he has just sent out this funds raising pitch asking people to send him money to celebrate the law that`s going to be allowed to go forward in his state that`s expected to block about 300,000 people in Wisconsin from voting because of a super strict voter ID requirement. We are going to disenfranchise 300,000 eligible Wisconsin voters. Let`s celebrate. Send me your money. I mean, that`s one thing to watch in terms of how that goes over in his presidential campaign. He just sent out that fundraising appeal. But then also, watch this. In the great crucial swing state of Ohio, the legislature there is lightning fast passing a bill that would tell every college kid in the state who is legally allowed to vote in Ohio if they go to school in Ohio, no matter where they are from originally, it would tell all those college students in Ohio that they cannot register to vote unless they also register their car in Ohio, and get a new Ohio driver`s license, which happens to cost a ton of money and which most out of state college kids never do. You want to vote you young probably Democratic-leaning voter, then pay up. Ohio Democrats are rallying against this thing. They are calling on Governor John Kasich to line item veto this new restriction if it remains in the Ohio budget. Given John Kasich`s record with voting rights, he probably will not veto it. But while this student poll tax is headed to John Kasich`s desk, where he has been this weeks is not in Ohio. Try New Hampshire, because presumably, John Kasich, too, is running for president in part on the basis of how he has cut down the number of pesky voters in his swing state. Red states have been going like this for a while now. This year, what`s different is that red state governors will be testing the attractiveness of cutting back on voting as a lot of them who have done so in their states run for presidents. That`s one difference. The other difference this year is that this year, there is finally a counterexample of how to handle voting rights from the blue states, where Democrats are finally putting the rubber to the road on making it more convenient for more people to vote in this country. Not fewer people. More people. Muppet smile! (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So, a moment ago I mentioned the discrete and subtle and lovely hotness of stenographers. What we are actually talking about tonight is the combination of stenography and basketball. Not two things you usually think of as going together. But you are going to see how they fit together tonight and you are going to be interested as to why the story is great. And it is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So we do a thing on this show called now here is a thing, based on the idea that some things in the news are just so amazing, you just need to see them, whether or not there`s anything to say about them. You may know there`s a ginormous college basketball tournament going on right now. Part of the joy of that tournament is that it`s college, not the pros. So, for the most part, you`re getting watch these college kids perform on the biggest stage of their lives. That sometimes extends beyond the court, like say to the postgame press conferences where they come face-to-face with the crush of TV cameras and reporters from all over the country. And the moment you may have seen from one of these press conferences today was this admittedly amazing moment involving players from the University of Wisconsin basketball team. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nigel, is there anything you would like to say to our stenographers to tip things off. NIGEL HAYES: Syzygy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have it? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Check out her -- HAYES: Gosh, she`s beautiful. (LAUGHTER) HAYES: Did you hear that? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard that. HAYES: All right. So, we`ll open it up to questions. (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Little freeze frame. His teammates are like, dude. I have to say, I`m not convinced this was a hot mike accident by that young man, Nigel Hayes. It`s being billed as basketball player embarrasses himself. To me, it feels more like a flawlessly executed pickup line, I don`t know. Either way, undoubtedly amazing. You probably saw that today. But you know what? But this is better. You might have heard at the top of that clip, before the face moment, that same Wisconsin player said the word syzygy. The Wisconsin basketball team, it turns out slightly obsessed with the stenographer, who is responsible for transcribing the post game press conferences. After their win on Friday night, those three Wisconsin players you just saw made a special trip to track down the stenographer to try to figure out how stenography works and how she`s managed to write down everything they`ve been saying at these press conferences. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SAM DEKKER: What if I press this button. STENOGRAPHER: Yes. HAYES: That says S. FRANK KAMINSKY: Oh, I knew that one. SAM DEKKER: What? What if I go -- HAYES: Oh, you typed a word! (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The Wisconsin basketball teams have become obsessed with the stenographer to the point where they`ve begun doing things like this in their postgame press conferences. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HAYES: Before I answer that question, I would like to say a few words. Catawampus, onomatopoeia, antidisestablishmentarianism. REPORTER: Why did you start off saying those things? And then I have a follow up. HAYES: Well, the wonderful young lady over there, I think her job title is a stenographer. Yes, OK. And she does an amazing job of typing words, sometimes if words are a little -- you know, not in her dictionary. Maybe if I said soliloquy right now, she might have to work a little bit harder to type that word, or quandary, zephyr, xylophone, things like that, that make her job a little interesting. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And that fascination with messing with the stenography explains why syzygy happened at the beginning of the greatest clip in college basketball in the last 24 hours. Syzygy. Tada! That does it for us tonight. And that is the thing that happened. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. 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