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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/15/15

Guests: Bernie Sanders, Robert McDonald

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Doing the show in Washington, D.C., tonight. It`s lovely here -- cherry blossom time, it`s delightful. Before U.S. presidents had term limits, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for president four times in a row. And every time he ran, he won by huge margins. But even though this is what the country looked like when he won, he just won overwhelmingly every single time that he ran, there were two states that said no to FDR four times in a row, all four times that he ran. Those states were Maine and Vermont. The people`s republic of Vermont went 0 for 4 when it came to voting for FDR. For all of the 19th century and most of the 20th century, the single most Republican state in the Union was Vermont of all places. They did bring themselves to vote Democrat for LBJ in 1964. That year it was hard not to. Even after voting Democratic for LBJ in 1964 though, Vermont went back to its old solid Republican ways. It was the most solid Republican place in the Union. For the next election after LBJ, they voted Republican, and then they voted Republican again, and then they voted Republican again, and then they voted Republican again and then they voted Republican again. It was not until 1992 when Vermont tipped and tipped for good. Vermont had been the most Republican state in the country, but when they tipped to start voting Democratic in 1992, they never went back. And by the time George W. Bush was running for president in the year 2000, he, of course, won the country that year, kind of, but he lost Vermont by 10 points. And when George W. Bush ran again for reelection in 2004, he lost Vermont by 20 points. In both of those elections, fewer votes were cast for George W. Bush in Vermont than any other state. And that created a little bit of a dilemma for President George W. Bush because while he was president, he made a point to travel to 49 other states in the country. He went to freaking Alaska four times. But even though George W. Bush was born in Connecticut, grew up part of the time at least in Massachusetts, vacationed in Maine his long life, including during his presidency, even though he had all of those connections to New England, throughout the entire eight years of his presidency, he managed to avoid visiting Vermont ever. And by the time his presidency was coming to an end, that was becoming an issue because presidents do now at least try to get to all 50 states as a manner of -- matter of good manners if nothing else. Bill Clinton only barely did it. He finally made it to Nebraska about a month before he left office. But that was the 50th of the 50. And he made it to every one of the United States. George W. Bush`s father, Papi, before Bill Clinton, he also made it to all 50 states, although there`s a little bit of an historical dispute about that. Looking at the record, I think he did make all 50, and incidentally I think he -- like his son -- left Vermont for last. I think Vermont was the last state that Papi Bush made it to when he was president. But when his son, president George W. Bush, when he left Vermont for last, he ultimately left it for too long because by the time George W. Bush was at the end of his second term as president, and he was facing headlines like these ones about why he hadn`t visited Vermont by that time in his presidency, the great state of Vermont had basically made President George W. Bush`s decision for him, because by that point of his presidency, two of Vermont towns had taken a vote that if President George W. Bush did dare to step foot within their city limits while he was still president, those towns voted to instruct their local police to arrest him and put him on trial. Brattleboro and Marlboro, Vermont, said they would tell their local police to arrest President George W. Bush if he came to visit. Even Republican officials in Vermont said that George W. Bush shouldn`t come. One Republican official who did not want to be named spoke to "The Brattleboro Reformer" at the time, saying, quote, "Why would George W. Bush ever come here? Just to get a bunch of crowds to boo him? He would be nuts to come up here." And so, George W. Bush never went in the course of his presidency, he never went to the state of Vermont. And as far as I know, he still has never been there. President Obama is not making that same mistake. With his visit to South Carolina a few weeks ago, that brought him to 49 states that President Obama has visited as president. That means that there`s only one state left that he hasn`t been to, that state is South Dakota. South Dakota to which President Obama is now apparently on his way. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let`s talk -- you`ve been to every state but South Dakota. Are you going to come visit us? BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, first of all, it`s important to know I was there as a senator. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were there when you campaigned. But as the sitting president, are you coming to visit? OBAMA: The good news is, May 8th, I`m making news right here with you, May 8th, we`re coming. I think by May 8th, finally, there should be spring in South Dakota, if I`m not mistaken. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We should be good. Now, we got some breaking news. OBAMA: There you go. I`m really looking forward to it. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Most presidents don`t get to all 50 states even when they try. It`s hard to do. And most of the presidents who have done it have only barely made it, right? They`ve left it to the very last second to squeeze in their 49th and 50th state visit while they`re still in office. President Obama is taking care of that business relatively early, right, earlier than -- in terms of the end of his term than any other president ever has with this South Dakota trip that he`s now planned for May 8th. I don`t know if that means he`s eager to get this whole president thing wrapped up and get out of there, but President Obama`s presidential to-do list is getting shorter and shorter all the time. The race to replace President Obama in the White House feels like it`s getting going early this time around, getting going early in this election cycle. But it really is already in full swing, with multiple candidates having formally declared their candidacies, it`s already clear at this point in the race that this race is going to be like nothing like we have ever seen before. The new "USA Today"/Suffolk University poll that`s just come out about the 2016 race shows that in a specific way. This "USA Today" poll, it doesn`t say anything particularly determinative about any one individual candidate for president, but it does say something truly remarkable about the race as a whole. Look at those results, not in terms of their relationship to one another, look at them in terms of their absolute value. Not a single candidate polls above the single digits. I mean, there`s a million candidates running, right, but not a single one of them cracks 10 percent. Scott Walker tops the field in this "USA Today" poll at 9 percent, but 9 percent is as high as anybody`s support goes, which means this is the most open field we have seen in forever. This is as open a field as this guy, in an open field, sitting in a business suit in an open field with his headphones on and a laptop fired up. That is a national political reporter for "The Wall Street Journal". His name is Peter Nicholas. Somebody took a picture of him today in Iowa while the national press corps was on the road and on the move to find somewhere, anywhere to file their stories about the Hillary Clinton for president campaign. The Hillary campaign is making its way through Iowa, small towns on a road trip that is supposed to be made up of small scale events with just a handful of voters, place to place. But those small-scale events do trail the entire enormous Beltway press corps around them, like cans tied to the bumper. Hillary Clinton unlike all of her Republican rivals is not at single digits in the national polling. In fact, she`s so far ahead of potential named Democratic challengers the fact that anybody is polling on it at this point seems like news. That`s probably a source of comfort to the Clinton campaign. They get time to do small visits with voters. They get the luxury of a presidential primary level of attention without presidential primary level intra-party fighting and drama. They get their pick, honestly, of all Democratic talent in the country in terms of operatives. They see themselves, I think, mostly, as the only game in town. And on a very base level, that has to be convenient for the Clinton campaign. Democrats as a whole have had some pretty serious shpilkes about Hillary Clinton not having a tough primary fight to win, both because the primary has a perceived role in toughening up candidates for the general election, but also because primaries tend to push candidates toward the political positions of their party`s base voters. So, all the Republican candidates, for example, are staking out policy positions further and further to the right with each passing day now as they try to out-conservative each other to win over conservative Republican primary voters. If Hillary Clinton doesn`t the have to go through a similar process in the other party, Democratic liberals have worried about there being no equal and opposite force, pushing her policy positions to the left, even as all the Republican guys get pushed so far to the right in their primary process. I mean, that dynamic, if it exists in the Republican Party and not in the Democratic Party, that conceivably could leave her in the center and all the Republicans very far out on the right, it could leave liberal policy positions basically totally out of the discussion when it comes to a general election between a comfortably centrist Hillary Clinton and a far right Republican challengers. And that worry I think is some of what has driven Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to potentially be interested in potentially running a primary campaign for president against Secretary Clinton and any other comers. Same goes for Maryland Governor Martin O`Malley who does seem quite interested in mounting such a run. That worry is what`s been driving the liberal interest in the home town Massachusetts interest in Senator Elizabeth Warren potentially running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. Even as Senator Warren has continued to insist she won`t make a run, the efforts to get her to run just won`t stop. People trying to get her to run if not to win, then at least to meaningfully pressure Hillary Clinton from the left during the course of a primary, so Hillary Clinton ends up running on a more liberal, more populist policy agenda than she might have if she was left to her own devices. Honestly, though, being real at this point, mostly Hillary Clinton has been left to her own devices, and it is therefore one of the surprises of this political campaign so far that Secretary Clinton does seem to be running at least ostensibly a less conservative, more Democratic wing of the Democratic Party-style campaign than what liberals have feared. And it`s happened on the more obvious stuff. I mean, everybody knew she`d have to go more left on gay rights. She`d have to be more aggressive in her support for issues like marriage equality. She has now done that already. But it`s not just social issues like that. It`s also unexpectedly happened in terms of her core economic message. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY CLINTON (D), 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I think it`s fair to say that as you look across the country, the deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top. And there`s something wrong with that. There`s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker. There`s something wrong when American workers keep getting more productive, but that productivity is not matched in their paychecks. And there`s something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses or the truckers that I saw on I-80 as I was driving here over the last two days. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So, if you had been hoping for a Bernie Sanders presidential run or an Elizabeth Warren presidential run, because you wanted to make top tier Democratic politics more like Bernie Sanders politics and Elizabeth Warren politics, hearing Hillary Clinton talk that way is probably music to your ears. That gave rise this week to the hard to spell but funny Twitter hashtag #hillazabethwarren. Crediting Secretary Clinton for giving voice to these more populist ideas that Democrats say they have been looking for in a presidential nominee for 2016. Even beyond that, though, there was further surprise for Hillary Clinton when she started talking about the four-part platform that she apparently seems ready to run on. It`s not a criticism, it`s just a fact, that the first three parts of this four-part platform honestly could have been anybody`s, could have been probably even most of the Republicans who are trying to run against Hillary Clinton this year. In the first three parts of this four-part platform, she said she wants to build an American economy for the future and not the past, OK. She wants to strengthen American families, OK. She wants to defend the country from threats, OK. And, you know, clearly, she`ll put meat on those bones and eventually there will be fighting about what exactly she intends to do to achieve those things and they won`t just sound like generic political slogans, I`m guessing. The surprise, though, was the fourth thing that she put on this top four list of things she wants to get done, the reason why she`s running. When she got to the fourth plank in this platform that she`s been talking about this week since she declared her candidacy, I don`t think anybody saw this coming. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment. We have to get rid of the unaccountable money that is flooding into our political system, even if it takes a constitutional amendment. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This is going to be a $2.5 billion presidential campaign, maybe. There is about a 98 percent chance Hillary Clinton is going to be one of the two candidates in the general election in this $2.5 billion campaign. As such, I`m not sure anybody expected that an anti-Citizens United, anti-unlimited money in politics plank, even potentially constitutional amendment anti-money in politics plank would be one of the first things she would put in her platform, but she has. And that is both a political surprise and a really interesting new question about this giant terrible structural problem we have now in our democracy, which is the legalization of unlimited anonymous money and how it has crowded out and devalued the participation of everyone else in the political process who can`t compete at that kind of a financial level. It is such a huge problem in our politics. It`s almost like the weather, right? It`s the ambient atmosphere in which all politics happens, and in polite and mainstream politics, it is there almost seen as not worth talking about, because the problem is so big, and because it seems to be unfixable. In recent polling, 96 percent of Americans say they believe it is important to reduce the influence of money in politics, 96 percent think we ought to do that. But the proportion of Americans who think that is likely to happen, is not 96 percent, it`s 9 percent. Everybody knows and thinks it is a huge problem, nobody thinks it can be fixed. That`s a recipe for never talking about it. And that has led to a style of activism around the issue of money in politics, that reflects its sort of fringe status in mainstream discourse. It`s a kind of tilting at windmills, futile desperation in terms of the tactics and in terms of the tone. Today`s latest point and example was from a 61-year-old Florida mailman named Doug Hughes who taught himself to fly a teeny, teeny, tiny little ultra-light gyrocopter that`s basically a bicycle with wings. He put on his mailman suit. He put a Postal Service insignia on the side of his gyrocopter. He loaded up mail bags containing letters to every single member of Congress, demanding that they support real reform to get money out of politics. And today, Mr. Hughes deliberately flew that gyrocopter into restricted airspace in Washington, D.C., into the no-fly zone at the U.S. Capitol. He purposely landed his gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the Capitol. He told his hometown paper, "The Tampa Bay Times", in advance about his plans, explaining he meant no harm. He`s neither suicidal or homicidal. He hoped he wouldn`t get shot down, he recognized at a certain level it is nuts to fly into a no-fly zone, try to land at the capital, in order to make a political point. But he said it was the only thing he could think of to try to get attention to this issue that otherwise doesn`t get any mainstream attention, to try to spark something in Washington to fix this problem. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DOUG HUGHES, MAILMAN: Change the government to build a wall of separation, to build a wall between the government and big money so that government will represent the people. There are these problems and these problems and these problems that are much more important than campaign finance reform, but those won`t get addressed until we fix campaign finance reform. I don`t believe that the authorities are going to shoot down a 60- year-old mailman in a flying bicycle. I`m going to give them plenty of warning, well over an hour in advance of me getting to the no-fly zone so that they know who I am and what I`m doing, and that it`s intended to be non-violent. I`m defenseless. They could knock me down -- a Boy Scout with a bb gun could shoot me down. I don`t believe that anybody wants to personally take responsibility for the fallout that would result from publicly executing somebody for an act of dissent. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Florida mailman Doug Hughes taped that with "The Tampa Bay Times" before he embarked on his solo gyrocopter flight to the U.S. Capitol lawn today. He did it. He was not shot down in his gyrocopter today over D.C. He was not forced down out of the sky by a fighter jet or something. He appears to have not been hurt in this landing. Mr. Hughes was arrested once he landed on the capitol grounds. They did bring in a bomb squad to make sure his gyrocopter really was just a flying bicycle and not something more dangerous. Ahead of time, coinciding with the start of his flight, he posted online a big explanation for what he was doing at this Web site You can read the letter he wrote to members of Congress that he said he was delivering on not his usual mail route today. He links to a bunch of groups who he says are working in a smart way on campaign finance reform -- this issue he was trying to highlight with a stunt today. His quixotic flight into the no-fly zone to the U.S. Capitol today was his personal attempt to try to get big money out of American politics. It was all he could think to do as a citizen. But if that cause becomes as mainstream as you can get, if that cause also becomes the Hillary Clinton for president cause, if this is not a futile, tilting at windmills activist effort anymore, but something that gets taken on at the highest level of American national politics, could something actually get done about it? And is the Hillary Clinton campaign starting to answer the concerns of the parts of the Democratic Party that worried about her grabbing the nomination without a progressive push to get her there? One of the potential progressive candidates hoping to push her there joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Joining me next right here on set, right here, is one of the real life candidates who appears to possibly be gearing up to take on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, maybe. That`s next. Don`t go anywhere. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigning in Iowa this week on a platform of passing a constitutional amendment if need be to get big money out of the political system, coming out with that proposal right out of the box, not something I think anyone really saw coming. Perhaps it is a reaction to the Democratic Party`s worries that Hillary Clinton running without a strong primary challenge will not push her hard enough from the left to come up with good, progressive and populist ideas for how to lead the country. Among those who have been thinking about challenging her in a primary is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who joins us now. Senator Sanders, thank you so much for being here. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: My pleasure. MADDOW: I posit that Hillary Clinton has been slightly more liberal in what she`s said she wanted to do with her campaign than what I expected. Do you think that`s true? SANDERS: Well, it`s hard to judge. She`s only been out there for a few days. But the issue to my mind is in this strange moment in American history, when our middle class is disappearing, when we have so many people living in poverty, when we have to deal with climate change, when we have to deal with the horrendous level of income and wealth inequality, how do we address these issues in a way that takes on the billionaire class? There`s one issue for me, Rachel, and that is do we as a people, not Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Rachel Maddow, are we prepared to take on the billionaire class now, where 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent? Where they have significant control over the media, where they by and large determine the legislation that goes on in Congress, and as a result of Citizens United are prepared to buy the United States Congress. There`s million issues out there, but the main issue is, will we retain a middle class? Will we retain our democratic foundation? Or, in fact, and I`m not over exaggerating, will we move to an oligarchic society where this whole nation is going to run by a handful of billionaire families, Koch brothers and others? MADDOW: Do you see your mission to make, essentially the Democratic Party, take that on as the reason they exist and the way they are different from the Republican Party? SANDERS: My mission is that I have four kids and seven grandchildren and I want them to live in a great country -- and present trends that is not the case. The scientific community tells us if we don`t deal with climate change, this planet is going to warm up substantially. What kind of planet are we going to leave to our kids? So, we have enormous problems. But at the end of the day, if you want to raise the minimum wage, if you want to create millions of jobs, if you want to end the disgrace of America being the only major country without a national health care program, you know what you have to do? You have to take on the billionaire class. You have to break up the Wall Street banks. You need real tax reform. I just introduced legislation the other day. We`re losing $110 billion a year because corporation stash their money in the Cayman Islands and in Bermuda. That`s what we have to do. You have to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. To do all of those things, we need a mass movement in this country, the likes of which we have never seen before. The only way we beat the billionaire class, is when millions of people organize and say, enough is enough, we want to go to college without going bankrupt. We`re entitled to health care as a right. We don`t want our jobs to go to China. Wall Street can`t run this country, et cetera, et cetera. And the question as a nation that we have to ask ourselves, do we have the courage to do that? MADDOW: Do you think a potential presidential run -- you running for president -- could be the sort of thing that would catalyze that kind of movement? Is that part of why you`re considering it? SANDERS: Yes. I mean, it`s one of the things that I`m looking at. And I don`t know the answer to your question. We are looking -- I mean, it`s easy for me to give a speech. And we have huge turnovers all over the country. You tell me, do you think the American people are prepared to stand up to the billionaire class? People are so demoralized they`ve given up in the political process. Eighty percent of young people didn`t vote in the last election. Can we bring people together and say, sorry, the billionaires can`t control the United States Congress? We need fundamental changes in this country. I don`t know the answer to that, but I`m exploring that. And the other issue that you touched on, it`s frankly Hillary and the Republicans. You know how much money they`re going to raise in the campaign? They`re going to raise probably over a billion dollars. MADDOW: Each? On each side. SANDERS: Each. MADDOW: Yes. SANDERS: So, then the question comes, if a candidate is out there to represent working families, and relies on small contributions, can you win an election when you`re so greatly outspent or is that over? Will the only candidates we have, be those who have huge super PACs and billionaire backers? If that`s the case -- that`s a pretty sad state of affairs. MADDOW: How will you make this decision? It sounds like you are, it sounds like -- I`ve talked to you about this a few different times. It sounds to me like you were getting closer to making this decision. SANDERS: I am getting closer. MADDOW: How will you make the decision, and when? SANDERS: It`s going to end up having to be a gut reaction, and that is getting a sense of whether or not there really is the support for people to roll up their sleeves by the millions, frankly and say, we need a political revolution in this country. And I mean those words advisedly. So, I have to make that decision shortly, and I will. And the other factor, of course, is, when I don`t get super PAC money, how do we -- and we average $45 a contribution, you need a lot of $45 to raise a few hundred million dollars, can we raise that and I have to ascertain that. MADDOW: Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, it`s great to see you, sir. Thank you. SANDERS: Thanks. MADDOW: All right. We`ve got a lot more ahead tonight, including a cabinet secretary that is going to join us tonight for the interview on a subject that has received zero attention so far but is about to blow up. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We`ve got a report coming up next on what I think is a sleeper issue. A big issue that is about to come around the bend in national politics, particularly because of the start of the 2016 presidential campaigning. Now, this is something that the right has been working on quietly but conservatively for the past year or so. Those efforts have mostly been under the radar, but they`re just now starting to surface. They`re working on something that has been way out there on the fringe of conservative thought. Way beyond the realm of the possible in terms of policy. They`re working this year to bring that fringe thing into the mainstream and to get it done in part through 2016 presidential politics. What they`re proposing would be a radical change for the country, but Republicans are quietly coalescing around this idea. I think Democrats and people who don`t want this kind of radical change have not been paying attention to this and they don`t know it`s coming, so therefore they are not prepared for it. But that report and that story is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Part of the deal we made with people to serve this country in the military, is that if you are a veteran, our country agrees to take care of your health care needs. When the continental Congress created the country in the first place, they passed a law to help disabled American veterans. In 1989, one of the very first things, the very first U.S. Congress did was to pass a law to help disabled veterans. As a country we have pledged from before the beginning of the beginning that one of the core functions of the government of the United States is to care for veterans. It`s part of the deal that we make with Americans who serve in the military, it`s not a controversial idea, and until this point hasn`t ever been one. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s about how we treat our veterans every single day of the year. It`s about making sure they have the care they need and the benefits that they`ve earned when they come home. GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: America must and will keep its word to those men and women who have given us so much. Veterans have been promised good health care when they`re sick and disabled. They must be treated with fairness and respect. WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: We honor our veterans as well. And Abraham Lincoln`s words, by caring for him, who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan. RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: I`ve said before that America`s debt to those who would fight for her defense doesn`t end the day the uniform comes off. For the security of our nation, it must not end. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It is not a controversial idea in American politics. It is not a partisan idea at all, or at least mostly. For a while now, an idea has percolated on the right to scrap the V.A. To scrap the V.A., turn it over to the private sector and let veterans try their luck there. This thing has simmered out there as an idea on the right for a long time. It`s always been seen honestly as too fringe, too radical to get anywhere in real mainstream realistic politics. In his 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain briefly pitched to a veteran`s group on the idea of sending veterans into the private sector to get their care. The veterans groups were not receptive, that idea went nowhere, and then it was over. A couple years later, Republican Colorado U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck said he wanted to privatize the V.A. He got slammed by veterans groups and pretty soon his spokesman was saying definitively, quote, "Ken is not for privatizing the V.A. hospitals." The next year, Mitt Romney briefly suggested a privatizing voucher system for the V.A., veterans groups came out strongly against it and said he was just kicking around a hypothetical, didn`t mean it at all. This year, though, something different is going on. At least three of the major candidates, or probable candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, have all in quick secession suddenly come out in support of privatizing some or all of the V.A. Why is this happening all of a sudden? Why all of a sudden not just one of these guys here or there, but all of those three guys all deciding now that is newly politically palatable to suggest something that just a couple years ago was a real third rail? I think two things are going on here. One of them you already know about, one of them is that the V.A. has not been doing itself any favors lately. V.A.`s been buffeted by scandal after scandal over the last few years, including the major scandal over veterans wait times for appointments and the V.A. fudging the data about those wait times, that`s a scandal that led to the resignation of V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki. So, people who want to defend the V.A. from those who would like to abolish it, the defenders of the V.A. are in a situation where it`s politically difficult to defend the V.A. because it`s had so much bad press. And then there`s the second thing. It turns out there was something the Founding Fathers did not foresee when they thought about our nation`s sacred need to care for our vets. But they maybe did not anticipate were a couple guys called the Koch brothers. Last year in June, a group called Concerned Veterans for America convened a summit on privatizing the V.A. John McCain was there, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was there, Senator Rubio was there. The point of this summit by Concerned Veterans for America was to celebrate the release of that group`s big report on fixing the V.A., and their big proposal for the V.A. was to privatize it. Concerned Veterans for America, wants to privatize much of the V.A. system for health care. I should tell you that Concerned Veterans for America, is not some scrappy grassroots veterans group. It`s reportedly funded just about entirely by the billionaire libertarian brothers Charles and David Koch and their network of donors. The Koch donor network almost literally created that group, that is not my characterization. That comes from the group`s CEO. His name, Pete Hegseth. This was him speaking at a Koch donor conference last June. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) PETE HEGSETH, CONCERNED VETERANS OF AMERICA: Concerned Veterans for America is an organization this network literally created. Now, unless you`ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you know about the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs. What you probably don`t know is the central role that Concerned Veterans for America played in exposing and driving this crisis from the very beginning. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Exposing and driving this crisis from the very beginning. Driving it. That audio was obtained by an online outfit called "The Undercurrent". It was published by "The Nation". MSNBC has not independently confirmed it. We contacted Mr. Hegseth this evening to ask him if that was, in fact, him. He declined to talk to us about it. He also declined to talk to us about where his group gets its money. What we do know, though, just from watching the politics as they play out is that their push to privatize the V.A. is working right now. I mean, it used to be a fringe idea that the politician might float, but then drop. But now, all the leading Republican hopefuls for president who have been asked about it have so far all jumped on board, lots of them all at once. And part of the reason for the surprise mainstream of this formerly fringe idea is that now it is supported by this much larger and much richer campaign. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) HEGSETH: Perhaps most importantly to this effort, we have created a new line of defense against the march towards socialized medicine, educating veterans, and Americans in the process. Veterans have had government-run healthcare for decades. We`ve had the preview of Obamacare, the scandal has exposed the inevitable result of central planning for all Americans: massive wait times, impenetrable bureaucracy, de facto rationing, wasted tax dollars. It goes on and on. Throughout his effort, Concerned Veterans of America, along with our network partners, have intentionally broadened the debate to include big government dysfunction generally. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: We have intentionally broadened the debate to include big government dysfunction generally. Concerned Veterans for America and the Koch brothers network and the Republican presidential candidates, they`re taking an issue that used to be an absolute third rail, but now when they find themselves pushing on this issue, they`re pushing on an open door, in part because it`s a door they opened themselves. The V.A. is in such bad shape, none of its traditional defenders feels like they can stand up for the status quo, even though -- and this is key - - the V.A. health care system gets better ratings than the private health care system on just about every metric. Not just better outcomes, but higher satisfaction rates among their patients. Privatizing the V.A., I`m telling you, is a sleeper issue for the 2016 campaign. The Republican candidates are lining up in support. And the Democrats and supporters of the V.A., at this point, do not appear to have any strategy to respond to what is happening on the right. There is a concerted but as yet low profile push from the right, right now, to kill the V.A. Are we at risk of losing it? The V.A. secretary joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLP) ROBERT MCDONALD, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: With every group I engage, I make this point -- at V.A., our mission is clear. It`s to serve veterans. There is no higher calling than that mission. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Joining us now for the interview, very happy to say, is Robert McDonald. He is our nation`s secretary of veterans affairs. Mr. Secretary, it`s a real honor to have you with us. Thanks for being here. MCDONALD: Thank you, Rachel. Great to be with you tonight. MADDOW: I think there`s something going on politically, that hasn`t received a lot of national attention yet, I feel it percolating, which is a concerted effort to end the V.A. in terms of its -- especially its core functions to providing health care to our nation`s veterans. Nine million veterans are getting health care through the V.A. Do you think that such a movement is afoot and how do you feel about it? MCDONALD: Well, as I went through my confirmation process, some members of the Senate asked me to do an analysis of this, and I`m a business guy. So coming in, I did an analysis and what I discovered was not only do veterans needs the V.A., but American medicine needs the V.A., which means America needs the V.A. Let me explain what I mean, did you realize that 70 percent of U.S. doctors are trained by the V.A.? It`s our residencies that train doctors. MADDOW: Wow. MCDONALD: Did you realize that we have the largest nurse force in the nation? Who`s going to train the doctors and nurses if it`s not the V.A.? Secondly, research. We send $1.8 billion a year on research. We invented the nicotine patch. We did the first liver transplant. We did the first implantable pacemaker. It was a V.A. nurse that came up with the idea of using a bar code to connect patients with medicine and medical records. The electronic medical record was invented by the V.A. Third, of course, is our clinical work. Many of our doctors do things on all three legs of that stool -- clinical work, research, teaching. And that makes a difference for our veterans. It also makes a difference for American medicine. MADDOW: There has been part of what`s underlying this political dynamic is that the V.A. has had so much trouble over the last few years. Complaints about veterans waiting to get into care, even more trouble and complaints about the V.A. more or less systematically fudging the numbers to make it look like that problem wasn`t true and screwing veterans over in the process. I know you have been prioritizing trying to fix that problem. But is there any sense that -- is there any sense in which the agency is just too large to fix? That it is too big, it does too much, and that it`s too unwieldy to be responsive and responsible? MCDONALD: No, I don`t think so, I think the V.A. should succeed, and I think the V.A. succeeds by running like a business. Any organization that loses sight of its customer, and I think we lost sight of our customer, becomes very inward looking during the time of crisis and isn`t outward looking, and isn`t focusing on delighting the customer. And that`s what we`re about, is running the V.A. like a business, improving our results, and delighting our veterans. That`s what we`re about. MADDOW: Do you feel like the turn around efforts on the weight times issue and on the honesty on the wait time issue is satisfactory to you thus far? Or do -- MCDONALD: We`re making progression, but we`re not where we need to be. Twenty percent of our appointments are same day, 97 percent of our appointments roughly are within 30 days of desired time. So, we`re making progress, but we still need to hire more doctors, more nurses. And we still need to create more venues, more buildings, in order for veterans to get in. Since I`ve been secretary, we`ve hired around 800 doctors. We`ve hired over a thousand nurses. We now have permission from Congress and funding to build 27 -- at least 27 new facilities. So, there was a case where the demand was much greater than the supply. Vietnam era veterans had their peak demand year in 2014. The reason for that is peak Vietnam veterans became older, like me, I`m 61 years old. When I was young and I was in the 2nd Airborne Division, I parachuted. I lost three disks in my lower back, but I could run marathons at 28. Now that I`m 61, I can`t sleep through the night. In 1975, the year I graduated from West Point, we had 2 million veterans over the age of 65. 2017, we`re going to have 10 million veterans over the age of 65. The V.A. is like the canary in the coal mine. We see things in the American health care before the rest of the public sees it. We see the aging in the American population. We see the need for family care and primary care doctors. We see the need for mental health professionals. This is a role we play in terms of informing American -- excuse me -- informing American medicine. MADDOW: One of the reasons I want you to be here tonight, Mr. Secretary, is because I do feel like V.A. is about to have political challenges that it has not faced in at least a generation if not more, and veterans groups have been able to hold off some of those challenges in the past, in part because they had a lot of political backup. I`m not sure V.A. has the political backup right now to fight those battles. And, honestly, I`m here because I want to sort of raise the flag that this is coming, and I want to thank you for being here, too, because it`s been hard to talk to the V.A., hard to get anybody to talk about. MCDONALD: That`s why we`re here. We want to get out. We want to be transparent. We now publish our data every two weeks online. Sunshine is a great - - transparency is a great benefit to us. We`re going to do our share. We`re going to improve the results of the V.A. We`re working very hard to do that. And hopefully, veterans will be happy with the care we provide them. It`s the most exciting mission that we could possibly have. MADDOW: Robert McDonald, our nation`s secretary of veterans affairs, real honor and a pleasure to have you here. MCDONALD: My pleasure. MADDOW: Thank you very much. MCDONALD: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. I`m telling you, this is coming. Nobody is talking about this in 2016 yet, but this is on the way in a bad way. Stay with us. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: And now, my friends, we come to the part of the evening where I trot out the animation of the train and the happy little sound of the little bell and also the sound of the buzzer. Always make me feel like I have done something wrong. I have not done something wrong. Not yet. But we are heading for Debunktion Junction. Stay right there. Do not fear the buzzer. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Debunktion Junction, Washington edition. U.S. Senator Jon Tester of Montana is famous for two unusual physical traits. One is his hair cut -- immaculate in his flatness. You can balance an egg on top of his head. The man was born to do head things. You can store things on top of his haircut, fragile things that need to be kept perfectly flat. He has a perfect and amazing flat top hair cut. The other physical thing that Senator Jon Tester is famous for is that he only has seven famous fingers. He lost three fingers to an accident on his family`s farm when he was 9 years old. He`s missing these ones I think. So, if you know nothing about Jon Tester, you very likely know about his hair and the missing fingers on his hand. Well, today, it was reported that Senator Tester`s assistant, his body man, the guy who he spends more time with on his staff than anybody else, also only has seven fingers. Senator Tester and his executive assistant reportedly only 14 fingers between them. Is that true or is that false? (BELL) MADDOW: Did I make that up? Seriously, they are not only both missing fingers, they are both missing three fingers. They have both missing the same three fingers. Both of them are missing those same three fingers on their left hand. It`s a match made in heaven or Montana, hard to tell the difference. Senator Tester tells "Roll Call" today, and I quote, "We tell people now that when I hired him, he had 10 fingers, and I made him cut three of them off, because that`s part of the stipulation if you`re going to be my executive assistant." The two seem to like each other very much. Senator Tester also seems to realize this whole thing between him and his seven-fingered executive assistant, it might not last. Quote, "He`s been with me a couple of years and, you know, he`ll go at some point in time and then we`ll have to get somebody else and we`ll have to cut their fingers off. And then we`ll move on." Senator Jon Tester of Montana, and his executive assistant, 14 fingers between the two of them. They`re both missing the same fingers on their left hand. True. (BELL) MADDOW: I swear it`s true. I would not make that up. Also, we learned a horrifying fun fact from Senator Tester`s office tonight. He still uses that same meat grinder that cost him the first three fingers in the first place. Still uses the same machine. That`s the most Jon Tester fact of all time. 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. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END