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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/25/15

Guests: Robert Costa, John Stanton

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Alex. You are going to have so much fun doing that. ALEX WAGNER: I totally will. MADDOW: It`s going to be spectacular. Well done. Thanks to you at home for being with us on this big, big night. You know, on any normal day, the leaders of the two most powerful countries on earth having their first formal state dinner at the White House, that would be the lead news story in the world by a mile, right? I mean, on any normal day, frankly, this radical fascinating pope addressing the United Nations and speaking at the 9/11 memorial and then holding a mass at Madison Square Garden where they turned the concession stands, the place where you get popcorn and Pepsi, they turn the concession stands into confession booths before his arrival, on any normal day that would be the lead story in the news by a mile. Even the way he got there. I mean, on any normal day the pope`s drive to Madison Square Garden through an adoring and ecstatic crowd of 80,000 people in Central Park, that would be the lead story in the news by a mile. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton probably thought this new campaign ad of hers, her best campaign ad by far, she probably thought this would be the biggest political news story of the day. Donald Trump probably thought when he got booed at by a big crowd of hard right conservatives at the values voter thing today, Donald Trump probably thought that that would be the biggest political news of the day. That`s what he told NBC`s Katy Tur, that actually nobody booed at him even though plainly and on tape people absolutely booed at him. On any normal day, Jeb Bush pulling a Mitt Romney and saying the Republican party has to try to attract black voters with hope and not with free stuff, that`s the phrase he actually used, "free stuff", on any normal day, that statement by Jeb Bush, that would be news today, news tonight, news for days yet to come. But this is not a normal day. This is today. And today, the speaker of the House, the man third in line to the presidency, the second most powerful man arguably in Washington after the presidency of the United States, today he decided it was -- such a wonderful day that it would be time to shock everyone and quit. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-a. My oh my, what a wonderful day. I used to sing that on my way to work in the morning. Just yesterday we witnessed the awesome sight of Pope Francis addressing the greatest legislative body in the world. And I hope that we will all heed his call to live by the golden rule. But last night I started to think about this. And this morning I woke up and I said my prayers, as I always do, and I decided, you know, today`s the day I`m going to do this, as simple as that. REPORTER: Who is the first person you told and what did they say? BOEHNER: Well, I told my wife. REPORTER: What`d she say? BOEHNER: She said good. (LAUGHTER) BOEHNER: I told -- my chief of staff and I talked late yesterday, and I told him I was thinking that today might be the day. And I told him I`d sleep on it. So before I went to sleep last night told my wife, you know, I might just make an announcement tomorrow. What do you mean? What kind of announcement? I might just tell them it`s time to go. So, this morning, I woke up and walked up to Starbucks as usual and got my coffee and came back and read and walked up to Pete`s diner and saw everybody at Pete`s. And got home and thought, yep, I think today`s the day. So, my senior staff was having a meeting at 8:45 and kind of walked in before I opened the house and told him, this is the day, it`s going to happen someday, why not today? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Why not today? That is a happy man. That is not usually the way these things go. The last three Republican speakers of the House have not had good endings. Newt Gingrich resigned in political disgrace amid a big ethics scandal. Bob Livingston resigned in disgrace in a sex scandal. Denny Hastert, he left in good terms in Congress but now he`s under criminal indictment on charges that followed serious sexual abuse allegations. I mean, that`s how the last three Republican House speakers ended. This guy, in contrast, is leaving not just on his own terms sort of, but he`s so happy about it, it might not even matter. The man is literally singing "zip-a-dee-doo-dah." He sang "zip-a-dee-doo-dah" twice at his "I`m resigning" announcement. And he seemed to mean it when he sung the part about it`s a wonderful day. Have you ever seen anyone so happy to just resign from their job ever? Actually, brief digression. I have. For ten years on and off, I worked with an amazing producer named Nazanin Rafsanjani. Nazanin is a great friend, great person. I worked with her on radio, Air America Radio, and then when I got this TV show she came and worked here on this TV show and everybody on the staff fell in love with her and she took over immediately. Wonderful person, amazing co-worker, and recently she left. And we threw a sort of staff going away party for her and at that going away party, Naza and I posed for a Polaroid picture on the occasion of her leaving the staff of this show. And here it is. So that`s me. Doesn`t really look like me. I`m wearing kind of a funny little cowboy shirt. And this is me saying good-bye to Naz, right? I`m very sad. I barely even look like me but I`m very sad, I`m sad that Nazanin is leaving her job. And here -- there`s Nazanin. You know, not at all sad to be leaving her job. Eric Friendler (ph) took this picture and he said think I`m leaving my job. And that was my reaction and that was hers. See, this is a portrait of happiness for someone who is quitting a job they want to quit. And that is the closest thing from my personal life that I have ever seen in terms of how John Boehner was leaving his job today. He pulled a Nazanin the way he left today. And we`re now about to see if that happiness is because it is intrinsically impossible to be a Republican speaker of the House in this modern Republican Party. And so, anybody would be delighted to leave that job. Or maybe there was something about John Boehner being speaker of the House that specifically made it so miserable. And that`s making him so happy to leave. I mean, to be fair, his tenure has been an ostentatiously terrible time for Congress. The first congressional session where John Boehner was in charge, that was the least effective Congress in the history of the U.S. Congress. That first one where he was in charge, they passed less substantive legislation than any session ever before in Congress since Congress has existed. And then the Congress that came after than, the next one where he was also in charge, those two congresses back to back, those are the two least productive back-to-back sessions of Congress ever in the history of Congress. Since John Boehner has been speaker, we had a 16-day-long government shutdown for no reason. We deliberately hit and exceeded the national debt ceiling for no reason, which resulted in the national credit rating of the United States being downgraded, which was a significant economic hit to our country at a time we were trying to recover from this terrible recession. Quantitatively, most of what Congress did under House Speaker John Boehner was vote dozens and dozens and dozens of times to symbolically fake repeal Obamacare, again and again and again. None of those votes actually repealed Obamacare or actually did anything in the real world except take up time that could have been spent doing real stuff. And, of course, they did give people fund-raising opportunities back home. Even though Speaker Boehner has had really big Republican majorities to work with since he`s been in charge, he has been able to do as close to absolutely nothing as anyone who has ever held the job of speaker of the United States. And yes, there are some things that he screwed up himself. I mean, when he first took over, there were a couple members of Congress who he forgot to swear in. And then he let them onto the House floor to start participating in votes and everything even though they were technically not sworn in and therefore members of Congress. That was day one of John Boehner`s speakership. That was a big awkward screw-up. You might also remember right at the start of his speakership they were going to read the entire Constitution out loud on the floor of the House except they were all reading out of a three-ring binder and some of the pages stuck together, and so they skipped whole sections of the Constitution accidentally. They also set this new rule where they would have to identify, they would have to write down what part of the Constitution gave them the authority to pass every single piece of legislation they wanted to work on in the House. They passed that rule. They said it has to apply to every piece of legislation. And then the first three bills that they passed under John Boehner as speaker, they did not follow that rule that they had just put in place. So there was some stuff that honestly it was on him. There were some things on which he did not do a great job. And that kind of stuff, particularly very early on, gave rise to, you might remember this, the John Boehner is bad at his job hypothesis, which we have talked about on the air several times -- well, we`ve talked about it a lot. In the big picture, though, to be totally fair, John Boehner may have been bad at the job of being speaker of the House but it is unclear whether anybody could have been good at it, whether anybody could have done better because of what Republican politics is now. I mean, yes, he had big Republican majorities, but they were fractious as all get out, aggressively combative. Republicans right now enjoy fighting with their own leadership maybe even more than they enjoy fighting with Democrats. And because John Boehner could not corral, could never corral any of his numbers to doing any one thing, he very frequently had to resort to asking the Democrats if they could lend him some votes to help him pass even the very basic stuff. I mean, that was how he passed Hurricane Sandy relief. That`s how he finally got the debt ceiling vote in 2014. That`s how he got us off the fiscal cliff. That`s how they reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. I mean, time and time and time again John Boehner couldn`t get it done with Republicans because Republicans refused to go along with him and he instead had to go to Nancy Pelosi hat in hand and beg for some Democratic votes to help him out. And, of course, that sort of thing is seen as an unpardonable sin by the most combative and loudest and most telegenic members of his own caucus. And the problem going forward is that there`s no reason to believe that dynamic`s going to change now that John Boehner`s leaving. I mean, that still is going to be the tiny little spot between the rock and the hard place where the next Republican speaker of the House is going to have to slide himself in after John Boehner leaves next month. But John Boehner really did shock everybody today when he announced his resignation. It`s actually -- as far as I can tell, it is an unprecedented thing for a House speaker to leave out of the blue in the middle of a congressional session like this. I mean, absent some big scandal, some proceedings against the speaker or something, I don`t think it`s ever happened where the speaker in the middle of a congressional session just said, "I quit, I`m leaving." House Speaker John Boehner today denied overtly that he was inspired to quit because of the pope`s historic visit, which was organized by John Boehner. It was put into motion by John Boehner in the first place. He was so obviously moved by it. He said today that wasn`t it, that isn`t why I quit today. But today when he talked with such trademark John Boehner emotion about how moving it was for him to meet the pope yesterday and how much that experience meant to him, it was kind of hard to believe him that that was not the catalyst for this earthshaking decision that he made today that shocked the country. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Mr. Boehner, you were noticeably overcome with emotion yesterday. BOEHNER: Really? What a surprise. REPORTER: I`m curious if you reached this decision last night if the grace of Pope Francis led you to this decision. BOEHNER: No. No. Yesterday was a wonderful day. It really was. And was I emotional yesterday? I think I was. I was really emotional in a moment that really no one saw. As the pope and I were getting ready to exit the building, we found ourselves alone. And the pope grabbed my left arm and said some very kind words to me about my commitment to kids and education. And the pope puts his arm around me and kind of pulls me to him and says, "Please pray for me." Well, who am I to pray for the pope? But I did. REPORTER: If it wasn`t the pope, then what was it? BOEHNER: It`s -- listen, it was never about the vote. There was never any doubt about whether I could survive the vote. I don`t want my members to have to go through this. I certainly don`t want the institution to go through this. I thought when I knew I was thinking about walking out the door anyway. It`s the right time to do it, and frankly, I am entirely comfortable doing it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: He is entirely comfortable doing it, meaning leaving. The question is whether whoever comes next ought to be comfortable taking over that job or whether that is an inherently undoable job that even John Boehner couldn`t do but maybe nobody can. Joining us now is Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post." Robert just this morning published an incredible piece about an encounter he and another reporter had with Speaker Boehner last night after the speaker`s day hosting Pope Francis at the Capitol. Robert Costa, thanks very much for being here. It`s nice to have you here. ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: Can you tell us what happened last night, this sort of odd encounter you had with the speaker? COSTA: It was a surreal moment. My friend Jake Sherman of "Politico" and I were standing there at twilight, sun setting over Capitol Hill and we heard rumors that Boehner may be retiring but it didn`t seem believable. We thought to ourselves might as well hang around for a few hours. The capitol was empty. And Boehner finally comes out. And he usually passes by reporters, doesn`t take questions, rolls his eyes. And then he did something unprecedented, five, six years of covering Boehner he`s never done this, comes over to us in the hallway, puts his hands on our shoulders and says come over to this little spot where the pope met him earlier in the day as the pope was leaving. And for the next ten minutes Boehner starts acting out this entire scene, has me standing where the pope was standing, and he just kept saying, "The pope said please pray for me." And he kept repeating it. We really didn`t know how to handle it. So, we just let Boehner do his thing, and he with just thought to ourselves, what is this after he left. We thought Boehner seemed at peace with himself and happy. MADDOW: Robert, when you say you had heard and part of the reason you were hanging around late was because you heard he might be resigning and it seemed far-fetched but you`d heard that might be possible, had you heard those rumors before the visit of Pope Francis? I`m asking because I think everybody`s trying to discern just at a human level whether or not that obviously spiritually moving experience was the catalyst for him leaving the day. COSTA: I heard Pope Francis came. I heard from a couple friends of Speaker Boehner on deep background that Boehner actually had floated the idea maybe I`ll just leave after the pope because it`s the cap of my career. He`s a devout Roman Catholic. He`s talked to friends an informal way saying wouldn`t that be a great way to leave? Brought the pope, say good-bye to all these churning currents within my party, within the House GOP. Nobody believed him but they told us about it. And it sounded believable to the extent as a reporter you`ve got to check it out. But Boehner kept close counsel, only told his chief of staff until this morning. MADDOW: Robert, those cross-currents you were just talking about. Obviously, nobody knows exactly yes went and how much of it was personal, how much of it was impersonally political, meaning anybody in that job would have been facing those same currents and maybe they became impossible to continue facing. From your judgment, and I know you have great sources among Republicans in Congress, do you feel like some of the hostility from the sort of hard right members of that Republican caucus, that hostility was specific to John Boehner, or is that going to be the inheritance of whoever comes after him and it`s going to be a similarly difficult job? COSTA: I think it`s more of the latter. Boehner has wide respect throughout the conference. He has a good rapport even with his critics. He doesn`t have many enemies on a personal level. I think if, say, Majority Leader McCarthy inherits the speaker`s position, he wins the speaker gavel, he`s going to be dealing with the same group of 30 or 40 hard-liners who are unhappy with any kind of impasse, any kind of deal legislatively that doesn`t really involve an extended fight with President Obama. I think one of the reasons Boehner decided today to do this, he saw a government shutdown on the horizon over Planned Parenthood. I knew if he didn`t endure a shutdown the right flank would have this motion to vacate the chair and that would put the whole House GOP up to a vote on Boehner`s speakership. And he knew that would be a difficult time for him politically for the whole conference, and so he said no thanks. MADDOW: He said today I know I could survive that vote, but that doesn`t mean he wanted to go through it or put the country and his party and his caucus through what it would mean to go through it. COSTA: I was just at the Capitol ten minutes ago right before I got here. McCarthy`s still there eating fried chicken with his aides. He`s seeming like the consensus pick at this point. The real race, these conservatives, they want a voice in the leadership, Rachel. So they`re going to try to be majority leader, majority whip. But McCarthy, he has ties to the tea party because he recruited a lot of them in 2010. So, he looks like for now someone who`s going to be the next speaker, but will he be able to avoid the Boehner difficulties? Probably not. MADDOW: Robert Costa, national political reporter for the "Washington Post" -- Robert, thanks a lot. I know it`s been a long day and a long week. Appreciate having you here. COSTA: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. What he was just saying about Kevin McCarthy looking like he`s the consensus pick but the tea partiers feel like they got Boehner`s scalp and they want more, turns out that`s got a few wrinkling developments in it to get to later in the show. There`s so much going on in the news today and tonight. Please stay with us. Lots ahead. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Congratulations, Mr. Speaker. BOEHNER: Thank you. REPORTER: Does it feel like a weight off your shoulders? BOEHNER: It`s a wonderful day. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIOAL BREAK) MADDOW: Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has been really, really, really rich in huge, wonderful, cheering crowds, adoring crowds, for most of his presidential campaign. I mean, other than that initial announcement for which it appears he had to hire actors to portray Donald Trump supporters. Apart from that he really has been attracting big crowds of people on the campaign trail. Really big crowds. Almost Bernie Sanders style crowds. But then this week, something went very wrong for Mr. Trump. This week, Mr. Trump faced an uncomfortably empty room in South Carolina. People had two weeks` notice he was doing this event but he couldn`t even half fill the room. News outlets that reported on that fact including "The New York Times" and, those publications, even their individual reporters found themselves attacked publicly by Mr. Trump for even deigning to point out that empty room he addressed this week. He`s very touchy about these matters. So, imagine what`s going to happen now, now that today at a conservative event in Washington, D.C. Mr. Trump actually got loudly booed on stage. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, you know, like you have this clown Marco Rubio. I`ve been so nice to him. (BOOS) I`ve been so nice. I`ve been so nice. And then -- no. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Calling Marco Rubio a clown apparently did not go over well with the evangelical conservative crowd at the Values Voter Summit in D.C. today. And if you are Donald Trump and you are not accustomed to being booed, you may not quite know how to process that kind of experience. Well, after that speech where he got booed, reporter Katy Tur from NBC asked Mr. Trump about it and watch what he said. This was amazing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KATY TUR, NBC NEWS: What about those boos? TRUMP: I didn`t get boos. I got cheers. TUR: You didn`t get boos. TRUMP: I got boos for you but I got cheers. TUR: Boos for me but not cheers. TRUMP: They were cheers. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: They were cheers? You didn`t get boos? I got boos for you. But I got cheers. Actually, they really were booing. And they were not booing NBC reporter Katy Tur. That I`m quite sure about. But that is an amazing Republican presidential front-runner. Amazing. We`ll be right back. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I mean, you know, like you have this clown Marco Rubio. I`ve been so nice to him. (BOOS) I`ve been so nice. I`ve been so nice. And then -- no. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The pope is now officially a card carrying New Yorker. It doesn`t go this fast for everyone. But this -- look. This is Pope Francis`s official New York City identification card. It was given to him today by Mayor Bill de Blasio. As you can see, it lists his address as the Apostolic Palace. It`s signed with his Latin name, Franciscus. And as a card-carrying New Yorker, Pope Francis tonight celebrated mass before a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, a mass for 20,000 people. A mass that was at times very reverent and at times very raucous. People cheering for him and jumping to their feet in joy and excitement. Before the mass this afternoon, he went to a Catholic school in East Harlem called Our Lady Queen of Angels. And on his way in he posed for photo after photo with kids. You can hear the kids in the crowd -- they`re saying, "Holy Father, we love you. Holy father, we love you." Look at this. One of the kids getting a picture of the pope. They have to totally contort themselves to get themselves into the picture. The perfect shot. Or attempting the perfect shot. As he made his way into the school, the crowd, which was not a choir or anything, just a crowd that was gathered to see him there in Harlem, they started to spontaneously sing, "Oh, when the saints go marching in." That`s what occurred to them, they started to sing. But then of course it morphed and they changed the lyrics and it turned into this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHLDREN (singing): Oh when the saints go marching in, oh when the saints go marching in, oh how I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in, oh when the saints go marching in, oh when the pope goes marching in, oh how I want to be in that number, when the pope goes marching in -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: A spontaneous street song "When the pope goes marching in." The pope then got to spend a little time in the classroom with third and fourth-graders. The kids showed him projects they were working on. It was all going along pretty swimmingly until two kids walked him over to the classroom`s giant touch screen smart board, and while this pope can do many things, he can, for example, broker peace after 50 years between the United States and Cuba, today, we found out that wall-mounted high technology might not be his strong suit. I don`t just sympathize with him here. I sort of empathize with this. He was trying to play this little interactive game on the smart board and an error message kept popping up. That`s awkward for anybody. But when you are used to the whole papal infallibility thing, I`m guessing you`re not used to get error messages of any kind. The little girl chaperoning him to the board, she took his hand, see, to help him figure it out. In the school`s auditorium he met with immigrant families who all presented him with gifts. He apparently really liked the soccer ball that he got from one young man. From two day laborers from Yonkers, the pope also received a hard hat. They brought him a hard hat and they brought him a pretty professional-looking, pretty heavy-duty tool belt. Before Pope Francis left the school he told the crowd that they had some homework to do. He told them they had to promise to pray for him. He said that in his remarks. And then he reminded them about it again after he gave his papal blessing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) POPE FRANCIS (through translator): God Almighty, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. CROWD: Amen. POPE FRANCIS: Pray for me. Don`t forget the homework. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Don`t forget your homework. And you know, that would be enough energy to exert in a day for any young person, right? I mean, delivering a long address to the United Nations, leading a very emotional prayer service at Ground Zero, doing all the stuff, right? Doing the event in Harlem. Motorcading across New York City. But after giving a peace sign from the window of his little papal Fiat in Harlem, the 78-year-old pontiff headed out for what was going to be his biggest event so far in New York City. After he was in Harlem more than 80 -- look at this. More than 80,000 people jammed along the route through central park, including producer Jen Mulraney`s mom, she was there, to watch the pope as he rode in his white Jeep Popemobile on his way to celebrate that mass at Madison Square Garden. The security lines just to get people into their standing places along the route through central park, the security lines got so long during the day today the NYPD at one point was scared they wouldn`t get everybody situated in the park in time to see him. But miraculously, tens of thousands of people were all able to get themselves in place and it was a 20-minute procession through the park, just deafening in the ecstasy of the crowds there. Judging from the footage along the route taken at eye level, it seems like every single person seemed to be capturing moment on their cell phone even if what they ended up capturing was lots of other cell phones capturing each other, not necessarily the pope. Aside from waving, we did not see the pope himself get out into the crowd in Central Park as he had in some other places. We didn`t see him physically interact with people along that route in the park. But that is maybe what made this scene all the more striking. He arrived for mass at Madison Square Garden and Pope Francis rode onto the floor of Madison Square Garden in a little golf cart, a little electric golf cart. And as that little golf cart weaved its way through this crowd, this capacity crowd of 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden, there he did stop. He made a point to stop over and over and over again. He stopped to touch people and to bless kids and to bless the disabled. Tomorrow, Pope Francis heads to Philly. We`ve got more on that later on in the show. But tonight, tonight, God bless New York and the city`s newest New Yorker. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We`ve got much more ahead tonight on this huge news day, including the speaker of the House unexpectedly quitting, including the pope`s weekend plans in Philly. But you must also feast your eyes on this. Because a member of Congress just sent us this video. This is a member of Congress. And she recorded this video just for us. Exactly what compelled her to make this utterly charming video is straight ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There`s a post office in California named for Buck Owens, which is awesome because Buck Owens is awesome. He`s from Central California. The sound of Buck Owens became known as the Bakersfield Sound. And in Bakersfield, California, they named a post office after him. The year that Buck Owens died in 2006 Bakersfield had just elected a new Republican congressman, and that new Republican congressman got that thing done for Bakersfield and for Buck Owens. Turns out it would be another seven years before that same congressman got anything else done in Congress. But seven years after the Buck Owens post-office renaming, that same Republican congressman passed his second ever piece of legislation. The first bill he passed was naming a post office for Buck Owens. The second bill he passed seven years later was renaming another thing. It was a bill to rename a research facility in his district. So, those two bills, as worthy as they might be, those two bills which were to rename existing buildings, those are the only two pieces of legislation that he has ever sponsored and passed. And now, he`s about to be the speaker of the House. Seriously. When Bakersfield, California Congressman Kevin McCarthy got the leadership job he has now, when he became the number two Republican in the House under John Boehner, he was the least experienced member of Congress to ever get that job by a mile. No one had ever ascended that far in the leadership of Congress, the number two position in the House, after such a small amount of time in Congress. Kevin McCarthy also has not passed any meaningful legislation in his time in Congress other than those two very meaningful bills renaming things. But now, he is poised to become third in line to the presidency, maybe. When House Speaker John Boehner shocked everyone by announcing today that he was resigning as speaker and resigning from Congress, no speaker had ever up and resigned out of nowhere in the middle of a congressional session before. But when John Boehner announced his resignation, the common wisdom quickly settled onto two facts about this shock move. The first one was that this resignation was brought on by the attacks on John Boehner from the fractious hard line right-wing elements of his own party, which have now started using him as almost more of a political punching bag than even Nancy Pelosi or even President Obama. That`s one. The second fact that became instant common wisdom about Speaker Boehner resigning today was that that same hard line right-wing faction that may have forced him out or may have made his life so miserable he couldn`t do anything but quit, the second little piece of common wisdom that sort of settled in immediately today about them is that even though they may have forced him out, they certainly do not have anybody in mind to replace him, nor do they have the votes to pick anyone to replace him even if they could agree on who they wanted. They have enough votes to make his life miserable but not enough votes to take over. And so lucky, lucky Kevin McCarthy, John Boehner`s number two, is expected to ascend to the top job even though conservatives who lit this fire in the first place really have no more reason to like Kevin McCarthy than they did John Boehner. But that`s the common wisdom now. Kevin McCarthy, who is quite literally a lucky guy, he won the lottery on a scratch ticket when he was 20 years old, bought a deli with the proceeds that became a very successful business, Kevin McCarthy, lottery winner, out of nowhere is once again the guy in the right place at the right time and appears therefore to be about to ascend to one of the most powerful jobs on earth with no congressional track record of any sort that might explain how he got there. Here`s the question, though, and it can sort of only be answered by someone who is well sourced on Capitol Hill and hopefully well sourced with conservative Republicans. Here`s the question: is the common wisdom right? And I ask because the last time there was a surprise shake-up in Republican leadership thanks to right-wing objections, that was when Eric Cantor lost his seat in Virginia. Remember old Eric Cantor? Eric Cantor used to be the number two guy in Congress. He was the number two guy in Congress and he lost his seat. We now know that Speaker Boehner was planning to resign last year, so Eric Cantor could step up and be the new speaker of the House. But then when, shock, Eric Cantor instead lost his seat in a primary to a right-wing Tea Party upstart, obviously that plan fell apart. That`s why John Boehner says he stayed on until now. But when Eric Cantor died that bizarre political death, the Republicans had to scramble to rebuild their leadership team. And in the end, when they had to do that unexpectedly they decided to take a hard right turn, the man who would have been the first Jewish speaker of the House in the history of the United States, Eric Cantor, was effectively replaced in the Republican leadership by a congressman who once called himself David Duke without the baggage, and who was known in his home state for speaking at a white supremacist Klan gathering. I mean, I know everybody thinks that lucky, lucky Kevin McCarthy is inevitably going to become speaker of the House, but he would not answer the concerns of the hardliners who forced out John Boehner and who made John Boehner`s tenure as speaker so miserable. And honestly if you look at your history the last time Republicans in Congress had to make an unexpected change in leadership in response to unexpectedly strong pressure from the right, they picked Steve Scalise. I mean, they went unexpectedly and controversially right-wing in their choice. So, is lucky lucky Buck Owens patron Kevin McCarthy a shoo-in for this top job, running congress, two heartbeats away from the presidency? Or could we be in for a more hard line surprise choice from the Republicans? Joining us now is my friend John Stanton, D.C. bureau chief of "BuzzFeed". John, it`s great to have you here. Thanks for being here. JOHN STANTON, BUZZFEED: It`s good to be here. MADDOW: So, Robert Costa said earlier this hour that he thinks that Kevin McCarthy is becoming the consensus choice, it looks like it might be him. Does that seem like that`s everybody`s view? Is there any chance he doesn`t become the next speaker? STANTON: Yes. I mean, look, it`s House Republicans, right? I wouldn`t bet on them to do anything. Even if they all told me they were all going to vote for Kevin McCarthy, I would not believe they were going to do it until they`d actually done it even if it was 30 seconds before. I`d still say don`t trust you. Yes. You know, look, McCarthy seems like he`s on the track. The thing that he`s got going for him is the fact that conservatives don`t have a consensus candidate that they could really put out there that could pull enough votes to do it. You`ve got to remember, Scalise, they don`t trust Scalise either. To a lot of folks, Steve Scalise seems very conservative but to the most conservative members of the House, they kind of think he`s a little best a squish. This is the dynamic that Kevin McCarthy is sort of wading into here. And that helps him in a lot of ways to at least get this position for the next, you know, maybe six months or year at a minimum, because there`s nobody out there that the conservatives can agree to that they think -- that they can force enough of the sort of rank-and-file Republicans to vote for at this point. MADDOW: It seems to me like they don`t have -- the hardliners don`t have enough votes, as you say, to elect anybody. Even if they could come to a consensus over who they liked, but they seem to have enough votes to potentially stop anybody else from getting elected, potentially if they vote as a bloc and they decide that anybody who`s establishment enough to get nominated is therefore too establishment to live and they could sort of take down anybody if they made it a concerted effort. STANTON: Yes, and you know, that`s funny. That`s basically the space that they`re most comfortable in. That`s what they`ve done with legislation. That`s what they`ve done with Boehner now. They`re really, really good at undermining people. They`re not so good at finding people who can get put up. It`s because the group of them is very small. There`s about 25 members of the -- what they`re calling the Freedom Caucus, which is the most conservative members of the House. They have an enormous amount of sway over the rank-and-file members because at this point your rank-and-file members are not RINOs or moderate Republicans. They`re incumbents and their entire life is devoted to maintaining their incumbency. So, they`ll do whatever it takes to get re- elected in most cases, and that means making sure they don`t get run afoul of the hard right, so they don`t get primaried. The problem with this situation is Boehner was becoming such a bogeyman for hard line Republicans they could use him against those people in potential primaries. But if you get into an open race with a bunch of people running those people are not going to have the kind of name recognition or juice with the conservative base at this point to really force the whole group of people to vote for that person. And so they don`t have the ability to do that at this point. MADDOW: And if they get Kevin McCarthy as a consequence of that honestly I think you`re going to be able to take all of the John Boehner having a nightmare time as speaker headlines of the last five years and just photoshop a new head onto his suit because that`s how they`re going to treat McCarthy. STANTON: Yes. MADDOW: I mean, we`ll see. John Stanton, D.C. bureau chief of "BuzzFeed" -- John, it`s great to have you here. Thanks for being here. STANTON: Thank you. MADDOW: I will say in looking today to talk about Kevin McCarthy as potential speaker of the house, you see like his colleagues interviewed like what do you think about Kevin McCarthy? Oh, I think he`s all right. He`s a nice guy. He`s easy to get along with, he does the work. What do you think he cares about? What are his issues? What are his important legislative priorities? Look at the time. Nothing is known about him in terms of what he cares about in terms of policy, in terms of ideology, in terms of what he might want to get done. He is a blank slate. Project at will. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Still ahead tonight, if you thought we saw big crowds for the pope this week in Washington, D.C., and then today in New York, wait until you see what is on tap for this weekend. Wait till you also see what possessed a member of Congress to send us this video. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Pope Francis was in New York City today at the U.N., at the 9/11 memorial at a school full of the world`s most adorable kids in Harlem in Central Park, at Madison Square Garden. The schedule tomorrow makes today seem tame and relaxed in comparison. But there is one thing about this papal visit to the United States that I still can`t quite believe. But it turns out it is true. Because congressional leaders didn`t trust members of the Congress to refrain from touching the pope as he arrived in the house chamber in Washington this week as he gave a speech to Congress. Because congressional leader were pretty sure their own members couldn`t be trusted to control themselves when they were near him. Some special members of Congress were designated to be pope blockers. These were folks who were going to get prime seats along the aisle, as Pope Francis walked into the House chamber, and it would be their job to basically be human shields for the pope in case any overzealous other members of Congress got huggier or grabby at him. When we first heard that story in "Roll Call", it seemed almost too to be true. So, we spent significant amount of time, maybe too much time calling congressional offices about it, trying to determine if this was really true. If it was, who among all the members of Congress was getting designated to be these pope-defending, tackling linebackers. And from making all those calls. We finally figured it out, at least on the Democratic side we figured out. Republicans and Democrats were designated. We got the list of which Democrats in Congress were assigned to guard the aisle so other congressmen and women wouldn`t touch the pope. And I tell you -- by the way, they did great. People mostly kept their hands to themselves. The blockers took up their space. They did their jobs. Nobody inappropriately touched the Holy Father. But I think we are the only news outlet who figured out who the blockers were. And because blocking your colleagues from mauling the pope seems like an exercise where size might matter, I will now tell you who they were and list them by height. OK? We`ll start with the big ones. On the big side, we start with Congressman Mike Thompson, 6`1". Assigned to physically block and tackle for Pope Francis in Congress if necessary this week. After him, Congressman Lacy Clay, six feet even. Then, Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr., 5`10" tall. Then, Gregorio Sablan, who represents the Northern Mariana Islands, also 5`10", big guy, tough guy. Eleanor Holmes Norton. She represents Washington, D.C. She is 5`7" of tough as nails. Congresswoman Marty Kaptur, 5`6", known for her freakishly impressive upper body strength. And then there`s Congresswoman Anna Eschew, 5`4" of fierce. And rounding out the group, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, officially designated Pope Francis physical protector in the House of Representatives who responded to our question about her height by sending us something that is so awesome I could hardly stand it. By far, Debbie Dingell wins the sportsman reward when we rudely called her office and demanded to know her height. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan sent us this as her response. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: Five-foot-two, eyes of blue, but oh what these five feet can do. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, 5`2" of linebacker tough Pope Francis defense. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, you win, you win. I give up. You win. (MUSIC) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN MCNICHOL, PENNSYLVANIA, CONVENTION CTR. CEO: All the A.V.s that you see from here to the parkway where his holiness will be for mass on Sunday, it`s the equivalent of 25 Super Bowls. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Twenty-five Super Bowls. We`re now told to expect 2 million people in the mass that Pope Francis is due to celebrate Sunday and another 1 million people for the event he`s doing tomorrow evening in the festival of families in Philly. One of the pope`s events tomorrow will also be in Independence Hall, home of the Liberty Bell. He`s going to give an address there using the lectern, the exact same one Abraham Lincoln used to give the Gettysburg address. On Sunday morning, he`ll visit a prison. He`ll meet with prisoners. But then Sunday at 4:00 p.m., the pope is going to be hosting this outdoor mass that will be the capstone, the largest event he`s doing in the United States. They are, again, expecting 2 million people, Philadelphia Sunday for that 4:00 p.m. mass. Big weekend. Big week. It`s been amazing already. This has been one of those days, one of those weeks that`s just been nonstop news from morning until night. You know what you get after a news day like that, you get to curl up, relax and have a word with the warden. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END