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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 1/11/2016

Guests: Brad Sherman

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: January 11, 2016 Guest: Brad Sherman

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Monday. Happy State of the Union eve.

If other holidays get eves, State of the Union eve should be a thing for political nerds. It always feels like a holiday for me.

So, here`s the news today out of the presidential race. At least in New Hampshire Republican voters turns out they like their choices. They like their candidates a lot.

The polling is coming in fast and furious now from the early states now that we`re three weeks exactly away from Iowa, roughly four weeks away from New Hampshire.

But in addition to polling voters on the big bottom line number that everybody wants, right? In addition to asking voters who they`re going to caucus for, who they`re going to vote for, some pollsters are now just asking Iowa and New Hampshire voters who they like. Nonetheless who are you going to vote for but who do you like, what are your overall impressions of these candidates.

And it turns out it is not at all what I at least expected. And I think it`s super striking. New Hampshire, it turns out, really is pretty happy in terms of a net favorability rating about its various candidates. Net favorability rating is people who have a positive view of a candidate minus the people who have a negative view of a candidate.

The whole huge roster of Republicans does pretty well. Look, John Kasich, he`s plus 11, meaning people who like him and people who don`t like him. The difference there is 11 points in a positive direction.

Ben Carson is plus 12. Donald Trump plus 12. Chris Christie plus 14. Marco Rubio is really well liked. He`s at plus 28 in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire voters have an even higher opinion of Ted Cruz. They really like him. He`s got a 33-point net favorability rating in New Hampshire. This is all from the Monmouth poll of New Hampshire Republicans that just came out today.

Whatever you think about who`s going to be the next president, whatever you think about who`s going to be the Republican nominee, whatever you think about the process of the presidential primaries this year, if you are a Republican anywhere in the country, you`ve got to look at those numbers and be pretty happy with how things are going for your party, right? The Republican primary has had an effect. The field has made a very favorable impression on some of the voters who`ve had the most exposure to these candidates of anybody in the country.

New Hampshire Republicans have seen these guys up close and they like what they see. But wait. There`s actually one more. We left one candidate off the list.

We left off Jeb Bush. How does Jeb Bush do in his net favorable numbers in New Hampshire? Ah, minus 8.

All of the other candidates in New Hampshire are not just positive but positive by a lot, positive by double digits. Jeb Bush, eh.

New Hampshire`s supposed to be the place where Jeb Bush is going to run the best out of all the early states. But New Hampshire Republicans actively do not like him in a way that is qualitatively different than all other Republican candidates.

It`s basically the same thing for him in Iowa. Quinnipiac has a new poll out in Iowa today and they also ask this favorability question. They get a net favorability number by taking, again, the number of people who have a positive view of the candidate and they subtract the number of people who have a negative view of that candidate.

And once again, in Iowa, in this Quinnipiac poll at least that`s out today, Ted Cruz comes out on top. He`s got a hugely positive favorable rating of plus 58 points, plus 58.

A lot of the other Republican candidates do great in terms of their favorability in Iowa. Both Ben Carson and Marco Rubio are at plus 45. Carly Fiorina`s at plus 31. Donald Trump is at plus 27.

Chris Christie is not supposed to do great in Iowa. It`s not supposed to be Chris Christie country. But he`s plus 6 in his favorability in Iowa. Rand Paul is at plus 1.

John Kasich ends up being a little underwater in Iowa. John Kasich is at minus 11 in Iowa in terms of his favorability in this latest poll. But Jeb Bush, once again make way for Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush in Iowa right now is minus 23 in terms of his favorable versus his unfavorable numbers, minus 23. One of these kids is not like the others.

The Gallup organization has stepped away from straight up horse-race polling this year. But even the Gallup organization was so shocked about what has been happening to Jeb Bush and his numbers that they did basically a sort of special report, a special polling report on how bad Jeb Bush`s campaign is, how Jeb Bush`s campaign appears to be working backwards. These are Jeb Bush`s favorable and unfavorable numbers over of the course of the campaign. This is basically since he started running this past summer.

The line up at the top that`s vaguely going down that`s his favorable numbers. The line at the bottom that is going up, that`s his unfavorable numbers. And you will notice as we get close to now that they have recently crossed, which means his unfavorables are higher than his favorables, and that is a fatal disease for politicians.

And, you know, you can argue that any one thing, any one contextual dynamic might explain what`s wrong with Jeb Bush this year. But that is stark. Look at the overall trajectory of those two numbers over this period of months that he`s been running. That is what $50 million of spending has bought Jeb Bush.

Here`s how Gallup puts it, quote, "Bush`s campaign effort since July has clearly moved his image in a negative direction." Quote, "Bush`s image with Republicans has grown steadily more negative with each passing month since July." and he now enters the 2016 election year with the worst image of any of the nine major Republican candidates among the party base, a trend that is presumably the exact opposite of what his campaign would have wanted.

So I don`t know why Republican voters feel this way this year. I don`t know why they would prefer soaking a paper cut in lemon juice to the idea of voting for Jeb Bush, but this is dire. This is dire for him.

In that new Quinnipiac, Iowa poll, I mean, regardless of his favorables, he`s at 3 percent in Iowa. In the new NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll also in Iowa, he`s at 4 percent. The New Hampshire Monmouth poll has him at 4 percent in New Hampshire. The NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist has him slightly better in New Hampshire, they got him at 9 percent. But still that only makes him tied for fifth place in New Hampshire.

And again New Hampshire is a place where Jeb Bush is thought of as having a better chance than almost anywhere else in the country, but splat. The Jeb Bush presidential campaign is just a disaster at this point, three weeks from Iowa.

That said, in a big field there is room for lots of different people to be lots of different kinds of disasters. Jeb Bush may be in dire straits but at least for him, it looks like he`s going to make the debate. He`s at least going to be on the main debate stage for the next Republican debate.

That does not appear to be the case for a candidate named Rand Paul. We`ve known for a while now that Rand Paul wasn`t going to be a sure bet to make it onto the debate stage for the next Republican debate, which is going to be Thursday night, hosted by the Fox Business Channel.

Fox both Business and News, both those networks, they`re notoriously woolly about their qualifying criteria for their debate. There was a little suspense as to whether Rand Paul would make their cutoff by placing in the top six in nationwide polling or the top five in Iowa or New Hampshire polling. There`d be a little suspense as to whether or not Rand Paul would make that cutoff just because fox is so wiggly in terms of the way they say their debates are set up basically. They don`t get that specific about how they`re going to do it.

Tonight, the suspense ended. Fox Business announced that Rand Paul will not be on the main stage. He will instead be relegated to the kids` table debate with three other candidates.

Now, it doesn`t end there, though, because Rand Paul said heading into this debate knowing that he might not make it if he were relegated to a second tier or a kids` table setting, he said a couple weeks ago if that happened to him he wouldn`t show up at all. If you start skipping debates, especially 2 1/2 weeks before Iowa, that kind of raises the question of whether or not you`re actually suspending your campaign or whether you`re going to try to run for president in a very unorthodox way that doesn`t include you debating with the other candidates.

Would he stick with that now that he has been put at the kids` table? Yes, he is sticking with it. We know Rand Paul has decided he will not go to the debate at all. He says he will campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire for the rest of the week, he will not go to the South Carolina debate.

He won`t be on the main stage. They won`t let him on the main stage. He won`t deign to be there at the kids` table. And so that`s it.

You may remember that Rand Paul also did not qualify to make the main stage at the last debate, the one that happened in Las Vegas. That was hosted by CNN.

That one ended up being a very strange turn of events because CNN is not at all woolly about their criteria the way fox is. CNN was very clear about what it would take to qualify for that debate. When Rand Paul didn`t qualify to make that main stage, they -- they decided they were going to let him in anyway. They did not -- he did not qualify for that debate. They would not let him -- but they decided to let him participate anyway.

CNN has still never explained why they did that. They said it was the spirit of inclusiveness, which I suppose is nice as far as it goes. But then why have criteria at all if you`re just going to break those criteria and break those rules in order to do this special favor for one of the candidates and let him compete even though he didn`t make it?

The only other candidate who has received special treatment even remotely like that was Carly Fiorina. For Carly Fiorina CNN changed their rules for the second Republican debate this season, rather than breaking their rules like they did for Rand Paul. But CNN changed its rules for the second debate in order to squeeze Carly Fiorina on to that main stage. That debate performance led to a temporary lift in her poll numbers. They`ve still -- they`ve since collapsed again anyway.

But one of the other interesting dynamics on Thursday night will be that Carly Fiorina, having been to the main stage by virtue of an assist by news executives at CNN once upon a time, she will now once again be relegated back to the kids` table. So, Carly Fiorina also did not make the main stage for this next debate Thursday night. She`ll be at the kids` table along with Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. And she would have been there with Rand Paul if he deigned to show up. But he is not showing up.

And while we are talking about terrible news for Republican presidential candidates, spare a thought for old Ben Carson. We thought that Ben Carson had bottomed out a couple of weeks ago on the day that his campaign manager and his deputy campaign manager and his communications director all quit on the same day. Now, things are getting worse for him.

TV station WMUR was first to report some very bad news for the Ben Carson super PAC operating in New Hampshire. Apparently, that super PAC had six paid staffers working to try to elect Ben Carson in New Hampshire. Of those six staffers yesterday five of them up and quit simultaneously. They announced en masse that they were leaving their paid jobs working for the Ben Carson super PAC and instead they would all start working for the Ted Cruz campaign.

But they would not start working for the Ted Cruz campaign as paid staffers, they`d be working for the Ted Cruz campaign as volunteers.

So, think about that for a second. These Ben Carson folks up in New Hampshire, they not only gave up their candidate. They also gave up their salaries in order to give up their candidate. They left paid positions with Carson in order to work for free for Ted Cruz. That was yesterday in New Hampshire. Almost the whole Ben Carson super PAC operation in New Hampshire basically folding its tent. Folding the tent neatly, putting it back in its packaging, dragging it across the line into Ted Cruz`s line and putting it back up there.

Then, tonight, further bad news for Ben Carson. News first reported by Bloomberg Politics, which is that two additional high-ranking Ben Carson campaign staffers have also quit tonight. Ben Carson`s operations director and his general counsel have both reportedly left the campaign tonight.

So, Ben Carson, one-time national front-runner for about 40 seconds, now appears to be in complete freefall, complete collapse both inside his campaign and in the super PAC that was supporting his campaign.

And, of course, the guy for whom this is all ostensibly good news is the front-runner, Donald Trump, in New Hampshire right now the latest polling shows that Donald Trump is just absolutely dominant in that state. In the Monmouth poll, Donald Trump is leading in New Hampshire by 18 points. In the NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll he`s leading by 16 points.

And there are a bunch of interesting dynamics in terms of the fight for second place. Both of those polls -- look, there`s basically a five-way pileup of candidates battling it out for second place. There`s a huge fight for second place. But there is absolutely no contest for first place. Donald Trump holds that alone and by a great distance.

And as far as the -- as far as that goes for him and how that`s affecting his behavior, as the far-ahead front-runner in New Hampshire Mr. Trump is now quite happily throwing his weight around, specifically in that state -- specifically about some very important political institutions in that state. He`s also all of a sudden getting some super sketchy support that I`m not sure what he`s going to do with.

That and much more ahead. Stay with us.


MADDOW: We`ve got lots going on tonight. Usually you think the night before the State of the Union is going to be like what`s coming up on the state of the union?

Definitely people talking about that, but there`s a lot going on both in the news and in the political news today. Just still to come on the show tonight we`ve got a really big update from Flint, Michigan where a lot of things are all of a sudden happening very fast now.

We`ve got things taking a sharp angle turn in the Democratic presidential race. We`ve got an interview on that and some interesting sort of data on what`s going on in the Democratic race coming up.

We`ve got a wild report from California tonight including a visit with a congressman who is tearing his hair out trying to work on a big problem in California.

But we`ve also got this surprising political news out of New Hampshire and it concerns Donald Trump, the presidential front-runner on the Republican side. Mr. Trump is the Republican presidential front-runner both nationwide and specifically in New Hampshire. And as the New Hampshire Republican front-runner, he`s now claiming credit for getting the biggest newspaper in New Hampshire, "The New Hampshire Union Leader", dropped as a debate sponsor for the last New Hampshire Republican debate, which is going to be hosted by ABC News next month.

"The Union Leader" newspaper was part of the sponsorship of that debate. But Donald Trump has gone to war with "The Union Leader" and its publisher, Joe McQuaid, recently and now ABC has decided to drop them from that very, very important debate.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What a pile of garbage that newspaper is. So I want to tell you, so we had an interesting thing, because you have a very dishonest newspaper up here. It`s also a failing newspaper. It`s going down the tubers.

I remember when this was a big paper. Look at the size of this thing. If they cut it down anymore, you won`t be able to find it. It looks like the things you know when you go to the grocery store where they give you a little handout. What do they call that? Coupons?

So, this guy, his name`s Joe McQuaid.


No, he`s a -- he`s a lowlife. I`m telling you. Here, you can have it, darling. That`s all it`s worth. Piece of garbage.

That paper is the worst. Run by people that don`t know what they`re doing.

You read about this little dust-up with the famous paper, right? You know? Your little paper, "The Union Leader." No, truly a dishonest paper, though. It`s terrible.

So, this is a rag. I guess. I mean, they had like 75,000 readers not so long ago. When you have Mr. Loeb running it. He was amazing.

And now, they`re down to around what, 10,000 and heading south. I don`t think they`ll be -- personally I don`t think they`re going to be in business much longer.


TRUMP: The useless leader. That`s right.


MADDOW: Not "The Union Leader", the useless leader. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has just been on the warpath against the biggest paper in New Hampshire, "The New Hampshire Union Leader." And maybe that is because "The Union Leader" endorsed Chris Christie over Mr. Trump?

More likely, it`s because in so doing the paper denounced Mr. Trump as a left-wing caricature of a right-wing know-nothing. The paper has also called Mr. Trump an insult to the intelligence of Republican voters. They`ve called him a crude blowhard who is unqualified and unsuited for the job he seeks and who`s running an insulting and sophomoric campaign.

That`s pretty blunt language from "The Union Leader." But that`s also exactly what "The Union Leader" does to everybody. "The Union Leader`s" the paper that called George W. Bush Junior Bush. In 2012, "The Union Leader" called Mitt Romney a disaster. Just a couple of weeks ago, "The Union Leader" editorialized that there`s, quote, "something creepy about Ted Cruz." That`s one of their editorials.

Here`s how Joe McQuaid, publisher of "The Union Leader," explained in the 2012 race how he came to his decision that year that he would endorse Newt Gingrich. He started off by telling "The Daily Beast" that he had had several conversations with the candidate Jon Huntsman. Quote, "I like to talk to people, but it seemed like he was listening much more to what he was saying than listening to what other people have to say. He was pretty full of himself."

"The Daily Beast" followed that up by saying, wait a minute, Newt Gingrich isn`t full of himself? Joe McQuaid answered that by saying, quote, "I went with the guy who knows he`s full of bleep."

And that was how he talks about the guy who he likes. That`s how he talked about the candidate who he endorsed that year. I picked him because he knows he`s full of -- that`s the way that Joe McQuaid and "The Union Leader" do politics. There`s a lot of swearing. It`s very rude.

But Donald Trump, as this year`s Republican front-runner, for all his reputation for brashness, right? And all his supposed respect for not being politically correct, he is so thin skinned when it comes to anything about himself that he just can`t take it. He cannot take that sort of thing. And so, he has been on the war path against "The Union Leader" and its publisher by name, and he`s now crowing that he got "The Union Leader" removed from the last New Hampshire debate before New Hampshire votes on February 9th.

"The Union Leader" published an e-mail they got from ABC News explaining why ABC was dropping them from the debate. In that e-mail, an ABC executive told Joe McQuaid, quote, "We felt that the current war of words with Trump coupled with the endorsement already made by your paper, it put us in a difficult position."

"The Union Leader" publisher Joe McQuaid responded by saying this, quote, "We are amused by ABC News apparently just discovering that we endorse candidates and write editorials. We have been doing both for many years and it has never been a problem with ABC or with other debate sponsors. We consider ABC`s actions to be spineless."

We inquired with both the Trump campaign and ABC News tonight as to whether or not Mr. Trump actually threatened to boycott that debate if "The Union Leader" stayed on as a sponsor. We`ve not yet heard back from the Trump campaign, but we did hear back from ABC News.

ABC tells us that "The Union Leader" only ever had a minor role in the debate, so this decision to part ways will have zero impact on the content of the debate. They also said that no candidate is allowed to choose these sorts of things, that this was their own decision and not a decision forced by Mr. Trump.

In any case, Mr. Trump is the prohibitive front-runner in New Hampshire. Iowa has been a tougher sell for him. He`s been trading the lead in Iowa recently with Ted Cruz. That said, today`s Quinnipiac Iowa poll puts Mr. Trump ahead in Iowa by a slim lead of two points.

And that tight race in Iowa is the backdrop today for the news that we just got from about the latest Trump-flavored wild card to happen in the Iowa race.

Now is apparently the time in the race for the presidency where we get the white supremacist robocalls on behalf of Donald Trump. And I don`t mean that as hyperbole. I don`t mean there`s some new vaguely racist-sounding thing coming out of the Trump campaign. That`s not at all what I mean.

No, these robocalls are not from the Trump campaign. And I`m not saying they just sound a little racist. They are overtly by white supremacists who are endorsing Mr. Trump for president on the basis of his presidential campaign platform.


JARED TAYLOR, THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE: I`m Jared Taylor with American Renaissance. I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America. We don`t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump."

WILLIAM JOHNSON, CHAIRMAN OF AMERICAN FREEDOM PARTY: I am William Johnson, a farmer and white nationalist. Support Donald Trump. I paid for this through the super PAC. 213-718-3908. This call is not authorized by Donald Trump.


MADDOW: That indeed was not authorized by Donald Trump. But that exists. These white nationalists, white supremacist groups say they have already started rolling out these robocalls to homes across Iowa. Now tonight they say they plan to start running them nationwide.

And again, this is not Donald Trump running ads, running robocalls featuring white supremacists. This is the white supremacists. This is the white nationalist movement in America doing this on their own initiative on behalf of a candidate who they truly admire.

Happy 2016 Republican presidential primary. This year the white supremacists have got their guy in this race. And the punch line for all of us is that he`s winning.


MADDOW: This past hour, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called in to Chris Hayes` show here on MSNBC. Last week, after a big long sit down with Chris Matthews here on MSNBC, Secretary Clinton followed up that with another call into Chris Matthews`s show later on in the week.

Yesterday morning, Secretary Clinton was on CBS`s "Face the Nation." Then later in the day, there she was on the "Ellen DeGeneres" show. That was today.

You know, for any other top-tier candidate none of that is unusual. For Hillary Clinton, though, that`s more of her than we usually see in the media. On top of her normal pace of campaigning and fund-raising around the country and in the early states, we are starting to see more of Secretary Clinton in the press and on cable and on TV shows broadly. And maybe that`s the product of a New Year`s resolution, to be more accessible to folks like me. Maybe it`s just that time of the campaign.

But the polls are tight in the early states. Most polls now have Senator Bernie Sanders ahead of her in New Hampshire and Secretary Clinton ahead of him only narrowly in Iowa.

And as the campaign has gotten tighter and more visible and it has picked up its pace, the one issue on which the Democratic race is the most contentious and hard-fought is itself a stunning political message. It involves President Obama. It involves this increasingly exciting Democratic presidential race. And it involves our next guest, intimately. And that`s next.

Stay with us.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, what you had was a complicated piece of legislation. There were aspects of it that were absolutely right. There were aspects of it that were wrong. But as the secretary knows, for many weeks now, I said of course I`ll be happy to take a look at that complicated piece of legislation and deal with it and get rid of those --

INTERVIEWER: Can you say right now that you would vote for it?

SANDERS: -- that are wrong.

I will vote to revise that bill. There are parts of it that made sense to me.


MADDOW: Senator Bernie Sanders is winning in the New Hampshire polls in the Democratic presidential primary. Hillary Clinton is beating Senator Sanders in the Iowa polls but not by much.

And the closeness of the race in the early states is one of the surprises in this year`s Democratic presidential primary.

The other surprise is that the most contested ground in this primary, the policy issue on which Secretary Clinton at least is punching the hardest is gun safety reform.

I never thought I`d see it in my lifetime, but gun politics have now changed enough that Democrats from President Obama on down are making support for gun reform basically a litmus test for Democratic politicians. If you are not right on that issue, you`re out. I never thought I would see the day when this happened.

Joining us now for the interview is retired astronaut and U.S. Navy captain, Mark Kelly. He`s the husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Together, they run a political action committee dedicated to the issue of gun safety. Captain Kelly is also an MSNBC analyst.

Captain, it`s nice to have you. Thanks for being here.


MADDOW: Do you want support for gun safety reform to be a litmus test for Democratic politicians? You`re getting that whether or not you want it. But do you want it?

KELLY: Not only Democrats but Republicans as well.


KELLY: You know, we would like to see every candidate, you know, lay out their position here on this issue. And things that 90 percent of Americans support, like background checks, you know, closing those loopholes, are really important to Gabby and I, and I think it`s important to the American people as well. I`d like to see that across the board.

MADDOW: Right now, what you`ve got is an emerging consensus in Democratic politics I was just describing there where candidates who aren`t right on this issue, who basically aren`t supporting reforms on this issue are finding it to be an electoral liability.

On the Republican side, it`s the opposite, I think. The litmus test goes the other direction.

If the Democratic Party keeps going this direction and the Democratic presidential primary may push it that way so it becomes that way across the country at all levels of politics, does that make it more likely or less likely that Republicans can at least tolerate some heterogeneity on the issue?

KELLY: Well, I mean, I don`t know a lot about the Republican -- you know, the voter after the primary. But, you know, you would hope so. You know, I would hope that a are not candidate would come out with some common sense ideas that are supported by most Americans, somebody who could get behind, you know, these closing the loopholes in our background check system.

I mean, it`s clear with Secretary Clinton. And for Gabby and I as we, you know, look at the Democratic primary, you know, principles matter to us. They really do. Independence matters, freedom, common sense -- those things are really important.

And you know, and I think it should matter to, you know, all voters in the general election.

MADDOW: You and your wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, endorsed Hillary Clinton today. Can you tell me a little bit about what went into that decision? Was that a foregone conclusion and it was just a question of the timing or was there something specific she had to do in order to earn that endorsement?

KELLY: You know, it`s something we watched over time. I mean, Secretary Clinton has laid out a very clear plan about how she is going to try to protect -- or how she will protect the American people -- families, women, children, communities -- from gun violence. You know, it`s clear and it`s a detailed plan and it`s a very common sense plan, and it`s one that both Gabby and I support.

MADDOW: In terms of Senator Sanders, who`s her chief rival for the nomination, I played that clip at the top because I wanted to show he`s during this primary kind of evolving a little bit on this issue. I imagine you`re encouraged by that arc bending in the way that it is.

KELLY: Absolutely. Yes, I absolutely. I`d like to see that arc bend in other people as well. You know, that would be a great thing to see as we get through the primary season and into the general election.

MADDOW: Are you happy with the executive actions the president just announced?

KELLY: Absolutely. You know, our staff at Americans for Responsible Solutions worked on this for a long time with the White House.

You know, closing these loopholes in our background check system, at gun shows and over the Internet is critical to keep guns out of the hands of felons, people who are dangerously mentally ill, domestic abusers. And it does a bunch of other things as well. And it`s really -- it`s a great step forward. Ultimately, we need strong federal legislation to close these loopholes and to address this very serious problem we have with gun violence.

MADDOW: Captain Mark Kelly, thank you so much for being here tonight. I really appreciate it.

KELLY: You`re very welcome. You`re very -- thanks for having me on.

MADDOW: I will say it has been five years since that horrible attack in Arizona in which Congresswoman Giffords and so many others were injured or killed and five years ago, I didn`t know what that would do to politics in our country, but in the space of five years, the Democratic Party has radically changed its politics on the issue of guns. The Republican Party has not. But sometimes we learn from the past about things being possible that we didn`t think is possible and maybe it`s possible for the Republicans too.

We`ll be right back.


MADDOW: So, the lead poisoning disaster going on in Flint, Michigan might now be the highest profile environmental disaster in the nation. But there`s another one also affecting little kids and families. It is almost as unbelievable as what`s happening in Flint. We`re going to bring you that story plus an update from Flint in just a moment. Please stay with us.


MADDOW: On January 17th, 1994 a big 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. Epicenter of that quake was Northridge, which is a suburb about 20 miles north of L.A.

That earthquake caused widespread damage. Freeway collapses, schools and buildings and homes destroyed. Dozens of people were killed.

The Northridge quake, 1994. One of the hardest-hit school buildings in that quake was the Northridge Middle School. Parts of that school were so smashed up they spent four years rebuilding it.

Well, now 22 years after that big quake, Northridge Middle School is getting another big makeover. Once again for the last few weeks, that middle school campus has been a construction zone.

They`re not taking four years to do it this time, though. This time these crews were working day shifts and night shifts. They worked all week long plus Saturdays, plus Sundays. They worked right through the Christmas and New Year`s holidays with only one 24-hour break for Christmas Day, and that was it. Otherwise, it was 24/7.

And the reason they were in such a hurry is because they just got told that they`re getting an all of a sudden influx of 1,000 new students who are arriving tomorrow because the old school where those students used to go has had to shut down on very short notice, immediately and indefinitely, because it`s been gassed.

Northridge Middle School is about to get a huge influx of all the kids from nearby Porter Ranch, California, because Porter Ranch schools have had to shut down. They`ve had to shut down because of the biggest gas leak in the history of this country.

We`ve been covering this disaster in California for more than a month now. It first started in late October. These are infrared time lapse images of the huge cloud of methane that`s been billowing out of a busted natural gas storage facility near Porter Ranch. It`s releasing so much air pollution. This is the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 7 million cars every day.

Bloomberg News says that the leak is releasing enough methane to fill the entire Empire State Building every day. And it`s been leaking like this since October.

The fumes are making people so sick that about 3,000 local residents have now been relocated and school officials so far have shut down two schools. Starting tomorrow morning, Northridge Middle School will be the new home for kids from Porter Ranch community school. They`ll be there at least until June.

Southern California Gas is paying to relocate all those thousands of families. They`re supposedly going to be paying for moving the schools too. They also had to start doing something new at the site where they`re still trying to stop the leak recently.

The gas company recently started installing mesh screens around the leaking gas well because in addition to the billowing clouds of stinky methane, right, that are big enough to fill the Empire State Building every single day, residents also say there`s now some sort of weird goo, a goo-like mist that`s been drifting off the leaking well site. Residents say they found brown oily residue on their cars, in their gardens, all over their homes.

And here`s what the gas company said to local residents when local residents brought in samples of this brown oily goo that has now started falling all over their houses and yards. The gas company said to them, quote, "We sampled it, and according to our retained toxicologist and medical expert, the residue contained heavier hydrocarbons, similar to motor oil, but it does not pose a health risk."

So, now, we`re soaking you in motor oil, which means don`t worry because everybody knows soaking in motor oil is totally harmless. And besides, we`ll put up these mesh screens.

California Governor Jerry Brown met with Porter Ranch residents last week. He toured the site of a leaking well and then right afterwards he officially declared a state of emergency in Porter Ranch. Under the emergency order, the state says they`ll step up resources to try to fix the problem. They also say they will ensure that Southern California Gas covers any and all costs related to this disaster.

But the disaster is still ongoing. The leak is still spewing. The company now says it will start burning off some of the gas that is still in the giant tank that`s leak. That should hopefully alleviate some of the pressure in the well. It at least means that there will be less gas in there to keep leaking out.

The flaring off of the gas they say could start as soon as this week. But in terms of stopping this current leak, that still is not expected to happen until, oh, say, March. And meanwhile, again, we`re talking enough methane to fill the entire Empire State Building every single day.

Joining us is Congressman Brad Sherman of California. He not only represents the district where Porter Ranch is located he and his family also live in Porter Ranch.

Congressman Sherman, thanks for being here. Really appreciate it.

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you. I only represent a portion of porter ranch and the lion`s share is in another district.

MADDOW: But that`s where you live.

SHERMAN: That`s where I live.

MADDOW: As someone who calls porter ranch home, first of all, as an outsider looking in, do we adequately understand the sort of impact this has had on your community? What has this done to people`s lives?

SHERMAN: Well, it has a very different effect on different people. My next-door neighbor has mild asthma. He`s evacuated.

Whereas we`ve stayed in our home. We have special filters. And we don`t go jogging in our own neighborhood.

But it has -- it`s one of the windiest areas in southern California. So, the effect is dramatically different every day and dramatically different depending upon the health condition of the person that you`re talking to.

MADDOW: I know that you`ve been very involved in working with the gas company to try to -- obviously the problem needs to be fixed, the leak needs to be stopped, but in the meantime ways to alleviate the problem.

What do you think of this decision they`ve come to, to try to burn off some of the gas?

SHERMAN: Well, they`re not going to put up a big flair. They`re trying to capture the natural gas as it comes out and if they can capture it they`ll incinerate it. And it`s a step to take, but it`s going to be difficult.

Now, it`s also potentially dangerous. You see, pure methane won`t burn. Pure air won`t burn. It`s -- but when you try to capture the methane, it`s already got some air in it. And when you have I believe, it`s 15 percent methane and the rest air, you have an explosive mixture.

MADDOW: So, are there other options that the gas company or the state indeed could take to make this less of a problem between now and when the thing finally gets fixed? Are there other options --

SHERMAN: There is one, and I`ve been pushing it for about a month now, but they`re not willing to take it. And that is they`re withdrawing natural gas from this reservoir as fast as they can sell it in the ordinary course of business.

They`re not willing to give it away or discount it or take any steps to dispose of it because they view this natural gas as an asset when we in Porter Ranch view it as a toxin.

MADDOW: That seems like that`s unbelievably callous, to be looking at this leak as a shame because they`re losing their asset rather than looking at this leak as something that is the biggest air pollution crisis in the country by a mile.

SHERMAN: They`re also looking in terms of being able to provide natural gas with system security as we move into the summer and we burn a lot of natural gas to generate electricity. They`re probably going to be unwilling to take all the natural gas out of this facility because they plan on using it. It`s by far their largest storage facility.

MADDOW: It`s one of the biggest storage facilities in the world.


MADDOW: It`s remarkable. Is the state of emergency going to make things any better or --

SHERMAN: It gives the governor power. I`m hoping the governor will use that power to direct that natural gas be pulled out as quickly as possible, not just as quickly as needed for resale. But so far, I haven`t been able to persuade either SoCal Gas or the governor to do that.

MADDOW: That is a remarkable dynamic. I`m happy to have clarity on that and shocked at the same time.

SHERMAN: And the other thing is we need to see a natural gas storage integrity system nationwide. We had some explosions and we ended up with a good set of regulations for natural gas transportation. The -- we`ve got no reasonable regulations for natural gas storage.

This is 60-year-old pipe. They`ve removed the safety valves. And the testing system is not designed to find anomalies in the pipe, just find where it`s already leaking, not where it might leak. So, we`ve got technology on transportation. We haven`t applied it to storage.

MADDOW: Congressman Brad Sherman of California -- thanks very much for helping us understand this. This is a hell of a thing in your district. Good luck with this.

SHERMAN: Thank you.

MADDOW: Thank you.

We`ve got lots more ahead including a big update today from Flint, Michigan. The governor finally taking questions on that disaster today.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Fire Station number 8 at the corner of East Atherton and Red Arrow Roads in Flint, Michigan, right across from the Flint Golf Club. This was the front door of fire station number 8 late this morning, says, "Out of supplies."

Over the weekend there was great news out of print when Governor Rick Snyder finally announced that fire stations in town will be handing out water filters and safe, clean bottled water that had not been poisoned by lead, the way that Flint`s tap water had been.

Up until this weekend, unbelievably, there has been no government-run water distribution of any kind in Flint. But now, even today six days into the official state of emergency and just two days after the state announced that people would be able now to get water and water filters and all of these supplies at their local fire stations, they`re still not doing it. NBC affiliate WDIV visited this firehouse, one of the five water resource sites.

As of today, Monday, two days after this program with the firehouses started, this one was already completely out of supplies. In fact, three of the five designated fire houses WDIV went to today were out of, or very low on water, and the promised free lead testing kits were nowhere to be found.

That said, the city of Flint did have 100 percent more Governor Rick Snyder in it today. For the first time since he signed the disaster declaration, Governor Snyder did go to Flint himself. He has managed the crisis mostly from the capital in Lansing thus far, but today, he went to Flint and reporters got to ask him about conditions in that town.


REPORTER: Governor, with all due respect what is taking so long? You say that you`ve learned about the situation in its entirety in October. Today in fire stations, there`s no water, there`s no filter in many stations. People outside tells us -- they feel helpless. They feel stranded. And, frankly, they don`t believe you anymore.

At what point do things change? Why isn`t FEMA out here right now with trucks handing out water to people that need it?

GOV. RICK SNYDER (R), MICHIGAN: Again, I think you`re going to find the fire stations do have water and filters.

REPORTER: They don`t today.

SNYDER: We started ramping up, again, this whole process in terms of providing resources for people. We had been doing that for months. But we need to do more. And so, that`s the whole process. That was part of the declaration done by the mayor, followed by the county, followed by the state, and we`re going through the appropriate protocols to get done with the federal government.

REPORTER: But it`s not working. There`s no water right now at the fire station on Atherton Road. There`s no filter. So, whatever you`ve been doing is not working.

SNYDER: Well, we continue to work hard. It shows there`s demand and we`re going to continue to step up our efforts to make sure we take care of that.


MADDOW: It shows there`s demand. Yes, because people need water. It`s not a good sign that you still can`t get it to them. This weekend the "Detroit Free Press", Michigan`s largest paper ran an editorial comparing Governor Snyder`s response in Flint to President George W. Bush`s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina.

That same editorial board twice endorsed Snyder for governor. Now, they`re calling his actions shameful and maddening. They`re castigating him for heaping misery on the people of Flint. They title their op-ed "Heck of a job, Governor."

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has now weighed in on this issue, calling Michigan official`s response to the lead poisoned water, quote, "unconscionable." Even the White House chief of staff got quizzed about it this weekend on "Meet the Press."

The nation really is watching this crisis in Flint, all the way up to the White House. At his press conference today, Governor Snyder did say they`re starting to put together a draft of a request to FEMA, but he says it will take some time to determine what the state needs. Meanwhile, FEMA has sent three liaison officers to the state at the state`s request.

I said on Friday that FEMA sent their officers of their own initiative. That`s not true. Actually, the state asked for those few FEMA officers to come to Michigan so they will know what`s going on in the state in the event that Governor Snyder does eventually some day decide to ask for help.

Meanwhile, starting tomorrow, teams of state personnel will begin going door to door in Flint. They say for the first time they will be doing door to door distribution of water and filters and lead testing kits. The state tells us there will be four teams of five people each going door to door starting tomorrow from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you`re doing the math at home, that`s 20 people in total going door to door in a city of 100,000 people.

And here`s an important point. The state also tells us today they still have not purchased any water for Flint and they currently have no plans to do so. What the state is doing is taking the water that has been sent to Flint as donations already and they`re taking that donated water door to door. The state describes its job as just getting the water from warehouses to the distribution points. And maybe they will get a handle on that one job soon. There is demand, after all.


MADDOW: Programming note or notes, notes. We have just confirmed that on Thursday night, Hillary Clinton will be my guest on set, this Thursday at 9:00 p.m. Very excited for that. Whoo-hoo.

Before that, of course, tomorrow is President Obama`s final State of the Union Address. Our coverage of it will start here tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I`m going to be at the big desk joined by Chris Matthews. We`ll be here with Lawrence O`Donnell and Chris Hayes and many more of our colleagues covering the speech and the Republican reaction to the speech and the national reaction to what the president has to say.

Again, this is his final State of the Union tomorrow night here. Coverage starts at 8:00. Attendance is mandatory. I`ll see you then.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.