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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 2/1/2017

Guests: David Leonhardt, Cory Booker

Show: The Rachel Maddow Show Date: February 1, 2017 Guest: David Leonhardt, Cory Booker

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us.

On Friday night, Friday night into Saturday, there was a clerk working the overnight shift at a 24-hour gas station in Victoria, Texas. Victoria, Texas, is 100 miles southwest of Houston. It`s a city of about 60,000 people.

At that gas station, at around 2:00 a.m., the clerk who was working the third shift that night saw something bad. Saw smoke and flames billowing out of this building down the street from the gas station. The clerk saw the fire, called 911. The fire department came, but it was too late.

The building that was on fire was the local mosque. In Victoria, Texas, it had been set on fire. The fire is now under investigation.

By the time the fire department got there and was pouring water on the flames, by the time members of the congregation had called each other and gone to each other`s homes and woken each other up and rushed down to the side of their mosque to see if they could help, by the time that alert was raised, there was nothing anybody could do. Members of the congregation stood on the sidewalk and was watched their house of worship burn all the way to the ground. It was a total loss.

When the fire was finally put out, they prayed together. Saturday morning, a few dozen members of the congregation held their first prayers of the day outside on the curb across the street from the burned out shell of their mosque. That fire started late on Friday night. Started actually just a few hours after the new president signed his executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the United States.

That was Friday night into Saturday. On Sunday, of course, there was the horrific mass shooting at another mosque in Quebec City in Canada. Six people were killed in the Quebec City attack. Eight more people were wounded. Canadian police do have a suspect in custody in that attack unlike the Texas attack.

In Canada, it`s a young man, a 27-year-old man, French Canadian known for his outspoken right wing and anti-Islam politics. He reportedly called police himself and told police he would wait for them to come arrest him. Canada is still reeling from that attack this weekend. There have been repeated demonstrations of public support for Muslim Canadians, including by Canadian public officials.

One interesting reverberation of that Canadian attack in our country is that here in our country, the conservative FOX News Channel, they sent out a number of tweets and made a number of claims on the air that the suspected shooter in that attack was a Muslim. He was not. The Canadian prime minister reportedly appealed directly to the president of FOX News and asked the president to take those tweets down and belatedly, FOX News did that.

In the Victoria, Texas, mosque fire which again happened one day before the shooting in Canada, they don`t have a suspect in custody. They don`t know who did it. But there has also been a big public show of support.

One local resident set up a Go Fund Me page to help the congregation rebuild. That Go Fund Me page raised more than $900,000 in the first two days that it was live. Actually, I just checked tonight before we went on the air, it`s well up over a million dollars now. That Go Fund Me page is filled with people offering to do carpentry, to donate new prayer rugs and for an in-kind donation that only another religious congregation could offer, the leaders of the one Jewish congregation in Victoria, Texas, in that town, they apparently went to the home of the imam from the burned out mosque and handed him the keys to the synagogue.

The president of the synagogue sort of played down the offer when reporters called asking about it, basically said it`s what anybody would have done and besides, he explained, they have the space. Quoting him, quote, "We have probably 25 to 30 Jewish people in Victoria. They probably have 100 Muslims. We`ve got a lot of building for a small amount of Jews."

That gesture of support is not a stand alone thing, not even if for Texas. This is a very interesting story. Every two years, at the state capital in Texas, they do something called Texas Muslim Capital Day. They have been doing this every two years for the last 15 years or so. It`s basically a big civics day.

Muslims from all over Texas, mostly students, high school kids and even younger kids, they come to the capital for like a -- it`s not really a lobby day but they come while the state legislature is meeting and they do workshops and learn about civics and they meet with their legislators and they learn about how the state government operates. It`s a very earnest civic thing they do every two years in Texas.

But the last time they did one of these in 2015, it got really ugly. This group of mostly kids stood on the capital steps and recited the pledge of allegiance and sang the national anthem and held a press conference about what they were doing there at the state legislature that day and in 2015, that Texas state capital Muslim day, there was a group of screaming protesters who showed up not just to denounce these Muslims being at the state capital but to disrupt what they were doing. We reported on it at the time.

These guys showed up with signs that said, "Go home and take Obama with you." "I am the infidel Allah warned you about." "Radical Islam is the new Nazi." "I serve a risen savior Jesus Christ, Mohammed is dead." "Mohammed is dead" is one of the things these protesters chanted also at these Muslim school kids who were there at the state capital that day for their civics lesson in Texas.

Again, this happened at the state capital in Texas in 2015 and we covered that event in part when it happened in 2015 because of this moment when one of the protesters couldn`t contain herself anymore to just screaming at the kids and instead she took over their podium, took over their microphone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Texas chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations celebrates the seventh Texas Muslim Capital Day. We are honored --

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

Thank you. .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus Christ over the capital of Texas. I stand against Islam and the false Prophet Mohammed. Islam will never dominate the United States and by the grace of God, it will not dominate Texas!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That`s what happened two years ago at the Texas Capital Muslim Day.

After that woman did that, she and her fellow protesters then resumed their chants at the Muslim school kids over there, and they chanted at them "Mohammed is dead, Mohammed is dead." That is how Texas Muslim Capital Day went the last time they did it two years ago.

This year, it did not happen that way. This year check it out. That did not happen again. There were a couple of the "we hate Muslims", "we hate Islam" protesters there again this year, but you really couldn`t find them among not just the American Muslims, the Texas Muslims who turned out for Muslim Texas Capital Day, you couldn`t find the screaming anti-Muslim people in the crowd this year, because there was only a couple of them and because of the huge human chain that made themselves into a protective cordon around these Texas Muslims.

Organizers say they were hoping for about 500 people to show up and make a human chain. According to the "Dallas Morning News," more than four times that many people showed up, more than 2,000 people. So, they actually made their chain three and four and five people deep.

In addition to the regular crowd there for Texas Muslim Day, more than 2,000 people showed up to protect them and support them.

One of the community leaders marveling at the turnout, marveling at the thousands of people who turned out yesterday in Texas to support Texas Muslims at the capital yesterday on their big civics day, one of the speakers, one of the Muslim leaders who was addressing the crowd at this event said, "All thanks and praise to Donald Trump for making this huge turnout possible." I think he`s probably right.

Texas is a long way from Washington, D.C., you know, but national politics are truly national. They get into every nook and cranny and every far- flung place in the country, and because we`re a democracy, every far-flung place in our country, every nook and cranny of our country, also get to say, get to have feedback on what happens in Washington, D.C. So, you are seeing that. You are seeing those voices rise even in places like Texas at the Texas state capital yesterday.

You are also seeing in Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith. His district office at home in Texas is now frequently decorated with good folks like these picketing, asking for a meeting, demanding that Lamar Smith hold a town hall with his constituents now so they can give them a piece of their mind about saving Obamacare and all the rest.

We`ve been very focused on the big protests in places like Washington, D.C. and New York. Today and tonight, there were big pro-immigrant protests in the city of Chicago and again in New York City. But take a look at what is happening in these other largely unexpected places.

Look what Republican senators and members of Congress are dealing with at their offices at home. Look, this is Utah. Senator Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, they have office space at home in Utah. This is what`s going on outside their office space at home in Utah.

Here`s Missouri. This is what it looks like outside Senator Roy Blunt`s office these days.

Even in Arkansas, in the Ozarks in Arkansas, Senator Tom Cotton is not used to having his Arkansas constituents piled up like this outside his home state office.

In Colorado, Republican Senator Cory Gardener`s office is becoming a very, very crowded place frequently. When Senator Cory Gardner put out a statement critical of the refugee ban and the travel ban for people from these Muslim countries, it was interesting, some of these protesters who have been hounding his home state offices changed their messages to be messages of thanks for doing the right thing on the Muslim ban.

But mostly, they`re pushing him to start saying no to the Trump administration. Vote no on Trump cabinet nominees. They`re pushing them to resist the new administration, whether they`re going to get that, I don`t know, but there`s a lot of pressure on him every day at home.

Senator Jeff Flake in Arizona, he`s getting the same kind of pressure in Arizona.

Senator Thom Tillis in North Carolina. Look at these pictures. Thom Tillis` home state offices have been mobbed by very big crowds. And I have to tell you, this is not some traveling protest mob that moves around the country targeting all these senators in different states, this is not like the product of a bus tour.

These are all individual organic things, these are home state constituents in every circumstance -- home state constituents of these members of Congress and senators. And lest you think they`re only targeting Republicans, this was the crowd last night outside Chuck Schumer`s house. Big crowds of Chuck Schumer`s New York constituents marched to Chuck Schumer`s apartment building from his home state Senate office last night. "Man up, Chuck, do not waiver, do not assist." "Hey, Chuck, put up your dukes."

Here`s what I can only assume is a New York teacher. Do we have that picture of the report card? Yes, check her out. Can we drop the bottom, the little line there on the bottom there?

It`s a report card giving him credit for his votes, the X`s, giving him credit for his votes against Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, but dinging him for his incorrect answers on Mike Pompeo, General Mattis and General Kelly, all of whom he voted for then bottom line "C-minus", "Your work needs improvement."

There are two big things happening in American politics right now. One of them is that Donald Trump won the presidency but the other is all this stuff. All this stuff we are seeing. And these two things are very, very, very closely linked, and they are having a relationship now, they are having an impact on one another that I think is becoming way more important than we have previously appreciated about protest movements in this country.

We just got in some stark new information that if you think the Tea Party had a big influence on American politics, what is happening right now in American politics in response to Trump winning the presidency, what`s happening now is already bigger and more popular and is moving American politics faster than the Tea Party ever did. And we`ve got the new data that shows that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Look at this shot from Mt. Dessert Island in Maine. This is apparently an organizing meeting for a new Indivisible group. One of these groups that`s using the Indivisible guide to become a new activist group, and they`re forming in that little corner of Maine, Mt. Dessert.

Do you see the hats they`re wearing? Those are Statue of Liberty crowns. I remember back in 2010 at the start of the Tea Party movement that sprung up on the right to oppose President Obama, to put some steel in the spine of Republicans that they should reject everything about the Obama administration, reject every element of the Obama agenda, one of the startling things I remember about covering that Tea Party movement in 2010 was when we discovered that one of the high profile organizers of that effort was the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice.

Clarence Thomas` wife Ginni Thomas was a Tea Party activist and in a very involved way she founded something -- sorry, called Liberty Central. See the hat?

And one of the things that Liberty Central was, was like a merchandiser for the Tea Party. They sold Tea Party stuff. They tried to get all the Tea Party people to wear the Statue of Liberty foam crowns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINNI THOMAS, LIBERTY CENTRAL: Hello, patriots!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

It is a pleasure to be with you. If you have a crown on I feel like it`s next to your heart and soul.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Around the time that Clarence Thomas` wife Ginni was raising money from undisclosed donors for the Tea Party movement by selling those foam crowns among other things, around that time, the "Washington Post" did a national poll asking Americans whether or not they had ever heard about this Tea Party movement that was taking shape on the American right.

By October, 2010, Americans said they had heard a lot about it, 54 percent of Americans said they heard a lot about the Tea Party. For comparison`s sake, that compares roughly with the percentage of Americans right now who say they have heard about those women`s marches that took place in protest of the new President Donald Trump. Roughly equivalent, 54 percent, 57 percent of Americans have heard a lot about that.

But check this out. In 2010, at the height of the Tea Party`s power, the proportion of Americans who said they supported or leaned towards supporting the Tea Party was 39 percent. Right now, the number of Americans who say they support or lean towards supporting the women`s marches is 60 percent.

And again, that poll was taken in 2010 before the Tea Party was credited with sweeping the nation in the midterm elections of November, 2010, which brought Republicans to power in an unprecedented way. So, I mean, if you compare the people in the Tea Party -- the tea partiers and the Statue of Liberty crowns in 2010 with the anti-Trump protesters now in the Statue of Liberty crowns, Americans broadly speaking are equally aware of those two movements but Americans like the one on the right a lot more, not the one on the ideological right, the one on the right side of your screen.

A big solid majority of America approves of the women`s marches that happened in protest of Donald Trump. And they are supported by American Americans at a rate that outstrips support of the Tea Party at its apex by more than 20 points, dissent and protest. This movement against Donald Trump, it is the other big thing that is happening in our country, in our politics besides the presidency of Donald Trump.

And this movement is not happening just in Washington, D.C. It really is all over the country, every pocket of the country. And it may or may not be the thing putting the steel in the spine of the Democrats in terms of how hard a line they`re going to take against the new administration, but inarguably, Democrats are finding their voice. Democrats are figuring out their tactical approach to opposing the administration and it`s evolving.

I mean, on most votes, at least until Democrats can start peeling off Republicans, Democrats aren`t going to have the raw voting power just to flex their muscles and get their way. That means the only way they can really make an impact in Washington is if they leverage what power they do have. If they make a bigger deal than their numbers would suggest because they make a stink. And so, they`ve started making a stink. They figured it out.

I mean, Republicans today were very upset that this is what the room looked like when they were trying to call a vote on the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who left $100 million in assets off his financial disclosure form and who apparently lied to Congress about whether or not his bank ever robosigned in the mortgage crisis. The reason that room looks so empty is because no Democrats showed up in the room for that committee vote on Steve Mnuchin because they boycotted it.

Same goes for Tom Price, the nominee -- look at this. Tom Price, nominee to be health secretary, he`s been trading stock in health companies while writing legislation that boosts those companies` stock prices. Democrats all boycotted the hearing for Tom Price.

They also all boycotted the hearing for the EPA nominee. The EPA nominee who brought 14 different lawsuits against the EPA and says he doesn`t plan on recusing himself from his own lawsuits once he becomes head of the EPA, so then he will effectively be suing himself. I wonder who`ll win.

By boycotting those votes, by refusing to show up for those hearings, the Democrats didn`t stop those nominations. They did drive the Republicans nuts and they did slow them down and they did get a lot of attention to their cause and they made their cause clear. They made it very clear the Democrats are not going along with those nominations and they`ll do anything they can to stop them.

By slowing down the process and pushing hard on some of these nominees, they may very well have stopped one nominee who hasn`t gotten a lot of attention but that there`s a reason for that. It`s the nominee for labor secretary, the Carl`s Jr. guy. There hasn`t been talk about withdrawing Andy Puzder`s nomination as labor secretary, but you know what? They`ve pushed his hearing date back four separate times now.

The last time they pushed it back, they didn`t bother to set out a new date. And MSNBC can report tonight that Andy Puzder has not turned in any of his paperwork, any of his documentation. He hasn`t turned in any of the paper that is the bare minimum stuff you need to start your confirmation process. They apparently don`t even have an FBI background check on him yet.

Are you sure you`re going to keep that guy? Are you sure you want to go through this process?

Democrats have focused withering attention on the education secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos. You saw the signs at the protests we`ve been covering, the signs focusing in on Betsy DeVos and what a bad pick she would be for education. The focus on her, the pushback on her, the aggressive questioning of her at her confirmation hearing revealed a nominee who very clearly was not ready for prime time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Were you unaware what I just asked you about the IDEA, that it was a federal law?

BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION NOMINEE: I may have confused it.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: If confirmed will you insist upon that equal accountability in any K-12 school or program that receives federal funding whether public, public charter or private?

DEVOS: I support accountability.

KAINE: Equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funding?

DEVOS: I support accountability.

KAINE: Is that a yes or a no?

DEVOS: That`s a -- I support accountability.

KAINE: Do you not want to answer my question?

DEVOS: I support accountability.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: You can`t say definitively today that guns shouldn`t be in schools.

DEVOS: Well, I will refer back to Senator Enzi and the school that he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyoming. I think probably there -- I would imagine that there`s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Betsy DeVos faces aggressive unanimous opposition from every Democrat in the United States Senate for obvious reasons. But that pushback on her and that public opposition to her nomination, even though Democrats are in the minority, she`s now within one vote of being rejected by the Senate.

Democrats also interestingly succeeded in pushing back, slowing down the Jeff Sessions confirmation. He is still not confirmed and now it may be the Republicans who have to slow down his confirmation further so Jeff Sessions can stay a senator long enough to cast a vote for Betsy DeVos because he might be the only way they can stop her from being rejected by the Senate. That`s how far Betsy DeVos is up against the ropes.

The Exxon CEO was confirmed by the Senate today, barely, by a 56-43 vote. What he will find waiting for him when he gets to the State Department is the largest dissent channel memorandum ever submitted in the history of the State Department. Over 1,000 State Department employees have reportedly signed their actual names to a formal dissent against the president`s Muslim ban and refugee ban.

The White House has made clear its preference that any dissenters on that subject should get out of the State Department, that means the Exxon CEO will now have to decide immediately whether he`s going to try to purge more than a thousand people out of the foreign service and the diplomatic corps which is what the White House apparently wants.

Dissent and protest, they are the other big thing that is happening in our country`s politics. I mean, other than Donald Trump winning the presidency, the other big thing we`ve got is dissent and protest. At such a scale and such a pitch that it`s already changed the history of presidential inaugurations. It has, I think, inarguably changed the behavior and attitude of the Democratic Party. And, heck, look what it did to Texas Muslim Capital Day this year in Austin, Texas.

But now, there`s question, right, this sea change in this part of our politics. This roar of dissent. This new movement that already outstrips the Tea Party by more than 20 points in terms of its national support. These guys standing outside Jeff Merkley`s office in Oregon with the "Atta Boycott" sign, right?

This pressure, this new thing in America comes at the same time we just got a new Supreme Court nominee. And we talked about last night that over recent years, that it has become harder and harder to confirm new justices on the court over time.

It is hard to get somebody on the court, no matter who it is. That`s just the trend that we are on. But at this particular, at this particular moment, Democrats are finding their voices. They are finding their footing in taking increasingly hard line unsentimental opposition to the unpopular new president and his administration. And there`s a very popular movement in the streets that is very large and that is very well-supported by the American public.

And in this moment, Democrats have this exquisite decision to make about how hard they`re going to fight for seat on the United States Supreme Court. They have the opportunity to fight very, very hard for it, to insist the seat was stolen from President Obama, that it could not be filled by this Republican president unless it`s Merrick Garland who he`s going to nominate and some other nominee who Democrats can vote for without apology and with enthusiasm.

They do have an option here to block a vote. It`s never been done before, but they have the numbers to hold this seat open, to take an incredibly hard line position which until recently would have been seen as a very un- Democratic Party-like thing to do.

It`s a genuine open question, though, now, as to whether America`s Democrats are newly inspired and newly bolstered enough to be that bold. And that`s next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We`re keeping our eyes tonight on this situation in northern California. This is in the East Bay area in Berkeley, on the campus of U.C. Berkeley. That big fire there is the dramatic centerpiece of what is a large anti-Breitbart protest. That`s happening on the U.C. campus.

One of the editors of breitbart.com, the publication that until recently was helmed by Steve Bannon, who is now the senior councilor and senior strategist in the White House, one of his editors who is known for being particularly proactive on the issues of race and religion was due to give a speech tonight at Berkeley and it erupted in -- well, what started off as protests have become fires and pretty intense clashes between police and protesters. Police we`re told have just given protesters an order to disperse.

But this has been going on for some time into the evening hours tonight in Berkeley, California. We will keep an eye on how this resolves on the Cal campus.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Yesterday in Japan, in Tokyo Bay, an American-guided missile cruiser, the USS Antietam. This big ship, it ran aground. It was anchored at the time, we don`t know how it ran aground but it did. Nobody was hurt, thankfully, but the Antietam is damaged, had to be tugged to a nearby naval base. And before it left the area, it reportedly dumped over a thousand gallons of hydraulic oil of some kind into the sensitive the waters of Tokyo Bay. So, Japan is probably not pleased about that.

Today in Smyrna, Delaware, a major prison riot broke out. We don`t have major prison riots all that often in our country but this one in Delaware is a big deal and it`s been going on for a long time. It started at 10:30 Eastern Time this morning.

They took four prison employees hostage. They released one hostage this afternoon we`re told they released one more minutes ago. But another two employees, one guard and one counselor are reportedly still being held hostage at this hour in this riot that started this morning, being held hostage by the prisoners.

If you`re in a position of national responsibility, you never know when and from where the next crisis is going to arrive. It could be anything, right? A navy ship going aground, prison riot the Delaware.

Today, "The Associated Press" and "Washington Post" report the new president had two disastrous phone calls with the leaders of two of our closest allies on Earth. There`s another crisis. "A.P." reports the new president threatened to send U.S. troops over the border, literally. He reported -- the "A.P." has reported that President Trump threatened to invade Mexico in a conversation with the Mexican president, OK. Simultaneously, the "Washington Post" is reporting the president hung up on the prime minister on the prime minister of Australia after getting into a disagreement with him about refugee policy and spending time bragging about the size of his election victory, President Trump reportedly then hung up.

So national leaders have to be ready for any crisis at any time, even the ones they inadvertently create themselves with the people who are supposed to be our best allies in the world. Bleep happens, right? Everyday. You better be ready. Who knows what I`m going to do next or what might happen in the world?

But then, there are crises that don`t pop everyday, that don`t surprise us in the headlines, don`t shock everyone anew. There are crises that just quietly percolate for a long time on the back burner and become part of the scenery even though they really are crises.

Our next guest says that that kind of crisis is what started last year in Washington when Republicans decided they wouldn`t consider any nominee of President Obama`s to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

He says, quote, "It`s important to remember just how radical and unprecedented the Senate`s approach to the previous Supreme Court nominee was. The refusal to consider any nominee was a raw power grab, a fundamental changing of the rules. The change is terribly damaging for the country`s political system."

And what should Democrats do about it?

David Leonhardt at the "New York Times" is not prone to this type of argument but he`s making it now. He says, quote, "Democrats should not weigh this nomination the same way they`ve weighed previous ones. This one is different. The presumption should be that Neil Gorsuch does not deserve confirmation because the process that led to his nomination was illegitimate."

Quote, "I realize this sounds aggressive and partisan and it makes me deeply uncomfortable to make such an argument, but Democrats simply cannot play by the old set of rules now that Republicans are playing by a new one. The only thing worse than the system the Republicans have created is a system in which one political party volunteers to be bullied."

Joining us now is David Leonhardt. He`s a writer and editor for "The New York Times". He wrote that op-ed today.

Mr. Leonhardt, thank you very much for being here. It`s a real pleasure to have you on the show.

DAVID LEONHARDT, NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you for having me. It`s a pleasure to be here.

MADDOW: You stated explicitly and it`s palpable you aren`t comfortable making this argument, that this is a form of sort of hard ball. This is almost a form of radical tactical advice you`re giving to the Democrats that you`re not inclined toward.

Why did you make this argument?

LEONHARDT: Thank you for highlighting that part of it because I`m really not, because -- first of all, this is a real shame, right? You have a president who should be allowed to fill a Supreme Court seat with a nominee that he wants. But we had a radical change in the rules, which is Barack Obama was not allowed to fill a Supreme Court opening, and I think it would be a grave mistake, a form of wishful thinking if people said, well, if only the Democrats start playing nice now, maybe the Republicans will go back to playing nice in the future.

I don`t really see evidence that`s the case. And so, I think it`s really important the Democrats say, look, there has been a fundamental breaking here of our political norms and values and we can`t simply then move forward as if that didn`t happen.

MADDOW: If they take the radical option that is available to them in this system which is to filibuster, to say we`ve got 41 Democrats here who are going to change the threshold for what it would take to confirm this nominee. It will take 60 votes, you don`t have 60 Democrats in the Senate, you cannot confirm him on a party line vote and we are going to filibuster this nomination.

It`s not that Supreme Court nominees have never been filibustered in the past, it wouldn`t be totally unprecedented. But everybody believes and the president advises if that happens, the Republicans should then retaliate, should abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, and basically further break the system, make the system more radically different in the future than it is now.

Do you think that would be a lamentable turn of events?

LEONHARDT: I do think it would be a lamentable turn of events but I`m not sure of the alternative is. If you look at the signals Republicans have sent, there`s every reason to believe that at some point in the future, when there`s a Democratic president and Democratic majority in the Senate that does not rise to 60 votes, so the flip of what we have now, the Republicans would force the Democrats to go that route because what they did last year was much more radical than that and that wasn`t just one event, right? Mitch McConnell has shown again and again and again that he believes in this kind of opposition and that he brought the Republican Party along.

So, given than, it seems to Democrats` presumption should be to say to the Republicans, look, you broke these rules, now live up to what you`ve actually broken and change the rules on the filibuster. Jonathan Chait, who`s really one of the best political journalists out there today, has a smart piece about this in "New York" magazine where he says the idea that the Democrats could save this forcing of the filibuster until next time is naive. There`s no reason it will be more powerful if they don`t use it now and they do use it later than if they use it both times. That feels right to me, but I`m not saying they need to do that. I`m saying their presumption should be against wishful thinking, against naivete and toward understanding the Republicans have fundamentally changed the rules of the Supreme Court in the last year.

MADDOW: Yes, and once those rules have changed you can wish it hasn`t happened but recognizing it has happened creates a new imperative. David Leonhardt --

LEONHARDT: That`s right.

MADDOW: Yes -- writer and editor for the "New York Times," David, I really appreciate you being here tonight and thanks for this thoughtful, heartfelt piece on this. I appreciate it.

LEONHARDT: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. It is interesting. The question now is whether or not, given that argument, there`s a reason the Democrats are talking about Neil Gorsuch right now. The Democratic argument is that it doesn`t matter who the nominee is, the problem is that Republicans broke that system last year by not letting Democratic President Barack Obama make this appointment.

So, it doesn`t matter who`s been nominated, we don`t want to talk about it. That radicalism is what they`re responding to now. That`s sort of the argument. The only question is whether they get to 41 Democrats who are willing to go there.

I might have information about that next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: If it is true that the new president is trying for a shock-and-awe approach to his first days in office, it`s also true that things are moving fast for Democrats.

Case in point -- after the nomination last night of Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court seat that was vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia last year, we got a statement from Democratic Cory Booker of New Jersey. The statement said, quote, "Having begun the process of reviewing Judge Gorsuch`s extensive judicial record, I have very serious concerns about his nomination."

That is not the same thing as saying no, that`s "very serious concerns." This, on the other hand, is quite clear. After expressing his various serious concerns last night, this afternoon, Senator Booker posted this, quote, "I will not vote for Judge Gorsuch. I will oppose his nomination." Just to be perfectly clear.

Joining us now for the interview is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Senator Booker, thank you so much for being with us tonight. I know there`s a lot going on right now.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Yes. Thank you for having me on, Rachel.

MADDOW: I know that you said you will not vote for Judge Gorsuch. Does that also mean that you will support an effort to filibuster his nomination to make it a 60-vote threshold to confirm him?

BOOKER: Well, first, I want to give a lot of my fellow Democrats a chance to begin to go through a lot of his opinions like I`ve been doing and to listen to his hearings. But I just want you to know that a 60-vote threshold is not something new for judges to have to go through. The Senate has for a long time provided a moderating force to the passions of this country, pulling people to the middle.

And that idea of a 60-vote threshold has helped presidents not put out judges that were out of the mainstream, but actually put people that were. Barack Obama with Merrick Garland could have put a very liberal judge up, but he didn`t. He put somebody up that could appeal to moderate Republicans that could have met that 60-vote threshold should he been allowed to get a hearing and an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

So, there`s something good about for a Supreme Court justice to have that 60-vote threshold, to put people up that are not far right or far left, but that can actually moderate the passions perhaps of the country and get somebody that is within the mainstream.

MADDOW: Can you imagine President Trump nominating somebody for the Supreme Court who you would vote for?

BOOKER: Well, first of all, let`s understand what Donald Trump is doing. He`s picking somebody way out of the mainstream and then he`s bullying the Republicans in the Senate, literally calling them to do the nuclear option, do the nuclear option. That to me is one branch of government shoving around the other branch of government and whipping up -- trying to whip up pressure on my fellow Republicans.

So, again, I don`t -- I liked for him to put up judges that make Democrats stop and say, wait a minute, let`s research this person, let`s look let`s look deeper. But Neil Gorsuch is somebody that, frankly, if you start to look at his opinions, you can see where he is going to go on very big issues in our country that we`re fighting over -- the rights of corporations version the rights of individuals.

From the hobby lobby decision with his attack on individuals right with the New Mexico disability case, here is somebody that when it comes to things like Citizens United, when it comes to protecting individual reproductive rights, this is somebody that seems to be choosing the big and the powerful over individual rights, which as an originalist that he claims to be is very problematic for me, because so much of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights about individual rights. And somebody now whose decisions seem to be pushing back on disability rights, pushing back on women`s right, pushing back even on worker rights, their free speech rights, as we saw -- see in one of his cases where just people speaking out against dangerous working conditions, choosing to be on the side of the corporation.

So, I`m sorry. This is a far right wing judge out of the mainstream. Donald Trump doesn`t seem to be trying moderate an appeal to 60 senators. He seems -- knows what he did with the far right wing, and now is trying to bully Republicans to change the rules of the Senate, which nobody in the executive branch frankly should be doing right now, especially when the Senate was designed if you look at our history to be a moderating force against the passions of -- at large.

MADDOW: Senator, you are in your first national political job. You came up in politics from the ground up. Served as mayor of Newark. I know that you agonized for a long time as to whether or not national politics was the right place to make the most impact and do the best work for our country.

I wonder especially coming up the way you did, what you`re hearing from your constituents? What you`re hearing from people in New Jersey about how to vote on Donald Trump`s nominees for the cabinet, on how hard a line to take on this Supreme Court seat, about how to react after having held open the seat rather than giving Merrick Garland a hearing? What`s your constituent feedback like right now?

BOOKER: Well, it`s stunning to me that I think my constituents can`t believe that it`s only been about 12 days of the Trump administration because there is just such a drumbeat of things to be outraged about.

In fact, I often worry over these last two weeks about outrage fatigue, because there seems to be multiple things every single day that deserve attention. And some things which really affect working class people seem to barely get noticed, like him hitting mortgage owners, working class people with one of his executive orders. It`s going to make it for the average person in America much more difficult. That barely hit the radar screen, which is something that really is worthy of being outraged about.

And so, what I`m seeing right now, some things are pleasing to me that folks who are not political, who have not been engaged are suddenly outraged at many of the things that have happened in these first 12 days, and now engaged in ways they haven`t before and reaching out to my office. I think we`ve seen the Senate switchboards get more volumes of calls now than they have for years before. One senator was quoting that statistic to me.

So I`m happy about the engagement. I`m happy about the involvement. But I worry that the way Trump is doing this, there could be some strategy about trying to just continue a blitzkrieg-like effort to put so many objectionable things that we forget that just a few days ago, the news cycle is now full of the Supreme Court justice, out of mainstream, trying to bully the United States into changing his rules. But there are so many things in the last three days that are offensive to the conscience of nonpolitical people, nonpartisan people. And that`s really where my concern lies right now.

We cannot get fatigued because what`s happening right now to me is worthy of outrage. And that more and more people should be pushing back.

And what`s exciting to me, and you`re seeing this with the DeVos decision, is you`re starting to see Republicans respond to the kind of outrage, even with the repeal of the ACA, which is one of the greatest threats not only to my communities, but you want to talk about rural hospitals? Probably one of the greatest threats to rural hospitals right now, the livelihood of some communities is this attempt by Republicans to rip down the ACA without a plan. But people are hearing that. And you`re starting to see people speak out.

So, a lot of this to me is not a partisan reaction I`m getting from my home state. It is sincere concerns, legitimate fears about the impact that these decisions are going to be having on everybody`s life, their ability to earn a livelihood, their ability to have security in this country. And this is not even to talk about the kind of things that are happening on the foreign policy front, which are so outrageous, they`re surreal.

People have stopped talking about perhaps of my lifetime the two greatest attacks we`ve seen. Number one has been 9/11 -- sobering and tragic and outrageous. But the second probably greatest attack on the sanctity of America has been what the Russians did in their involvement in our election. And even just the non-classified stuff. I`ve sat in classified briefings that are stunning, the stuff of novels. I never thought I would be sitting in briefings where intelligence folks would be giving me facts like this.

But the stuff that is actually out this in the public space should have Republicans and Democrats all outraged. I`m grateful for people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain who are talking about this. But again, in the fire hose of things to be outraged about, we`re losing the foreign policy picture.

Putting Steve Bannon, a guy who is -- I mean, alt-right is a synonym for right supremacy --someone who has been creating a platform for the launching of bigotry and hatred in our country who is now on the National Security Council? Something that flies in the face of not only tradition, but of, you know, Title 50 of the U.S. Code, specifically Section 3021 which specifically says who should be a member of that. Something done by Congress.

So, here again, the president in my opinion is endangering national security, politicizing national security, and putting us in a position where perhaps decisions about life and death are being made by political people with an agenda who reflect the growing hate movements we`re seeing in our country.

So, I really beg America not to get distracted bipartisanship, not to get overwhelmed by the flow of this, but in a sensible way, look at what`s happening within our country in the first 12 days of Trump administration. Do not get fatigued or distracted by the stream of all this.

In my opinion, we`ve got to lean in as a country right now and really focus on resisting and objecting to the way Donald Trump is trying to transform our nation.

MADDOW: Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey -- thank you for your time tonight. Thanks for letting us know your take on this, sir.

BOOKER: Thank you very much.

MADDOW: We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE FLYNN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Instead of being thankful to the United States in these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: What does on notice mean? Asked to explain what the national security adviser meant by that today, the White House spokesman said this, quote, "They wanted to make it understood that we are not going to sit by and not act on their actions."

So, the White House clarifying we`re not going to not act in response to Iran. You`re on notice. What does this mean?

Tonight, a spokesperson for CentCom in the Middle East told "The Guardian" newspaper, quote, "We saw the statement as well. We`re waiting for something to come down the lane. We`ve not been asked to change anything operationally in the region."

So, that`s one of the things that happened today. The national security of the president just threatened Iran with something. The White House has no clarification. And the actual U.S. military in the Middle East has to hear about that bizarre and nonspecific empty threat on C-Span because nobody gave them a heads-up about it.

Incompetence in the White House press room is sometimes funny. Sometimes it`s not.

But that does it for us tonight. We`ll 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

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