RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us.
Big thanks to Ali Velshi for filling in for me yesterday while I was fishing. I did okay. I was out with my friend who always catches more fish than me. I caught two fish before she caught anything, and then she caught one, but it was way smaller. It was a really nice day.
Anyway, but it`s really nice to be back at work. And yes, I put the fish back.
If we`re going to start anywhere tonight, the poop train seems like as good a place as any to start. Last year, train cars filled with human sewage started turning up unwanted in Alabama towns. Now, this was not human sewage of an Alabama origin, which would be bad enough, right? Somehow it was worse that this was imported human sewage.
This is human sewage that was -- generated is the right word? Generated in the first instance by humans in New York and New Jersey, and then got shipped on a train down to Alabama. Now, this sewage was treated and on paper theoretically, it was supposed to be a totally inoffensive thing to ship by rail and park in your town. But that turned out to be a load of, ah -- let`s call it claptrap.
This stuff stunk so bad as it passed through town after town after town in Alabama that town after town after town and county after county, every place it turned up, the locals realized, whoa, we have no choice. We have to fight back. Well need to get this stuff out of here. We need to do something to keep this stuff away.
At one point early last year, the poop train ended up parking in a town called West Jefferson, Alabama. And it parked way out at an out-of-the-way small rail yard. I think they thought that was going to be sort of out of sight, out of mind. It was not out of stink range. That rail yard was not enough out of the way given how bad this stuff smelled.
The town of West Jefferson, Alabama, revolted literally. A judge ultimately allowed the town to kick the poop train out of that distant rail yard as a zoning violation, because the people in that town literally could not stomach it.
That same train then moved on to a town called Parrish, Alabama. Before the poop train arrived in Parrish, the town mayor had expressed confidence that this would be no problem. She told the local press she didn`t have any objections. She didn`t think the train passing through her town or loading or unloading at the rail yard in her town would pose any particular problem. But, oh, man, that was just in theory.
When the train actually showed up full of human sewage, that same mayor of Parrish, Alabama, her name is Heather Hall, she told AL.com, quote, the smell really started getting bad here. I mean, it was terrible. Quote, it greatly reduces the quality of life of anybody that this is around. You cannot go outside. You cannot sit on your porch. And this stuff, it`s here in our town. It`s not like it`s an industrial area.
She told the paper, quote: We were hoping things wouldn`t be like they were in West Jefferson, that maybe the reactions in West Jefferson were overblown, but we came to realize real quick like that they were not blowing it out of the water. This stuff does not need to be in a populated area, period.
And so, Parrish, Alabama, had thought it would be fine. It was not fine. And the poop train got moved out of West Jefferson. Then it got moved out of Parrish. People in Parrish had thought those West Jefferson people complaining were big wusses, making a big deal out of nothing. They were quickly disabused of that notion.
And so, the poop train was moved out of Parrish, Alabama, as well. Where did they move it to? They moved to it Birmingham, Alabama, which you have heard of, because Birmingham is a big place in Alabama. And when the poop train moved into town there, the reaction was instant and soon became national.
A councilman for the area in Birmingham where the train had stopped turned up at the next Birmingham City Council meeting to raise the alarm about railroad cars in his area of the city, quote, that may be carrying feces from other states. Quote, when they get stopped on the train tracks in your area, the stench is almost unbearable.
In the local press and local social media, the reaction was even stronger. Some local businesses reportedly started getting calls that there must be a dead body nearby somewhere, because nothing else could possibly explain a smell that awful.
Eventually, Alabama`s poop train troubles made national news all over the country this past spring, and a lot of that coverage came from the explicit or implicit angle that somehow New Jersey and New York had done something wrong here, right? New Jersey and New York had foisted this train full of Yankee poop on Alabama without Alabama having any say in the matter or having any idea that it was coming.
The problem for that angle in the national coverage of this strange story from earlier this year, the problem for that angle was that the state of Alabama`s Department of Environmental Management, the state environmental agency in Alabama had actually approved this whole plan. They`d approved this whole idea. Apparently, they didn`t look into it at all that much detail when they agreed that Alabama would receive like 10 million pounds of this stuff, indefinitely, on an ongoing basis from the Northeast. They just decided oh, we`ll tuck into it a landfill somewhere. Nobody will mind.
The state environmental authorities in Alabama are not known for their stellar modern track record. The previous administrator of the state`s environmental agency had been embarrassed and ultimately forced out of office after what seemed like a never ending series of ethics scandals, including accepting baseball tickets and other gifts from a company that his agency regulated. He accepted private plane trips for his whole family to Disneyworld from another company who had business before the state. He also as a state official had approved payments to a company that was run by a guy that he was applying for a job with.
The Alabama State Ethics Commission unanimously referred him for criminal prosecution on that one, and that really means something in Alabama. I mean, Alabama has been really kind of busy recently on ethics issues. Just within the past few years, Alabama`s speaker of the house, the serving speaker of the house was convicted on multiple felonies and sentenced to multiple years in prison.
That happened roughly the same time that the state`s governor was forced from office in a sex and ethics scandal. And that happened around the same time that the state`s chief Supreme Court judge was kicked off the bench in an ethics scandal. You might remember him, actually. His name is Roy Moore. He went on to be the Republican Party`s nominee for the U.S. Senate seat that opened up when Jeff Sessions moved from the U.S. Senate over to the Justice Department to become the Trump administration`s first attorney general.
Roy Moore`s Senate campaign was the point at which pedophilia and its public defense became part of the Trump era of Republican politics. It`s also how we got a Democrat in the United States Senate from the great state of Alabama. When Alabama decided they couldn`t stomach Roy Moore in that capacity.
So Alabama has had a busy few years in general on ethics issues, but on environmental stuff, Alabama has been even worse than that. I mean, it has been a poop train couple of years in Alabama. That same administrator of the state`s environmental agency, that one who got referred for prosecution, the one who left office under this cloud of mushrooming ethics controversies, after he left office as the top environmental official in the state, he left to go work in his private business career.
In his private business career, he became a key player in the worst criminal environmental scandal to hit that state in years. I mean, even after losing the top person in the legislature, the top person in the Supreme Court, and the governor to ethics scandals almost simultaneously, the state of Alabama has since subsequently had to endure a huge criminal bribery and money laundering scandal involving top businesses and law firms in the state, who were trying to stop the EPA cleanup of a radically polluted, densely populated black neighborhood in north Birmingham.
That scandal is ongoing. It has resulted in multiple, lengthy prison sentences. It has even ensnared Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Remember, he is from Alabama. As the senator turns out, he got lots of money from the people behind the scheme. As a senator, turns out he lobbied against that EPA clean up effort which was apparently what they were paying people for.
Jeff Sessions even turn upped on a witness list in a felony trial that sent a well-known businessman executive and a top Alabama Republican lawyer to prison in that environmental scandal. I should also mention that once Jeff Sessions stopped being a senator implicated in that scandal and started being attorney general of the United States, he never once said he was recused from overseeing that matter as a federal prosecution despite his personal and direct involvement in it.
But when it came time to staff up the Trump administration, they didn`t just go to Alabama for an attorney general. The Trump administration also went to Alabama for environmental expertise. That guy from the state environmental agency in Alabama, the guy who was referred for criminal prosecution, the one who got in trouble for accepting all those gifts and private plane rides from his family for companies he was supposed to be overseeing, the one who left state office in a cloud of scandal and then got involved in what turned out to be a giant criminal scheme to keep a poor black neighborhood polluted and not cleaned up, that is who President Trump named to run the Environmental Protection Agency for the whole southeastern United States.
Was anybody else on the short list? His name is Trey Glenn. President Trump appointed him to run the biggest region in the country for the EPA. It covers eight states in the southeast.
John Archibald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at AL.com wrote a column at the time when Trey Glenn was pointed in which he John Archibald basically could not contain himself. He wrote, quote, ha ha exclamation point, that guy now heads the Environmental Protection Agency? It`s like Roy Moore leading the ACLU.
But then it got better. After Trump appointed that guy to run the EPA for the whole quarter of the country, right, for the whole southeastern United States, that guy now is a high-ranking federal employee eventually had to make financial disclosures. Well, when his disclosures came out a few months ago, Alabama learned for the first time among the folks who had been paying him since he left his job running the state environmental agency before he got appointed by Trump to run the EPA for the whole southeastern United States, among the people who put him on the payroll were the poop train folks. Yes, literally the landfill company that brought the poop train into all of those towns in Alabama. They had this guy on their payroll as the former top environmental official in the state.
Here is John Archibald again. Quote, Trey Glenn, the Trump-appointed EPA director, has more ties to that poop train and its dumping ground than the railroad track it ran on. Quote, all the Charmin in the world can`t wipe it away. Quote: Ain`t enough bubbles in the world to clean the stain.
As of tonight, Trey Glenn still serves in the Trump administration as the head of the EPA for the whole southeastern United States. It`s hard to believe that will stay the case, however, because today, Trey Glenn was indicted for multiple state crimes related to his time so ably administering environmental issues in his home state of Alabama. We`ve been -- I got to tell you, we`ve been trying to get ahold of the charging documents from his indictment in Alabama today. It`s been a little tricky to get ahead of them, but it appears he has been basically charged with corruption charges, akin to bribery and conspiracy.
So, the administrator, the head of the largest region in the country for the EPA is now under criminal indictment in Alabama. This comes, of course, after the head of the whole EPA for the Trump administration Scott Pruitt was forced out of office, forced out of the Trump cabinet in his own maelstrom of ethics scandals. We actually learned after Scott Pruitt was forced out at least one of the scandals that forced him out of office also resulted in a referral of Scott Pruitt to the U.S. Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
We learned that after he was already gone. We learned that around the same time this we learned another Trump cabinet official, the current secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, has also been referred to the U.S. Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution. So given the Alabama background of the Trump environmental official who was indicted today, it`s easy to see that maybe as an Alabama scandal, right? I mean, there has been a lot of Alabama ethics scandals there has been a lot of Alabama ethics scandals related to the environment. Maybe it`s an Alabama thing.
I will mention that it`s a little bit weird to see a state court indicting a high-ranking federal official rather than these corruption charges being brought as federal charges. Kind of makes you wonder if maybe the stench of this Alabama case followed Jeff Sessions all the way into the U.S. Justice Department in one way or another. How come the feds aren`t in on this? This is a high level public corruption case involving a federal official.
But the latest indictment of someone serving in a high level in the Trump administration at this point, whatever the fine points are of his alleged crimes and his culpability, at this point, you also have to see it as just the latest tilt in a White House and in an administration that appears to be going quite wobbly at the moment. I mean, ever since we learned, for example, that Ryan Zinke has been referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, there`s been an open question as to how he can still be in the cabinet, right?
Serious questions about how long he can stay in the job when he`s under federal criminal investigation. When will he become the next Trump administration cabinet official to resign in an ethics scandal and under the threat of federal corruption prosecution? The last couple of days have also been filled with news stories suggesting that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen might be about to be fired. The president today canceled what was supposed to be a trip to the southern U.S. border with Secretary Nielsen. Maybe that`s because he is going to fire her. Maybe it`s because he was afraid it might rain, I don`t know.
But the White House is sort of gleefully stoking the idea that another cabinet secretary is about to be fired. There have also been a new round of reports, including tonight, that the president is on the verge of firing his second White House chief of staff, John Kelly, which may or may not be true. Who knows? Right?
But there is more, right? In the middle of the afternoon today, there was even a brief flurry of weird stories that the first lady of the United States, the president`s wife, had somehow arranged the firing of the deputy national security adviser. And I know that sounds crazy.
I mean, yes, first ladies in the past have clashed with White House staffers up to and including famously the White House chief of staff under president Reagan who was disfavored by and ultimately axed to please First Lady Nancy Reagan. Again, White House staff and the first ladies sometimes clash.
But a national security job? Melania Trump wants to fire the deputy national security adviser? Is that how we do things? Nobody knows if that`s how we do things.
I mean, there were these initial reports today, first in "The Wall Street Journal" that the deputy national security adviser of the United States, Mira Ricardel, had been frog marched out of the White House and had her pass revoked at the insistence of the first lady. Those reports later turned out to be inaccurate when other people reliably produced information that, in fact, the deputy national security adviser was still inside the White House.
None of that conflicting reporting, though, could erase this actual statement which really was put out by the office of the first lady today. Quote: It is the position of the office of the first lady that she, Mira Ricardel, deputy national security adviser, no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House. It is the position of the first lady.
Apparently, tonight, the deputy national security adviser still enjoys the honor of serving in this White House, but now, everywhere she goes it`s under an imaginary banner floats over her head, right, that says the first lady wants me fired. Can I still stay?
The White House, the Trump administration more broadly appears to be in a kind of rattly phase. They appear to be in an even more chaotic state than usual. There have been ethics troubles in this administration from the very beginning. Some of today`s wobbles appear to be the inevitable product of law enforcement and investigatory pressure on ethically challenged high-ranking individuals including those who are now facing either criminal investigation or flat-out indictment in the case of this EPA official.
So, some of it I think is driven by the way ethics scandals tend to end up, which is not good for the ethically challenged official. A lot of this, though, appears to be driven by the political pressure that the White House is newly under in the wake of last week`s elections results. Tonight marks one week since the polls closed in the midterms. The scale of the Democratic Party`s victory in last week`s election is still coming into focus one week later as vote tallies get certified and close elections get called and recounts get fought over.
The turnout in this year`s midterm election appears to have been the highest midterm election turnout in more than a century. The percentage of the popular vote by which Democrats won congressional seats around the country appears to be even higher than the popular vote percentage that gave Republicans their massive landslide win in 2010 which President Obama famously called a shellacking. Democrats did better in terms of the popular vote this year in 2018 than Republicans did in the shellacking year of 2010.
Democrats appear on track to gain 37, if not 38 seats in the House of Representatives from these elections, which would be their largest congressional gains in a midterm election since the immediate aftermath of Watergate, right after Richard Nixon resigned.
In the Georgia governor`s race and in the Florida governor and Senate races, what appeared on election night to be Republican wins, those are now turning into full-blown ballot-to-ballot battles in both states, including in the courts where today the big development was a federal court judge ordering the delay of the certification of the vote totals in Georgia, which is what the Stacey Abrams campaign has been fighting for because they say not every vote has been counted and what they want is for every vote to be counted.
So, there is a lot going on right now in the news. There is a lot of pressure on this White House in this administration. And from everything we have seen thus far, this is a president who does not handle pressure particularly well, to the extent that his political fortunes and his legal jeopardy are tied up into one great double helix of a story right now, the president`s firing of Jeff Sessions in the immediate aftermath of last week`s elections, his effort to put in charge of federal law enforcement in the entire U.S. Justice Department, a random loyalist who was never approved by the Senate.
I think ultimately this may be seen when we look back on it some day as the president`s big Hail Mary pass at this point in his term in office -- his one big, desperate, probably won`t work effort to try to fix all of his problems all at once by trying to fix law enforcement so that it starts to help him out instead of continuing to threaten both him and senior members of his administration.
And Hail Mary passes occasionally do work, right? That`s why it`s still a play that people try in football. There are reasons tonight to think that this one is probably not going to work. We`ve got that story for you next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Maryland is not that big. Maryland is the ninth smallest state in terms of square mileage. It`s about the size of Belgium, if you`re counting.
But that didn`t stop Maryland today from taking on President Trump`s administration in a punch above its weight kind of way. Back in September, Maryland had filed a lawsuit against the federal government, arguing that Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, is constitutional and the Trump administration should stop trying to sabotage it.
That lawsuit is little old Maryland against several federal government defendants, from the IRS to the Justice Department, including specifically, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That ends up being important. So, stick a pin in that for a second.
That lawsuit was brought by Maryland in form of the attorney general of Maryland, a Democrat by the name of Brian Frosh. Today, Brian Frosh, on behalf of Maryland, threw another wrench at the Trump administration, trying to stop their works. Maryland today challenged the president installing right after last week`s elections, Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general.
The Maryland challenge promises to show that Whitaker`s appointment is unlawful, in part because Matt Whitaker is not Senate confirmed, unlike Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is, which they say would, quote, make Rosenstein the proper successor to Jeff Sessions. Maryland is arguing that because they`re just in the process of suing Jeff Sessions over the ACA, this whole thing needs to be cleared up fast. They don`t want Matt Whitaker sticking his nose in their Affordable Care Act lawsuit if he`s not lawfully able to hold that job.
Quote, once Whitaker appears as acting attorney general, it will be difficult to unwind any positions that the attorney general takes.
So this is a federal lawsuit, right? If the judge rules in Maryland`s favor here, what would happen to Matt Whitaker? Could this federal judge order that he`s not really the acting general and effectively install Rod Rosenstein in his place? I mean, if the judge ordered anything like that, right, the Justice Department would almost certainly appeal that would ultimately send this case hurtling towards the Supreme Court.
We`re sort of in permanent hearing loss zone now when it comes to alarm bells being sounded over Matt Whitaker being installed to run the Justice Department, what that means for the Justice Department, what that means in particular for the Mueller investigation. But now, we`ve got a whole bunch of open questions that need to be answered quickly. The question of whether Whitaker will recuse himself from the Mueller investigation, given his history of outspoken public statements against it, including how he thinks the Justice Department could undermine the Mueller investigation, all comments that he made before he himself joined the Justice Department.
He`s prejudged the case in the Russia investigation. Does that mean he can legally and ethically oversee the investigation of that case? The Justice Department keeps just putting out the same statement, saying Whitaker is fully committed to consulting with ethics officials on whether or not he needs to recuse, but they won`t say whether that consultation has happened or whether he will recuse if the ethics officials at the Justice Department tell him to.
Some time tomorrow, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department is expected to weigh in. They`re expected to issue some sort of letter or ruling explaining why it`s okay for Whitaker to have been appointed to that job, even though he is not Senate confirmed.
So I have a bunch of questions here. That judge in the Maryland case, can that judge effectively remove Matt Whitaker as attorney general? Could a federal district court judge essentially insert himself or herself into the process that the president has gummed up already at the Justice Department in terms of whose running DOJ? What about that Office of Legal Counsel advice that`s due to come out tomorrow? What if the Office of Legal Counsel and the judge say two different things about whether Whitaker is legally allowed to be in that job?
Will any of this or any of these things being fought over now pose any real problems for Whitaker staying employed as acting attorney general? Will it make any difference in terms of what he can do while he is there?
I`m hoping my next guest can help us through some of this.
Joining us now is Matt Axelrod. He is a former senior official at the Justice Department. He was deputy at the Justice Department to then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
Matt, thank you for being here.
MATT AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR DOJ OFFICIAL: Thank you.
MADDOW: There is a number of things going on, a number of fights on a number of different levels about the installation of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general. I haven`t had chance to talk to you since the president put him in this job.
Can I just ask you big picture, sort of top-line level, what is your reaction to the president installing him in that job?
AXELROD: It`s really extraordinary. Never before in our country`s history have we had an acting attorney general who didn`t come from a Senate confirmed position.
MADDOW: It`s such an important job, obviously, it`s top law enforcement official in the country. Why it is so important for that job to be a Senate confirmed person?
AXELROD: Yes. So -- and that`s part of what the legal fight about is whether it has to be a Senate confirmed person or not. But regardless of that legal fight, the tradition has been that it has always been someone who has previously been confirmed by the Senate, that the president has nominated and the Senate has fulfilled their constitutional role of providing advice and consent. And there are legal arguments about whether that`s required or not.
But what I think is so interesting here is that it just so happens that the first time in our country`s history that we have an acting attorney general who is not in a Senate confirmed seat is the same time that that person is going to oversee prosecution investigation being carried out by the special counsel that involves not only the White House, but the president himself.
MADDOW: In terms of this legal challenge that is unfolding interestingly with this Maryland case, because Maryland was suing anyway over an unrelated matter. One of their named defendants was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That apparently gives Maryland, at least in their view, standing to sue against this appointment.
What do you this of those kinds of court challenges? I imagine that the Maryland case isn`t the only one that we`ll see.
AXELROD: Yes. So, it will be interesting to see how they play out. The Maryland motion today that you were describing in terms of relief that it requests, it actually asks for a declaration from that federal judge that Rod Rosenstein is the proper acting attorney general. Now, if the judge were to grant that relief and issue an order saying Rod Rosenstein is the acting attorney general, I think you can expect an immediate appeal.
But for the time being, and unless the judge enters that order, and unless a court up above on the chain stays that order or reverses it, Rod Rosenstein would be the lawful acting attorney general. And really, what we have is a mess. And I think the American people deserve to know unambiguously who their chief federal law enforcement officer is. And we`re entering in a period where unfortunately that may not be the case. There is going to be some murkiness about it until all this gets straightened out.
MADDOW: Since Whitaker was installed in this position, we have learned a lot about his background, including the kind of things that would come up if he were being confirmed by the Senate. His involvement with a company that appears to be under FBI investigation, according to public reports. His involvement today reported in a publicly supported land deal that he appears to have walked away from, that left a lot of victims and unhappy people, including government agencies that appointed money for it. There`s also his public statements about the Mueller investigation.
All of these things would go into his vetting by the Senate if he were up for confirmation, which he is not. On the issue of overseeing the Mueller investigation, though, the question of potential conflicts of interest, the question of him prejudging the case, presumably the ethics officials at the Justice Department would consider those when deciding whether or not he should be recused from overseeing Mueller.
How does that process work, though? And how much transparency are we allowed to see? How much transparency are we allowed into that process in terms of seeing whether he has been given that advice?
AXELROD: Yes. So the way the process works is that the attorney general would ask the career ethics folks at DOJ for their view on whether recusal is required. Then he`ll receive that advice, but confidentially. It`s not made public. Then he will make a decision based on that advice as to how to proceed.
So, unlike with a court case where there is a ruling that is public, here that all happens behind the scenes.
MADDOW: Can Congress ask to see it?
MADDOW: I know that Democrats have written to the top ethics officer at the Justice Department asking whether these consultations have happened.
AXELROD: Right. So, I think that`s the mechanism by which this advice at the career ethics folks give is likely, although it`s not guaranteed, but likely to eventually become public, both congressional requests and also media requests, right? I think the past precedent here is pretty clear. Jeff Sessions recused himself from this same investigation after receiving advice from the career ethics officials. If you go back to the last administration, Loretta Lynch also sought advice from the career ethics officials about whether she had to recuse from the Clinton e-mail investigation, was told she did not.
So there is clearly a past pattern of both attorney general asking for that advice, receiving that advice, and then following that advice. And so I think the sort of the forcing mechanism here, if Matt Whitaker did ask for that advice, did receive that advice, but then didn`t follow it, there would be a lot of questions asked by the press, a lot of questions asked by Congress, and you would think with enough of those questions being asked with enough force over time, that eventually the truth would come out.
MADDOW: There you`re talking about the laws of political pressure. And sometimes those work and sometimes those don`t, but I`m starting to see how they all line up here.
Matt Axelrod, former senior official at the Justice Department -- I really appreciate you being here, Matt. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
AXELROD: Thanks for having me.
All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Tonight, we`re continuing to watch big high stakes and increasingly dramatic electoral fights in the two great states of Georgia and Florida. In Georgia today, more than a dozen people, including a sitting state senator were arrested at the state capitol as they urged authorities to count every vote after a federal judge ordered a review of all provisional ballots in the state and a delay of the certification of the vote totals.
In Florida, a statewide machine recount continues in all 67 Florida counties. That will end up deciding not only the Florida Senate race but also ultimately the makeup of the U.S. Senate, what will be the partisan balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Even once that U.S. Senate race is settled in Florida, you also have to remember there is still one more U.S. Senate race that remains to be decided.
That will be the Mississippi Senate runoff which is scheduled for November 27th between the incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde Smith who is an appointee to that seat and the Democratic challenger for that race, Mike Espy. And you know, honestly, it is hard to imagine a Democrat winning a U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi. That said, there is currently a Democratic U.S. senator from Alabama right next door, which seemed unthinkable less than a year ago.
You might have heard yesterday about the controversy in this Mississippi Senate race after Cindy Hyde-Smith talked about a friend she likes, saying, quote, if he invited me to a public hanging, I`d be on the front row. What do you mean by public hanging in Mississippi?
This is Mississippi, a state which has seen more public lynchings than any other in the United States.
That controversy erupted yesterday for Senator Hyde-Smith. It got worse since then because this is now how she is publicly fielding questions about that remark.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH (R), MISSISSIPPI: Put out a statement yesterday, and we stand by that statement.
REPORTER: Could you expand on it then, why you said it, what you meant by it, and why people in the state should not see it as offensive?
HYDE-SMITH: We put out the statement yesterday, and it`s available, and we stand by that statement.
REPORTER: Senator, are you familiar with Mississippi`s history of lynches?
HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday, and that`s all I`m going say about it.
REPORTER: You mentioned that it shouldn`t be viewed with a negative connotation. Could you at least explain why it could be positive?
HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday, and we stand by the statement. And that`s all I`m going to say about it.
REPORTER: Is that phrasing in your everyday lingo, in your vocabulary, do you use that phrase?
HYDE-SMITH: I put out a statement yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Local reporters, as you can see there, apparently interested in but not about to get more than a two-line statement on that topic from their sitting United States senator as she heads into election to try to hold on to that seat two weeks away. So, I mean, who knows how this race is going to play out on the ground in Mississippi between now and then, but one thing seems quite clear, which is that in some important ways, Cindy Hyde-Smith doesn`t appear ready for prime time in Mississippi, and Republicans may not be ready for the new wave of Democratic energy that they are facing all over the country, which has become increasingly clear in the last week since polls closed in the midterms.
And we`ve got more on that story next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: It started out as a Google Doc. Simple answers to basic questions. Question, should I bring a sign? Answer, if you`re holding an oppositional sign, staffers will almost certainly not give you or the people with you the chance to get the mike or ask a question. OK, got it.
Here`s another. Question, help. My members of Congress are pretty good. Now what? Answer, do not switch to targeting other members of Congress who don`t represent you. They don`t care what you have to say. Instead, praise your own member of Congress for doing the right thing. It will help ensure that they continue to do the right thing.
Don`t know what to say when you call your member of Congress? Here. Use this script.
Don`t know what to do when you go to your senator`s town hall meeting? Here. Use these step by step instructions. Get there early. Spread out. Ask good questions. Record everything.
This Google Doc is just 24 pages long. It`s called the indivisible guide. It was written by former Democratic congressional staffers from a Democratic congressional staffers right after the 2016 presidential election.
What they were trying to do with this Google Map, which became this guide was essentially come up with a road map for Democrats during the Trump presidency, a guide for people who wanted to push back against the president`s priorities. These congressional staffers took what they had learned working on Capitol Hill to try to teach people what works, to give people specific clear, granular tactics they could use to break through and be effective with their member of Congress.
All these people showing up at congressional town halls with prewritten questions, that was a suggestion from the Indivisible guide. All those people going to the home offices of the home district offices of their members of Congress? That`s on page 20.
Scheduling a meeting with your representative? Check the Indivisible guide. Organizing as a group? Check the Indivisible guide. The reason we have all of these pictures and videos and tweets, that`s from the Indivisible guide too. Take pictures. Tag your congressman. Record everything.
The whole point of this instruction manual right after the Trump and Republican victory in 2016 was to put power in the hands of Democratic voters at a time when Democrats held no power at all in Washington. The Indivisible guide right after the 2016 elections, it caught on. Since it came into existence less than two years ago, it launched more than 5,000 Indivisible groups all across the country.
And honestly, part of the reason Democrats do have a little power in Washington now, part of the reason they were able to win back the House in this midterm election is because of some of the tactics and instructions that were borne out of that tiny little guide, all that organizing and agitating with people with their home representatives? It ended up pushing a bunch of Republican members of Congress to quit. They didn`t want to deal with their constituents showing up at their office like this every Tuesday.
Enough Republicans quit that that really did help Democrats shift the balance of power in Congress. So, now that the playing field looks a little different, now that Democrats do have some power in Washington, now that they are poised to take control of the House, now Indivisible has done 2.0. They`ve put out new instructions.
This is the Indivisible guide 2.0. It has just been released this hour. It`s brand-new. Just like the first Indivisible guide, this one is super granular and specific. A lot of the tactics are the same. Visit district offices for your representative.
Go to town halls with your representative and your senator, spread the word on social media, tag your representative, record everything. But there is a whole new genre of instructions that weren`t in the original guide, because now that Democrats have power, their constituents get to tell them how to use it. This is from the offense through oversight and investigations section.
If you`re concerned for example that HUD Secretary Ben Carson spent $31,000 of taxpayer money on a dining room set for his office, you can tell your member of Congress to investigate this misuse of public funds. You can tell your member of Congress they can bring on a formal congressional investigation.
Here is a starter list you could pass along. Tell your member of Congress to use their vote. Tell them to sponsor a bill. Tell them to introduce new legislation. Tell them to write letters to the administration.
We are in a new phase of the Trump era in American politics, one where the power of the White House is no longer unchecked. So, the objectives have changed, and now as of this hour, as of tonight, the road map from the Indivisible folks have changed -- has changed too. One of the former congressional staffers who wrote this joins us next.
MADDOW: The Indivisible guide was a influential part of how Democrats and liberals approached power and Congress in particular after Trump and the Republicans won power in Washington in the 2016 election. Well, now that we`ve had the midterm elections and the Democrats have taken back some of that power, they`ve taken control of the House.
Indivisible tonight has published version 2.0 of the Indivisible guide. It`s called Indivisible on offense, a practical guide to the new Democratic House.
Joining us now is Ezra Levin. He`s a coauthor of the Indivisible guide. This is his first interview since the new handbook was released tonight.
Mr. Levin, thank you for being here.
EZRA LEVIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INDIVISIBLE PROJECT: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, the last guide was defense basically. It was about how Democrats could stop Republicans and Congress in the Trump administration from getting everything they want given that they had all the levers of power. This one is about offense.
What is the tactical difference?
LEVIN: We are incredibly excited for this tactical difference because the first two years, the last two years that we spent had been on defense, like you`re saying. We didn`t have the House, the Senate or the presidency.
So when we put out the original Indivisible guide, we started from this place of weakness. We knew we didn`t have agenda-setting power. Democrats did not have agenda-setting power. Instead they had the power to respond.
But now that`s different. Because of the House of Representatives, because that House is in control of Democrats` hands, they can go on offense in two key ways. They can go on legislative offense, means they can pass bills. They can introduce bills. They can get co-sponsors. They can choose what gets a vote and they can go into oversight offense.
So, all the stuff that has been going on under this administration in the dark for two years without any real oversight, that ends. Now we can shine a light on it and that`s the big, big difference heading into the next two years.
MADDOW: But in terms of legislative offense, I mean, you say explicitly in the guide that we can safely assume that the vast majority of good legislation passed in the House will die in the Republican controlled Senate. If nothing they pass will become law or policy, then how much offense is that?
LEVIN: So, on legislative, there are two types -- this gets complicated, which is why we put out a guide, right? So, there are two types of legislative offense. One is there are must-pass bills that are going to go through in the next Congress. Things like a budget.
In order for government to keep on running, they`ve got to pass a budget and every budget requires both Republican and Democratic votes. Now, what we`re seeing now is in the House of Representatives, Democrats are going to be able to put their stamp on any budget that goes through. That`s a chance to actually get real wins. Not just pass bills that are going to sit in the Senate. But actually change law.
Now, the second thing is what you`re pointing to here. That a Republican Senate or President Trump is not going to sign a good progressive bill. Look, I think that`s right.
But the next two years are going to be when the Democratic Party debates, what is our policy on the environment? What is our policy on immigration? What is our policy on taxes?
So that when we get control of the House and the Senate and the presidency in 2021, when we have a unified progressive government, we know what our first bill is going to be. The next two years are debating that. And that`s why these legislative vehicles that we`re going to see progressives introduce over the course of the next two years are so important.
MADDOW: In the first guide I think the thing that made it catch on the way that it did -- we talked about this the time that it came out -- was that it was a little bit counterintuitive. You`re telling people don`t pick the worst person in Congress who bugs you the most and then go bug them. You`re only allowed to talk to your own member of Congress because other representatives don`t care what you have to say if you don`t -- they don`t represent you.
But it was also very practical in terms of how to most effectively communicate with and pressure your representative whether they were on your side or not.
Do you feel like at Indivisible, you guys learned anything that you were either doing wrong or that you might have rethought over the past couple years the way that advice was implemented?
LEVIN: Yes. So one thing that we saw early on in the Congress last year is that people were just overwhelmed with a number of folks who were showing up at these Indivisible meetings. If you remember the original guide, we said, you know, if you can get ten people together, that would be great.
LEVIN: We saw some folks with hundreds and then thousands of folks showing up. So figuring out how to take folks who were brand-new to this movement, who had not been engaged in political activism before and teach them how to do the basics of just organizing, how do you develop a leadership structure, how do you build for the long haul, I think that`s what a lot of the first two years were about. The people who have been out in the streets marching and getting behind candidates and registering voters and getting out to vote, they`re not professional political organizers or professional political folks. They`re just people in their communities who are organizing to take back control of their communities.
And so, one of the things we`re trying to emphasize in this new guide is precisely that. This is not going to be something where we just flip the switch and suddenly, we accomplish everything we want to do. We have to fight on our home turf. So the thing that does not change is something you brought up here, which is, look, we`re in a representative democracy and what that means is like them or hate them --
MADDOW: Talk to your own representative.
LEVIN: Talk to your own representative, because your representative is your voice in the House. Your two senators, your voice in the Senate. And that`s where we`re going to have power.
And one of the really exciting things about our moment right now is it doesn`t matter if your member has been there for years, if they were just elected. They sit on subcommittees, they sit on committees that have power over oversight. They can actually launch investigations. They can use hearings in order to really shine a light and that`s what the opportunity is for the next two years.
MADDOW: Indivisible 2.0, Indivisible on offense -- Ezra Levin, thank you. Much appreciated.
LEVIN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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