Carol Leonnig, "Washington Post" reporter and author of "Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service" is interviewed. Today, the Supreme Court announced that they would like to hear arguments on the Mississippi abortion ban. Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights is interviewed.
JEREMY BEN-AMI, PRESIDENT, J STREET: What Zaha is pointing to is this didn`t start on Monday with rockets being fired.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Yeah.
BEN-AMI: This goes back now to the beginning of this occupation in my view that begins in 1967. And if you want to make sure there aren`t future rounds of this violence, you have to deal with an occupation.
HAYES: Jeremy Ben-Ami and Zaha Hassan, thank you both.
That is ALL IN on this Monday night.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
All right. 1901. Over a period of six months from May to November in 1901, Buffalo, New York, hosted the World`s Fair. Fantastic. The Pan-American Exposition it was called. And these things were a huge deal in their day.
Tens of thousands of people would attend on any one day. They really did go on for six months at a time. It wasn`t like a long weekend where they host the World`s Fair. Like it look over your city for almost -- for half a year, for a better part of a year.
On September 5th that year, 1901, the sitting president of the United States, William McKinley visited the World`s Fair in Buffalo. He gave an open air speech in front of 50,000 people. It was as presidential speeches go a pretty big success. It was very well received by that big, big, big crowd.
But it was the world`s fair, which was a huge deal. The president didn`t just go for that one day. He stayed through to the next day, and the next day for President McKinley, the itinerary that day wasn`t another big speech at a podium in front of a big crowd. The next day involved what seems now from our modern perspective to be an unusual thing for a president`s calendar.
His second day of the World`s Fair involved him making an appearance at something called the Temple of Music, which was set up as part of the World`s Fair that year. An at that venue, at the Temple of Music, President McKinley received the public. He did a public reception, like the pope does, right, who goes and receives people.
Come on down. Meet your president, everybody. President McKinley is holding a public reception. People filed through to shake his hand, to talk to him, to meet him.
And at that public reception, President McKinley was assassinated. He was shot twice in the abdomen by a guy who had lined up with all the rest of the public for a chance to get within literally arm`s length of the president. McKinley actually survived the initial aftermath of the shooting, but he was dead by the end of the week.
There is now a monument to President McKinley in Buffalo, New York. I think it`s sort of a big apology. It sits right outside of Buffalo City Hall. It`s a big obelisk, as you can see, like a mini Washington Monument there at the center.
But look at the base of it. Those are carved sleeping lions at the base of the obelisk, which is a little bit of a weird choice, sleeping lions, right? Since lions are basically there to look like fierce protectors of the principle of the obelisk. But they`re asleep. So they`re not doing much protecting.
Before President McKinley was killed at the World`s Fair in Buffalo, before him, it was President James A. Garfield who was killed. Garfield was only four months into his term as president. He was at a train station in Washington, D.C., about to board a train to New England, and an assassin, who had been hiding in the lady`s room at the train station jumped out with a gun and shot hit him twice. Hit Garfield in the arm and hit him in the back.
President Garfield was shot on July 2nd. He languished and eventually died from his wounds more than two months later in September.
Before President McKinley and before President Garfield, though, of course, it was President Lincoln, as in Abraham Lincoln shot at Ford`s Theater in Washington, D.C., shot once in the head. He died instantly.
And as tragic and historic and world-changing as any and all of those events might have been, by the time they got to McKinley, it was getting to be kind of ridiculous, right? By the time they got McKinley in 1901, the United States of America had had three presidents assassinated in 36 years. Which seems like kind of an unsustainable pace, don`t you think? Three sitting presidents shot and killed in 36 years? We`re going to have one killed on average every 12 years?
I mean, that can`t be. After the third one, after McKinley, Congress finally decided that maybe they should take this on. Congress decided that they had an idea what this country should do about this now terrifying prospect for our commanders in chief.
Law enforcement was, of course, a local and state thing at the time, much as it mostly is now today. But in 1901, after McKinley was shot, and Congress was trying to figure out what to do about this problem, there was a small law enforcement team that worked for the federal government, sort of specialized thing. Lincoln had actually ordered the creation of the unit in 1865.
But this was a group of federal agents that had a very limited beat. They were designed to stop counterfeiting and check forging. They were basically a financial crimes squad that worked inside the federal government. They specifically worked for the Treasury Department.
And in 1901, after we`d had three presidents assassinated in 36 years, Congress looked around and said, okay, them. Why not them? A small, low profile anti-counterfeiting unit within the Treasury Department that over the years had had sort of new responsibilities more or less glommed on to that initial remit, but without real -- any official structure to it.
In 1901, Congress decide after three presidents were assassinated in that short period of time that the Secret Service would henceforth be in charge of keeping the president of the United States from being assassinated. Amazingly, though that. They didn`t even really fund them to do it for a few more years after they gave them the job.
As Carol Leonnig writes in her new book on the Secret Service which is called "Zero Fail," she says, quote, Congress added this mission to the Secret Service on the fly, hastily and without a cohesive strategy, only without -- only after McKinley`s death did Congress finally agree to create a security force for the president`s safety. Lawmakers formally assigned the Secret Service to take on this protective full time. But it would take five more years until 1906 for Congress to properly authorize the funds to pay for two-man shifts that would shadow the sitting president around the clock.
And that kind of a pattern would persist to this day. The agency would keep getting more and more and more responsibilities without anybody really thinking through how to organize them to be able to handle these responsibilities, how to make sure they have the resources to handle these responsibilities, and how to fund them and hold them accountable for being well-organized, well-run and getting their job done.
In 1962, Congress passed a law mandating that the Secret Service would have a much enlarged protective role. Not only the president would have full- time Secret Service protection, but the vice president would also receive full-time Secret Service protection. This is passed into law in 1962, right? And you can do the math. This doubles the work, double the responsibilities, double the number of principles they need to protect 24 hours a day.
The Secret Service director at the time went to Congress about that new law and said, okay, if we`re going to comply with this new law so, we`re also going to have to protect the vice president. We`re going need some more agents and some more resources to do that. The agency director at the time asked Congress to please add 35 more agents to the Secret Service, to make them able to protect the vice president as well.
Congress had just passed the law that said you must protect the vice president. But when the Secret Service said, okay, can we have some more agents to do that, Congress said no, no. You can actually have no additional agents, no additional resources. Protect twice the number of principals with the same amount of resource and the same number of personnel that you`ve got now that was 1962.
The following year, of course, disaster struck. November 1963, President Kennedy shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, the fourth U.S. president shot and killed in office. The first one since the Secret Service was put in charge of presidential protection more than 60 years earlier in the aftermath of the McKinley killing. The Kennedy assassination was an international catastrophe. Also, a huge wake-up call about the needs and responsibilities of this agency that was supposed to prevent something like this from happening ever again.
After John f. Kennedy was assassinated, the Secret Service did get a boost in its resources. Its budget increased, new training center for them. They got the ability to hire hundreds of new agents and officers. They went through a big period of expansion.
But it didn`t take long before disaster struck again in 1968, the assassination of then presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, JFK`s brother. After that killing, Bobby Kennedy, presidential candidate in 1968, the Secret Service had its role expanded once again. They would now be not only protecting the president and the vice president, but also major presidential candidates.
And that was around the time that the Secret Service encountered another disaster of a totally different kind, a disaster named Richard Nixon.
For all that the Secret Service is responsible for, for all they have to do and for all the country trusts them with, Richard Nixon found the time and the effort to steal from them, to rip them off, to use them to steal money for himself from the American people. This is astonishing.
In 1969 and 1970, Nixon pressured the Secret Service to approve and pay for expensive purchases and renovations at his private homes in San Clemente, California, and Key Biscayne, Florida. By having the Secret Service label the expenses as necessary for security, Nixon was able to get taxpayers to buy him new den furniture and also fabrics to freshen his decor. He also got them to pay for a new sewer line and a new heating system in his home and to restore a crumbling gazebo that his wife enjoyed.
Nixon and his close friend Bebe Rebozo on the other hand homes near each other in Key Biscayne. Nixon aides asked the Secret Service to pay for a helipad and docking equipment for Mr. Rebozo`s yacht, plus a booster transformer to help power a sauna in his friend`s home. One of the president`s legal assistants later bragged at her success at getting a new exhaust fan for the house fireplace labeled a security expense when Nixon complained that the fireplace did not draft properly.
Dude had the Secret Service foot the bill for his friend`s sauna and buy him a new sewer line and den furniture. I mean, maybe you could make the case that like killers were going to come up through the old sewer line and they needed a better one that was more secure. But the den furniture, really? Was it bulletproof?
Foot that on the Secret Service`s bill. Mama needs a new gazebo. Call that security.
Nixon was astonishing. Nixon at one point had the Secret Service put a wiretap on his own brother as a special personal request from him. Who even knew Nixon had a brother? But yeah, he had a brother and he had the Secret Service install bugs on him so Nixon could spy on his own brother while he was in office.
But that -- that change after 1968, after the Bobby Kennedy assassination and the Secret Service was put in charge of protecting major presidential candidates, that ended up giving Nixon a whole new idea for how he could try to use and corrupts the Secret Service.
1972, segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace had Secret Service protection as a presidential candidate, but Wallace was nevertheless shot while he was campaigning in Laurel, Maryland. And that attack did not kill George Wallace, but it did leave him paralyzed. When Nixon heard about the attempt on George Wallace`s life, he immediately got himself a great idea. He would very quickly insist that because someone had tried to kill George Wallace, Ted Kennedy must also get Secret Service protection. Hmm?
George Wallace, racist segregationist candidate, Ted Kennedy, pro civil rights Boston liberal lion. Why are these things connected? Why is somebody trying to kill George Wallace mean that ted Kennedy needs a Secret Service detail? These things are not connected. Most importantly, Ted Kennedy was not a presidential candidate at all at the time.
The Secret Service had recently had its remit expanded so they were covering not only presidents and vice presidents, but major presidential candidates. Ted Kennedy not a presidential candidate. So why on earth would the Secret Service start protecting him? Well, Nixon insisted that they must. Because he figured, presumably in the aftermath of the Wallace shooting, maybe people were scared and upset and they might go along with something like that.
But more importantly to Nixon, the real reason he wanted to do it is he wanted the Secret Service to be with Ted Kennedy 24 hours a day, seven days a week because he wanted them to spy on Ted Kennedy for him and report back to him because he wanted to find dirt on Ted Kennedy to use against him in the political environment. So Kennedy wouldn`t end up becoming a presidential candidate.
He thought if you put the Secret Service on Ted Kennedy, that would generate enough dirt and leads and stuff to look at for Ted Kennedy that they could keep him away from the presidency forever. Get him a detail.
And Nixon was sure the Secret Service would do that for him. Even had the exact agent picked out that he wanted to lead the detail, because he considered that agent to be a political loyalist who said that he would kill for Nixon if need be. Put that guy on Ted Kennedy.
In 1971, a year before this all happened, Nixon had actually told his chief of staff, it was caught in the Oval Office tapes, he told him, quote, I`d really like to get Kennedy taped. Well, the following year after the George Wallace assassination attempt, Nixon thought he finally figured out how to get that done, using the Secret Service to get him taped. To get the dirt on him that he couldn`t get any other way.
Now, Ted Kennedy initially accepted the offer of Secret Service protection. But after about three weeks, he changed his mind and sent them packing. And now that we know from the historical record what the Secret Service had been sent there to do by Nixon, that seems like it was a fortuitous call.
In 1973, the following year, after Nixon tried to fire his way through the Justice Department to kill off the Watergate investigation, that weekend rash of firings known as the Saturday night massacre, the Secret Service director at the time resigned. The firings were Saturday night. The Secret Service director resigned the following Monday.
Carol Leonnig reports this in "Zero Fail." She says, quote: In private, Director Rowley acknowledged that he left with some deep regrets. He and some of his trusted deputies had resisted as best they could. But Rowley`s method had been to resist quietly without raising a ruckus. He had not been able to stop Nixon from making the Secret Service his tool.
How unnerving is it to think about the Secret Service, given what they do, where they are, the kinds of people and places they have access to, how unserving it is to think of them as a corrupted political agency, there to do political dirty work for one faction in our politics?
The only good news out of the Nixon era of him corrupting the Secret Service for his own purposes is that one of the things that Nixon had them secretly do for him is he had them install a secret taping system in the Oval Office. That would later come in very handy in forcing Nixon out of office in disgrace once the taping system was discovered. I`d never really thought of that taping system in the Oval Office as karma before, but now I do. Now I do.
Carol Leonnig`s new book on the Secret Service is terrifying. "The New York Times" calls it a devastating catalog of jaw-dropping incompetence, ham- fisted mismanagement, and frat boy bacchanalia. In terms of the frat boy bacchanalia part of it, Carol Leonnig started covering the Secret Service in earnest after a 2012 scandal in which 11 Secret Service agents from the advance team that was supposed to be preparing for President Obama to take a trip to Colombia, 11 agents from that team were sent home early after not just a night of heavy drinking and quite an astonishing array of interactions with prostitutes, the whole thing actually came to light when police were called by one of the prostitutes because of a loud dispute in the hallway that erupted when one of the agents didn`t want to actually pay for the services of the prostitute that he had just enjoyed.
So not just drunken hooker escapades, but drunken hooker escapades in which they were trying to get away without paying the hookers, and the cops had to be called to try to get these guys to pay up. That`s who`s in Colombia in Cartagena, preparing for president Obama`s upcoming very dangerous trip.
Carol Leonnig would receive a Pulitzer Prize for some of the reporting on the escapades. That`s one of three she has received. But in "Zero Fail," it is more than just that story in detail.
It`s the facts about the guy who shot an assault rifle into the White House to try to kill President Obama, hitting the White House with multiple bullets while President Obama`s children and his mother-in-law were inside the house. The Secret Service didn`t even start investigating that until days after it happened.
It`s the story of the guy who jumped the fence during the Obama administration and sprinted across the White House lawn and got inside the White House, got inside the East Room of the White House while carrying a knife. They tried very hard to keep the armed with a knife part of that from becoming known.
Its story of the agent on the Obama presidential detail, an agent well- known enough to the president that he used to greet him by his first name every time he saw him, agent who killed himself after it was revealed that he had had an undeclared relationship with a foreign national. After he died, an investigation revealed that he had actually had tons of those relationships with many different women from many different countries. In fact, he led a whole second life that he was keeping secret from his family, which of course is an astonishing blackmail risk. Again, he was on the personal protective detail for president Obama.
Under President Trump, there was the guy who hopped the fence and then spent 17 minutes wandering around inside the White House complex, including walking up to the east front of the White House and jiggling a door handle. It turns out he had two cans of mace in his backpack at the time, 17 minutes before he encountered anybody who stopped him.
Vice President Cheney being rushed to the bunker on 9/11 as they thought an airliner was about to crash into the White House. We`ve all heard that story, right? Not until now did we learn that when they got him down to that bunker, Secret Service agents didn`t actually have the keys to open the bunker and get him inside it. They got him to the door and that was as far as they could go until somebody was finally able to find the keys.
Carol Leonnig`s reporting in this new book has received a bunch of attention because of, among other things, some lurid details about Trump family members allegedly shtupping the agents who were tasked with guarding them. I`m going to leave that aside for now because I value what`s left of my brain and that part makes it burn.
But the larger point, the reason the book is terrifying is because it`s about the Secret Service for a lot of interesting reasons not being very good at what they do. And there is certainly heroism here and there are certainly plots that were foiled, and there are certainly instances of an agency in the moment being well-run and foiling an attack and chasing something down and being on top of stuff. But there is an astonishing litany of stuff that they`ve done wrong and narrow scrapes we have avoid as a country by the skin of our teeth and by sheer luck.
And the idea of the political corruption of the Secret Service, of agents within the Secret Service themselves being a potential threat to their protectees, that is the part that just flips your stomach up and down.
One of the things that Carol Leonnig writes about in this book is the agent from President Trump`s protective detail, that President Trump moved into the White House, took him off his personal protective detail and named him deputy White House chief of staff, whereupon he became effectively a Trump reelection official. His job as Trump`s deputy chief of staff inside the White House was to organize Trump rallies all over the country, including the ones all during the COVID pandemic where 300 Secret Service agents ended up getting infected with COVID.
That guy was on the president`s protective detail. President Trump liked him so much and recognized him as such a political loyalist, he moved him into a political job in the White House. Carol Leonnig in "Zero Fail" reports after the Secret Service especially detailed him to the White House to become a political Trump staffer organizing political Trump rallies, then afterwards they moved him back into the Secret Service where he is assistant director. He is assistant director of the agency that is now tasked with keeping President Biden and Vice President Harris alive.
She also reports on multiple agents saying things on social media in overt support of defending the January 6 attack on the Capitol as a justified use -- a justified display of patriots` anger about the stolen election, active Secret Service agents praising the attack on the capitol as an avenging of a stolen election because Biden`s not the real president. We`re all sort of alarmed by those concepts in public life. It is a different thing to know that those sentiments are being expressed by people within the agency that put men and women with guns at the elbow of Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden today. How does the Biden administration possibly have confidence in that mission under these circumstances?
Joining us now is "Washington Post" reporter Carol Leonnig. She is the author of the new book "Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service."
Ms. Leonnig, congratulations on this new book. Thank you so much for being here tonight on the eve of your pub date. I really appreciate you taking the time.
CAROL LEONNIG, AUTHOR, "ZERO FAIL": Thanks for hitting all the really important points of the book, Rachel. You know, you supported this reporting early on. You focused on it way back in 2014. And I`m glad to be here to share everything else I`ve learned since then.
MADDOW: Well, thank you for saying that. First of all, I`m going to hold up the book so people can key on what it look linebackers too, because you should buy it. This is one of those books that will go down as sort of the seminal work, the determinative work in this field.
I have to say, Carol, more than any other individual anecdote, or any individual scare that I read about in the book, all of which have stuck with me, more than that, I am struck by a gnawing fear that this agency, for all sorts of interesting and explicable reasons isn`t that good at what they do, that they`re kind of a hot mess. And it makes me fearful for the current administration. I have to ask if that`s where you have also landed overall in taking this deep look at this agency.
LEONNIG: Yes. I fear that the reason, the compulsion to write this book was because, you know, I landed in this beat by accident. I was covering what was then the most humiliating scandal in the Secret Service`s history, the hooker-gate of Cartagena, agents having prostitutes in their room, getting smashed, you know, while they`re supposed to be securing the city for President Obama`s arrival.
But what I found in talking to these agents and meeting more of them and meeting more of them, there is much something much more horrifying behind that curtain, and they really feared the president would be shot and killed on their watch. They knew they were being run ragged. They knew their tools were outdated. And they couldn`t deliver on what they knew was a zero fail mission.
They can`t lose one time and yet they`re gasping to try to keep up.
MADDOW: You report that on that last point that I was discussing, that the Biden administration went so far as to ask for the entire presidential detail to be switched out essentially between the Trump administration and the Biden administration, in part because of the worries that at least some elements of the Secret Service may have been corrupted, may have been brought over to one political side during the Trump administration.
What can you tell us about that request and how that was ultimately resolved?
LEONNIG: There were transition advisers who were having informal conversations with people they knew inside the Secret Service, people they knew from previous times, agents who protected Biden when he was vice president. And what they were hearing was making their skin crawl. There were people who were supervisors on the detail who had MAGA hats in their offices. There were agents on the protective detail who were all wearing red ties on the day of the election in solidarity with President Trump.
And as you`ve shared from my book, there were social media postings in which, again, members of the presidential protection division were championing and cheering the attack on the Capitol, questioning whether or not President Biden, President-elect Biden at that point was legitimately elected.
You know, if the most elite protection agency in the world is questioning whether or not Biden is president, there is a reason to be concerned, at least on the part of the transition advisers about whether he is safe in their arms.
At the end of the day, the Secret Service did change many of the supervisors of that detail, many of them to install people that Joe Biden knew from previous eras from when he was vice president so he would have some comfort of the familiar, comfort of people that had protected him in the past and protected Jill Biden in the past.
MADDOW: What was the ultimate disposition of the Secret Service official agent who was moved into the Trump White House to take a political role and then moved right back into the Secret Service as if he could still then play some sort of nonpartisan technocratic role? I had known something about that story. I had not known that he had moved back to the Secret Service as an assistant director.
LEONNIG: He`s an assistant director for training. He`s very close to the director, the current director, Jim Murray. At the president`s request, at President Trump`s request, he liked his detail leader so much, Tony Ornato, that he asked him to be almost temporarily assigned on a detail as the deputy White House chief of staff.
In that role, the deputy chief of staff and former Secret Service leader was key in clearing the Lafayette Park outside the White House for the June 1 march that the president had to show how tough he was and that he was a law and order president prevailing over the protesters of George Floyd`s murder. He -- that same deputy White House chief of staff was critical in planning the president`s rallies as COVID spiked. And that ultimately led to 300 Secret Service officers and agents that summer either contracting COVID or being exposed to COVID so they had to quarantine away from their coworkers.
It was sort of an amazing thing. It infuriated so many Secret Service alumni because this is an agency that prides itself on objectivity, political independence. As they say in the agency, you know, the people elect them. We just protect them. But in this instance, you had a Secret Service leader working as a political entity and arm of President Trump.
MADDOW: Yeah. It`s one thing to think about somebody ex-Secret Service then taking on a political role. It`s a whole another thing if that person finishes that and goes back to the Secret Service. That`s the part of it that just seems impossible and intolerable.
Carol Leonnig, "Washington Post" reporter, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, the author of "Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service" which comes out tomorrow.
Carol, thank you for this public service and congratulations on an incredible accomplishment here. I learned a ton. I`m terrified. Thank you.
LEONNIG: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: In 2013, the Republican-controlled legislature in the state of Arkansas passed into law what at the time was the most restrictive abortion ban in the entire country, a blanket ban on abortion in Arkansas after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Before it went into effect, though, two doctors in Arkansas sued the state saying the ban was unconstitutional. The courts agreed. A federal court and then a federal appeals court ruled Arkansas`s new abortion plan was in fact unconstitutional. The bill was struck down. It never became law.
Access to abortion in this country is a constitutional right, established by the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, upheld subsequently by other court decisions that have by and large protected that constitutional right. The abortion ban that Arkansas Republicans were so happy to pass in 2013, that was outside the bounds of what is constitutionally allowed in terms of regulating abortion in this country.
The Republicans in Arkansas absolutely knew that when they passed it, but they tried anyway, because they wanted to test it, because no matter what is going on in the Republican Party, the one thing Republicans do consistently and cohesively all over the country with focus and with purpose is that they constantly try to pass new abortion bans through their state legislatures. And they do it all the time. And every single time the outcome is the same.
Two weeks after Arkansas Republicans passed their 12-week ban, North Dakota Republicans passed a ban on abortions after six weeks. That was also stopped by a court. It was ruled unconstitutional.
In 2018, it was Iowa signing another one of these six-week bans into law, stop bade court, a federal judge ruling it unconstitutional.
Six-week bans on abortion passed into law by Republican legislatures in Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and one by one, one after another, federal judges have blocked all of those abortion bans passed in all of those states, because they are, say it with me now, unconstitutional.
The Guttmacher Institute tracks abortion legislation. They say that 16 different Republican led states have recently tried to enact bans on abortion that are bans that would not be allowed under the constitutional standards set in Roe v. Wade. In all 16 of those states, those bills have been blocked by the courts as unconstitutional, because that`s how it works. That`s how it works, until it doesn`t.
One of the states that has passed a ban that Republican legislators know is unconstitutional is Mississippi. 2018, the Republican governor of Mississippi signed one of these abortion ban bills. In Mississippi, it`s a ban on all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
And like all the others, the bill was smacked down by the courts. It was overturned on the basis of the fact that it`s unconstitutional to put that kind of ban on abortion access given the Supreme Court standard in Roe v. Wade that protects a woman`s constitutional right to get an abortion in this country if she wants one.
For the legal fight over this bill to continue, though, the Supreme Court would have to take it up. And it is up to the Supreme Court to decide what cases they take and what they don`t. And as recently as 2016, the Supreme Court passed on the opportunity to take up any of the lower court`s decisions on any of those abortion bans in any other states. They let those lower court rulings stand, which all said those abortion bans were unconstitutional.
As recently as 2016, the Supreme Court was no, we`re not going get involved in this. We`re not going to get involved in revisiting decades of precedent on this issue. The lower courts have correctly decided these cases. We`ll stay out of it that is how it`s gone, until today.
Today, the Supreme Court announced that they would please like to hear arguments on the Mississippi abortion ban. Now often when they`re deciding to hear a case, the Supreme Court looks at whether there might have been conflicting rulings in two different lower courts so, they have to step in because they have to settle the conflict, because two different appeals courts said two different things.
That is not the case here. Every lower court that has ruled on this case has declared the Mississippi abortion ban to be unconstitutional. There is no conflict between courts here. On the contrary, there is an unbroken record of these kinds of laws consistently being overturned, one after the other in courts all over the country in liberal places, in conservative places, everywhere.
And it`s because there is a clear constitutional line on these things. You can`t make abortion impossible to get. Roe v. Wade says you can`t ban it.
But now the Supreme Court says actually, these lower court rulings on the Mississippi ban, we`d like to look at those. If they overturn those lower court rulings, and they decide that Mississippi is allowed to ban abortion this way, that will throw decades of established precedent out the window and Roe versus Wade will start to fall.
States all over the country will be allowed to pass laws that mimic the 15- week Mississippi ban, if Mississippi`s ban is allowed to stay on the books. The Mississippi abortion clinic in this case, they`re represented by lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights.
And those lawyers are warning tonight that overturning Roe is the whole point. They say they are prepared for the fight which has brought them to the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court. They`re asking is the country ready for what`s about to happen here.
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: The morning of March 23rd, 2015, an employee who worked at Mississippi`s one last remaining abortion clinic showed up for work that day. This is what she found. Security cameras ripped off the walls and expensive generator that the clinic had been mandated by law to have, it had been vandalized. The alarm was going off inside the clinic.
This was the security camera footage that we aired that night on this show, showing what appears to be the person who attacked the clinic for something that looks like a hatchet just before the cameras all went dark. After that attack in 2015, one of in the clinic has endured, that one last abortion clinic in Mississippi stayed open. The people who worked there painted it this bright Pepto-Bismol pink as a symbol to the world they`re not going to be scared out of doing their jobs. They`re not going to cower. They adopted the defiant motto "this clinic stays open."
Now that clinic, the Jackson Women`s Health Organization, is the center of a Supreme Court case that would not just target that one clinic. It would end the right to abortion in this country as we know it, if proponents get their way.
Joining us is one of the people involved in that fight. Nancy Northup is the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The case against Mississippi`s abortion ban that was just accepted by the Supreme Court today was brought by her organization.
Ms. Northup, thank you for being here. I appreciate your time.
NANCY NORTHUP, PRESIDENT & CEO, CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: Thank you for having me. It`s important.
MADDOW: Let me ask you why you think the Supreme Court has chosen today to make this decision.
NORTHUP: Well, I think, Rachel, you set it up exactly right. It is alarming that the Supreme Court took the decision today to take the case from Mississippi. Mississippi passed this law in open defiance of all Supreme Court precedent going back to Roe v. Wade. So we`re talking about almost 50 years.
And they did it as a test case to try to get the Supreme Court to take it and overturn Roe v. Wade. And, you know, there is no way that the Supreme Court can rule in this case for the state of Mississippi without in fact gutting the core protections of Roe`s core holdings. And, you know, that is going to upset of Roe v. Wade, we are looking at about 50 states -- I should say half of the 50 states in this country that would recriminalize abortion and ban abortion. Many are poised now to do that with their trigger bans.
And 70 percent of the U.S. population wants abortion to be safe and legal. So this would be a radical move by the Supreme Court. We simply can`t let it happen.
MADDOW: Is this a story that is already foretold? Is the decision by the Supreme Court to take up this case essentially them communicating what their ultimate ruling is going to be, lore it matter how it`s argued and the way the justices determine this amongst themselves in terms of how this is going go? Do you feel like you already know how this is going to end?
NORTHUP: Absolutely not. We absolutely do not think that the fact that it takes just four justices to want to grant a Supreme Court review of the case. Of course, it takes five justices to render a decision. And look, it`s going to be a tough case.
We won a Supreme Court case, the center for reproductive rights back in June of 2020, less than a year ago. But of course the court has changed since then, the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the rushed confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
But nevertheless, for 50 years the Supreme Court has recognized that this highly personal decision about whether or not to continue a pregnancy is a decision for the individual to make prior to viability. And they have reaffirmed that again and again and again. So, this is one of those precedents upon precedent. But not only, that it is part of the entire fabric of constitutional protections or this zone of decision making.
So it`s not just this case about abortion. It`s about the constitutional protections around who we marry, the decisions we make about our families and decisions about contraception. So the court can`t just pull out one thread. And I think when this case is briefed and argued in the Supreme Court, it`s going to be clear both what the stakes are for a radical -- you know, this is taking rights away. This isn`t a case about looking at a new right, but taking away a right that has been protected for 50 years. But also, what it would do to the entire fabric of the constitutional law.
So we will be making that case to the Supreme Court. And we absolutely also need the public out there making their case that they are not going backwards. We are not going backwards on rights protection in the United States.
MADDOW: Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights -- thanks for helping us understand the stakes here. I know is a huge, huge day in something you`ve made your life`s work. Thanks for helping us understand that, Nancy.
NORTHUP: Thank you for following it.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have now entered week two of this increasingly bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas. Today marks the eighth day of air strikes and rocket barrages that have killed hundreds and wounded more than a thousand people in the region, the overwhelming majority of them in the Palestinian territories. Gaza`s health ministry today reported 212 Palestinians have been killed so far including 61 kids. Israeli officials report at least ten Israeli civilians including two kids have died from Hamas rocket attacks.
Tonight, after meeting with his top security officials, Israel` Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country`s defense forces will, quote, continue to strike terror targets in Gaza. He said they would do so, quote, as long as necessary to return calm to Israeli citizens.
The situation stretching into its second week like this feels, of course, both horrific and hopeless. Of course, to the extent that there is hope here it`s that a diplomatic breakthrough of some kind can arise, can somehow bring an end to this crisis. On that front, President Biden and President Netanyahu spoke today for the second time in three days.
There`s a White House readout of the latest call. President Biden in that readout reaffirmed his belief in previous statements that Israel has a right to self-defense but also for the first time he expressed his support for a ceasefire.
Now, Biden and Netanyahu have known each other for decades, since 1980s. They reportedly consider themselves to be friends despite their relationship getting particularly thorny during the Obama administration. In 2014, Biden went out of his way during a speech to the Jewish Federations of North America to say despite their differences he and Netanyahu were, quote, still buddies. He told the crowd, quote, Bibi, I don`t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you.
Today, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki asserted that the administration`s approach to this conflict is to try to end it through, quote, quiet, intensive diplomacy. So far that has not been nearly, nearly enough. But with no end in sight yet, watch this space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK SELLERS, MARICOPA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: This board is done explaining anything to these people who are playing investigator.
STEPHEN RICHER, MARICOPA COUNTY RECORDER: The defamatory lies need to stop. It needs to stop.
BILL GATES, MARICOPA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: It`s time to say enough is enough. It is time to push back on the big lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Enough is enough. That was the unified message today from the Republican majority board of supervisors in Maricopa County, Arizona. The Republicans on that board called a public meeting today to say enough is enough with this cuckoo for cocoa puffs so-called audit of the 2020 presidential election results from Maricopa County.
The Republican majority board unanimously approved a letter calling for the Arizona Senate Republicans to put a stop to this whole conspiracy theory stoking exercise, which has now been going on for more than three weeks. They said, quote, it`s time to end this for the good of the senate, for the good of the country, and for the good of the Democratic institutions that define us as Americans.
One of the elections officials you saw at that meeting who has clearly had enough is Maricopa County recorder Steven Richer. He`s going to be joining the great Lawrence O`Donnell tonight in just a few minutes to talk about it. You will want to see that.
That`s going to do it for me. I will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.