Interview with Deanne Criswell, FEMA administrator, in charge of federal disaster response. Interview with California Congresswoman Judy Chu, lead sponsor of the bill to protect abortion access which Speaker Pelosi has promised to take up later this month in the House.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
There are fires on the West Coast, there is the storm in the Northeast, and the hurricane aftermath in Louisiana.
We are in a multiple split screen moment of multiple, gigantic, climate driven disasters across huge swaths of the United States tonight. The West is spotted with multiple fires, particularly in the state of California, where more than a dozen large fires are burning tonight as we speak. The two biggest fires are the Dixie Fire and the Caldor Fire. They are so large they became the first fires in recorded history to burn from one side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range to the other.
The Dixie Fire is only about an hour northeast of the Camp Fire. You remember when the camp fire burned multiple towns to the ground in 2018? That felt like the worst that it could get?
Dixie is -- has already burned 1,400 square miles of land. Dixie has destroyed nearly 600 homes. It`s only about half contained at the moment. It is the second largest fire in California history.
The Caldor Fire, just outside of Lake Tahoe, has destroyed even more homes, at least 622 homes and counting. It is raging right now toward even more populated areas. Only about 25 percent of the Caldor Fire is contained.
Both of those fires have multiple evacuation orders and warnings in place. The fire season is just unrelenting and merciless. Firefighters working in basically inhuman conditions now for weeks on end fighting unprecedented fire after unprecedented fire. Just a huge devotion of resources, human and otherwise, and so far no end in sight.
In the Northeast, we have watched all day as the death toll has climbed from the floods that left behind by the trailing ends of Hurricane Ida last night. This is Hurricane Ida`s remnants hitting the most densely populated part of the country. As it stands right now we are at a death toll of 42 people in the Northeast. Many of them unable to leave ground level or basement level apartments when the floods hit so suddenly. Lots of other people trapped in their cars as water on the roads became more like rivers.
Again, that is a huge death toll already, 42 already. We expect that to continue to climb. The state of Pennsylvania reports doing thousands of water rescues last night.
The New York City Fire Department reported doing hundreds of water rescues just within New York City, itself. Buses and subway platforms in New York flooded to the point that public transit shut down. That left people stranded on flooded platforms and on subway cars wherever they were.
Central Park at New York City set a record last night for the most rain Central Park has ever recorded in a single hour. The previous record was set last month. But over 3 inches an hour in Central Park? They call them flash floods for a reason. People who were going about their lives in the Northeast were really not expecting this last night. As I say, the death toll continues to climb.
In the South, Ida hit on Sunday as a category 4 hurricane. The impact was bad enough from the initial sledge hammer blow of the storm including its very high winds. But the danger to human life and the misery in the wake of Ida has gotten worse with each passing day since the storm left. Some electric power is slowly being restored in the state of Louisiana, but we are still at nearly a million homes and businesses without power. That is a huge number of Americans coping in very difficult conditions. Some parts of Louisiana are still looking at potentially a month before the lights come back on.
We have talked to two parish officials in two southeast Louisiana counties in the past couple nights on this show both from St. John`s Parish and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana told us their parishes right now are bluntly uninhabitable.
Without power, fuel has become all the more important. Even hospitals are still relying on generators for power. That is not a long term solution. That is a stop-gap.
Nearly two-thirds of gas stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans were out of fuel today. You need fuel to power your generator. The line at one Costco in New Orleans where they did still have fuel today, that line was 2 miles long. All of this while the National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory, heat index of 107 degrees today in New Orleans.
Again, I can`t stress this enough. I don`t want you to glide past it. This is a disaster in Louisiana that is getting worse by the day now not better. Even as the federal government and the state just pours resources in to try to get basic infrastructure back up and running the scale of the devastation means it is really slow going. And this means our fellow Americans, thousands and thousands of our fellow Americans are right now in day four of increasingly unlivable conditions in big swaths of southeastern Louisiana right now.
President Biden is headed to Louisiana tomorrow. Today, he did not mince words about what is happening with the concurrent and compounding disasters and what we need to do to get more resilient against these kinds of things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The past few days of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires in the west and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here. We need to be better prepared. We need to act. When Congress returns this month, I`m going to press for their action on my Build Back Better plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Build Back Better plan he is referencing there is the president`s two-part, multi trillion dollar infrastructure package, a huge part of which is funding and getting our roads and bridges and electrical grids prepared for these kinds of disasters. But, yeah.
About that, today, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin published an op-ed on the conservative editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal" explaining why he doesn`t feel like voting for the climate focused part of the package. Good timing, Senator.
With or without that funding log jammed in Washington by Republicans and Joe Manchin, we do still have the multiple, ongoing crises we`re facing right now to take care of, and that all takes a ton of resources and a ton of coordination.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: There`s a lot of damage, and I made clear to the governors that my team at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, is on the ground and ready to provide all the assistance that`s needed. In fact, our FEMA director/administrator, Deanna Criswell, will -- was a chief federal response officer after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. She knows what to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The name President Biden sort of coughed over there was Deanne Criswell. She is the FEMA administrator. She`s the head of FEMA, in charge of federal disaster response. In the midst of all of this, all of these overlapping and compounding disasters right now, she joins us now here live.
Administrator Criswell, you have a million things to be doing right now. Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to be here with us.
DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you, Rachel. Thanks for having the time to have me.
MADDOW: How much harder is it to get any one of these disaster responses right when you have so many to respond to all at the same time?
CRISWELL: You know, as you were just stating, the impacts that we`re seeing from these severe storms continue to grow. We`re seeing the storms intensify rapidly. Hurricane Ida, she caused destruction across four of our regions and nine states. You know, we have a good force. They`ve been working hard to support our COVID response. And we are prepared to support all of the needs that are going to come out of the disaster and the damages that Hurricane Ida has left.
MADDOW: With your experience with Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast, which we just heard President Biden reference there talking about you today I just have to ask you based on looking at what happened last night and as you say the speed at which Ida came upon the Northeast right now surprising many people particularly in the tri-state area, how do you think this sort of walloping by Hurricane Ida last night compares to what we saw with Sandy?
CRISWELL: You know, no two storms are alike. And there`s a lot of differences between Sandy and Ida. I mean, Sandy had a lot of warning, right? More warning watching the storm approach from the Atlantic. We knew that this storm was going to bring severe rain and thunderstorms and tornadoes, we just didn`t know where it was going to happen until it moved over the Northeast.
So we`re seeing damages. We are seeing a lot of destruction right now in New Jersey and New York but also Philadelphia and Maryland. And we`re going to be able to support the state as they find their needs and we`ll bring in the resources to help them with their recovery.
MADDOW: I`ve been looking at the releases from FEMA tonight about the incident management teams fanning out, you know, five of them in Louisiana, two of them in Mississippi, but now also New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania. I know that FEMA`s got I think more than a thousand employees in Louisiana and Mississippi alone supporting the hurricane aftermath there. I have to tell you though as this week has gone on, looking at the conditions on the ground, it doesn`t feel like enough.
I am worried about how long hospitals in Louisiana can stay on generator power particularly given the fact that there was no slack in the system due to the huge surge in very sick COVID patients. How long can people live in the dark and heat?
I know there is no estimate as to when the power is coming back on in a lot of places.
But what else can be done?
CRISWELL: We are prepared and planning for the power to be out for several weeks. With the thousand employees FEMA has on the ground FEMA is just one part of the team. We also have resources in from all of the federal agencies that are supporting this, from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, the Army Corps of Engineers. They are also providing support to the critical infrastructure needs to help them with that.
Hospitals are the priority. I was with the governor a few days ago and he has made it very clear that supporting the hospitals is the priority. While they are on generators, we also have additional resources, additional generators that can come in and support if we find any trouble with the ones the hospitals have.
MADDOW: Tell me honestly here. Is there anything that you`re asking for that FEMA thinks it needs particularly for the Louisiana response which I`m so worried about, is there anything that you`re asking for that you`ve been told to which you`ve been told no? Any resources you`ve requested that you have been turned down for?
CRISWELL: No, not at all. We have the full force, the full support of the entire federal family. President Biden has been very clear that whatever Louisiana needs for its response and recovery, that we`ll be able to provide.
MADDOW: I know you are heading to Louisiana tomorrow with President Biden. What is your top priority for that visit? Why is it important to get the president himself down there to see things with his own eyes?
CRISWELL: Well, I think it is always important for our leaders to see exactly what`s going on on the ground so they can, you know, if they do find struggles, right, that they can relate to the people and have that understanding of what they`re struggling with. So, we can keep pushing those resources in. Having President Biden go see for himself is just a demonstration of the leadership that he wants to provide that the government is behind them and we`re going to bring what they need to help with their recovery.
MADDOW: FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, this is an offer I made to some of our officials dealing with the COVID crisis early on in the administration. I make it to you here as well. If you get told no, if there is something you need for response and you run into bottlenecks, please tell the public. Please tell us and let us tell the country because there is so much support for what you need to do and if you hit bottlenecks, public pressure can help.
CRISWELL: No, I understand it, and I appreciate that offer, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Thank you. Good luck. Good luck.
CRISWELL: Thank you.
MADDOW: Deanne Criswell is the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Biden.
You know, at times like this it is sometimes helpful to remember that the news gods just do this to us sometimes. They give us too much to handle. I think they enjoy it.
Too much to handle. Too much to follow. Too much to absorb. Certainly too much to report on in any sort of orderly fashion. I can prove it to you.
Today, we went back and looked up in the archives the broadcast from NBC Nightly News the night that Roe versus Wade was first decided by the Supreme Court in January, 1973. It`s not like we know now Roe was a big deal but at the time they didn`t recognize it. No. At the time they knew it was a huge deal.
Abortion was a really controversial thing then as it is now. In 1973, abortion was illegal in most states in the country. But the Roe decision came down like a lightning bolt and Roe meant of a sudden, overnight, legal abortion everywhere for all American women. It was a huge deal. They knew it was a huge deal when it happened.
So, I was expecting one thing when I went back and looked in the archives as to what NBC "Nightly News" was like that night. I was wrong. Given what a big deal it was and how big they knew it was at the time, I will tell you, I was shocked to learn that that Supreme Court decision, January, 1973, did not come up in that night`s network news broadcast until 11 minutes in, 11 minutes in to their 30-minute broadcast.
And then even when they tried to bring it up, it got pushed down by further breaking news.
Now, what was going on is that this was two days after Nixon had just been inaugurated for a second term. So that was going on. The first 11 minutes of the newscast that night was about the Paris peace talks to supposedly end the Vietnam War. That takes them through the first 11 minutes of the broadcast. In the middle of minute 11, they try to get to the roe vs. Wade decision, but more breaking news comes in on the phone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR: We have just received a bulletin from "The Associated Press" from Texas that reports that former President Lyndon Johnson is dead. Lyndon Johnson has died. According to the bulletin, former President Lyndon Johnson, he was 64 years old, has died according to his press secretary. The report only says that Johnson was stricken at his ranch in Texas. He died this afternoon at Brooke General Hospital.
Repeating that bulletin that just arrived, former President Lyndon Johnson is dead of a heart attack at the age of 64. We`ll have more details in the program as we get them.
The other major story today, aside from the death of Lyndon Johnson, the tragic death and the hopes for peace in Vietnam, is the decision of the United States Supreme Court that handed down an historic decision about abortion. The court said in a 7-2 decision that in the first three months of pregnancy, only the woman and her physician may decide whether she may have an abortion. In the second three months, all the state may do is regulate abortion procedures. And only in the final three months of pregnancy can the state forbid abortion. The court ruled in cases from Texas and Georgia but all 50 states are affected whatever their laws.
BETTY ROLLIN, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Today`s decision came as a shock to both anti and pro-abortionist forces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it means that January 22nd, 1973, will stand out as one of the great days for freedom and free choice. This allows a woman free choice as to whether to remain pregnant. This is extraordinary.
ROLLIN: For some women, this law will mean the difference between having an abortion or not. For many others the law will mean simply having the abortion in their own state instead of traveling to another state like New York. This New York clinic for example reports that 48 percent of its patients are from out of the state.
From the beginning pro abortionist forces have seen this issue as a question of freedom of an individual`s choice. The freedom to have an abortion is now legal in every state. The basic legal fight is in effect over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Basic fight is in effect over. Well, it was over. It was over -- from then, 1973, until yesterday.
It`s amazing to see though. That is NBC reporter Betty Rollin, almost having her front page top of the broadcast story kicked entirely out of "Nightly News" because the day that Roe vs. Wade was decided was also a day that included the shocking death of former President Lyndon Johnson at age 64 and also maybe the end of the Vietnam War with the Paris peace talks, and also day three of a new presidency and also everything else.
I mean, the news gods sometimes do this. I can empathize because now 48 years down the road, we get the other book end on that shelf, right? Now we get the end of Roe vs. Wade, the end of legal abortion access being guaranteed in America arriving simultaneously with the harrowing and overdue end of the Afghanistan war, while also fires like no one has ever seen before rage in California, while also a hurricane kills dozens of people in the Northeast and floats away Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn and New Jersey and Philly, after that same storm swamped over a million Americans into days if not weeks without power and running water and extreme heat in the South, while also an out of control never before seen pandemic races us towards 700,000 Americans dead with over a thousand Americans dying every day now again.
I mean, it is enough to make you question your life choices you know? It is enough to make you wish the country might have taken a harder line along the way for people who tried to make sure government is ill-equipped and underresourced and derided and undermined in its abilities to tackle serious problems and surprise crises when they arrive. It is enough to make you think.
Today in response to the Supreme Court`s ruling, late last night, not just letting the Texas abortion bill stand but now saying we`re letting the Texas abortion bill stand ending the protection of Roe vs. Wade, today, President Biden made a substantive statement not just criticizing the decision but saying both what is wrong with the decision and what he plans to do about it. You may have heard he made a statement about this today. It is worth actually checking what he said here.
Quote, the Supreme Court`s ruling overnight is an unprecedented assault on a woman`s constitutional rights under Roe vs. Wade which has been the law of the land for almost 50 years. By allowing a law to go into effect that empowers private citizens in Texas to sue health care providers, family members supporting a woman exercising her right to choose, or even a friend who drives her to the hospital or clinic, it unleashes un-constitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts.
Complete strangers will now be empowered to inject themselves in the most private and personal health decisions faced by women. This law is so extreme it doesn`t even allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest and not only empowers complete strangers to inject themselves into the most private of decisions made by a woman it actually incentivizes them to do so with the prospect of a $10,000 bounty if they win their case.
For the majority of the Supreme Court to do this without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below, and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts.
The impact of last night`s decision will be immediate and it requires an immediate response.
The president says, quote, I am directing my gender policy council and the White House counsel`s office to launch a whole of government effort to respond to this decision, looking specifically to the Department of Health and Human Services and to the Department of Justice to see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas` bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.
President Biden saying he wants a whole of government response to this catastrophe in women`s rights in Texas. I have questions. First of all, what can the federal government actually do? What can those agencies, President Biden singled out, Health and Human Services, the Justice Department, what can they do that might make a difference?
Also, what does it mean? What should we infer from the fact that President Biden has put, interestingly, his White House counsel in charge of leading this whole of government effort? What does that say about how he intends to fight and what resources he thinks he can bring to bear?
Also, now that Texas has been allowed to ban abortion in this specific way, should we expect that all the red states in the country will just Xerox the Texas law and thereby put their own copy cat abortion bans into place as well?
Is the Supreme Court giving Republican-controlled states the green light to ban abortion that way all across the country? South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, for example, has already said today that she plans to do just that.
Here`s a related question. The ruling last night says explicitly the justices are not saying one way or the other whether Texas` abortion ban is constitutional or not. The ruling says they`re just letting it go into effect regardless of whether or not it is constitutional.
Does that mean that Texas` ban is only going to stand temporarily? Or should we expect it to stand for the foreseeable future?
Here is another very practical question. In the pre-Roe era like in that NBC News clip from 1973, women who could afford to, would leave their home state where abortion was outlawed and travel to a place like New York or California to get an abortion because it was legal in those states. We see that starting again already. Clinics nearby to Texas including in Oklahoma today said as of today they`re getting an influx of Texas women patients.
But does the vigilante bounty hunter part of this law also put that at risk? Will the vigilante snitch on your neighbor, sue your neighbor over her medical procedures part of this law, will that be used to target people who donate money or otherwise help women leave their state to go get an abortion elsewhere? Practical question.
Here is a Washington question. Democrats in the White House responded to the Supreme Court today by saying they plan to codify roe into law. They say they`ll try to pass a law through the House and the Senate and have President Biden sign it. Even if they can do that, Senator Joe Manchin notwithstanding, would it help? Or would the court not only undo Roe but also kill a law like that?
And here is one last question. It does now feel inevitable the same Supreme Court will go the full nine yards and formally repeal Roe this fall with this Mississippi case they`re going to hear, beyond what they did yesterday, which was just to quietly gut Roe without admitting that`s what they were doing. When that happens, I used to think if that happens but now I`m thinking when that happens. When they formally overturn Roe, how much worse will that make things? And if we`re expecting that what should we do now to plan for it?
Questions as you can see I have a lot. But answers, we have them next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Can we put those little questions back up on the screen? We have the ability to do that. Squeeze them up there. Thank you.
I am not a lawyer. I do not even pretend to be one on TV. But I do have questions about the law. About the United States Supreme Court putting us back in the days of abortion being illegal in this country.
And at least for right now, that list of questions includes these. President Biden says he is going to mount a whole of government response to defend women`s rights. What does that mean? What could he do? Is it important that he is putting his White House counsel in charge of that effort? Is that significant?
Also, should we expect all the red states to now copy the Texas ban since the Supreme Court has allowed it to become law? Is this going to be true in every other red state now?
How is the Supreme Court only legalized the Texas ban or allowed the Texas ban to stand on a temporary basis? Or should we expect it to stay in place indefinitely?
Also, since we are now back in a world where some states ban abortion, it is one now but I`m guessing more soon, can women get help to leave abortion banned states so they can travel to a state that will let them get an abortion or does the bounty hunter, vigilante parts of the Texas law be used against any of us who would donate money or otherwise provide help to a woman to cross state lines?
Could a new federal law on abortion rights help? Democrats say that is what they plan to do. Even if they can do that, would it help? And is worse coming? And if so, how do we prepare for it?
Joining us now is someone who has talked me off many a legal ledge over the years. Tonight, I think we might possibly be standing on that ledge together, however. Dahlia Lithwick is senior editor at slate.com.
Dahlia, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, SENIOR EDITOR AT SLATE.COM: Hi, Rachel. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: First of all, let me give you the option. You have special privileges here on this show. Do you want to throw all these questions out? Are these at least close to the right ones to be asking or are they not?
LITHWICK: They are good -- I will tell you when you threw them up on the screen again I had the most wicked flashback to issue spotter exams in my first year of law school and my heart started pounding. I`m in law school. I can do it. Let`s power through.
I will say that the questions about, you know, the Women`s Health Protection Act and the potential legislation and what can be done, I mean, I know that`s what Nancy Pelosi is pushing. That`s what Biden is talking about, President Biden I`m sorry, but I think we should be really clear, a, it doesn`t seem that that has support in the Senate. I think you said Joe Manchin not with standing. And I think there is a larger question buried somewhere in one of your questions about whether the Supreme Court would just turn around and strike it down.
So, you know, we can certainly talk about codifying Roe, which has been I think the answer to this but it is not at all clear to me, A, that happens in the Senate and, B, that the Supreme Court tolerates it.
MADDOW: Okay. After we speak with you tonight we`re going to be speaking with the sponsor of the Women`s Health Protection Act to try to get her take on that. She`s been -- Congressman Judy Chu has been introducing this proposed law year after year after year and we`ll talk to her about exactly those points because she thinks this is a beachhead and a way to do it. So, we`ll get back to that later in the show.
But let me ask you about the federal government part of it. I mean, President Biden said today he didn`t just condemn what the Supreme Court did. He said he wants a whole of government response. He specifically called out the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department and he put his White House counsel in charge of it.
Do any of those raise your interest in terms of something the federal government might be able to do they haven`t previously done?
LITHWICK: Look, I am absolutely delighted if Joe Biden want put together a whole government response. My sense is, look, this should have been happening from inauguration day where we had clinics in Louisiana, Mississippi, places where women were all but losing access. These are protections that are long, long overdue. By the way, that goes back to the Obama administration.
So absolutely anything that can be done, robust protections for women`s reproductive care, you`re not going to get me to pooh-pooh it. I am going to say, Rachel, the thing I`ve been saying to you for years which is this is a courts problem. And in my view where the rubber hits the road has to be thinking very, very seriously about structural court reform, what we do about courts that take it upon themselves to nullify roe in the dark of night. I don`t think these problems can be solved as a sort of whole government response and then say we`ll kick it over to the court commission and hope that they make a recommendation that in 27 years we can do to reform the courts.
MADDOW: Could that court commission take this more seriously from what you know about President Biden -- for our viewers who haven`t been following this closely there has been a serious proposal promoted with increasing urgency that the Supreme Court should be expanded and that other potential reforms to the way the Supreme Court operates and the way it is constituted ought to be seriously considered because of the way that Republicans in particular have really stacked the deck to make that court their own play thing.
President Biden formed a court commission to study the matter and as you say, you know, somewhat facetiously, we can`t wait for them to hear they ought to do something different in 27 years. If you could wave a magic wand and be the new convener of the court commission what would you have them do?
LITHWICK: Rachel, I want to be super clear. I have so much respect for so many of the people on that commission. The time to fix the courts was yesterday if not ten years ago. I just think that having a court commission that is not by the way seriously looking at court expansion, that is doing a kind of quasi-academic exercise trying to think about other versions of structural court reform, I just think the urgency that we are facing in terms of what this court can do and will do, not just in terms of reproductive rights but in terms of dismantling the administrative state, in terms of voting rights, which we`re not going to have a chance to talk about, but this court I don`t think can be handled with the chin stroking, let`s weigh some proposals, and think about it.
I really do think that every single day we are not talking seriously about court reform is a day that is absolutely lost.
MADDOW: In the short term, Dahlia, do you expects we`ll have a lot of red states do copy cat laws that look just like the Texas law and will those effectively just go into effect as soon as they pass them and we`ll have abortion bans in multiple states?
LITHWICK: It certainly looks like it, Rachel. John Roberts, the chief justice one of the dissenters from the order last night. The point he made was we could have enjoined. We could have enjoined it and gotten to the merits eventually, let this thing play out. The court does that all the time. By failing to enjoin it, the court has invited more.
And as you noted we`re seeing all over the country, Florida falling over itself to pass a copy-cat statute. Why wouldn`t it? They`ve now had the doors flung open. I think without a doubt we are going to see very, very soon, a checker board of states in which for all intents and purposes there is no right to abortion. Roe v. Wade is a right that exists on paper and not as a matter of fact.
MADDOW: And briefly and practically, for people who are thinking about funding efforts, donating to efforts, contributing personally to efforts, volunteering to help women in abortion ban states get to states where abortion is still legal so they can have the procedure done elsewhere, are these laws designed to target people who provide that kind of help?
LITHWICK: You know, I`ve seen that answered both in the affirmative and the negative today. NPR was reporting earlier today that the law will not reach out and get you if you are simply writing a check to help somebody get out of state. It will not touch you if you are in fact treating someone out of state.
But Larry Tribe writing in "The Guardian" today suggested otherwise. I think the truth is that the law is sufficiently vague, Rachel, that we`re going to have to test it and test it and find out. One of the points, the very purpose of this law is to chill people not just abortion providers in Texas but to chill the entire community of people who want to help women right now into second-guessing whether they`re going to be on the hook. That was the purpose of the law. That was the law the Supreme Court let go into effect.
MADDOW: I can see a proverbial mushroom cloud of rage rising above you over the United States of America as people everywhere hear those words from you, my friend. Dahlia Lithwick, senor editor, at slate.com -- Dahlia, keep writing and giving them hell. We need you more than ever.
LITHWICK: Thanks, Rachel. Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA MYERS, TV ANCHOR: In summing up today`s decision, Justice Harry Blackmun, author of the Roe decision, wrote: Now just when so many expected the darkness to fall, the flame has grown bright. However, it`s also true that that flame can be extinguished by one more vote.
REPORTER: Congressional leaders said they would try to go around the Supreme Court by making abortion legal once and for all.
SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL (D), MAJORITY LEADER: The Congress must act to ensure that the fundamental right of American women to choose for themselves is not lost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was June, 1992. That was the first big Supreme Court test of Roe vs. Wade and Roe survived. The ruling was close, 5-4. One vote the other direction Roe would have been overturned. You heard the Democratic leader in the Senate, George Mitchell, say that is too close for comfort. It is time to take the whole issue of protecting abortion rights out of the hands of the Supreme Court. It is too dangerous there.
He said in June, 1992 rather than leaving it up to the court, Congress should make an end run around the court. Congress should just pass a federal law that would protect a woman`s right to have an abortion in all 50 states. He promised he would bring the full United States Senate to a vote on the Freedom of Choice Act which would enshrine abortion rights into federal law.
In the end, he did not follow through on that promise.
But the idea of doing that, the promise to do that, has stuck around in Democratic politics ever since in a weird and kind of frustrating way. Go back to the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama then a candidate said if he were elected president he would make sure there was a vote on the Freedom of Choice Act. He said signing that bill would be, quote, the first thing I`d do as president. He was elected president but that did not happen.
As recently as 2020, almost every Democrat in the massive field of 2020 presidential contenders said the same thing. They all said they would sign Roe into law if they were elected president including the eventual Democratic nominee Joe Biden who did become president.
Everybody promises they will do it. It somehow seems to never happen.
On the congressional level, Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu of California has been taking this very seriously and putting pen to paper on this for years. 2013, she introduced legislation to protect abortion rights. She did the same thing during her next term in Congress, 2015.
She did it again in 2017. She did it again in 2019. She did it once again earlier this year. She is actually trying to do it.
But other than that relentless, persistent effort by Congresswoman Judy Chu, Democratic support around the idea of passing a nationwide law to protect abortion rights has been a lot of lip service dating back to the early 1990s. They`ve all said they were going to do it and promised they would do it particularly around elections but never actually do it. Maybe that is about to change.
Today, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says President Biden is committed to his campaign promise to codify the protections around abortion established by Roe.
She said President Biden will push Congress to send that legislation to his desk. That he will speak with speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer about getting that bill to his desk.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said today she will bring Congresswoman Judy Chu`s legislation to the floor and pass it as soon as the House returns from recess later this month. Congresswoman Judy Chu is the only person basically who has been actually trying to get this done while everybody else is just flapping about it for years, for decades.
Now that roe has been overturned, it`s Congresswoman Judy Chu`s moment. She joins us next.
MADDOW: Nevertheless, she has persisted. 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, now 2021 - - for her last five terms in Congress, California Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu has introduced the same bill, a simple bill which has been promoted by Democratic politicians including precedents for a generation now, a bill to codify the protections for abortion rights, that is supposedly enshrined by Roe versus Wade, which the United States Supreme Court has now jettisoned.
Before now, Judy Chu has been introducing this every two years, but it hasn`t been going anywhere. Now, of course, everybody is paying attention to what she has been doing for the better part of a decade. Better late than never?
Joining us Congresswoman Judy Chu, Democratic from California. She`s the lead sponsor of a bill to protect abortion rights, a bill that Speaker Pelosi has promised the House will take up and pass as a first order of business when they return later this month.
Congresswoman Chu, thank you so much for being here. I know this is an intense time.
REP. JUDY CHU (D-CA): Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Tell us about your determination to try to get this passed. You have been pursuing this in a single-minded way for years now, even as you have had so many Democratic cosponsors and so much, frankly, lip service support that this is an important thing, but no -- no effort, no momentum to actually get it done before now.
CHU: Well, first of all, let me say that there is a very dedicated group of members of Congress that have been pushing for this law as well, so it certainly isn`t just me. I just have the privilege of being able to lead this effort.
It has been important because starting in 2011, we saw these states doing these antiabortion laws that were restricting access by requiring a certain width of the doors or doctors to be admitted in hospitals where there is more relevance or requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds or two separate visits to clinics, and we knew we had to have an overall solution that would indeed make the protections of Roe versus Wade into law by establishing a federal statutory right for patients to proceed and providers to provide abortion carefree from these medically unnecessary restrictions that single out abortion and impede access.
This bill will indeed do this. I have to say, though, that we have gotten more and more cosponsors and actually in this last Congress, we had the greatest number of cosponsors, 216 members of Congress that supported it. And, in fact, we actually had the most pro-choice Congress in history and we did this bill knowing that the day would come when there would be a draconian bill like SB-8 that the Supreme Court would let go into law and undermine Roe v. Wade.
So I am so grateful that finally we are bringing it to the floor. I`m so grateful to Speaker Pelosi, and I`m grateful that president Biden is indeed supporting the right for a statutory kind of improvement to the Roe v. Wade debate.
MADDOW: With the 216 cosponsors and with Speaker Pelosi now backing this effort and her commitment to it today to get it done, I have a -- I believe that this can pass the House. The Democratic majority has Speaker Pelosi behind it and those kind of numbers you are going to get there.
Are you also working on another strategy. There are arguably a few, maybe two, Democratic senators who are explicitly anti-choice, Joe Manchin and Senator Casey. There`s others that I can speak to in terms of their commitment to the issue. There are also at least ostensibly Republican senators who say they are for upholding the protections of Roe v. Wade.
Setting aside the filibuster now and whether or not the filibuster will survive this challenging time in our nation`s history, do you believe that it`s possible to even cobble together a 50-vote majority in the Senate to pass it?
CHU: I do believe that it`s possible. And let me say that since the beginning of the introduction of this bill, we`ve had an incredible partner, an incredible champion, and that is Senator Richard Blumenthal, who introduced the Senate version of this bill since the beginning. And he has been working to get the cosponsors. He actually has 48 cosponsors on the Senate side. We also know that there are two Republicans that are pro- choice.
And, so, we have the ability to get somewhere on this, besides the fact that that country is more galvanized than ever because of this disturbing and chilling bill that would turn private citizens into vigilante bounty hunters against anybody who helps a woman who wants to have an abortion, doctors, staff members at clinics, counselors, people who help pay for the procedure.
Even an Uber driver taking a patient to an abortion clinic could be subject to this $10,000 fine. A private citizen could go after all of them and make quite a living, actually.
MADDOW: Congresswoman Judy Chu, lead sponsor of the bill to protect abortion access which Speaker Pelosi has promised to take up later this month in the House. She`s been leading this effort for years. It is now going to -- it is now going to move.
Congresswoman Chu, thank you for keeping us apprised. I imagine we`ll be back talking with you about this in the days forward as the bill moves.
CHU: Thank you.
MADDOW: We will tell you what Congressman Chu was just saying there -- 216 cosponsors in the House, 48 in the Senate, plus a couple of Republicans who say they`re pro-choice, boy, that puts a spotlight on it, doesn`t it?
The Senate keeps the filibuster. Nothing can happen on this line, let alone voting rights, let alone all the other things. But if the Senate was willing to change that law, one of the things that could happen is that Roe v. Wade could be codified -- but for the filibuster.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: All right. That is going to do it for us tonight, this fine Friday eve.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORLD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.