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'The Rachel Maddow Show for Monday, February 9

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guest: David Axelrod, Ben Nelson, Barbara Boxer

High: President Obama holds his first prime-time news conference.

Spec: Politics; Government; Economy

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you at home for staying with us.

The president‘s first primetime press conference sort of a wonky sermon on the need for his economic stimulus plans, coming on a day when polls show that the public not only likes the idea of stimulating the economy with this big government spending bill, they also still really like President Obama.  They think he is doing a good job on the economy issue and they think he‘s doing a good job generally.

The public also thinks that congressional Republicans are not doing a good job.  That said, Republicans have been very loud and proud about their tactical decision to oppose the stimulus.

Senior White House adviser, David Axelrod, will join us in just a moment.  Democratic senators Ben Nelson and Barbara Boxer will join us.  And, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Connie Schultz will join us from Ohio.  It is all coming up this hour.

But we begin tonight with the president going all out for his plan to stimulate economic demand, to try to stop the downward spiral of job losses.  Just moments ago, President Obama used the first primetime press conference of his presidency to warn Congress that a failure to act could turn a crisis into a catastrophe, to assure Americans that if the right economic steps are taken now, the U.S. will see progress within the next year, to make it clear to those opposing the stimulus, that government assistance is really the only way out of this crisis.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  It is absolutely true that we can‘t depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth.  That is and must be the role of the private sector.  But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life.


MADDOW:  Tonight‘s press conference came at the tail end of a day spent essentially campaigning, selling the stimulus package directly to those Americans hit hardest by the economic meltdown.  Today, President Obama traveled to Elkhart, Indiana.  Tomorrow, he will visit Fort Myers, Florida.  On Thursday, he will visit Peoria, Illinois.

There‘s two ways to think about at this political fight right now.  One is, red versus blue, new popular president versus unpopular opposition party, honeymoon period versus Washington gridlock—sort of the tactical way to think about it.

The other way to think about this is not all that political.  The other way to think about this is about the policy, not just the politics.  I want to show you a visual aid here.

Let me show you something that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has produced.  This was posted online today by the speaker of the House.  But it is a Bureau of Labor Statistics source here.  So, check this out.

This shows jobs lost over time.  It‘s the last two recessions and this one.  Here is what the 1990 recession looks like.  There‘s the job numbers, at its lowest point, we were down like 1.6 million jobs and we started to climb back up.  That was the 1990 recession.

The next recession after that was 2001.  This is the one that followed the 9/11 attacks.  This one is worse, right?  We go down for longer and we go down longer.  It‘s 2.7 million jobs lost at its lowest point.

Now, here‘s the current recession—the green line.  Yes.  Like a lemming going off a cliff.  Yes.  Only 13 months in, 3.6 million Americans without jobs.  Look at that -- 3.6 million Americans, a national unemployment rate creeping toward the double digits.  We have already lost a million more jobs than the last recession in half the time.

That‘s the off-the-cliff, off-the-charts reality of the crisis that president Obama has inherited—unprecedented in recent history, requiring an unprecedented governmental response and that is the context of the president‘s first primetime press conference.

Joining us now live from the north lawn of the White House is David Axelrod, a senior advisor to President Obama.

Mr. Axelrod, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR:  Hey, Rachel.  Good to be with you.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

Earlier today, you said the president is going to keep his foot on the gas pedal when it comes to the stimulus.  Has the stimulus plan gotten better or gotten worse as it has gone through Congress?  Qualitatively, has it improved or not?

AXELROD:  Well, look, I think, in its broad context, the goal the president set was a plan that would create 3 million to 4 million jobs to help offset those dismal numbers that you just showed everyone.  And I think that we‘re on track to do that.  It‘s also true that in the legislative process, there is give-and-take and shifts-and-turns.  And we‘ll see where it ends up.

The president has some very strong feelings that we have to invest, not just in creating jobs, but jobs that are going to make a difference in critical areas for our economy in the long run—energy independence, reducing the cost of health care, improving the classrooms around this country so that our kids can be competitive and, of course, dealing with roads and bridges, our dams and levees so we don‘t have more Katrinas.

This is work that needs to be done and he wants to put Americans to work doing it.  His hope is that, at the end of the day, that all of those will be satisfied.  But the big thing is that we are moving this forward now, we‘re having that discussion, we‘re making enormous progress, you know, with a very difficult lift.  But it‘s essential that we do it.

He saw those faces in Elkhart today of people who are desperately looking for their government to stand up for them.  And that was what he was elected to do.  That is where he was elected to lead.  And I think he‘s committed to doing it.  I think you saw it tonight.

MADDOW:  Most economists, of course, believe that tax cuts can be stimulative but they are less so than government spending and things like infrastructure projects, expanding food stamps, that sort of stuff that has suffered some in the congressional process.  Is the White House going to fight to restore some of that, say, the food stamps funding, at the conference committee level?

AXELROD:  Well, we intend to be involved in that—in that discussion.  There are things that we feel are important.  There is no doubt that giving help to people who have been hurt in this economy is very important.

The president said today, trying to avert the layoff of key public safety personnel, police and fire.  The layoff of teachers in this recession is an important goal.  There are a lot of things that we want to discuss.  But we have to move this legislation forward in order to have that discussion and that‘s where we are focused, and that‘s where we‘re focused on right now.

MADDOW:  In terms of the argument and in terms of educating the public while we‘re fighting for votes, economist Dean Baker characterized the big cuts that were made to the Senate version of the bill by saying that trying to save money on stimulus is like trying to find a short cut for your jogging route.  You can do it but it undermines the whole point of the effort.

Do you think that there is sort of an economic literacy issue here?  That some of the people wanting to slash funding from the bill just misunderstand what stimulus is?

AXELROD:  Well, and in fact, Rachel, the size of the Senate bill essentially approximates the size of the House bill.  There seems to be some rough agreement on what the size should be.  I think the discussion is going to be over 10 percent or 15 percent of what‘s inside of those—of those two.  And I think that will be a vigorous discussion in the next few days.

There is no doubt that we need a large economic recovery package to match a very large problem.  The output of the economy is off by about $1 trillion a year.  And you have to—when you consider that, the package we‘re proposing seems more than reasonable and we want to pursue that.

The big thing is, we have to create these jobs.  We have to break this spiral that the president talked about tonight or else we‘ll keep moving down.  I mean, the thing that‘s most alarming as he mentioned tonight and you can see on your own charts, is that the last three months, this recession has accelerated to the point where we‘ve lost over 1.5 million jobs.  That town we were in today, Elkhart, saw their unemployment rate triple to over 15 percent in the last year.

So, we need to do something.  We need to do something big and we need to do it now.  And I think we are making progress and we hope that in the next few days, Congress can come to some resolution on this.

MADDOW:  Do you sense any frustration from the president with some of the rhetoric on the Republican side, Lindsey Graham, for example, accusing him of being AWOL on this legislation—which seems to me to be, frankly, ridiculous.  Is that frustrating for you guys, for the president himself?

AXELROD:  I think the frustration for the president is that, every day, he gets thousands of letters.  And he reads this, you know, a sampling of these letters every single day from people whose lives have been turned upside down.  He understands that there is no time for the kind of traditional Washington back-and-forth, the political repose.

It is just there‘s—the situation is too serious.  The human suffering is too great.  The sense of uncertainty among so many Americans is so profound.  We have to act.

And I think his frustration is that he wants to get moving on turning the situation around, and I think you can see that in his presentations today.  He wants to get going.  And I think he‘s urging—and he is urging Congress to join him in that.

MADDOW:  One last question for you, David, I know your time is tight.


MADDOW:  How much do you expect this bill to change between the time that it passes the Senate tomorrow and it is expected to pass, and the time that it actually reaches the president‘s desk?  Do you think it will be a whole new ball game?

AXELROD:  Well, I don‘t think there will be a whole new ball game because, I think, there is tremendous overlap between the two bills—I would say at 90 percent of the content is the same.  I think there will be vigorous contention over that other 10 percent.  And I‘m sure that there will be some changes made because you‘ve got two equal bodies there who have to vote on this, and the president has his thoughts.

But, right now, the most important thing is to move this process forward.  What we don‘t want is to debate endlessly while people in Elkhart and all over this country are looking for some action.  And so, I‘m hopeful that we can do that, and then we‘ll see what we can do as the discussions continue later in the week.

MADDOW:  I feel like I‘m part of this grand experiment where everybody else is talking about partisanship and you, guys, are talking about urgency.  And I can feel you changing the frame around me while I‘ll try to resist.


MADDOW:  This has been great.


AXELROD:  Yes.  Well, you should—you should have been with us today.  You can‘t help but talk about urgency when you talk to the folks out there.

And I think, one of the reasons we wanted to go on the road was, not so much for our benefit, but we want to take the folks in the news media on a field trip so that they can get out of the back-and-forth, and “who‘s up and who‘s down” nature of politics and political coverage here in Washington and see what‘s going on outside Washington where people are scratching their heads and saying, “How about getting something done?”

MADDOW:  Yes.  David Axelrod, senior White House adviser.  Thank you very much for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.

AXELROD:  Great to be with you.  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  In his first primetime press conference, the president continued to talk bipartisanship even as almost all Republicans in Congress seem not to be listening.  There is policy and there is politics here.  Both seem pretty important at the moment.

Coming up: I will speak with the senator at the heart of the moderate senators‘ deal—Nebraska‘s Ben Nelson will be joining us.  And coming up in just a few moments, California Senator Barbara Boxer will join us as well.



OBAMA:  The one concern I‘ve got on the stimulus package, in terms of debate and listening to some of what‘s been said in Congress, is that there seems to be a set of folks who—I don‘t doubt their sincerity—who just believe that we should do nothing.  Now, if that‘s their opening position or their closing position in negotiations, then we‘re probably not going to make much progress because I don‘t think that‘s economically sound, and I don‘t think that‘s what the American people expect is for us to stand by and do nothing.


MADDOW:  That‘s President Obama tonight addressing some of the anti-stimulus talking points that we have been hearing from Republicans over the past couple of weeks.  And, you know, when he puts it like that, it kind of seems like—yes, that‘s sort of a simple point.  Does that point even really need to be made?  And then you look back at the record and you realize—yes, that point does need to be made.

May I introduce you to Exhibit A: The new Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele.  He has decided to elaborate on his earlier insistence that there is no such thing as a government job.  He‘s now explaining that he objects to the stimulus bill because it doesn‘t create jobs.  He says the stimulus bill doesn‘t create jobs, it creates work.  Huh?


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  You‘ve just got to look at what‘s going to create sustainable jobs.  What this administration is talking about is making work.  It is creating work.


STEELE:  No, it‘s not a job.  A job is something that a business owner creates.  It‘s going to be long term.  What he‘s creating .


STEPHANOPOULOS:  So, a job doesn‘t count if it‘s a government job?

STEELE:  Hold on.  No, let me—let me finish.  That is a contract. 

It ends at a certain point, George.  You know that.


MADDOW:  But what if it‘s like—what if you are a firefighter or something (INAUDIBLE), like a lieutenant governor of Maryland?

All right.  So we have lots of unemployed people but we shouldn‘t create work because work isn‘t a job, according to Michael Steele.  And if your job ends ever than retrospectively, you never had a job.  Because your job could go away someday so that means it‘s not a job?  So, we are all unemployed right now?  Michael Steele, I hope you never go away.

It is time now for another tragic comic visit with the Republican Party searching for meaning in the political minority.


MADDOW:  Tonight, in his first response to a reporter‘s question, President Obama took on the suggestion that FDR and the New Deal didn‘t help get us out of the Great Depression.  And again, you hear that argument and you think, “He is arguing against a straw-man here.”  Who could possibly argue that FDR and the New Deal didn‘t help us get out of the depression?

And sure enough, I bring you Exhibit B: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, ® SENATE MINORITY LEADER:  We know for sure that the big spending programs of the New Deal did not work.  In 1940, unemployment was still 15 percent, and it‘s widely agreed among economists that what got us out of the doldrums that we were in during the depression was the beginning of World War II.


MADDOW:  You know, sir, unemployment in 1933 was 25 percent.  So, getting it down to 15 percent was technically a big improvement, a really big improvement.

Do you want to see what this looks like in pictures?  Maybe that would make it easier here.  This is GDP, gross domestic product.  The New Deal started in 1933, which is down where everything is bottomed out there.  Within three years, the GDP was up over the level than it was in 1929.  By the time we did eventually get involved in World War II, the GDP has been up every year except for one little problem there in 1937.

Hey, what happened in 137?  Oh, right, FDR hit the pause button on the New Deal and did what the Republicans are suggesting Obama do now—he started cutting spending.  The only time FDR wasn‘t helping get us out of the depression was when he was doing what today‘s Republicans say should be done.

So, sometimes the arguments against the stimulus don‘t make sense, Exhibit A: Michael Steele; sometimes the arguments against the stimulus are wrong, Exhibit B: Mitch McConnell; and sometimes the arguments are completely disingenuous, known to be wrong by the person speaking at the time they are saying it.  I bring you Exhibit C: Multiple Republicans complaining about partisanship.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, ® SOUTH CAROLINA:  This is not bipartisanship that I envisioned after the election was over.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA:  So, this is not, quote, “bipartisan.”

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN, ® NEVADA:  We should have put the best ideas on the table.  This was one-party rule.


MADDOW:  The president meets with House Republicans, meets with Senate Republicans, meets with individual Republican lawmakers, invites the Republicans to the White House in multiple occasions, drinks with Republicans at the white house, turns the bill totally inside and out and backwards to make it seem more friendly to Republicans—and he is not being bipartisan?  Really?

Did you hear today that Republican Senator Dick Lugar refused President Obama‘s invitation to fly with him on Air Force One back to his home state of Indiana today?  But Obama is the one who‘s not being bipartisan enough?

I understand a Democrat trying to win Republican votes for legislation and I understand the appeal of trying to govern by consensus.  I get it.  But the Republicans are not playing along here. 

Their arguments, in many cases, are not rational.  In many cases, they‘re not correct.  And in many cases, knowingly disingenuous.  So why are Democrats incorporating so many Republican proposals into this critical, critical policy?

Joining us now is Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.  Sen. Nelson has joined with a small group of Republican and Democratic senators to devise the compromised Stimulus Bill that will be voted on tomorrow.  Sen. Nelson, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight. 

SEN. BEN NELSON (D-NE):  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Wouldn‘t the country have a better shot at economic recovery if the Stimulus Bill had a higher ratio of spending to tax cuts than what‘s in the bill right now? 

NELSON:  Oh, I don‘t think so.  I think we‘ve got a good combination of spending and tax cuts because the spending is aimed at jobs.  Earlier, the discussion was this doesn‘t represent a big idea.  It does.  Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs for Americans to keep Americans working and to help people who unemployed get jobs.  That‘s what is really got to be about.

MADDOW:  Why did you push to cut more than $15 billion of school construction money out of the bill? 

NELSON:  Well, the Republicans who are looking to join with us have an aversion to federal money going for that kind of a program.  It is a state responsibility, local responsibility.  Local governing boards - boards of education. 

I, too, am concerned about money coming from Washington.  As governor, I faced the under-funded mandate of special education where the Federal Government promised to be a partner with it.  I faced back here a decision about “No Child Left Behind,” another under-funded federal mandate. 

There is a very sincere concern about the Federal Government getting involved in local education.  My colleagues on the other side were very leery about that, and so they insisted that that not be included at the level that it had been. 

MADDOW:  Certainly, the concern, though, about federal involvement in local education is about the content of education, not literally the physical plant that could be built and thereby create jobs building the school. 

NELSON:  Well, my concern is once they get involved, they may not be about education, but they tell you what you‘ve got to do with “No Child Left Behind” or with special education.  And then, you don‘t get the money that goes along with it and you have to take money from your own budget in order to fulfill the obligations that are passed on to local schools.  But that‘s really part of the issue. 

The other part of the issue is there are $66 billion of federal money going back to local schools and to governors for education.  That‘s 1 ½ times the budget of the U.S. Department of Education.  So while the new money that is going to education may not be at the level that it was originally talked about in the house version, it is a sizable amount of money. 

$100 billion, if you count the stimulus package of $66 billion, and you have the omnibus budget bill that is going to go through shortly.  $100 billion is a lot of money in any state when you look at it. 

MADDOW:  Sir, and certainly, when you compare the prospect of doing nothing to what we are doing, it looks like we are doing a lot.  But the reason I was really looking forward to talking to you tonight is because you had said that you would probably vote against the stimulus if changes weren‘t made.  And then, the changes you argued for are changes I think make the stimulus plan less stimulative. 

I mean, there‘s the school construction - I‘ll just raise one other.  $40 billion in aid to states - you took out of this.  I mean, the president addressed that tonight when he talked about firefighters and police officers and other state-funded jobs that will go away if there isn‘t enough state-funding to hold on to them.  That is almost pure stimulus, isn‘t it? 

NELSON:  There are $200 billion within this stimulus package that will go to states.  That is a lot of money.  It is not as much as originally, if you will, in the original package.  But nobody‘s cutting anybody here.  We‘re just making sure what goes back to the states is stimulative but also is within our ability to pay for it. 

The total package here that we put together is $780 billion, right at the target that the president put at $800 billion.  We‘ve got a mix of the tax cuts as well as spending and when you look at the fact that for education, the $13 billion proposed for special education was untouched. 

Pell grants - $13 billion.  There is an awful lot of money going to education.  It is a myth that they are not getting as much as they want.  But it is a myth to say that we are not adequately handling education. 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think it is an issue of whether or not it is being adequately handled.  It‘s because of your intervention there is less money going states.  There is less money going to school construction.  There‘s less money going to food stamps funding which is probably the single, most effective economic stimulus policy we know of.  Before your compromise, those numbers were bigger.  And now, they‘re smaller and we are trying to stimulate the economy here. 

NELSON:  I think I can tell you without any question, without the intervention, without the three Republican votes, they would get zero, because this bill was going nowhere with 58 votes with the Democrats.  That is not sufficient to pass anything.  I think you can do the math.  So it was a matter of bringing bipartisan support to get something done rather than losing everything. 

MADDOW:  But you agree, though, that it made the bill less stimulative? 

NELSON:  No, I don‘t agree with that.  78 percent of the money that is there for infrastructure and that kind of spending will be spent within the first year and a half.  There is stimulus.  There is broadband.  There‘s the electricity grid and there‘s all the construction for bridges, roads, highways and for sewer projects. 

There‘s a lot of stimulus in the package that was untouched.  So I think it is stimulative.  And yes, we want to make sure teachers continue to work, that you don‘t lose teachers if we can keep them working.  We don‘t want class size to become a bigger problem and a bigger issue for us.  But when you look at $100 billion going to education, it is pretty hard to say that that is not a good jolt for the economy. 

MADDOW:  Sen. Nelson, I‘m in trouble already on time.  I just have to ask you one last question.  If Republicans choose to filibuster this, and if you don‘t have 60 votes, do you think that Republicans should have to stand on the floor of the Senate and talk this through and not have a technical filibuster, but up stand there and read the phonebook and make it clear to the American public why they are standing against this? 

NELSON:  Well, you know, I don‘t think they are going to do because I think we do have 61 votes.  We had 61 votes today.  I think we‘ll have 61 votes tomorrow.  If we hadn‘t put this package together, we wouldn‘t be voting on this tomorrow, I can assure you.  And the president wants it timely, targeted and temporary.  And that is exactly what we are attempts to do here. 

MADDOW:  Sen. Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska.  I feel like I understand the political argument.  I don‘t agree with you all on the policy, but I get you did it for political reasons.  And I really appreciate you coming on this show to talk about it tonight, particularly knowing that I disagree. 

NELSON:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Sir. 

NELSON:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  President Obama is going all out to sell his stimulus plan to Washington lawmakers, which is presumably why he was stumping today in Indiana, perhaps reminding the folks on Capitol Hill that someone has a 67 percent approval rating.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California will join us next to discuss Obama, the ‘09 tour. 



BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  The plan is not perfect.  No plan is.  I can‘t tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope.  But I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans. 


MADDOW:  Rather than hunkering down within the White House today to prep for his big first primetime press conference as president, President Obama instead embarked on a presidential road trip. 

He touched down today in Elkhart, Indiana, the city that bears the unwelcome title of home to the nation‘s highest unemployment rate.  15.3 percent of Elkhart residents currently find themselves jobless.  It‘s tripled in the past year. 

And a departure from the last eight years, President Obama faced an audience that had not been previously screened and who had received their tickets on a first come, first served basis, not from their local political party. 

In other words, they don‘t keep this president in a bubble.  The president stressed the urgent need for economic stimulus and the need for our government to act quickly. 


OBAMA:  I know that all folks here are asking for is a chance to work hard and to have that work translated into a decent life for you and your family.  So I know you are going to be doing your part.  I think it is about time the government did its part, too.  That is what this recovery plan is about. 



MADDOW:  President Obama will continue his economic stimulus tour

tomorrow holding another town hall meeting in Fort Myers, Florida, where

the unemployment rate is about 10 percent, an area that has been devastated

by home foreclosures. 

The president will be joined there by Florida‘s Republican governor.  Several dozen people set up camping chairs and blankets outside the downtown convention center two days ahead of President Obama‘s visit to get their free tickets. 

First in line was Roy Hendricks, a formerly homeless man who showed up at 9:30 yesterday morning.  The 1,500 tickets to that event were distributed this morning.  They were all gone within 25 minutes, proving that President Obama can still draw campaign-style crowds even in cities where he lost the presidential election to John McCain. 

But how does the politics of this work?  Is this to remind Washington that the country is with this new president even as the knuckles get bloody in Washington? 

Joining us now is Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California.  Sen. Boxer, it‘s a real pleasure to have you on the show tonight.  Thanks for joining us. 

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA)  Thank you for inviting me, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Sen. Nelson just told me that he cut down admittedly stimulative spending out of this bill simply because there was a lot of it.  And it would have produced a lot of stimulus, but he didn‘t want to spend it despite the fact that it would be effective.  What is your reaction to that? 

BOXER:  Well, I listened to the interview and I bumped into Ben on the way out.  Look, here is the bottom line, Rachel.  The bottom line is 60 votes.  Republicans are making us get 60 votes.  We have 58 Democrats.  We know Sen. Kennedy as well.  He did come back for this vote which I say thank you, Ted. 

And we don‘t know what is going to happen yet in Minnesota.  We are hoping.  So we have to get some Republicans to join us.  And at the end of the day, this is a bill that is going to add a lot of spending to this economy.  It is not going to be $1 trillion that has been lost from it, but it‘s $800 billion. 

And therefore, we needed to get these Republican votes.  And if I wrote it my way, believe me, it would look different.  If you wrote it your way, I think it would look a little bit more like my way. 

But that‘s just not what we are dealing with.  We have to deal with reality.  I‘m so glad the president did this town hall.  I‘m so glad that he held this press conference which was so in depth because he‘s the best teacher.  You know, he is a teacher. 

And he really explains it to the American people.  Change is everywhere.  But somehow it didn‘t get to the United States Senate.  Quite.  Not quite.  And so, yes, we are going to have to do some things that we don‘t want to do, but we need to get going. 

MADDOW:  And I‘m no expert on Senate math, on getting to 60 votes and on all the procedures and the techniques that you guys use in order to get the laws made.  It is not my area of expertise. 

I have been paying more attention to the policy side of it.  And I have to say that I don‘t understand why Tom Coburn, for example, can get an amendment passed, get the legislation changed to take out tax incentives for movie production companies even though those would be very stimulative when everybody knows that Tom Coburn is not going to vote for this thing in a million years.  That amendment makes the bill worse and doesn‘t earn any Republican votes. 

BOXER:  Well, if I listen to you, it‘s kind of - what you are saying is, “I won‘t vote for your amendment unless you vote for the bill.”  It really doesn‘t work that way.  It really doesn‘t work that way. 

And so believe me, when that happened, it was out of the blue because it did.  You are absolutely right.  We were really - we‘re just equalizing the field for the filmmakers.  And they don‘t like Hollywood and so whenever you mention Hollywood, it is a buzz word. 

And so people vote against Hollywood for whatever reason even though they go to the movies.  And thank god they‘re going to the movies because that is good for my state and my state is struggling otherwise. 

MADDOW:  But I can file this one under “it is sort of dumb but this is the way politics works?”  

BOXER:  Well, I think you file it under “I‘ll never understand the Senate.”  Because trust me, when I started to understand the Senate, I thought, “Uh-oh.  Maybe I have been here too long.” 

MADDOW:  Very good. 

BOXER:  But really, it does have an ebb and a flow to it.  And at this point, what is really important, as I said before, is to get a bill done because this is an unprecedented moment in history. 

And I will say something interesting that no one has brought out but I thought about a lot today.  John McCain led a lot of the opposition on the Senate floor.  You know, I think it is great that he is out there because he did lose and he has to hurt.  And he is out there. 

But what happened is, at the end of the day, the Senate decided to go with the person who won the presidency - Barack Obama - over John McCain and with the supermajority that they forced us to get just barely. 

I‘m very disappointed that they‘re forcing us to get 60 votes, 60 votes, 60 votes.  The country wants change.  They will not allow it to happen without huge fights.  But we are going to have to have those fights.  That‘s it.

MADDOW:  Well, 60 votes is a specific threshold for a specific reason. 

That means they are filibustering everything ...

BOXER:  Oh, yes.  Yes.

MADDOW:  ... on which they‘re asking for 60 votes.  Why not take that power away from them if they are abusing it? 

BOXER:  Well, I mean, I think you asked that question earlier.  Why not make them stand on their feet through the night?  I‘m in favor of that.  I think that would be a good idea because that‘s the old-fashioned filibuster. 


BOXER:  We, in order to move this along faster, made some time agreements.  The main thing for us right now is to get this done.  I mean, I‘ve said that over and over again.  And you know, to do nothing, to me, is a hostile action against the American people.  To do nothing isn‘t a passive act. 

It is just saying the status quo is fine.  Let‘s just look at job loss - this month, last month, the month before, millions of jobs lost over last year.  Millions of families worrying, struggling, frightened.  We have to move forward.  And we did have a good day today and you know, you are right to say school construction should have stayed in there, absolutely should have stayed in there. 

But on the other hand, if the choice is nothing and a stimulus bill minus a few things that we think are good, we‘ve got to take the stimulus bill, try to fix it in conference.  If we can hold our Republican friends, we have to hold them, and move forward and live to fight another day. 

That‘s the way it is.  It‘s - you know, if you want my way or the highway, the Senate is not the place for you, I could tell you that. 

MADDOW:  Well, just as long as everybody in the Senate knows we are all paying very close attention ...

BOXER:  Good. 

MADDOW:  ... to everything you guys do. 

BOXER:  Attention must be paid. 

MADDOW:  Indeed.  Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, thank you so much for making time for us tonight.  I really appreciate it.

BOXER:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Coming up, did a Republican member of Congress accidentally Twitter his way into a national security breach this weekend?  That‘s ahead on Ms. Information.


MADDOW:  Welcome back.  Time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Defense contractor KBR is under criminal investigation in conjunction with American soldiers being killed by electrocution due to shoddy electrical work and their living and working facilities in Iraq. 

That same company, KBR has just been awarded a new $35.4 million contract in Iraq.  And before you ask, yes, the contract is for electrical work.  I‘m not kidding. 

Staff Sergeant Christopher Everett was electrocuted when the power washer he was using to clean a vehicle short circuited.  KBR and another contractor performed the electrical work on that device‘s generator.  Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth was electrocuted in his barrack shower and the Army reclassified his electrocution death as a negligent homicide allegedly caused by KBR and two of its supervisors. 

An Army investigator said KBR‘s contractors failed to ensure that qualified electricians and plumbers did the work in those barracks. 

The families of both Maseth and Everett have sued KBR in federal court for wrongful death.  KBR denies responsibilities for the electrocutions.  And meanwhile, before this is all sorted out, our Pentagon is apparently happy to keep KBR in the money with American soldiers‘ lives in their hands.  Incredible.

Finally, a congressional trip to Iraq led by House minority leader John Boehner over the weekend was supposed to be kind of a secret.  Usually, there was a press embargo on codels, as they‘re called.  They don‘t release details about these congressional delegations until a delegation is home because of security reasons. 

But apparently did faze Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan who broke this weekend‘s press embargo on Twitter.  If you were following Hoekstra on the Twitter, you would have seen this Tweet on him on Friday, quote, “Just landed in Baghdad.  I believe it may be first time I‘ve had Blackberry service in Iraq.” 

Then two hours later, he Twitted, quote, “Moved into Green Zone by helicopter, Iraqi flag now over palace.  Headed to new U.S. Embassy.” 

Congressman Hoekstra is the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee which does raise the question of whether or not posting real time updates on the progress of your convoy and your helicopter moving with a whole bunch of other members of Congress through Baghdad is at all even remotely intelligent.  


MADDOW:  Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pick the up a brush today to help President Obama with the White House mission that we call “Scrub, Rinse, Repeat,” because cleaning after the Bush administration is a job that is going to take a while. 

In a speech at Georgetown University, Sen. Leahy said that he wants to see a truth commission investigate the Bush administration.  He said, quote, “We need to get to the bottom of what happened and why so we make sure it never happens again.  We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair-minded and without axes to grind.  Their straightforward mission would be to find the truth.” 

Tonight, Sam Stein, a reporter from “Huffington Post,” asked the president about Sen. Leahy‘s proposal.  


OBAMA:  Nobody is above the law.  And if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen.  But generally speaking, I‘m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards. 


MADDOW:  Sounds like it‘s your move next, Sen. Leahy.  Would you like to come on the show to talk about it?  I have time for you. 

All right.  We‘re going to see back here live at 11:00 p.m.

Eastern tonight for more on President Obama‘s first press conference. 

Thank you so much for watching this hour.  Don‘t forget, you can check out our podcast at iTunes or at  You are in luck because a live “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. 



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