updated 3/20/2009 10:24:26 AM ET 2009-03-20T14:24:26

Guest: Greg Sargent, Laura Rozen, Mark Begich, Dan Choi, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thanks to all of you for staying with us at home for the next hour.

Some of the AIG bonus outrage turned into action in Congress today. 

And man, was that a problem for the Republican Party?  That is coming up.

As is President Obama‘s problem in the Senate—a caucus of Democrats, the conservadems.  Senator Mark Begich will join us to explain in just a moment.

But, first .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq.  I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  No outcome but victory.  That was six years ago exactly, the start of the Iraq war.  Happy Birthday worst foreign policy mistake in a generation.

Six years into it, we do know the expected outcome of the war.  It‘s a binding timeline for us to leave.  And I suppose you could call that victory if you want to.  Rationally, though, victory sort of seems beside the point.  I mean, the memory hole has not yet swallowed up the fact that the point of the war was to—well, don‘t take it from me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Military operations to disarm Iraq.

Saddam Hussein will fully disarm himself of weapons of mass destruction.  And if he does not, the United States will lead a coalition to disarm him.

Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace and must disarm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  It‘s on tape, right?  The goal of invading Iraq was supposedly to disarm Saddam, to take away the weapons of mass destruction that he didn‘t have.

So—victory?  Isn‘t that kind of beside the point?  You chase down that pickpocket, you caught him, you beat the snot out of him right there on the street where you found him, and then you realize actually, oh—actually, you still had your wallet.  No one pick-pocketed you—your mistake.

Do you call that a win or isn‘t that just some sort of horrible, horrible misfire?  Still, though, six years on, we‘re still there.  And on the six-year anniversary of us invading Iraq, the country‘s oil minister told an OPEC meeting that foreign oil companies will soon be able to take a majority stake in the development of Iraq‘s oil fields.  Mission accomplished, finally?

Also, on the six-year anniversary of us invading Iraq, Osama bin Laden, who had nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq, he released another insane in the brain, nihilist, dirt bag, al Qaeda recording, this one urging an uprising in God forsaken Somalia.  A nice reminder for us on this harrowing anniversary that our country chose invading Iraq over getting bin Laden.

And, on the six-year anniversary of us invading Iraq, remarkably, the senior members of the Bush administration are still, still lying about the war, still summoning the memory hole to swallow up the record of what they actual did and what they actually said—still.  Remarkably.

This interview of Condoleezza Rice by PBS‘ Charlie Rose, this took place last night.  This wasn‘t from 2003.  This is now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  We believed that the weapons of mass destruction threat was growing because the—that he reconstituted his .

CHARLIE ROSE, PBS:  But you didn‘t believe it had anything to do with 9/11?

RICE:  I did—no.  No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.

ROSE:  No one?

RICE:  I was certainly not.  The president was certainly not .

ROSE:  But you were the one who‘s in the center (INAUDIBLE) says to the president‘s mind.

RICE:  No, that‘s right.  I was—we were not arguing that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We were not arguing that.  The president certainly never said anything like that—certainly.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BUSH:  Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda.  Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.  And an al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in acquiring poisons and gases.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East.  It has a deep hatred of America and our friends.  And it has aided, trained, and harbored terrorists including operatives of al Qaeda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The letter that President Bush sent to Congress when we invaded Iraq six years ago, the letter even spelled this out in writing.  Do you remember this?  Quote, “The used of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorists organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001.”

Now, what was that you were saying again, Madam Secretary?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE:  No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.

ROSE:  No one?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  No.  Oh, no.  How about we have a new rule that you can‘t get away with lying about the war anymore and how we got into it?  Because it would be a good thing for our country if we understood exactly what our mistake was, so we don‘t end up making it again.  We can‘t afford to let this go down the memory hole.  And there is still a concerted effort underway to do just that.

It was only last night that Condoleezza Rice was insisting that no one in the administration ever tried to link Saddam and 9/11.  It was just last week that their press secretary, Ari Fleischer, was still trying to make that link.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  After September 11th, having been hit once—how could we take a chance that Saddam might not strike again?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Saddam might not strike—again?  Like he did on 9/11?  That was last week.

If are to avoid another mistake like the Iraq war, the people who were wrong about Iraq should be remembered as having been wrong about Iraq, and that fact about them should color our judgment about their judgment.

Case in point, Ambassador Chris Hill, President Obama has picked Chris Hill to be his next ambassador to Iraq.  In a country that frankly needs quite a lot of diplomacy right now, Hill is probably the most experienced, the most accomplished Foreign Service officer in the country by a mile.  And I‘m not just saying this because he is some liberal and I like him.  He‘s been ambassador to South Korea.  He‘s been assistant secretary for East Asia.  He‘s been ambassador to Poland.

His nomination is supported by General Petraeus at CENTCOM, General Odierno in Iraq, the Defense Secretary Bob Gates, the previous ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, the ambassador before him, Zalmay Khalilzad, the ambassador before him, John Negroponte everyone is in favor of getting Hill on the job and getting him into Iraq soon, where they really need him to get to work.

You know who is blocking him?  John McCain.  John McCain and his BFF, Lindsey Graham, are holding up the appointment of Chris Hill as ambassador to Iraq and they have been for more than a week now.  They released a statement saying the next ambassador to Iraq should have experience in the Middle East.

Of course, John Negroponte didn‘t have any experience in the Middle East before he was Iraq ambassador and senators McCain and Graham voted for him without a peep.  Still, though, as long as politicians can count on us not remembering the actual history of the Iraq war and how we got into it, and who was wrong and when, it must be tempting to keep using that war to play these partisan games.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA:  We are going to win this victory.  Tragically, we will lose American lives.  But it will be brief.  We‘re going to find out massive evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Joining us now to discuss Chris Hill and his nomination to be Iraq ambassador, is Laura Rozen.  She‘s a reporter for “Foreign Policy” magazine.

Ms. Rozen, thank you so much for joining us.

LAURA ROZEN, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE REPORTER:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Ambassadors are not politicians.  They don‘t have the same partisan affiliations as say, senators do.  But it does seem odd that Republican senators are opposing a guy like Chris Hill who President Bush appointed to a number of different senior posts.  What do you understand as their—the basis of their objection?

ROZEN:  I think their opposition has two parts.  One is, conservatives have an ideological gripe with Chris Hill and that they feel that President Bush‘s second term foreign policy to North Korea was more moderate and diplomatic because of Hill‘s influence than they would have preferred.  And some of the senators leading the opposition to Hill‘s nomination now for the Iraq ambassador job say that they don‘t think he was always forthright with them as well.

There is another component.  I mean, they said that they believe that Chris Hill does not have sufficient Middle East experience and that he doesn‘t have counterinsurgency experience either.

MADDOW:  Mr. Hill does seem to have a lot of support though among people like high-ranking generals in the Pentagon, people like General Odierno, General Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, as well as throughout the State Department, and does seem to have a lot of support in the Senate despite these outspoken objections from these Republicans.  Do you think he will get confirmed?

ROZEN:  He‘s going before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week for his confirmation hearing there and people think on the committee that he‘ll get out of the committee.  What‘s not clear is that there are 60 senators who will vote for him on the—in the full Senate after that.

My understanding is today, with generals Odierno and Petraeus and Secretary Gates indicating they support Hill getting to Baghdad as soon as possible because they need some help, that McCain and some of the Republican resistance to Hill‘s confirmation may be dissipating.

MADDOW:  What impact do we know about the—this delayed nomination is having on the ground in Iraq?  I know that you‘ve been reporting on the specifically on the reaction from the U.S. commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno.

ROZEN:  Right.  Well, the last U.S. ambassador to Iraq left Baghdad February 13th.  More than a month ago, the U.S. ambassador‘s office is empty.  And the top Iraq commander, Odierno, as you say, feels like he is doing two jobs—you know, the largest military mission in the world as well as, you know, one of the largest civilian components in the world.

And so, he and Petraeus along with Secretary Gates went public today with me through Gates‘ spokesman saying that they strongly endorse Chris Hill‘s swift confirmation and they hope that he can get to Baghdad as soon as possible so they can get some help.

MADDOW:  Laura, I know that you did speak with Defense Secretary Gates‘ spokesman today.  Is the frustration that you‘re sensing from Gates because of the impact on the military mission impact or is it a frustration with the source of the objections in Washington?

ROZEN:  No.

MADDOW:  No.

ROZEN:  Yes, I don‘t think it‘s a partisan objection at all.  I think that Odierno people tell me complained to Gates this week in a conference call and that he was frustrated he didn‘t have any help.  He was doing these two huge jobs and he wanted the U.S. ambassador there as quickly as possible.  And Gates‘ spokesman confirmed the sentiment is shared by the secretary as well today.

MADDOW:  Laura Rozen, reporter for the journal of “Foreign Policy.”  Thank you for your reporting and thanks for taking time to be with us tonight.  Appreciate it.

ROZEN:  Thanks.

MADDOW:  Outrage over the AIG bonuses has been channeled into action -

actual legislation to get the bonus money back.  An unintended consequence of that action by House Democrats today was a Republican Party twisting itself in knots, trying to blame the Democrats, trying to oppose the Democrats, and still trying to seem publicly mad at AIG—somehow?  We‘ll be back in just a moment with the excruciatingly gymnastic details.

But, first—One More Thing about the military and protecting ourselves from dangerous information.  Have you ever heard of TroopTube?  After the Defense Department banned the troops using YouTube in 2007, the Pentagon set up TroopTube as a sort of lame video-sharing site for the military that the Pentagon could control.  Now, many military bases are reportedly also blocking access to TroopTube.

One frustrated Air Force civilian told Wired.com‘s danger room, quote, “You know, it‘s bad enough they don‘t trust us with the ‘real‘ Internet and social media sites, why don‘t they trust us with the sites they invent?”  I don‘t know.  Maybe biscuit the sleep walking dog could be a threat to unit cohesion.  I know for a fact that hamster on the piano is at least very, very distracting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  On the spectrum of embarrassing mistakes made by people appointed by presidents, on the one hand, you‘ve got grievous mistakes like, oops, I forgot to tell you I don‘t pay taxes, or, oops, I forgot to tell you I‘m a secret lobbyist for some evil interest germane to my would-be new job.  That‘s the grievous side of the spectrum.

And meet ungrievous side of the spectrum?  Meet Vivek Kundra.  You might recall that he is President Obama‘s new chief information officer.  We recently reported that Mr. Kundra took leave from his new job at the White House because his old office in the D.C. city government got raided by the FBI.  It turns out the raid didn‘t actually have anything to do with him, so now, he is back to work.

But we did say that we‘d be keeping an eye on this case and we have been.  It turns out that in addition to the D.C. office raid, Mr. Kundra also had an embarrassing youthful indiscretion on his record that the White House knew about when they hired him.  In 1996, when he was 21, Mr. Kundra got busted for shoplifting at JCPenney.  He plead guilty, paid a fine, did community service.

And now, 13 years later, even having the arguably coolest Democratic job in the whole world, being tech guy for President Obama, even that is momentarily overshadowed by the fact that he was once in his youth overcome by the uncontrollable desire for four shirts from JCPenney.  Shame—the shame.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Pop quiz.  What‘s the Republican Party‘s position on those bonuses, those the notorious bonuses paid out by that bailed out company, AIG?  Republican position?

House Democrats proposed a bill to tax those crazy bonuses right back into the federal coffers.  Ninety-eight percent of House Democrats voted for that.  So, it‘s safe to say that‘s their position, that‘s the Democratic position.

The Republicans?  They split right down the middle on that -- 85 voted for it, 87 voted against.

At a time when the entire country is essentially united in revulsion for AIG, when even the CEO says those bonuses are disgusting, I guess, to be precise distasteful was his word, more than half the Republicans in the House have voted against taking those bonuses back for the taxpayers?  Why?  Well, in addition to talk show host Rush Limbaugh and former Bush spokesperson Dana Perino, it seems that the conservative base is now rallying in favor of AIG.

Other media personalities I usually don‘t report on, people like Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Sean Hannity—they have all now decided to, you know, become pro-AIG.  That means they have to make the news now because, as far as I can tell, they are the explanation for why the Republican Party is splitting on this most high-profile of high-profile political issues.

You can also add to that mix, Grover Norquist, the influential conservative anti-tax crusader who says that taxing those bonuses in order to get the money back, that‘s a tax hike.  The Republicans should oppose on ideological grounds.

Now, all this means that elected Republicans are sort of caught between a nation that is up in arms about AIG executives running off with our money and a powerful, organized conservative base that says—hey, look, they are running away with our money.  Go, AIG, go!

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  What‘s a Republican to do?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Are you going to vote

for the tax seizure bill -

REP. ERIC CANTOR, ® HOUSE MINORITY WHIP:  Listen, I am for whatever we can do right now to get that money back into the treasury.

O‘DONNELL:  Are you going to vote for it today?  There is a vote today.  Are you going to vote for it today?

CANTOR:  And—well, I am—I am going to—we‘ve got two bills coming to the floor today, here to begin with.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you not know how you are going to vote on Charlie Rangel‘s tax bill today?

CANTOR:  It is terrible tax policy.  But I‘m telling you one thing, I want to get those bonus payments back in.

O‘DONNELL:  I think I heard a “no.”  Was that a “no”?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  In other words, hamana-hamana-hamana.  (LAUGHTER).

In the end, because there are very few Republicans in Congress anymore, the House Democrats‘ proposal to tax these bonuses into oblivion, it passed—by a lot.  Eric Cantor was one of the Republicans who voted for the bill.

Out in California, President Obama seemed pleased even as he got a terrifying Austrian bipartisan bodybuilder hug from the Republican governor of California.  Later in a statement, he said, quote, “Today‘s vote rightly reflects the outrage that so many feel.  I look forward to receiving a final product that will serve as a strong signal to the executives who run these firms that such compensation will not be tolerated.”

Back in Washington, the tax-the-bonus ball is in the Senate‘s court.  Will the Republicans there decide to go with their base to side, in effect, with the most reviled corporate whipping boy in a generation?

Joining us now is Greg Sargent.  He writes the “Plume Line” blog at WhoRunsGov.com.

Greg, thanks very much for joining us.

GREG SARGENT, THE PLUM LINE BLOG:  Thanks very much, Rachel.  Glad to be here.

MADDOW:  The Democrats are passing this legislation to get the bonus money back.  Do you think that the Republicans just don‘t want to see the Democrats be able to take credit for getting the bonus money back?

SARGENT:  Well, you know, it‘s funny.  I was talking to a House Republican aide today about this, and he was surprisingly candid, maybe overly candid about it.  What he said was that what this is really about is preventing Democrats from putting the AIG issue to bed.

Now, we‘re seeing all this news come out now about Senate Dems and the insertion of a provision, a loophole that allowed—effectively allowed this to go forward.  Now, Republicans want to shift the conversation hard to that and what Geithner knew about that.

And if Democrats were able to pass this thing with a lot of Republicans behind them, Democrats can deflect that by saying, look, you know, yes, we had a problem before.  But, you know, now, we fixed it.  And you guys supported our fix.  So, in effect, that would bring—that brings closure to—you know it enables the public to move past the AIG story and reduces the potency of that attack.

MADDOW:  I understand, I guess, the political goal of wanting to be able to continue to complain about this for a long time, but with the Republicans not actually having a policy to respond to it, a policy that they agree on, it seems very awkward that they would want this to keep going.  I mean, eventually, people are going to keep asking them, like Eric Cantor was asked in stump this morning, what are you going do about it?

SARGENT:  Yes.  Well, I mean, it‘s funny.  I mean, they did try to float a policy, some sort of alternative, you know, mainly in order to be able to say that they favored a policy alternative of some kind.  But the thing here is that, you know, to the degree that Republicans can keep the conversation focus on that provision, on that loophole and on Geithner, and not on corporate behavior, you know, maybe they can—maybe they can squeeze a little bit out of it.

MADDOW:  What do you make of the split in the Republican leadership here?  Because the minority leader, John Boehner, and Tom Price, head of the Republican Study Committee, Mike Pence, who I inexplicably keep calling Steve Pence, chair of the House Republican Conference, they all voted against it, Eric Cantor ended up voting for it.  What do you think about that split?

SARGENT:  Well, you know, every one of these guys had to make a choice, you know, can I sell a “no” vote to my district—which is not an easy thing to do when your leadership has been, you know, expressing outrage about this for weeks, right?  So, I think, Boehner thought he could sell it by saying that he‘s trying to make sure that Dems don‘t escape accountability for their role in creating this.  Tom Price voted for it because he‘s trying—against it because he‘s trying to position himself as the kind of leading spokesman for authentic comeback conservatism.

And why did Cantor vote for it?  I mean, the most interesting theory I‘ve heard out there on the Hill is that these guys decided that they couldn‘t all vote against it.  I mean, remember what happened with the stimulus package, right?

MADDOW:  Right.

SARGENT:  They got hammered as the “party of no” for weeks, after they voted against it as a block.  So, they needed, maybe, one person in the leadership to vote for this thing.  And they maybe drew straws.  I don‘t know.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Greg Sargent, writer at the “Plum Line” blog and WhoRunsGov.com.  This might be drawing straws to see who takes the hit, feels actually like the most rational explanation that I‘ve heard about this all day.  Thank you for being on the show, Greg.

SARGENT:  Thanks very much.

MADDOW:  Coming up: Both very serious and somewhat delightful news from the “crucible of unknowable,” which is North Korea.  And, the “GOP in Exile” today gets a big hand from Democrats.  You know, if it were the Democrats in exile, do you think the Republicans would be doing the same?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Do you remember that whole 2008 campaign to decide who would be in charge of the country now?  Having won, and I mean opened up a can of that‘s-enough-out-of-you, I mean, really trounced the Republicans, having won, there are Senate Democrats who apparently feel bad.  They‘ve decided to fix the problem of too many Democrats having been elected by siding with the Republicans.  One of the brave conservadems has finally decided to talk with us.  That‘s coming up next on the show.

But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news—special North Korea edition today.

There‘s some real trouble tonight in North Korea.  We have had word that two American journalists on assignment there for Al Gore‘s Current TV network, they have been detained.  They‘ve been held in jail since Tuesday morning.  We found out about it today.

Their names are Laura Ling and Euna Lee.  They were both shooting video along a river near the North Korea/China border when North Korean authorities detained them for supposedly ignoring warnings to stop taping.  The two were reporting on North Korean refugees, many of whom have crossed that river, the Tumen River, into China.

The producer who was traveling with them was able to escape and alert American officials that they had been captured.  Now, American officials are reportedly working with Swedish diplomats in North Korea to negotiate the journalists‘ release.  Because the U.S. does not have diplomatic ties there, we‘re hoping the Swedes can hook us up.

Meanwhile, we, of course, hope and would demand, frankly, we were in the position to do so that Laura and Euna are safe, and that they return home very soon.

We‘ve also North Korean news of an opposite nature today to report, sort of news joy, in fact.  The Korean Central News Agency has posted online a full archive of its press releases and reports going back to 1997.

Yay to David Axe‘s Web site of the awesomely named “WarIsBoring.com” for discovering this treasure trove of full of slack-jawed wonder.  KCNA is the propaganda arm of Kim Jong Il‘s government.  They say they want no trouble with the dear leader. 

Want to hear some samples of the agency‘s work?  Days before Kim Jong Il‘s birthday this year, this news agency published an article titled, “Unprecedented Natural Phenomena on Jong Il Peak,” dear leader‘s supposed birthplace. 

KCNA reported that snow melted early and the temperature was warmer than usual ahead of the dear leader‘s birthday.  Quote, “An unprecedented phenomenon of moon halo was observed and the surroundings of the peak became a bright as daytime to make the night view above Kim Jong Il‘s birthplace brilliant.” 

You know, if it‘s in the paper, it must be true, right?  Try this outline from November, 2007, “Kim Jong Il Praised as Most Famous Person of World.”  The reason, quote, “His great ideological and theoretical feat and wise leadership, noble personality and virtues.”  “World media are becoming louder in the 2000s in praising him as the most prominent leader.” 

Besides a “Time” magazine reference, the world media cited in the article are Egyptian, Iranian and Russian newspapers and a Chinese Internet site.  I will tell you, if you are stuck by your computer and want to kill some valuable time in a most entertaining, dictatorial way, go to www.KCNA.co.jp for much, much, much more North Korean press excellence. 

The Internet‘s just got much more interesting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Do you remember “Schoolhouse Rock?”  I‘m just a bill yes, I‘m only a bill and I‘m sitting here on Capitol Hill.  That little dancing bill, remember him?  That is the way I learned how a bill becomes a law.  The way we make law in America is when someone writes a bill and it goes through the committee process in Congress. 

One House of Congress votes on it.  The other House of Congress votes on it, and if it passes both Houses, majority rules.  Yay.  If it gets the majority vote, it goes to the president.  If the president signs it - law, it is law. 

Now, in “Schoolhouse Rock,” the little dancing bill was all bedraggled and tired-looking by the end of the song because it is hard to become law.  “Schoolhouse Rock” after-school TV watching kids in the ‘80s, like me, learned that it is hard for a bill to become a law.  But at least, it is understandable process. 

Now, of course, there are exceptions to the way that it works.  There can be joint resolutions of Congress.  There can be bills that have to start in one House of Congress versus the other.  Certain bills have to go through certain committees or multiple committees, right?  There can be filibusters in the Senate where a senator can block or at least delay the Senate vote on a bill. 

But those are exceptions.  We all learned it in those PSAs.  At least, all those things used to be exceptions.  That filibuster thing is now being used in the Senate like it never was before.  It used to be used in exceptional circumstances when an individual senator or a minority group of senators didn‘t like something.  They would hold up a vote on it. 

It is a sort of an undemocratic tactic.  It‘s not a majority rule sort of thing.  But it was also a way to give the minority some power in the Senate.  And as long as it wasn‘t abused it was just part of how people understood the Senate to work. 

So say I was like eight when I was memorizing the lyrics to “Schoolhouse Rock.”  Here is the use of the filibuster over time in the Senate starting when I was eight, starting when I was born?  When does that start? 

Starting when I was born, OK.  There is sort of a vague trend upwards, right?  But we‘re talking about a few dozen per year, give or take.  But since the Republicans lost control of the Senate these last couple of terms, check out the use of the filibuster. 

Boing!  Oh, it‘s just not for exceptions anymore.  Yes, the Republicans in the Senate have changed the whole game.  Look at that.  So now, there is a routine filibuster, a standard permanent filibuster of all legislation.  Everything takes a filibuster overriding 60 votes to pass now, every major piece of legislation no matter what. 

What this means is that they have changed the basic way that America works.  They have overridden “Schoolhouse Rock.”  There is no longer majority rule.  Now, there is a process by which you can get around this, right?  You can bring up legislation in the Senate in a way that it can‘t be filibustered. 

It is a little complicated but it‘s called the budget reconciliation process.  Now, some Obama officials have floated the idea that they might use the budget reconciliation process to bring up Obama‘s healthcare reform plan and maybe the global warming plan, so the Republican minority can‘t stop it from being voted on, they can‘t filibuster it. 

You know, they can still vote against it; they just can‘t prevent it from passing even if it gets a majority vote by using the filibuster. 

Now, the Republican who used to be Obama‘s commerce secretary nominee, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire - he reacted to this prospect this week by saying this, quote, “That would be the Chicago approach to governing.  Strong arm it through.  You are talking about running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.” 

Really?  Or maybe you are just talking about restoring the radical idea that I‘m just a bill and if I get a majority vote in both Houses of Congress and the president signs me, “I‘m a law.  I‘m a law.” 

Incredibly, “Talking Points Memo” reports now that eight conservative Democrats, eight conservadems have signed a letter along with dozens of Republicans warning the White House not to use this 50-vote rule to get around the filibuster and bring up the Global Warming Bill. 

Why would Democrats want to give Republicans the power to block an up-or-down vote on that, to block the president‘s agenda from the minority? 

Joining us now is Sen. Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska and a member of the new Evan Bayh-led caucus of moderate Senate Democrats.  Sen.  Begich, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight.

SEN. MARK BEGICH (D-AK), MEMBER, CAUCUS OF MODERATE SENATE DEMOCRATS: 

And thank you very much.  I have to tell you there‘s a new book out called, “Mouse House”, which kind of updates how bills are done.  My 6-year-old son - I‘ve read that to him.  And I‘ve got to get you a copy of the book.  It‘s a new version of how it‘s presented.

MADDOW:  Now, can you sing-along to it?  Or is it a picture book?

BEGICH:  It is a picture book. 

MADDOW:  OK.

BEGICH:  And it‘s actually very good.  You would find it enjoyable.  And actually, I think about 100 other people might find it enjoyable.  I‘ll leave it at that.

MADDOW:  All right.  Well, if we get to be in the same place, maybe you and I can come up with danceable memorable skits to act it out. 

BEGICH:  I‘m for it. 

MADDOW:  All right.  I have to ask you, you were not one of these eight Democratic senators who signed on to this letter.

BEGICH:  Right.

MADDOW:  But you have been meeting with the moderate Democrat caucus that has just been founded.  Do you agree with the eight Democrats who say the Republicans should be able to filibuster the climate change legislation? 

BEGICH:  Well, no.  And the issue on the filibuster - you know, I didn‘t see your chart because I am in this dark room here.  I don‘t get to see your screen, but I know they have overused it and abused it.  And that‘s been the problem.

And I don‘t think we should utilize the filibuster on major pieces of legislation such as climate change, energy, healthcare, many issues that are coming forward.  But I didn‘t sign - they have seen letters like that, several of them around this issues which I have not signed because you want to keep some flexibility to get the legislation that I think this country is looking forward to. 

Now saying that, I do have to - you know, I watched your preview before I sat in this chair and I thought, “Geez, do I really want to be on here with Rachel?”  But I love your show and I‘m happy to I guess pull the short straw of the group. 

But I was happy to come on because I think part of the perception is that these moderate Democrats are against the president in some way and we are not.  Here is what I love.  I have been in the Oval Office as late as Friday with the president, with three other Democrats. 

And what I love about the president is he is willing to hear diverse ideas.  We are not robots.  We come into this office with new ideas and new approaches.  And what is great about the Democratic Party - we are very different in a variety of ways. 

And I think that is what he is hoping for and how we are going to solve a lot of problems.  I think as the moderate Democrats have talked, the issues, the pillars in his budget of healthcare, energy, the issue of climate change, the issue of deficit reduction - these are issues we do support.  How we get there is the devil in details. 

But I think the difference between us and the Republicans is we‘re just not a bunch of robots that hear one word and go down the path.  We are diverse but unified in the sense that we need to move this country forward on those critical issues that the president is anxious to get forward and move forward. 

MADDOW:  On the issue of healthcare and on the issue of global warming though, it seems likely from this vantage point that those issues will pass if they are brought forward under the 50-vote rule, if they‘re brought out forward under the budget reconciliation rule. 

And so far, it is the moderate Democrats who are saying, “No, no, no.  We want them to be brought up under terms that would allow them to be filibustered.”  That would probably mean that those don‘t pass.  That‘s why I think a lot of democrats and particularly liberals are frustrated that it would be Democrats who would be helping the Republicans undermine the chances for those things passing. 

BEGICH:  Yes.  I guess I would disagree, and maybe I have only been here 10 weeks.  I‘m a little naive about - but I doubt it, based on what I learned.  And 10 weeks feels like 10 years here. 

I think what we have to do is we have to present the best case to the American people just as we did in a variety of other projects or other bills throughout the first part of this year. 

Think of the Stimulus Bill.  I think the moderate Democrats, even though it wasn‘t exactly like the president wanted, it was clearly not what the Republicans wanted.  We were able to pick up the necessary votes, get a comprehensive plan on stimulus in the first phase and move it forward. 

I think on healthcare, there is no question.  This country, if you look at any polling data, healthcare is a top priority.  And I think if Republicans don‘t see the light and participate in solving this problem, if they want to just hang up on the side and just be the party of no, that is a decision they‘re going to make and they‘ll probably pay for it in 2010. 

But people like myself are practical.  We want to get things done.  We are going to do everything we can to make sure pieces of legislation that are critical - and the president has made these issues critical - energy, healthcare, education and deficit reduction in his budget.  We see those issues as also critical. 

MADDOW:  Senator, I have to interrupt - speaking of filibuster, I have to interrupt you.  I‘m sorry. 

BEGICH:  No problem.

MADDOW:  I have to call cloture here for a second. 

BEGICH:  It takes 60 vets. 

MADDOW:  I‘m voting 60 times right here. 

BEGICH:  There you go.

MADDOW:  Will you commit to supporting efforts to bring up important legislation under budget reconciliation rules even if other moderate Democrats try to stop that? 

BEGICH:  I‘ll tell you, Rachel, the answer is probably no.  I won‘t commit either way on it at this point.  I want to see what is coming forward.  And plus, the way this system works, in three weeks, we‘re going to be dealing with the budget. 

Is that an adequate time to deal with a significant piece of legislation?  I don‘t think so.  We have to make sure we do this right because we‘re dealing with millions of people. 

But I will tell you, I‘m not closing the door either, you know.  And I have made that clear, but that is where I stand now.  It is not one I‘m sure you are excited about.  You want me to say this, deal with 51 and rock and roll. 

But the reality is, we‘ve going to see what is coming forward.  But I am not going to just kowtow, as your commentary said at the beginning, to the Republicans and bend for their needs.  We are going to do what is right for this country. 

The election was clear in 2008, and we need to move forward.  And the Republicans want to be no - that‘s a decision.  They will face that tune in 2010.

MADDOW:  Ultimately, the Republicans are definitely trying to stop the

president‘s agenda -

BEGICH:  On everything. 

MADDOW:  On everything.  But the question is whether or not conservative Democrats, moderate Democrats are going to be people who slow down the president‘s agenda and make it less-likely to pass, or whether they‘re going to be able to make it more likely to pass. 

And I think with what Evan Bayh has articulated as the agenda for this group that you have joined, it seems like it‘s a decelerate.  It‘s a block.  It is going to be a barrier to the president‘s agenda, not an accelerator. 

BEGICH:  Yes.  Let me just say this that just because Sen. Bayh says what he says does not mean - no one speaks as a group.  We speak as individuals.  We come together as moderates.  We‘ll find our common ground where we think we can do and move legislation forward. 

That is our goal - is to get things done, not to stall out things and support the four pillars in the president‘s budget on healthcare, education, deficit reduction, and energy.  That‘s what we want to do, but we want to move it and not get stuck in the 60-filibuster votes that have been destructive to this process in the 10 weeks I‘ve been here. 

MADDOW:  Well, Sen. Begich, I hope you still don‘t feel like you drew the short straw.  And I hope you‘ll come back and talk to us about that legislation when it comes out. 

BEGICH:  I will do it and I‘ll also bring you the book. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Excellent.  It‘s a deal.

BEGICH:  OK.

MADDOW:  And I‘ll accept it as a bribe. 

BEGICH:  Thank you.  I‘ll report it as a gift. 

MADDOW:  Very good.  Sen. Mark Begich is a Democrat of Alaska.  It‘s really kind of you to be here, Sir.  Thank you.

BEGICH:  Absolutely.  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” - you might have heard, don‘t work.  It never has.  There is a brave new group called “Knights Out” - starts with a K - Knights Out.  It includes veterans and members of the military who are doing something about “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” not working. 

West Point grad Dan Choi joins us next.  And we have some videotaped evidence for you - videotaped evidence of President Obama on Jay Leno‘s couch.  That is coming up with my friend Kent Jones. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In the past 15 years, more than 12,000 servicemen and women have lost their jobs for the same irrelevant reason - they have the gay.  That means our military is made up of the straight and the closeted. 

Now, the military hasn‘t changed its enforcement of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” since Barack Obama was elected even though he has pledged to overturn the rule. 

In January of this year, in the Army alone, 11 more gay soldiers were discharged.  Now, “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” was the tragically flawed result of President Clinton‘s attempt of to tiptoe through the political minefield of gay people being barred from the military during his first term in office. 

And while President Obama figures out just how to map his own way through that, say, minefield, one group is stepping up to help.  They‘re calling themselves Knights Out.  It‘s a group of 35 graduates of the U.S.  Military Academy at West Point.  They have just declared that they are themselves gay or lesbian.  They have stated that their mission is to serve as the connection between gay troops and Army administrators and to help their alma mater to adjust if and when “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” gets repealed.  

Joining us now is Dan Choi.  He‘s a founding member of the Knights Out organization.  He‘s a graduate of West Point.  And he‘s an Iraq combat veteran.  Lt. Choi, thanks so much for joining us tonight.  

LT. DAN CHOI, FOUNDING MEMBER OF KNIGHTS OUT:  Wonderful to be here. 

I love your show, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  Thank you.  It was nice of you to say.  Now, Dan, I understand that you are an infantry platoon leader with the New York National Guard.  Now, by founding this organization, that means that you are violating the “don‘t tell” part of the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  Are you worried you could lose your job? 

CHOI:  That‘s right.  I am an infantry platoon leader in the New York

Army National Guard.  And by saying three words to you today, “I am gay,”

those three words are a violation of title 10 of the U.S. Code.  It‘s a

code that is polluted by the people who want us to lie.  And basically,

they want us to lie about our identity.  It‘s an immoral code and it goes

up against every single thing that we were taught at West Point with our

honor code.  The honor code says that cadet will not lie, cheat, steal -

(AUDIO GAP)

MADDOW:  We are having technical difficulties, which is tragic even more than usual, because I think he is in the middle of a really awesome point right there.  I‘m hoping that our producers will get this back.  Anybody who could give me advice about whether or not Lt. Choi is going to be able to join us again?  We could have him mime that out.  But I think that would be awkward. 

All right.  We‘re going to go to break.  Dan, sit where you are.  I know you  can hear me.  We‘re going to hopefully fix this when we come back.  Sorry about this.  It‘s the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.  We shall return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Thanks for sticking with us.  Dan Choi, who is the founder of openly-gay group of West Point grads - we mysteriously lost him in a middle of him making a super awesome point about his personal bravery and what that group of West Point grads is doing to try to advise the military if indeed “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is going to be repealed. 

I‘m going to try to not be conspiratorial and not assume that as soon as he said “I am gay,” somebody yanked a cord somewhere because I‘m level-headed about these things.  What we‘re going to do is we‘re going to plan to have Lt. Choi back on the show tomorrow.  And I‘m very sorry for all the awkwardness there. 

In the meantime, though, I understand there is some pop culture in the world to which I have not yet been alerted.  And that‘s why my friend Kent Jones is here.  Kent?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Here we are.

MADDOW:  Here we are.

JONES:  It‘s all fantastic.  President Obama tonight made his big appearance on Jay Leno‘s couch in Los Angeles tonight.  He got the full on Clooney treatment as you can see when the serious constituent love died down.  And in more serious topics, jay asked him how cool it was to fly in Air Force One. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  How cool is it to fly in Air Force One? 

BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Now, let me tell you, I personally think it‘s pretty cool, especially because they give you the jacket with the seal on it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES:  You hate the jacket, don‘t you? 

MADDOW:  Yes.   Well, I think the jacket is a little - mostly it‘s jealously, honestly.  I just think - it‘s like, you have to have your name on your jacket, you know, if you‘re a guy.  Well, it‘s not part of your job.  They put your name on your jacket, they sort of like, as an ego boost. 

JONES:  Right.  Right.

MADDOW:  If you‘re president, you shouldn‘t need an ego boost.  You have a plane.  

JONES:  No.  My plane -

MADDOW:  I know.

JONES:  My plane.  Check it out.  Then he asked Obama, do people kiss your butt now, maybe just a little bit? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO:  Mr. President, would you like to play.

OBAMA:  Yes, I would.

LENO:  Do they throw the game?  Come on.

OBAMA:  I don‘t see why they would throw the game except for all those Secret Service guys with guns around them.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s fair enough. 

JONES:  He‘s got a good three-point jumper there.  

MADDOW:  I know.  We‘ve seen that happen.  You can‘t fake that. 

JONES:  No.  You can‘t -

MADDOW:  I didn‘t know that you had the option of running out like high-fiving with the crowd when you come out.  I think he ran out to the crowd when he was announced (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  I didn‘t know. 

JONES:  He‘s president now.  He can do what he likes.  

MADDOW:  I guess he can do anything he likes.  Right.  I understand.  

JONES:  Next up, you‘re looking at a successful first test flight of a part airplane, part car called the Terrafugia Transition.  The idea was to create an airplane that could be driven to and from the runway and then parked into your garage at night. 

MADDOW:  Look at that.

JONES:  Look at the animation.  I‘m folding up the wings on my car and driving it home.  Honey, I‘m home.  Careful.  Careful.  OK.  Aim, aim and - he‘s in there.  Yay!

MADDOW:  Very nice. 

JONES:  Finally the University of Chicago is offering an anthropology class called “Intensive Study of a Culture: Pirates.”  In addition to studying the old school pirates, they are going to get present-day software pirates and pirates like Bernie Madoff. 

MADDOW:  Nice.

JONES:  There he is, looking very comfortable there. 

MADDOW:  Cocktail moment for you -

JONES:  Very nice.

MADDOW:  Watching C-Span today, spit coffee through my nose because of

this -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE LATOURETTE (R-OH):  Ross Perot, when he ran for president in 1992 - he talked about the giant sucking sound.  Well, today, there‘s another giant suck sound going on in Washington, D.C., and that‘s the tightening of sphincters on both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. as people are having to explain who put into the stimulus bill this provision of law.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The congressman who said that - his name is Steve LaTourette.  

JONES:  It certainly is. 

MADDOW:  Good night. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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