'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, July 24, 2009
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Guests: Melissa Harris-Lacewell; Lou Dubose, Jeff Sharlet
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: You did a great job tonight. Thank you.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.
MADDOW: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
There is some good news for the country and maybe some bad news for Texas today. The governor of the state with the worst health care problem in the country, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, wants to secede again, this time from any national effort to fix health care.
Also, C Street is back in the news with weird, easily disprovable denials by politicians who are trying to hide their association with C Street.
Plus: The amazing scene of the president of Honduras in exile, walking back into Honduras wearing a big cowboy hat while talking on a cell phone.
It‘s all coming up this hour.
But we begin tonight with the remarkable and unexpected moment at the White House press briefing this afternoon, concerning the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, an eminent African-American Harvard professor, and Sergeant James Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Department who arrested Professor Gates in his own home a week ago yesterday.
The controversial arrest was already a national story when President Obama was asked for his view of it at the very end of his primetime press conference on Wednesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it‘s fair to say: number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “Acted stupidly,” that line from the president turned what was already a big deal story about race into a huge story about race and politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge. What does that incident say to you and what does it say about race relations in America?
JON STEWART, TV TALK SHOW HOST: No!
OBAMA: I think it‘s fair to say.
STEWART: That it‘s a complicated issue, and I don‘t really have any comments at this time, because I wasn‘t there and I don‘t know all the facts.
OBAMA: . the Cambridge police acted stupidly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” showing why he is the most trusted newscaster in America.
Our guest on this show last night was Princeton political science professor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell. And on this show, she described it essentially the same way although with 100 percent fewer F-bombs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIV. POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR:
As soon as I heard it, my heart sunk, only because I knew that that would become the news cycle rather than the conversation on health care, which had been, of course, the whole hour before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama‘s comments about the Henry Louis Gates arrest, of course, did become the news cycle yesterday.
The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, spent much of the day not exactly backpedaling but doing a lot of explaining and parsing and tweaking of the president‘s comments in order to try to make people less upset about them while still not exactly taking the words back.
And then today, as the story completely took over the news on a slow summer Friday, as THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff this afternoon was quite literally holding a meeting to talk amongst ourselves about how we expected this whole story to end, while we‘re in the middle of that meeting, the president himself—in a surprise move—interrupts the White House press briefing to readdress and ultimately to try to diffuse the situation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Because this has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think, I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically. And I could have calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sergeant Crowley.
I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. My sense is you got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.
The fact that it has garnered so much attention, I think it is a testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America. Because of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African-Americans are sensitive to these issues. And even when you got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African-American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding.
My hope is, is that, as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what‘s called a teachable moment, where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other, and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations, we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity. Lord knows we need it right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One thing to notice here is that the president, while making these remarks, he‘s not reading. He‘s not talking from a teleprompter, doesn‘t even necessarily seem to be talking from notes.
The beltway response to what happened on Wednesday night, just a political assessment, was that the president, while making unscripted remarks got into territory he never would have wanted to get into had he planned his words in advance. It was an off-message moment that was probably off-message because it was unscripted.
Frankly, getting to see a president go off script is one of the reasons that people watch presidential press conferences, because there is some unpredictability there. But think about that it says about the president‘s confidence on this particular issue that when he went out to stop the firestorm that had been burning about this issue for two days, his comments, when he tried to fix it were again unscripted, no prompter, no apparent notes.
Well, what happens next here? The president says that Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates may soon be meeting again. This time, though, their meeting will happen at the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: At the end of the conversation, there was discussion about—my conversation with Sergeant Crowley—there was discussion about he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House. We don‘t know if that‘s scheduled yet.
OBAMA: . but we may put that together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, Professor Gates has now given a statement to “The Boston Globe” saying that he will attend that meeting. Similar noises have been made by Sergeant Crowley. So, it really seems like the two people involved in this incident that‘s at the center of this now national conflagration might literally end up talking it over a beer with the president.
Can the whole country do that now, too, please? I‘m sure Anheuser-Busch would be delighted if we tried.
But from the bully pulpit, the president is now putting himself in the middle of this—willfully. He‘s trying to diffuse the situation. In his words, he said he wants to make this a teachable moment. Needless to say, he is going to have some opposition there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: We‘re finding out, this guy‘s got a chip on his shoulder. He is angry at this country. He‘s not proud of it.
Let‘s face it. President Obama is black and I think he‘s got chip on his shoulder. I think—I think there are elements in this country he doesn‘t like and he never has liked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “Let‘s face it, he is black.” Radio host and Republican
agenda-setter Rush Limbaugh, who doesn‘t have a chip on his shoulder at all
especially not about race.
You know, there is a reason that this story has blown up the way it has. And it is not just about the raw outrage over Professor Gates‘ arrest, although that is there, certainly. It‘s also not just about raw outrage over the police officer in this case being called a racist because of the arrest, although there is outrage about that, too.
As the president tries to—in his words—get everybody to back up, slow down, be constructive in the wake of this incident, watch to see who resists and why. Watch to see who would rather this not get resolved, constructively, if they are given the choice.
We have proved ourselves over generations if not centuries, to be great in this country at provoking racial hatred and racial resentment for political gain. Can we now prove ourselves capable of giving that up and just trying to be less racist?
Joining us again tonight is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, political science professor at Princeton University.
Melissa, thanks very much for coming back on the show tonight.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Absolutely. I‘m always glad to be here.
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you first about this premise. Do you think the president is just trying to get a cease-fire from the people who are firing at him about this case? Or do you think that he is trying to get essentially a national cease-fire to try to turn the conversation that has sparked into one that he thinks would be more constructive?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I think that both of those things are going on. Part of this reaction of “My goodness, it certainly was stupid to arrest, you know, Henry Louis Gates,” is that if you know Professor Gates, even a little—and President Obama knows him more than just a little—your first reaction to hearing that he was arrested is, “What?” So, I think that he was having that kind of off-the-cuff, unscripted reaction.
On the other hand, I think, as he kind of pondered it over the course of the day and as he said, as the volume got pumped up in the media over the course of the day, he also thought about what it meant for the president of the United States to, you know, to denigrate or say something negative, you know, about a working police officer. So, clearly, part of what he‘s trying to do is ameliorate feelings on both sides.
On the other hand, it‘s also clear he‘s trying to turn down the racial emotional volume so we can have a conversation about the policy questions that he and the administration would like to have on the agenda.
Let me ask you about the statement that was just released just a few moments ago from Professor Gates. He e-mailed this to “The Boston Globe,” in response to the president‘s overture to come have a beer. I don‘t even know if he drinks beer.
But he said this: “My entire academic career has been based on improving race relations not exacerbating them. I‘m hopeful that my experience will lead to greater sensitivity to issues of racial profiling in the criminal justice system. If so, then this will be a blessing for our society. It‘s time for”—excuse me—“it‘s time for all of us to move on and to assess what we can learn from this experience.”
He went on to say that he would accept President Obama‘s invitation to meet both with him and the Cambridge police sergeant, Jim Crowley, at the White House.
What‘s your take on that response from Professor Gates?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, that sounds right to me—although my bet is
he‘d prefer pinot noir over beer. But what I will say is this—you know,
I know that we had a little bit of a cheering section going on among
progressive African-American scholars when we heard Barack Obama speak so
forthrightly about what sounded like his clear understanding of the anxious
relationship between African-Americans and the police. And so, there was -
there was similarly some booing that happened in that same quadrant today as he, you know, sort of backed away from some of it.
And all I want to say to that is, you know, we‘ve already seen what a presidential administration looks like when folks start calling names and refuse to ever listen to criticism or to ever back down. That‘s really what “W.” did, right? So, he called people “the axis of evil.” He asserted that there were weapons of mass destruction when there were none, and he refused to meet with or listen to critics.
So, although, you know, there are times when I wish Barack would be a little more like, you know, the black professorial group that all wanted to charge forward on criminal justice here, I also appreciate that, as president, he took a moment to say what are the possibilities for how this conversation could negatively impact us more broadly, and how to frame it so that we can have some more equivalent conversation about it or more equal conversation about it.
MADDOW: One other response today to the president‘s remarks, which I thought was - which goes directly to what you‘re just saying there, in terms of the utility and the way we think about the best national interests in moving forward from this—you know, this is one of those watershed moments when a lot of different things could happen.
“The Boston Globe” again today got a reaction to President Obama‘s statement from the head of the Cambridge Patrol Officers Association who, just hours earlier, had given that press conference, demanding an apology from the president. And after the call to Sergeant Crowley and the remarks from the president and the press briefing today, that Cambridge patrol officer had said that he was delighted by what President Obama did. He said the phone call to Sergeant Crowley mended the fence. He said, “I‘m absolutely pleased. He did a total 180 in a space of a couple of hours.”
What does that say to you?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I don‘t think it‘s quite true that President Obama did a complete 180.
MADDOW: No, the patrolman did in his reaction to President Obama.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Oh, the patrolman did.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: OK. What I—I guess what I want to say is I hope that the Boston police learn a lesson from the kind of leadership the president has just shown. In African-American communities, we are taught to only say to the police, “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” “Here‘s my I.D.,” and, “Do you have a warrant?” Now, that may, you know, keep everybody respectful, but it doesn‘t get information to the police that they need, and in cities like Chicago, where people are, you know, being victimized by violent crime where the police need to work with minority communities.
So, what I hope the police learn from having watched how President Obama was willing to take critique and open up to a bigger conversation is that if they continue to assert that there is only one very straight-line that you‘re allowed to walk with the police, that they will actually make it harder to do the job that they want to do in keeping communities safe. So, I hope they‘ll take a similar action towards opening up, listening to critique and saying they‘re sorry when they need to.
MADDOW: The initial response today from the patrolman‘s association looks like people are exactly in line with what you‘re thinking. This is going to continue to unfold for a long time, but it‘s taken a lot of really interesting turns already.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell, political science professor at Princeton—thank you so much for your time and have a great weekend, Melissa.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Thank you.
MADDOW: The fight to prevent health care reform is drifting ever cockward these days. But one man has decided that instead of drifting, America should steam forthrightly toward Cook Island. He is Texas Governor Rick Perry and he is one of my favorite people to talk about in all of politics.
MADDOW: A Florida doctor active in the anti-Obama tea party movement has apologized and has pledged to stop participating in conservative anti-health care reform efforts after he was caught circulating a photo-shopped picture of President Obama portrayed as an African witch doctor with a bone through his nose. The photo, which we will not show on this program, so as to save you from having to bleach your eyeballs later, was captioned “Obama Care” with the “C” in the word “care” formed into a hammer and sickle. Get it?
He‘s an African witch doctor with a bone through his nose because he‘s black, like really black, and also, he‘s a Soviet communist at the same time. It‘s very subtle and very complicated, as frankly is a lot of the expressed opposition to reforming health care. Even by people who aren‘t supposed to be just tea party cooks and guys holding signs on street corners.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does President Obama‘s health care plan represent socialism?
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: Yes. Next question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, he‘s very sure about that. He can move right on. He‘s very sure that reforming health care is socialism even if he‘s not actually all that sure what health care policy is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEELE: I don‘t do policy. I‘m not—I‘m not a legislator.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Don‘t let that stop you from talking about it, anyway.
The opposition to reforming health care isn‘t the most cogent thing in the world thus far. The GOP Health Care Solutions Group in Congress, you will recall, admitted this week that they think it‘s best if they don‘t actually offer any health care solutions. They‘d rather just keep saying “no” to whatever it is the Democrats are offering no matter what it is.
But in this rollicking substance-free festival of incoherence, there is one man who is determined to be the most incoherent of all. Little known outside his home state for anything other than having beautiful hair, and for threatening to secede from the Union back in April, Texas Governor Rick Perry is now threatening that Texas will also secede from health care. I told you it was incoherent.
Speaking with a conservative talk show host yesterday on WBAP in Arlington, Texas, Governor Perry had this to say about what he wants to secede from next.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS: It really is a state issue. And if there was ever an argument for the 10th Amendment and for letting states find the solutions to their problems, this may be at the top of the class.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know who is at the top of his class? A guy who brags about how health care is really one of those issues where states ought to find their own solutions when he‘s the governor of the state who has more uninsured people than any other state in the entire country. One in four Texans doesn‘t have health insurance, Governor Rick. Health coverage is 10 points worse in Texas than it is in the rest of the country.
Governor Rick, you‘ve been governor for nine years there. How you doing finding a solution for Texas‘ health care problem, Governor? You got the most expensive health care markets in the country and the least number of people insured—and you‘re worried the federal government is going to screw up the good thing you got going on in Texas?
You need to protect Texas‘ health care system that you‘re doing such an awesome job with from the people who you think might really screw it up? Let the states find their own solution?
You‘ve had nine years, Governor. You‘re the worst in the country.
How are you doing with that?
Sorry, I try to never do it. I try to never do it. Come on! Sorry.
Now, to allow a cooler head to prevail, we are joined by Lou Dubose, who is editor of “The Washington Spectator” and co-author of “Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch‘s Assault on America‘s Fundamental Rights.”
Lou, I apologize for my outburst. Thank you very much for joining us.
LOU DUBOSE, EDITOR, WASHINGTON SPECTATOR: I just regret being described as a cooler head. But let‘s go.
MADDOW: Well, please tell me that I‘m just misunderstanding this somehow. Please tell me there is some secret Texas speak at work here that I just don‘t understand.
DUBOSE: There is. This is blind-item secession. We are going secede on the very—on certain policy issues and not total secession. It‘s Governor Perry refining his position.
You know—a little more seriously—it was 107 in Dallas yesterday. It‘s 105 in Austin today. It‘s the dog days of summer. There is a political campaign impending. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is preparing to run against Governor Perry. And that‘s a problem for him because he doesn‘t quite know how to run against her.
But in Texas, there are proven formulas. You run against—you run for God, against gays, you run against Washington, and you run for guns. He‘s going to spend this summer running against Washington and running against “Obama Care,” as he‘s calling it, to try to—and try to associate Kay Bailey Hutchison—Senator Hutchison with Washington.
DUBOSE: She is in Washington.
MADDOW: She is. So, that‘s convenient, I suppose.
MADDOW: I mean, I know that he likes to make a show about this Texas independence stuff. But he doesn‘t—nothing really seems to work out for him. I mean, he is the governor. He‘s not just doing this as a gadfly.
In March, he said he was rejecting a half billion dollars in unemployment money. Then the state had to go back and not only take what he rejected, but ask for more beyond that. He said this spring he wanted Texas to secede from the union, then he had to say he didn‘t really mean that.
One would think he was sort of going back to this well over and over again because it was working for him. From outside the state, it doesn‘t look like it is. Is it from Texas?
DUBOSE: It‘s hard to tell. He—but the answer is probably yes.
You know, the governor—it‘s you know, it‘s a ribbon cutting position. It‘s not—it‘s very difficult for the governor to—when the legislator is not in session—for the governor of Texas to get any attention.
So, he is going to use this summer to run on these issues. I mean, if you consider his last legislative session, he had—he had several big agenda items. One was a “choose life” license plate on which he won. The other was this 10th Amendment, a resolution to restate the primacy of the states which he lost even in the Texas legislature. The other was the defeat of SCHIP, the children‘s health—the expansion of SCHIP which is children‘s health insurance. He won that. They defeated SCHIP.
And the other was the $550 million in stimulus money that he returned, only to borrow $170 million later. You know, it makes no sense, but it‘s good copy, and it‘s the dog days of summer. He‘s terrified about—of Kay Bailey Hutchison who will run a smart campaign against him.
And, you know, hey, we‘re Texas. I mean, we do things differently here.
MADDOW: But just to be clear, he is, politically, doubling down on the Texas sovereignty secession stuff, while he couldn‘t even get his 10th Amendment gimmick sovereignty thing through the Texas state legislature.
DUBOSE: Don‘t call it a gimmick. He was deadly serious about it and so were half a dozen legislators.
And, you know, and, Rachel, there is also—I mean, there is a states right argument here that goes right back to Orville Faubus and George Wallace. And there‘s a subtext to this that has to do with as much—as much to do with race as Skip Gates being dragged from his house in Cambridge and the ensuing controversy.
You know, he‘s going to do whatever he needs to do to get elected.
And he‘s in a tough race. I mean, as you pointed out, we lead the nation. I mean, we‘re Mississippi with good roads. We lead the nation in uninsured adults and uninsured children. Yet, he fought valiantly to stop the expansion of the health—of SCHIP for Texas children.
You know, it‘s Texas. And important thing to note is, he is fighting for the Texas base, that 600,000 voters and the state of 23 million who would turn out and vote in a Texas primary. So that‘s—you know, when you think of the national Republican base, you know, distill it down to real crazies in Texas. And it‘s an extremist base that he‘s got to nail down before Kay Bailey Hutchison—Senator Hutchison starts spending money.
MADDOW: Lou Dubose, editor of “The Washington Spectator,” co-author of the book, “Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch‘s Assault on America‘s Fundamental Rights,” and a brave and probably a little schvitzy (ph) man given the heat tonight. Lou, thanks very much for taking time.
DUBOSE: Thank you. And he was an Eagle Scout.
MADDOW: Oh, very good. Very important. Thank you.
All right. Coming up: Which member of Congress is denying having anything to do with the Family—the secretive religious group that runs the C Street house in Washington—even though we‘ve got eye-witness reporting proving otherwise? Jeff Sharlet joins us in a moment.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Coming up, if the mysterious C Street house is just a place where elected officials gather to chat and support one another and share their faith, how come so many C Street affiliated members of Congress are all of a sudden going out of their way to deny knowing anything about it. Jeff Sharlet joins us to discuss the latest.
We‘ve also got some political battles caught on tape that makes President Obama versus Congress look like a friendly game of tennis. That‘s all coming up.
But first, time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. We begin with international intrigue. About a month ago, the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya was overthrown. Soldiers showed up at this house in the middle of the night and escorted the president, still in his PJs, onto a plane and they flow him to Costa Rica and told he couldn‘t come back.
Every government in the western hemisphere condemned the coup. But so far, Zelaya has not been reinstated. In fact, he hasn‘t even been allowed back into the country, though he does keep trying.
On July 5th, he tried to fly into Honduras, but his plane couldn‘t land because the military put vehicles on the runway. He has since then tried mediated diplomacy to allow him to return, but talks have reportedly stalled.
And then today, just a few hours ago, he tried just walking in, walking over the border from Nicaragua. The president just walked up to the Honduran border right by the big welcome to Honduras sign. And while giving telephone interviews on live TV, he lifted up a chain that indicates where the border is and he went home for a few moments.
Soldiers formed a human chain in front of him to block any further progress. And after talking more on his cell phone for a while, he eventually jumped back over the chain into Nicaragua. The Honduran military has been promising ominously that they can‘t be responsible for Zelaya‘s safety if he does get back into the country, the defense minister even suggesting that Zelaya would stage an assassination attempt on himself for attention.
Our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Zelaya‘s border jump rope thing today reckless. And depending on how you see the situation in Honduras, that translates in Spanish to either loco or cojones grandes.
And finally, thanks to the Democrats‘ midterm election promise in 2006, the minimum wage in America went up today. If you make minimum wage, your annual salary just went from about $13,600 to just over $15,000. Of course, that‘s if you work eight full hours every single freaking week day of every single freaking week and you never get sick and never sleep in once and never leave early ever in the whole entire year. $15,000 grand for the year.
Are you, by any chance, supporting a family on that salary? And by any chance, does your minimum wage job not offer you health insurance? If so, here is the telling awful math about being poor in America today.
The minimum wage annual salary just went up to $15,080 a year, right?
The annual average cost of family health insurance this year is $13,150. Which means if you have a minimum wage job and you want to live the fantasy of buying health insurance for your family, on average, America expects you to live off a grand total of $1,930 for everything else you need for the year - food, shelter, everything. Oh, also, we‘re the richest country on earth.
MADDOW: What does C Street, the D.C. home of a number of congressmen, operated by a secretive religious organization, have in common with the cult crossover homoerotic hit movie “Fight Club?” I mean, aside from the obvious?
Apparently, the first rule of C Street is you do not talk about C Street. The second rule of C Street is you do not talk about C Street. I can‘t really do that justice because I‘m no Brad Pitt. But then again, neither is Michigan conservative Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak.
Congressman Stupak lives in the C Street house. We found a 7-year-old “Los Angeles Times” article which says he lived in the C Street house back then, too. So it appears he‘s been at C Street at least since 2002.
But as reporters on a conference call with Congressman Stupak found out yesterday when they asked him about his ties to C Street and The Family, the organization that runs it, if there is one thing a guy can get down pat after minimum seven years living at C Street, it is rule number one.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will not discuss what goes on there because I‘m not there. Are there other activities going on there? Yes. But what goes on and things like that, I don‘t know. I have my room there. I have a room there. And I participate in a Tuesday night dinner once in a while there. So there is no regimen. There is no group stuff I have to do. I rent a room there.
I rent a room at a house on C Street. I do not belong to any such group. I don‘t know what you are talking about. I have no affiliation. I rent a room at C Street. I pay rent for a room. I sleep there. I rent a room.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Despite those many protestations, Jeff Sharlet, the journalist who infiltrated The Family in 2002 and who will join us here in a moment, reports that Congressman Stupak openly participated in the religious activities of The Family while he has been living at the C Street house.
Now, Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas is also angrily denying now that he‘s a member of The Family. And he‘s picking a fight with Jeff Sharlet in the process.
In response to an article written by Sharlet, which quoted Sen. Pryor from a 2007 interview with Sharlet - that interview named Pryor as a member of The Family, Sen. Pryor‘s spokesman told “The Arkansas Times” that Pryor is not a member and that Jeff Sharlet, quote, “is a nut job.”
We will have Jeff on in just a moment to respond to that particular allegation. Meanwhile, “The Las Vegas Sun” is reporting this week that admitted and confirmed Family member, Sen. John Ensign, took three overseas trips in 2003 and 2004, trips costing more than $15,000, that were all paid for by The Family.
According to congressional travel records, Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan also took a Family-sponsored trip in 2003 at a cost of more than $7,800. Even so, Congressman Hoekstra is now trying to distance himself from The Family, telling “The Detroit News” this week that he, quote, “stopped attending meetings about two years ago, saying he‘d gotten what he needed out of his visits.”
So here‘s the question. If, as the people who are willing to admit their members maintain, there is nothing controversial at all about C Street, how come so many members of the group aren‘t willing to admit that they belong to it?
Joining us now is Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor at “Harpers” and author of the book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” Jeff, thanks very much for coming back on the show.
JEFF SHARLET, AUTHOR, “THE FAMILY”: Hey, Rachel. Good to be here.
MADDOW: Let‘s start with Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. His spokesman says that you never spoke to Sen. Pryor. He says you‘re a nut, and he says that Mark Pryor is not a member of The Family. I have to ask you your response to that.
SHARLET: Well, you know, I spoke to Sen. Pryor‘s office just the other day and they changed their tune. You know, I wasn‘t even looking for his involvement. I called him up, interviewing him for a story I was reporting for “Rolling Stone” magazine about another fundamentalist movement that had identified him as an ally.
And Sen. Pryor said, “No. I‘m not so much involved with them. I‘m involved with the prayer breakfast folks, The Family.” He went on to say that he had learned through this group, The Family. He had learned the real meaning of bipartisanship which he described to me as Jesus didn‘t come to take sides; he came to take over.
So I wrote about this and as you say, their first response was, “Well, Sharlet never spoke with Pryor.” When I offered to share my record, they conceded the point. They told me they would be making a correction to “The Arkansas Times.”
And then they said, please stop connecting our man to The Family. He doesn‘t know anything about it. He‘s never been there. He doesn‘t know anything about it. And the events he‘s been part of had nothing to do with The Family.
Of course, they‘re actually paid for by The Family. But that‘s Sen. Pryor‘s word. And I guess we‘ll just have to accept that.
MADDOW: Do you know that he has any connection to The Family other than through the prayer breakfast? When he described to you that idea of Jesus didn‘t come to take sides, he came to take over, was he explaining that that was something that he learned through participation with The Family beyond that prayer breakfast?
SHARLET: Yes, absolutely. Not the national prayer breakfast, a singular event but the weekly events, just like the one Bart Stupak attended and further went on to say that through The Family he had learned that separation of church and state is actually something sort of exaggerated by seculars, that in fact America really has this almost Christian identity.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about Congressman Stupak. He says that he doesn‘t know anything about activities at C Street. He just lives there. He‘s got no association with any group of any kind. What was his role in The Family during the time that you were part of the organization?
SHARLET: Well, when I was living with the group, it was, in fact, Congressman Stupak‘s name that would most often be mentioned when people wanted to emphasize the fact that it is not an entirely Republican group. It is about 80 percent Republican. But there are some conservative Democrats involved.
So they talk about Congressman Stupak. And in fact, one of the men I was living with went over to Washington. We were over in Arlington headquarters. He‘d go over to Washington once a week for what he described as mentoring sessions with Congressman Stupak in The Family‘s beliefs, which he found actually a little bit unsettling. They were so at odds with what he knew about Christianity.
MADDOW: Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor at “Harper‘s,” author of the book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.”
Jeff, if you wouldn‘t mind, I‘d love to have you back next week to talk to us about these foreign trips that have been funded by the family, the Sen. Ensign, Congressman Hoekstra and others we know have taken. I‘d love to talk to you about what may be the agenda of some of the trips, if you wouldn‘t mind joining us again.
SHARLET: I would be glad to.
MADDOW: Great. OK. American political fights can get ugly. Bill Ayers, anyone, right? But you know, compared to South Korea, what goes on in Washington is like reading the Miss Manners guide. Coming up, Friday night fights, political ones. Stay tuned.
But first, one more thing about the C Street scandals. After admitting to an affair with a married staffer and having his parents pay said married staffer‘s family nearly $100,000, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada says he‘s done talking.
He released a statement tonight that says, quote, “I know there are questions regarding my affair with Cindy Hampton that people want to know the answers to. It was reported, however, that CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) was planning to file complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee and the Federal Elections Commission. So I‘ve been advised not to publicly comment further at this time.”
So in other words, Sen. Ensign says he‘s not commenting on the scandal because of this complaint by CREW. We called up Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW tonight to find out whether CREW filing these complaints means that the senator can‘t comment on his affair and the ensuing scandal.
Sloan told us, quote, “The fact that CREW has filed complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee, the FEC and the FBI in no way prevents Sen. Ensign from explaining himself. If he has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear from any investigatory body.”
And with that, case not at all closed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY LEADER: We‘re going to work until the bill is done.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Are you ruling out -
HOYER: That doesn‘t mean we‘re necessarily going to work in session.
HOYER: We‘re not going to stop working.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer confirming today - you can tell he was confirming something by the fact that reporters went, “Ah” - confirming today what we already sort of knew. Congress is not planning on meeting President Obama‘s deadline for a health care reform bill.
You know, all of the heated congressional rhetoric that we are hearing about health care - socialist this and fascism that - is about as burly as political fights get in this country. Without trying to downplay that at all, this may be an appropriate time to just step back for a little perspective about just how vicious political fights can actually get.
Just for context, earlier this week in South Korea, for example, this is how their lawmakers dealt with their contentious debate over easing restrictions on media ownership. If this sort of thing is ringing a bell for you, if you feel like you‘ve seen this before, it‘s because you have. This kind of stuff happens way more than you‘d think it would.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let‘s get ready to rumble.
MADDOW (voice-over): South Korean lawmakers have sort of cornered the market when it comes to political brawls. This one back in 2007 was over the investigation of a presidential candidate for fraud. It marked what we think is the first time a telephone was used in a parliament as a weapon.
It was also in South Korea in 2008 when lawmakers used a sledgehammer to break down a barricade other lawmakers had built. They also moved on up from fists and telephones to fire extinguishers when it came to finding convenient things to hit each other with.
The Russians, it turns out, are also quite fond of donnybrooks in the Duma. This one took place two years ago. Political circumstances unknown here, but for pure physical kinetic drama, quite impressive.
Elsewhere in the eastern bloc, this is a famous one - a physical smackdown between two Czech politicians. The catalyst for the fight was apparently some sort of personal matter between the two men. Whatever that was led to a firm slap to the back of the head followed by the requisite exchange of this.
Now, here‘s the only parliamentary brawl we know of that took place in a balcony. This is the Ukrainian parliament in the midst of a fight whether or not to oust their speaker.
Now, in terms of just literally the best individual fighter out there of all of these politicians fighting, I think it‘s got to be Mr. Judo master here. Imagine assuming that guy is just your average interior ministry agriculture bureaucrat, and then he suddenly picks you up with his legs and flips you over onto your head.
A little closer to home comes this scuffle in a government chamber in Mexico. The cause here was reportedly the question of whether or not the government should sanction the construction of a new road.
A bit farther south was this clash in Guatemala which features a shove, another shove, a glass of water to the face and finally, a white flag of surrender. And clearly, the rest of the world just has us beat in terms of converting their political arguments into sheer physical ordeals.
But to prove the exception proves the rule here, we really must also note that even when Americans do turn their political fights into violence among politicians, it happens very rarely. But when it does happen, we‘re bad at it.
Take this assault at a city council meeting in Carson, California. Piece of paper? Sledge hammer? What‘s the difference? Ow, ow, ow! How about this knockdown, drag-out brawl in the Alabama State Senate? Here it is one more time in super slow-mo in case you missed it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
The fight over whether we are going to get health care reform in this country has gotten pretty nasty and it will almost certainly get nastier. But in the big picture, just take a moment to be thankful that as brutal as our political fights get, even the worst of them are typically settled with nasty words rather than nasty judo moves.
And when our politicians do physically fight it out, they suck at it. That‘s one kind of government incompetence to actually be proud of. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Here now is my friend Kent Jones with a look back at the last seven days of lame-itude. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. On tonight‘s menu, a savory stir-fry of weak, and you‘re included. Don‘t worry. It‘s fine.
(voice-over): First up, presidential punchline of the weak. In Pakistan, anyone caught sending a joke about President Asif Zardari by E-mail, text or blog will be arrested and possibly sentenced to prison for up to 14 years. Wow.
This guy has a nuclear arsenal at his fingertips, but he‘s unable to withstand snark? Here‘s one - how many Zardaris does it take to screw in a light bulb? Zardari does not screw in light bulbs. Off to jail with you! Weak!
Next, comfort haters of the weak. A nude beach advocacy group asks the California Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that makes it easier for park officers to crack down on nude sunbathing on safe beaches. What?
The right to lie naked on a beach in California is one of the cornerstones of our Constitution. Live free or die. Don‘t tread on me. Weak.
Finally, the suppressed Rachel of the weak. “Pride ‘09” is a magazine published by the International gay pride group, InterPride, and hey, look who‘s on the cover. Just don‘t try to get it in Belarus. Customs officials there seized 25 copies addressed to the head of Project Gay Belarus in Minsk. What‘s the Belarusian word for “heavy-handed censorship?” You want the Maddow? You can‘t handle the Maddow. Belarus? Bela-weak.
MADDOW: I‘m trying not to take it personally.
JONES: I don‘t think it‘s about you at all.
MADDOW: I was wearing a very dumpy shirt. It has to be set. It could have been a fashion police move.
JONES: Whole country -
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent.
MADDOW: A little bit of breaking news, actually. The “New York Times” just posted on their Web site a bit of a bombshell that‘s going to be in tomorrow‘s paper. It says that Dick Cheney demanded to send our military, the Army, into Buffalo, New York, to arrest people in 2002, in the words of the “New York Times,” to test the Constitution, literally to demonstrate that the Constitution no longer applied anymore.
Politically, my assessment - instinct is that it looks to me like this is loyal Bushies returning fire against Cheney for him attacking Bush yesterday about Scooter Libby. It remains to be seen, though. This one is going to be a big deal this weekend.
JONES: It sounds like it, yes.
MADDOW: Indeed. Thanks, Kent. Thank you for watching tonight.
We‘ll see you again Monday night. Have a spectacular weekend. Good night.
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