August 3, 2009
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Guests: Jon Ralston, Ana Marie Cox, Sen. Sherrod Brown
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Hi, Keith. Welcome back.
KEITH OLBERMANN, "COUNTDOWN" HOST: Thank you.
MADDOW: We missed you a lot.
Thanks to you at home for staying with us tonight as well.
Tonight, we report on the somewhat scary turn toward raw, hooliganism and even physical intimidation as a political tactic in this country. We've got some upsetting footage to show you from settings that used to be for politics that are now descending toward something that looks a lot more like street fights.
The Senator John Ensign scandal also takes a turn today, raising some difficult questions now for the Republican Party itself.
And, "cash for clunkers" worked so perfectly that obviously it must now die. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio will join us.
And that is all coming up.
But we begin tonight with recess. Recess. It's recess time. As of Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives is officially on recess. And they are on recess for the rest of August.
And while that sounds like an awesome summer vacation, what it means for House members is-as tradition dictates-they go home to their districts and they meet with their constituents about the hot issues on the political stove right now. Hottest among them, of course, is health care reform.
Now, whatever the political issues are, this recess happens every year, and the "meetings with constituents" thing happens every year. What's different about this year? Well, I'll let you judge for yourself.
To my mind, this is not your typical meeting with constituents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What government agency has the government taken over and it's run beautifully and made money?
REP. TIM BISHOP (D), NEW YORK: Sir, we are not talking.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, please tell me, please tell me.
I've as question, please answer it.
BISHOP: OK, if you would stop talking, I'd be happy to answer it. The overwhelming weight of the evidence, the scientific evidence, is that global warming is real. No one is talking about the government taking over health care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't pull the wool over our eyes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Answer the question!
BISHOP: I'm trying to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop of New York being shouted down and overwhelmed by a belligerent, organized crowd of hecklers that had no interest in letting him get a word out as he attempted to answer their questions.
This could have just be a one-off thing. This could just be a one-off experience of badly behaved constituents somewhere, mad at their congressman about something or other. It turns out this was not at all a one-off bad meeting. It turns out this is happening around the country.
Here's Texas Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett. Yes, there are still elected Democrats in Texas. Congressman Doggett facing a similar scene at a town hall event over the weekend, this one took place at a grocery store in Austin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What you may or may not be able to make out there is the crowd yelling, "Just say no, just say no." They're holding signs depicting Congressman Doggett as the devil. And there's one sign that reads, "No government counselor in my home."
The U.S. Senate doesn't take its recess for another week, but Democratic Senator Arlen Specter got a taste of what his time off might be like at recess during a town hall event he held in Philly yesterday with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HHS SECRETARY: I am not a member of Congress.
Have never been one.
SEBELIUS: That's just a fact. I'm just-I'm just telling you. My observation is I have never seen members of Congress work harder on-it is unacceptable to me for somebody to.
SEBELIUS: Reform our health care system and stop this system that we have now where insurance companies basically get to pick and choose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We actually had to narrow down the pile of footage that we had like this from just the last few days, in order to figure out what to show in the time we had available on the show. We could have spent the entire hour showing tape like this.
But the more time you spend looking into this seemingly organic outrage at these town hall meetings, the more clear it is that this isn't organic at all. This is orchestrated outrage. There is a script for this stuff that was written before these events happened, and that it appears to be instructions to people to shut down these efforts at civic discourse.
The Web site "Think Progress" obtained a leaked memo from a group that calls itself Right Principles. The three-page memo details how protestors should behave at town hall events under the heading "Inside the Hall."
It says, quote, "You need to rock-the-boat early in the representative's presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the representative's statements early. If he blames Bush for something or offers other excuses, call him on it. Yell back. And have someone else follow up with a shout-out. The goal is to rattle him."
Also, quote, "When the formal Q&A session begins, get all your hands up and keep them up. The balance of the group should applaud when the question is asked, further putting the representative on the defensive."
Who's giving these rent-a-mob instructions like this? Well, that memo was written by a man named Bob MacGuffie. Bob MacGuffie is affiliated with an organization called FreedomWorks. FreedomWorks is a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm run by former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey.
Corporate lobbyists are organizing far-right hooligan tactics to disrupt civic meetings about health care reform. This is the organized use of intimidation as a political tool in the United States, and I don't mean intimidation euphemistically. I mean literal intimidation. New York Congressman Tim Bishop, who we showed you earlier, he ended up having to be escorted to his car by five police officers for his own safety after his town hall event was over.
And this type of harassment is not just reserved for elected officials. Check out what happened at a Syracuse, New York town hall meeting when a man who supports a single-payer health care system stood up at one of these events to ask why his congressman wasn't supporting single-payer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's cheaper. It would cover everyone. We have 45 million people who are uninsured. (INAUDIBLE) people who have signed on in the United States Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down! Sit down! Sit down!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time now for action. Why won't you co-sponsor H.R. 676 for single-payer universal health care?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This type of tactic, this type of intimidation is a deliberate choice. And it appears to be stoked and organized by corporate lobbyists, and it is not something that is happening in a vacuum.
Let me give you another example of what's being passed off as politics right now by lobbying interests on the political right.
When the climate change bill came before the House last month, the Democratic congressman named Tom Perriello of Virginia received a letter purportedly from a nonprofit Hispanic group in his district, and the letter urged him to oppose the cap-and-trade legislation. He received similar letters from what were purportedly his local branches of the NAACP. Only, these letters weren't actually from that Hispanic group in his district or the NAACP. A Republican lobbying firm in Washington has admitted to impersonating those local nonprofits and sending Congressman Perriello fake letters to get him to oppose the climate change legislation.
Congress is now investigating this incident.
This is a lobbying firm. This is the establishment. This isn't a lone nutjob passing himself of as a group he doesn't belong to. This is well-paid lobbyists doing this as a strategy. It's the same thing with the deathers-the scare-your-grandmother myth that the whole point of health care reform is secretly to kill old people. This patently, patently false rumor about health care reform as we've talked about earlier on this show was started by a woman who sits on the board of directors of one of the nation's biggest medical device companies.
Everybody says, "Oh, politics ain't beanbag," right? Obviously this is not beanbag. But this isn't hardball either. No offense to Chris. This just isn't even politics. This is orchestrated mob mentality intimidation. This is called hooliganism.
Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and associate editor for "The Washington Post." He's also an MSNBC political analyst.
Gene, thanks very much for being here.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Great to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me start by giving you a chance to challenge the premise here. You are more experienced in the ways of Washington than I am, and you know how these August recesses work usually. What we're seeing here, to me, seems really extreme. Does it seem extreme to you or am I just being naive here?
ROBINSON: No. This seems extreme, extraordinary-you could almost say shocking. It's hard to be shocked in politics, but this is so clearly an organized campaign of intimidation, of theater. I mean, it's not theater in "all the world's at stage and all the men and women merely players" metaphorical sense, but theater in a, you know, "let's put on a show" kind of sense to, not just to shout down any individual congressman or congresswoman who happens to be holding a town meeting but to create this videotape that gets posted on Web sites, that gets on television that creates this sort of atmosphere of health reform-the very idea of health reform being on the defensive.
And it's, you know, it's-but it's a-this is something that strikes me as particularly noxious and out of bounds.
MADDOW: We know now that the lobbying firm FreedomWorks is involved to some degree in organizing this "disrupt the town hall" strategy. They were also the lobbyists who organized the very first tea parties back in the tea party day.
Do you see this strategy as being all of a piece from-is there a connection between the tea party movement and what we're seeing here about health care reform?
ROBINSON: You know, the tea party movement didn't really go very far. Perhaps for the right, it was an organizing tool, but it didn't really have much of an aim except, you know, we're mad as hell and not going to take this anymore, whatever "this" is.
This, on the other hand-you know, health care is the subject. And-so, there's a definite aim here, which is to stop in its tracks the most serious attempt at actual health care reform that could make a difference in millions of people's lives and also make a difference to the bottom lines of insurance companies and others that make money off the health care industry as it is. But this is the most serious challenge in, you know, certainly in many years. And they're taking it seriously, obviously.
And, you know, it's almost like the old Cold War arms race days. But this is a-this is a tactic that's sort of almost mob intimidation at these meetings-you never know where they're going to pop up, when they're going to pop up-that I don't think anyone quite knows how to respond to at this point. I mean, do you bring in your own side to shout down the shouters down? Do you bring in the Cambridge police to enforce the disorderly conduct laws? I'm not quite sure what you do.
MADDOW: Well, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin today, he said that these town hall ambushes were a sucker punch because they are orchestrated by corporate interests who are against health reform. I mean, we know that "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting this weekend that the health insurance industry association has deployed its corporate staff to 30 different states to track these town halls.
I wonder if, at some point, there ends up being a political cost to them to being associated with this kind of raw thuggishness. I mean, I'm all in favor of rabble rousers and people even being disruptive and using their First Amendment rights, even if it is an untoward, unfriendly way. But when it is part of a corporate strategy organized by lobbyists who are sort of astroturfed, do they ultimately get in trouble when that is exposed?
ROBINSON: I think there certainly could be some blowback as those connections get made and get written about and become-and are made obvious to people who are paying attention to this debate. But at the same time, I think people who are-who advocate health care reform or who even advocate an honest and constructive debate about health reform proposals that are being considered have to find a way to go on the offense in this debate and not be caught on the defensive-and there is a sense that this new tactic has put health care reformers on the defensive or at least wondering exactly how to respond.
So, I would suggest that they kind of put their best strategists or tacticians in a room and try to figure out, "OK, if they're going to be doing this, how do we counter it and then how do we go on the offensive to get our message across so that people can hear it"?
MADDOW: Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, associate
editor for "The Washington Post"-it's great to have your insight on this
tonight, Gene. Thank you
ROBINSON: Great to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: OK. Why is it that when a policy is so successful, so popular, so overwhelmingly good at achieving its overwhelmingly good goals, it must therefore die? Senator Sherrod Brown joins us next to explain how it is in some parts of Washington today, a policy that works is a policy that must be stopped!
Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have some breaking news to report in the case of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two Current TV journalists imprison in North Korea since March 17th. They were both sentenced to 12 years hard labor last month for reportedly entering North Korea illegally and engaging in what the Stalinist state called, quote, "hostile acts."
Well, these two young women are now reportedly being helped by Bill Clinton. A South Korean newspaper citing a diplomatic source reports that former President Clinton is already en route to North Korea to try to negotiate a release. There is no word on when he arrives. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of course, has already been calling on the North Koreans to grant amnesty to Euna Lee and Laura Ling.
This is a breaking news update. We will bring you more details on this story that just broke minutes ago as they become available.
MADDOW: Let's say you had a policy in mind that had a few interrelated goals. Number one, stimulus. Get cash money into the hands of Americans who will definitely spend it, buying stuff that will keep businesses humming, that'll keep more people employed which will give those employees more money to spend-which ultimately means our horrific recession doesn't become a horrific depression. That's one goal. Stimulus.
Second goal? Inspire demand specifically in the car industry-which the American government has decided to try to save because of the millions of American jobs that depend on that industry and because of how inconceivable it is that America would no longer have the national capacity to make cars.
So, first goal, stimulus. Second goal help the car industry.
Third goal? Reduce the amount of gas that we guzzle and the
emissions we pollute our own country with by helping Americans switch to
cleaner, more efficient, newer cars. All of these interrelated goals,
these three, are the thinking behind "cash for clunkers." You trade in
your old car that doesn't get great mileage and because of all those goals
stimulus, helping the car industry, and cleaning up the joint-the government gives you, in exchange for your clunker, a big, fat $3,500 or $4500 check toward buying or leasing a new car.
It's a simple program, a totally cogent policy idea. The only question was: would it work? Would Americans take advantage of it?
The answer to that question is a technical policy term which is-oh, boy, doggie, did it work. The program only made it about a week before it ran out of money because so many people took advantage of it. By Saturday, more than 85,000 car transactions had already been registered with the dealers saying they just hadn't been able to get to the paperwork yet on perhaps hundreds of thousands more.
Americans are apparently loving this program. Car dealerships are mobbed for the first time in years. Ford says their sales are up this month over the same month last year, and that's the first time they've been able to say that since 2007.
The average fuel economy of the clunkers being traded is about 16 miles per gallon. The average fuel economy for the new cars being sold back to people is nine miles per gallon higher than that-which means it's going to have a big impact on the amount of gas we use as a country.
In other words, this is a hit-this is a huge success.
Stimulating the economy, helping the car industry, cleaning up the joint-people love it. Therefore-it must die.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: This is crazy to try to rush this thing through again while they're trying to rush through health care. We've got to slow this thing down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It's working. It's working. Slow it down. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona was reportedly considering a filibuster against any effort to keep this program alive but he has since backed down from that. Senator McCain does say that he remains strongly opposed to the program. Even centrist Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri is saying she wants to kill the program.
Because it works? Why? Because it works for business? Because it works for the economy generally? Because it works for the environment and because people love it? So, therefore we must make sure we kill it?
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
Senator Brown, it's really nice to see you. Thanks for coming back on the show.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: It's good to be back. Thanks.
MADDOW: Am I right that "cash for clunkers" is working as intended?
BROWN: Yes, not quite. It's actually working better than intended. This town is full of ideology and sort of this knee-jerk reaction generally from the far-right that, well, if this is a government program, by definition, it can't work.
And this, as you pointed out so well in each of those three or four points, has clearly worked every bit as well or better than expected. It works for jobs. It works for creating demand. It works for the environment. It works to put people back to work.
It's the best-it's in some sense, it's the best stimulus that we've seen. The money goes out in people's pockets. It's spent. It's back into the community exactly what we want to create demand in the auto industry.
MADDOW: Well, Republicans in Congress, on the issue of stimulus, they have been critical of the economic stimulus efforts, thus far, in part by saying that things weren't happening fast enough. Now, we just heard that argument from Senator DeMint saying we need to slow this "cash for clunkers" program down. We just need to-not even necessarily arguing that it isn't working, he's just saying it should work more slowly. We should make it take a break.
What's your take on this issue of timing and his argument there?
BROWN: Well, it goes back to what I said at the beginning. I think, Rachel, it's a question of ideology. And they just, you know, they don't like the public option health care because-well, it's a government program. They didn't like Medicare. They-if we had waited for bipartisanship in Medicare, we never would have had Medicare.
They don't like a government program, whether it works or it doesn't. And what really aggravates them is when it works. When we do something like this, it works better than expected, 10 miles per gallon better, 85 percent of the cars turned in or the vehicles turned in are trucks. Only 40 percent of them-the new vehicles are trucks, much higher mileage ones.
So, we're seeing success all the way up and down in this for the environment, for getting money in people's pockets, for helping dealers, for helping the largest industry in America, the car, auto component manufacturers, it's the largest industry we have. And if we're going to get out of this recession more quickly, we need to stimulate the auto industry and all the auto suppliers and the dealerships in every community in America because we know recessions typically, the auto industry drives us, leads us out of a recession.
And that's why this program is working so-why the effectiveness of this program is so good for the economy.
MADDOW: There is a little late breaking news just on the politics of all of this tonight, that if some Republicans, some individual Republican senator or a group of them decides to try to stop this program in its tracks, they may have to block the Senate from going into recess in order to do that. They would have to-they would have to-they would have to delay the recess if they wanted to stop the program, which means they'd be taking a big public political stand on this issue.
Would that be an opportunity for the Democrats and Republicans to have a great ideological debate about whether or not the government should actually try to be good at doing stuff or whether the government shouldn't do anything at all-which is I think what the conservatives are arguing here?
BROWN: Sure. And I think if they want to block it and, you know, into next week, we stay as long as we need to. This is an example of-this is working, this is good for the economy. It's obviously especially good for my state. I don't deny that for a second. But it's good for the economy overall.
The auto industry leads us out of recessions historically, can help lead us out of this one. And we'll stay as long as we need.
But I-that debate-that debate needs to happen. And I hear Republicans complaining on the Senate floor tonight. Senator Dodd and Harkin and White House and I were talking about the public option. On the other side, Republicans were trying to scare senior citizens about Medicare and about the health care system and the government takeover.
And it's clear that government can't do everything but government does some things very, very well. Medicare, "cash for clunkers," the list is pretty long.
And bring them on. Let's have the-let's have the debate. Let's have the discussion.
MADDOW: Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
MADDOW: . thanks very much for your time tonight, sir.
BROWN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: OK. It turns out that when Nevada Senator John Ensign put a teenager on the Republican Party payroll as a policy consultant, Republican Party staffers knew at the time that Ensign was sleeping with that kid's mom. Classy.
Also classy? The Republican Party is still not explaining whether it had an official role in covering up Ensign's affair or in paying off his mistress's family.
Even classier than that? Senator Ensign still planning to run for
Stay with us.
MADDOW: Oh, my God, did you hear that Barack Obama was born in Kenya? For real. They put it on the interwebs. Yet another new birth certificate from him from Kenya?
Also, did you hear Elvis' cat is still alive from the 1970s, which is weird enough? But it totally just gave birth to an alien and now it has to wear a little cat helmet to avoid being mind-controlled by the alien kitty's babies and ancestors were from Mork (ph). Ana Marie Cox will join us with all of the exclamation points and OMGs in just a moment.
But first, it's time for a little holy mackerel stories in today's news.
His very first day in office after being elected senator, Virginia Democrat Jim Webb introduced the post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, better known as the new G.I. Bill. One of his original co-sponsors was then-Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Well, the two men were together again today at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, to celebrate the fact that the first checks have now been mailed out to veterans under the new G.I. Bill. This is the first major update to the promises that we make to veterans in this country since World War II.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We do this, not just to meet our moral obligation to those who sacrificed greatly on our behalf and on behalf of the country. We do it because these men and women must now be prepared to lead our nation in the peaceful pursuit of economic leadership in the 21st century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Franklin Roosevelt signed the original GI Bill in 1944. Almost 8 million World War II vets used that educational benefit afforded them by the GI Bill to attend college. You think the middle class in the mid-and-late 20th century was neat?
You think America did a pretty good job turning our massive war-time mobilization in the 1940s into a massive economic and scientific and educational juggernaut in the '50s and '60s? Well, you can say thanks to the GI Bill in large part for a lot of that.
The new GI Bill offers new vets up to 100 percent of tuition and housing, as well as things like books and supplies. If there is a cloud in the silver lining, it's that the Web site created to guide veterans through the paperwork morass of this new benefit is not exactly user friendly.
To help the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has set up their own Web site to try to help veterans navigate their new benefits. You can check it out at "NewGIBill.org." We've posted a link to it at "Rachel.MSNBC.com."
Also, as the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, a characteristic affliction of some of its most senior members appears to be the inability to connect big, obvious political dots.
Case in point? Sen. John McCain. Sen. McCain, how important is it for the Republican Party to try to appeal to Latinos?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): On the issue of the Hispanic voter, we have to do a lot more. And I am of the belief that unless we reverse the trend of Hispanic voter registration, we have a very, very deep hole that we've got to come out of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. That's political dot number one. The GOP not appealing to Latinos puts the GOP into a deep, deep hole, so says John McCain. Ready for political dot number two?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I am unable to support Judge Sotomayor's nomination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. Just to recap here, dot number one, John McCain says the GOP is desperately searching for ways to increase their appeal to Latino voters. Dot number two? Republican politicians must decide how to vote on the first Latino Supreme Court justice nominee.
And John McCain has decided to vote against. He's decided to make the first Latino nominee ever, the first ever Supreme Court nominee he has ever voted against. He's never voted against a nominee for the Supreme Court before. Sonia Sotomayor will be his first no vote.
Is there any way that these dots can be connected? Can anyone help Sen. McCain with the "shortest distance between two points is a straight line" idea?
MADDOW: The 2008 election. Any excuse. Sorry. The results? Still not actually finalized until last month were that the Republicans essentially got creamed. They lost the White House to Barack Obama. The size of the Democratic majority in the house went from 37 seats to 79 seats. And the truly shocking defeat was how badly the Republicans lost in the Senate. Republicans before the '08 election had 49 seats in the senate. In the '08 election they lost eight of them. Not a single seat switched from Democratic to Republican. Not a single Democratic senator lost his or her seat. And five - count them - five Republican incumbents were beaten by Democrats.
The entire 2008 election was a disaster for the Republican Party. But for the Republican Party in the Senate, it was worse than disaster. They lost everything they tried for and then some. And that was even before Arlen Specter added insult to injury by flipping parties to the Democrats. Now, who is responsible for the Republican Party's fiasco in the Senate in the 2008 election? Who was in charge of the Republican Party's efforts to hold on to its seats in the Senate, efforts that failed so epically?
Hey, it was Sen. John Ensign of Nevada. He was in charge of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for 2007 and 2008. That's the campaign arm of the Republican Party responsible for the Senate.
While he was supposedly getting busy then overseeing the run-up to his party's 2008 shellacking in the Senate, you may recall he was also getting busy with one of his staffers, putting her son on the NRSC payroll, finding jobs for her husband, and asking his own parents to give financial gifts, lots of them, to his mistress's family. That's a lot to do while you're trying to get folks elected to the U.S. Senate. I wonder if he's a good multi-tasker. Well, tonight there is new evidence that Sen. Ensign was not the only one at the National Republican Senatorial Committee who might have been distracted by his extramarital affair while preparing for that ill-fated election. "The Las Vegas Sun" has obtained E-mails from the political director and the finance director of the NRSC. The E-mails are from their NRSC E-mail accounts and they are written to Sen. Ensign's mistress and to her husband. And, yes, they are E-mails that refer obliquely but fairly obviously to the affair and its fallout. These are E-mails that were sent while the National Republican Senatorial Committee was also employing Ensign's mistress's son. Back in March, 2008, the NRSC started paying the teenaged son of Doug and Cynthia Hampton. They were paying him as a policy analyst. The month after that, Sen. Ensign's parents gave the Hamptons $96,000 in gifts in April. And the elder Hamptons then left Sen. Ensign's employ. The month after that, Doug Hampton, the husband of the couple, started working for November, Inc. - that's a consulting firm run by the political director of the NRSC. It's a man named Mike Slanker. Mr. Slanker, telling the Associated Press this year that he had no knowledge of the affair between Ensign and Mrs. Hampton when he hired Mr. Hampton, the implication being he found out when the rest of the world did during Sen. Ensign's June 16th, 2009 public confession. But in July of 2008, nearly a year before then, Mike Slanker and his wife, who is also the finance director of the NRSC, were E-mailing with Doug and Cynthia Hampton about the affair.
And that means, when you put it all together, that at least three people in the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen. Ensign himself, the chair of the committee, plus the NRSC's political director, plus their finance director, all knew what was going on while they had Ensign's mistress's son on the NRSC payroll. Joining us now is the reporter who obtained these telling new E-mails, Jon Ralston, columnist for "The Las Vegas Sun" and the host of "Face to Face with Jon Ralston." Jon, thanks very much for coming back on the show.
JON RALSTON, HOST, "FACE TO FACE WITH JON RALSTON": Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: What do these E-mails tell us about the Republican Party's role in the Ensign affair that we didn't know before?
RALSTON: Well, as you said, I think the implication was from Mike Slanker's original statement was that he didn't find out about this until June 16th when Ensign disclosed it. Now, it's clear that he and his wife, two top officials of the senatorial committee, knew about it.
Now, when exactly did they find out about it? Certainly before those July E-mails. And the question is, how distracting can that be when they find out that this has occurred and they have Doug Hampton essentially with their mothball company in Las Vegas where they've just handed him this sinecure essentially, where he is trying to bring in clients but not doing much.
And they know that those E-mails that I obtained are freighted with all of this raw emotion. It had to be distracting for them. And imagine how they felt - how they felt, Rachel, about their boss, John Ensign, having done this and then essentially thrown Doug Hampton to them to take care of.
MADDOW: What we know at that time in terms of the way this timeline goes, as best as I understand it, that the political director and finance director of the NRSC at that time knew about the affair between Ensign and Mrs. Hampton, knew that Doug Hampton had been essentially recommended to them, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, by John Ensign for employ in their company that they worked out when they were not at the NRSC and they knew that they had the teenage son of that couple on the payroll of the NRSC in some sort of policy role.
Has the Republican Party ever explained why they had this teenager on the payroll?
RALSTON: Well, Mike Slanker, when I talked to him several weeks ago, Rachel, said he hired the Doug Hampton son as he would any other intern, that it was no big deal. But again, this revelation, you know, raises all kinds of other questions.
What Mike Slanker told me today when I confronted him with those E-mails was he never meant to mislead the media but he meant he didn't know about the affair when he hired Doug Hampton for November, Inc.
So that version of events, if true, and by the way that comports with what Doug Hampton told me, that John Ensign's wife - listen to this, John ensign's wife, Darlene Ensign, called Mike Slanker and said, "Do you know why essentially you were told to hire Doug Hampton? It's because of this affair."
Think about how sordid and tawdry that is. And think about this, too, Rachel - this is the most important point that comes out of these E-mails. John Ensign was willing to sell his top finance and political person at the NRSC down the river to cover up this affair to use them, to use them without telling them the full truth, to take on this man that he wanted out of his office and he wanted to continue to pursue his wife. That's what those E-mails really reveal to me.
MADDOW: And this is all happening in the summer of 2008, leading up to the fall of 2008, when in the Senate, the Republican Party lost eight seats and John Ensign was the man in the Republican Party who had responsibility for overseeing the Republican Party's efforts in the Senate. Are you hearing from any Republican sources about dissatisfaction with his level of perhaps focus at the time?
RALSTON: Well, I think that's going to start happening. There were rumbles of that before. But now, when you see again those E-mails and how distracted obviously Mike and Lindsay Slanker, these two officials, were at that time - we know Ensign was distracted, as you mentioned, Rachel. I thought of the same word.
He must be the most marvelous multitasker in the history of multitaskers with everything he was supposed to be doing, being a U.S. Senator, running the NRSC, and he's chasing this woman who doesn't even live in Washington anymore. How could he possibly have done a good job? Now, I think what really John Ensign should be worried about now is that this all starts to percolate up and they are not just recriminations about his performance in 2008. But what about now? The Republicans don't need this. I think they hope that the last shoe had dropped in this. They don't want to keep hearing this drip, drip, drip of revelations about John Ensign.
The question for him is, how big will this bubble up inside that caucus where there's tremendous pressure for him to get out of the way so he's not a liability for them?
MADDOW: I would only add the other question that now needs to be answered and now we have to watch for the timing on, I guess, is when the Republican Party will feel compelled to answer whether or not they were involved in actively covering up this affair or in paying hush money to this mistress's family in the form of a make-work job for her teenage son.
We have continually tried to get a comment from the Republican Party on these issues. We'll keep it up and we'll keep talking about your reporting on the subject, Jon. Thanks for joining us.
RALSTON: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Jon Ralston is a columnist for "The Las Vegas Sun" and he hosts a program called "Face to Face with Jon Ralston."
OK. You want lame? The birther movement. Lamer? The latest unearthed photo of Obama's Kenyan birth certificate which is so accidentally lame as to be hilarious. The lamest is birtherism, the rumor-mongering that Barack Obama secretly isn't president. And it is, of course, catching on big time.
Ana Marie Cox will be here to help me make sense and possibly, to make a little fun of it all. It's coming up next.
MADDOW: The president is turning 48 years old tomorrow.
Or is he? According to his Hawaiian birth certificate, President
Obama was born at 7:24 p.m. on August 4th, 1861 (sic), which is -
8:24 the next morning in Kenya. Was President Obama born in Hawaii or
Kenya? Was he first born in Hawaii and then reborn 13 hours later in
Kenya? Was he born again? Or -
Was he ever really born at all? Have you seen the birthers' handiwork on the Internet? It's the new fake birth certificate of Barack Hussein Obama. In the last fake birth certificate of note, Obama was revealed to have been born a Canadian citizen whose birth certificate was handily signed by somebody named Dudley Doright(ph).
This new one shows the president to have been purportedly born in Kenya. It hit the Internet over the weekend, thanks to unofficial birther spokes-paranoid, Orly Taitz who's reportedly trying to get it authenticated in federal court. Good luck.
The evidence of forgery uncovered within hours' of the birth certificate Internet debut includes, but is not limited to, the incorrectly listed age of the president's father, the incorrectly listed official name of Kenya and the official location of the hospital in question, which at the time, was not actually in Kenya.
The amazing part of the story is not the record number of countries which the president has now been fake-born. It's the number of Republicans who buy into this stuff.
A new Research 2000 poll conducted for "Daily Kos" shows a combined total of 58 percent Republicans either don't believe the president was born in the U.S. or aren't sure whether or not he was. 58 percent don't know or think he wasn't.
Joining us now is Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for Air America and "Playboy" contributor.
You're better with the eyebrow than I am. Hi, Ana Marie. Very nice to see you.
ANA MARIE COX, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, AIR AMERICA: Always good toe see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Should we be making fun of this, or given how many people are buying into it is the sort of thing we should be totally sober and serious and debunking about?
COX: Oh, I think we have to be making fun of it. I think satire is actually a pretty serious weapon. And just because you are making fun of something, Rachel, doesn't mean you don't also take it seriously.
I think in some ways, the stuff that's going on underneath the surface of the birther phenomenon is actually pretty deadly serious, and we should be talking about it. That don't mean they aren't ridiculous and their claims aren't ridiculous. It just means that when we talk about it, and not only should we mock and mock it with all the full-throated glory that we can, tea bag away at it, if you will.
But we actually should also be addressing the factual errors and whatnot. You don't have to do one or the other. I'm a firm believer of both mocking and debunking at the same time.
MADDOW: I am as well. But what do you think is the sort of the darker reality and the darker implications of this? What do you think is the more serious stuff that lurks underneath the surface here?
COX: Well, it goes back into a very, very dark and very ugly sort of strain in American history, which is the attempt to sort of de-person black people and to treat them as something less than full people, less than full humans. I think that you're probably very familiar with the fact that this is not the first time that people have raised questions about a presidential candidate or a president's origin. John McCain faced some questions of having been born in the Panama Canal Zone. Those never went very far and it's really hard not to notice that there's one major difference between these two allegations and that is one of the people that they are talking about is black. And I think that there's a general way to talk about the birther phenomenon without talking about that, without talking about this history of thinking of one type of person who has a certain color of skin as inherently American and that people who don't have that color of the skin are somehow suspect.
MADDOW: Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for Air America and contributor to "Playboy" magazine. This topic, I think, deserves much more discussion. I look forward to much more of it with you. Thanks for coming on the show.
COX: And much more mocking.
MADDOW: Yes, indeed. Always, thanks. Coming up on "COUNTDOWN," Keith's special comments on the blue dog and conservadem and Republican opposition to health care reform.
Next on this show, it's the mirror opposite of what Comic-Con used to be, a convention full of women with barely a man in sight.
MADDOW: We turn to our un-dead appreciation correspondent Kent Jones. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. There was a "Twilight" convention held in Dallas over the weekend called "Twi-Con." Now, I didn't go because I'm a dude and, two, not a vampire.
JONES: Still, fun was had.
JONES: It's been the right of every adolescent boy to disappear into a nerdy subculture of role-playing dorkdom. Show me a middle-aged dotcom millionaire, I'll show you a man with a bowb of set helmet in his garage.
Good news, ladies. You now have a vaguely embarrassing fan boy cult of your very own. Thanks to the phenomenon that is "Twilight," the geek class ceiling has been shattered.
Quick recap for you, cave dwellers. "Twilight" is the story of super-cute teen lovers Bella, a mortal, and Edward, a vampire. Love is so pure and eternal, that they will never, ever, ever have sex.
The first movie made $375 million. Clearly, not-sex sells. I guess everything I know about show business is wrong. At the first-ever Twi-Con, nearly 3,000 twi-hearts(ph) forked over $250 a piece for four days worth of twi-centric workshops and vendors and an estimated 3.2 million PG-13 fantasies about Robert Pattinson.
Twi-con climaxed with a Volturi masquerade ball. Attire? Semi-goth.
Number of dudes? Like, four.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guys don't really get into it as much with "Twilight" because it's about true love and it's about dedication. It's about everything that a woman or a girl, you know, dreams of.
JONES: So many men, so few vampires.
MADDOW: Well, you know, worlds come at that story from such different
directions. Yes -
JONES: Really interesting. Really good.
MADDOW: Also, Kent, I apparently said Obama was born 1861 when I meant to say 1961.
JONES: Wow. He looks great for his age.
MADDOW: Exactly right. Expect a new conspiracy theory in three, two - "COUNTDOWN" starts right now.
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