updated 8/17/2009 1:36:39 PM ET 2009-08-17T17:36:39

MADDOW

August 14, 2009

Guests: Joseph Cao, Joe Sestak

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Well, that‘s putting quite a blunt point on it.

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  I‘m DVR-ing it already on three different televisions.

MADDOW:  You know, it‘s a dramatic circumstance in which to make my “Meet the Press” debut, I will admit it, although I‘m not going to claim any credit for getting anybody fired.

OLBERMANN:  Well, separated?  Removed?  Distanced?

MADDOW:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Good evening, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Good evening, Keith.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Thank you very much.

And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

We do begin tonight with a dramatic and unexpected development in politics and in health reform.

Former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey did resign today from the D.C. lobbying and legal services firm DLA Piper.  We have talked about Dick Armey and DLA Piper a number of times on this show over the past few weeks, including last night, after we obtained a DLA Piper internal memo concerning our coverage of them recently.

Before today, Mr. Armey served as senior policy advisor for DLA Piper while he simultaneously headed an organization called FreedomWorks.  FreedomWorks, of course, has been actively campaigning against health care reform and helping organize the protestors who have disrupted town hall meetings and other discussions of health reform around the country.

Now, as we reported last night, DLA Piper sent an internal memo to its employees claiming that Mr. Armey‘s work at FreedomWorks should not be associated with his work at the lobbying and law firm.  The memo also said, quote, “The firm strongly opposes any activities designed to disrupt the national debate about health care reform.  On the contrary, DLA Piper encourages responsible national debate.”

We reported last night on DLA Piper‘s statement and then we invited further comment from them on how they square their firm‘s strong opposition to disrupting the debate on health care reform with the fact that their senior policy advisor heads up an advocacy organization that claims credit for doing just that.

Well, today, DLA Piper and Dick Armey announced that he would no longer be part of that firm.  He has been employed there since he left Congress more than six years ago.  And on the occasion of his resignation from DLA Piper, Mr. Armey release this had statement.  Quote, “It is painful and frustrated to see a good, decent, able and effective partnership of honorable men and women and their clients attacked for things in which they are not involved simply because of their association with me.  One would expect a higher degree of competence and professionalism from members of the media than spurious attacks on innocent bystanders.”  Ahem!

He goes on.  “Let me be perfectly clear about DLA Piper.  It‘s a fine firm with good, competent people.  It has been my privilege to be associated with them and I will miss them.  I am leaving the firm with regret but also with anticipation of being more fully engaged in the nation‘s struggle and without having attacks on me being directed at others.

The threat to personal liberty in America is so serious and imminent at this time that it requires the full commitment of my efforts.  While I consider it a personal sacrifice to leave DLA Piper, it is a sacrifice I must make in light of the important work I am committed to at FreedomWorks.”

The dual employment of Dick Armey at both FreedomWorks and DLA Piper had led our show and others to question whether companies employing Dick Armey‘s law and lobbying firm also effectively were buying the services of what is purportedly a grassroots organization, FreedomWorks.  For example, when life insurance interests paid for representation from DLA Piper, did that influence the decision by FreedomWorks to direct its membership to oppose life insurance regulations—or in fact to oppose health reform?  Some provisions of which are opposed by the life insurance industry.

When Mr. Armey resigned from the firm today, the chairman of DLA Piper released his own statement, saying, quote, “We are sorry to see Dick Armey leave, but,” he said, quote, “we appreciate his taking the initiative to clear up confusion surrounding FreedomWorks.”

Now, our reporting is not the first time that confusion has been reported about whether or not FreedomWorks is actually a grassroots front, an ostensible grassroots front for corporate lobbying and P.R.  Why this time has it resulted in this dramatic resignation we honestly do not yet know.

But there are other signs that reporting on the increasingly extremist rhetoric that‘s being embraced by health care reform opponents is causing some consternation among those who are being linked to the protestors by the press.

Another report that we did on anti-health reform protestors last night on this show has provoked a double barreled response from the public relations firm of Shirley & Banister.  Now, Shirley & Banister currently list as clients on its Web site some very big names in the conservative movement, groups like the NRA, the conservative news outlet Human Events, conservative direct mail guru Richard Viguerie.

Now, we reported last night that Shirley & Banister also represented a Web site called Grassfire.org.  Grassfire.org funds another Web site called ResistNet.com.

And ResistNet.com is a hub for online organizing for anti-health reform protests.  You can find there among other things a video entitled “Obama Equals Hitler.”  ResistNet.com bills itself as the online community for patriotic citizens who are opposing the Obama-led socialist agenda.  And it appears to be one of the more radical online organizing hubs for these town hall protests.  They have hosted some of the most extreme rhetoric and imagery that we have yet seen in this era of very extreme anti-Obama rhetoric and imagery.

Well, today, Shirley & Banister wrote to us to let us know that while they used to represent Grassfire.org, they no longer represent them.  Now, I apologize for saying that they were still currently involved in representing Grassfire.  They are not.

Shirley & Banister did, however, represent the group in 2004.  Back in 2004, Grassfire was busy producing TV ads attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry ahead of the 2004 election—which would of course be sort of normal and fine except for the fact that Grassfire told the IRS at the time that they weren‘t doing any work to influence the elections of 2004.  Now, again, Shirley & Banister no longer represent Grassfire, but when they did, that‘s what Grassfire was up to.

Now, currently, Shirley & Banister represents an organization called the Bradley Foundation.  The Bradley Foundation is a major funder of—wait for it—FreedomWorks.  In 2008, the Bradley Foundation provided a $25,000 grant to the FreedomWorks Foundation.  The same year, the Bradley Foundation also gave a $25,000 grant to the organization Americans for Prosperity.

We called the Bradley Foundation today to ask if those groups have also received funding this year in 2009.  They told us that FreedomWorks has indeed received $75,000 so far this year.  And they have another application pending to receive more.  Americans for Prosperity has not received any money from the Bradley Foundation this year, but they, too, have a grant application pending.

These two organizations—FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity -

are both visibly, observably responsible for organizing these protests at the health care reform events.  And they‘re quite proud of it.

Here‘s the president and vice president of FreedomWorks bragging about their efforts here on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The right thing to do is to get—be aggressive. 

Get to the microphone.  Express your opinion.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  Right now, you guys are killing these—you‘re going to every town meeting in the world and blowing them apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  Just like we blew up.

MATTHEWS:  How many people you got working—how many people on your payroll at Dreamworks, FreedomWorks—whatever it‘s called.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Eighteen.

MATTHEWS:  Eighteen employees.  And how do you organize these meetings, where people do like the ACORN-type meetings where they show up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mostly through the Internet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, that was FreedomWorks.

Americans for Prosperity, who we have hosted on this show, they‘re the group that is currently driving buses around the country to campaign against health care reform.  Any time you see the big, bloody red hand print and “hands off my health care,” that‘s Americans for Prosperity.

What can Americans learn about health care reform from the speakers organized for the big, bloody handprint “hands off my health care” bus tour?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If this new Obama-care program comes to fruition, when you reach 65, and every five years thereafter, you‘re going to have to have a counseling session with some—with some federal airhead.  Part of this process is called end-of-life counseling and part of the end-of-life counseling can be an end-of-life order.  Adolf Hitler issued 6 million end-of-life orders.  He called his program the final solution.  I kind of wonder what we‘re going to call ours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Americans for Prosperity—whose speaker you just saw there

and FreedomWorks are being funded in part by the Bradley Foundation. 

The Bradley Foundation is currently represented by Shirley & Banister.

Who else does Shirley & Banister represent?

Well, there is the group Citizens United, which is currently pushing the Obama has an enemies list story on its Web site.

There is conservative activist Richard Viguerie, whose Web site currently features the image of President Obama as the “Joker” from “Batman” next to the title “Why so socialist?”

When Shirley & Banister came after us today, they not only requested a correction for us getting the timing wrong on their representation of Grassfire.org—which I‘m happy to provide, more than happy.  They also immediately threatened to sue us and then they went on a right-wing P.R.  jihad today against us, providing the e-mails they sent us to right-wing Web sites to write stories about their demanded correction and their threatened lawsuit before we were even on the air again to get a chance to offer the correction that they had demanded.

This is the way they operate.  In 2004, when Shirley & Banister did represent Grassfire.org and Grassfire.org was producing the anti-John Kerry TV ads, even while it was telling the IRS that it wasn‘t spending any money to influence the election, the good government watch dog group Public Citizen decided to look into who was representing this group Grassfire.

When Public Citizen discovered that it was Shirley & Banister, and they inquired about Grassfire with a Shirley & Banister employee, Craig Shirley—the Shirley in Shirley & Banister—fired off this e-mail to that employee and to Public Citizen, quote, “Public Citizen is an ultra leftist, anticonservative, anti-Bush organization.  If they bother you one more time, please advise me soonest and I will have the lawyers alert the FBI and the Virginia Attorney General‘s Office to investigate Public Citizen for any and all law they may have broken and to prosecute—the name of a specific Public Citizen employee—and Public Citizen to the fullest extent of the law.”

What do they do to deserve that?  Public Citizen was asking for publicly available information.  And Shirley & Banister threatened to sic the FBI and state attorney general on them.

For their part, Public Citizen disputes the characterization of them as an ultra leftist, anti-conservative group, telling us today that they are an independent public interest watchdog.

I understand that this is the way beltway P.R. works—specifically this is the way that beltway right-wing P.R. works.  It is threats and intimidation and ginning up an angry mob if you need to in order to get your way?

We deal with the facts here.  We correct the record when we need to. 

But I will not and we will not be intimidated out of covering the news.

Enjoy yourself if you want to keep trying.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Programming alert: I am going to be a guest for the first time ever on NBC‘s “Meet the Press” this weekend.  My fellow panelists will be former Senator Tom Daschle, Senator Tom Coburn and a former member of Congress and lobbyist you may have heard of named Dick Armey.  Sunday morning, NBC.  It should be fun.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  After weeks of conservative talk show hosts comparing President Obama to Hitler, and anti-health care reform protestors across the country calling the president a Nazi, even in some cases calling for the president to be killed, one Republican member of Congress today came forward to say, enough.  She is Republican congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.  She is the fifth ranking Republican in the House and she offered this rebuke in “The Hill” newspaper today.

Quote, “I certainly don‘t condone violence.  I don‘t condone calling President Obama Hitler and painting swastikas on signs at town halls.”

The extremism in rhetoric and tactics and outlandish claims that has been displayed by anti-health reform protestors this summer appears to be causing some recoil on the right, right now.  Congresswoman Rodgers expressing her disapproval of the Nazism claims, lobbying and law firm DLA Piper separating from its long-time marquee advisor Dick Armey and therefore from FreedomWorks, the ostensibly organization that‘s promoting the protests, even the very conservative P.R. firm Shirley & Banister threatening to sue me for inadvertently exaggerating their relationship to another promoter of the protests.

But even at these cracks appearing among Republicans, among conservatives, over how the anti-health reform fight is being waged, I challenge you to name a single Republican member of Congress who says that he or she is looking forward or even leaning toward voting for health reform.

There is one man at least who has said that.  He is Congressman Joseph Cao of Louisiana.  He told his constituents at a fairly civil town hall meeting yesterday that he is leaning toward voting for the House health care reform bill, with a few caveats.  He‘s also taking the president up on his offer to meet with any member of Congress who wants to get together to talk about health care.

Congressman Cao represents a district in which 2/3 of the registered voters are Democrats.  His seat was previously held by William Jefferson, who you might remember as the “cash in the freezer congressman.”

Joining us now from New Orleans is Republican Congressman Joseph Cao.

Congressman Cao, thank you so much for coming on the show.  I really appreciate it.

REP. JOSEPH CAO ®, LOUISIANA:  Well, thank you very much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  At your town hall meeting yesterday, I understand that there were no major disruptions but there was a very dramatic moment when one of your constituents presented you with a stack of medical bills and then walked out.

What did—what did you take from that?

CAO:  Well, I appreciate people expressing their opinions concerning some of their disagreements.  I appreciate people maybe even venting their anger with respect to their disagreements and I respect the people‘s opinion.  However, we were able to keep the conversation very civil and we were able to look at the issues concerning the health care reform and how it will affect everyone.

MADDOW:  I know that you haven‘t totally made up your mind yet, and there‘s no final bill to vote on yet.  But you did say you were leaning toward voting for health care reform.

Do you expect to get pressure from your Republican colleagues in Congress about that vote?  Is this going to be a vote where they encourage you to stick with the rest of your party if the rest of your party is mostly going to vote no?

CAO:  Well, as you know, Rachel, there will always be pressure in the Congress, whether one is a Republican or one is a Democrat.  But, at the end of the day, we, as leaders of this country, we have to look at the problems of this country and arrive at real solutions.  So, I believe that we do need reform.

But the questions I have is: how will this reform affect the economy, how will this reform affect the ability of the elderly to continue receiving benefits, how will this reform affect small businesses and, more importantly, how will this—will this reform have strong language against federal funding for abortions.

MADDOW:  I know that you are strongly pro-life and that abortion issues are some of the issues that are driving your overall concerns about health care reform.

Do you feel it‘s possible to have a constructive debate even about hot button issues like abortion, like some of the other things that have attracted some of the most extreme rhetoric?  Or do you feel like things have now been so heated for so long and there‘s been so many exaggerations that the prospects for civil discussion are dim?

CAO:  Rachel, I‘m a man of deep hope and I know that we, as a country, we as a people, can come together and have a civil and intelligent and deliberate discussion concerning this health care reform.  And I hope that, at the end of the day, that we will have a leadership that will reach out in a bipartisan way so that we, as one Congress, can look at this serious problem and come to a real solution to the problem.

MADDOW:  One last brief question.  I opened this discussion by talking about comments from Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers saying that it was inappropriate to hear allegations of Nazism, to see swastikas turning up on signs.  This—that‘s the far end of the extremist rhetoric that we‘ve seen in this debate.

I want to give you a chance now to say if you also condemn the allegations of Nazism, the use of the swastikas, some of those other very extreme things that we‘ve seen around the country.

CAO:  Absolutely, Rachel.  I believe—you know, I respect the Constitution protecting our right of free speech, our right of expression.  But I believe that when we go to extremes like that, it disrupts dialogue and it causes conflicts which, at the end of the day, impede us from reaching a solution to a pressing problem.

MADDOW:  Congressman Joseph Cao, Republican of Louisiana—thank you very much for joining us tonight, sir.  It‘s nice to meet you.

CAO:  Thank you very much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  OK.  The Geneva Conventions just had a birthday.  You will never guess who invited himself to their birthday party.  Awkward.  It‘s coming up.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Coming up: The next group of innocent Americans the anti-health reform sources are trying to scare into helping them out may just be veterans.  Congressman and Senate candidate and retired vice admiral, Joe Sestak, will join us in a moment.

Plus, the intrepid Kent Jones has been watching the town hall protests and has a dot connecting revelation to share with us in a special report.

And I have ended up in a Christian Broadcasting Network news story.  It goes about as well as you might expect—which is to say it goes very, very poorly.

That is all coming up.

But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

As we have reported recently, many Republican officials have enthusiastically embraced the conspiracy theory that health care reform is a secret plot to kill old people.

Health reform really isn‘t really a secret plot to kill old people.  The part of the House bill that is cited by the conspiracists to supposedly prove their point actually says that Medicare will cover consultations about living wills, advanced directives—if patients want to talk to their own doctors about what they want to happen at the end of their own life.  That‘s it.

But that hasn‘t stopped people like Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on health care in the Senate, who said, quote, “We should not have a government program that determines if you‘re going to pull the plug on grandma.”

Then there was House Minority Leader John Boehner who said, quote, “This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.”

And putting the exclamation point on ridiculous—Florida Representative John Mica, who said, quote, “There are death counselors.  There is authorization for reimbursement for those counselors for Medicare. 

You have a whole new cottage industry.”

Well, as Amy Sullivan reports on “Time” magazine‘s “Swampland” blog today, Senator Grassley and Congressman Boehner and John Mica have another thing in common in addition to being deathers.  They all also voted for the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Bill.  That bill in part provided funding for end-of-life counseling.  And I quote, “Counseling the beneficiary with respect to end-of-life issues and care options and advising the beneficiary regarding advanced care planning.”  Or as these things are now known in Republican circles, death panels.

In all, 204 Republicans in the House and 42 Republicans in the Senate voted for the death panels.  And there was not a peep about then-President Bush having a secret plan to kill old people.

Bottom line?  Either Republicans like Chuck Grassley and John Boehner and John Mica have totally changed their minds about whether living wills are really a secret plot to kill old people or they voted for something just a few years ago that they actually thought was a secret plot to kill old people.  Take your choice.

Next up: The Geneva Conventions constitute the very core of international humanitarian law.  The Bush administration tried to argue the Geneva Conventions didn‘t apply to people who we captured in what used to be called the “War on Terror.”  The U.S. Supreme Court famously disagreed and forced the U.S. to rejoin the community of civilized nations that agrees to abide by these minimum human rights rules.

So, after all that turmoil during the Bush years, it was with deserved fanfare that the International Committee of the Red Cross held a reception in D.C. this week to honor the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions.  About 230 guests attended, including staff from the Department of State, from House and Senate offices, from the National Security Council, and from the White House.  Gregory Craig, the White House counsel was even there.

And as first reported by Al Kamen in “The Washington Post” so was this man.  He is John Rizzo, the outgoing general counsel of the CIA.  Name sound familiar?

He was the man who requested legal opinions from the Department of Justice‘s Office of Legal Counsel about whether or not CIA officers could torture people.  Those legal memos that were written to him gave Rizzo‘s agency the “go ahead” to among other things waterboard Abu Zubaydah 83 times—which it should be mentioned, the ICRC said in the report a couple of years ago, violated the birthday boy, the Geneva Conventions.

Quote, “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture.”

You know, I have long admitted my obscure, obsessive policy interests make me bad cocktail party guest.  I mean, who really wants to chat about reliable replacement warheads and (INAUDIBLE) around a big punch bowl of sangria, right?  But no matter how bad a cocktail party guest I am, I will never be the torture guy at the Geneva Convention‘s birthday party.

And finally, 2/3 of the world, roughly, drives on the right.  The other third drives on the left.  In the past 40 years or so, three countries have decided to change sides.  Sweden and Iceland and Burma all had been British-style left side drivers.  And they all decided to switch to the right.

But no country has switched since Burma did it way back in 1970 and no

country in modern times, as far as I can tell, has ever switched in the

other direction

Nobody has tried to make right side American-style drivers switch to driving on the left—until now—until Samoa.  Samoa is way, way, way, way, way out in the middle of the south Pacific.  It‘s about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii.  And it‘s slightly closer, about 1,900 miles from New Zealand.  And Samoa has decided that it‘s going to switch from American-styly driving on the right to British, Japanese, Australian, New Zealand-styly driving on the left.

The Samoan prime minister, whose name I admire very much but I will not attempt to pronounce it without a net - he has decided that even factoring in the cost of switching it, would be cheaper for Samoa to import cars with the steering wheel on the right from New Zealand and Australia rather than continuing to import cars with the steering wheel on the left from us. 

Of course, people on the island of American Samoa will keep driving on the right as they do now.  It‘s very complicated.  In preparation for the switch, the government has asked citizens to come drive around a course that they‘ve set up at a sports stadium so people can practice driving on the left. 

Samoans opposed to the switch have apparently started a new political party.  It‘s called People Against Switching Sides.  The big contested switch is due to happen at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of Monday, September 7th.  And, you know, moving from the right to the left always takes practice.  But after a while, it grows on you.  Insert political metaphor here.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The current fight that has emerged from what was supposed to be a debate about reform in our broken healthcare system - it pits people who want to fix what is broken against people who want to see the fix-it people beaten.  It‘s the idealists versus the nihilists, sometimes it seems. 

And part of the way the nihilists are trying to get healthcare reform killed dead is by scaring different groups of Americans that they see as susceptible to scaring into thinking healthcare reform is somehow out to get them. 

First, we had the argument healthcare reform was a secret plot to kill old people.  This conspiracy theory based on the government promoting living wills which it has done without controversy in a nonpartisan matter for 20 years.  This conspiracy theory was made up by anti-health reform special interests to scare the bejesus out of senior citizens. 

The next conspiracy theory peddled about health care came from former vice presidential candidate and former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin who‘s used postings on her Facebook page to try to scare parents into thinking that healthcare reform might be a secret plot to kill special needs children. 

And of course anti-health care reformers have worked to scare and mobilize the antiabortion movement into thinking healthcare reform includes provisions to encourage more abortions.  The centerpiece, this completely inaccurate “scare the seniors and antiabortion people one fell swoop” message was cobbled together into a TV ad from the Family Research Council.  Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They won‘t pay for my surgery.  What are we going to do? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But honey, you can‘t live this way. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And to think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run healthcare plan and spending tax dollars on abortions.  They won‘t pay for my surgery but we‘re forced to pay for abortions. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Our greatest generation denied care.  Our future generation denied life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Not at all true, but it does neatly wrap up the government-run healthcare “kill the old people, forced abortions” conspiracy theories all in one convenient surly package. 

The disprovable but nevertheless endlessly-stoked conspiracy theories about health care have bullied their way to the table.  And they sit there loudly and obnoxiously next to actual concerns about health reform and across from ideas about how to actually fix what‘s broken. 

The next crazy disprovable conspiracy theory coming down the pike?  The next bit of scare-tactic politics based as far as I can tell in pure bullpucky appears to be scaring our veterans into thinking that their care will somehow be taken away if we reform health care in this country. 

Cue Congressman Steve Buyer.  He represents Indiana‘s fourth congressional district.  He is the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.  Mr. Buyer today issued a press release stating, quote, “The current Democrat bill harms veterans.” 

Yes, the same reform ideas that seek to kill old people and kids with special needs and which mandate abortions is also a dastardly and unpatriotic move to harm the people who have fought to defend this country.  Except, of course, it‘s not any of those things. 

The White House appears to have been prepared to bat this one down.  They recently put out a short video by Matt Flavin, who is the White House director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy.  He is also a veteran of Bosnia and Iraq and Afghanistan. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT FLAVIN, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF VETERANS AND WOUNDED WARRIOR

POLICY:  I‘m here to tell you quite simply that if you are eligible for VA health care, you will remain eligible.  There is no impact on VA health care.  So veterans, please be comforted in the fact that your health care will not change under health reform efforts.  There is no effect. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  There is no effect.  So says the White House director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy.  Healthcare reform is not a plot to deprive veterans of the care that they have earned.  But that‘s apparently not going to stop the anti-reform crowd from trying to make them afraid that that is the case. 

Joining us now is Congressman Joe Sestak, Democrat from Pennsylvania.  He serves in the House Armed Services Committee and he‘s a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral.  He‘s the highest ranking former military officer to serve in Congress.  And he is running against Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary for Senate.  Congressman Sestak, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

REP. JOE SESTAK, (D-PA), MEMBER, HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: 

Thanks for having me.  It‘s good to be back. 

MADDOW:  We have already seen anti-healthcare reform people going after seniors, trying to make senior citizens afraid about healthcare reform. 

SESTAK:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  What is your reaction to the effort to try to target veterans? 

SESTAK:  I‘m very disappointed.  That bill, that wonderful bill we‘ve moved through my committee out of education and labor states very explicitly that tri-care for active and retired military and that the veterans and their dependents that are in the VA as well as those dependents in tri-care, that remains a solid system with no changes. 

You know, not only that.  But President Obama‘s budget is going to also restore what we call the Priority 8 veterans to the VA system.  Back in 2003, the Bush administration kicked out over 265,000 veterans out of the Veterans Administration who happened to earn a bit over $34,000 for a family of two. 

Now, it‘s 500,000 that are denied.  And President Obama‘s budget in the next four years brings them all back in.  Not only does it preserve the system for our veterans, it enhances the system for our veterans. 

MADDOW:  It seems like the White House knew this was coming.  We have seen Congressman Buyer making noise about this issue.  The White House proactively put out that video from the White House veterans director.  We see the president has on his schedule on Monday - he‘s going to be addressing the VFW in Arizona. 

The White House seems to expect that this is going to be politicized, that veterans are going to be - try to be frightened.  We‘ve seen a lot of veterans speaking out at healthcare reform events, not necessarily just about veterans‘ issues but about the other things that have been used to scare people. 

Does it take a certain type of person, a certain type of politics to try to exploit veterans in particular to be afraid here? 

SESTAK:  It does.  Quite frankly, I‘m disappointed.  Anybody who reads Section 202 of this bill should know very comfortably that our veterans are taken care of.  Very simply - I‘m so glad to see the White House is really on its game with this.  I‘m actually going to be having a veterans summit tomorrow here in Philadelphia and fly to Pittsburgh and have another one there where we‘re going to talk over this issue. 

This word has got to get out to those veterans that if this president is determined to do anything, it‘s take care of vets.  And I‘m not just saying that.  He has got an 11 percent increase in the Veterans Administration over the next five years.  That‘s the largest increase in the history of the Veterans Administration.  We are very grateful to have him as our commander-in-chief. 

MADDOW:  Well, let‘s get down to nitty-gritty here.  Because I know we hear from a lot of veterans who watch the show, we know we have a big veterans audience.  We try to prioritize veterans‘ issues on this show whenever we can.  The nitty-gritty here, the specific allegation is that veterans getting VA health care would be subjected to attacks that might be levied against people who were uninsured. 

And what the White House says is that the legislation that passed, as you say through your committee, exempts people who are covered under the VA from having to meet that mandate.  Can you - as somebody who is responsible for that bill passing, can you confirm that that‘s true?  There‘s not going to be any tax on anybody for VA benefits? 

SESTAK:  I can absolutely confirm and the exact words are that the VA healthcare plan meets the minimal, acceptable requirements, which means it‘s exempt from that 2.5 percent tax that they‘re talking about.  It states it just like that. 

MADDOW:  Do you have advice for the president in terms of his address to the VFW on Monday?  He‘s going to be speaking at a relatively politicized group among veterans groups.  They have been among those who have been making some noise around the edges about this issue.  How do you think that he should address it when he talks to them on Monday?

SESTAK:  Mr. President, do what you always do.  State the facts, calmly, deliberately.  These men and women do believe in a commander-in-chief.  And Mr. President, continue to fight because our VA has been so under-funded, $2 billion in 2003, $2 billion in 2004, $2 billion in 2005, $2 billion in 2006.  And the veterans know that. 

And I just think he needs to continue to pound away.  That - Mr.  President, just state the facts.  Veterans love this country and they respect the commander-in-chief when he just states the facts. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Joe Sestak, who is running against Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary for Senate in the great state of Pennsylvania, good luck with your veterans‘ summit this weekend.  Thanks very much for your time tonight, sir. 

SESTAK:  Thanks for having me, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Great to see you.  All right.  Wondering where all the rage during the healthcare town hall protests is coming from?  Look no further than our friend Kent Jones.  I mean, not Kent as the cause per se, but it turns out he knows what is causing it.  It‘s a little surprising.  That‘s coming up.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, one Georgia congressman is doing his best to close the gap between the off-the-kook and Obama-equals-Hitler fringe and the sort of mainstream Republicanism that is supposedly embodied by the party‘s elected officials. 

His name is Paul Broun.  He is the missing link.  He first got famous this past November when he told a Rotary Club in Georgia that Barack Obama was a Marxist and that he reminded Congressman Broun of Hitler - you know, a Hitler-Marxist. 

A couple weeks ago, Congressman Broun made headlines again for becoming a charter member of the “lying about health reform to scare old people,” deathers club. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL BROUN (R-GA):  A lot of people are going to die.  This program of government option is being touted as being this panacea.  The savior of allowing people to have quality health care at an affordable price is going to kill people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Since then, Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia has outdone himself as a leadership role model of civility and decorum on the issue of health care. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROUN:  Folks, this is Obama-care.  Let me start this by telling you what I think of this bill and Obama-care. 

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

MADDOW:  Sorry.  Taken away by the moment there.  Carried off in the sympathy.  That was Tuesday night.  Today, congressman Paul Broun of Georgia maybe even topped that.  He sent a letter to the mailing list of the American Conservative Union that was obtained by “Talking Points Memo.”  And the letter says if we reform health care, quote, “When Mama falls and breaks her hip, she‘ll just lie in her bed in pain until she dies with pneumonia because her needed surgery is not cost efficient.” 

Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia calling the president Hitler, saying that Obama-care is a non-metaphorical object that should be dropped from a great height, and threatening to kill your Mama.  Best of luck with the whole getting-out-of-political-exile thing. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  I know there‘s been lot of attention paid to some of the town hall meetings that are going on around the country especially when tempers fly.  TV loves a ruckus. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  He‘s right.  He‘s right.  Of course, TV does love a ruckus - nailed us.  But my friend Kent Jones thinks he may have figured out why those angry mobs at the town hall meetings seem to camera-ready.  Kent, I understand you have a special report for us. 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Yes, I love a ruckus just for the record.  While I was watching, I came to a realization that totally changed the way I looked at those town hall meetings - I mean, in fact, all of politics. 

MADDOW:  All right.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWD:  Just say no. 

JONES (voice-over):  As I watched the town hall protest, I wondered, where does all that come from? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t have sophisticated language. 

JONES:  And why does it seem so familiar?  And then it hits me -

CROWD:  Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!

JONES:  Here - this is where we learn to air our differences.  Forget high school.  This is America‘s civics class.  We‘ve turned into Jerry nation, only without the bodyguards.  Could it be that the number one influence on our political discourse has become daytime TV?  Take the birthers‘ phenomenon. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He is not an American citizen.  He is a citizen of Kenya. 

JONES:  Would those seething conspiracy theorists be half as gung ho about the details of Obama‘s origins without years of watching Maury? 

MAURY POVICH, HOST, “MAURY”:  Harry, you are the father.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

JONES:  Once you start looking, the fruit of daytime TV is ripening

everywhere.  Look at Mark Sanford - 

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R-SC):  I‘ve been unfaithful to my wife. 

JONES:  Is this a state governor or a guest on a very special episode of “Tyra.”

TYRA BANKS, HOST, “TYRA”:  It‘s always like he said, what she said -

JONES:  Look, it‘s Judge Judy. 

JUDGE JUDITH SHEINDLIN, HOST, “JUDGE JUDY”:  I don‘t approve of Congress. 

JONES:  And “The Price is Right.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  $10,000. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  $825 billion. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  $10,000. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  $10,000. 

JONES:  And “Sesame Street” -

ELMO:  This is Michelle Obama. 

MICHELLE OBAMA, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY:  Hi, everyone. 

JONES:  This thing goes all the way to the top.  It‘s a daytime world. 

We just live in it. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  I admit it.  I made liquor drinks with Martha Stewart at 10:00 in the morning. 

JONES:  Of course.

MADDOW:  I‘m part of the problem. 

JONES:  Why wouldn‘t you. 

MADDOW:  Thank you very much, Kent.  I appreciate that.  All right.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Howard Dean joins Keith to see how the president is faring in his proclaimed facts not fear battle against the forces arrayed against health reform. 

Next on this show, I‘m sort of enjoying what turns out to be “Get Maddow Day” on the right.  Even the Christian broadcasters are taking little potshots at me.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  So, Kent, I have a special cocktail moment for you.

JONES:  Oh, very good. 

MADDOW:  It is.  I‘m going to be on “Meet the Press” this weekend.

JONES:  That‘s excellent. 

MADDOW:  And that means I‘ve never done one of these Sunday shows before.  We have to go in person and so I have to go to D.C. to go do that.  And I have picked out my reading for the trip home because I‘m dorky like that. 

JONES:  Sure.

MADDOW:  I have to make sure I have something to read at all times.  But there‘s a giant new article on C Street that has been published by this Christian magazine that‘s called “The World.”  There are two big relatively mainstream Christian right magazines in the U.S.  And one of them is “Christianity Today.”  One is called “The World.”  And “The World” did a huge new cover story on C Street.

JONES:  Oh, OK.

MADDOW:  And it‘s kind - I haven‘t read the whole thing but it‘s like interviews with people who left The Family and have lots of criticism for it and an explanation of how they don‘t consider themselves Christians.  There‘s stuff on all the dictators who the group‘s leader has met with and how the guy has put 11 of his family members on the group‘s payroll. 

JONES:  Wow.

MADDOW:  Yes.  So it is - that story from “The World” is linked on our Web site today in case anybody else wants to do their homework with me over the weekend C Street. 

JONES:  Absolutely, yes.

MADDOW:  Here‘s what I wanted to say about today‘s cocktail moment. 

You know, the Christian Broadcasting Network?

JONES:  Oh, yes. 

MADDOW:  They have also just done a big story on C Street.  And they like took a little shot at me.  They‘re hosting the coverage of it.  But check out what they say is the real story about C Street.  They say that it‘s - the real story of C Street is not conservative politicians having affairs while they were supposedly being held accountable at C Street. 

JONES:  No.

MADDOW:  That‘s not the real story.  The real story is how many other affairs C Street must have thwarted. 

JONES:  Oh -

MADDOW:  How many other affairs -

JONES:  Well done.

MADDOW:  Yes - C Street conservatives would have been having if they hadn‘t have been kept so accountable by C Street.  Check this out.  It‘s amazing.  Check it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The fact of the matter is what you want to do if you want to do a real story on C Street is find out how many affairs were thwarted because of the accountability of this house.

DAVID BRODY, CBN REPORTER (voice-over):  Holding politicians accountable spiritually in the nation‘s capital.  Not an easy job at all.  David Brody, CBN News, Washington. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s not an easy job at all and I applaud Doug Coe for what he‘s doing and the fact that he keeps it secret and the fact that he doesn‘t do interviews.  It enables him to be an effect minister to people in power. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I applaud him for keeping it secret. 

JONES:  Libido busters.  Fantastic!

MADDOW:  How many affairs must have been thwarted, when the fact that, you know, Sanford and Ensign and the alleged Pickering affair all happened with collusion from C Street obviously just means they‘re doing a great job stopping all the other ones. 

JONES:  They just swat them away.  Like, boom!  No! 

MADDOW:  These ones were the most resilient.  Only they got through. 

JONES:  No, no.  You go ahead.  Stop!

MADDOW:  The Christian Broadcasting Network did also find time in this intrepid report to take a little shot at me which this week right here is sort of starting to feel like a badge of honor.  Here‘s that part. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRODY:  But Coe‘s decision to keep things hush-hush in the house has just led to more media scrutiny. 

MADDOW (on camera):  It‘s operated by a secretive religious organization. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I love that definition - a secret religious organization.  OK. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  They just praised them for being a secretive religious organization. 

JONES:  OK. 

MADDOW:  They specifically praised their secrecy. 

JONES:  They did. 

MADDOW:  I love that the liberal media thinks they‘re secret. 

JONES:  Yes.  What have they done to deserve that?

MADDOW:  Just amazing.  Anyway, so thank you for my extended cocktail moment. 

JONES:  Absolutely.  Had a rough week. 

MADDOW:  Rough and sort of fine at the same time. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you back here at 9:00 p.m. on Monday.  But I have to say on Sunday, once again, I‘ll be on NBC‘s “Meet the Press” along with former House Majority leader, Rep. Dick Armey, Sen. Tom Coburn and former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle.  We‘ll be doing a full hour-long panel to talk about healthcare reform with our host David Gregory.  That should be very, very fun. 

Until then you can E-mail us at rachel@msnbc.com.  Our podcast is at iTunes or at Rachel.MSNBC.com.  You can also hear my radio show, coast-to-coast, on Air America Radio.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Have a great weekend.  Good night. 

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

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