'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
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Guests: Allen Raymond, James K. Galbraith, Sen. Tom Udall, Chris Hayes
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Or maybe it was all just a big understanding.
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: That‘s it. They were looking for some other senator‘s office to dress up for the party this afternoon or yesterday afternoon.
MADDOW: Any minute now, Mr. Roper is going to come around the corner, and everyone‘s just going to explain how it was all a big misunderstanding and Jack‘s really gay and nobody knew. And then “The Three‘s Company” theme will start playing and we‘ll all understand he was totally innocent.
OLBERMANN: All right. You went in a completely different direction than I expected. I‘m just—I‘ll just—you can take it from here, I‘d like to go home now.
MADDOW: Appreciate it, Keith. I‘ll send you a memo later explaining the whole Jack Tripper thing.
OLBERMANN: I don‘t know.
MADDOW: All right. Cheers. Thank you.
Thank you to Keith and thank to you—thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. We will have more on that breaking news story about the Louisiana story as Keith just described.
Also, against any political or policy logic that I can find, the president is going to announce a spending freeze tomorrow night despite an economy still reeling from the great recession.
There appears to be a little bit of a groundswell to change the filibuster rule in the Senate. We‘ll be talking about that with Senator Tom Udall. He‘ll be here.
And there is increasingly wide consensus on the way forward for health reform, yet still no bill. Chris Hayes will report on that.
That‘s all coming up this hour.
But we do begin with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES O‘KEEFE, POSED AS PIMP IN ACORN VIDEO: This is who these people are, we‘re exposing their soul. We‘re getting to the heart of who they actually are. It‘s not just some manipulation. It‘s not entrapment. I‘m not an agent of the government. I‘m just going in as a concerned young citizen of this country just showing people what goes on behind closed doors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was James O‘Keefe about four months ago, bragging on the FOX News Channel about having secretly filmed employees of the community group ACORN while he pretended to be a pimp, a pimp of a pretend prostitute. It was sort of an ambush action which earned Mr. O‘Keefe the lavish praise of the right wing media—even earned him a House resolution which was authored by Republican Congressman Pete Olson. It was cosponsored by 31 other congressional Republicans. That resolution described Mr. O‘Keefe as, quote, “owed a debt of gratitude by the people of the United States.”
Tonight, that same James O‘Keefe is facing federal felony charges for aiding and abetting and attempted wiretap of a Democratic senator, charges that carry up to a quarter of a million dollars in fine and 10 years in prison.
The FBI complaint alleges that Mr. O‘Keefe waited in the New Orleans office of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu yesterday morning. Mr. O‘Keefe allegedly used a cell phone camera in the office to film two of his accomplices. His accomplices were dressed up as telephone repairmen.
After those two fake repairmen arrived at the office, according to the complaint, they manipulated the phone system at Senator Landrieu‘s reception desk, and then they at least tried to do the same thing with the offices main phone system, which was located in another room in the same federal office building.
The federal repair—excuse me, the fake repairmen were Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan. Mr. Flanagan is, interestingly enough, the son of the acting U.S. attorney in Shreveport, Louisiana. Mr. Basel, Mr. Flanagan, Mr. O‘Keefe and a fourth man named Scott Dai was allegedly waiting in a getaway vehicle with a listening device that could pick up transmissions. That‘s according to a federal law enforcement official quoted by the “Associated Press” tonight.
Mr. Dai, again, is allegedly waiting in the getaway car; Mr. O‘Keefe waiting in the senator‘s office for the fake repairmen; and Mr. Basel and Mr. Flanagan posing as the fake repairmen. All are now charged in a criminal complaint with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony.
Senator Landrieu, late tonight, released a statement about this, that said, quote, “This is a very unusual situation and somewhat unsettling for me and my staff. The individuals responsible have been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purposes of committing a felony.”
“I,” says the senator, “am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which I hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward.”
Now, again, the incident and the arrest took place yesterday. The men have been arraigned in federal court, and a magistrate has set bond at $10,000 each.
Mr. O‘Keefe, you should know, is already the subject of lawsuits in at least two states over his allegedly illegal surreptitious filming of ACORN employees. He is a paid contributor to a right-wing Drudge Report spinoff Web site. He‘s also, of course, been a very, very, very, very, very, very, very frequent guest on the FOX News Channel.
Mr. O‘Keefe appears to have been in Louisiana as recently as last week, in order to give a talk at the Pelican Institute, which is a Louisiana right-wing think tank. The topic of his talk, quote, “Exposing truth, undercover video, new media and creativity.”
Joining us now is Allen Raymond. Mr. Raymond is the author of “How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative.” He spent three months in jail for jamming Democratic phone lines during the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race.
Mr. Raymond, thanks very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate your time.
ALLEN RAYMOND, AUTHOR, “HOW TO RIG AN ELECTION”: Oh, you‘re welcome.
Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, nobody knows what the motivations are here, nobody has been convicted of anything, obviously. But this was a senator‘s office, which is why we‘re leading with this. What kinds of things do you think we should be looking for to figure out if these four arrestees are politically connected to anyone other than each other?
RAYMOND: Well, I think that as the investigation goes forward, keep a couple things in mind. One is that when you have a conspiracy—and this is clearly a conspiracy—the only way the conspirators walk away unscathed is if they hang together. If we don‘t—you know, if we don‘t hang together, we‘ll hang separately.
And the fact that Mr. Flanagan‘s father is a U.S. attorney, he‘s going to be lawyered up, and there‘s going to be a great deal of pressure put on by the FBI, on these defendants. And more than likely, he‘s going to be the one that the FBI is able to chisel away because he‘s going to be probably looking for a plea deal, not knowing all the facts but having kind of been through this process.
So, I think that that‘s when—in the early stages, that‘s where you‘re going to see whether or not these guys break, and you find out, are there other people involved, who else knew? Is this a larger conspiracy? Or is this, you know, three self-appointed policemen of—from the right-wing blogosphere who are looking to upstage their last story which was the ACORN story?
MADDOW: From your—again, your personal experience in dealing with the FBI in the New Hampshire dirty tricks case, how does that pressure manifests? Talk about the sort of pressure that they feel to talk about, who came up with the idea for this, if anybody is directing them, if anybody is paying them, et cetera. How does that pressure actually manifest? What‘s it like to be in discussions with the FBI about that?
RAYMOND: Well, they don‘t use a scalpel, they use a sledgehammer. And basically, what they do is they take a look at statutes and they start to figure out how many charges can they file against you. And so, that becomes—look very overwhelming. I mean, when you look at this statute, I think you had said earlier, a quarter million dollar fine, and potentially 10 years in prison. You know, that‘s not going to happen in this case.
But when you‘re 24, and in Mr. O‘Keefe‘s situation, you‘re going from icon to clown, you don‘t want to go from clown to convict. So, there‘s going to be a great deal of pressure and these guys are really under the gun. Unless they have, you know, $6 million for a legal defense, more than likely these guys are going to be looking to make the best deal possible for themselves and their future because that‘s what—that‘s what at stake for these guys. They‘re—you know, the rest of their lives—their future—is on the line right here.
MADDOW: In terms of what you know about dirty trips and about the kinds of schemes for which you served in time in prison in New Hampshire in which you wrote your book about—does this sort of a scheme, this sort of a plan, what it appears to be listening devices in a senator‘s foreign—apparently, according to the “Associated Press” tonight, federal law enforcement officials saying, a listening device in a car a couple blocks away that could pick transmissions from those bugs. Does that sound like the kind of thing that would be part of a political dirty tricks campaign or does this sound like a freelance operation?
RAYMOND: Well, you know, there‘s a saying, which is: don‘t interrupt your enemy as they‘re self-destructing. And by all accounts after the Massachusetts Senate special election, you know, the sense on the Republican side is that the Democrats are self-destructing.
So, I don‘t think even Michael Steele‘s RNC would go and condone this type of thing. More likely, and again, the facts will rule out—more like, you know, you‘re talking about guys who have ridden to notoriety and, you know, great accomplishment off the ACORN story, they‘ve got to do something that‘s even better than that. And so, they may—you know, being young, they may have decided, hey, you know, we‘re—we can‘t be touched, we‘re—you know, we‘re these rising stars, we‘re going to go make a story.
And maybe the story has to do—maybe they sense that there was something to have—having to do with what was called the “Louisiana purchase.” It was Senator Landrieu‘s negotiation around Medicare payments in context to the health care vote. Maybe they thought there‘s some graft there, there‘s some corruption and we‘re going to appoint ourselves to go uncover it.
MADDOW: Allen Raymond, the author of “How to Rig an Election” and a man with unique experience on the manipulation of phone systems for political gain, it‘s invaluable to us to have your insight tonight. Thanks very much for joining us. I appreciate it.
RAYMOND: You‘re welcome. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: I should note one political connection here. There is one sort of strange but direct political connection tonight for these four men arrested in this case. The father of one of them—I noted—is an acting U.S. attorney in Louisiana. And that acting U.S. attorney in Louisiana only has that job right now because Republican Senator David Vitter put a hold on the nominee to replace that U.S. attorney.
So, again, we don‘t have any idea if connections like that count as political connections that count as things that are suspicious in the case of an alleged crime like this. But at this point, we know very little about the motivations behind this crime and behind—I guess we know very little—I don‘t want to—I don‘t want to speculate here, but we know very little about what was motivating these guys, what they hoped to accomplish. And it seems like all of the—all of the—all of the dots that we can connect at this point may be worth connecting.
I should also note: the fourth suspect‘s name in this case, I had said earlier was Scott Dai, his first name was actually Stan, and his last name is spelled D-A-I, which I‘m only assuming is pronounced “die.”
OK. On the list of things that we have learned since the Ten Commandments, we might make a useful appendix to the Ten Commandments. We have: don‘t eat half-cooked shell fish. We have: don‘t call a baseball game in the seventh inning. And we have: don‘t freeze government spending while a bad economy is just starting to recover.
An economics professor, James K. Galbraith, joins us. We will give
him his choice of which of those three things he wants to talk about—
next. That‘s coming up
MADDOW: First Lady Michelle Obama today announced the administration wants to increase what we spend to help military families by $8.8 million in President Obama‘s proposed budget for next year. Neat, excellent.
Also, not distracting us at all from the fact that veterans calling the V.A. call center to get their benefits under the new G.I. Bill are not able to connect and talk to someone, 90 percent of the time -- 90 percent of calls by veterans to the G.I. Bill call center either result in a busy signal or a message that their call can‘t be completed, 90 percent.
One reason veterans can‘t get through, that the call center in Muskogee, Oklahoma, has only been open three days a week. It has relatively minimal hours anyway, and is closed all together on Thursdays and on Fridays—totally unacceptable.
We would love to have someone from the V.A. come on the show to tell us what in Eric Shinseki‘s name is going on here. In the meantime, they have given us a statement saying the Thursday and Friday call center closure was due to a temporary reassignment of those call center workers and they hope to get those workers back to their call center jobs soon.
Again, neat. Again, totally unacceptable. You have not heard the end of this one.
MADDOW: Twenty-four hours from now, President Obama will probably be about one applause line and one “You lie” into his first official State of the Union address. The president‘s senior adviser David Axelrod recently said that he told the president around the time he was inaugurated that one year later—i.e., now—he‘d be operating with worse approval numbers and a worse climate because of the disastrous economy in free fall, which president—which Obama‘s presidency was starting with.
Mr. Axelrod was right, of course, these are tough political times for the party in power. But honestly, we didn‘t end up having a second Great Depression, even though a lot of people thought we were going to. And what‘s happened to the economy since Obama has been president isn‘t exactly a record to run from.
Here‘s GDP, the whole gross domestic product, in the last three quarters of the Bush administration, I guess that‘s the last four quarters of the Bush administration. Grim, right?
Well, here‘s the first three quarters once President Obama took office. See that at the end there? That‘s called a growing economy. And making that out of what the last guy handed of to you is not quite loaves into fishes, but you get the idea.
On the jobs front, even when the economy improves, jobs improve later.
And the unemployment rate right now is really, really horribly high.
But again, look at the trend there. When President Bush left office, the jobless graph looked like an animation flip book of something being hurling off a cliff. Since President Obama took office, the rate of job losses is slowing. Trend: right direction.
In terms of economic policies, President Obama signed into law a stimulus, a little less than a year ago. Even as Republicans complain about it, economists, by and large, say it worked. Individually economists who are politically notable, like Mark Zandi, who advised John McCain‘s campaign against Obama, say that stimulus worked and we need another one.
“USA Today” surveyed 50 economists on the stimulus yesterday, the verdict: it‘s held down the unemployment rate and saved, in their median estimates, 1.2 million jobs.
Well, then there‘s the banking system bailout. While politically toxic, it does seem to have preserved the existence of a banking sector in the United States, and to have averted the aforementioned second Great Depression. And by the way, it earned money for taxpayers. The Federal Reserve actually turned a $52 billion profit last year, that‘s return on the bailout money.
And in order to recoup the rest of the money that we gave the banks, President Obama has proposed a bank fee. The big political bonus for the president on that one is that the Republicans are against the bank fee. Republicans are siding with the banks against paying back the bailout money to the taxpayers. That is such a political gift to Democrats, it should have come with wrapping paper on it, and a ribbon tied around it.
Mr. Obama‘s other bailout was, of course, for the auto industry. Again, we still have an auto industry in this country, which is handy, and was not necessarily going to happen on its own. General Motors announced yesterday that they‘re about ready to pay back their bailout money as well. The auto industry was also helped by Obama‘s “cash for clunkers” program.
Ford, which didn‘t even get bailout money, is expected to announce big 2009 profits next week. Today, Ford announced that they‘re adding 1,200 new jobs to a plant in Illinois.
President Obama‘s next stride on economic issues? Wall Street reform, which, again, happens to be a great political issue for Democrats, given that Republicans are on the pro-Wall Street, anti-populist side of this.
Republicans are against President Obama‘s Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which means in political speak, that they are pro-fine print and hidden credit card fees. You can put a ribbon on that one, too.
Republicans are even against Mr. Obama‘s new series of micro-targeted, Clintonesque, middle class family tax cuts.
You know, no one would wish this economy on any president right now, but given what he‘s done with what he had to work with, given the results of this year‘s governing compared with say the last guy, given the demonstrable success of this president‘s biggest economic policy decisions of the past year—even as a lot of those decisions were politically tough to take—given that his new policy suggestions have boxed in Republicans to make them take incredibly toxic stances that are likely to bum out their own constituents and to disgust moderates, and that those same Obama proposals are likely to inspire a little faith in Obama on the left, and maybe therefore close the enthusiasm gap between these two political parties and their bases—given all of that, given everything he‘s got going for him headed into the State of the Union, the president has decided to surrender, to give up.
Democrats have marched all the way down the field to the one yard line, and instead of fighting their way into the end zone, they have decided to punt from the one. They have decided to give the ball to the other team instead of trying to score.
President Obama tomorrow night is expected to announce a massive spending freeze. Thereby, ceding to Republicans all of the economic political turf they ever wanted.
Evidenced today by conservative Democratic Senator Evan Bayh holding a celebratory press conference about the spending freeze with John McCain, the man who lost the presidential election to Barack Obama proposing this idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veterans affairs and entitlements.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spending freeze?
MCCAIN: I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions of caring for our veterans, national defense, and several other vital issues.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you go for that?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the problem with a spending freeze is you‘re using a hatchet where you need a scalpel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama wins election, then John McCain anointed president by Democrats.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, today, called the spending freeze, quote, “appalling on every level. It‘s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. It‘s bad long-run fiscal policy and it‘s a betrayal of everything Obama supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world view and embraced the policy demands of the man he defeated in 2008.”
Blogging at The Economist today, Ryan Avent writing, quote, “Through bad times and good times for the president, there was one word I never associated with him in his approach to the challenges facing the country: gimmick. But this is a bright, shining gimmick that advertises a lack of seriousness to both near-term economic weakness and long-run budget problems. This is decidedly not what is needed right now.”
“The Washington Post” in a reported article, not even an op-ed today, describing the spending freeze as a political concession that could dramatically curtail Obama‘s legislative ambitions while barely denting the deficit.
Less than 24 hours from this moment, President Obama will be in the process of punting from the one-yard line, not attacking the real long term deficit, doing short-term harm to the economy by taking money out of it, at a time when government spending is some of the only spending we‘ve got. And conceding to Republicans that their economically inane assertion that the way to tackle deficits is by ignoring entitlements and health care costs and defense spending and (INAUDIBLE) taxes, and instead by monkeying around with the 1/8 sliver of the budget that makes for good right-wing political attack ads. Awesome.
Joining us now is James Galbraith, professor of economics at the University of Texas.
Professor Galbraith, thanks very much for your time tonight. It‘s nice to have you here.
JAMES K. GALBRAITH, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: Tomorrow night, President Obama is expected to announce this three-year discretionary spending freeze. In your view, is there a real economic justification for this?
GALBRAITH: No, there‘s not. It‘s basically a symbolic gesture. It‘s
as you said—going to affect a very small part of the budget. I think what it reflects is the same sort of problem of judgment about the course of the economy that the administration made a year ago, when they assumed that a recovery would happen, that the unemployment rate would peak at 8 percent, and that they would, therefore, be able to get away with a stimulus, which, although it was useful as you‘ve said, was too small to really be felt as having made a decisive impact on the trajectory of the economy.
If we got a very strong recovery, in 2010, then, you know, nobody would remember that he didn‘t pose a spending freeze that was taking effect in 2011. The problem is, it‘s—I think rather unlikely that will help, and it‘s very poor economic judgment to proceed as though you could be confident that was going to happen.
And so, I think he‘s building trouble for the future on the economic front.
The other question I would raise is: what problem is this supposed to solve? When you think about—and this is, I think relates to the problem of the—a supposed problem of the deficit in a larger sense, when you ask, what issue is being addressed here? The question is always: will the federal government be able to borrow for the long-term at a reasonable interest rate? That‘s the only real economic issue that‘s posed by the deficit.
But that long-term interest rate isn‘t a state secret, it‘s something you can look up in the morning paper. The 20-year rate on federal bonds is only—less than 4.4 percent today. It‘s been falling sharply in the last couple days.
And so, you have to ask: is there any—is there any serious economic argument for this gesture? And the answer to that question is: no, there‘s not.
MADDOW: As somebody who also understands the politics of economic issues as well, and how these things are handled in the political arena, do you think this decision should be viewed as the White House ceding the Republican Party ground on economic policy? In terms of its value as a symbolic policy, is it ceding Republican ground?
GALBRAITH: Well, it‘s—I think it‘s working on a very interesting political theory, which is that if you throw some red meat in the water, the sharks will feed quietly and leave the swimmers alone. And it may be that the budget director felt that by giving them a little spending freeze on discretionary spending, he would get some—less pressure on the really serious question, which is the attack coming through this so-called bipartisan commission, the Conrad-Gregg commission, that is coming against Social Security and Medicare.
And I know they want to defend Social Security and Medicare. We all should want to defend Social Security and Medicare. But by conceding the case which doesn‘t need to be conceded, that we‘re facing some dreadful crisis in the federal government‘s ability to borrow, then you are going to intensify the pressure on Social Security and Medicare. And that‘s just portends, I think, a human and social disaster for America‘s elderly, for whom these programs really are the mainstay of their standard of life.
MADDOW: James Galbraith, he‘s professor of economics at the University of Texas—it‘s great to have you on the show to talk about these things tonight. Professor, thanks for joining us.
GALBRAITH: Thanks very much. Yes, thank you.
MADDOW: So, are you tired of every single piece of legislation having to pass the Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman test? Or the magical unicorn fathom hope test of Republican votes? Yes. Are you tired of supermajority rules?
Congress, there is a solution to this problem. Senator Tom Udall has a plan and he joins us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM UDALL (D-NM), SENATE RULES AND ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE:
Protecting the views of the minority makes sense, but not at the expense of the will of the majority. Indeed, as the rules are being used today, a single senator can hold a bill hostage until his or her demands are met.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was freshman Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. He joins us in just a moment. He‘s becoming the latest of a swell of Democrats voicing their opposition to the use and abuse of the filibuster. This includes Sen. Bob Menendez, who called the recent Republican use of filibuster, quote, “unprecedented in the history of the United States Senate.”
White House adviser David Axelrod said recently, quote, “The Republican strategy in the Senate is to turn 50 into 60. In other words, no longer do you need a majority to carry the day in the Senate. You need 60 for everything because the Republicans are filibustering every single bill. We need to call that out and they need to explain to the American people whether throwing a wrench into everything at the time of a national emergency is the appropriate policy.”
Even the vice president of the United States is warning about the same issue, saying, quote, “This is the first time every single solitary decision has required 60 senators. No democracy has survived needing a supermajority.”
So it used to take a majority to pass things in the Senate - 51 votes. Now, it apparently always takes 60. And even though the Republicans and the D.C. pundit-ocracy would have you believe this new “60 is the new 51” paradigm is totally normal and nothing to worry about, and actually sort of awesome, it‘s not normal.
What‘s going on right now is really a lot not normal. The filibuster has, in fact, never been used this way, as an obstruction to absolutely everything the Senate even thinks about doing.
Here‘s what I don‘t understand, though, about the filibuster fight. In 2005, Republicans were threatening to do away with the filibuster because they didn‘t like Democrats holding up President Bush‘s judicial nominees. Remember this?
Democrats were so convinced at the time that Republicans‘ vote would get rid of the filibuster and could get rid of the filibuster that the Democrats caved. They gave Bush‘s judicial nominees in order to preserve the filibuster.
Republicans were right on the brink of getting rid of that filibuster. But the Republican majority in 2005 wasn‘t 67 seats strong. It wasn‘t even 60 seats strong. It wasn‘t 59 seats strong. There were 55 Republicans in the Senate in 2005, when they were threatening to get rid of the filibuster.
And somehow, they convinced Democrats that with those 55 seats, they could end the filibuster. But fast forward to today, Republicans are using the filibuster in a way that has literally never been done in all of American history.
And yet, Democrats suddenly don‘t believe that they can make or carry out the same end the filibuster threat that they themselves were so scared of five years ago. Suddenly, now that they‘d be the ones doing the killing, Democrats don‘t believe the filibuster can be killed with a simple majority, even though they were utterly convinced that Republicans could have and would have done it to them in 2005.
Joining us now is Sen. Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico. Sen. Udall, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight. It‘s nice to have you here.
UDALL: Great, Rachel. It‘s good to be with you on this show.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the 2005 versus today scenario that I just laid out, because I have been confused about this. Democrats were convinced the Republicans could kill the filibuster with just a majority vote. They were so convinced that they caved on a lot of the issues the Republicans wanted them to cave on.
Now, Democrats, many of them, don‘t seem to believe that they could get rid of the filibuster with a majority vote. Do you think that‘s right?
UDALL: What has happened, Rachel, is we have gotten ourselves into a terrible box. And this is what the box is. First of all, we‘ve put into the Senate rules the provision that - the rules in the Senate will continue from one Senate to the next. So that‘s one.
And the second provision is that you can only change the rules in accordance with the rules, which require 67 votes. So here, we have a box that we‘ve created, and we can never get our way out of it, because we don‘t have 67 votes.
UDALL: My way out of it, Rachel, is very simple, And we go back to the framers. We go back to the Constitution. Basically, what we say is, in Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, it says that each House, the Senate may determine its rules of its proceedings.
So at the beginning of every Congress, by a majority vote, we are able to determine our rules, so the kind of abuse that you‘re talking about that has occurred, we can consider that. We can look at it, and we can decide as a group, 51 of us, if we have the political will, to step forward.
We decide we‘re going to change the rules, and the reason you change the rules is to make them work better for the American people, to get the things done the American people sent us here to do.
MADDOW: Is that procedure that you‘re talking about, for changing - potentially, at least considering changing the filibuster rule with a 51 senator vote. Is that the same thing the Republicans were proposing doing when they were threatening what they were calling the nuclear option back in 2005?
UDALL: Well, the big difference is, the nuclear option was applying to judicial nominees only. And so they were objecting to what was happening on the filibuster with judicial nominees. And they were talking about doing it in the middle of a Senate session.
The difference, I think, between my proposal and what they were proposing then is that at the beginning of the Congress is when you adopt the rules. That‘s what the House. I served five terms in the House. The very first thing we would do at the beginning of every Congress is adopt the rules and then those rules serve throughout that particular Congress.
In this case that you‘re talking about, the nuclear option - in the middle of the Congress, they were trying to change the rules in midstream to apply to judicial nominees.
What I‘m starting is a movement within the Senate now to say at the beginning of the 112th Congress, the first order of business ought to be adopting rules for the 112th Congress, and under the Constitution, and the way the framers saw it. We can do that with a majority vote.
MADDOW: Let me ask you to take the political temperature on this for us a little bit in Washington. I‘m sure you‘ve done that already when you considered introducing this resolution.
But I feel like I‘m hearing something, I‘m hearing it from David Axelrod in the White House and from Vice President Joe Biden and from colleagues of yours, including Sen. Kaufman and Sen. Menendez and yourself, Sen. Stabenow earlier on this week on this show.
A number of senators and people who ought to have a lot of influence in this debate, like the White House and the president of the Senate, the vice president, all expressing real concern about the filibuster situation, and an interest in potentially changing this.
Do you feel like there is momentum in Washington to finally do something about this instead of just complaining about it?
UDALL: I think there‘s momentum in Washington. I think more of the people discover how the rule has been abused. I mean, if you go back to 1960 on major pieces of legislation, the filibuster was used about eight percent of the time.
You come up to our time period now, 2007 to 2009, and we‘re talking 70 percent of the time on major legislation, the filibuster being used.
And so when people find out that really, this isn‘t a real filibuster, it‘s a threat of filibuster, it‘s a shadow filibuster, many times, we‘re in a quorum call rather than actually forcing a member of the party that wants to filibuster to get up and talk about what it is they oppose.
I mean, that‘s the thing that we‘ve removed from the rules.
It used to be in the Senate that if you were filibustering, you stood up. There was a physical dimension to it, that you - when you became exhausted you would have to leave the floor. That was the idea of the filibuster.
Now, it‘s a threat, it‘s a procedural device. It‘s used as a weapon of partisanship. And so what I‘m hoping to do is to have a discussion this year, call all of my fellow senators together and say, can‘t we get the rules that worked for us, that worked for the American people and that moved us down the road to getting things accomplished rather than using the Senate rules to block what the American people want us to do back here.
MADDOW: Sen. Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, thanks very much for joining us tonight. Filibuster isn‘t the easiest thing in the world to talk about. But the more people learn about it, the angrier they get about it. Appreciate your help tonight, sir.
UDALL: Absolutely, Rachel. Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Thank you. OK. Two weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, is the effort to distribute desperately needed food there improving and improving fast enough? We have that story with some incredible footage, coming up next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The U.S. embassy in Haiti said that today, two weeks after the earthquake leveled the Haitian capital, U.S. troops pulled a man from the rubble of a collapsed building alive today.
Meanwhile, Haiti‘s government estimates that 1.5 million people in Haiti are in need of food. The United Nations World Food Program is in charge of much of this aid effort. And while the task is daunting and the responsibilities enormous, there are signs today that the aid distribution is still being bungled.
NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski reported in Haiti today. She witnessed U.N. peacekeepers using teargas on Haitians who were gathered at a food distribution site. Yesterday, Robert Moore, from our British partner ITN, reported a similarly botched effort by the World Food Program after he got access to one of the program‘s sites.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MOORE, REPORTER, ITN: When the convoy arrived at the camp, the need was obvious. The crowd, thirsty, hungry and increasingly angry as they were asked to repeat written forms and many here are illiterate.
Eventually, a few sacks of rice were unloaded, then inexperienced U.N. troops decided it might be a crush and incredibly ordered the food to be reloaded and taken away.
The fight was on for the small amount left behind. The prize, a bottle of cooking oil. The U.N. team left frustrated themselves and they had promised to us it would improve.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think with any operation of this size, there are always problems (UNINTELLIGIBLE) problems at the beginning, remembering, of course, that the entire humanitarian system here took such a hit from the earthquake. But we are ramping up the operation day by day by day.
MOORE: But back at the camp, people watched in utter disbelief as the precious food was driven away, back to the warehouse where the journey began.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A spokeswoman for the World Food Program told our producers today that the incident that you saw described there on the ITN report was a, quote, “isolated incident.”
As the World Food Program tries to get its act together and to deal with the immediate responsibility of feeding people today and tomorrow and the next day, the Haitian government met with representatives from about 20 countries in multilateral organizations in Montreal yesterday.
It was hosted by the Canadian prime minister. They‘re trying to come up with a master plan for rebuilding Haiti. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed a follow-up meeting at the U.N. in March to hammer out details.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We‘re trying to do this in the correct order. Sometimes people have pledging conferences and pledge money. They don‘t have any idea what they‘re going to do with it.
We actually think it‘s a novel idea to do the needs assessment first and then the planning and then the pledging.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Pretty much everyone agrees that rebuilding Haiti is going to take at least a decade and a whole lot of international help. But even as the ability to provide immediate aid in Haiti is uncertain, the desire to help is as strong as ever.
The “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon ran on more than 40 TV channels including this one. It was a rousing success. It was hosted by Wyclef Jean and George Clooney. The event leveraged the famousness of many, many famous people to get 83 million people around the world to tune in live.
It was streamed online 1.9 million times. Some people in Haiti were even able to pick it up on a radio station based in Port-au-Prince. Since airing on Friday night, I‘m here to tell you that the telethon has raised a total, thus far, of $61 million.
In addition, the benefit album composed of the musical performances from that night, is currently the number one iTunes album in 18 countries. “Hope for Haiti Now” will be accepting donations for the next six months. If you‘d like to contribute, we‘ve got the link at our Web site, Rachel.MSNBC.com. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Common wisdom on the Massachusetts Senate race is that Massachusetts voters rejected the idea of universal health care. The common wisdom in this case is totally wrong.
Massachusetts, as you know, already has essentially universal health care. “The Washington Post” just polled Massachusetts voters. The vast majority of them said they like their state‘s universal health care system. Sixty-eight percent said so.
Even more interesting, a majority of people who voted for Scott Brown say they like their universal health care system - 51 percent. So when you hear people say that the Massachusetts Senate race was a rejection of the idea of universal health care, that‘s actually, provably, demonstrably, factually false.
The relevant extrapolate-able fact that national politicians can glean from Massachusetts is that once you pass something like health reform, it can no longer be some caricature like Obama-care anymore.
It instead becomes people‘s health care coverage, something that they‘re very likely to like and to be willing to fight tooth-and-nail to keep it. And they will probably remember who gave it to them, which politically is why Republicans are so desperate to stop national health reform and why Democrats would be so dumb to give away their once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it.
Joining us now is Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation.”
Chris, thanks for being here. Nice to see you.
CHRIS HAYES, WASHINGTON EDITOR, “THE NATION”: Good to see you, too, Rachel.
MADDOW: Give us the bottom line here. From your reporting, how intent are Democrats on passing health reform? Are they going to let this get away from them?
HAYES: OK. I think that there has been real movement in the House to coalesce around a real intent to pass it. The first thing that happened was, there was a lot of pressure in the House to pass the Senate bill. And the House said, “We don‘t have the votes.”
I talked to people today, someone said, “I‘ve only heard three members in our entire caucus say they‘d pass the Senate bill as it stands.” Someone else told me there‘s no more than 50 votes to pass the Senate bill.
So that‘s out of the question. The strategy that everyone is coalescing around - and it is pretty strong in the House - is this reconciliation package, right? So the Senate passes a small package that amends the Senate bill through reconciliation and then the House passes something similar and then it goes to the president. And there‘s real momentum for that on the House side. On the Senate side, things look a little tougher.
MADDOW: In terms of what would have to be in the small reconciliation package, the thing that would have to pass before the House could pass the Senate bill, how small is that package? What would have to be in it?
HAYES: So there‘s two things that - well, there‘s basically three things that you have to use to craft that list of, essentially, amendments, right? The first is what are the substantive changes you feel are really necessary in the bill?
The second is, what gets you to 218 votes? And then, the third tricky thing is, which of those things can procedurally move through what‘s called the Byrd Rule which is sort of the controlling procedural rule about what can go in reconciliation and what can‘t.
So the big things on the agenda are the excise tax, right? This is something that you‘re just not going to get the house to vote for. They‘re going to have to amend it along the lines of how they did in the conference committee before everything went down in Massachusetts.
There‘s also the question of national exchanges as opposed to state-run exchanges. There‘s a question of the subsidy level. Now, it looks plausible that all of those things could make it through the Byrd Rule and be in reconciliation.
MADDOW: And what‘s the likelihood of those three things - we have those three things - the national versus state exchanges, the excise tax issue and the level of subsidy. Let‘s say it was that. How hard is it going to be to get 50 votes for that in the Senate?
HAYES: I don‘t think it‘s going to be that hard to get 50 votes. It‘s really this kind of interesting pacing and momentum issue, which is to say, once the ball gets rolling, once everyone gets behind in the Senate committed to the reconciliation process, I don‘t think you would lose 10 votes or I guess 9 votes now in the caucus on those specific amended changes.
I think everybody - you can get the 50 votes you need. The question is, is there the leadership right now internally in the Senate to make this start happening ASAP? And that‘s the thing that I‘ve gotten this really sort of disturbing signals on from the people I talked to on the Senate side who said, “Look, our caucus leadership is basically saying nothing about this.”
I mean, they didn‘t say anything about it today in the caucus lunch. They‘re not getting any direction from leadership. On the House side, there really is leadership. In fact, they just met just a few minutes ago on the House side.
So there‘s a real difference between the two houses. What has to happen in the Senate - the Senate needs to show good faith in that they‘re going to move this to reconciliation. And the sooner the better.
MADDOW: Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation.” The only thing that makes me feel like this may ultimately happen is that we‘re able to talk this specifically about what will happen if it does. Appreciate it, Chris. Thanks a lot for your help.
HAYES: Yes. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: OK. Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith looks at the influence that foreign money could start playing in our elections, thanks to that nifty Supreme Court decision this week. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Program note - President Obama‘s first State of the Union Address is tomorrow. MSNBC‘s coverage starts at 9:00. After that, we will have full analysis with the MSNBC political team. So I‘ll see you then. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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