updated 3/12/2010 10:04:54 AM ET 2010-03-12T15:04:54

Guest: Nancy Pelosi

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening from Washington, D.C., where the political fight to reform health care at last appears to be in the homestretch.

Today, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, granted me a one-on-one interview at the Capitol.

Tonight, we present Mrs. Pelosi‘s thoughts about everything from the immediate future of health reform to the once but no longer obstacle that was Congressman Bart Stupak, to the kerfuffle over former Congressman Eric Massa‘s resignation, to accountability for the Bush administration‘s occasional cackling, gleeful trampling of the Constitution.

It is all ahead—one-on-one with the most powerful woman in America.               

But we begin tonight right here in Washington where the road to finishing of President Obama‘s biggest domestic policy item took a few sharp turns.

Today, the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, made official something that has long been speculated about.  Senator Reid informed his Republican counterpart in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, that Democrats will will—they will use reconciliation rules to pass the final fixes to health reform.  That means that the process can be finished with 51 votes instead of 60.  We‘ve long thought that might happen; now we know that it will.  Everybody freak out.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, Democrats in the House huddled today to go through the language of the bill that they‘re going to have to pass in order to get this done.  One major headline from the House side today, the Democratic leadership now appears ready to call the bluff of Congressman Bart Stupak and the mysterious unnamed group of Democrats Mr. Stupak says he speaks for, who he says are willing to vote against the entire health reform bill if it is not changed to turn it into a vehicle for drastically restricting access to the legal procedure that is abortion.

House leaders have reportedly concluded that they cannot change the abortion language in the bill and they‘re now willing to move on with or without Bart Stupak, and whoever it is that is really with Bart Stupak.

Stepping out of that presumably dramatic caucus meeting in order to talk to us about what happens next on health reform was the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  Do you have an expectation of when something will be passed the House?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER:  Well, I was—our timetable starts when the Congressional Budget Office gives us our score.  I know that‘s very inside process.  But the policy has to spring from the numbers.  We must reduce the deficit.  We will by $100 billion at least in the first 10 years, $1 trillion in the second 10 years.

And so, if there are no other reason to do health care—insurance health reform, it‘s to lower the cost because the current system is unsustainable to individuals, to families, to businesses, to our federal budget and state and local budgets, and also, to our economy, which cannot be as competitive as we need to be with this anvil of health care costs around us.

That—Senator Kennedy last year at that summit meeting, he came in, made a grand entrance and said, “I‘ve come to sign up as a foot soldier in the battle to get health care for all Americans as a right, not a privilege.”  So, it costs you one thing.  This is a value for us, as he said, this is not about the provisions of any bill.  It‘s about the character of our country.

So, with that inspiration, the president‘s leadership, the urgency from the cost standpoint and what that means to America‘s families, we‘re ready to go with our bill and that is where our focus, our energy, our time is spent.

MADDOW:  And you, of course, have expressed confidence you will get it passed in the House.  Of course, it was narrow passage.  It was a couple votes to spare the last time around.

PELOSI:  Always—may I just say?

MADDOW:  Sure.

PELOSI:  Every bill is a heavy lift.

MADDOW:  Yes.

PELOSI:  There is not one easy bill.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about one—

PELOSI:  Every bill is a heavy lift.  And so, the issue, when you have the votes, you take the votes and you win.  But never expect it to be easy.

MADDOW:  Well, let me ask you about one member of your caucus who is -who is trying to make it heavier.  It‘s Congressman Stupak from Michigan.  It‘s somebody who we‘ve talked about a lot on my program.  When he says that the Senate bill as currently written spends federal money on abortion is he telling the truth?

PELOSI:  Well, let me say that I have the highest regard for Congressman Stupak.  He‘s a valued member of the Congress and of the energy and commerce committee on which he serves.

The facts are these: First of all, there is no federal funding of abortion in the legislation.  It is the law of the land that we are prohibited from spending federal funds on abortion, and that is consistent in this bill.  There are—one, no federal funding of abortion in the legislation.

Secondly of that, if you agree that that‘s important and secondly, that it‘s important not to have increase or diminishment of the right to choose, that‘s—it‘s neutral in that respect.  No federal funding, no change in the woman‘s right to choose more or less.

And third, that you want to pass a health care bill then we have the opportunity for you to do that.  There‘s no federal funding on abortion.

MADDOW:  So, he‘s wrong when he says that there is.

PELOSI:  Well—yes.  But let me say this, if he wants to read certain things into it, then you could say there‘s federal funding on abortion if there—if there‘s a tax deduction for a woman to have a health insurance plan that allows for reproductive health services in it.  So, in any event, the—no federal funding, no change in status of a right a woman‘s right to choose.  You want to—you want to pass health care reform, you can do it here.

MADDOW:  One of the—one of the ways that Congressman Stupak has made such a splash with this allegation, which, again, you say is not based in fact, that the idea—his allegation that there is federal funding for abortion in the Senate language, one of the ways that he‘s made a splash is by saying that he speaks for a dozen members of Congress who will not vote for health reform unless his language is added to the bill.

Have those supposed dozen members come and addressed those issues with you or with their office?  Have you dealt directly with Congressman Stupak on this?

PELOSI:  But, you know, let me say this—and with all due respect to your question, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Sure.

PELOSI:  This bill is not about abortion.  This is about health care for all Americans.  And those who want the bill to fail hijacked the good intentions of others who have concerns about federal funding of abortion and should turn it into a conversation about that.

But the more we talk about that, the less we talk about innovation and prevention and wellness; about affordability for America‘s middle income families; about access to those who have not been able to access health care before; about holding insurance companies accountable; ending any denial of access to health care because of preexisting condition; capping of the—of premiums but not capping the benefits either annually or on a life time basis, about what it does for children and young people to stay on their parents‘ policy until they are 26 years old; what it does for seniors in terms of closing the donut hole.

If you are not a senior, which you are not, but which I am, you know, don‘t (INAUDIBLE) all means—but it makes purchasing pharmaceutical drugs -- prescription drugs more affordable for them.  And if you are a woman, women have so much to gain from this bill.

Right up until now, being a woman is a preexisting medical condition.  If you are a woman, if you are in child-bearing age and you have children, it‘s a preexisting condition.  If you can‘t have children, it‘s a preexisting condition.  If you have a C-section, it‘s a preexisting condition.  If you are a victim of domestic abuse, it is a preexisting condition.

So, you can‘t—everybody has so much to gain from this, small businesses, as I said, seniors, young people, women, our economy.  Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance or that people could start a business and be entrepreneurial and take risk, but not job loss because of a child with asthma or someone in the family is bipolar—you name it, any condition—is job locking.

Think of a situation where we can internationally competitive because we don‘t have this weight on us that other country—other businesses really don‘t have in other countries because they don‘t have this expense of health care which will all be reined in, those costs under this bill.

We cannot afford the status quo.  We will make this difference and it will make a wonderful difference in the lives of our people, but also, in the vitality of our economy.  That‘s what we want people to talk about.  Not about, you know—

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  That‘s the pro-health care reform stance, one of the best put as well as I think I‘ve heard anybody put it.  And the concern for people who want what you just described is that there are people trying to hijack it.  And so, the prospects for actually getting health reform done, in many ways, are in the—are in the House now.  With Senator Reid saying that it is going to be reconciliation in the Senate, that means there‘s a 50-vote threshold in the Senate for being able to pass fixes to the bill—

PELOSI:  That‘s a great statement.  I‘m certainly thrilled to hear that.

MADDOW:  -- which is, and it‘s important and it says a lot about the likelihood of passage in the Senate for this moving forward.  All eyes are on the House in terms of getting this done.  You have expressed confidence.  I have focused a lot on Bart Stupak as a person who is trying to hijack the process, to make it an abortion debate—

PELOSI:  Yes, but -

MADDOW:  -- and not a health care debate.

PELOSI:  Sorry.  Excuse me.

Bart Stupak wants health care reform.  This is something he understands.  He‘s on the committee of jurisdiction for it.  I don‘t—I don‘t think that he‘s part, that he himself would be one to say, I‘m taking down health care reform.  I think, he—but I think others who are part of that, who have stronger connections to the Republican Party, do want to bring down the bill and—

MADDOW:  Republicans want to bring down the bill or other Democrats?

PELOSI:  No.  Republicans.

MADDOW:  Republicans.

PELOSI:  No, the Democrats want a bill.  I don‘t think there‘s any question in our caucus about our commitment to that.  But I don‘t—I cannot let the good intentions of some on a subject that is very important to them be hijacked by those who do not want health care reform.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  “I cannot let the good intentions of some on a subject that is very important to them be hijacked by those who do not want health care reform.”  In other words, Nancy Pelosi telling me today that she will not let Bart Stupak‘s heartfelt if misguided anti-abortion intentions be hijacked by Republicans who want to use him to kill health reform.  In fact, it is now clear that Mr. Stupak is not going to be able to kill health reform.  His shot at doing so by turning the health debate into an abortion debate ended today.  It appears to be done.

Speaker Pelosi telling me today and Congressman Henry Waxman telling “The Associated Press” that they expect Mr. Stupak and others to end up voting for health care reform in the end, but if they don‘t, effectively, so what?  “The Associated Press” reporting that House leadership does not intend to negotiate with or try to appease Congressman Stupak—they intend to move forward regardless.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is making clearer than clear in my interview with her that Mr. Stupak is wrong when he says that there even is a federal funding on abortion issue.  Speaker Pelosi is very complimentary, personally, toward Mr. Stupak today in our interview, but also politely dodging my question about whether she‘s seen flesh-and-blood evidence of these other mysterious unnamed members of the House who Congressman Stupak says that he speaks for.

Bart Stupak‘s bluff has been called.  The thing he says he objects to, federal funding for abortion in the Senate bill, just isn‘t there.  It‘s not true.

The fix he says he wants for that imaginary problem can‘t be done.  It‘s not a budget thing.  And only budget things can be tacked on to the bill now through reconciliation.

Bart Stupak still not naming the people he supposedly speaks for.  But House leadership aides telling us is not the 12 he‘s been bragging about, maybe more like four or five.

But again the news today: House leadership now no longer even entertaining Bart Stupak‘s boast that he‘d be able to kill health reform if he doesn‘t get his way on abortion.  They are not negotiating with him and they expect him to vote for the bill anyway.  In other words, Bart Stupak‘s 15 minutes is up.  It was fun while it lasted.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Some quite serious news to report.  Senate majority Leader Harry Reid‘s wife and daughter were involved in a serious car accident earlier today.  It sent both of them to the hospital with injuries.  Landra Reid and Lana Reid Barringer were driving on Interstate 95 in the Washington, D.C. area at about 1:00 p.m. when in stop-and-go traffic, they were rear-ended by a fully-loaded tractor trailer.

A statement from Senator Reid‘s office says, “They are being treated at a Washington-area hospital.  Mrs. Reid has a broken nose, broken back and broken neck.  Lana has a neck injury and facial lacerations.  Both Mrs. Reid and Lana are conscious, can feel their extremities.  And according to doctors, their injuries are non-life threatening.

Senator Reid has been to the hospital and appreciates the support he and his family are receiving from Nevadans and his colleagues in the Senate.”

We are told that the driver of the tractor trailer was uninjured in this accident and was charged with reckless driving.  We will keep you posted on any further developments.

And, of course, we wish the Reid family all the best planned and Mr. Reid‘s wife and daughter, a full and safe recovery.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I had a sit-down interview at the U.S. Capitol today with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Coming up here in this part, this is the part where she seems to get a little aggravated with me.  I asked her about something that was going on in the Capitol while I was there, which is that House Republicans were trying to turn the story of Eric Massa‘s resignation into a Nancy Pelosi ethics scandal.  By the end of the day, it was clear that that plan was not working out very well for the Republicans.

But I asked the speaker about it in the middle of the afternoon today.  Here‘s what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  As we move towards what seems to be the very end of the health care fight, Republicans are trying to make a whole new issue, and I have to ask you about this because it‘s sort of the story of the day from the Republican perspective.  And they are trying to make an issue of Congressman Massa‘s, not just his resignation, but how allegations against him were handled.

Do you support the ethics committee investigating, not Congressman Massa because he‘s gone now, but how the allegations were handled?  Do you support that?

PELOSI:  Well, that is what we had voted on the floor to refer it to the ethics committee.  Sure.

MADDOW:  OK.  And in terms of how the allegations were handled, when did—when was your office first told about concerns about his behavior?

PELOSI:  Well, any report to our office was in February, that there was an allegation against him and at the same time that it was referred to the ethic committee, and that was the appropriate route.  I‘m now finding out that there had been a conversation earlier, but it had nothing to do to come close to any kind of allegation.  It was repeated something that had been in the newspaper the day before.

But in terms of anything that is worthy of the attention of the ethics committee, that was in February when it was reported to the ethics committee.

MADDOW:  So, just to be clear, that earlier, several months ago allegation, October, I believe, not an allegation—

PELOSI:  Yes.

MADDOW:  -- but rather that something was referred to staffers in your office, member services director, but—

PELOSI:  Yes, a staffer.

MADDOW:  A staffer in your office but it was not something that your staff believed rose to the level of an allegation.

PELOSI:  Right.  There are all kinds of articles that are written about many members in the Congress.  And I don‘t think we want to get to that place.

Besides I served on the ethics committee for seven years.  When I say served, it was almost like a sentence because it‘s very tough duty and I commend the people who serve there and the service they provide to the Congress.

But the last thing we would have wanted than was any intervention from the speaker‘s office.  There‘s an appropriate way for an allegation to be sent to the ethics committee and it shouldn‘t be something that is the speaker‘s office is the melting—or the mixing pot.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  Are you troubled though now—I mean, Congressman Massa‘s behavior since he—around the time that he resigned and since he resigned has been inconsistent.  He initially, for example, made an allegation that he was being forced out because he was a vote against health care.  And then he recanted that allegation.  He‘s made some other inconsistent statements.

But we‘re left with the impression that he may have behaved inappropriately toward people who worked for him and toward other people who work in this building.

PELOSI:  That‘s up to the ethics committee to investigate.  But the fact is, you started this conversation in the right way.  It‘s another subject that people would like to be a distraction.  I will not take my eye off the ball, which is to pass health care reform right now and at this time to build support for what we are doing.

The people like to mix those two.  Not you, but the Republicans.  You‘re never to be taken for one of them.  But I know you‘re nonpartisan.

But in any event, the—for me, I‘m not paying a lot of attention to some of that.  It‘s appropriately being dealt with where it‘s being dealt with.

What I‘m paying attention is: how do we get to what we had dreamed to follow in the footsteps of Social Security, Medicare, health care for all Americans.  It‘s a very heavy lift.  It‘s very labor intensive.  Our members have spent a great deal of time on it and we want to protect that investment.

One year ago, March 5th, the president called Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, to the White House to begin a bipartisan dialogue.  He had outside stakeholders, whether it is children‘s health experts, the insurance companies—the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, community health center—every aspect of health care and health insurance at the White House to try to find common ground to go forward.  One year later, he had a similar—a summit that was just House and Senate, Democratic and Republican leadership, to see if there was any common ground or reach out one more time to include Republicans suggestions in the bill.

Now, we are ready to act upon those suggestions and the great work that the president has done.  Let me say this about President Obama, were it not for his leadership, we would not be right now on the verge of passing something very historic.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi there pivoting away from a discussion about the controversy swirling around Eric Massa‘s resignation to bring the discussion back to health care.  The speaker is making clear she thinks Republicans are now harping on the Massa issue as a way of trying to distract from the end-game in health reform.

When I pressed the speaker about what her office had been told about the allegations against Mr. Massa, she insisted that before her office and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer‘s office heard about the most recent allegations—which went to the ethics committee and blew the whole story open and resulted in Mr. Massa resigning—she said, the only thing her office had previously heard about Mr. Massa did not, in her words, even come close to any kind of allegation.  She said that the issue that had been referred to her office back in October of last year was a minor issue that repeated something that had been written in a newspaper article.

She was talking about this article from the “Evening Tribune,” a newspaper out of Hornell, New York.  The article is not critical of Mr. Massa.  It‘s “A Day in the Life” piece in which he is shadowed by a reporter.  The article describes Mr. Massa as living in a townhouse with five of his admittedly poorly-paid staffers in order to save them all money.

Still, though, the House voted almost unanimously to let the ethics committee to decide whether and how to investigate whether allegations against Mr. Massa were dealt with appropriately, even though Mr. Massa himself would not be the subject of any investigation because he‘s no longer a member of the House.

You can almost smell how excited Republicans were to try to make this an anti-Democratic leadership issue today.  They were very excited about that prospect for some number of minutes this afternoon.  And for some of those minutes, I was actually inside the U.S. Capitol and I swear you could smell it in there.

But any attempt to make this a really big political stink today seems to have fizzled out rather quickly.  Nice try though.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Even nonpartisans, even people very opposed to Nancy Pelosi politically can see that she has been one of the most effective speakers of the House in modern history.  And when you separate out her track record from that of the 111th Congress as a whole, her raw effectiveness really does jump out at you.

Under Pelosi, the House has passed all of the major planks of President Obama‘s first year legislative agenda.  They passed the stimulus.  They passed the budget.  They passed the health reform.  They passed cap-and-trade.  They even passed Wall Street reform.

The Senate, however, is another story.  The Senate is like a never-ending busy signal over there.  Nothing gets through.

As we have reported before, at least 290 pieces of legislation passed by the House of Representatives this Congress, including some big ones, are still sitting in the Senate awaiting action.  There‘s nothing Speaker Pelosi can do about that.  But she has made known her frustration with the broken Senate.

In our interview today, the speaker may have gone farther than she‘s as ever gone in saying that she wants the Senate to get its act together.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  We were in this room, I think, about a year ago, the last time that we sat down.  And at that time, you had just passed the stimulus bill with zero Republican votes.  And you said at the time that strategy by the Republicans—they came off poorly by using that strategy.  And we didn‘t know then whether or not they‘d keep using that strategy and—they really have.

So, a year later, do they still come off poorly for using that strategy or has it been smart?  Has it made you have to be very adept strategically in order to get around them?

PELOSI:  Well, all I know is what we do.  I think that the poster child for the Republican strategy is Jim Bunning.  It proves that 99 senators are not enough.  Even one senator can hold up unemployment insurance checks, can hold—can have people be put out of work or working on highway system and the rest of that because one senator has decided to stand in the way.

I don‘t think that has served the senators, the Congress well or the American people.  I don‘t think the American people are served well by obstructionist strategy - tactics of the Republican senators.  Sixty senators on every possible initiative.  Sen. Reid ends up having the votes but he doesn‘t have the time to get around to much more legislation because of all the procedural tactics that are necessary in terms of 60 votes. 

MADDOW:  Because of the rules of the Senate, there has been so much attention on what it takes to get things through the Senate right now.  But meanwhile, you in the House have passed roughly the entire presidential agenda -

PELOSI:  We have. 

MADDOW:  All of the major components of it while Republicans are still pursuing this unified no-on-everything strategy.  So what are the challenges to you?  What is the strategy that you approach in order to try to get things passed with zero Republicans on everything major? 

PELOSI:  Well, we did have Republican votes on the Energy and Climate Change Bill.  We had a few there.  Actually, a large number of the votes that are sitting on the Senate side to be passed - 70 percent with a large number of Republican votes.  But you hear most about it in more controversial pieces of legislation, those that are really the pillars of the Obama agenda - the recovery package, the president‘s budget, his initiatives on education, on energy, climate change and on health care, which are the three areas - energy, education and innovation together.

And health care, three pillars of how he wants to stabilize the economy, create jobs, bring down the deficit, lower taxes for the American people around this job-creating agenda. 

MADDOW:  On the matter of the House and the Senate, as you said, hundreds of pieces of legislation have passed the House, stalled in the Senate.  But Sen. Schumer said this week that the Senate Rules Committee in the next two or three weeks is going to have hearings on Senate rules, from changing filibuster rules.  Sen. Reid, after having expressed some skepticism before says it looks like we are going to have to likely change the Senate rules.  I know that you are not in the House and you‘re not in the business of giving them advice on the rules.  But is that a relief to you to hear them say that? 

PELOSI:  Well, let me say this - the problem—the rules of the Senate are one thing and I won‘t comment on that.  I don‘t invite their comments on our rules, either, so even-steven.  The problem has stemmed from the obstructionism of the Republican senators.  I don‘t think we should take our eye off that.  It‘s the rules which enable them to do that.  But it is their decision to stop the Obama agenda by making everything have to have 60 votes.  Now, you could be respectful of using it with care and in certain circumstances.  But for every initiative, you are really in the dilatory fashion of stopping an agenda.  And they know that the president‘s success is important. And they also know that what the president wants to do is end business as usual as it is conducted in Washington, D.C. where the special interests, the agents of the status quo, spend endless money to keep it to hold us back from the future.

And the president has a vision to take us there as he has described to us so many times.  The president has said more eloquently than anyone that we will measure our success by the progress being made by America‘s working families.  We believe this health care bill is important to that.  The difference between the Democrats and Republicans on that subject is helping American families make progress.  We want to regulate the insurance agency.  The Republicans do not.  They‘ll do anything to protect their friends in the insurance industry and that‘s what this is about.  So yes, they can talk about their rules and the rest and that would be good, because I think it is shameful that one senator, Sen. Bunning, was able to.  As I said earlier, 99 senators are not enough, that one senator could cause so much damage.  So again, I wish them well in the review of their rules.  I think the American people have to make a judgment about the obstructionism of the Republican senators. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  There is more to hear from the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tonight including her position on accountability and the Bush administration, something that no one really wants to talk about in Washington anymore, but I do.  Her response ahead, including her answer when I asked her if she regrets not having pursued impeachment of President Bush over the Iraq war.  Plus, Connecticut‘s Democratic Senator Chris Dodd thought that he could hammer out a Finance Reform Bill with Republican Senator Bob Corker. 

Today, another beautiful dream of bipartisanship with someone waking up screaming in a cold sweat and vowing never to try that again.  That‘s next.  Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Still ahead, more of my interview with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.  Why didn‘t the House of Representatives move to hold the Bush administration accountable when the House had the chance to do so, like say when the Bush administration was still in office?  Speaker Pelosi‘s answer in just a moment. 

But first, last night, we took Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd to task for having conceded, sacrificed and otherwise abandoned the majority that Democrats have, not only in the Senate generally, but on the Banking Committee, the three chairs.  With the extra three seats his party has on the committee, Chairman Dodd should be able to get a tough financial reform bill through even if he has to do it on a party line vote. 

But instead, like Sen. Max Baucus did with health reform last summer Sen. Dodd acted as if the last election did not happen.  See no majority.  Hear no majority.  Use no majority.  Rather than work in committee where the Democrats have a big numerical advantage, Sen. Dodd tried to work directly one-on-one with Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee in order to get something passed on financial reform.  They worked mano y mano - mano y filibuster-o.  Even as Sen. Corker insisted from the outset that he wouldn‘t support a standalone powerful Consumer Financial Protection Agency, he didn‘t think there was any way that banks could get too big.  And he kept making winking gestures and passing notes with and making moony eyes at the loan shark industry - I mean, payday lenders.  I mean, loan sharks. 

Today, finally, Chris Dodd cut his Republican friend loose, announcing that, as Senate Banking Chairman, he will present his own Wall Street reform proposal on Monday without a Republican co-writer.  Sen. Corker, the Republican who Sen. Dodd just broke up, with proclaimed himself very disappointed in this development, which is just heartbreaking.  Very sad. 

Moving on.  Next, both political parties - the Democrats and the Republicans are engaged in a race, a race to be the most anti-earmark party ever.  Ever.  Ever.  Ever.  Ever. 

Unfortunately, for Republicans, they have a whole lot of catching up to do.  Democratic leaders in the house issued a ban yesterday on earmarks for private industry, earmarks that allow a member of Congress to steer a specific amount of money to a for-profit proprietorship like a no-bid contractor or private company in one‘s district, for example. 

But that was not anti-earmark enough for some Republicans.  John McCain called for all earmarks to be banned, so did 10 other Congressional leaders, who issued a statement calling all earmarks a, quote, “symbol of a broken Washington.” I think that symbol may look a little something like this, because those very same 10 Republicans have collectively requested more than $240 million in earmarks in the last two years.  And now, they‘re the ones making a principled call to eliminate earmarks.  It is especially rich when you consider that, when Republicans controlled the House, the number of earmarks quadrupled from about 4,000 in 1994 to 15,000 in 2005 before the Democrats beat them in the elections and took over the majority in 2006.  So late today, in an effort to come from behind to win the “we‘re super against earmarks” race, the whole House Republican caucus huddled and agreed to a one-year moratorium on earmarks.  One year moratorium - not forever, just one year.  One election year.  Which could be pretty good strategy especially if nobody remembers anything that happened before today. 

Finally, when President Obama gave his speech about Afghanistan back in December at West Point, he announced the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be dramatically increased.  But he said that increase would precede us getting out of Afghanistan starting on a specific date.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  July of 2011.  After the president gave that speech saying we would start to leave Afghanistan in July of 2011, there was some who seemed to be waffling on the leaving date from members of his administration.  This week, waffling no more.  In Afghanistan yesterday, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, for the first time, said you can put that start date for withdrawal in your date book in pen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  As conditions on the ground permit, between now and July of 2011, we might be able to begin the process of transitions to Afghan security control.  I think it will be a process.  But between now and July of 2011, it would have to be conditions-based.  We will begin that transition no later than July of 2011, but the pace will depend also on the conditions on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So if the Afghan troops are ready, sooner - great.  But as he said, we will begin to transition out no later than - no later than July of 2011.  So aforementioned waffling be darned.  We‘ve got it clear as can be from the defense secretary now.  The date President Obama gave for starting to leave Afghanistan apparently really is the date.  It‘s July of next year.  No later than July of next year at the latest - July 2011 at the latest.  Roger that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  More of my interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today in just a moment, including the part that starts like this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(on camera):  Let me also ask you about something that I think is very dear to the hearts of a lot of American liberals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

What else would you expect?  What comes next right after this quick break.  Please stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  At the end of my interview with Speaker Nancy Pelosi today, we talked about stuff that I‘m still obsessed with even if Speaker Pelosi isn‘t asked about this stuff much these days.  Like, for example, accountability for illegal things that happened in government during the last administration.  Will anyone ever be held responsible for torture or warrantless wiretapping or the president and vice president saying demonstrably untrue things to the public in order to try to trick us into supporting a war? 

If no one ever gets in trouble for that stuff, does that mean it is de facto legal to do those things in our country now because we‘ve proven that we don‘t prosecute them when they happen? 

I also asked the speaker about the Supreme Court‘s recent ruling in the Citizens United case, which allows for unlimited spending by corporations on political campaigns.  Mrs. Pelosi could not have been clearer about her feelings about that.  Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(on camera):  In terms of the influence of special interests and big business in our politics, the Supreme Court ruling at Citizens United obviously has the potential to expand the influence of big money in politics even beyond anything we‘ve ever seen before in this country.  Is there a legislative fix?  Is there an appropriate legislative response to mitigate some of the impact of that decision? 

PELOSI:  Short term and long term.  Short term, yes.  Although the Supreme Court was very, I think, wrong in closing many avenues that we might have had for more fixes.  But in any event, to the extent we can in terms of stand by your ad and making sure that corporations are putting money into campaigns have their CEO identifying with that, making sure we cut off - make sure the transparency is there between corporations and, say, the chamber of commerce.  If the corporation is putting in the money, the connection has to be seen there, taking action against federal - excuse me, foreign entities impacting on our elections.

In the short term, Chuck Schumer and Chris Van Hollen have that legislation.  We hope to bring it up soon.  But this gives us the opportunity to talk again in a very important way about campaign finance reform in terms of public funding of campaigns.  What more does the public need to see than the Supreme Court undermining our democracy by empowering corporations to make endless contributions?

Again, the special interests weighing in.  Not to paint them all with the same brush.  But again, the special interest to keep the status quo instead of a new direction for our country.  So as one who has, for decades - some of them in the Congress, some before supported public financing of campaigns, hopefully, we can come together.  I know that Democrats, Republicans and Independents did not like that Supreme Court decision. 

I hope that we can build a coalition for public financing of campaigns.  It will be so much more wholesome for our country and for our democratic process and for the attitude that the public would have toward politics. 

It‘s - again, it‘s an opening.  It‘s an opening that we haven‘t had before.  And there‘s a lot of good - a lot of people working together in a nonpartisan way to get enough members of Congress to sign on.  So we‘re excited about that. 

MADDOW:  And channeling my liberal brethren from across the country, I‘m sure people on the left side of the spectrum in particular - but I think you‘re also right to know Independents and conservatives as well will be happy to hear about the prospect of public financing for elections. 

But let me also ask you about something that I think is very dear to the hearts of American liberals.  And it doesn‘t get a lot of traction across the political board right now.  And that‘s the issue of accountability for things that happened during the Bush administration.  Torture, warrantless wiretapping, the hijacking of the Justice Department for partisan political purposes, lies being told to the American people about what the intelligence that we had as a country indicated about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 

So on all of those issues, while we can talk comfortably about them and they‘re not in the heart of political discourse in the country right now, there is a sense in which nobody was ever held accountable for any of those things.  Does that trouble you?  And should we ever expect as a country that people will be held accountable for those crimes? 

PELOSI:  Well, the president has wanted to go forward, to move on and go forward.  There are those of us who supported a commission to review some of those activities but the president has decided to move on.  All of the things that you name are important.  The issue that - you said does it - that bothers me the most is the issue of the Iraq War. 

There‘s so much evidence that there was no reason for us to go into that war at that time or go into it, period.  But to think that thousands of lives have been lost, lives affected to the tune of hundreds of thousands, the cost in terms of our military readiness - it has not made our military stronger. 

In terms of dollars to the Treasury but, again, most of all loss of lives, our precious treasure, on this war and there was really no price to pay for it.  So when you ask what bothers me about it, yes, all of those things do.  But I think that the record has to be straight about what a serious mistake the Iraq War was. 

MADDOW:  Do you regret having taken the issue of impeachment off the table in terms of talking about the president the way the president communicated about that issue to the country? 

PELOSI:  No.  I think the - I believe that the - if there was evidence, if we could have the evidence to impeach the president, then that could come forward.  Just because I say it‘s off doesn‘t mean if the evidence is there, that something wouldn‘t go forward. 

It‘s not a question of not knowing where the culpability is.  It‘s what you can demonstrate and what you can prove.  But I do think that those who had a hand in perpetrating not only going to war but the misrepresentations to the American people. Every piece of evidence that we have points to the fact that there was no reason in terms of weapons of mass destruction to go into Iraq. 

MADDOW:  Even though we were told that there was? 

PELOSI:  Even though we were told that there was - that there were.  But it is - that there were weapons there.  It is one of the great tragedies. 

MADDOW:  Madam Speaker, you‘re incredibly busy at this time and I‘m all the more grateful that you have taken the time to sit down with us. 

Thanks very much.  It‘s great to see. 

PELOSI:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Good luck.  

PELOSI:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The transcript of my whole interview with speaker Pelosi and video clips will be posted at our website tonight along with awkward pictures of me walking into the Capitol Building before I get into my TV suit looking like a giant first grader who heads straight from her school trip.  I look like an unseasoned specific giant human extra from the movie, “Elf.”

Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith is back to say why it‘s crucial to have living wills.  And next on this show, something awkward about me Jerry Falwell.  Please stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I have a correction to make.  You know how people sometimes confuse Congressman Pete Sessions with Sen. Jeff Sessions or, say, Roger Federer with Quentin Tarantino?  I had one of those yin or yang moments last night when I was talking about Virginia‘s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell.  Gov. McDonnell, as you know, right after he was elected, rescinded his state‘s old anti-discrimination order and replaced it with one that explicitly doesn‘t protect gay people from discrimination.  Opposing gay rights is nothing new for the governor.  His grad school thesis condemned cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators and said public policy should be directed against those people.  Again, quote, “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.”  I‘m all three. 

Last night, for the second time, I said on the air inexplicably that Gov. McDonnell wrote that thesis at Liberty University.  And for the second straight time, I was wrong about that.  Mr. McDonnell was actually a grad student at Regent University, a Christian college in Virginia Beach founded by Pat Robertson. 

Liberty University, on the other hand, is a Christian school in Lynchburg founded by Jerry Falwell.  Liberty U is the place that recently held a conference titled “Understanding Same-Sex Attractions and Their Consequences.” It contained panel discussions like “Homosexuals or Homo Sapiens: Who Deserves Protected Class Status?”  Also, “Will the Advancement of Homosexual Rights Silence Others?”  And “How Homosexual Rights and Privileges Have Eroded Employers‘ Rights and Destroyed Religious Freedom.” 

How I ever mistook Pat Robertson‘s anti-fornicator‘s Regent University with Jerry Falwell‘s Liberty University is totally beyond me.  It‘s one of those crazy brain cramps, you know.  I‘m not sure why I would ever make that association.  And I would like to promise that I would never make that association again, but I cannot be entirely sure.  That said, I am still sorry about it. 

That does it for us tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night from New York.  "COUNTDOWN” starts right now. 

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

END   

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