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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Kent Jones, Ezra Klein, Tracy Weitz

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  I think if we ever want to do like, sort of, MSNBC versus “Washington Post” basketball thing, we could totally take Cilliza.  No problem.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Count me in.

MADDOW:  All right.  Excellent.  Thank you.

And thanks at home for staying with us for the next hour.

As D-Day looms for the health care reform package, Republicans step up their last-ditch efforts to kill the bill—now whining about a procedure that they themselves have used time and time and time and time again.  While on the state level, Virginia‘s attorney general is threatening to sue to stop his fellow Virginians from getting federal health reform.

And on the Democratic level, Bart Stupak has taken his imaginary abortion fight to the nuns.

That, plus the latest right-wing conspiracy.  This time they‘re saying that the president hates fishermen.

Plus, a special St. Patrick‘s Day cocktail.

All coming up this hour.

But we begin—with all of Washington waiting with baited breath tonight for one of the last health reform dominos to fall, that domino is the official score from the Congressional Budget Office on the revised health reform bill.  The CBO‘s official unbiased assessment of how health reform is going to affect the deficit.

That CBO score could come out any minute now.  Nobody really knows.  It was expected to be released some time this afternoon.  Then it was going to be some time late tonight.

Now, our best vaguely informed guess is to expect that CBO score to come out some time tomorrow.  Get ready, America!  Here it comes!

And here is why you care about it: once the CBO finally releases that score, House Democrats get to start the big 72 hours until a vote countdown clock.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to delay any votes on that health reform package until 72 hours after the CBO score is made public so everyone can read it.  So, tomorrow plus 72 hours means that a final vote in the House will likely take place some time on Sunday.

After the house votes, the next step is for the Senate to pass its fixes to the bill.  It‘s not exactly clear how long that process will take, but the aim is to wrap it up by the time members of Congress leave for the Easter recess.  After that happens, the bill will be passed on to the White House for President Obama to sign it into law.  As soon as President Obama signs health reform into law, it will be a whole new world for health insurance companies and for those who have had to battle health insurance companies to get the coverage they need.

Now, all of this could change a little bit since nothing has been signed yet.  So I can‘t tell you from the exact language, because we don‘t have the exact language yet.

But as best as we can tell from the proposals on the table, here is what is going to happen: within 90 days of health reform being signed into law, those who have been denied coverage because of some preexisting condition will finally get a path toward coverage.  They will have immediate access to care through high-risk insurance pools created by the government.  That‘s first.  If you can‘t get insurance now because of a preexisting condition, you will get some relief within 90 days of the bill being signed.

Another 90 days after that, it will be illegal for insurance companies to deny kids coverage because of their preexisting conditions.  Also, children will be allowed to stay on their parents‘ health care plans until they are 26 years old.

Insurers will also be banned from imposing lifetime limits on health insurance benefits.  Insurers will also at that point be banned from rescinding your insurance—rescission they call it—taking away your insurance when you file a claim.

All of this will happen within six months of President Obama signing health reform into law.

The next step that happens happens as of the next calendar year, as of January 1st.  At that point, if you‘re on Medicare, you will qualify for free annual wellness visits.  Also at that point, insurance companies will essentially be required to spend 80 percent to 85 percent of what they take in from you in premiums on actual medical care.  Imagine.  If they don‘t spend 80 percent to 85 percent of what you give them in terms of premiums on actual medical care, they will have to refund you the difference back.

Also, if they want to hike your rates, they‘ll have to announce it.  Then they‘ll have to justify it.  And that apparent justification will have to be reviewed.  They won‘t just be able to automatically unilaterally raise those rates anymore.

All of that happens as of next year.

Then after that, after all of that, in 2014, it will no longer be illegal—excuse me—it will no longer be legal for insurance companies to deny anyone coverage based on preexisting conditions, period.  So, kids with preexisting condition goes into effect very soon.  It is by 2014 that it goes into effect for everyone.

The health insurance exchanges at that point for people who don‘t have coverage will also be up and running by that time.  And in addition to the ban on lifetime limits on benefits, which goes into effect shortly, insurers in 2014 will be banned from imposing annual benefits—annual limits, yearly limits on your benefits.

So, this is all—all of those things I just described, this is all in motion.  This is all happening right now.  At this point, it‘s just a matter of waiting for that CBO score to come out.

And as much as they have tried, Republicans have not been able to stop health reform from going forward.  And in defeat, reform opponents have been getting a little hysterical, in both senses of the word.  Following on the great success of yesterday‘s drive-in-the-circle and honk day, today some members of Congress decided to double down on their argument that it would be unprecedented and unconstitutional for Democrats in the House to pass reform on Sunday because they might want to do so using a tactic that Republicans have used over and over and over again.

The number three House Republican, Mike Pence, told the conservative Web site “The Daily Caller” today that this so-called “deem and pass” rule, this thing that they want to use to pass health reform this weekend, Mike Pence said it‘s, quote, “probably unconstitutional.”  Get this, Mr. Pence then faces the uncomfortable follow-up question, quote, “Well, Democrats say you voted for these rules yourself on three occasions.”  Mr. Pence responds, quote, “Yes, sure.”

Yes, sure, I voted for this thing.  But when they do it, it just seems so unconstitutional, seemingly.  But not when I do it.  Don‘t you see the difference?

Republicans are trying to make the case that the self-executing rule, this “deem and pass” rule, they‘re trying to make the case that it is unconstitutional.  They themselves have used it more than 200 times over the past 15 years.

But if you want to perfectly capture how much the opposition to health reform has fallen apart at this point, now that health reform is going to happen, watch this.  Watch the knot that Republican Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona ties himself into as he tries to explain his opposition to health reform today on MSNBC with my friend David Shuster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN SHADEGG ®, ARIZONA:  The insurance industry, the for-profit insurance industry, wanted an individual mandate, and that‘s what they‘re getting out of this bill.  The for-profit insurance industry did not want a public option because they don‘t like competition.  And guess what?  They‘re getting that.  It‘s giving the for-profit insurance companies exactly what they want.  They already don‘t compete for—

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC HOST:  But, Congressman, you and your party support the for-profit insurance companies.

SHADEGG:  No, no we don‘t.

SHUSTER:  You support the for-profit insurance system.

SHADEGG:  No, we don‘t.  You know, you guys keep saying that, but I‘m not the guy pushing the bill that says we should compel people to buy insurance from the for-profit insurance guys.  That‘s the Democrats.  That‘s the president‘s bill, that‘s the speaker‘s bill.

It‘s their bill that says you must buy—

SHUSTER:  So, you support single-payer?

SHADEGG:  I would support single-payer?  I would—

SHUSTER:  You support the government-run Medicare system.  Let‘s just be absolutely clear for all of our viewers.

SHADEGG:  Absolutely.

SHUSTER:  You support a government-run Medicare expansion, is that right?

SHADEGG:  I would support forcing American health care companies to compete.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Behold, America, the human pretzel!  John Shadegg trying so hard to argue against health reform that he ends up arguing accidentally for a single-payer plan, Medicare for all!

I hear you, brother.  Right on!  I‘ll see you at the next Move On meet up, right?

Joining us now is Ezra Klein, staff writer for “The Washington Post.”

Mr. Klein, thank you for joining us tonight.  Nice to see you.

EZRA KLEIN, THE WASHINGTON POST:  I hadn‘t seen that before.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Are you encouraged by John Shadegg coming out and leaving—leading the charge for Medicare for all?

KLEIN:  I think him and Dennis Kucinich should sit down and hammer something out.  I think we could really get something here, get something going here.

MADDOW:  Unbelievable.

Ezra, in terms of the policy here, when all these provisions are going to go into effect, in terms of the way that I laid this out in the intro, is that roughly the way that you see it?  Is that roughly the sort of time frame on how this is all going to happen?  I know, in some parts, for some things, we‘re still waiting to see the final language.

KLEIN:  Right.  I mean, one thing that we expect to be the final language is that the donut hole for seniors on the prescription drug benefit, that will close pretty quickly.  But in general, that is as we know it right now.

And one thing that should be said is that I think 2014 is a bit late for the state date.  2013 is certainly plausible, and they didn‘t do it for I think cost reasons.  But this stuff does take a couple of years to get up and running.  If you want to reform the system, if you want to end preexisting conditions, discrimination, then you got to bring in healthy people.  You know, so, you do have this interesting wrinkle in the political process where Republicans and everybody says, you got to slow it down.  You‘re going too fast.  You‘ve only been doing this for 14 months now.

But then, one of the criticisms of the bill is that when you actually get out there into the world with all of its complexities, well, actually, you should do everything in the first year.  You should do it immediately.  Otherwise, you‘re playing some sort of trick on the American people.  And that‘s been—that‘s I think a strange argument to see made.

MADDOW:  It—one of the things that this sort of facts of the policy butt up against is the threats about how awful the American people are going to think these things are.  It‘s part of the reason that I wanted to go through tonight.  The ticktack not just on how this is going to get enacted, but what actually is going to get enacted.  I mean, all of those things that I listed seem like things that are going to moderately, you know, leave the existing system intact, basically, and make it modestly, moderately better over time.

I mean, what is the big objectionable thing that Republicans think is going to support them running to repeal this?

KLEIN:  I think that‘s a good question.  One thing that isn‘t going to happen, right, the big argument is that it‘s a government takeover.  And that is something that no one is going to notice happening, because it won‘t happen.  I‘m on Kaiser Permanente.  Other people are on Aetna or Cigna, and they‘re still going to be on Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, Cigna, on and on down the line.

The big—not the lie of this bill, but one thing that people haven‘t sufficiently appreciated is how few people will actually notice it once it‘s up and running.  The people who are going to be on the exchanges is about 10 percent of the population, roughly give or take.  People who are going to be affected by preexisting conditions and so forth, these are people who run into some real bad luck.  It‘s not most of us in any given year, thank God.

But for the vast majority of us, this bill is going to pass, and our lives are going to be very similar to how our lives are now, but with the added bonus if something goes really wrong, we‘re not going to be left holding the bag quite as badly.

MADDOW:  I can almost imagine if my relationship with my insurance company stays the way it is, I‘m going to get a t-shirt that says “Where‘s my government-run health care?” if I don‘t have it at that point.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Ezra, this CBO score was expected to come out today.  Now, we‘re hearing that it will probably come out tomorrow.

Does the timing here tell you anything, or is the CBO just unpredictable in terms of when it gets things out?

KLEIN:  The CBO is unpredictable.  There‘s little you can say with certainty.  But the timing here is not good.  I don‘t think that you would look at this and say they‘re having an easy time getting the score they need to get.

One thing not to—not to forget in this whole process is the Democrats have made their lives a lot harder by deciding they‘re going to make this deficit-reducing over the first 10 years and the second 10 years.  When Republicans did the prescription drug benefit, they just put it all in the benefit.  So, it didn‘t matter what the CBO said it was going to cost, whatever it‘s going to cost.  And then they suppressed some other data they didn‘t like.

And here, they‘re really trying on this.  They‘re really going back and forth and saying, “What if we tweak this, does it cut the deficit then?”  And when the CBO says yes—when these really stingy, parsimonious guys say, yes, we can say as much certainty as we can muster, that that will work, it will cut cost, it will make the system cheaper.  Then the Democrats can go forward.

And, you know, I don‘t think they get a lot of credit for that, but it‘s made their lives a lot more difficult.  It‘s easy to do this stuff if you can just throw it on to the deficit.

MADDOW:  Ezra Klein, staff writer for “The Washington Post” and our go-to guy in understanding the fine print here—Ezra, thank you so much for your time tonight.  We really appreciate it.

KLEIN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  OK.  Virginia‘s Republican attorney general is threatening to do something in response to the imminent passage of health reform that is such a memorable thing that I predict actions like his will one day be referred to as “pulling a Cuccinelli.”

Also, anti-abortion Congressman Bart Stupak is not going to be able to stop health reform, like he has been threatening.  But he is now picking a fight with nuns, thousands and thousands and thousands of nuns.  My money in this fight is on the nuns.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Congressman Bart Stupak, who continues to try to hijack health care reform over the issue of abortion, has insulted his latest political adversaries.  His latest political adversaries are nuns.

Congressman, speaking as someone with several nuns in my family, just person to person here, this is a fight you do not want to have.  Honestly.  They will cut you.

That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As of today, the people of Virginia can rest assured that once health reform passes Congress and is signed into law by the president, they will have a tireless advocate fighting against their ability to benefit from it.  A spokesman for Virginia‘s attorney general confirmed to “The Washington Post” today that the attorney general of the great state of Virginia will definitely sue the federal government to try to stop health reform.  Once we have health reform, that is.

You may be asking yourself on what legal grounds will Virginia‘s

attorney general mount this heroic challenge against health reform.  That

is a good question—particularly because the attorney general doesn‘t

seem to know.  His spokesman, quote, “would provide no details to ‘The

Washington Post‘ about this today, saying only that the plan is, quote,

‘still being worked out.‘”

Sure, launching a vague preemptive assault on the legality of insurance reforms might seem like a strange or even politically ill-advised move for a state attorney general to make, but I got to tell you, this is not really about health reform.  This is really about Virginia.  This is not even the second, not even the third most bizarre thing to happen in the politics of the state of Virginia since their new slate of Republican state officials took office this year.

There is a complete disconnect between what Governor Bob McDonnell and his Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have actually done in the state of Virginia since they took office and the way that the national media talks about Governor Bob McDonnell as if he has some sort of mainstream political future.

Under Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia is being remade into a Jesse Helms‘ stand, and they‘re doing it fast.

About a week after Governor McDonnell debuted as the fresh face of the Republican Party by giving the televised response to President Obama‘s State of the Union address, the governor—that same governor, McDonnell, rescinded the state‘s executive order banning discrimination against state workers.  He rescinded it.  He actually rescinded the state‘s old anti-discrimination order and replaced wit a new one that explicitly did not protect gay people from discrimination.

So, in other words, in his first month in office, Governor Bob McDonnell took overt steps to make it legal for state government offices to fire people in Virginia just because those people are gay.

Then, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, “Robin” to Mr. McDonnell‘s “Batman,” followed up with a directive to Virginia‘s public universities.  Attorney General Cuccinelli sent a letter to each school telling them they could not legally prohibit discrimination against gay people, and he said they should change their existing nondiscrimination policies if the ones they had did protect gay people.

How is that small government thing working out for you, Virginia?

The dynamic duo of Jesse Helms‘ stand (ph) also moved bravely to stop a plan that had been in the works to allow state employees‘ same-sex partners to get health insurance.  Of course, since it‘s now legal to fire anyone who works for the state of Virginia simply because they are gay, maybe that whole health insurance thing was vestigial anyway.

Then, of course, came the birther tape, a piece of audio reportedly recorded between election day and inauguration day of Virginia‘s attorney general siding with the “President Obama is secretly foreign show us the birth certificate” Orly Taitz folks.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What can we do about Obama and the birth certificate thing?

KEN CUCCINELLI, VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well, it will get tested in my view when someone—when he signs a law, and someone is convicted of violating it and one of their defenses will be it‘s not a law because someone qualified to be president didn‘t sign it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is that something you can do as attorney general? 

Can you, like, make—can you do that, or something?

CUCCINELLI:  Well, only if there is a conflict where we‘re suing the federal government for a law they have passed.  So it‘s possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because we‘re talking about a possibility that he was not born in America.

CUCCINELLI:  Right.  But at the same time, under rule 11, federal rule 11, we got to have proof of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How can we get proof?

CUCCINELLI:  Well—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I mean -

CUCINNELLI:  That‘s a good question.  Not one I‘ve thought a lot about because it hasn‘t been part of my campaign.  But—I mean, someone‘s going to have to come forward with nailed down testimony that he was born in place B, wherever that is.  You know, the speculation is Kenya.  And that doesn‘t seem beyond the realm of possibility.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That doesn‘t seem beyond the—the single most incredible thing about this story is not the fact that the attorney general of Virginia said all that on tape.  It‘s what he said this week after this tape was released.  Mr. Cuccinelli put out a statement that said, quote, “I absolutely believe that president Obama was born in the United States.  I don‘t buy into the claims that he wasn‘t.  On the recording, I was asked a hypothetical legal question, and I gave a hypothetical legal answer in response.”

I was just hypothetically wholeheartedly agreeing with a conspiracy theory in explaining exactly how I might bring the cause of exposing the president‘s secret foreign birthplace into the public policy agenda of the state of Virginia.  Just hypothetically, like you do.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CUCCINELLI:  The speculation is Kenya.  And that doesn‘t seem beyond the realm of possibility.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Incredibly, when the Virginia attorney general put out his statement after this came out saying he didn‘t really mean that “birther” thing he was totally caught on tape saying—incredibly, his denial is how it was reported nationally.  Nationally, the reporting was like oh, he says he didn‘t really mean it.  OK, case closed.

It‘s the same thing with McDonnell and Cuccinelli‘s move to make it legal to fire state workers in Virginia just because they‘re gay.  They rescinded the old executive order that prohibited that kind of discrimination by law.  They put in effect a new executive order which says, “By law, it is legal to fire people for being gay in the state of Virginia.”

Then when students in Virginia protested, Governor McDonnell did not change the law back.  He just put out an executive directive saying, “oh, no, no, no, don‘t get me wrong.  I hate discrimination”—which is neat, but which doesn‘t change the law back to what it was before Virginia voters maybe accidentally elected Jesse Helms and son to make their state a little 21st century pilot project in theocracy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Who would you bet on in a fight if the fight is between Congressman Bart Stupak on one side and 59,000 nuns on the other side?  It‘s not hypothetical, actually, because that is the fight that Bart Stupak decided to pick today—him versus 59,000 nuns.  The leaders of nearly 60 Catholic religious orders representing—say it with me now -- 59,000 nuns sent a letter to House lawmakers today urging them to pass the Senate health reform bill, despite Bart Stupak‘s claims that the bill would somehow provide public funding for abortion.  The bill will not do that.

The nun‘s letter says, quote, “Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions.  It will uphold long-standing conscience protections and it will make historic new investments in the support of pregnant women.  This is the real pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.”

So, if 59,000 nuns figuratively threatened to rap your knuckles with a ruler, what would you do?  If you are Congressman Bart Stupak, you would respond by insulting nuns everywhere.

Here is what Bart Stupak said to FOX News about this today, quote:

“When I‘m drafting right to life language, I don‘t call up the nuns.”  FOX quoted Congressman Stupak as saying that instead of calling up the nuns, he prefers to consult with bishops and also with the super right-wing evangelical group Focus on the Family.

Congressman Stupak‘s quest to use the issue of abortion to stop health reform is now winding down.  His odd shot at nuns today came after a long day of bad news for this quest of his.  “Politico” reported today that anti-abortion Democratic Congressman James Oberstar of Minnesota will now support the Senate version of health care reform, saying he took another look at the abortion language of the Senate bill and realized, quote, “On balance, it does what we need to do.”

Congressman Oberstar joins a growing list of anti-abortion Democrats who used to support Bart Stupak, who voted for his anti-abortion language before but who say also that Senate language really does ban federal funding for abortion.  They say there‘s no reason to vote now against health reform on anti-abortion grounds no matter what Bart Stupak says.  The problem that Bart Stupak says he wants to fix—in other words—is one that other anti-abortion members of Congress say doesn‘t exist.

The list of anti-abortion members of Congress who supported Congressman Stupak in the past but who now say he is wrong about this also includes Virginia‘s Tom Perriello, Pennsylvania‘s Jason Altmire and Stupak‘s only colleague from Michigan, Dale Kildee.

Mr. Kildee said in a statement today, quote, “I am convinced that the Senate language maintains the Hyde Amendment, which states that no federal money can be used for abortion.”  That sounds pretty clear, despite the fact that Bart Stupak keeps stomping his feet and saying, “The Senate bill funds abortion.  It‘s kind of hard to see it, but it‘s there, I swear, guys. “

There really is no federal funding of abortion in the Senate version of health reform.  Even Bart Stupak‘s friends on this political issue admit that.  But you know, who needs friends when you have the Stupak dozen? 

Today Mr. Stupak doubled down on his claim that he speaks for a whole bunch of members of Congress who agree with him even though their names are secret.  Mr. Stupak insists that these members of Congress are not mythical even though we‘re not allowed to know their names. 

He insists that these are non-imaginary friends who think like he does about this issue, and who also want to bring down health reform over something that Bart Stupak made up about abortion in the Senate bill. 

Congressman Stupak, in fact, told Fox News today that he met with his mysterious nameless dozen lawmakers just yesterday - a secret meeting, of course.  He said he even carries a list of their names with him at all times. 

The quote from the Fox News Web site today, quote, “The Michigan lawmaker carries the list of the 12 lawmakers allied with him in his pocket.”  Once again, we called Congressman Stupak‘s office today, this time to find out what is in his pocket.  Once again, no call back. 

Joining us now is Tracy Weitz.  Tracy Weitz is a director at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.  She is an associate professor at the University of California in San Francisco.  Professor Weitz, thanks very much for joining us.  I appreciate it. 

TRACY WEITZ, DIRECTOR, BIXBY CENTER FOR GLOBAL REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: 

Thank you very much for having me. 

MADDOW:  If the abortion language in the Senate bill stands, will there be federal funding for abortion? 

WEITZ:  No.  There has never been a question about whether there would be federal funding for abortion. 

MADDOW:  Would we be maintaining the status quo in terms of access to abortion in this country - affordability, and access and all those issues?  Or would those things actually be sliding back? 

WEITZ:  Unfortunately, things would be significantly sliding back.  I think it‘s important to remember that the status quo itself is harmful to women.  It‘s been harmful to women since it was first passed in 1976. 

We have reduced access to abortion throughout this country.  Eighty-seven percent of counties in this country do not have an abortion provider currently.  The women who would be buying insurance in the exchange will no longer have the option to have that be covered with the two-check option that is the Nelson Amendment. 

So I think it‘s getting much worse.  But I think it‘s important to remember that it was bad before we started health care reform with regard to abortion financing in this country. 

MADDOW:  In terms of what you just said about the exchange and the other ways that things will be if the Senate language passes, can you explain what the Senate language will actually do?  As far as I can read it, it seems like it‘s asking people to specifically buy abortion insurance with their own money if they want to participate in any form of federally-assisted health care. 

WEITZ:  Well, I think it‘s requiring that people pay two separate checks for their abortion for their insurance coverage.  One check pays for the regular insurance.  The other pays for the portion of the insurance that might potentially be needed to cover abortion. 

So the two-check option, which separates out the money that could be used to cover abortion and the money that you need for other kinds of health care. 

But I think it‘s important, Rachel, to remember that abortion is fundamentally a service that women need and one in three women in this country will need at some point before the end of their reproductive years.  It‘s for an unplanned pregnancy.  So most of us don‘t buy insurance because we think we‘re going to need something for something we‘re not planning for. 

MADDOW:  Right.  That‘s sort of what this boils down to for me.  And on the one hand, we‘ve been talking a lot about Congressman Stupak wanting to make the abortion language even more restrictive. 

But even with the Nelson language, who on earth would ever buy abortion insurance because nobody ever plans on having an abortion?  It‘s the sort of thing - it‘s almost a self-defeating concept.  So forgive me for being blunt about this, but I understand your point. 

WEITZ:  No.  I think - I mean, it‘s great that you‘re covering this issue because I think many people fail to look at the sort of technical language.  And as a result, they think, “Oh, well.  Look, it‘s not so bad.”  Or you know, people can buy insurance coverage for abortion if they want it. 

But it‘s a symbolic act.  And it‘s meant - I think fundamentally more than anything is to make the American public believe that health care and abortion are somehow different. 

Remember, abortion is one of the most commonly used medical services for women during their reproductive years.  But what we‘re saying whether it‘s with the Stupak Amendment or with the Nelson Amendment or with the ongoing Hyde Amendment is that abortion is not health care. 

And that‘s really the argument that they‘re trying get the American public to understand in this.  And that‘s the symbolic nature of the Nelson Amendment.  And unfortunately, it‘s working. 

Obama himself said this is a health bill.  It‘s not an abortion bill.  But abortion is health care and it‘s a health care service that many women need during the course of their life. 

MADDOW:  Picking up on one thing you said earlier, you mentioned that the small proportion of American counties in which there is even access to an abortion provider. 

“The Michigan Messenger” has reported that in Congressman Bart Stupak‘s own first district in Michigan, which is something like 33 counties.  It‘s a giant district.  There are currently, by their reporting, no facilities that perform abortions at all. 

His district is massive.  And it seems to me that that‘s the rule more than it is the exception in the country, that women, right now, have very difficult practical access to this service. 

WEITZ:  Correct.  In the country today, 87 percent of counties don‘t have an abortion provider.  A third of women live in those counties.  In Michigan, over 80 percent of the counties don‘t have an abortion provider. 

And again, 33 percent of women in Michigan live in a county without an abortion provider, meaning that they need to travel.  And I think it‘s not hard for people to understand that getting it from your house to an abortion provider that involves a long distance becomes a privilege for people who have economic resources. 

And the folks who really may need abortion services and may need coverage for abortion now have to both get to the service and pay for it out of pocket on their own. 

MADDOW:  Tracy Weitz is a director at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.  She is an associate professor at the University of California in San Francisco.  Professor Weitz, it‘s very helpful to have your insight on this issue on the show.  Thanks very much for joining us. 

WEITZ:  Thank you for covering this important issue. 

MADDOW:  Sure, thanks.  All right.  How much would you pay to have your photo taken with Sarah Palin?  At Michele Bachmann‘s upcoming fundraiser featuring Sarah Palin, whatever number you had in your head, I want you to start adding zeros to it.  Keep doing that, and we‘ll check in with you and tell you when to stop in just a second. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Just ahead, the latest anti-Obama conspiracy theory is that he wants to stop you from fishing.  Because you know, that is so like him. 

Plus, I will mix a truly fantastic St. Patrick‘s Day cocktail with these two hands.  That‘s all coming up. 

But first, a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  So far Gen.  David Petraeus has not accepted our offer for him to read his full eight-minute statement on the repeal of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” on this program, the statement he was not allowed to read in yesterday‘s Senate hearing.  We do still live in hope. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ):  Do you believe that the “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” needs a thorough review before action is taken? 

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND:  My position is that - can I give my statement on that, sir? 

MCCAIN:  We‘re short of time, but, please, go ahead.  How long is that statement? 

PETRAEUS:  About eight minutes, sir. 

MCCAIN:  No.  No. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The consensus was, after much discussion that the committee did not have the time, so the general summarized his feelings on the matter as such.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS:  Senator, let me just answer that.  I believe the time has come consider a change to “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  For the record, Gen. Petraeus, the offer still stands.  You are still very welcome to read your full statement here on this program, or just send us your full statement and I will act it out any way you want. 

But even if Gen. Petraeus‘ full and complete statement never sees the light of cable news prime time programming, the issue is not going away.  The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” will pick up tomorrow testimony expected from two mid-career officers who were fired from the military from being gay. 

They include Michael D. Almy, a former major in the Air Force who has been a guest on this program.  Also Jenny L. Kopfstein, former Navy lieutenant.  We will have coverage of tomorrow‘s hearing - it is expected to be rather dramatic - on tomorrow‘s show.  

Next up, if you have $10,000 burning a hole in your pocket?  Do you have an empty space on a wall where a framed photograph would fit perfectly?  Will you be in a  Minneapolis area around April 7th

If you‘ve answered yes to all three of those questions, we have got an opportunity for you.  Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, famous for calling for an investigation into anti-American views in Congress, invites you to join her and half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for a very exciting evening. 

For $500, you can attend the general reception and dinner.  For $5,000, you get a table for 10.  And for $10,000, you and yours get to have a photograph taken - a photograph taken - with you and Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin together, just like you‘ve always dreamed. 

Or you can photo shop one for the low, low price of about 20 minutes of your time.  Proceeds from the event go to organizations as diverse as Michele Bachmann‘s primary election fund, Michele Bachmann‘s general election fund and the Republican party of Minnesota. 

And remember, if you do go, please E-mail us your pictures at

rachel@msnbc.com and we will put your $10,000 photo on television for free

maybe. 

And finally, in dictatorial succession news, ever since North Korea‘s Stalinist, ego-maniacal dear leader for life, Kim Jong-Il reportedly fell ill in 2008, there has been a lot of speculation as to who would fill his evil little shoes. 

But then, Kim Jong-Il started making public appearances again, and the yearly celebrations of his birthday continued on with all of the pageantry that an impoverished, starved nation forced to parade, dance and swim in unison could muster. 

Now, the succession rumor mill is once again buzzing, buzzing with speculation that Kim Jong-Il‘s third son is now being groomed to take over for his dad.  Unfortunately, this picture of an eight-year-old Kim Jong-Un is the only one we have got.  The North Korean government won‘t release any others. 

The reason for the new speculation about succession is because earlier this month, the son directed artillery drills reportedly near the border with South Korea. 

Also, as “Foreign Policy” magazine points out, the regime has started, get this, restricting the use of the dictator-in-waiting‘s name, Jong-Un.  If you already have that name in North Korea, too bad.  The government dictates that you must change it. 

It‘s a good thing that we don‘t have that policy here.  Just think of all the chaos if all of those John Boehners had to legally change their names.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Last Saturday evening, people in the nation of Georgia sat down to watch the same newscast at the same time on the same state-run news channel as they do every evening.  The news that night was a stomach-dropper to say the least.  The anchor reported that Russia had invaded Georgia. 

Russian tanks had already crossed the border.  Fighter jets were flying above.  Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was dead and President Obama had already condemned the invasion.

What happened next can best be described as panic, the panic of a people who less than two years prior had lived through a Russian invasion that brought them to the brink of a full-scale war. 

Cell phone networks crashed under the added weight of people calling one another in terror.  Families packed their worldly possessions.  They prepared to flee the country.  Grocery store shelves were emptied. 

Potential refugees formed long lines at gas stations. 

Little did these very scared people know that the whole thing was a hoax, not a prank, but a hoax staged for seemingly political reasons. 

See if you can connect the conspiracy dots here.  The Georgian President Saakashvili is avowedly anti-Russia, anti-Kremlin.  His political opponent right now is not, which is why that guy met with Russian leader for life, Vladimir Putin, a few days ago. 

Saakashvili is pals with the head of the state-run television network which aired the scary, fake news report.  And the fake news report fakely reported that the opposition leader, the pro-Russia guy, cooperated with Russia in this fake attack. 

Opposition leaders were not the only ones calling foul.  Average Georgians were furious.  They protested in front of the TV station because they thought the brief one-time on warning at the top of the broadcast was not nearly enough of a disclaimer that the news report was a hug political scam.  A cold war of the worlds with way, way, way worse acting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Reporter Dave Weigel from “The Washington Independent” posted a bunch of photos from the unexpectedly small anti-health reform kill the bill rally yesterday. 

Here is one that struck me.  It‘s this lady.  Can you see the sign?  It says, “Great American angler.  I fish for food and fun.  President Obama, get out of my boat and get out of my kitchen.”

She apparently believes that President Obama is in her boat trying to take away her fish.  I do not understand this person‘s sign.  For clarification, I asked our contemporary angling correspondent Kent Jones to look into it.  Kent, please help. 

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘ll try, Rachel.  You know, as conservatives keep proving over and over again, there is no conspiracy theory involving President Obama that is too far over the top.  And this one is this big. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Barack Obama wants to stop you from fishing.  This fish story started with an ESPN “Outdoors” column that said that the federal government had a strategy in the works that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing the nation‘s oceans, coastal waters, great lakes and even inland waters.

Swarm conservative media piranhas, fresh blood.  “Gateway Pundit” ran this headline, “Obama‘s latest assault on freedom, new regulations will ban sport fishing,” adding, “Barack Obama has a message for America‘s 60 million anglers.  We don‘t need you.” 

“Red State” gave us, “Obama, the will of the people be damned.  I‘ll decide who can go fishing.”  Michelle Malkin decided on “Obama‘s war on fishing?”  Right on cue, Glenn Beck said this. 

GLENN BECK, HOST, “THE GLENN BECK SHOW”:  I told you a year ago this would happen.  I‘m not some prophet by any stretch of the imagination.  People are losing their rights.  Who is more important, the fish or you? 

JONES:  Alert.  Alert.  Glenn Beck not a prophet.  And Rush Limbaugh,

imitating Obama, said -

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  You can‘t touch me.  I can stop you from going fishing whenever you want.  I can do whatever I want to do. 

JONES:  There she blows.  Wow, this Obama hates fishing story is amazing.  If only it were, you know, true.  A red-faced ESPN was forced to admit, quote, “We made several errors in the editing and presentation of this installment.” 

Oops.  But the feeding frenzy was already in full swing so much so that the administration had to go on a debunking mission to tell people what they were actually doing, which was drafting plans for a new ocean policy and marine planning system. 

That‘s it.  Dr. Jane Lubchenco, chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had this to say to one jittery Republican Congressman who asked about the ban on fishing at a hearing. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JANE LUBCHENCO, CHIEF OF THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC

ADMINISTRATION:  We are not proposing any blanket ban on recreational fishing.  I would strongly oppose that.  That is not in the works. 

JONES:  Got that?  Undeterred, the Fox Nation Web site is still linking to the discredited ESPN column with the headline, “Obama to ban sport fishing?”  I‘ll answer that.  No.  Sorry conservatives, the Kenyan, socialist, Marxist, communist doesn‘t want to pry your fishing pole from your cold, dead fingers. 

And don‘t worry, Rachel.  You will still be able to do this. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  I will never live down that picture. 

JONES:  Right? 

(CROSS TALK) 

MADDOW:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) another one.  A bigger one.  Thank you, Kent. 

JONES:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  One of my favorite stories in a long time.  All right.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” the Fox News interview with President Obama definitely not interruption-free. 

And next on this show, something I don‘t want to jinx by talking about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Happy St. Patrick‘s Day.  Last year, on St. Patrick‘s Day on this show, you might recall we had on set the king of American bartending. 

Dale DeGroff showed us how to make two drinks on the St. Patrick Day theme

Irish coffee and something called the Dubliner with whiskey and Irish mist. 

Our studios here are about a block from St. Patrick‘s Cathedral in New York City.  And through the windows of our offices today, all of us who work on this show were keenly aware of what a glorious spring day today was to be out and about in the streets of New York celebrating the snakelessness of Ireland. 

We, however, did not get out to celebrate the snakelessness of Ireland or anything else because we were all at work.  To mitigate the pain, we decided it was time for a St. Patrick‘s cocktails round two. 

And no, this is not some implied something about Irish-ness and drinking.  We do cocktails about all sorts of things on this show so hate mail away, but you‘re misfiring.  We‘re going to make something called Oisin‘s Dram.  Right, Kent?  

JONES:  Right.

MADDOW:  “Oisin” is spelled O-I-S-I-N.  Oisin is a legendary figure.  Legend has it that his dad was a warrior poet and his mom was a woman trapped in the body of a deer. 

Oisin‘s Dram is a drink created by a bartender named Greg Best at the Holeman and Finch Public House in Atlanta.  The recipe was published in this year‘s Food and Wine Cocktails Guide and it‘s great. 

All right.  Here is what you need.  Irish whiskey - in this case, Greg recommends Jameson Gold.  You also need Tawny Port, which is not the ruby kind but the tawny kind.  And you need fresh orange juice and you need Angostura Bitters.  The bitters - the Angostura Bitters - you probably have a dusty bottle of them on the shelf somewhere. 

If you don‘t, it is annoying.  There has been a yearlong disruption in production of bitters at the factory that makes them in Trinidad and Tobago.  It had to do with the financial crisis.  We called the company today.  Their executive in charge of export sales assured us that Angostura is in full production. 

They‘ve got a new U.S. distributor.  They have shipped tons of bitters to the U.S. market since the beginning of this month so everybody should stop freaking out and hoarding bitters so other people who don‘t have them hoarding in their basement can buy some, too. 

Anyway, so here is how you make an Oisin‘s Dram.  We start with the orange juice.  We are actually juicing it from an orange.  I know, old school, but it makes it taste better.  We need an ounce of orange juice.  And then, on top of the ounce of orange juice - Kent, you don‘t mind if I‘m slow, right? 

JONES:  No, no. 

MADDOW:  It‘s my thing about being a hobbyist bartender.  I‘m pretty good at this, but I‘m slow. 

JONES:  I have tasted your work before.  Worth it. 

MADDOW:  Ounce of orange juice.  Ounce of port, Tawny Port.  Go Maddow, go.  Go Maddow, go.  This is really expensive port.  And then - we only couldn‘t find the cheap stuff. 

JONES:  Right. 

MADDOW:  I only have the cheap stuff at home.  And an ounce and a half of whiskey.  We‘re going to top it off with four dashes of bitters.  You shake it up with ice, pour it into a rocks glass and garnish it with a dash of cinnamon.  It‘s delicious. 

We are going to enjoy it per FCC regulations during the commercial break.  And we will post the recipe for it on our Website which is Rachel.MSNBC.com.  Happy St. Patrick‘s Day.  “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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