updated 4/12/2010 3:25:06 PM ET 2010-04-12T19:25:06

Guest: Dahlia Lithwick, Dave Weigel

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening from Orlando, where what began as a Friday, wound up as Friday.

Sarah Palin offered us to look at the choice America has between the party in power right now and the party of Sarah Palin.

Congressman Bart Stupak called it a career.

           

We were challenged to, so we did do some research on what it should cost to live on C Street if you don‘t get a subsidy.

It‘s a Friday.  It‘s a huge news day.  There‘s a lot to get to.  It‘s all coming up this hour.

But we begin tonight with a one-sentence letter that was delivered to the White House at 10:30 this morning.

“My Dear Mr. President,

Having concluded that it would be in the best interest of the court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the court‘s next term, I shall retire from regular active service as an associate justice.

Most respectfully yours, John Paul Stevens.”

Eleven days before his 90th birthday, the oldest member of the United States Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens, officially announces today that he is stepping down.

His retirement is not exactly a surprise.  It had been speculated upon for weeks now.  But today, the justice made it official.

When the letter arrived at the White House this morning, its intended recipient was on board Air Force One.

And once President Obama returned to the White House today, he gave some early insight into what he‘s going to be looking for in a replacement for Justice Stevens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I view the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee as among my most serious responsibilities as president.  And while we cannot replace Justice Stevens‘ experience or wisdom, I will seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities—an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law, and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.  It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Just about immediately, Senate Republicans started to give indications that they‘re gearing up for a big fight here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  I‘ve got to say, he has a propensity to choose people who don‘t care what the law is, they‘re going to make the law from the bench.  Judges are not supposed to do that.  And I personally am very upset about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Except of course in the Citizens United case where the court totally made up the law.  But that was in a good way, right, Senator?

In addition to those in the Senate who will actually decide the fate of President Obama‘s judicial nominee, there is also a whole industry in Washington that exists solely for days like this.  It exists to not only fight over Supreme Court nominations but to raise as much money as possible off of the nomination fights.  It‘s a Washington machine that—it‘s weird.  It lies semi-dormant for years and then it awakens every time there‘s a Supreme Court vacancy.  And all of a sudden, right now, you can consider that machine woken up and cranked up.

The conservative group Judicial Watch blasting out a statement today, warning that if President Obama nominates a, quote, “empathetic liberal judicial activist, he will have a fight on his hands.”  They didn‘t include any modicum of themselves rubbing their hands in glee at that possibility but it was implied.

With the simple one sentence letter delivered at 10:30 this morning, Supreme Court confirmation season has officially begun.  And among all Washington political events, not much tops Supreme Court confirmation hearings in terms of unrestrained, over-the-top, civic-minded drama.  It wasn‘t always this way.  Nominees weren‘t even always required to publicly testify on their own behalf.

The first one to do so was Harlan Fisk Stone.  He was nominated by Calvin Coolidge in 1925.  It wasn‘t until the ‘50s that nominees regularly began testifying publicly like they do now.  And it wasn‘t until ‘80s, in the advent of nationally televised multi-day hearings that things really, really got rolling in terms of the political drama.

On July 1st, 1987, Ronald Reagan nominated Circuit Judge Robert Bork to fill the vacancy that had just been created on the Supreme Court.  Within 45 minutes of the Bork nomination -- 45 minutes—Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy stormed on to the Senate floor to declare Judge Bork‘s nomination essentially dead-on-arrival.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JULY 1, 1987)

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Robert Bork‘s America is a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, and school children could not be taught about evolution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That‘s 45 minutes into the nomination process.  How‘s that for opposition?

Mr. Bork was, in fact, one of the most radical jurists ever proposed in modern times for any judgeship, let alone for the Supreme Court.  The fight to keep him off the court set new standards for how these things are fought.  People for the American Way enlisted Gregory Peck, the Hollywood legend, in the fight against Bork.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY PECK, HOLLYWOOD LEGEND:  There‘s a special feeling of awe people get when they visit the Supreme Court of the United States, the ultimate guardian of our rights as Americans.  That‘s why we set the highest standards for our highest court justices and that‘s why we‘re so concerned.

This is Gregory Peck.  Robert Bork wants to be a Supreme Court justice.  But the record shows that he has a strange idea of what justice is.  He defended poll taxes and literacy tests which kept many Americans from voting.

Please urge your senators to vote against the Bork nomination, because if Robert Bork wins a seat on the Supreme Court, it will be for life—his life and yours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Robert Bork ultimately made it through his tumultuous confirmation hearing on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  But the opposition did not let up as the nomination left the committee and headed for the Senate floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  In Robert Bork‘s America, there is no room at the inn for blacks, no place in the Constitution for women.  And in our America, there should be no seat on the Supreme Court for Robert Bork.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Robert Bork‘s nomination was eventually voted down on the floor of the Senate, with 58 senators voting against him, including six Republicans.

Rivaling Judge Bork in terms of pure drama were the confirmations—the confirmation hearings for Judge Clarence Thomas in 1991.  His confirmation process was going along sort of swimmingly until news reports leaked that one of his former employees made statements to the FBI accusing him of sexual harassment.  That accusation and the treatment in the Senate of the accuser and the accused made the Clarence Thomas confirmation into some of the most riveting television ever filmed in a Senate committee room.  It made Clarence Thomas a right wing hero and Anita Hill, a two-word explanation for a generation of women being utterly Steve out by politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE:  This is a circus.  It‘s a national disgrace.  And from my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I‘m concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas.  And it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you.  You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S.—U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Professor Hill, you said you took it to mean that Judge Thomas wanted to have sex with you.  But in fact he never did ask you to have sex, correct?

ANITA HILL, LAW PROFESSOR:  No, he did not ask me to have sex.  He did continually pressure me to go out with him continually.  And he would not accept my explanation as one as being valid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Clarence Thomas squeaked out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a seven-seven split vote.  He was then narrowly—narrowly—confirmed by the Senate two weeks later.

That is not how things went for President George W. Bush‘s second nominee to the Supreme Court after John Roberts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  This morning, I‘m proud to announce that I‘m nominating Harriet Ellen Miers to serve as associate justice of the Supreme Court.  She has devoted her life to the rule of law and the cause of justice.  She will be an outstanding addition to the Supreme Court of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Exactly 24 days later, Harriet Ellen Miers withdrew that nomination to the Supreme Court, after undergoing a barrage of criticism from all corners of the political world.

For all of the drama and passion and raw emotion that comes out of the Supreme Court nomination process, you know what doesn‘t happen?  Supreme Court nominees don‘t get filibustered.  For as partisan as these nomination fights can get, filibustering really just isn‘t part of it.

In the entire history throughout the years, exactly one judge has ever been successfully filibustered.  In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson wanted to elevate Abe Fortas from being an associate justice on the court to being the chief justice of the court.  Mr. Fortas was filibustered.  He was not allowed to become chief justice.  And the very next year, he resigned from the court under threat of impeachment for having done stuff like accepting thousands of dollars on outside payments on top of his Supreme Court salary.

In other words, Abe Fortas was really not your typical case.

Aside from Abe Fortas in 1968, nobody ever gets filibustered.  Sometimes nominees don‘t get confirmed by the Senate.  Sometimes nominees do get confirmed but only after undergoing a brutal confirmation process.  Sometimes nominees withdraw before making it to the Senate Judiciary Committee so the brutal nomination process can begin.

But by and large, Supreme Court nominees are given the deference of an up-or-down vote on their nomination.  They are not filibustered.

As much as this seems like a process that can‘t possibly get any more polarized, it can‘t get any more exploited, it can‘t be any more partisan, it is now, in 2010, officially more polarized, more exploited and more partisan than it has ever been before.  And you can tell that because Republican members of the Senate are already threatening to filibuster the nominee to replace Justice Stevens—even though there isn‘t even a nominee yet.

Just minutes after President Obama accepted Justice Stevens‘ resignation today, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander released a statement that reads, quote, “I hope President Obama will nominate his successor from the middle and not from the fringe.  In truly extraordinary cases, I reserve the prerogative to vote no on confirmation or even to vote to deny an up-or-down vote.”  Just saying, I might filibuster, I‘m already thinking about it.

Same goes for his Republican colleague, Jon Kyl of Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Are you willing to pledge right now that the GOP will not filibuster whoever the president nominates?

SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  It will all depend on what kind of a person it is.  I think the president will nominate a qualified person.  I hope, however, he does not nominate an overly ideological person.  That will be the test.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The Republican Party now threatening to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee who doesn‘t yet exist.

The Supreme Court nomination battles have brought with them a little bit of everything over the past 100 years or so, but Republicans are ratcheting up for a fight for the sake of a fight, one that‘s basically never been seen before—in the absence of President Obama even picking someone for the job yet.  And that is worth remembering when they declare inevitably that the nominee is the worst communist, fringy, ideological pick ever!

It‘s not about the nominee.  It‘s not about the nominee.  They‘re already pledging to filibuster before there is a nominee.  They are just licking their chops for a fight for the sake of the fight.

We‘ll be right back to talk potential nominees with Dahlia Lithwick.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  News flash: Retiring Justice John Paul Stevens is a liberal.  Not some pseudo-progressive left-leaning liberal-lite—a liberal.  So unless he wants the court to slide to the right, President Obama will have to pick a liberal to replace John Paul Steven Stevens.  We‘ll have more on that next.

And stick around for a review of Sarah Palin‘s gobsmacking speech at the Republican convention in New Orleans.  It was a remarkable speech, and therefore we shall remark.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Do you remember the “Bong Hits for Jesus” case?  Remember that case?

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that a school did have the authority to suspend a student from school for holding up a banner that said, “Bong Hits for Jesus” at a school-supervised event.  Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion in that case, and that dissent was amazing.

In the dissent he wrote this, quote, “The current dominant opinion supporting the war on drugs in general, and our anti-marijuana laws in particular, is reminiscent of the opinion that supported the nationwide ban on alcohol consumption when I was a student.”  He‘s, of course, referring to prohibition.  You know, back when he was a student.

Justice Stevens has been around for a while.  He turns 90 this month. 

He appears to be in great health.

As President Obama pointed out today in acknowledging the retirement news, Justice Stevens enlisted in the Navy the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  He saw Babe Ruth‘s legendary home run in the 1932 World Series, the one where he pointed out where he was going to hit it and then hit it there.  Justice Stevens saw that live from the stands.  He was there.

Justice Stevens was appointed to the court in December 1975 by President Ford.  That makes him the longest-serving justice on the bench right now by more than a decade.  If anything, Justice Stevens is probably a Republican.  He doesn‘t talk about his partisan affiliation, but he has hinted over the course of the years—over the course of his career and at the time he was appointed of being a Republican, and, of course, he was appointed by a Republican president.  At the time, he was considered sort of a moderate conservative.

And whether politics has moved to the right of Justice Stevens or Justice Stevens has moved to the left of the politics, whichever it is, he is considered the liberal on the court right now.  As “The Washington Post” said of the first recent signs that Justice Stevens would retire, his leadership of the liberal wing of the court is responsible for, quote, “groundbreaking decisions in favor of gay rights, restrictions on the death penalty, preservation of abortion rights and establishment of the role for a judiciary in the nation‘s terrorism fight.”

In Justice Steven‘s dissent in Bush v. Gore, which, of course, is the case that stopped the vote recount in Florida and handed the presidency to George W. Bush, Justice Stevens wrote, quote, “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year‘s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear, it‘s the nation‘s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

In 2004, Justice Stevens wrote the majority decision in the case that ruled that prisoners being held by the U.S. at Guantanamo had the right to challenge their imprisonment.  Justice Stevens is credited with bringing Justice Kennedy on board for the majority in a five-four vote that essentially gave the EPA the authority to regulate carbon emissions.

When the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that schools couldn‘t promote integration by considering a child‘s race when they assigned students to schools, Justice Stevens dissented from that case.  In that case, the majority cited Brown v. Board of Education, the 1955 case that ended legal school segregation.  They cited that in the majority.

In his dissent, Justice Stevens called that a cruel irony.

Just this year, in the Citizens United ruling, on a which a five-to-four conservative majority ruled in favor of limitless campaign contributions from corporations, including even foreign corporations, Justice Stevens in the minority wrote, quote, “Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.  The court‘s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.  The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”

Justice Stevens so strongly opposed what the court did in this landmark Citizens United case, that he read aloud from his partial dissent when the decision was handed-down.  They never do that.

According to people who were there at the time, Justice Stevens did not read aloud from his decision very well because he is almost 90 and he said he was tired that day.  But the fact that he did it, the fact that he not only wrote that sort of blistering condemnation of the ruling and felt strongly enough about it that he needed to read it out loud, gives you some idea of the degree to which Justice John Paul Stevens has been the anchor of the court and the leader of its liberal minority.

With Justice Stevens leaving the court, it‘s losing its true blue liberal magnetic north.  Keeping the status quo in the court therefore means finding a replacement for Justice Stevens who is—as liberal as he is.

What are the odds of that?

Joining us now is Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate.com and the person who I most wanted to read as soon as I heard about this vacancy.

Dahlia, thank you so much for joining us.

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SLATE.COM:  Well, thank you for having me.

MADDOW:  What are the odds that the court doesn‘t get less liberal in the wake of Justice Stevens‘ departure, that President Obama nominates somebody who will be, I guess, as reliably liberal as he has been?

LITHWICK:  Well, I think you really flagged it in your intro, Rachel.  There‘s two issues.  One is how liberal the next person is.  The other is, will they have the mastery and the skill to sherpa the other liberals along.

And that doesn‘t even really touch on that next nominee‘s jurisprudence.  That‘s how about a question of how do you handle this court, this sort of fractious left wing of the court?  How do you handle Anthony Kennedy who really does need to be sherpaed along?

So, I think it‘s not just a question of how liberal the nominees is, but do they have these foundational skills, these Brennan-like skills to get to five.  And that‘s a really, really (AUDIO BREAK) thing.

MADDOW:  Dahlia, you—when you wrote about this on “Slate,” one of the things you described was the empathy factor, which, of course, became such a hot-button issue during the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation process.  The president today said he‘s looking for somebody with a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.

How important was that characteristic to understanding Justice Stevens on this court?

LITHWICK:  I think it‘s critical, Rachel, and I think it‘s something before we all sort of pounce on the demographics question, and the diversity question, before every woman in America starts screaming we need a third woman, before we start screaming we need an Asian or Hispanic or a gay or a disabled justice—it‘s so important to honor and recognize in Justice John Paul Stevens that this was a rich, white WASPy guy who didn‘t grow up in the projects, who went to the right schools and had all the breaks, and still managed throughout this amazing decades-long career to kind of get it about what it is to be a prisoner at Guantanamo, to get it about what it is to be a mentally-retarded person on death row, to get it what it is to be a 13-year-old girl who‘s strip-searched because there might be, God forbid, Advil in your bra.

And so, I just think it‘s really critical to see that quality.  I know it‘s a bad, bad word.  “Empathy” is synonymous in the GOP with some kind of derangement that needs medication.  But, really, I think that if you look at Stevens‘ great gift as a jurist, it‘s that simple ability to put yourself in the other guy‘s shoes.

And one of Stevens‘ former clerk, Sonja West, and I wrote a piece today in “Slate,” essentially saying: before we go crazy trying to find a justice who looks just like us, let‘s recall that John Paul Stevens doesn‘t look like a lot of us but he really got us.

MADDOW:  Justice Stevens told Jeffrey Rosen in 2007 for that long magazine piece that Rosen wrote, he said, “Including myself, every judge who‘s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell in 1971 has been more conservative than his or her predecessor, except maybe Justice Ginsburg.”

Do you think that‘s true?  Has it been a really steady march right on the court?

LITHWICK:  I think it‘s indisputably true.  I mean, I think, he‘s citing data that is, I think, unequivocal—that everyone is succeeded by someone slightly to their right.

And we certainly see that, I think, with David Souter, who is succeeded by Sonia Sotomayor, who‘s much, much more of a pro-prosecutor bench.  We saw it with John Paul‘s—with then-Chief Justice Rehnquist being succeeded by John Roberts.  And probably the similar replacement is the moderate Sandra Day O‘Connor being succeeded by Sam Alito.

I think Stevens was also the first to say he didn‘t change that much on the court.  The court pivoted around him, and what was once sort of far-right—excuse me, far-left liberal disappears, the moderates become the wingnut lefties and the right becomes a right that is never been contemplated in his lifetime on the court.

MADDOW:  Dahlia, we could do this for the rest of the night, I think, but I just—I‘ll give you one opportunity to do it with as much brevity as you think is appropriate.  Who do you think he‘s going to nominate?  Who do you think—who should be considered on the short list?

LITHWICK:  You know, it‘s whether Obama has a stomach for a big fight or a little fight, Rachel, and I don‘t know the contents of Obama‘s stomach.  I think if he wants a little fight, Merrick Garland on the D.C.  Circuit Court of Appeals is a very well-respected smart moderate liberal. 

The right has already signaled that they have no problem with him.

If he wants a medium fight—Elena Kagan, his solicitor general.  It will be a medium fight.  She‘ll get confirmed.

If he wants a big, big fight, he can take Diane Wood from the seventh circuit court of appeals.  Pam Karlan, Kathleen Sullivan, Harold Koh—there‘s a long list.

MADDOW:  You posted a comment at “Slate” today from Steven Bright, Southern Center for Human Rights, suggesting Brian Stevenson at the Equal Justice Initiative.  Those guys, I have to say, just personally, are two of my heroes.  Would that be the biggest fight ever?

LITHWICK:  I think that would be one of the biggest fights ever.  I suspect a Pam Karlan or a Kathleen Sullivan might be on that same Richter scale.

MADDOW:  I hear you.

Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate.com -

thank you for your time tonight.  I hope we can sign you up for a lot more of it in the coming weeks as we continue to talk about this nomination.

           

LITHWICK:  Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Dahlia.

OK.  Dave Weigel from “The Washington Independent,” a great reporter, was in New Orleans today for Sarah Palin‘s big, “Don‘t retreat, reload” speech.  Dave Weigel will join us next from New Orleans.  We have so much to talk about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The bright glaring light you‘ve been noticing from the southern sky these past couple of days that shines from the south?  It‘s because all the brightest stars of the Republican firmament have been in constellation in New Orleans and they will be throughout the weekend. 

It‘s technically the southern Republican leadership conference.  But what it really is, is a chance for the Republican Party to find its voice to decide in what language and what tone and under whose leadership the Republican Party will challenge President Obama in 2012. 

Now, in practice, that means all the potential Republican candidates for 2012 are trying out their applause lines. 

It all started last night with professional potential candidate Newt Gingrich, trying to hit the sweet spot between his new Newt, bored professor persona and his old familiar Newt persona, which was always more like a screaming man on a street corner threatening to hit you with his misspelled sign. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:  This is the most radical administration in American history.  And I began to realize after a year of watching them, that if you think about the group that meets together in the White House, their experience is the machine politics of Chicago, the corruption of Springfield, and the radicalism of Alinsky. 

And it comes together in a format and then they meet with their two colleagues, Pelosi and Reid.  And you have a perfect, unrepresentative left-wing machine dedicated to a secular socialist future. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Most radical?  Actually, I think I stand corrected here.  I don‘t actually think Newt Gingrich here was either the professor or the angry man with the misspelled sign here.  I think that Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich might now be trying out a new role, the role of angry commenter on right-wing blog. 

OMG.  OMG.  Alinsky.  Chicago Machine.  Pelosi.  LOL, LOL, LOL, LOL.  Rolling on the floor laughing.  LMAO.  Oh, gee.  Oh, gee.  Alinsky. 

Today, the suddenly ubiquitous Sarah Palin took the podium also. 

People reportedly waited in line two hours to see this speech. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK):  What‘s wrong with being the party of no?  We will oppose it.  Or better said by the good governor of this state.  He said, “Party of no?  No, we‘re the party of hell, no.”

MADDOW:  See, if this is how it‘s going to be, the lead-up to the November elections is going to be way more fun than I thought it was going to be.  It will at least be way more simple. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hell, no.  You can‘t. 

BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Yes, we can. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hell, no.  You can‘t. 

OBAMA:  Yes, we can. 

PALIN:  What‘s wrong with being the party of no? 

OBAMA:  Yes, we can. 

PALIN:  No, we‘re the party of hell no. 

OBAMA:  Yes, we can. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  It‘s hard to believe this is how they want the next election to be set up.  But they‘re really going for it.  She got huge, huge applause for that.  Gov. Palin also got huge applause for her best lines on energy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  And now, we‘re going to study, more study of the South Atlantic and parts of the Gulf of Mexico and a couple of other areas that - my goodness, folks, these areas have been studied to death. 

Let‘s send the White House this message that, no, we can save taxpayer time.  Save money and announce there is oil and gas down there.  And we can produce it safely and responsibly.  We don‘t need more studies. 

We need more action. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  No more studying.  No more stuff with the studying and the - just act.  Stop with the learning and the gosh darn studying and the reading all the time, and the figuring.  Always trying to figure stuff out.  Just do something.  Do anything.  Just randomly do stuff.  Stop thinking about it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Because energy produced in America is security for America.  And it is jobs for American workers, jobs that can‘t be outsourced.  Lets drill, baby, drill, not stall, baby, stall. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Now, if this part is confusing to you, you are forgiven for that because didn‘t President Obama just make an announcement that he was ending the decades-old offshore drilling ban, thus prompting every news outlet in the country to run the same brilliant and hilarious headline about how Obama was a new convert to the whole “drill, baby, drill” idea? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Today we‘re announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I thought - yes.  Isn‘t Obama actually a “drill, baby, drill” guy now?  Yes, he is.  Remember all the dumb punditry about how that move of his would make Republicans nod in agreement and side with him on energy policy? 

Yes, that didn‘t happen.  President Obama may be drilling now for sure.  But according to Sarah Palin, he‘s not drilling fast enough. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Let‘s drill, baby, drill, not stall, baby, stall. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Of course, it is possible that maybe she just wanted to say “baby” again. 

Joining us now is Dave Weigel, reporting now for the “Washington Post.”  He‘s covering the Republican conference in New Orleans.  And he joins us live from there now. 

Dave, thanks very much for your time.  Hope you‘re having a good time down there. 

DAVE WEIGEL, REPORTER, “WASHINGTON POST”:  I am.  I didn‘t realize how much Pink Floyd “We Don‘t Need No Education” there was in that Palin speech until you played it back.  I‘m having a great time. 

MADDOW:  Did Newt Gingrich really enter the hall to the streams of “Eye of the Tiger?”

WEIGEL:  He entered the hall walking slowly to the streams of “Eye of the Tiger,” working the crowd for two minutes.  And then, he made reference to how he was a historian, a teacher and the author of several books and a documentary producer.  I think his argument was that Obama was being too arrogant. 

MADDOW:  I understand.  Not mentioning the whole ousted by his own party as former Speaker of the House.  Are we hearing the loudest cheers at this event for the harshest rhetoric?  We think about this as the Republican Party trying to find their voice.  Are you getting any sense of what this new voice is? 

WEIGEL:  It‘s similar to the voice you‘ve been hearing for months. 

It‘s similar to the voice of the tea parties, really.  It‘s identical. 

It‘s still very focused on economics. 

And one thing that struck me is there was no mention from the stage - there weren‘t too many speeches.  But no mention from the stage of Bart Stupak‘s retirement.  No mention from the stage about John Paul Stevens‘ retirement. 

So they‘re still very focused on this idea that Gingrich, I think, articulated pretty well that Obama poses this secular, socialist threat to America.  That‘s the argument.  It‘s eschatological.  It‘s not issue by issue. 

MADDOW:  Is there - there‘s no mention of Bart Stupak retiring, no mention of John Paul Stevens retiring.  They are in New Orleans.  Has there been significant mention of Hurricane Katrina? 

WEIGEL:  Actually, none.  No.  And there are people sporting George W.  Bush buttons, and some of those shirts copied from billboards that say, “Do you miss me yet?” with Bush‘s face on it, which is not the least offensive shirt you can wear in New Orleans. 

But I mean, there is an argument here that‘s made by a lot of Republicans that any time Democrats try to bring up George Bush, they‘re just excusing Barack Obama‘s mistakes.  And you know, if you can say it here, you can say it anywhere. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Last question for you, Dave.  The main internal Republican Party news and drama that we‘ve been focusing on for the past few weeks has been, of course, over Michael Steele and his sort of troubled chairmanship as head of the RNC.  How is Michael Steele faring at this event? 

WEIGEL:  He‘s faring pretty well.  I mean, you don‘t hear a lot of rabid fans.  You actually heard people.  And I talked to people who think Sarah Palin should replace him as RNC chairman. 

But the people who have the power to do this, the members of the RNC - they don‘t like talking about it.  They‘re not going to get rid of him.  Fifty-eight of them have signed a letter saying they want him to stay. 

You need all but 56 to vote for removing him.  So technically, if they all stand by their word and there are no replacements, he‘s safe.  And when he shows up tomorrow and there‘s some anticipation about it, I‘d be surprised if he was booed. 

I mean, this is a crowd that believes any attack on a member of the party is a distraction created by people like - I don‘t know - you and me, for example.  And they‘re not going to pile on - right.  They‘re not going to pile on Michael Steele. 

It‘s unfortunate for them that the North Carolina party chairman went after him this week.  But, I mean, I talked to one of the members who criticized him and told him to resign.  That‘s it so far. 

MADDOW:  Dave Weigel, reporter for the “Washington Post,” having a very good time in New Orleans.  I can see it on your face.  Thanks for joining us tonight.  Have a great weekend. 

WEIGEL:  Thank you.  You, too. 

MADDOW:  All right.  C Street residents are not happy that everybody keeps talking about the issue of subsidized rent at the C Street house in Washington.  These guys say they are not getting rent subsidies.  They are paying what everyone pays for a place like that. 

That‘s an empirically checkable fact, isn‘t it?  Let‘s check. 

That‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  After addressing the impending resignation of Justice John Paul Stevens this afternoon at the White House, President Obama turned the bully (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to a far, far more sober subject. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Because mining is a tradition that‘s often passed down through generations, it‘s not uncommon to see an entire family choose this line of work.  And sadly, when a tragedy like this occurs, it‘s also not uncommon to lose almost an entire family all at once. 

I spoke to some surviving members of one such family on Wednesday.  This week, Tim Davis and two of his nephews, Josh, age 25, and Cory(ph), age 20, were killed in the explosion in the Upper Big Branch mine. 

Rescuers have reported that Tim and his two nephews were all found together.  Two other members of their families that worked in the mine were able to escape unharmed. 

Before he left for the mine on Monday, Josh wrote a letter for his girlfriend and young daughter.  And in it, he said, “If anything happens to me, I‘ll be looking down from heaven at you all.  I love you.  Take care of my baby.  Tell her that daddy loves her.  She‘s beautiful. 

She‘s funny.  Just take care of my baby girl.” 

Reflecting on that letter and the losses she endured in just one week, Josh‘s mother Pam simply said, “It is just West Virginia.  When something bad happens, we come together.  When something bad happens, we come together.” 

Through tragedy and heartache, that‘s the spirit that has sustained this community and this country for over 200 years.  And as we pray for the souls of those that we‘ve lost and the safe return of those who are missing, we‘re also sustained by the words of the psalm that are particularly poignant right now. 

Those words read, “You, O, Lord, keep my lamp burning.  My God turns my darkness into light.”  Thank you very much. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  President Obama has asked for a preliminary report on what went wrong at the Upper Big Branch mine, and why next week.  Meanwhile, rescue workers are on the fourth attempt to find four missing miners from Monday‘s deadly blast.  The blast killed at least 25 people.

Officials just concluded a news conference saying they were optimistic that they will know the fate of the four miners who remain missing by midnight tonight.  Earlier this morning, rescue teams were forced to retreat from the mine because they encountered smoke from what they think was an underground fire. 

Before aborting the search, five miles into the mine and 1,000 feet underground, the crew confirmed that the miners who were missing were not in one of the two chambers, air tight chambers stocked with food and water and oxygen. 

Rescuers are trying to make it to the second airtight chamber tonight.  They‘re within 2,000 feet of the chamber.  If the miners are not there, the chances of their survival are frankly considered extremely, extremely slim. 

Funeral services were held today for some of the miners killed in the explosion on Monday.  Among those remembered was 61-year-old Benny Willingham.  He was just five weeks away from retiring. 

As the mining community copes with this loss, the company operating this mine is under fire again for comments that its CEO made just last year about safety rules. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON BLANKENSHIP, CEO, MASSEY ENERGY:  It‘s very difficult to comply with - there‘s so many of the laws that are, if you will, nonsensical from an engineering or a coal mining viewpoint. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Mr. Blankenship‘s Upper Big Branch mine has appealed or is delinquent on 21 major fines worth than $500,000.  Massey Energy and other coal mining operators still owe the government more than $90 million in unpaid fines for safety violations over just the past three years. 

Coal may not cost much money.  But it really, really, really does not come cheap.  I‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Congressmen have been paying bargain basement rents to live at a swanky town house called C Street.  And yet, they were all claiming they pay fair market value. 

Today, we had a really, really good time checking out the actual renters‘ market in the C Street neighborhood.  The collision of denial and realty.  Maybe that‘s real reality?  Realty?  Reality?  Either one.  Next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)  

MADDOW:  A group of pastors in Ohio a few weeks ago filed an IRS complaint against the members of Congress who live at the C Street house.  The ethics watchdog CREW then filed an ethics complaint against the same lawmakers. 

The allegation of both complaints is the same.  It‘s that the C Street house, which is run by the secretive religious group, “The Family,” offers its Congressmen tenants rent at below market rates. 

The implication, of course, is that the difference between what the tenants are paying and what the landlord could reasonably demand represents a subsidy which is a gift or a contribution.  And the public should know who is donating what to our elected officials. 

It ought to fit the rules of what you‘re allowed to gift to an elected official.  And frankly, those elected officials ought to be paying taxes on it as income. 

It has been reported and not refuted that a room in C Street, a room in the well-appointed luxury building plus amenities including maid service just a short walk from the Capitol is being charged to these members of Congress at a rate of $950 a month and it was as recent as last year. 

Tennessee Congressman Zach Wamp is the latest C Street resident to react with indignation to the charge that his rent at C Street is anything but totally aboveboard. 

Mr. Wamp told a hometown news service called “The Tennessee Report,” quote, “It‘s a totally bogus claim.  To allege we‘re not paying market value is simply not analyzing the market.  It is the most ridiculous allegation and claim that I have seen.”

Simply not analyzing the market, he says.  Analyzing the - how could one do that nowadays anyway?  The Internet.  I know - let‘s have a look. 

All right.  Comparing similar digs in the same neighborhood at C Street.  OK.  At Craigslist, you can find a one-bedroom English basement apartment and utilities on C Street for $1,750 a month. 

Now, you don‘t have to share a bathroom like the C Street guys do, but you also don‘t have lux common areas, conference base, maid service or interns working for you as servants. 

Also, English basement is a nice Craiglist-y way of saying this apartment is only partially above ground.  And for what it‘s worth, that‘s almost double the rent of what we think the C Street guys are paying. 

Let‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) analyzing the market, there‘s also this one you can live on C Street here for $1,420 a month.  That is only 50 percent more than a room at C Street as far as we know.  Of course, there‘s no maid, no servants.  And not only no other really nice rooms, but no other rooms at all. 

This is a studio, just one room.  In all fairness, we did just one search.  Our results are not comprehensive.  And thankfully, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas took the same defensive position as Congressman Wamp. 

He sent us his own research, showing what anyone can get for the same amount of rent that he paid at C Street.  And yes, you can score a room for even less than $950. 

For example, as Sen. Brownback points out, for $600, you can live in Bowie, Maryland, which is lovely.  But if you work on Capitol Hill, it only seems fair to mention that this apartment is in Maryland, in Bowie Maryland, which Google Maps says is roughly a 30-minute commute to the United States Capitol by car as opposed to the C Street house which is three blocks from the Capitol - three blocks.

For $650, Sen. Brownback also suggests you can live in a basement bedroom in Vienna, Virginia, which happens to be the last stop on that part of the metro.  It‘s outside of the beltway in Virginia, roughly again about half hour commute by car or the full length of the orange line in the metro system. 

The C Street house again, just three blocks away from work.  You could crawl there if you were drunk.  According to the Sen. Brownback‘s search, for $640 a month, you can also share an apartment with a stranger in Springfield, Virginia, which is again, outside the beltway, good ways from Capitol Hill.

And it should also be noted for this listing that, in this case, you would have to be a, quote, “an older woman.”  So there you have it. 

Thank you to Congressmen Wamp and Sen. Brownback for directing us to the data, to the hard, cold facts about whether or not you guys have been paying market rent (UNINTELLIGIBLE), or whether you‘ve, in fact, been getting an unreported and probably illegal big fat rent subsidy - we‘re guessing - from The Family. 

We stand corrected.  I mean, we stand correct.  Nice try, gentlemen, but who‘s paying your rent?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Finally tonight, when he woke up this morning, he probably assumed that he was the most prominent member of government to announce his retirement today.  Thanks to Supreme Court John Paul Stevens, he was wrong. 

Congressman Bart Stupak made himself famous in the past year for almost derailing health reform.  Today, at a press conference, in his North Michigan district, the Democrat announced that he would not be running for reelection this year. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BART STUPAK (D-MI):  Last night and early this morning, I informed Democratic leaders and key supporters that I would not seek reelection to Congress. 

Now, it‘s time to spend a little more time with my wife Laurie who - we‘ve been married for 36 years and whose love and commitment has sustained me through the years.  With our son Ken and his family and my extended family and friends. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  According to the “Washington Post,” Mr. Stupak made the financial decision at the Bulter-Michigan State game at the Final Four in Indianapolis last weekend. 

Congressman Stupak served nine terms representing Michigan‘s upper peninsula and some of the lower peninsula, too.  And in that time, he argues, he‘s given Democrats a good chance of holding on to his seat. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STUPAK:  I think we‘ve tilted this district.  I‘ve seen the Republican field and, obviously, I‘m not impressed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Stupak says that threatening calls made to him following the health reform vote had no impact on his decision.  He also does not attribute his retirement decision to being named in the ethics and tax complaints about his former status as an apparently subsidized resident at the C Street house in Washington, D.C. 

Honestly, I was highly critical of Congressman Stupak‘s decision to hang up health reform based on his false assertion health reform would allow federal funding for abortions. 

I still believe that the Congressman was both wrong and disingenuous in that crusade.  That said, Congressman Stupak is a dedicated life-long public servant who is a respected and popular man in his district and among his colleagues for good reason. 

I personally and all the staff here at this show that has been so hard on him really do wish Congressman Stupak all the best in his retirement. 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again on Monday.  At that point, we‘ll be back in New York.  And the people of Bowie, Maryland, will have tarred and feathered me for mispronouncing the name of their town. 

You can E-mail us at rachel@msnbc.com.   We hope you have a great weekend.  Good night.

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

END   

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