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

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Josh Rogin, Victor Fehrenbach


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you.


And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.  We begin tonight with Ronald Reagan—with Ronald Reagan being subjected to a totally unexpected smackdown today in Washington.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  The importance of this treaty transcends numbers.  We have listened to the wisdom in an old Russian maxim.  Though my pronunciation may give you difficulty, the maxim is:

Doveriay no proveriay—trust, but verify.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You repeat that at every meeting.



REAGAN:  I like it.



MADDOW:  Trust, but verify.  Trust, but verify was not only Ronald Reagan‘s best-known phrase in Russian and his approach to negotiating nuclear arms control with the Soviet Union, it also became one of his signature ideas.  When people—when particularly Republicans want to pay homage to Ronald Reagan, and—oh, boy do they want to pay homage to Ronald Reagan, you hear the trust but verify thing all the time, right?


SEN. JAMES INHOFE ®, OKLAHOMA:  You all remember, President Reagan used to say, trust, but verify.  Trust, but verify.

SEN. DAN LUNGREN ®, CALIFORNIA:  I remember Ronald Reagan‘s very important admonition which was trust, but verify.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO ®, WYOMING:  I agree with Ronald Reagan, trust, but verify.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  We ought to go back to a little bit of Ronald Reagan‘s trust, but verify.


MADDOW:  Republicans love the “trust, but verify” thing.  They love it.

But today, Senate Republicans decided that they no longer believe in trust, but verify.  What President Reagan was talking about when he said that was a treaty he signed with the Soviet Union and said they would reduce their nukes, their nuclear weapons stockpiles and so would we.  And the deal—the key part of the deal, the whole reason that Ronald Reagan became famous for that phrase is that the Soviet Union wouldn‘t just get to say they were getting rid of these weapons, we would actually get to check to make sure that they were.  We would get to go look to make sure that they were doing what they said they were doing, and vice versa.


REAGAN:  This agreement contains the most stringent verification regime in history, including provisions for inspection teams actually residing in each other‘s territory and several other forms of onsite inspection, as well.


MADDOW:  Trust, but verify.  Trust, but verify.  That idea, that approach not only reduced the number of nuclear weapons that we had pointing at each other on hair trigger alerts, it reduced that number by about 17,000 over the past 40 years—it did that through essentially political consensus in Washington.  When these kinds of treaties that we have with Russia get voted on in the Senate, they pass by margins like 93 to six.  They passed by margins like 95 to nothing.

But this year, right now in Washington, things are different.

This is the year that the Republican plan on air pollution, that‘s called cap-and-trade, became something that Republicans are now against.

This is the year that the Republican plan of an individual mandate for health insurance became something that the Republicans are now against.

This is the year that the Republican plan for a bipartisan deficit commission became something the Republicans are now against.

This year in Washington, under this president, there is no idea that is too Republican for Republicans to be against it—if they think that being against it will hurt Barack Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This law failed by seven votes when seven Republicans who had co-sponsored the bill, had co-sponsored the idea, suddenly walked away from their own proposal after I endorsed it.  So they make a proposal, they sign on to the bill, I say, great, good idea.  I turn around, they‘re gone.  What happened?


MADDOW:  The latest iteration of this is on a huge national security deal, a huge national security deal that is a Republican idea, that Republicans say they‘re for.  But now that President Obama wants it, they are turning against it.

Again, the Ronald Reagan “trust, but verify” idea about us and Russia is that we two countries agree to reductions in nukes and then we go look at what they‘ve got.  We get to inspect their facilities, to verify what it is that they‘re promising.  Even if you‘re not afraid of the—what used to be the Soviet Union anymore, even if you‘re not afraid of Russia anymore, there is a massively important side benefit to this, which is that we get to inspect Russia‘s nuclear sites, which is where all of the experts in the field say terrorists are likely to get nuclear material if they‘re ever going to get nuclear material.

When the Soviet Union fell apart, their nuclear sites fell apart too in some ways.  And us being able to monitor those sites is part of the way that we have keep there from being a rip-roaring black market and nuclear material smuggled out of the former Soviet Union.  This is totally scary stuff.  It‘s also totally non-partisan scary stuff.

And when the last agreement we had with Russia expired and we couldn‘t keep going there and inspecting nuclear sites, everybody freaked out—for good reason.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, for instance, he warned ominously on the floor of the Senate that, quote, “For the first time in 15 years, an extensive set of verification, notification, elimination, and other confidence-building measures will expire.  The U.S. will lose a significant source of information that has allowed it to have confidence in its ability to understand Russian strategic nuclear forces.”

That was last November.  Jon Kyl saying he does not want this agreement to expire.  He says he wants there to be a new deal with Russia, says he wants to go back to doing this thing that we have always done.

Trust, but verify.  Reagan‘s big idea, we‘ve got to get back to that, says Jon Kyl.

But now, the fact that Barack Obama wants to get back to that too is enough to get even that specific guy, that specific senator, to block our country from doing it.

This past April, President Obama secured an agreement with Russia to get our inspectors back in there, another start to nuclear arms treaty.  All the Senate had to do was ratify it, sign off on it.  Did that happen? 

No, no, no, no.

Back then, Republicans said that the deal couldn‘t even be considered before the August recess.  The August recess came and gone, and then, no, no, no, no—we can‘t ratify it, they said, before the midterm elections.  Now, the midterm elections have come and gone.

Jon Kyl, now can we ratify it?  You say it is so awful we don‘t have an agreement with Russia on this.  You want to make sure we have this agreement.  It‘s awful but it‘s been allowed to expire.  OK, Jon Kyl, now can we do this?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The treaty was dealt a serious blow Tuesday when a key Republican, Senator Kyl of Arizona, said he wanted to push the vote to next year when it would require more Republicans to support for it to pass.


MADDOW:  Next year.  When everybody acknowledges it‘ll be much harder to pass.  After 29 meetings, phone calls, briefings, or letters involving Mr. Kyl or his staff, the White House said they thought they had given him everything he wanted.

After Jon Kyl himself lamented about how this thing wasn‘t done and how important it was to the country, Senator Kyl now tells reporters he doesn‘t think it can happen now.

You know, during the fight over health reform, Republican Senator Jim DeMint—on a conference call with political supporters, Jim DeMint let the cat out of the bag about the Republican Party strategy on health reform.


SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  If we‘re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo.  It will break him.


MADDOW:  That was not a substantive argument against health reform on its merits, it was the argument that if we can stop him that will be harmful to the president.  And so, that itself is reason enough to stop it.

Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate has now reiterated multiple times what his number one goal is for Republicans in Washington now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Over the next two years, he says, quote, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”


MADDOW:  His number one goal is not jobs.  His number one goal is not the economy.  His number one goal is not anything to do with any specific policy.  The number one goal—the goal that is more important than any other goal is to hurt President Obama, no matter the cost.

Admitting to this type of strategy shows that Republicans have calculated that any policy passing in Washington at all, anything, might reflect well on the president—might create political capital for the White House.  They are determined to prevent that from happening under any circumstances.

Forget policy, forget what you‘re supposedly for, forget your own ideas that you‘re on the record supporting or even proposing—nothing can pass.  No matter what the country needs, no matter what you believe the country needs.  Nothing can pass in Washington because something passing, something getting done might have a side effect, a horrible side effect of making Barack Obama look not bad for a second.

If you are a Republican who cares about policy, this is sort of a moment of truth.  Republican Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, the ranking senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cares about this whole “inspecting the nuclear facilities” thing a lot.  He cares about locking down loose nukes.  He cares about that whole “smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud” thing, but he cares about it for real.

And today, Senator Dick Lugar went after his own party in almost astonishing terms over their decision to block this.  He said Republican, Senator Dick Lugar says that Democrats should call his own party‘s bluff and bring the treaty up for a vote right now.  He says members of his own party are shirking their duty to protect America‘s national security.

Quote, “Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty.  Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now.”

Joining us now is Josh Rogin.  His writes “The Cable” column at “Foreign Policy” magazine.  His article about Senator Richard Lugar‘s discontent with his fellow Republicans appeared today.

Mr. Rogan, thanks very much for coming on the show.


MADDOW:  How much turmoil is this debate causing among Republicans? 

What was Senator Lugar‘s level of frustration today?

ROGAN:  Well, Senator Lugar is one of the few remaining elder statesmen left in the Senate and as such he usually conducts himself with enormous tact and caution when talking about Senate business especially about his own party.  Today was sort of a sharp divergence from that in what can only be seen as his deep frustration with the way that his party and the leadership is handling this treaty.  There‘s no doubt he‘s been frustrated for a long time, and he just decided to voice it today.

The bottom line is that the administration, its supporters in the Senate, including Senator Lugar, are running out of options.  They‘re running out of time.  They know that if this treaty is delayed until next year, that could be a nightmare scenario for the treaty.  And as such, Senator Lugar is sounding the alarm.  And it remains to be seen whether or not that will have an effect on moving this issue forward.

MADDOW:  Well, what is Senator Lugar‘s explanation for why Republican leadership don‘t want their members to vote on this?

ROGIN:  You know, in an unusual candid way, he said very clearly that the Senate Republican leadership does not want to put its rank-and-file members in the position of taking a tough vote if they don‘t absolutely have to.  And they feel they don‘t absolutely have to.

What‘s going on behind the scenes here is that there‘s a concerted effort among the far-right groups in the party, including the new lobbying group Heritage Action for America and some Tea Party groups, including Liberty Central, which used to be run until recently by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to demonize the treaty and attack and target senators who, including Republican senators, including Jon Kyl, who may be inclined to vote for the treaty.

So, as these senators look towards their 2012 runs in fear of primary challenges from the right, they would rather just not weigh in and give their opponents something to accuse them of endangering national security in the future.

MADDOW:  Is it true that if this treaty is not ratified, we are in a situation where inspections that we would otherwise be doing of Russian nuclear sites don‘t happen?  Right now, inspectors that we used to have there under the old START treaty that expired aren‘t happening.  And that‘s been true for about a year, right?

ROGIN:  Exactly.  Since the last treaty expired, December 5, we‘ve had zero inspectors on the ground.  There‘s a good faith debate over how important that is.  But the bottom line is that some inspectors are better than none, and a lot of inspectors are better than some.  And right now, we have zero.

So, as long as this goes on, the less we know.  Of course, there are other ways of monitoring Russian nuclear activities, but this would be a great one.


ROGIN:  But that‘s more important here is that this was supposed to be the first item in a whole series of arms control efforts by the Obama administration.  And this is supposed to be the low-hanging fruit.  If they can‘t get this one done, it spell doom for the rest of the administration‘s arm control agenda going forward and takes a huge bite out of Obama‘s promise to reset relations to Russia and it hurts Obama‘s credibility in negotiating any future treaties with any other countries around the world.

MADDOW:  Which is sort of a key part of American power.

Josh Rogin, writer for “Foreign Policy‘s” daily Web column, “The Cable”—Josh, I really enjoy your work.  Thanks for being here on the show.

ROGIN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  So, tomorrow was supposed to be the big post-election meeting between Republicans and President Obama.  Supposed to be.  But now it‘s off.

Did you hear why it‘s off?  If you did, you probably heard a lie.  You probably heard something that is not true.  Why you got lied to in the political press today—next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Still to come tonight, we just had breaking news on “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” that I‘ll bring you in just a moment.

Also, a whole lot of facial hair and its response in our office to the news today.

Plus, the fluorescent blue liquor.  A really, totally, dorked out moment of geek all to come.

Please stay with us.


MADDOW:  Here is the thing that actually happened: A little less than a year ago, back in January of this year, the president spoke and took questions and engaged in what was, by all accounts, a very lively debate with Republicans, with House Republicans at the Republican House conference in Baltimore.  Remember this?

The Republicans invited the president to this event of theirs.  The president accepted their invitation.  The whole thing was negotiated and arranged in advance.

During those negotiations about the appearance, right, the White House asked that the camera crews that were already scheduled to cover the president‘s remarks to the Republican conference, those crews be allowed to stay for the question and answer session that would follow.  The Republicans talked it over, they agreed in advance, and then, not at all surprisingly, because it‘d been negotiated in advance, the president did go to that event.  And it made for amazing television.

I remember this in particular because we launched into what was in effect special coverage here on MSNBC because it was such an incredible moment in television to be able to have this unscripted confrontation between the parties like this.  We couldn‘t help but spend most of primetime playing it and talking about it, even if I didn‘t have time to comb my hair that night apparently.

Even though all the terms of this event had been carefully negotiated by the White House and the Republicans together, it wasn‘t what you usually see in politics.  It made for some pretty intense and interesting TV.


REP. TOM PRICE ®, GEORGIA:  You have repeatedly said most recently at the State of the Union that Republicans have offered no ideas and no solutions in spite of the fact—

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t think I said that.  What I said was, within the context of health care.  I remember that speech pretty well.  It was only two days ago.  I said I welcome ideas that you might provide.  I didn‘t say you hadn‘t provided ideas.  I said I welcome those ideas that you‘ll provide.

PRICE:  Mr. President, multiple times from your administration, there have come statements that Republicans have no ideas and no solutions.  In spite of the fact that we‘ve offered, as demonstrated today, positive solutions to all of the challenges we face, including energy and the economy and health care.

OBAMA:  Tom, look, I have to say—that on that—let‘s just take the health care debate.  And it‘s probably not constructive for us to try to debate a particular bill.  This isn‘t the venue to do it.

But if you say we can offer coverage for all Americans and it won‘t cost a penny, that‘s just not true.  You can‘t structure a bill where suddenly 30 million people have coverage and it costs nothing.  It can‘t just be political assertions that aren‘t substantiated when it comes to the actually details of policy.  Because otherwise, we‘re going to be selling the American people a bill of goods.


MADDOW:  I remember that FOX News Channel that night got sort of uncomfortable and cut away from it in the middle.  But pretty much everybody else carried the whole thing live as it was happening.  That was a thing that actually happened.  That was real.  That was real history, recent history from less than a year ago.

Here, for example, are some of the headlines that ran about that televised event around the time that it happened.  Here‘s “The New York Times”: “Off Script, Obama and the GOP Vent Politely.”  Here‘s “The Washington Post”: “Obama, House GOP hold a wide-open exchange.”  Here‘s one from a Web site called “Politico,” that is widely read in the Beltway.  Their headline was, “As cameras roll, Obama faces down GOP.”

That was a thing that actually happened—a real thing.

Today, cable news all day was driven by a story from that same Web site, “Politico,” that was purportedly about that same real event but was completely made up.  I don‘t mean to say it was completely made up by “Politico.”  Quite transparently, it was made up by unnamed Republican staffers who were trying to inject a new anti-Obama story into the news today that didn‘t have any basis in fact whatsoever.  Those were the folks who made it up.  It was “Politico” that printed it.

In the story on the delay of a new planned upcoming meeting between

President Obama and Republican leaders, “Politico” reported late last

night, quote, “The roots of the partisan standoff date back to January when

President Barack Obama crashed a GOP meeting in Baltimore to deliver a

humiliating rebuke of House Republicans.  Obama‘s last-minute decision to

address the House GOP retreat and the one-sided televised presidential

lecture many Republicans decried as a political ambush has left a lingering

distrust over Obama invitations and a wariness about accommodating every

scheduling request emanating from the West Wing, aides tell ‘Politico.‘

Quote, ‘He has a ways to go to rebuild the trust,‘ said a top

Republican health staffer.  ‘The Baltimore thing was unbelievable.  There

were House Republicans who only knew Obama was coming when they saw Secret

Service guys scouting out the place.‘”

None of that is true.  I mean—I should be specific here.  I should be precise.  I am sure some unnamed Republican operative said exactly those words and that‘s why there are quotes in the article to justify those words being written.  But just printing something somebody said is not itself—what do you call it—news, right.  It‘s publicity.

And in this case, it‘s publicizing somebody‘s totally fake, untrue story about a knowable, reported on, real thing.

I don‘t know why Republicans want to delay their meeting that was planned for this week with President Obama.  I don‘t know why that is.  I can say with confidence and so can you that it‘s not because the president needs to regain their trust that he lost when he crashed their retreat in January, when he ambushed them at the last minute with TV cameras they didn‘t know were coming.  I know for sure that‘s not the reason the Republicans canceled that meeting this week because that never happened.

“Politico” did make revisions to the piece over the course of the day.  At one point today—check this out.  Check this out.  Here‘s the full, original, totally made-up quote from this unnamed Republican staffer. 

Says, “‘He has a ways to go to rebuild the trust,‘ said a top Republican

Hill staffer.  ‘The Baltimore thing was unbelievable.  There were House

Republicans who only knew Obama was coming when they saw Secret Service

guys scouting out the place.‘”

That, again, was a top Republican Hill staffer being quoted by “Politico” saying something that is patently, provably, knowingly, definitely, factually, empirically not true.  House Republicans did not only know the president was coming to their meeting when they saw the Secret Service showed up.  They invited him.  And the fact that they invited him had been widely reported for weeks in advance.

As Josh Marshall of “Talking Points Memo” pointed out today, the Republicans even issued their own press release, announcing that the president had accepted their invitation more than two weeks before the event.  So, there is no way Republicans—as this unnamed Republican source tells “Politico”—there‘s no way Republicans didn‘t know President Obama was coming to their retreat until they saw the Secret Service at the event itself.  It‘s just not possible.

So, when the folks at “Politico” today revised the article to make it less lie-ish after facing some criticism for this online today, they just dropped the second part of that quote.  And they kept the first part.  They kept the attack on the president that preceded the totally, provably, untrue thing.

Here‘s the revised version.  Quote, “‘He has a ways to go to rebuild the trust,‘ said a top Republican staffer.  ‘The Baltimore thing was unbelievable,‘” end quote.

They‘re now quoting the source that we know lied to them.  A source who we know is telling lies for the purposes of political spin.  And even as that has been proven by “Politico‘s” own editing, they keep in the spin.  They keep it in there.

This is Beltway journalism today.  And this is what drove the Beltway conversation today.  Republicans say President Obama ambushed them.  Republicans say Obama broke their trust.  Republicans also say they‘re fiscally conservative.  Republicans say they‘re cracking down on our national debt by cutting earmarks.

It is true that Republicans have been saying all of these things. 

That is not the same thing as those things being true.

In that spirit, I hereby declare that if there is, in fact, a coup in Madagascar today, it is to name me queen of Madagascar.  Also, this show gets higher ratings than Monday night football.  And General Electric promised everyone who works on this show a phony.

It is true that those things have all been said, I just said them. 

You can put them in quotes.  It is true that someone has said those things

that is not the same thing as those things being true.  There is a difference and it is really, really, really important.



MADDOW:  Tomorrow, in D.C., nine senators - Joe Lieberman, Mark Udall, Kirsten Gillibrand, Roland Burris, Barbara Boxer, Ron Wyden, Pat Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and Al Franken are all planning on making a big splash public in-person statement on getting “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” repealed. 

What‘s important about that, other than reminding us that Roland Burris is still a senator, is that eight of those nine senators are Democrats and the ninth is a Lieberman Republican-o-crat. 

Many of the senators are Republicans.  And right now, the Republican plan is to filibuster the entire Defense Authorization Bill, the entire Pentagon funding bill, in order to prevent the military from repealing “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” after it releases its study on the issue. 

Because Sen. John McCain has been the Republican point person on trying to uphold the ban on gay people serving in the military, because Sen. McCain is the one who says he will leave the filibuster of the entire funding for the military in order to stop the ban from being lifted, much of the political attention on this issue has been on him blocking repeal. 

The fact that his best campaign trail buddy and best friend forever, Joe Lieberman, is one of the strongest voices for repeal is just one of the difficult nuances here. 

But on the Democratic side, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today indicated that he might be willing to let the big Pentagon bill pass without the repeal of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” in it. 

Now, Carl Levin has said he is very strongly the ban.  He wants to get rid of the policy.  But here he is today saying, quote, “I‘m trying to get both done.  And if I can‘t get both done, I want to get one of them done.”

Isn‘t that always the way?  I stand with you, unless and until it‘s hard to stand with you, then I stand wherever I find it easiest to stand.  Isn‘t that always the way? 

But, Carl Levin‘s brave gesture today toward giving up got some very strong pushback from a very strong place, and now, there is some new news on this subject. 

A meeting at the White House late today between senior White House officials and advocates of ending “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” resulted in a call from President Obama to Sen. Levin, the president reportedly telling the senator he didn‘t want him to drop repeal out of the Pentagon bill and he didn‘t want him to give up on getting the repeal passed now before the end of the year. 

The liberal Center for American Progress released a statement after today‘s meeting that the president and Harry Reid in the Senate are both, quote, “committed to moving forward on repeal by bringing the measure up for a vote in the lame duck session after the Thanksgiving recess.” 

And this is the new news.  Sen. Levin responded himself just tonight, just recently saying this, quote, “I welcome Sen. Reid‘s announcement that he‘ll bring up the National Defense Authorization Act after Thanksgiving.  I will work hard to overcome the filibuster so that ‘Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell‘ is repealed and the Defense Authorization Act, which is critical to our national security and the wellbeing of our troops, is adopted.”

“I have asked Sen. Reid to make his motion to bring up the matter after my committee and the public have received the Defense Department‘s new report and following hearings that I plan to hold on the matter, which should take place during the first few days of December.”

Hearings on repealing “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” in the first few days of December - still with time to vote on it.  Is there a strategy at work here, an opaque, difficult-to-understand strategy, but still a strategy?  Is there really a chance that this happens? 

Is this the first glimpse at how it might happen?  A man whose own career hangs in the balance joins us next.


MADDOW:  Just as it looked like all of the news tea leaves were predicting a failure to repeal the “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” policy this year, news broke late today that President Obama has reportedly stepped into the breech to keep alive the possibility of repeal this year. 

Joining us now is a man who has a great deal at stake in this issue, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach.  He is an F15 fighter pilot, a 19-year veteran of the United States Air Force.  He is in the process possibly of being discharged from the Air Force under the military‘s “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” policy.  Col. Fehrenbach, thanks for coming back on the show. 


Thanks, Rachel.  It‘s great to be here again. 

MADDOW:  We know now at least a proposed time line, this late-breaking news, Sen. McCain reportedly demanding hearings on the Pentagon‘s study of repealing “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell”.  Carl Levin says he will get those hearings in the first couple of days of December.  And after that, they plan to vote.  Are you encouraged by this? 

FEHRENBACH:  I‘m very encouraged.  I was at the Senate today.  There were several votes.  We were able to sit in the Senate gallery.  We had hoped to hear some news by the time I leave Thursday afternoon. 

And on the train ride up, I thought I don‘t have much to say on the show since nothing happened.  But on the train ride, we got word that, late this afternoon, at a meeting at the White House with Sen. Harry Reid‘s senior staff and White House senior staff that Sen. Reid was committed to bringing up the NDAA in the lame duck session right after Thanksgiving with “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” repeal. 

So that gave me great hope.  And then, I saw Sen. Levin‘s statement.  So these are some very, very good signs today.  It‘s very good to hear that the White House and President Obama is actively engaged this time. 

MADDOW:  For as long as there has been a President Obama, you and other advocates have really pushed the president to take a more active role in getting “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” repealed. 

He says he is strongly in favor of repealing it.  It‘s a matter of whether or not he‘s doing enough to make that happen.  Do you feel like there is a - you‘re seeing a change from the president?  Do you feel like he‘s living up to his promises more than he was before? 

FEHRENBACH:  Very much so.  Again, at the meeting today, I understand is another meeting tomorrow.  We heard some public statements recently and even - I think it was last week - we heard Secretary Gates say not only is he for repeal, but he wants them to do it before the end of the year as well. 

So hopefully, we can move these - I worry about the time line on these hearings because the report‘s due out December 1st.  I wish they - as I understand it, the report is typed up and ready to go, release it now - that can give people time to absorb it. 

And hopefully, as soon as they get back from Thanksgiving, we‘ve got about a 10-day window to hold hearings right away and get us to a vote. 

MADDOW:  Do you think that if there is a vote, there‘s a prospect that it will pass?  There are some senators who filibustered the Defense Spending Bill before the elections in part because of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell” even though they‘d been at least flexible on the issue before.  Do you think that it could pass? 

FEHRENBACH:  I hope so.  You know, one of the most disappointing things that happened last time - not just the filibuster itself.  That, obviously, was very, very disappointing - was there was about 10 or 12 senators that we understand are committed to repeal.  They know it‘s the right thing to do. 

One of those is Sen. Voinovich, from my own state of Ohio.  I‘d hoped to meet with him a few times just to tell him my personal story.  Others, Snowe and Collins from Maine, Sen. Brown from Massachusetts, Sen.  Gregg from New Hampshire, and Sen. Lugar from Indiana - all Republicans voiced that they would support repeal. 

Some of them did have concerns.  They wanted to wait until the study was released on December 1st.  Well, we see the study is going to have some very good news in it.  So hopefully, we can get their votes this time around. 

One of the most disheartening things was that they cited, you know, politics and gamesmanship and procedures when they made their vote.  And I would love to talk with them.  Hopefully, we can have some talks tomorrow just to tell my story. 

You know, this isn‘t about procedure and politics.  This is my life.  This is 65,000 others who are serving right now in Afghanistan and Iraq all over the world in silence and in fear.  They deserve more than that, more than just quoting politics and procedure.  They deserve to serve in dignity and integrity. 

MADDOW:  I know that you‘re heading back to Washington tomorrow, and I think you deserve those senators being willing to speak to you. 

FEHRENBACH:  I hope so. 

MADDOW:  Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, thank you so much.  And it‘s really good to see you again, my friend. 

FEHRENBACH:  Great to see you. 

MADDOW:  Still on “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell, Lawrence will be interviewing Lisa Murkowski.  It will be her first live interview since her upset write-in victory in the Alaska Senate race.  That‘s going to be awesome.  I highly recommend you watch it. 

Coming up on this show, moment of geek involving caffeine testing and a whole lot of weird liquor.




MADDOW (on camera):  No.  Nobody‘s shaving your beard. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is she shaving your beard. 

WOLFF:  There‘s so much wrong with that idea. 


MADDOW:  Today was a very weird day at work for a very explicitly political reason.  I will explain when we come back.


MADDOW:  There are apparently only two things in modern America that happen in 56-year intervals.  The Giants win the World Series and someone wins a seat in the United States Senate as a write-in candidate. 

It was 1954 when the Giants last won the series, but they won it again this year.  And it was 1954 when Strom Thurmond mounted the last successful write-in candidacy for the Senate before Lisa Murkowski did it just today. 

NBC News now says Lisa Murkowski is the apparent winner in her write-in bid to hold on to her U.S. Senate seat after she lost the Republican primary to Joe Miller.  Murkowski is expected to declare victory in the race any moment now. 

She‘s also expected to be a guest on “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell here on MSNBC, immediately following this show - very much looking forward to that. 

When we last heard from Joe Miller, he was demanding a hand recount of all the ballots cast in this race, not just all the write-in votes, but all the votes‘ votes.  Mr. Miller is, at this hour, still not conceding. 

It should also be noted that the election results won‘t be officially certified by the state until the Monday after Thanksgiving at the earliest.  Still, though, the AP‘s called it, NBC News says Murkowski is the apparent winner. 

And that is huge news - huge news for the Senate, huge news for Alaska and also huge news for us here at this show because of one very specific thing - because of this. 

This is Bill Wolff‘s beard.  I can‘t tell you what a good time we had taking this show to Anchorage before the election to cover this Senate race.  Bill Wolff, our executive producer, did not shave while we were on the road on that trip. 

And he vowed that when we returned that, in solidarity with the people of Alaska, he would not shave until the people of Alaska had a new U.S. senator until this race was over.  Well, now, the Senate race is finally ending, and that‘s a big deal around here. 


TEXT:  Earlier today -

MADDOW (on camera):  NBC says she‘s the apparent winner. 

WOLFF:  I love NBC more than any other news organization.  

MADDOW:  AP called it.  We don‘t count on AP for Senate races.  We only count on them for House races.  But now, NBC has an apparent winner.  Do you think that‘s good enough? 

WOLFF:  Apparently, I can shave my beard.  And then my face will become a parrot again.  My wife said I do want to see what you look like with a mustache.  I think it‘s a sadistic thing. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  Are you going to do it right now at work?  Or are you

going to -

WOLFF:  Oh, we‘ve got to do it now.  I‘ve got a date tonight with my

wife.  So -

MADDOW:  NBC has called Lisa Murkowski as the apparent winner. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, mustache is apparent.  Mustache is the caveat. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s like an asterisk on your face. 

MADDOW:  It‘s an asterisk. 

WOLFF:  It‘s an asterisk.  Yes, I‘ll say. 

MADDOW:  All right.  So everything goes with the mustache. 

WOLFF:  OK.  Thanks, appreciate it.  Appreciate all the support.  How you doing?  How‘s it going?  How are you? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How have you been today? 

WOLFF:  I‘m Bill.  Very nice to meet you.  How are you? 


WOLFF:  I‘ve got a terrible-looking beard I need to -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, we‘ve got it. 

WOLFF:  I‘m very excited about this.  I‘ve been waiting a long time - three weeks.  They had this crazy race for the Senate in Alaska.  And so I kept on the beard until it was settled, and it‘s almost settled.  Although, not quite. 


WOLFF:  Oh, look at this.  This is already the best day of my life. 

Anything for my job.  It‘s all in the name of journalism.  Cold towel. 


WOLFF:  Oh, dear god.  Oh, you‘re not kidding. 


WOLFF:  You have done it.  Thank you so much.  That‘s horrible.  This is your fault. 

MADDOW:  Oh, my god, you look like such a used car dealer. 

WOLFF:  I‘d like to think of myself as a stereo salesman. 

MADDOW:  Stereo salesman.  That‘s excellent.  Actually, you know what?  The guy who you hired to cook at the ceiling of your van - that‘s what you look like.  I can‘t hear your voice (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  I can‘t even take it. 

WOLFF:  You don‘t see that every day. 


MADDOW:  I know - I know that I asked Bill to keep on the mustache because Lisa Murkowski is only an apparent winner.  It‘s an asterisk.  Oh, my god.  It‘s terrifying.  Do you hear a voice coming out of that?

None of us in good conscience could let him go out in the world, let alone on a date with his wife looking like Ron Burgundy from “Anchorman.”  So after an exchange of about 50 staff E-mails with pictures of Bill juxtaposed with mustachio wonders like Tom Selleck and Weird Al Yankovic, Bill went ahead and shaved the mustache off, too. 

Congratulations to Sen. Murkowski on her historic win and on performing the minor miracle of causing Bill Wolff to lose four pounds in five minutes.  We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  So today, the FDA put out a warning to four companies.  They put out a warning that really alcoholic and also really caffeinated drinks like these ones are not safe. 

Now, the FDA stopped short of declaring these drinks illegal.  But by telling the companies that their product is unsafe, they‘re essentially giving those companies about 15 days to get the drinks off the shelves before the feds start proceedings to force them to take these drinks off the shelves. 

Now, what the FDA sees as the problem is the mix of a lot of booze and a lot of caffeine together in drinks like this.  Drinking a can of Four Loko, which is the top-selling one of these high alcohol, high caffeine drinks, is drinking the same amount of alcohol roughly as an entire bottle of wine. 

Both wine and Four Loko are about 12 percent alcohol.  A bottle of wine is about 25 ounces.  One can of Four Loko is 23.5 ounces.  So drinking one can of this is the equivalent, in terms of the alcohol, to drinking a whole bottle of wine.  It‘s also equivalent to drinking about five-and-a-half cans of Budweiser - one of these.

But there is a bunch of caffeine.  Now, since caffeine is considered safe and alcohol is also considered safe - I mean, it‘s regulated, sure, but generally, it‘s safe.  Why is it that the combination of the two things, caffeine and alcohol in one drink, that that combination is considered unsafe? 

The argument is that when you drink alcohol and caffeine together, the caffeine essentially stops your brain from noticing from how hammered you‘re getting.  Your natural inclination to slow down and/or pass out as your alcohol intake goes up, gets counteracted by the caffeine buzz. 

Then, the caffeine buzz wears off before the alcohol does, and all of a sudden you‘re this guy.  So that‘s my layman‘s interpretation of the argument behind the FDA sending a warning letter on Four Loko and these other caffeinated booze drinks what went out today.  That‘s today‘s news. 

Here‘s today‘s moment of geek question, though.  Haven‘t we been drinking caffeinated booze forever?  I‘m from San Francisco, home of the Irish coffee, right?  Remember when we had the king of all bartenders, Dale DeGroff, here making Irish coffee on this show?  Heavy cream, sugar, whiskey and coffee?  Whiskey as in alcohol?  Coffee as in caffeine? 

Nobody calls that blackout in a footed heavy glass mug the way they call this blackout in a can.  That said, people also don‘t drink 24-ounce containers of Irish coffee containing more than seven shots of whiskey, which is what you would be talking about in terms of equivalent dosages between those two beverages. 

It did get us thinking, though, about booze and caffeine.  Like in many workplaces, we‘re always like sort of thinking about booze and/or caffeine.  But this time, we were thinking about the combination of them. 

These little strips are called D+Caf strips - D, plus sign, Caf.  I don‘t know.  They‘re test strips for caffeine.  They used to be marketed so you could check to see whether that waiter who assured you it was D-Caf deserved to be trusted when he said that. 

Now, these discontinued little things, these test strips are not marketed anymore.  They are not made anymore.  We managed to score some because that‘s the kind of thing we‘re really good at - scoring discontinued things that aren‘t marketed anymore. 

MADDOW:  But here‘s how it goes.  Take one of these little strips.  Here‘s the Four Loko.  It works like a little pregnancy test.  It doesn‘t give you like an exact measurement of the amount of caffeine, but it tells you whether or not there‘s caffeine in it, sort of. 

And this shows that it is definitely pregnant with caffeine.  We also get a positive caffeine reading on the Irish coffee.  So a bunch of stuff that is marketed as vaguely coffee-like or caffeinated that is also booze produces much more interesting results than these things do when you use these caffeine strips. 

For example, Kaluha - if you test Kaluha with one of these caffeine strips, you find out that Kaluha actually reads no caffeine at all.  Tia Maria, which is marketed by a lot of people as being sort of similar to Kaluha, actually does turn up a little bit of caffeine. 

Bailey‘s, which rumor has it, has some caffeine in it.  We got a negative caffeine reading.  On the sort of the adopted drink of one of the producers on this show, who shall remain nameless - Anthony Turrell(ph) - it‘s called cafe patron.  It‘s coffee-flavored tequila. 

With coffee-flavored tequila, we did measure some degree of Anthony Turrell‘s(ph) shame in here, but no caffeine. 

Astor Brand coffee liqueur, no caffeine reading.  Araku rum and coffee liqueur - this one we did not get a caffeine reading on.  Vincent Van Gogh, double espresso, double caffeine vodka - they market their vodka as being caffeinated.  And wouldn‘t you know it, on our test strip, it pops as - yes, it has caffeine in it. 

Allen‘s coffee brandy - Mainers drink so much Allen‘s coffee brandy it averages out to $10 per person per year spent on Allen‘s coffee brandy and it is not that expensive. 

The people in Maine drink a lot of this.  And it‘s sort of hard to get outside of Maine.  We were able to get a little bit of this today.  And sure enough, this actually registers mildly as having some caffeine in it. 

Now, what‘s the takeaway here?  There‘s other stuff out there that Americans drink without much fanfare that combines caffeine and alcohol.  The problem is not some inherently deadly chemical mix of two otherwise benign things. 

The problem is deliberately combining and packaging and sizing stuff in a way that ensures that when you use this product as directed in what is marketed as a single serving, you are more than likely going to be drunk to the point of illness. 

Also the point is that I really wish someone was still selling these little caffeine test strips, because once you start testing things for caffeine and you find out the weird stuff that it‘s in, it‘s totally fun.  But nobody sells them anymore. 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow night. 

Now, it‘s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell. 



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