'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
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Guests: Sen. John Kerry, Eric Alva, Rep. Patrick Murphy
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you for that.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We begin tonight with some big news out of D.C. Our long national nightmare may finally be over. The United States Senate, which has been the source of a weeks‘ long Republican-imposed logjam, is now freed, open, back up for business.
You will recall at the beginning of this month, Senate Republicans stood absolutely unified, all 42 members signed on to a letter proclaiming that they would block all other Senate work until the expiring Bush tax cuts issue was dealt with. Nothing else could happen in the Senate, not even the funding of the United States military until those tax cuts, that whole deal, was resolved, period, end of story, non-negotiable.
Well, today Senate Republicans got their wish. Today, the Senate, by an overwhelming vote of 81 to 19, passed that tax cuts package that President Obama negotiated with congressional Republicans.
No matter what you think of the substance of the tax cuts deal, and I will grudgingly bite my tongue at this moment, it is now done. The Senate has dispensed of that work.
So, on to the rest of the work that‘s been piling up over all these weeks, right? You know, like the nukes treaty, “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” repeal, the DREAM Act. The Senate is back open for business, just like they promised, right?
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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The voters made an unambiguous statement last month. They don‘t want lawmakers rushing, staggeringly complex, staggeringly expensive bills through Congress without any time for people to study what‘s buried in the details.
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MADDOW: Yes, forget what we said before. Forget what we put in writing about not wanting to do anything until after the tax thing. Now that the tax thing is over, we still don‘t want to do anything. Hey, look at the time. We‘ve got to go home.
Republicans in Congress right now doing anything they can to not do anything. Why? Because Congress getting stuff accomplished means potential political capital for President Obama. Republicans have calculated that any policy passing in Washington at all, anything at all, may reflect well on President Obama, and they are determined to prevent that from happening under any circumstances. The strategy to stop any legislation at all is evident in them filibustering every single major bill in the Senate, every one, making that the new normal.
But now, this week, the Republican effort to stop anything from happening, to grind the legislature of the United States of America to a halt, it‘s gotten a makeover. A seasonal twist, if you will.
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SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA: It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out, without doing—frankly, without disrespecting the institution, and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians.
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MADDOW: This is the new line. Getting stuff right now, getting stuff done right now would be disrespectful to Christians, because you know how holy December 15th is. It‘s, what, the ides of December.
I mean, if you squint at a calendar hard enough, December 1-5 could start to look like December 2-5, maybe.
Senator Kyl‘s sentiment echoed today by Republican Senator Jim DeMint, who said this of the Democratic effort to get stuff done before Christmas. He said, quote, “It‘s sacrilegious. What‘s going on here is just wrong. This is the most sacred holiday for Christians.”
Again, this is December 15th. According to Republicans, trying to get stuff done in the two weeks before Christmas or the week after Christmas is somehow persecuting Christians.
I‘m a person who, over the course of my life, has made up a lot of excuses to skip work, but in all of my creative laziness, at all my weird jobs, it never even occurred to me once to try to invent a fake religious holiday to avoid doing work.
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SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: As a Christian, no one has to remind me of the importance of Christmas, for all of the Christian faith, all their families, all across America. I don‘t think any of us, I don‘t need to hear of the sanctimonious lectures of Senator Kyl and DeMint to remind me of what Christmas means.
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MADDOW: One of the things Democrats want to get done in the next week is a spending bill to keep the government funded, to keep the lights on. It‘s a bill that was written with the help of congressional Republicans. But now that it is coming up for a vote, now that Congress might actually pass it—well, of course, we can‘t have that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS: I think this is an outrage. But more than being outraged, I think it demonstrates profound disrespect for the American people.
REP. JOHN THUNE ®, SOUTH DAKOTA: The bill is loaded up with pork projects and it shouldn‘t get a vote.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Loaded up with pork projects, shouldn‘t get a vote, loaded up with all sort of wasteful earmarks. Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, both of whom are outraged at the pork and the earmarks and the spending bill—pork and earmarks requested by themselves.
Best as we can tell, this bill contains 32 separate earmarks requested by Senator John Thune and 53 earmarks requested by Senator John Cornyn—a fact that made for an interesting turn of events once these senators opened things up today for questions. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REPORTER: The bill contains many earmarks that you requested. I mean, why are you opposing this bill when it includes things that you called for in there?
CORNYN: I intend to vote against those earmarks because I think the American people sent a message on November 2nd saying they wanted a new way of operating in Washington.
REPORTER: Senator Thune, I was looking at the list of earmarks that you made this year. It adds up to over $100 million. Have you asked that those earmarks be removed from the omnibus?
THUNE: I haven‘t asked that they be removed, but I‘m going to vote against it. Just like Senator Cornyn is.
REPORTER: But why haven‘t you asked they be removed?
THUNE: Well, those projects were projects that were vetted. Those are projects that we—I mean, I support those projects, but I don‘t support this bill.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: I support those projects, but I don‘t support this bill. To be clear, these Republicans are defending their millions of dollars in earmark requests by saying, well, we‘re going to vote against the bill anyway, so please, next question. Please.
At that point, the assembled reporters in the room smelled blood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REPORTER: Going through this bill, there‘s earmark after earmark from the both of you, millions of dollars in earmarks from the two of you and from other senators. How do you have any credibility on this? Why do you have earmarks in here?
CORNYN: Because we‘re going to vote against the bill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me just—
REPORTER: Senator, would you admit it‘s awkward for you to be standing here and advocating for stripping these out when you both have requested them. I mean, it appears like you‘re saying one thing, doing another.
REPORTER: Senator, were you wrong when you put these earmarks in before?
CORNYN: Karl, this is not just about earmarks. We voted for an earmark moratorium. We will abide by that. And we will reject any earmarks requested by us or anyone else, because that‘s what the American people told us they want.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys. Thank you very much.
REPORTER: Is that an acknowledgement that it was wrong to put the earmarks in the first place, I guess is my question. Was that—
CORNYN: You‘ve asked the question about five times and I tried to answer it to the best of my ability. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you!
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: What do you suppose Senator Cornyn and Senator Thune said to each other in the hallway once they managed to escape their own press conference there?
The bottom line here, though, is in order to obstruct and delay and kill a bill that Democrats are trying to pass, these Republican senators are now pledging to vote against it, even though they helped write it. They‘re claiming it is full of awful, awful stuff that they put in it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORNYN: We will reject any earmarks requested by us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “Requested by us.” How‘s that for a bumper sticker? Republicans are now attempting to prevent this bill to coming to the floor, even, for a vote. Republican Senator Jim DeMint threatened today to make Senate clerks read the entire bill out loud on the Senate floor, at a length of more than 1,900 pages. Mr. DeMint‘s aides estimated that could chew up 40 to 60 hours of time.
This is a delay tactic the Republicans have used before. House Democrats were forced to call in the services of a speed reader last year when Republicans demanded a 900-page energy bill be read out loud. In addition to threatening to have the entire spending bill read out loud today, Republican senator, Mr. Jim DeMint, also threatened to have President Obama‘s nuclear treaty with Russia read out loud, you know, just to waste a whole lot of time. Mr. DeMint ultimately withdrew that threat.
The START Treaty with Russia has been endorsed by every Republican bold-faced name in the national security world. But that‘s apparently not good enough for Senate Republicans right now. After delaying it two times already this year, Republicans are trying their hardest to delay it again, to push it of until next year, when the chances of it passing dramatically decrease.
Forget what we know is good for the country. Forget what‘s at stake in terms of our national security. This thing getting passed could be a win for President Obama, and we just can‘t have that. Nothing can pass.
Say the tax vote has to go first, then when it goes first, say nothing can come after it either. Make up a fake holiday that you need to be home for. Object loudly to the stuff that you personally put in to specific bills. Make everything get read out loud. That will take some time.
What‘s next here? Really, what‘s next? Stink bombs? Pull the fire alarm? Let the air out of all the school bus tires?
Late tonight, Senate Democrats managed to overcome the Republicans‘ objections on the START Treaty, clearing the way for the Senate to begin debating it tomorrow.
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SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We believe we should stay here as long as it takes to get this treaty ratified and we are prepared to do so. This is the time. This is the time and this is the moment when the United States Senate needs to stand up and be counted on an issue of national security for our country.
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MADDOW: Joining us now is Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. He is chairman of the foreign relations committee.
Senator Kerry, thank you for your time.
KERRY: Glad to be with you. That was a great intro.
MADDOW: It was a long one, certainly.
KERRY: Well, you‘re right on target. You‘re right on target.
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you about that. I mean, you can tell that my view is that Republicans are just trying to deprive President Obama of a victory here. Why do you think they are delaying this the way they are?
KERRY: Well, you know what? Rachel, let me to this. I want to get this treaty passed. I want to try to get the Senate into a different place over the course of these next few days. And so, I think, what I‘d really like to do is focus on the moment for the Senate.
We have an opportunity to make history. We have an opportunity to reduce the number of nuclear weapons pointed at the United States. We have an opportunity to increase our security, to make Americans safer by once again getting people back on the ground in Russia to be able to inspect what the Russians are doing.
We haven‘t had people on the ground for a year now. Every member of our intelligence community has said, pass this treaty. Every former secretary of defense has said, pass the treaty. Former secretaries of state, pass the treaty.
So, our hope is that we can step away from all of the stuff you were appropriately talking about a few minutes ago and get the Senate to rise to its constitutional responsibilities and get away from the partisan politics and do what foreign policy requires and national security requires, which is focus on the country.
MADDOW: The Senate vote to open debate on the treaty tonight was 66 to 32. So, as I understand it, you would need 67 votes to ratify the treaty.
MADDOW: Do you feel like when it ultimately does get voted on, that it will pass? That the votes are there?
KERRY: I am confident that we have the votes to pass it. And I‘m also encouraged by that vote, because I know several senators felt compelled to vote procedurally, what they did. And we had a couple of votes missing, incidentally. So, we would have been over 67.
But on the final vote, I believe if we give the Republicans a fair opportunity to be able to bring amendments up, and we will, and if we have a good debate, which the Senate can have, and I think we will—we have an opportunity to pass this treaty, which is important to our country.
And when it comes to this issue of Christmas, I have to say, I couldn‘t stop laughing about the ides of December. But leaving that one aside, I have to tell you that General John Adams, Retired Brigadier General John Adams, put it right when he said, we have 150,000 young men and women in uniform, in harm‘s way, around the world in two wars, and they will be on duty and doing their job on Christmas and on New Year‘s. He said the United States Senate needs to do its job.
The START Treaty, the first START Treaty in 1992 was passed in five days with 93 votes to six. The second START Treaty, four years later, was passed in two days with 87 votes to about—I can‘t remember—a few opposed. Finally, the Moscow treaty under President George Bush was passed in two days with 95 votes to nothing.
I mean, this is—we can do this treaty. We can do this business and pass a budget, and the Republicans need to step up and stop focusing on Obama and other issues, and do the job of our country.
MADDOW: Senator Kerry, it‘s those preceding votes on nuclear treaties that concern me so much about this one. It‘s a big deal if nuclear treaties like this are newly controversial. They have passed with so little controversy in the past. And I guess that‘s what I was getting at with my first question. Are there new and important substantive objections to this?
MADDOW: Or is this really just about partisan gamesmanship?
KERRY: Well, it‘s a little bit more than just that. There is some partisanship. But there‘s also a legitimate concern by some in the Senate about the modernization program for our weapons, in order to guarantee that the deterrent quality is maintained. And we understand that.
President Obama has bent over backwards, and in fact, has increased that budget by some 15 percent. When that wasn‘t enough, he went back and found another $5 billion. He‘s really reached way over the line to say to the Republicans, I‘m willing to meet you halfway. We have yet to see them come back and sort of fully—now, that‘s not true of all of them.
There are a lot of folks who want to vote for this treaty. And I believe we can keep a bipartisan atmosphere and ultimately get there.
But we need to see a little more reciprocity. In addition to that, we‘ve delayed this treaty at their request. I gave an additional six weeks between the summer break of August, when we could have voted the treaty out, and I said, no, let‘s give them the time they‘ve requested. I want to be able to really reach out and see if we can pull them together.
After that, we came back and they said, no, no, no, we can‘t do this before the election. We don‘t want to politicize this treaty. So, once again, we delayed it until after the election, thinking that people would come across the aisle and say, you know, you guys have been very fair, let‘s do this now.
Oh, no. After that, we don‘t want to do now, for whatever reasons there is. Over 1,000 questions have been answered, that they have posed to the administration over the course of the last month. Now is the time to do this treaty. And we can do this in the next days with a full debate, with time for amendment. We‘ve already factored many of their amendments and requests into the resolution of ratification.
This process has been as open and as fair and as accommodating as any treaty ratification that I‘ve seen in the 25 years I‘ve been in the Senate.
MADDOW: Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hitting the nail on the head in terms of the requests met and answered and still more delays tonight.
Sir, thank you for your time. Really appreciate it.
KERRY: Thank you very much, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: So, another landmark vote today in the chamber of Congress that does manage to pass stuff. The House today voted again to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” That‘s coming up.
Plus, why a single day in the first week in January might be the most important day in American politics since the inauguration of Barack Obama and the last election. That‘s all still ahead.
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REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: On this vote, the yeas are 250, the nays are 175. The motion is adopted. Without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.
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MADDOW: Despite rumors of its demise, legislation to stop the military‘s policy of firing people for being gay, that policy of the repeal effort is not dead. It is, in fact, moving ahead at full throttle. Since the repeal effort was detached from the bill that funds the whole military, it‘s been moving forward as a stand-alone measure. And today, that stand-alone measure passed the House. It‘s now headed to the Senate.
Meanwhile, though, the new commandant of the Marine Corps continues to do everything that he can to try to block the civilian decision-making process that is now underway in Washington.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GEN. JAMES F. AMOS, MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT: Mistakes or inattention or distractions cost Marines lives. That‘s the currency of this fight. I don‘t want to lose any Marines to a distraction. I don‘t want to have any Marines that I‘m visiting at Bethesda with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Marine Corps commandant, General James Amos, speaking yesterday at the Pentagon.
Retired Staff Sergeant Eric Alva served with distinction in the Marine Corps for 13 years. On March 21st, 2003, at the start of the Iraq war, Sergeant Alva and 11 Marines in his charge were traveling to Basra. They hit a land mine which broke Sergeant Alva‘s arm and injured his leg so badly the leg had to be amputated.
The president awarded him a Purple Heart. He received a medical discharge from the Marine Corps. Sgt. Alva was the first Marine, the first American, for that matter, who was injured in the Iraq war. He‘s also an openly gay man.
Joining us now is Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Eric Alva.
Sir, thank you for joining us this evening.
STAFF SGT. ERIC ALVA, RET., U.S.MARINE CORPS: Thank you, Rachel.
Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Sgt. Alva, the commandant of your branch of the service, the Marine, says repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is a distraction that will result in Marines being injured and killed. What is your reaction to that?
ALVA: You know, I didn‘t hear about his comments until this morning, even though he made them yesterday, and I was just really taken aback on how disrespectful someone who is the leader of the United States Marine Corps can talk about, you know, members in the armed forces who is aware of that there are gay service members serving in the Marine Corps, and all branches of service.
But what he did was totally, what we call in the military, conduct unbecoming. I mean, he literally took my Purple Heart and threw it in my face—I mean, to say that there are distractions and could cause deaths or even loss of limbs for people because of knowing that there are openly gay men and women serving in the military. I mean, this is just unbelievable, how someone can really act in a leadership role.
MADDOW: What was novel about his remarks, he has made remarks against the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” before, but to use the existence of wounded Marines as the reason why he, as commandant, doesn‘t want to repeal, was novel. And—I mean, not to press the point beyond where you would like me to press it, but as a Marine who was severely wounded in combat, is that—is it particularly hard to hear the argument go in that direction?
ALVA: It‘s very hard to hear, Rachel. You know, I lost my leg on the first day of the war, of course, when all types of action were moving forward as we entered the country of Iraq. So what he‘s stating is that was there inattention and distractions that caused me to lose my leg? I mean, what he is basing his, you know, own views on, or his own personal views and values, just like General Pace did, you know, in 2007, when he called homosexuality—compared it to adultery.
I mean, this is someone who I‘m waiting for to get that call from the commander-in-chief himself, like General McChrystal, and maybe taken into that Oval Office and then walk out not in charge of the Marines anymore.
MADDOW: Are you hopeful for repeal, given the House vote today, sir, and the prospect of this heading to the Senate soon?
ALVA: You know, I‘m very hopeful. I‘ve traveled back to Washington, D.C., over the year, working with the Human Rights Campaign, working with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network—you know, both good agencies of people who are on the ground, lobbying, who are educating, who are keeping the communication lines open to why we need to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”
We still have two wars going on, and there are very, very good patriotic men and women in this country, regardless of their orientation, regardless of color, their ethnicity or culture, who want to serve their country and who already have probably perished in the numbers of people we‘ve lost in Iraq and Afghanistan who just, you know, happen to be gay, but it doesn‘t matter. They were doing their job. I was doing my job on that day, on March 21st. And that‘s something General Amos can never take away for me or anyone else who opposes gay men and women serving in the military.
You know, as we say in the Marine Corps, once a Marine, always a Marine. And General Amos will never take that away from me.
MADDOW: Retired Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, thank for joining us today, sir, and thank you for your service.
ALVA: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you so much.
MADDOW: As we mentioned earlier, the stand-alone bill to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” passed in the House today. The final vote was 250 to 175, 15 Republicans were among those 250 voting for repeal. That‘s three times as many Republicans who voted for repeal back in May when the House first voted on it.
Joining us now is the sponsor of that House bill, a former army paratrooper himself and an Iraq war veteran, Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman, Patrick Murphy.
Congressman Murphy, congratulations on this achievement today.
Thanks for joining us.
REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Rachel, thanks for having me back. I do appreciate it.
MADDOW: Let me ask you, before I talk about what happened in the House today—let me get your response as well to General Amos‘ comments, the commandant of the Marine Corps.
MURPHY: Well, let me tell you, Sergeant Alva was eloquent in his comments. And let me tell you something about Sergeant Alva. He‘s an American hero, and he‘s right that no one can take away his service and his sacrifice for our freedoms here in America. He is just as much a Marine as anyone I‘ve ever met in my life.
And I‘ll tell you what, Rachel, you know, the paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division in the Army that I served with back in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, they didn‘t care who you were writing letters back home to, if you had a boyfriend or a girlfriend. They care whether you could handle your assault rifle, could you get down into work, could do your job so we‘d all come home alive.
MADDOW: You have been able to get the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” successfully through the House twice in one session, which would be remarkable to do it once, you have done it twice. As it heads to the Senate, do you have confidence that this could happen? In terms of timing, it‘s really down to the wire now.
MURPHY: I do have confidence. And you know why, Rachel? There are Senate Republicans, folks like Senator Collins, Senator Snowe, Senator Murkowski from Alaska, and Senator Brown from your home state of Massachusetts, who have now come forward, advocating the time now to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”
Now, we need to get after it in the Senate. I‘m confident they‘re going to do it. I understand that they must be celebrating festivus or something, that they can‘t do any other work, but the reality of it is this: we need to make sure we‘re doing everything we can for our heroes in harm‘s way. Now is not the time to be kicking them out just because they happen to be gay.
MADDOW: Congressman, you were defeated in this last election. You had 47 percent of vote in your home district. Do you think the work you did on this issue hurt you politically? Was this a political sacrifice for you?
MURPHY: You know, I don‘t think so. But, you know, my dad was a cop and a Navy veteran. And, you know, he taught my brother and sister and I when we were young children, if you don‘t stand for something, you‘ll fall for anything.
And at the end of the day, you know, I have two little kids, Maggie Murphy and Jack Murphy at home, and they‘re in college in about 20 years from now. I want them to be proud of what their daddy fought for when he had the time, the four years in Congress, to fight for our values.
MADDOW: Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, thank you so much for joining us tonight, sir. I hope—I hope and expect we‘ll be seeing you again soon.
MURPHY: Thanks, Rachel. Thanks for always having me on. I appreciate it. And you‘re a great American still.
MADDOW: Thank you. You‘re the only person who ever tells me that, but I laugh it up every time you do.
MURPHY: And happy festivus.
MADDOW: Happy festivus. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
Coming up on “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell tonight, Meghan McCain will be on. You want to see this. Meghan McCain reacting to today‘s vote on “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” Her dad, probably the single most importantly reason “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” hasn‘t been repealed yet.
Coming up on this show: a live forensic breakdown of the new information we just got about an underhanded, disreputable, vile, shameful cheating incident, that it turns out is really fun to reenact with the people who you work with.
Please stay with us.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Congressman Patrick Murphy, who I just interviewed here on this show, will not be returning to Washington when the new Congress convenes next month. Mr. Murphy, a paratrooper and army veteran who served in the Iraq war, the first Iraq war vet to serve in Congress, he chose to spend some of his political capital in Washington working very hard to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”
And it worked. With his dogged leadership, the House voted decisively twice now to repeal the policy.
The log cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group, rewarded Congressman Murphy for his indefatigable leadership against “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” by endorsing his opponent in the last election. His opponent was former Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, who spent the campaign cocooned in the understanding that he‘d consider repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” someday, maybe, hey, what‘s the rush?
In November, after Republicans won control of the House by defeating people like Patrick Murphy, the log cabin Republicans issued a statement welcoming the new Republican majority made up of people like the replacement for the gay rights hero and champion who they worked to defeat.
If you have ever wondered how it is that the American public keeps getting more and more positive about gay rights, but gay actual rights, policy that affects gay people lags decades behind that public acceptance, this is why. Behold what‘s supposed to be a gay rights movement siding against Congressman Patrick Murphy. It‘s astonishing.
MADDOW: Is it your sense that your caucus, the Democrats in the Senate, are willing to look at reining in the filibuster through a rules change, doing something else to break this supermajority stranglehold?
SEN. SHERROD BROWN, (D) OHIO: This is a dysfunctional set of rules. It wasn‘t all that dysfunctional—well, it was dysfunctional in the ‘50s and ‘60s on civil rights, but they broke that, finally, progressives did, and moved the country forward. We haven‘t been able to with nearly the regularity that we‘d like to.
And we‘re the only democratic country in the world, I think, that has this supermajority requirement to change the status quo. And the status quo always protects the most affluent and the most privileged. That‘s why it‘s so important to change these rules so ultimately a majority actually would rule in this country.
MADDOW: You have proposed making what happens in the Senate more like what we imagine when we think of the filibuster.
SEN. TOM UDALL, (D) NEW MEXICO: We want a system that actually enables the Senate to debate and to tackle the problems America faces. It used to be in the Senate that if you were filibustering, you stood up, there was a physical dimension to it, that you when you became exhausted, you‘d have to leave the floor. That was the idea of the filibuster.
Now it‘s a threat. It‘s a procedural device. It‘s used as a weapon of partisanship.
MADDOW: Senator Bennett, I understand you‘re going to announce a wide-ranging plan for some congressional reforms, including some filibuster reforms. You want to sneak preview any of those for us?
SEN. MICHAEL BENNETT, (D) COLORADO: I think we should think very seriously about how to reduce the thresholds that are required when it‘s clear that a delay is the only thing that‘s happening.
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW, (D) MICHIGAN: I would love to change the 60-vote rule and filibuster rule.
MADDOW: When I look at that graph that I showed in the entry here of the filibuster, it makes me think, hey, this need to be fixed. Hey, this is a problem, it‘s being abused. Does it make you feel that way too?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
MADDOW: Does it make people in the Senate generally feel that way?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Especially the newer senators who have just come in, who aren‘t steeped in the tradition of this wonderful filibuster. We see it as a problem.
MADDOW: So you would support rules around the filibuster so there wouldn‘t be a 60-vote threshold for every vote?
SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: That‘s right, not for every vote. We‘ll have to change some of the rules. They have abused the rules. You can‘t have 60 votes be the vote of the day. It‘s never been that way before.
MADDOW: Noticing a theme here? Needing a giant supermajority to pass anything through the Senate is where Washington is most broken right now. Yes, there are a lot of weak links in that particular chain, but this is the weakest one. This is where our ability to fix the problems we have as a country has died.
But it can be fixed. The idea of fixing what‘s broken in the Senate is very popular when you ask senators about it. Even Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has the most power of anyone to do anything about it, says he thinks this should be fixed.
Out of all the senators I‘ve asked about it in the past more than a year, the only senator who said, no, the filibuster should not be reformed, was Chris Dodd. And Chris Dodd is now retiring.
What is brewing in the background right now is majority rule means nothing, and as Washington spends another day falling apart is this idea that maybe it is time to fix the thing that‘s most broken in Washington. Maybe it‘s time to fix the Senate.
There are very few problems in American politics that can be fixed with one vote on one day on one issue. But on the first day of the new congress, if 51 senators vote to change the rules of the Senate, then the Senate can be unbroken. They can stop the “it automatically takes 60 votes to pass anything” situation that has held true for the past four years in that institution.
They can only make the rules change on the first day of the Congress. They‘ve got one shot at it on one day. There is a very small and specific window for getting it done.
There are three weeks between now and the date on which they would have to vote, January 5th, the only date on which they‘d be allowed to vote on the single biggest problem in American politics. Only 21 days left to find out if they‘re going to fix the weakest link in the chain, they need 51 votes to do it, or if they‘re going to just leave it be for another two years.
Set your watch, January 5th, tick-tock.
MADDOW: One of the stories we wanted to cover for tonight‘s show created a copyright problem for our company. We‘ve been warned by the lawyers that the people who filmed the news story in question, the people who filmed the incident who made news, will not allow us to show the tape of the incident, even as fair use, even as part of our news coverage.
So thanks to the lawyers, we cannot show you what happened. We can‘t show it to you in real life. So we instead will very inexpertly act it out for you. I skipped rehearsals. We will see how this goes. I think it‘s going to be a disaster. It‘s coming up.
MADDOW: Today in cheating. There‘s a very interesting story in the sports world right now about cheating, about some flamboyant, over the top, dude really did that, I can‘t believe it, cheating.
I would like to show you the cheating in question, it is on tape. But because the cheating happened in a professional football game and the professional football league I shall not name, but whose initials are NFL, because they get very proprietary about anybody using their footage, I cannot roll tape to show you the cheating happening.
Here‘s the next best thing, significantly cheaper, it turns out.
So the New York Jets are hosting the Miami Dolphins. They are behind, it‘s the third quarter, the Dolphins punted the ball and a Dolphins player ran at full speed all the way down the field to cover the punt to try to tackle the Jet who caught the punt. The Dolphin‘s guy is running, running, running along the sideline until, oh, my god! The Dolphin is down!
In the real play, the Dolphins guy stayed down for a while a muscle spasm, but he was OK. Why did he fall in that dramatic way? Was the depiction too fast or too violent for you to see? Let‘s show it to you again in instant replay. Again, this is fake instant replay.
The Dolphins player is running, running, running in slo-mo now.
And then what happens? It‘s a coach from the other team sticking out his knee and tripping the nice man who plays for the Dolphins who is portrayed here by Jimmy Smith. See that here with the tele-strator? The Dolphin is running along the sideline, which he‘s allowed to do, and here‘s the Jets‘ strength coach with a huge dose of weak-sauce sticking his knee out to trip an opposing player, very bad form.
So originally that coach from the Jets, who sadly looks nothing like Kent and is probably wearing the exact expression right now, he was fined $25,000, suspended for the rest of the Jets‘ season all the way through their inevitable loss in the playoffs.
The coach was very publicly contrite. He called what he did a, quote, “total lapse in judgment.” That makes it sounds like it was a spur of the moment thing, right? Wrong. We now know as of today it was not only cheating, it was cold-blooded cheating. It was premeditated.
These other people standing here, they are apparently inactive Jets players that the cheating coach told to line up like a wall along the sideline. That is against NFL rules, and it, of course, made it much easier for the coach to trip the dude.
The “Newark Star Ledger” reporting today that the suspension of the Jets‘ strength and conditioning coach just got worse. It is now an indefinite suspension, but he‘s still not fired. Seriously? He‘s still not fired? Seriously? Maybe we‘ll have a new acting out the cheating opportunity for you soon, though, if this one keeps unfolding. You guys are awesome. Well done.
MADDOW: When Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the house, she started a program called “Green the Capitol” designed to make the actual physical building in which Congress meets more energy efficient. A report released on the program in April said it cut the Capitol‘s energy bills by about 20 percent.
Republicans are about to take over the House. This outrage cannot stand. They want to stop the Capitol from being more energy efficient. A senior Republican on the appropriations committee telling the “Washington Post,” quote, I definitely think the “Green the Capitol” program is a target for cuts. I don‘t know how much of it is puff without substance and how much of it is really consequential energy reduction.
So the “Green the Capitol” program is going to get cut because Republicans don‘t know how much it reduces energy consumption. There was a really informative report about that that came out in April. Cut energy bills by 20 percent. It‘s in the report.
To be fair, Republicans also say they are sick of biodegradable forks. The incoming Republican sheriff telling the “Washington Post,” quote, “I‘ve had more complaints about the utensils than any other single thing.” Apparently the forks break and the knives don‘t cut very well.
So the new Republican agenda for taking over the House includes an advanced planned, press released, multiple media source effort to replace their own cafeteria‘s subpar utensils.
The reason they‘re going after the forks, the reason they are inexplicable scapegoating an energy efficient program that works? They‘re announcing this in advance as one of their priorities. The reason they‘re doing this is because the “Green the Capitol program,” you know as well as I do, “sounds lame and liberal and hippie.”
So this is a perfect microcosm of the way Republicans are governing right now. Democrats have been all excited that Republicans taking over the House means they would have to take responsibility for the serious work law making and running the country. What they actually plan to do is change the forks in the cafeteria to demonize those horrible liberal forks.
They have not taken over yet, but when they do, when Congress comes back after the new year, the things Republicans have promised to do follow a very strict set of culture war guidelines. Each new idea from the Republicans will do one of two things. It will either make a sweeping or symbolic point of fiscal responsibility or it will use proposals and moral or social issues to divide people, to convince some Americans that they‘re the real Americans and hat other Americans are their enemies.
So of course they‘re talking about ditching the Green the capitol program. Sure, may cost a comparatively teenie-tiny amount of taxpayer money to carry out and it cuts the energy bills by 20 percent. But aren‘t those biodegradable forks the most horrible leftwing thing you heard of? Real Americans don‘t use biodegradable forks.
Speaker to be John Boehner also wants every House member to cut their office budget by five percent, a classic, totally symbolic fiscal gesture.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I‘m going to cut my budget, my leadership budget five percent. I‘m going to cut al the leadership budgets by five percent. I‘m going to cut every committee‘s budget by five percent. And every member is going to see a five percent reduction in their allowance. All together, that‘s $25 million, $30 million that likely would be one of the first votes we cast.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, but you admit that‘s not very much money?
BOEHNER: We have to start some, where and we‘re going to start there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We‘re trimming our allowance. Yes, of course, we know it‘s not very much money. If it were real money it wouldn‘t be a useless symbolic gesture, and then we wouldn‘t be proposing it.
Republicans are also talking about the little amount of money they could save by defunding National Public Radio, something they tried and failed to do in November. Talking about defunding NPR is an agenda item that does double culture war duty. It is an almost completely symbolic way to talk about saving money, and it‘s a great way to divide the country, to make some Americans, the ones who work for or listen to NPR and drink lattes and drive Priuses and stuff, use biodegradable forks, to make those Americans look like the enemies of other Americans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR, ® VIRGINIA: Eliminating taxpayer funding for NPR is precisely the kind of common sense cut that we have to begin making if we want to fundamentally alter the way business is conducted in Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Saving taxpayers millions of dollars annually.
REP. DOUG LAMBORN, ® COLORADO: This fiasco with Juan Williams really adds fuel to the fire.
CANTOR: The bias of the organization was exposed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Cue the cuts to Big Bird as well.
Another Republican culture war staple is, of course, artists, particularly gay ones ginning up art controversies to simultaneously rail about offensive degeneracy among us, the blaspheming enemy within, and to try to defund public support for the arts and humanities.
Now it‘s David Voinerovich. his work being shown at the Smithsonian causing John Boehner and Republican Whip Eric Cantor to accuse the Smithsonian of misusing taxpayer money. The Smithsonian not helping matters by throwing the late, great artist under the bus as fast as they could, removing his work from the exhibit that it was part of, even though the exhibit was privately funded.
And of course you can‘t throw a culture war without starting a fight about abortion. Enter Congressman Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. If that name sounds familiar it may be from the time he became briefly famous for his role in the C Street saga. C Street of course is the Congressional boarding house in D.C. run by the secretive religious group known as “The Family.” The house and the family are tied to a handful of the most interesting Republican sex scandals of the last year.
Mr. Pitts is also known for his connections to the family‘s work in Africa, specifically their work in Uganda—pause for dramatic effect. Joe Pitts was also famous in Bart Stupak‘s sidekick in his quest to hijack health reform as a way to effectively ban abortion for a large part of the population. That attempt failed. The Stupak-Pitts amendment was stripped out of the final health reform bill.
But when the Republicans take control of the House, Joe Pitts will be chairman of the House subcommittee on health. He tells “The New York Times” this week he wants to try again to impose those far reaching restrictions on abortion. In fact, he‘s already introduced a bill that would do that.
This is the Republican agenda. This is what they are floating in the press in advance of taking power as their agenda. Get rid of the environmental program on Capitol Hill, defund national public radio, get that gay, blasphemous art out of the Smithsonian, bar access to abortion for as many women as possible, and everybody cuts there allowance by five percent.
This is a culture war agenda—symbolic, inconsequential faux fiscal conservatism? Check. Proposals for social restrictions that hopefully serve as wedge issues to split Democratic voters in particular? Check. Listen to how Joe Pitts, soon to be the health chairman, talked about the Democrat‘s agenda last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOE PITTS, ® PENNSYLVANIA: Ladies and gentlemen, today America is under attack from without and from within. And when you see the mountains of debt we‘re putting on our grandchildren, our children and grandchildren, the bailouts, to so-called stimulus, cap and trade, and now Pelosi-care, this is an attack on America and our freedom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was about a year ago, Joe Pitts telling Americans that our real enemy is other Americans, that America is under attack from within from Democrats.
Next month Joe Pitts and the rest of the Republican majority in the
house head to Washington and they will fight the culture war they have been
setting up for the last two years, or in some cases for their whole careers
symbolic inconsequential fiscal issues that make it seem like they‘re saving money when they aren‘t really, and fundamental-ish social and moral crackdowns to turn Americans against other Americans, to make us see a degenerate enemy within.
This is what Republican are floating, what they are bragging they will bring to the new Congress, a great big new divisive culture war like we haven‘t seen since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
What remains to be seen is what Democrats will bring to Washington themselves to either fight that war or stop that war.
That does it for us tonight. Now it‘s time for “The Last Word” with Lawrence O‘Donnell.
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