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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Chris Jansing, Rev. Welton Gaddy


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m Rachel Maddow.  As we continue MSNBC‘s coverage of tonight‘s memorial service in Tucson, Arizona.

President Obama, you see there, along with Daniel Hernandez, the intern from Gabrielle Giffords‘ office.  The president just a moment ago speaking with Sandra Day O‘Connor, the former Supreme Court justice.

You see a lot of other familiar faces there, there‘s Attorney General Eric Holder, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, the FBI director, Robert Mueller.  President Obama and approximately 26,000 other people, both inside and outside the McKale Center at the University of Arizona tonight, to remember the victims of Saturday‘s mass shooting in that city.

If the first four days following the rampage felt as if they have been dominated by the suspect in this case, who he is, what might have motivated him to carry out this attack, if that was what the first four days felt like, this day, day five, saw the country turn entirely to the victims of this crime.

As we mentioned, President Obama leading mourners tonight in Tucson.  The city lost six of its own in this crime, 14 wounded, six killed.  A 9-year-old girl and a federal judge were among those who were killed in this crime.

All day today, outside the University of Arizona‘s McKale arena, students and hundreds of others waited for hours for a chance to get into tonight‘s service, waited for a chance to pay their respects.  The line stretching several blocks long.

The president was accompanied to Tucson by the first lady, by house minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, and members of Arizona‘s congressional delegation.  The new speaker of the House, John Boehner, was also reportedly offered a seat on Air Force One.  He, however, stayed in Washington.  He did not attend tonight‘s service in person.

“Roll Call” reporting that Speaker Boehner stayed behind to host an event, a cocktail party for the Republican National Committee, that party took place at the same time as the event in Tucson.  An aide to the speaker said that Mr. Boehner planned to leave that party, that event, before the president began his remarks.

Today was the day that Speaker Boehner was to have led a debate on the Republican effort to repeal health reform.  Instead, House members passed a resolution to honor their colleague, Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman from Tucson, who was holding that community outreach event that was the scene of Saturday‘s attack.

Gabrielle Giffords, of course, remains hospitalized tonight.  Her physicians say they are optimistic for her chances of survival.  In just a moment, we‘ll play the sound for you from president‘s speech tonight in which the president actually broke news about progress in Congresswoman Giffords‘ recovery—coming from the hospital tonight, President Obama departing from his prepared remarks to make those comments.

In Tucson this afternoon, President Obama and the first lady visited not only Congresswoman Giffords, but other wounded survivors at the University Medical Center.  And it was on to tonight‘s service.

Tonight‘s service, at times, managed to reflect the fact that it took place in a large sporting arena.  The cheers of the crowd resonating in the way they would at other types of events that usually held in that giant space.  But it also functioned as a thousand-strong support group.  Lots of people were hugging as they went inside.  Lots of cheering from the crowd, each time survivors or their families arrived. 

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who, of course, is the immediate past former governor of Arizona, she was sitting tonight with astronaut Mark Kelly.  Mark Kelly is Congresswoman Giffords‘ husband.  The president hugging Captain Kelly when he arrived a to the scene tonight. 

On the president‘s other side, the man sitting right next to him, probably the best seat in the house tonight, that went to Daniel Hernandez.  Mr. Hernandez, of course, the 20-year-old intern in Congresswoman Giffords‘ office.  He had been her intern for less than a week when he attended this event.  When he heard the sound of gunfire at that Safeway parking lot on Saturday morning, he ran toward the sound of the firing gun.  He administered critical first aid to the congresswoman until paramedics arrived.  Mr. Hernandez is credited with saving the congresswoman‘s life. 

On his other side, the president‘s other side, was former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor. 

And when Mr.  Hernandez was recognized tonight, I should say, he received a huge standing ovation from the crowd, political dignitaries included. 




Although I appreciate the sentiment, I must humbly reject the use of the word “hero”.  Because I am not one.  The people that are heroes are people like Pam Simon, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Gabe Zimmerman, who unfortunately, we lost that day, Ron Barber, the first responders, and also people like Doctor Rhee, who have done an amazing job at making sure that Gabby is OK, and those who are injured are being treated to the best of our ability.  Thank you. 


MADDOW:  I should say that Daniel Hernandez will be a guest, a live guest on “COUNTDOWN” later tonight with Keith Olbermann. 

As Mr. Hernandez, as you heard there, rejected the mantle of hero, so too did everyone inside the arena seem to reject politicizing the event.  As I mentioned, this took place in a sports arena and the crowd cheering at the event.  It was, I think, an important statement, ultimately, about the character of this event.  The crowd cheering, not just the arrivals, but mentions of everything from the Mexican heritage of the Native American professor, who led the blessing at the beginning of the service.  The crowd equally cheering, with equal fervency Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who has been a lightning rod, of course, for criticism of the anti-immigration law, SB1070, that she signed as Arizona governor. 

Governor Brewer, herself, has been fiercely critical and even confrontational with President Obama on political matters.  Tonight she was gracious and generous in offering the president thanks and recognition for his presence at the event.  Governor Brewer and President Obama representing nothing so much as a united front as public servants, and as political leaders, in confronting this challenge.  A circumstance politically impossible to imagine, but one made possible by the gravity of this tragedy. 

At times, as I say, especially at first, the cheering tonight was almost unsettling, because this was a memorial event.  But ultimately, the cheering crowds was almost as moving a fact of this, as were the sober and somber words that were said from the lectern.  Including, of course, from President Obama, a description of exactly what it was, a gunman‘s bullets interrupted that Saturday morning. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff, and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech. 


They were fulfilling a central tenant of the democracy envisioned by our founders.  Representatives of the people answering questions to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns back to our nation‘s capitol.  Gabby called it “Congress On Your Corner”, just an updated version of government of, and by, and for the people.  And that quintessentially American scene, that was the scene that was shattered by a gunman‘s bullets. 


MADDOW:  The president giving long, detailed descriptions tonight of each of the victims of the Saturday shooting.  This day, the service, of course, to remember them and to remember the families they have left behind. 


OBAMA:  And then, there is nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green.  Christina was an “A” student, she was a dancer, she was a gymnast, she was a swimmer.  She decided that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues.  And as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her. 


She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age.  She‘d remind her mother, we are so blessed.  We have the best life.  And she‘d pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.  Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing. 


MADDOW:  Arguably, the most moving moments in the president‘s remarks were those that were unscripted.  They came as the president described the scene today inside Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords‘ hospital room.  Listen to this. 


OBAMA:  Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the Congresswoman, many of them went to see on Saturday.  I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover, even as we speak.  And I want to tell you, her husband, Mark is here, and he allows me to share this with you.  Right after we went to visit, a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues from Congress were in the room, Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. 


Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. 


Gabby opened her eyes.  Gabby opened her eyes.  So I can tell you, she knows we are here!  She knows we love her! And she knows that we are rooting for her, through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey.  We are there for her!


MADDOW:  The president, I think, actually making news there with news of progress in the congresswoman‘s recovery.  Those remarks, as I mentioned, a departure from his prepared statement. 

The crowd at the event tonight coming to its feet again and again and again, as the president singled out heroes of the tragedy.  All of them who stepped up and stepped forward that day.  He told Daniel Hernandez that no matter that Mr. Hernandez did not want to be considered a hero, he would be considered one. 

The president saying tonight that a national conversation has begun.  He said, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems.  The president, deciding not to weigh in on the merits of those specific debates tonight, not at least in this setting, but he called the debate the itself “an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.” 

Of course, much of the national conversation since these shootings has been about not just policy and politics, but about how we as Americans debate those things.  How we talk.  How we debate.  How we fight politically.  And whether or not the tenor of our debates is at fault; whether it is connected to violence like this.  To that debate, the president added these comments. 


OBAMA:  At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far a too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do, it is important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we‘re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. 


MADDOW:  The president going on tonight to say that, “We can‘t use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame.  Let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

The president also saying, “It has been discussed in recent days their deaths can help usher in more civility in our public discourse.  Let‘s remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make the victims proud.”

Chris Jansing is at the McKale Memorial Center on the University of Arizona campus.  She joins us now from there tonight. 

Chris, thanks very much for joining us.  What can you tell us about the scene tonight, the crowd, the feeling there? 

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  What struck me so much, Rachel, is that the tone of that memorial was very much like what I felt over the last five days here in Tucson; that this is a community that is both sorrowful, and hopeful.  Obviously, they are devastated, understandably devastated by the violence that happened here.  They are asking, why?  It‘s a question that may never be answered.  But to have the president come and speak the words that he spoke.  To have Janet Napolitano, to have a Supreme Court justice, is in many ways a recognition that the country understands the depth and the breadth of what they are feeling here. 

But you also mentioned the cheers and the standing ovations.  And that‘s about the hope, that moment when the president surprised everyone and said that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes.  And you saw the first lady hugging her husband, and that moment, that really sort of crystallized that everyone here wants to believe that things can and will get better. 

It was a chance, too, for this community, almost 26,000 people inside and outside the McKale Center, to recognize their heroes, even if they don‘t want to be called heroes.  Daniel Hernandez, Patricia Maisch, to come together and say thank you in a way that they haven‘t been able to do so far.  There will be a lot more tears here.  The funerals begin tomorrow.  But the local newspaper had an editorial.  And they addressed it to President Obama.  And it started by saying, “Despite tragedy, this is a good town” and I think that this memorial tonight was a chance for this community to affirm that, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Chris, I know you have been in Tucson since the day of the shooting.  I know you got there on Saturday.  When you‘ve been talking with people who live in Tucson about what happens next, and about coming to terms with the enormity of this tragedy there, is the memorial service itself a useful catharsis, a useful point of closure?  Everything that is sort of imposed on the timeline at this point is artificially imposed.  There‘s no—there will be no other event as grave as the one that caused this tragedy in the first place.  But has this—has this memorial been a real point of community focus, as people are thinking about how to move on to the next stage here? 

JANSING:  You know, Rachel, “closure” is an interesting word.  And I don‘t know that I would use it in this context or any other when there has been such a devastating event.  But I had a chance to talk to Frank Keating today, who was the governor in Oklahoma City, when they had their devastating bombing of the Murrah Building.  And he said something that I‘ve heard from people here as well, that there is always a chance, at this stage, for when people have a sense of community.  When they feel like they‘re not alone, their city is with them, their state is with them, that they can, at least, begin so look for something good to come out of it. 

Now, they may disagree about what that may be, although I have heard many people I‘ve talked to talk about hoping this leads to a more civil discourse.  It may not lead to any agreement on issues that are roiling about, like gun control.  But I do think it is an important first step, a recognition of what happened here.  And the idea that there are so many people out there supporting them.  To a person, I will tell you, Rachel, and I‘ve talked to all of those people we‘ve called heroes, I‘ve talked to the victims, I‘ve talked to ordinary people who are grieving this, and they say they have felt the support of the American people.  And it is what this country is really great at.  And so in that sense, I think what happened here tonight is very important.  If it‘s toward closure, if that‘s the word you want to use. 

MADDOW:  That is one of the most heartening things I‘ve heard tonight, in a night that has been very heartening.  Chris Jansing, host of “Jansing & Company” which will continue coverage from Tucson starting at 10:00 a.m.  Eastern Time, tomorrow. 

Chris, thank you so much for helping us cover this.  I really appreciate it. 

JANSING:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  The McKale Center, in Tucson, is usually the site of University of Arizona basketball games.  Tonight it was the site of a massive memorial service attended by thousands.  More than 13,000 people inside the arena, more than 13,000 people who showed up to attend the event and could not get in were accommodated in an overflow venue. 

Our friend the Reverend Welton Gaddy, joins us life next as our coverage continues. 


OBAMA:  I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it!  I want America to be as good as she imagined it!  All of us, we should do everything we can do to make sure this country lives up to our children‘s expectations!




OBAMA:  What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other.  If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate as it should, let‘s make sure it‘s worthy of those we have lost. 


OBAMA:  Let‘s make sure it‘s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle. 


MADDOW:  An incident like the shooting in Arizona is, of course, first an emergency.  The crime must be stopped, the killer must be subdued and apprehended, the victims must be saved.  Next it is a tragedy for those victims specifically, and their families, for the survivors.  There‘s a reason why these faces are becoming as well known to us as Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  We honor those who lived through this, and who did not survived this.  We honor the people who were there, the people against whom this crime was directly committed. 

Today, with a resolution in the House condemning the tragedy and honoring the victims.  And, of course, at tonight‘s memorial service, the memorial service you have just seen in Tucson.  Today was the day set aside to honor the survivors and those who were killed. 

For the rest of us who had the fortune to not be directly affected by Tucson, an emergency and tragedy like this becomes a test.  For public figures, in particular, it is a test of whether or not they can get their eyes off their own feet, and up to the horizon, whether they can see past whatever‘s in the political foreground, to the big picture.  Whether they can ignore who‘s up and down in politics, and instead lead the whole country, and help the whole country, and earn their place in the public esteem by reconnecting us to the sources of strength that we can all call on, our shared values, the pillars of our democracy that endure in difficult times.  This is a test.  It is a hard test. 

Joining us now is Reverend Welton Gaddy; he is pastor of the North Minster Baptist Church, in Monroe, Louisiana, he is head of the Interfaith Alliance.  And he is the man we have turned to, on this show, again and again to talk about leadership and responsibility, especially in times of crisis. 

Welton, thank you for your time again tonight. 

REV. WELTON GADDY, PRES., INTERFAITH ALLIANCE:  Thank you.  Glad to be with you. 

MADDOW:  What is the most important purpose of a memorial like this? 

And did president Obama help achieve that tonight? 

GADDY: I thought President Obama was at his rhetorical best.  And when he‘s on, he‘s really on.  The speech that he gave was very personal, almost individual at times; it was also presidential, it was filled with reason and emotion in a proper balance.  He talked about the past and the future, he comforted families, he also tried to address the nation.

I thought he was very strong on the lines, and that he was powerful between the lines.  What he said was important.  What he implied in what he said may even have been more important.  Comfort is important in the time like this.  And he comforted the people, as Isaiah had called to be done. 

But, Rachel, there‘s a difference between comfort and healing.  And the comfort came tonight.  What‘s between the lines has to do with the healing.  And the healing process is not an easy process, it‘s filled with pain, it‘s filled with difficulty.  You have to lance boils, have you to heal sores, you have to take medication that‘s difficult.  You have patients that say, look, I don‘t want to do this any more.  But have you to do it, it takes discipline. 

And I think the president comforted, put his hand on the shoulder of these people, and of the American people, and said I‘ll walk with you, but the comfort is the beginning of the process, not the end.  He said, let‘s not turn on each other.  Right, but we have to turn to each other.  And when we turn to each other to talk honestly with each other, that‘s not easy, it‘s no easier today than it was before last Saturday.  I think what he did tonight was the right thing.  And it‘s still open for more discussion. 

MADDOW:  Welton, I wonder specifically on that point, the difference between comfort and healing, and that healing often implies some discipline and some difficult things.  I wonder if, I thought about that myself, when the president said, our task working together is to constantly widen the circle of our concern; so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

Widening the circle of concern?  Can you tell me your interpretation about that idea?  Arguably that may have been the one political thing the president said tonight, and I think it‘s a pretty deep political statement. 

GADDY:  I‘m not going to claim that I can interpret what the president meant by that, I think a part of it is let‘s get our focus on a larger horizon, and look at more people than those to whom we‘ve been listening, mostly.  Let‘s get outside our single issue, concerns, and advocacy.  Let‘s move beyond one political ideology and see if there‘s anything to be learned from other people.  If we‘re going to speak with other people, let‘s listen to them as well as speak to them.  I think it was, let‘s get off of the narrowness and try to look at the whole big picture of this government. 

MADDOW:  The Reverend Welton Gaddy is head of the Interfaith Alliance, pastor of his own Baptist church in Louisiana. 

Welton, as always, thank you so much for joining us. 

GADDY:  Rachel, may I say one more thing to you? 

MADDOW:  Please. 

GADDY:  I think the great symbol of the evening was not at the lectern, it was saying that Gabby opened her eyes.  And what I thought was, given what she‘s been through, if she opened her eyes, maybe we can, too. 

MADDOW:  Reverend Welton Gaddy, as always, Sir, thank you. 

GADDY:  You‘re welcome. 

MADDOW:  We will be right back.



OBAMA:  We may not be able to stop all evil in the world.  But I know that how we treat one another, that‘s entirely up to us. 


OBAMA:  And I believe that for all our imperfections we are full of decency and goodness and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us. 


MADDOW:  The president speaking tonight at the memorial in Tucson, for the victims of Saturday‘s shooting.  The president tonight, in his remarks quoting from Psalm 48 versus 4 and 5.  Eric Holder, the attorney general, also reading scripture, quoting from Paul‘s Second Letter to the Corinthians.  Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona, reading from the Old Testament, the book of Isaiah.  Not an overtly religious ceremony tonight but one with pastoral and religious themes.  There will be a live edition of Countdown tonight at 11 p.m., a special edition of this show at midnight Eastern.  Now it is time as always for the last word, with Lawrence O‘Donnell.



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