updated 1/28/2011 11:36:50 AM ET 2011-01-28T16:36:50

Guests: Michael Isikoff, Michael Steele

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, “THE LAST WORD” HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is up

next.  And former Republican Party chair, Michael Steele, is back for round two.

Rachel, I‘m not going to leave my seat.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you, Lawrence.  I will tell you that I was just in the makeup room, the green room, with all the people who work in there.  We were watching your interview with the rabbis there.  And as I left, I swear they locked the door behind me.

So, this cannot continue backstage here.  They‘re afraid.

O‘DONNELL:  These guys are the greatest.  Nothing to be afraid of.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Lawrence.  So much fun.

Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

This just in: leaked footage from the 2012 Republican national convention in Tampa, Florida.  Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT BUCHANAN ®, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Friends, this election is about more than who gets what.  It is about who we are.  It is about what we believe and what we stand for as Americans.

There is a religious war going on in this country.  It is a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.  We must take back our cities and take back our culture and take back our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was, of course, not next year‘s Republican National Convention in Tampa.  That was 20 years ago in Houston, Texas.  MSNBC‘s own Pat Buchanan, then a presidential candidate.  He dropped out of the ‘92 presidential race in exchange for that terrifying primetime speaking slot, in which he declared that a religious war was on, what he called a culture war was on in America, and it was not only on, it was a good idea.

Pat‘s candidacy was probably never going to get him elected president.  But it was a great vehicle for celebrating and for locking in the culture war political tactics that were already at the heart of how the Republican Party and the conservative movement got their work done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DAN QUAYLE, THEN-U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  It doesn‘t help matters when primetime TV has “Murphy Brown,” a character who supposedly epitomizes today‘s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.

           

            SEN. JESSE HELMS ®, NORTH CAROLINA:  Many homosexuals average 16

different sex partners every month, 182 partners per year.  I know of not

one homosexual organization that has advocated abstinence from engaging in

incredibly offensive and revolting conduct that has led to the

proliferation of AIDS.

           

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  The moneys available for the wealthy stars to finance the arts if they want to, but they should not come here to ask us to raise taxes.  This is not about money.  This is about an elite group who want the government to define that art is good.  And it‘s explicitly wrong.

GARY BAUER, FMR. GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When the world looks at America these days, all too often they see a moral swamp, a culture promoting sex and violence.  No wonder our enemies think they can defeat us.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  Republicans waging what Pat Buchanan called the culture war. 

It was a hallmark of Republican politics for more than a decade.

But the conventional political wisdom has been that it paid diminishing returns over time.  The last gasp is broadly thought of as 2004, when national Republicans got anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot in states across the country as what they hoped would be a “get out the vote” effort to help the re-election prospects of George W. Bush.

The anti-gay marriage initiatives themselves mostly passed, but—in fact, they all passed.  But when you crunched the numbers after that election, it turns out that those initiatives didn‘t really work to drive up turnout for George Bush.  To the extent that the Republican Party tried the same strategy again, sort of halfheartedly in 2006, it definitely didn‘t work.  The Republicans got walloped that year.

And in 2008, frankly, culture wars were not really significant national issues at all.  In the Beltway, the term “culture war” really isn‘t used much anymore.  The common wisdom is that these issues just aren‘t politically salient now.  The Republican Party is no longer waging culture war for political advantage.

But here‘s where the yawning divide opens between the way people talk about what they‘re doing and what they are actually doing.  Republicans have learned to not speak about culture war issues to general audiences anymore.  They‘re so focus grouped within an inch of their lives that the only thing they‘ll talk about in public is the horrible, horrible, horrible Democrats and—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Creating jobs and—

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER:  -- focusing on jobs and the economy.

REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN:  Unshackle our economy and create millions of new jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  Right.  They have all hired Frank Luntz, right?  They know that‘s what they‘re supposed to be talking about.  They know that‘s what the American people want to hear from them.

If you only listen to what the Republicans say to the D.C. press, say to the Beltway media, if you only listen to what they say to the banks of microphones outside the House chamber, you too might think that the culture wars are over, that all our fights are fiscal now.

But it is important to watch what they do and not just listen to what they say.  And it‘s important to watch what they say when they think the mainstream isn‘t listening, when they think they‘re just talking to their base.

When the Republicans took control of the House this month, we thought that HR-1 was their new rules package for the House.  It turns out it‘s not that.  HR-1 is still yet to be determined.  HR-2, of course, was repeal Obamacare.

HR-3, the next thing they proposed, abortion—the no taxpayer funding for abortion act.  Who remembers John Boehner campaigning by saying the first thing House Republicans would do if they got control of the House would be to repeal health reform and the second thing they do would be abortion?

That is not what they campaigned on.  That is not what they said they‘d do, at least to national audiences.  But it is what they have done.

Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana said today that he‘s not going to run for president.  We‘ll have more on that in a moment.

But three days before bowing out of the race, Mike Pence left the Beltway press twittering about where he stood on spending while he went to go address an anti-abortion rally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  Some would have us focus our energy on jobs and spending.  But as you attest today by your presence, you know, we must not remain silent when great moral battles are being waged.  Let‘s start by denying all federal funding for abortion at home and abroad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Jobs and spending.  Yes, I understand.  They tell us it‘s important.  But abortion, that‘s where we have to start.

Beltway press coverage right now is all about Republicans proposing these big aggregate spending cuts for the national budget.  Whether they‘re realistic or not, what are the differences between the different Republican proposals, what are the specific cuts, though, that they‘ve actually proposed.

Rather than the big aggregate, “how much can they cut” debate, which is getting so much beltway press coverage, what if have they specifically proposed cutting?

If you lived through the culture wars the first time around, the details will look familiar.  They want to cut the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Bye-bye, big bird.  Amtrak, they want to kill Amtrak.

I never quite understood what they had against Amtrak.  But you know, war on trains.  Real Americans sit in traffic.

Also, of course, they want to kill NPR.  The latte-drinking Volvo drivers who like NPR.  Or worse, the latte-drinking train riders who listen to NPR.

The culture war era conspiracy theories about black helicopters and a one world government secretly pursued by America‘s elites, that stuff is back from the culture war eras, too.  The new Republican head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened the first hearing of that committee this week.  What‘s the topic?  Get the U.S. out of the U.N.

Yes, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, supposedly the big policy brain trust of the Republican Party, what does he want to prioritize now that Republicans are in control?  He wants to prioritize banning gay marriage in Washington, D.C., because remember, jobs, jobs, jobs.

When First Lady Michelle Obama interested as her guest to the State of the Union the heroes of the Tucson gun massacre and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and inspirational small business owners, who did Speaker of the House John Boehner invite as his guests?  He invited a large group of Catholic school children as his guests to signify his top priority, which is replacing Washington, D.C. public schools with vouchers for private schools.

Through a quirk of American representational injustice, Congress has basically dictatorial powers over the city of Washington, D.C.  It‘s what happens—it is what happens specifically to Washington, D.C. as a city critical to what happens to the country‘s economy, to jobs, jobs, jobs in the rest of the country?  Not particularly.  It‘s one city.  But the new speaker of the House, his main priority is changing the school district of Washington, D.C.  His main priority, what he chose to highlight on State of the Union night-s how he wants to change how kids in one American city go to school.

The first priority for the Republican Study Committee is what the civil marriage rules are for the few hundred thousand people who live in this one city in Washington, D.C.  This is the jobs, jobs, jobs agenda for the whole country?

Republicans say what they‘ve got is a jobs, jobs, jobs agenda for the whole country.  But what they‘ve got is a symbolic culture war agenda targeting poor defenseless D.C. as a sort of showcase for this year‘s version of isn‘t “Murphy Brown” awful for being a single mom; for this year‘s version of AIDS is God‘s punishment; for this year‘s version of hate thy neighbor, circa RNC 1992.

What‘s being told to the country at large about Republican politics now, by the Beltway media and by Republicans themselves, is that the culture wars are over and now, Republicans are all about the economy.  When they talk to their own conservative audiences, though, and when they act, it is clear that the culture war is alive and well.

I‘ll give you one last example.  In March 2009, RNC Chairman Michael Steele told “GQ” magazine this on the issue of abortion.  He said, “You can choose life or you can choose abortion.  I think that‘s an individual choice.”

Now, if the culture wars are over, then expressing a rather libertarian, down the middle view about abortion rights like that—a view that‘s pretty much in keeping with where the American people are on that pretty much, that should not have made a ripple if the culture wars are over.  But one way you can tell the culture wars are still on in Republican politics is that when Michael Steele as RNC chairman said what he said about abortion—all hell broke loose.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  When you talked, for example, about abortion rights, it was one of the issues where people said Michael Steele‘s talking policy and that upsets Republicans who are working on policy, you said something that you thought about whether—about abortion being an individual choice.  Were you reined in on that by other Republicans—

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  Was I reined in?  I was rained on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I was rained on.  What is it that we don‘t understand about Republican politics right now that we ought to?

Joining us now once again, provided he hasn‘t bolted from his seat upon seeing my introduction, is former Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele.

Michael, thank you for joining us again.

STEELE:  It‘s good to be with you, Rachel.  What am I going to do with you?  I don‘t even know where to begin with your opening.  There are so many holes in it.

But that‘s OK.  I‘ll go where you need to go next.

MADDOW:  Well, tell me.  You understand my overall thesis—

STEELE:  I do.  I do.

MADDOW:  -- which is that social conservatism, Beltway common wisdom is that it‘s dead, that it‘s only all about fiscal issues right now.  But I still see it at work in what the Republican Party is doing.  Is my overall thesis wrong, or did I just get my details wrong?

STEELE:  Well, I think—I think the devil is obviously in the details.  I believe that the larger premise is that the culture wars are virtually over.  They‘re being fought out differently this time.  What we saw in the 1990s with the “Murphy Brown” and the various clips you showed was more by national voice, a national conversation by the GOP on the issue related to families and fathers and abortion and the like.

What you‘re seeing now is something a little bit closer to home, which is a state by state approach, discussion, argument, however you want to put it, that‘s occurring at the state level, which is where I have always believed it should be.  These decisions affect communities closest to where people are.  And that‘s where you‘re seeing this played out.

And I would also say that you looked at just one side of this.  You also have a cultural discussion, if you will, within the Democratic Party.  I mean, you‘ve got—you know, your Blue Dog Democrats, and we saw, you know, with a number of members of Congress, House and Senate, last year, sort of pining and wrenching themselves back and forth on the question of abortion and what they were going to do on the Democratic side as well, because those issues are now closer to people at home, are being discussed, whether it‘s gay marriage, whether it‘s abortion, whatever it happens to be.

And I think in one sense that‘s actually a little bit more healthy for the country because the national discussion is about jobs, it is about the economy.  But closer to home, people are dealing on a case-by-case basis with these other issues.

MADDOW:  I mean, John Boehner making D.C. school vouchers his signature issue on State of the Union night, John Boehner is from Ohio.  How can it be a localization of the school vouchers issue for him to be deciding that for D.C.?  I mean, the Republican Study Group chairman is—

I think he‘s from Utah.

So, to have—sort of, have him saying D.C. ought to not have gay marriage, it‘s the opposite of local.

STEELE:  Well, OK.  Those are two separate issues.  But I‘ll be happy to address both of them.  But specifically on the education issue, the Obama administration when it first came into office, killed that opportunity scholarship that was put in place not by Republicans alone but by the mayor at that time, a Democrat, Mayor Williams, working with leaders on the Hill, put in an opportunity scholarship for low-income minority students, a significant number of whom went to my high school where I went to high school.  My mother paid for my tuition on—you know, on a, you know, hourly basis, working minimum wage, could barely afford it.  But she did.

And a lot of kids in this city can‘t afford to go to the schools that I can send my kid to or the president can send his kids to.  So, they had those scholarships.  That was ripped away from them.

To restore those scholarships is consistent with what the president in the State of the Union about providing the greatest opportunity for our kids to get the best education in the world.

How can you say that on the one hand, but then strip away the ability for them to do it on the other?

MADDOW:  But how on earth is it conservative or Tea Party or even capital “R” Republican to say those decisions should be made at the federal level?  I said that Jim Jordan was from Utah before.  It‘s not true.  He‘s from Ohio.

But to have—to have a congressman from Ohio saying, you know what, my first priority, now that I‘ve come to federal—to this federal job, is to take away D.C.‘s own decision-making capacity on gay marriage, that‘s my first priority, to have John Boehner say, I want to change D.C.‘s school district, I‘m from Ohio and I‘m here to help?

STEELE:  But wait a minute.  Remember, you‘re talking about a federal city.  I mean, you know, we have the constitutional discussion about the District of Columbia all the time.  But the reality of it is, Congress has a greater control and sway over Washington, D.C., even with home rule in place than it has over any other jurisdiction in the country.  That‘s just the unique constitutional relationship between the district and the federal government.  One that the district residents have advocated for a greater federal—a greater independence, if you will, by the citizens here.

But be that as it may, until that happens, you‘re going to have members from Ohio and Michigan and Florida, whether they‘re Democrat or Republican, putting their fingers inside the inner workings of the city.  And so—

MADDOW:  In this case, though—in this case, though, to make a socially conservative point—I mean, the thing—the big picture that surprises me here—

STEELE:  Right.

MADDOW:  -- is to see gay marriage, school vouchers, U.S. out of the U.N., all this other kind of stuff that has really nothing to do with the sort of fiscal stuff that supposedly motivated the whole Republican election campaign this year, but to see that stuff front page, to see that stuff done first.

STEELE:  Well, it‘s front page because it‘s sexy, juicy, fun to talk about.  Who wants to talk about, you know, the minutia of budget numbers and the like?  So, there‘s a certain titillation, as you‘ve laid out in your opening, you know, with those types of issues.

But that still is not taking away from the fact that the Republican leadership has proposed $2 trillion in cuts, that they‘re looking to work with this administration across the board -- $2 trillion over 20 -- over the next 10 years, to work with the administration to get to those numbers that the American people need them to get to.

We‘ve got to have an honest debate here about our fiscal health and the direction of the country.  That obviously is taking place.  These other issues are also taking place.  And I‘m sure that those debates, as I‘ve said, are taking place closer to home.

You happened to focus on D.C. because it‘s a national city.  But it‘s happening in places around the country that are a lot less sexy than Washington, D.C.

MADDOW:  But even those cuts, NPR must die first.

All right.  Michael Steele, if we change the subject, will you stay with me for one more segment if you don‘t mind?

STEELE:  Absolutely. Absolutely.

MADDOW:  All right.  More ahead, including who we just found out is not running for president and how the art of maybe running for president is turning out to be a really good way to make money.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  What was your favorite ‘90s culture war moment?  Here‘s my nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS:  Tonight, there‘s a new front in the battle for the hearts and minds of America‘s youngest children, and at the center of this debate, television‘s “Teletubbies,” four little talking dolls who skip and giggle and delight toddlers around the world.  But now, a prominent member of the American religious right claims one of the “Teletubbies” is gay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s being perceived by the gay community out there as something good for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  More with Michael Steele, who I swear was cracking up while he was watching that clip.  Michael, I could see you.  When we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The weirdest story in Republican politics today is not that Michael Steele is here at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW and seems to be enjoying himself.  It is not that.

The weirdest story in Republican politics today is Mike Pence being scooped by his own mother.  Did you see this today?  Congressman Mike Pence‘s mother in Indiana—apparently, she got a phone call from a reporter, and after all of the speculation, all of the ink that has been spilled, all of the pundit hot air that has been blown over the prospects of Mike Pence running for president in 2012, Mike Pence‘s mom broke it to the “National Journal” today that, quote, “He will be making his announcement tomorrow.”

He will?

After Mike Pence‘s mom set the Internet alight with that bombshell today, Mr. Pence‘s office then quickly had to undercut mom a little to make it clear who‘s in charge.  Mr. Pence‘s office then confirming, after mom‘s leak, that he will not in fact be running for president—which also means that mike pence will not be cashing in on the lucrative business of maybe running for president.

Here‘s how that business works.  Mike Huckabee, for example, he was—he was asked last week on FOX News about his presidential aspirations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How and when will you make your decision?

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Much later, probably in the summer.  You know, I‘ll look at all the options.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why?  Why is everybody waiting so long?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Why is everybody waiting so long?

Here‘s a hint.  This is an ad for the “Celebrate Freedom Cruise” in Alaska with special guest Mike Huckabee.

So, since Mr. Huckabee is not making his decision about whether or not to run for president until the summer, in the meantime, while he‘s just maybe running for president, he‘ll be cashing in on the fact that he‘s maybe running by headlining this very expensive cruise.

The same dynamic at work with Rudy Giuliani right now.  Here he is on TV last week make sure nobody forgets that he just might run for president again in 2012.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI ®, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I will take a look at 2012.  You know, it‘s really a question of can I play a youthful role?  Would I have a chance of getting the nomination?  Those are things that I‘ll have to evaluate, you know, as the year goes along.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  See, he‘s not running for president.  He‘s maybe running for president.  Which is how he‘s able to go on tour with those looks like a scam, quacks like a scam, “Get Motivated” people—like all the other former dignitaries from both parties whose political ambitions are behind them.

This week‘s “Get Motivated” seminar in Estero, Florida starring among others America‘s mayor and maybe presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, resulted in some bad local news coverage.  A story in local press highlighting complaints from people who‘d bought tickets for $1.95 in advance but then they were told when they couldn‘t—but then they were told when they couldn‘t get in that tickets were being sold at the door for $225.

Like many of these “Get Motivated” seminars, people who did get into the event complained to the local newspaper about high pressure and underhanded sales tactics inside the event from the supposedly motivational speakers.  See, it is a highly monetized gig, this maybe running for president business.

Even though the press will take any excuse to debate whether or not Sarah Palin is running for president, the last time she personally made it sound as though she probably was, was when she was selling her last book and promoting her reality show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I‘m looking at the lay of the land now and trying to figure that out, if it‘s a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family, if it‘s a good thing.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS:  If you ran for president, could you beat Barack Obama?

PALIN:  I believe so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So, Sarah Palin may be running for president.  Buy my book.

Mike Huckabee may be running for president.  Go on my cruise.

Rudy Giuliani may be running for president.  Buy my sort of scammy speaking gig ticket.

All of them cashing in.

Thanks to Mike Pence‘s mom, though, today there‘s one less competitor in that very lucrative field.

Joining us now is Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who‘s just as exhausted by me as he was before.

STEELE:  You are just too cynical.

MADDOW:  You think—

STEELE:  You‘re just way too—

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  You think Mike Huckabee just loves cruising?

STEELE:  Wait a minute.  You have to understand—he probably does, number one.  Number two, and more importantly, those things are booked long in advance.  I mean, that cruise was booked way before now.  And the reality of it is these individuals have been out in the marketplace of ideas for way some time.

I mean, I get the nexus you‘re trying to draw here, you know, that it‘s all based on a sort of leak I‘m running for president and you‘ll pump up my sales.  It really doesn‘t work that way, Rachel, in reality.  It‘s nice for a good intro, but the reality of it is, a lot of those individuals that you referred to, they are—they‘re businessmen and women in many respects.  They have multilayered businesses.  They have a lot of speaking, a lot of books—a lot of things like that.

And the presidential piece—you know, everyone gets caught up in this cycle and throws a microphone in front of them and says, are you running for president?  Are you running for president?

And no matter the answer you give, whether you‘re Mike Pence‘s mom or not, you kind of get caught with the deer in the headlights kind of glare about you and this whole cycle begins.  I mean, you‘ve got new members of Congress who are barely, you know, wet behind the ears, and some people already touting them on the ticket in 2012 for V.P. or running for president.  Let these people do their jobs.  And if they decide to run, they‘ll run, and then the people can judge for themselves what it‘s all about at that point.

MADDOW:  But if that‘s true, why is it that all of the highest-profile people in Republican politics right now are not in office?  Really.  I mean, if you think about it, you were—

STEELE:  Well, because—

MADDOW:  OK.  Maybe John Thune—John Thune‘s name recognition is probably below mine.  I mean, he‘s the only person who‘s actually got a job who‘s running for president.  Everybody else is full-time making money off the prospect.

STEELE:  Well, but wait a minute.  They have “former” in front of their names.  They‘re not elected officials now.  They were at one time elected officials.

Like I said, they‘re out there, you know, they‘ve got bills to pay, they‘ve got mortgages to pay.  You know, they‘re earning their living.  And they are staying relevant in the political discourse through what they do, their writings or their appearances.

And it is the media, I would dare say, in many cases, kind of foist this presidential moniker on them and kind of get that ball rolling.

MADDOW:  I think they love it.  I think they love it.  I don‘t understand what Newt Gingrich‘s job-s but I know that every time he says he might run for president, it gets him more of whatever it is he does to make money.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Let me ask you for a brutally honest assessment here.

STEELE:  OK.

MADDOW:  Of all those people, you are totally right to point out they‘re former office holders.

STEELE:  Right.

MADDOW:  But it seems to me like the biggest liability for all of these potential candidates, people like Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, their biggest liabilities are the things they did when they were actually in office.  You know, passing statewide health reform, Mitt Romney; or raising taxes like Mike Huckabee did, or dealing with some ethical issues at the state level like Governor Palin.

Governing seems to be a disadvantageous place from which to run for the Republican nomination.  It seems like they do better once they‘re just like on FOX or whatever Newt does.

STEELE:  Right.  Or your show, for example.

MADDOW:  Or on my show, it‘s working great for you.

STEELE:  Right.  Exactly.  You know, I think the reality of it is, the gauntlet that they‘ll have to go through is obviously one that‘s going to have a high degree of scrutiny, you know, their past service, and there will be a lot of crazy noise that‘s brought up about, you know, a decision made here or an action taken there.

But at the end of the day, they‘re going to have to communicate whether it‘s a Newt Gingrich—and I‘ll tell you quite honestly, I would love to see a Newt Gingrich-Barack Obama debate.  That intellectual stimulation there would be fascinating to watch.

And I think that‘s where people are going to draw down on this thing

on the Republican caucus and primary process, is who is going to be the

best individual to go up against, who will be and is a formidable president

presidential candidate in 2012 in the president, and they‘re going to have to come to the table with their A-game.  And that‘s going to be their time as a governor or senator or an elected official.  What they‘ve done, how they communicate, how they‘re able to take the message of opportunity and empowerment versus government control and spending, and how that parries off each other over the next 18 months.

           

MADDOW:  See—

STEELE:  It‘s going to be fascinating.

MADDOW:  See, I think in a debate between Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama it would be a liability for Newt Gingrich that you can go to his Web site, today, and for $99, plus shipping and handling, you can purchase a gavel signed by Newt Gingrich because he‘s not only monetized, he has merchandised his—

STEELE:  But look, read—go buy it, read it, and learn. 

MADDOW:  The gavel?  I got one for free from somebody who tried to scam in a direct mail thing.  I‘ll tell you about that later.  Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, I so enjoy talking to you about politics. 

STEELE:  It‘s good to be with you, again. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, sir.

Hey, turns out that AK-47s are cheaper by the dozen.  That‘s coming up.  We‘ve got an exclusive with NBC‘s National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff.  You will want to see this.  Please stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In Uganda, yesterday, someone bludgeoned to death, with a hammer, this man.  He was the most outspoken gay rights advocate in the nation of Uganda, an activist who considered himself the first out gay man in that country.  His name was David Kato.  He was 42 years old.  Police have arrested one suspect in the killing.  They say they are looking for another.  These have been very difficult times for gay people in Uganda, in general, and for Mr. Kato, in particular.

The Ugandan parliament has been considering a bill that we call, the kill the gays bill.  It would make homosexuality a crime punishable, in some cases, by execution.  Backers of that bill say they were, in part, inspired by American evangelical anti-gay activists who traveled to Uganda to speak about the evils of homosexuality before the bill was drafted.  The bill‘s author, and most high-profile supporters, have ties to a U.S.-based group called the family, whose c street house in Washington has been home to several conservative members of Congress.

Last month a Ugandan tabloid ran a picture of Mr. Kato, who was just murdered, on their cover.  They ran his picture under a headline naming him as a quote, “homo.”  You‘ll see that‘s Mr. Kato, pictured on the left.  On the second line of the headline, there, you can see, in bright yellow, the words, hang them, meaning the people in Uganda, exposed by this newspaper as gay, should be hanged.  Mr. Kato and two others sued that newspaper.  They won their case earlier this month.

President Obama released a statement today mourning Mr. Kato‘s murder.  He said, quote, “My administration will continue to strongly support human rights and assistance work on behalf of LGBT persons abroad.  We do this because we recognize the threat faced by leaders like David Kato, and we share their commitment to advancing freedom, fairness, and equality for all.”  We don‘t, yet, know why in Kato as killed.  We can tell you that we have been doing our own reporting on this story, with our own extensive contacts on this story, all day long.  Our full report will be exclusive and it will air on tomorrow‘s show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  On the morning of the State of the Union address, this week, 34 people were indicted and 20 were arrested in Arizona.  They were arrested for something that sounds way cuter than it is.  They were arrested for straw man purchases.  Straw man purchases are when you say you‘re buying something for yourself, but you‘re not.  In this case, the alleged straw men said they were buying AK-47s for themselves.  Law enforcement says they weren‘t buying for themselves.  They were buying for somebody else.  What‘s the evidence?  Well, in some cases, these guys were buying 20, 30, 40 AK-47s in a single day.

Law enforcement is crying, bull pucky, and saying, those guns were not for personal individual use.  You think?  Law enforcement says those guns were being bought for Mexican drug cartels.  The cartels, of course, currently engaged in an all-out drug war that killed 15,000 people just last year.  Killing 15,000 people a year takes a lot of firepower.  Firepower that significantly sourced to the border, to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border.  The indictment spells out how that works.  Straw men purchasers going to the same gun stores in the U.S., over and over and over again, buying enough assault rifles to do some serious gun running.

Here‘s an example from the indictment.  On the morning of December 8, 2009, Shawn Christopher Steward arrived at Lone Wolf, that‘s a gun store that comes up a lot in the indictment, and purchased 20 AK-47 type rifles, which he, then, transported to an auto auction business in Phoenix, Arizona, and loaded into another vehicle or vehicles.

Later, that very same day, he, quote, “.returned to lone wolf trading company and purchased an additional 1 al 20 AK-47 type rifles.  Those AK-47s were loaded into a white Nissan tight SXN driven to the house of another man, who turns up over and over again in the indictment.”  That man‘s phone was used to call gun stores to check to see how many guns they had in stock that day.  Basically, the ruse was, for my personal use I need 40 AK-47s.  Yes, man, I‘ve got a real deer problem.  I need 40 guns today.

Here‘s the single most amazing thing about this story, though.  Listen to this.  Current U.S. law says, if you buy more than two handguns at a time, that sale has to be reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives.  Has to be reported to the ATF.  You want to buy anything above two handguns, it‘s not illegal but it get reported to the ATF.  That‘s to help stop illegal gun running.  But if you don‘t want to buy more than two handguns, you want to buy more than two AK-47s, you‘re good.  That‘s not only perfectly legal, it doesn‘t get reported to anybody.

When the assault weapons ban expired, in 2004, the law about reporting handgun purchases was never updated to include long guns, like AK-47s.  The Obama administration said, last year, that in January, as in this month, they would change that rule.  So, the law that applies to handguns would also apply to AK-47s, specifically, in the four border states they thought would be affected by Mexican drug cartels buying so many of their guns there.

So, essentially, it would be a border state rule.  They said they would change the rule, but, apparently, that rule change has now been postponed.  Why has it been postponed?  Joining us now is NBC National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff.  Mike, thank you very much for your time helping us understand this. 

MIKE ISIKOFF, NBC NATIONAL INVESIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Good to be with you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Let me, first, ask you if I explained it right.  If you buy more than two handguns, that gets reported to the government.  If you buy 60 AK-47s, it doesn‘t.  That‘s really the law?

ISIKOFF:  Yes, it is.  And this is a classic case of how the law doesn‘t keep up with what‘s happening in the real world.  When the law was passed, this grows out of the 1968 Gun Control Act, Congress perceived the problem to be handguns, easy to conceal handguns that can be used in street crime.  Long guns were viewed as for hunting purposes, not something that needed to come under this regulatory umbrella.

But what‘s happened, since then, is the market has been flooded by foreign imports and American manufacturers with these semi-automatic military-style assault rifles that have become the weapons of choice for drug cartels and other criminal trafficking organizations around the world.  And this case is about as dramatic an example as I‘ve seen of how this works.

I mean, this one drug—gun store you that mentioned, federally licensed firearm dealer, Lone Wolf, I counted something like 600 assault rifles were bought by these straw purchasers at this one store.  Many of them were, later, traced to shootouts with the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.  And as the U.S. attorney, when he announced this the other day, said, you know, this is an example of how drug lords in Mexico are going shopping for war weapons in the U.S. in the state of Arizona. 

MADDOW:  Well, why has the proposed rule change on this, the, sort of, fix of this loophole, why has that been postponed after the administration said, last year, they were going to do it, at least for these border states?

ISIKOFF:  Well, this is the politics of anything to do with guns.  What happened after that proposed rule was announced by Kenneth Nelson, the acting director of the Bureau Of Alcohol, Tobacco And Firearms, on December 17th, is the NRA and the national shooting federation, which represents the gun industry, mounted a lobbying campaign, ginned up, sent out e-mail alerts asking for its members to bombard the office of management and budget with its—with opposition to this rule.  ATF had said the rule was going to take effect January 5th.  And guess what?  January 5th has come and gone, and it didn‘t.

This is at the White House.  I‘ve pressed White House officials, this week, on this matter.  They say it‘s still under review.  They won‘t say the rule is dead, but there‘s—you know, there were some people at ATF who were telling me they were hoping that the president, the other night in the State of the Union, would address this issue as, you know, something he could say on the issue of gun violence because, after all, his administration proposed it.  But, as we well know, the president said nothing on that or anything to do with guns. 

MADDOW:  Briefly, Michael, is it your sense—from your experience as a reporter on issues like this and the other investigative work that you‘ve done, is it your sense that this is kaput, entirely, or is it possible—for example, we‘re told by the White House that the president may, in fact, address guns and gun laws in a separate speech sometime soon, even though it didn‘t come up in the State of the Union.  Is it your sense that this is kaput, entirely, or might this just be a continued delay?

ISIKOFF:  Very hard to say, at this point.  Nobody, I know, really—who I‘ve asked about this, really knows the answer.  But even if the administration goes through with it, and that‘s a big if, there‘s something else in the background, and that is the NRA, with all its friends in Congress, very well may put a appropriations restriction on it forbidding the expenditure of any money to implement this rule.  So, that‘s, often, the playbook the NRA uses and it‘s what some people fear may end up happening, in this case. 

MADDOFF:  And, then, if the Sinaloa Cartel starts making political donations, we‘ll know why.  Unbelievable.  NBC National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff.  This is an incredible story.  Thanks for helping us report it. 

ISIKOFF:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  “THE ED SHOW,” hosted by my friend Ed Schultz, comes on right after this show at 10:00 p.m.  Must-watch viewing.  You may have noticed there was a little kerfuffle over Rush Limbaugh and how he marked the visit of China‘s president to the U.S., recently.  Rush Limbaugh marked that visit by doing this on his radio show. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH:  Hu Jintao was just going ching chong, ching chong chong chong, chi aba, ba, ba.  Chi—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Went on like to for a long time, actually.  When a Chinese-American state senator in California said, after that, that maybe people should rethink listening to Mr. Limbaugh‘s program, that state senator received racist death threats from Limbaugh supporters.  Those threats started pouring in.  That state senator, who‘s now in the middle of that ugly, ugly fight, will be joining Ed, right after us.  “THE ED SHOW,” 10:00 p.m. eastern, right here on MSNBC.  Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  An update on the situation in Egypt, in just a moment.  First, though, some news out of Washington.  The Senate did not vote, today, to change its rules on the filibuster.  The Republican minority will still be able to force an effortless 60-vote supermajority on every single vote in the Senate.

However, senators did make a deal.  In exchange for not changing the filibuster rules in this Congress, or the next one, leaders of the Senate, today, agreed to get rid of secret holds by which individual senators can delay legislation or hold up a nomination forever.   So, there‘s that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

The massive populists protests that began in Tunisia, a few weeks ago, the results have been the unsting (ph) of that‘s country‘s 23-year ruler.  Those protests are now being replicated in countries across the Middle East.  No one is quite sure where this is going to end, but nothing quite like this, nothing this widespread, has happened like this in the Arab and Muslim world, really, ever.

Look at some of these images.  The common denominator, here, is countries with high unemployment, widespread poverty, and decades old strong man governments backed by - strong man governments backed by western power.  Those are the countries that are having these protests, now.  The images you see, here, are from Yemen.  And Yemen where nearly half the population survives on less than $2.00 a day.  These protesters were in the capitol city of Sana‘a.

Many of them you see wearing the color pink.  They color coordinated as a sign of coordination, organized by the political opposition parties in their country.  Protesters, in that country, are demanding the resignation of Yemen‘s president, he‘s been in power nearly 32 years.  Yemen is known, to most Americans, if at all, as the home base for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  The U.S. says it considers Yemen‘s president a key ally against Al Qaeda.

In Egypt, the government is cracking down, now, on massive protests in Cairo and Alexandria and Suez and surrounding areas.  This week, they‘ve been using rubber bullets and batons and water cannons against demonstrators.  There are reports, now, that Egypt is cracking down, dramatically, on the Internet and, then, access to other forms of media.

Demonstrators have also posted this photo of the tear gas they say is being used against them in the streets in Egypt.  This can is clearly marked, made in the USA.

Seven people have reportedly been killed in the protests in Egypt since Tuesday.  That was the day Egyptian activists first called for a, quote, “day of wrath” against high levels of poverty, unemployment, corruption, and repression in their country.  They‘re calling for the ousting of the U.S. backed 29-year-old government of Hosni Mubarak.  Mubarak‘s could be successor is Nobel Peace Prize winner, and former head of the international atomic energy agency, Mohamed Elbaradei.  Remember him?  He arrived back in Egypt, today, greeted by a swarm of journalists and a swarm of police and a smattering of supporters.

The situation in Egypt, now, is so volatile that President Obama weighed in on it, today, sort of, threading the needle between supporting Mubarak as a U.S. ally and supporting the demonstrators‘ calls for reform. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Egypt‘s been an ally of ours on a lot of critical issues.  They make peace with Israel.  President Mubarak has been very helpful on a range of tough issues in the Middle East.  But I‘ve always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on a reform, political reform, economic reform, is absolutely critical to the long-term well being of Egypt.  And you can see these pent up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Protest organizers in Egypt and Yemen are using Facebook, and other social media, as well as traditional means, to call for a huge day of demonstrations, tomorrow, after Friday prayer.  So, if you‘ve been paying attention to this, vaguely, tomorrow is the day to really focus on it.

Activist organizers in Egypt are calling tomorrow a day of rage.  Whatever happens on the streets of Cairo, in just a few hours, could forever change, not only, the middle east but whatever allies and influence our country has in that region.  Tomorrow‘s protests are a huge deal.  Richard Engel is in Cairo reporting for NBC news on NBC news and, here, on MSNBC.  We will keep you posted as we learn more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  OK.  News test.  What connects these two seemingly unconnected stories?  Story one, earlier this month, the Marriott Hotel chain announced that Mitt Romney was resigning from its board.  The last time Mitt Romney quit that board was to run for Massachusetts governor and, then, for president.  He rejoined the board, once he lost the presidential bid, but, now, he‘s quit again, which probably means he‘ll run for office again.  So, that‘s story one.  Mitt Romney quits the board of the Marriott Hotel chain, probably to run for president.

Story two, quietly, last weekend, the Marriott Hotel chain announced that it‘s going to stop offering porn in its hotel rooms.  The Marriott‘s explanation, as cited by “The Washington Post”, quote, “More guests can access adult content cheaply on their portable devices rather than pay for premium adult channels.”

Do you believe that?  Do you believe that the Marriott Hotel chain would prefer you to watch cheaply on your iPad, because they no longer want to make $175 per hotel room per year by you paying them for your porn?  Do you believe that?  Or do you believe there‘s a connection between these two stories?  The last time Romney ran for president, conservatives attacked him for not pushing Marriott to get rid of that darned porn, since he was on their board and everything.

Here, for example, in the Deseret News, the editorial entitled “The nasty taint of porn.”  If you‘re running for president, you don‘t want editorials about your nasty taint, let alone your nasty porn taint.

That criticism of Mr. Romney happened in 2007, the last time he ran for president.  This year, problem solved, unless you want to want porn in your Marriott hotel room, in which case your problems have just begun and you can thank the Republican primary process for your taintlessness.

That does it for us tonight.  Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”

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