'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
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Guests: Ezra Klein, Andrea Mitchell, Bob Edgar
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you for that.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
I want to put forward a hypothesis here—a hypothesis that I realize nobody else is putting out there. But I‘m only doing it because I can‘t really figure out why nobody else is doing this. The reason I‘m doing this is because for weeks now, I feel like I‘ve been waiting for somebody else to say this—somebody else more likely, somebody in the Beltway press, for example, who obsessively covers Washington.
But so far, nobody has been saying it. And so, I feel like I have to. I fully expect that this will be debunked, that there is something else going on here that I just don‘t see that will disprove my hypothesis. But we have been trying for weeks now on our staff to disprove it, and we just can‘t.
So, again, I realize nobody else really wants to say this, but I‘m just going to say it. I think that John Boehner is really bad at his job.
John Boehner is the top Republican in Washington, speaker of the House, third in line for the presidency. He is running the only part of the government that Republicans control. And I realize this will probably sound rude, like I am being insulting or attacking towards Mr. Boehner—that is not at all how I mean it. I just mean it specifically in terms of his job performance, thus far.
I think he‘s really outstandingly bad at his job. I think that everything he‘s done so far has, what‘s the opposite of the Midas touch? Let me just give you the evidence and let‘s just start with today.
Today, John Boehner went to RNC headquarters. He apparently had some sort of meeting there. Afterwards, he called a press conference. Clearly, he thought that he had something to say that was going to nail the president on the president‘s newly released budget. He was going to go after Obama. He was going to make headlines. He was going to score big political points today.
So, John Boehner purposely sought out the press. He gathered everybody around him. And then this is what he said to the cameras:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Over the last two years since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs. And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So be it. This is evidence for the “John Boehner is bad at his job” hypothesis for a few reasons. First, what he said today is not true. And while everybody should avoid making statements that aren‘t true whenever possible, if your job title is “speaker of the House,” you should probably, extra doubly, triply avoid making statements that are not true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Not true. Total, utter, 100 percent bullpuckey actually.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, which keeps track of these things—darn bureaucrats—when Barack Obama came into office, there were roughly 2.79 million federal employees. According to the latest figures available, there are now roughly 2.85 million federal employees. That would be an increase of about 58,000 new federal jobs, which is not even close to what Mr. Boehner said, which was 200,000.
Also, for the record, proportional to the population, the size of the federal government is at something like a 50-year low right now, just in case you care. But even without that context, John Boehner with his made up 200,000 number is just not telling the truth.
But beyond that, John Boehner didn‘t just say something untrue about President Obama today. What he said about President Obama and jobs was that if Republican policies cause job losses, then, and I quote, “So be it.” So be it. Sort of infinitely quotable, isn‘t it?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: So be it. So be it. Maybe so be it for him, but not so be it for the people who are losing their jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you are the speaker of the House, it is bad to be wrong in public, but it is really, really bad to make headlines for having been wrong in public with a message that is 180 degrees opposite of what your party‘s message is supposed to be. John Boehner has gone from “Where are the jobs?” to “job losses?” So be it.
But, this is—I mean, today is just the latest evidence. This is kind of the way it has been going for him as speaker. This is the basis of the “John Boehner is bad at his job” hypothesis.
Republicans have been in control of the House for about a month and a half now. And it has been one disaster after another. It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month and a half for John Boehner.
The very first day—the very first day that the Republicans were in control, on day one, there was the very well-publicized Constitution reading failure. Remember the pages that stuck together in the three-ring binder and all the other passages that were just left out because the Republicans apparently didn‘t like them? That was just the start.
During that first week, there was also the swearing in failure, ding, where two of their members weren‘t properly sworn in but they cast votes on the House floor anyway. That was embarrassing.
Then, came the Republican pledge to always assert constitutional authority for everything they wanted to do, right? There‘s this new rule, they would cite a specific passage of the Constitution for every bill they propose proposed. It was not true of the very first three bills they proposed. They said they would do it, and then the first three things they introduced, they broke the rule.
And ever since then, they just kept blowing it off. Just this week, House Democrats called out Republicans for still continuing to violent this constitutional authority rule that is their own rule and is brand new.
Then there was the famed “cut-go” program, a promise to cut spending for every bill that adds to the deficit. Under John Boehner, Republicans made this promise, and then promptly exempted their very first bill from it.
Under John Boehner, Republicans initially promised that they would post online a list of members who attended every committee hearing—so you‘d know if your member was doing his or her job, and showing up for work. They made that promise—then they decided they would not do it after all.
And, of course, there‘s the “everything is about jobs, jobs” failure. Under John Boehner, they have consistently promised that everything they want to do in the House is about jobs, jobs, and nothing but jobs. House Republicans promptly introduced three separate, high profile, sweeping anti-abortion bills, instead of working on jobs.
Then there were the dueling State of the Union responses, right? Speeches from two separate members of the Republican Party, both billed by CNN as official State of the Union responses.
Basic legislating has also proved quite challenging under John Boehner‘s leadership. Last week, Republicans who again—they control the House, they suffered three legislative losses in the span of 24 hours under John Boehner. Three bills that they put on the agenda that they wanted to bring to the floor, and not one of them passed.
Probably their most high profile blunder thus far under John Boehner has been the failed pledge to cut $100 billion from the budget in their first year. Under John Boehner, they walked that back almost immediately after taking office, and then they settled on about -- $30 billion. And after emergency meeting last week, they pumped that number up to $61 billion.
What they promised was $100 billion. No, sorry, didn‘t mean it.
And now, today, more. This is—this is the kind of thing that Beltway media supposedly loves, but so far, nobody is really saying beep about it. Under John Boehner, Republicans promised to bring open rules back to the House, essentially meaning that Democrats would be able to offer amendments on bills and they wouldn‘t limit debate.
After breaking this pledge for most of the last few weeks, Republicans under John Boehner today finally decided to allow open rules. What they got was more than 400 amendments on their spending bill -- 400. So far, they have gotten through approximately four of them, four of more than 400. And one of those amendments is a big one finger salute to John Boehner from his own party.
Mr. Boehner is one of the Republicans who wants to spend $3 billion more on a random extra engine that the Pentagon does not want. The fighter jet in question has an engine. This is a second extra engine for a plane that‘s already got an engine.
Full disclosure: G.E., one of our parent companies, helps make that engine.
The military does not want that engine. They have said they do not want it. But John Boehner really, really, really wants to buy them anyway. And, today, a bipartisan group of House members, including two freshman Republicans, just elected, they came together to tell Mr. Boehner—Mr. Speaker, you‘re wrong.
Speaker Boehner‘s own Republicans, including freshmen, are revolting over him wanting to dump billions more taxpayer dollars into something the military explicitly says it really doesn‘t want. And he‘s doing it while he is trying to attack President Obama for wasteful spending, with $3 billion of inexplicable defense pork hanging around his neck as speaker, hung there by his own party.
Being the speaker of the House is constitutional position. You are third in line to the presidency, and you have constitutional responsibility to conduct the business of the House. You have a lot of very sober responsibilities.
In real terms, though, day to day, you function as leader of your party in Congress. And for the Republicans this year, Mr. Boehner is the only constitutional officer of any rank who is a Republican. John Boehner is the Republican Party‘s guy in Washington.
And when you look at the evidence, regardless of what you think about the Republicans‘ agenda, whether you are for it or against it, I think John Boehner is bad at his job.
There is one other way to look at the job of being speaker—one other way that a speaker can be—can succeed, even if they can‘t get things passed and even if they are not good at message discipline, and even if they‘re not good at party organizational things.
One other way that a speaker could succeed is just by sort of being famous, being the face of the party, having enough personal charisma and personal appeal to just be a celebrity Republican, and have people like you and respect you as a figurehead, like you for who you are and for what kind of person you are. Maybe he‘s going for that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I love you.
BARBARA BUSH, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: I love you, too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are we such criers?
B. BUSH: You know what? You could be speaker of the House.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Things are not working out for John Boehner message-wise, legislating-wise, party discipline-wise, or what he‘s famous for-wise. The Bush family is openly mocking him on network television for crying too much.
Is there something that John Boehner is doing that he‘s great at that I‘m just not seeing?
Joining us now is Ezra Klein, columnist for “The Washington Post” and “Newsweek,” also, an MSNBC contributor.
Mr. Klein, it is nice to see you again. Thanks for being here.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, Rachel.
MADDOW: Is there something that John Boehner is doing as a legislative leader that he is doing great at that I am just not seeing?
KLEIN: He‘s not been running a very tight ship. But I guess you could make two arguments here.
One is that some of the things he‘s failing at are attempts to restrain his own party. When you said he brought down the pledge to cut $100 billion, they went through the whole thing, it was annualized pledge, because they were only cutting for the last seven months, or over six seven months of 2011. But I am perfectly happy to see m not to cut $100 billion from discretionary—the domestic discretionary budget in the middle of the year, and that means nobody checks whether or not my meat is safe. So, I think he‘s doing a good job on that front.
And then the second piece, you know, you see that spending bill with 400 amendments. Boehner is doing something difficult here—he‘s trying to run a more open house. He‘s trying to do more dissent and then propose more amendments.
Pelosi ran a very, very tight ship and you can see that as a good thing. It certainly got her bills through, or you can see it as a bad. Boehner is arguing it was a bad. I think he will get rid of this pretty soon because it turns out it is hard to run an open House.
But it is a principal position. If it makes bad policy go through more slowly, I‘m not going to spend a lot of time arguing against it.
MADDOW: But, you‘re arguing is essentially that you don‘t like what the Republicans want to do, so it might be good for the country but they‘re bad at doing it. And I think it took a value neutral approach to what the Republicans are doing, you could judge even in your analysis that their incompetence is showing, and that if they did want to accomplish what they said they wanted to accomplish, they maybe could have picked somebody better at it. Is that right?
KLEIN: Nancy Pelosi is probably one of the most effective speakers of the House we‘ve ever had. She ran bills through the place like just about nobody expected and nobody had seen. She barely ever lost a vote. In fact, I‘m not sure if she did, offhand.
John Boehner is no Nancy Pelosi. And then if you are a Republican who wants to see your party‘s legislation move swiftly and effectively through the House, if you want to see tough votes like health care push through, it is hard to see Boehner being able to do that. And I think the real, illustrative moment here was when Boehner failed to say to the Tea Party folks, listen, we are going to cut $32 billion here because that‘s what we can manage or we‘re going to do more next year.
You think Pelosi had to manage liberal‘s disappointment on things like the public option in order to get big priorities through. When it really comes push to shove, it doesn‘t look like Boehner has that type of control over his own members, partially perhaps due to how he runs the place, perhaps due perhaps to who his members are.
So, that means when it comes down to the really tough work of being leader, getting people to sign onto a tough compromise in order to govern, I don‘t think if I were Republican I‘d be terrifically confident in Boehner‘s ability to do that tonight.
MADDOW: Ezra, in policy terms, this bill that they‘ve got more than 400 amendments to today, this is their big spending bill; this is their big continuing resolution. I mean, they‘ve gotten through four of the 400 amendments so far.
Isn‘t this sort of—we have to pass this piece of policy? I mean, they can‘t just spend at this 40 years working on the next bill, can they?
KLEIN: I have never seen anybody try to slow the House down, it‘s actually slower than the Senate. But we appeared to be watching that happen right now. They do need to pass this.
The quick background on this is that they didn‘t pass a budget for this year. They passed a quick continuing resolution such that it funded the government through March. And if we don‘t pass another in March, the government doesn‘t have money, it doesn‘t get funded. We can‘t keep things open, people can‘t keep doing their jobs.
And when they talk about the fact that public employees, it doesn‘t matter if they lose their jobs, you know what? Those are real jobs. Those last couple of jobs reports we‘ve had when they have not been good enough, usually the private sector has been president good.
When the Republicans are hammering Obama saying “Where are the jobs?”
the thing driving down those reports down is private—I‘m sorry, public, state, local, and federal employees losing jobs and Republicans in those moments realize those are real jobs with real impact on the economy.
So, we shut down the government and more to the point going forward, if we lose a lot of those jobs, it‘s going to have a real economic impact. It drains demand out of it. It puts people out of work. It puts more in competition for the few jobs there are. It‘s a real problem.
MADDOW: So be it.
Ezra Klein, columnist for “The Washington Post” and “Newsweek,” and an MSNBC contributor—it‘s great to have you back, Ezra. Thanks for helping us.
KLEIN: Good to be here.
MADDOW: So, much, much more on the Clarence Thomas story that we first reported last night. It‘s coming up next. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: If there were a news story that involved someone related to me or a member of the staff of this show or who‘s friend of mine, or my dog, something were to happen to anyone in any one of those categories, I would have to disclose that relationship to you before reporting on the story. In fact, there‘s a chance that I wouldn‘t report on the story at all, after some reflection, along with my colleagues and my bosses, we may decide that I have an unfair conflict of interest that would prevent me doing that part of my job impartially. I would step aside. I would recuse myself, and leave it to someone else at MSNBC to report the story instead of me if I had a personal link to it.
That‘s the way it works in the news business, even in the cable business. That‘s the way it works in a lot of businesses. Especially that is the way it works in the legal profession, at least that‘s how it is supposed to work.
Last night, we brought you breaking news involving serious questions about impartiality of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, questions about whether Justice Thomas should have recused himself from the Citizens United case because of a political strategy event in which he seems to have participated, an event paid for and sponsored by some of the corporate leaders who stood to benefit directly from the court‘s decision in that case.
It‘s a story that has been percolating for quite some time. And “The New York Times” first reported last month that both Justice Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia have participated in some of those political strategy events, a spokesman for the court said Justice Thomas had just made a brief drop-by at a weekend event in Palm Springs. He just stopped by. Nothing to see here, keep moving.
But when these folks at the advocacy group Common Cause looked at Justice Thomas‘ financial disclosure form for 2008, they discovered that for that weekend in question, he had been reimbursed for four days of transportation, meals, and accommodations by the Federalist Society. It is a group that is funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers. Four days seems like a lot more than a brief drop by, which raises questions about the Supreme Court and whether its justices are tolerating the perception of or an actual conflict of interest by justices on the court.
Here‘s why this is such a mess for the court and a mess for us as a country. Charles Koch, conservative activist, billionaire, corporate bigwig, bragged in the program for one of his political strategy events that Justice Scalia had been a previous participant. Lo and behold, on Justice Scalia‘s ‘08 financial disclosure forms, he revealed that he was reimbursed by this Federalist Society—this group tied to the Koch brothers—reimbursed for food, lodging, and transportation expenses associated with him giving four speeches that year, and for the lectures—plural—that he gave the following year in 2009. That means six times we know of in two years before the Citizens United decision was handed down, Justice Scalia hobnobbed and received payment for some of those in whose favor he would be handing down a very controversial decision in a matter of months.
The Citizens United, as you know, cleared the way for corporations to engage in all the direct political spending they want, with as little public disclosure as they want. In the last election, a political advocacy group funded by Koch brothers that‘s called Americans for Prosperity, ran more than $1.1 million in ads about energy policy.
Koch Industries, the multibillion dollar conglomerate the brothers own and run—Koch Industries lobbies heavily for reduced energy and environmental regulation. That‘s an obvious benefit for their bottom line.
Americans for Prosperity has reported spending a total of $1.3 million on independent campaigning before the election, with 96 percent of that money benefiting Republican candidates. That‘s the spending that we know about. That‘s what‘s been disclosed.
Because Republicans won a majority in the House in the last election, the House Energy Committee, like all committees in the House, is now Republican controlled, and most of the Republicans on that energy committee signed a pledge given to them by Americans for Prosperity saying they would oppose the Obama administration‘s plans to regulate greenhouse gases. They also say they have plans to restrict the reach of the EPA, which, of course, has oversight of Koch Industries.
All in all, all that political spending looks to have been a pretty good investment for the Koch brothers.
After it became known that Justices Scalia and Thomas attended Koch brothers‘ events before they ruled on the Citizens United case, which has been so spectacularly good to the Koch brothers, the watchdog group Common Cause wrote a letter to the attorney general asking him to investigate, saying, quote, “If Justices Thomas and Scalia attended or spoke at Koch Industries meeting—at a Koch industries meeting during that time frame, it would certainly raise serious issues of the appearance of impropriety and bias.”
Justice Thomas, for five years, just stopped disclosing that his wife had any income at all. In that five-year time period, she was paid over $600,000 by conservative advocacy organizations. When called on it, Justice Thomas corrected the filings after the fact.
The Supreme Court said that Justice Thomas just dropped in on a conservative political strategy meeting convened by a party that benefited by one of his later rulings. His financial disclosure forms make it seem like a heck of a lot more than a drop in. They at least make it seem like it was a drop in that lasted four days.
The Supreme Court as an institution has very few rules that govern it, because they are expected to have good judgment enough to not need them. Our whole system of having a Supreme Court that cannot be appealed, at the pinnacle of our judiciary, depends on us as Americans believing in the integrity of that court. What do we do if the court just decides they don‘t care if they are seen as biased?
Joining us now is Bob Edgar. He‘s the president and CEO of Common Cause, which has petitioned the Supreme Court for an explanation and the Justice Department for an investigation of these matters.
Mr. Edgar, thank you for your time.
BOB EDGAR, COMMON CAUSE PRESIDENT & CEO: It‘s great to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: First of all, this is a—this is a relatively simple story, but with some complicated details. Do I get anything wrong in the way I laid it out?
EDGAR: You laid it out perfectly. And when I was in elementary school, I learned about the Supreme Court and I had always assumed that the nine members of the Supreme Court would be ethical. Even though they held different political views, they would look at issues in terms of the impact on the Constitution and on average, ordinary citizens.
But over the last couple weeks and years, a number of the Supreme Court justices have just violated their conflict of ethics rules, conflict of interest rules, and all other federal judges have a code of ethics that they abide by. The Supreme Court has been left out of those rules, and you would assume that they wouldn‘t need them as you said in your opening.
But, you know, I think there‘s an arrogance in the Supreme Court right now when foreign diplomats have diplomatic immunity, they‘re not tried. I think the nine members of the Supreme Court, at least a few of them, Scalia and Thomas being particular, have a—they have an ethical immunity that they think the American public won‘t see what they‘ve done.
And Common Cause has decided to call them out, to shine some light on it, to ask the attorney general to specifically look at here these two judges who go in ‘07 and ‘08 to a very secretive meeting of the Koch brothers. They come back to the Supreme Court in ‘09.
They do an extraordinary thing. They hold off the Citizens United versus the SEC for a whole new term. They come back in September—normally, the Supreme Court doesn‘t come back until October. They come back in September, have an extraordinary session.
And then a year ago, when they come out with their decision, a five to four decision, when they come out with that decision, they take a very narrow issue, and they broaden it. And they give corporations and labor unions the ability to dip into their corporate treasury. Justice Thomas‘s wife sets up something called Liberty Central, and automatically benefits from what has been provided.
MADDOW: Benefited how?
EDGAR: She benefited by taking corporate money for the first time in our history, where corporations that were surrounding conservative political ideologies were now able to use that money and independent expenditures. The Koch brothers, for example, would give legal contributions to a candidate, maybe $3,000 or $4,000 or $5,000, and then spend hundreds of thousands to trash their opponents in independent expenditures.
Common Cause believes that it‘s time for the nine members of the Supreme Court to disclose their conflicts of interest, to have openness and transparency. We think the judiciary committee of the House and Senate ought to investigate. We think the attorney general ought to figure out whether there is a real conflict of interest. And by accident, we discovered Justice Thomas not filling out a very simple form, and he surprised all of us when he said it was just too complicated when it was simply a box to check.
MADDOW: The thing that was upsetting about that is that he had previously disclosed all of his wife‘s income and then just stopped for five years until you guys called him on it.
The Supreme Court is an institution that by definition is not overseen by anybody but Common Cause. You are making the first stab at that. Thanks for your attention to this.
Will you keep us apprised about the attention you get?
EDGAR: We‘re going to stay on top of it. We will let you know what the attorney general says and we‘ll also keep the pressure on, because there are a lot of issues like health care. There are environmental issues that are going to come before the court over the next year, and it‘s really, really important that we have the real sense as Americans whether we‘re conservative, moderate or liberal, that these judgments are being made in the best interest of our nation, and not in the best interest of corporations.
MADDOW: Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause—thanks very much for your time today, Bob.
EDGAR: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and a then diagram—my favorite. Next.
MADDOW: Are you ready?
If Egypt is a circle and Italy is a circle, I have found the place in today‘s news where the two overlap. More specifically, if Egypt‘s revolution is a circle and the Italian prime minister getting charged with a felony today, and maybe losing his job is a circle, I have found the place in today‘s news where those two overlap. Thank you, Venn Diagrams.
What unites these stories, where is the overlap of these two stories in the news? The answer has to do with an alleged underage Moroccan prostitute. Tada!
Today, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was told that he has to stand trial in charges involving prostitution and abuse of power. Italian prosecutors say that last spring, a 17-year-old Moroccan belly dancer was arrested in Milan on charges of stealing a really expensive necklace. Once he learned she was in custody, the prime minister himself called the police in Milan and told them to let her go, which they did.
Italian papers published what they said were transcripts of the call from the prime minister to the police. After a month‘s long frenzy of reporting and of investigations of Mr. Berlusconi‘s alleged propensity for something the 17-year-old girl called his “bunga-bunga” parties with lots of women, Mr. Berlusconi is charged with two things. One: paying to have sex with an underage prostitute; and two, attempting to cover up that alleged crime.
What does all of this have to do with Egypt? I‘m glad you asked. Mr. Berlusconi has admitted to calling police on behalf of the girl after she was arrested for stealing. But the excuse he has given is that he needed the police to release her, because otherwise, Italy would be starting an international incident—an international incident because a 17-year-old night club dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer got arrested for stealing a necklace? That‘s an international incident?
Yes, at least according to Silvio Berlusconi, it is. The prime minister of Italy who is now accused of paying to have sex with then-17-year-old Ruby the Heart Stealer, the prime minister of Italy told the police in Milan they had to release this young woman from custody because she is Hosni Mubarak‘s niece. She is not Hosni Mubarak‘s niece, nor is she he‘s granddaughter, which is the other way this is being translated. But that‘s what Silvio Berlusconi told the police in Milan when he called to get her off the hook.
See? It really is a small world after all.
MADDOW: Here with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, speaking not this past Sunday but the Sunday before that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: This virus is spreading throughout the Middle East. It proves universality of human yearnings. And, by the way, probably the only place you won‘t see these demonstrations is Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The place you won‘t see these demonstrations was Iraq. That was Mr. McCain speaking on February 3rd. Pretty much every day since then, there have, in fact, been protests across Iraq. Yesterday, protesters in Iraq marched to Tahrir Square. There‘s a Tahrir Square in Baghdad, too.
Yes, the Iraq protest John McCain said would not happen culminated yesterday in a direct emulation of Egypt‘s protests as Iraqis marched to Baghdad‘s Al Tahrir Square. They declared it Tahrir Square 2.
President Obama today was asked about the protests in Iran, in Yemen and in Bahrain in the wake of the Egyptian revolution. There‘s two things to know about the way President Obama responded. We should know what he said overtly and what he said between the lines.
What he said overtly was classically Obama-esque, and I mean that in complimentary terms, was inspiring. He said that real change in these societies is not going to happen because of terrorism. It‘s not going to happen because you go around killing innocents. He said:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It‘s going to happen because people come together and apply moral force to a situation. That‘s what garners international support, that‘s what garners internal support. That‘s how you bring about lasting change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s what the president overtly said today. Apply moral force to a situation—that is a very powerful idea about how change happens in the world.
Mr. Obama also specifically threw his support to the protesters who are out in the streets of Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I find it ironic that you‘ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when, in fact, they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran. My hope and expectation is that we‘re going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms, and a more representative government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But there is something important between the lines of what the president said here, too. The president wasn‘t just asked about Iran. He was asked about, remember, Iran and Yemen and Bahrain.
There are protests happening in a lot of countries right now. The administration is falling all over itself to support the protesters specifically in Iran against their government in the strongest possible terms. But in terms of the other countries‘ protest, it is a much more subtle message. Just was we supported Hosni Mubarak for 30 years, the United States also substantially props up long term autocratic rulers in other countries that are now facing big protests in their streets, in Yemen, in Bahrain, in Jordan, in Algeria. For protesters in these countries, presumably what the president said about applying moral force to the situation, that inspirational message still applies.
But what‘s the rest of the message? Just yesterday, the “A.P.” reported that the U.S. military is doubling down on its work with Yemen‘s military, training that country‘s counterterrorism unit for the first time at a cost of about $75 million American dollars.
This weekend, the king of Jordan facing unrest in the streets of his own country, got a super high-powered visit from the American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the number three official in the U.S. State Department. How‘s that for a show of support?
And in Algeria and Bahrain, while U.S. officials are not bending over backwards to show support for those strong man governments, they‘re not exactly encouraging revolt in the streets the way they are with Iran, either.
We have long propped up governments around the world that are hated by their own people, because something else about those regimes, we think, serves a larger American interest. It is the elephant in the room of American foreign policy, and on days like this, at times like this, it is not only impossible to ignore that elephant in the room, but everybody is forced to start talking about it—or to get very acrobatic in efforts to avoid talking about it.
Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.
Andrea, thanks very much for your time tonight.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You bet. Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: What can you tell us about how the administration is calibrating its response to these different protest movements in countries where we‘ve essentially supported the governments?
MITCHELL: Well, they say that they‘re all different. First of all, they say they are being consistent in calling for three basic things. They call for internal reform, for no violence by the state or actually by the protesters, and for the universal right to free speech. Hillary Clinton lays that out. It has been central to all of the president‘s messages.
But they believe that U.S. allies in the region required different responses internally. For instance, they call for a form of (INAUDIBLE) Bahrain and Jordan where people are protesting, but they‘re not necessarily seeking the immediate overthrow of the regimes as they did in Egypt. The monarchs there have taken some small steps, small steps, even though they have to do a lot more. But they‘re seen by the U.S. is being less repressive than Egypt was, and then Yemen in.
In Bahrain, by the way, you also have a different situation. You have a Sunni king ruling a Shiite population. That is structurally very different from some of the other countries. U.S. officials are advising the government there to learn the lesson of Tunisia, learn the lesson of Egypt. But smaller forums are no longer an option. They have to do a lot more.
And, of course, there is the response to the regime in Kuwait. In Kuwait, they tried to buy off their population by paying out something like $2,000 a head. Kuwait also has a parliament. They‘ve got divisions between reformers and conservatives—again, a different position.
They‘ve only taken modest steps, but they are getting a basic warning that you‘ve got to do more. You have young, well-educated populations who cannot find a job, that it is not sustainable. The countries that take meaningful steps will do it right. Those who don‘t will be more vulnerable.
I wouldn‘t necessarily view the trip of Admiral Mullen as only to reassure or prop up. I think that there is a consistent message here that they do have to do more. But you‘re right—they are taking a different line with different countries. But their point is that every country is different.
MADDOW: To hear the president today in such sharp and specific terms attack the government of Iran for the violence that they have shown against their protesters there, it just made me wonder. Think—looking—for example, with those protests in Bahrain, not to single Bahrain, but people have been shot and killed in those protests in Bahrain. Two people whose names have been published, whose the circumstances of the whose deaths have been seemingly, somewhat, well-documented.
Why wouldn‘t that be a bright line for the administration to also criticize the government specifically for violence against protests?
MITCHELL: And they did. They did do that tonight. You make a very good point.
But Iran is a special case in every way. It‘s also very different from these other countries. But they say that Iran has violated every principle here. It does not permit any political reform, no free speech, crushes its opposition.
And Iran—they think—has put itself into position to be slammed because of its hypocrisy. Iran, for days, has been saluting what‘s happened in Egypt while outlawing the very same kind of protests at home.
Now, it‘s true that back in 2009, during the election campaign and the student unrest, the administration was criticized, widely criticized here and around the world for not doing enough for those students. They say they were afraid of being a scapegoat and of giving the regime the weapon to say, well, the great Satan set up these charges of fraudulent elections. So, that‘s their explanation. But they certainly have been criticized for that.
Now, they don‘t want to give the regime another chance. They do see the fact that the hypocrisy of the regime is so apparent that they think that this will further delegitimized the Tehran government. So, they are jumping all over it, but they say that this is unique.
But Yemen is also a major problem for them, less as in Bahrain. They see Yemen as a more fragile state, never completely ruled a country that‘s not really ruled by its government, and it is incredibly repressive. Look at the stories about the young woman leader there in Yemen and the fact that women have absolutely no rights there, fewer rights than they have in other places.
So, you‘re right, Rachel. There are different responses to different countries. I think they see an opportunity, frankly, to try to undercut the regime in Tehran, given what‘s happened in Egypt.
MADDOW: This is a time for hoping and praying our country has really, really, really good diplomats. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News—
MADDOW: -- chief foreign affairs correspondent and best explainer of these things that there is. Thank you for being here, Andrea.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
MADDOW: A genuine gobsmacking story coming up about state of Kansas,
that explains why at least part of our show may be moving there next week -
a story that tonight centers on may be the worst attorney general ever.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: At the top of the show yesterday, we broadcast the first national interview with the Kansas doctor who‘s trying to set up the first medical practice that would provide abortions in Wichita, Kansas, since Dr. George Tiller was murdered there a year and a half ago. For me, it was one of those interviews in which I am interested in what the interview subject has to say, and grateful for the opportunity to advance the story by getting her to answer questions about it, but mostly, honestly, I am just overwhelmed by the fact that she is taking the personal risk she is taking to speak out.
I don‘t mean political risk. I don‘t mean risk to the viability of her career—I mean actual physical risk. She is an American in danger in our country because of a legal thing she is trying to do.
In the last 18 years, eight clinic workers have been murdered. Over the last 20 years, there have been another 17 attempted murders of abortion providers or clinic workers.
Dr. Means told us last night that the reason she is trying to open this practice in Wichita is that her patients in south central Kansas don‘t have anywhere to go to get this medical service. That‘s why she wants to do it. She‘s trying to replace a service that no longer exists because the doctor who provided it before was killed for doing it.
And we‘re left as a country with a central question here—a central question about what kind of country we are. Right now, abortions aren‘t available in central Kansas not because there isn‘t—there isn‘t a need for the service. Not because there isn‘t a market for a practice that would provide the service, not because there are not doctors who are interested in providing the service, but because of murder and threats of murder and assault and terrorizing harassment.
This is not just a Kansas issue. This isn‘t even just an abortion issue. This is an American issue. We are a country right now in which what you do professionally is in part determined by a political movement that uses violence and the threat of violence to get its way, and they‘re finding that to be successful.
There‘s a bright line in American politics. You believe in force or you don‘t. You either believe in the law or you don‘t. There is a law in the country that you believe is unjust. You either believe you should peacefully advocate for it to be changed or you believe that the justness of your cause excuses killing or otherwise terrorizing those with whom you disagree.
American politics is a robust and rollicking and energized and innervating thing. Americans are not afraid to take a side but that bright line between force and not force—that is a bright line. And we count on the law. We count on the government. We count on law enforcement to protect us from those who would use force no matter why they think it‘s justified. Except on this issue, we sometimes can‘t.
In some states, in some cases, the force of law has been used itself as an instrument of intimidation and threat and harassment against doctors providing a supposedly constitutionally protected legal service.
Meet Phill Kline. He was attorney general in Kansas from 2003 to 2007. He used the powers of his office to investigate abortion providers in Kansas, including Dr. George Tiller.
According to a 36-page complaint against him filed by the state bar, quote, “Shortly after taking office as the attorney general for the state of Kansas, Mr. Kline met with top aides to formulate a plan to target women‘s health care services and Dr. Tiller.” Despite the admitted, quote, “absence of a definite complaint or allegation,” the attorney general‘s team pressed on with their investigation, misleading a state agency in order to get information from it, and then using that information in a misleading way to get their anti-abortion inquisition started.”
Over the course this of investigation, the Phill Kline administration is accused of using his office‘s subpoena power to get his hands on medical records of 60 of Dr. Tiller‘s patients, the redacted medical records of 60 of Dr. Tiller‘s patients.
Phill Kline, his office, also then subpoenaed records from a hotel near Dr. Tiller‘s clinic to which the clinic had referred patients, a place they could stay. He subpoenaed records from the hotel too, so then he could compare the hotel records to the medical records, so even though those medical records were redacted that way by cross-referencing them with the hotel, he could get the women‘s names that have been crossed out on those personal medical files. He could get their personal medical files.
The document created as a result of this effort lists 221 potential adult patient names, 221 adult patient addresses, including the streets, the city, and the state, 221 adult patient telephone numbers.
But he did not stop at using the powers of his office to identify the patients of Dr. Tiller. The attorney general staff then engaged in an effort to identify visitors and employees of Dr. Tiller‘s clinic. They staked out the clinic. They followed visitors and employees to their vehicles. They recorded automobile license plate numbers and then used the powers of their office to identify those people.
Phill Klein could be disbarred next week, excuse me, for the way that he obtained those medical records and for what his office did with them. His hearing on ethics charges is set to begin Monday in Topeka. We‘re going to be covering that as a show. We may be sending part of our show to Kansas for next week.
On an issue for which extremists have murdered or attempted to murder 25 people in the last 20 years, Phill Kline is an example of where Americans who should be able to count on the protection of law instead were victimized by the people who were supposed to be protecting them.
In South Dakota today, there‘s been national attention to a bill that would call it justifiable homicide to kill someone who would try to harm a fetus. The bill‘s author says this has nothing to do with abortion whatsoever. Antiabortion extremists who have killed and physically attacked abortion providers over the last 20 years, of course, have argued in court again and again that they see the killing of abortion doctors as justifiable homicide.
The South Dakota bill was supposed to be voted on today. It has been put off until tomorrow. The reason it‘s causing so much consternation is the fear that this will be yet another dog whistle from the supposed mainstream anti-abortion movement to those on the radical edge of the movement who have proven time and time again that they will kill to get their way and who are unrepentant about it when they have done it. Hey, you guys, it‘s justifiable homicide. Did you hear that?
Whether or not you care about abortion rights, whether you care about the South Dakota legislature or attorney generals in Kansas, the question remains: what kind of country are we? When we are confronted with the evidence, when we are confronted with the wanted posters, we‘re confronted with the murders and the attempted murders, when we‘re confronted with the landlord lawsuits over the promises of harassment, when we‘re confronted with the directives that doctors should be intimidated in their homes—what do we as a country do about that?
Are we OK with a political movement physically intimidating Americans out of doing something they would otherwise do? Should we be encouraging that movement, or should we be encouraging and protecting the people who they are winning against by terrorizing?
There is nobody providing abortions in Wichita, Kansas, today. There‘s nobody providing abortions in Wichita since Dr. Tiller was murdered, and that‘s true because of domestic terrorism—the threat of violence against people who would otherwise be providing that legal service.
Our guest last night is the living evidence of that. What are we as a country doing to stop that?
MADDOW: Wisconsin‘s governor wants to break unions in the public sector so badly he keeps talking about calling in the National Guard to try to make his threat to do it seem all that more threatening.
Today, the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, many of them at least, weighed in on this story. Let‘s just say they are not on the union-busting governor‘s side. Whatever, Cowboys. The Packers are making their play for being the real America‘s team here.
And America‘s Ed, Ed Schultz, is all over this story. We will see you tomorrow night at the regular time but right now, it‘s “THE ED SHOW.”
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