'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
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Guests: E.J. Dionne, Sen. Charles Schumer, Phil Fairbanks
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thanks a lot, Lawrence. I appreciate it.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Today was the day that the leftovers of former Republican Senator John Ensign‘s political career got divvied up among a how hungry Republican Caucus left behind in the United States Senate. John Ensign‘s seat on the Finance Committee will now go to Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina. John Ensign‘s seat on the Budget Committee will go to Senator Kelly Ayotte of North—excuse me—of New Hampshire. John Ensign‘s seat on the Homeland Security Committee will go to Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas. And Mr. Ensign‘s seats on the Commerce, Energy and Aging Committees will go to his replacement in the Senate, Dean Heller of Nevada.
What was left of John Ensign‘s time in the United States Senate has now officially been picked over by all his former Republican colleagues. It is still sort of amazing to me that a sex and ethics scandal as salacious as John Ensign‘s did not get more national attention than it did.
When John Ensign finally resigned just ahead of the Senate Ethics Committee potentially expelling him from the Senate for this scandal, he even got lucky about that on his way out the door. John Ensign‘s farewell speech happened last Monday. It happened on a day when nothing made the news that was not related to Osama bin Laden‘s death. And John Ensign‘s good-bye speech would have made for some news had there been any oxygen left many the news cycle at all that day.
In his farewell address, Mr. Ensign, for example, chose to reference his own unfortunate urges.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA: I even tried not to become caught up in my own self-importance. Unfortunately, the urge to believe in it was stronger than the power to fight it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don‘t think there‘s a right way to give that kind of speech, but I would suggest that saying the word “urge” in that speech referencing your own urges when you‘re leaving the Senate for that particular reason, I don‘t know. Anyway.
One theory I have had about why John Ensign‘s sex scandal did not get more national attention, even as it claimed the career of the former head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, the guy who a lot of people said was on the road to the White House himself, even as it claimed that career, one theory I have had about why the Ensign scandal never got wider traction is because the John Ensign story did not help the Beltway media tell a larger story. It did not fit into a larger narrative.
Just talking about his hypocrisy, who he was shtooping, how he paid off the person he was shtooping, all the other sort of details, to the Beltway, that is parentally an unsatisfying story—unless it can be used to explain something more broadly about Republican politics, unless it can be used to explain some larger liability that might affect other politicians, too.
And this year, the Beltway media has decided that family values, sexual moralizing, social issues of all kind—those are just not relevant to Democratic versus Republican politics.
When Indiana‘s Republican Governor Mitch Daniels told “The Weekly Standard” last June that the next president would have to declare a truce on social issues, quote, “We‘re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while until the economic issues are resolved.” When Mitch Daniels said that, the Beltway media‘s response was to coronate him as a serious candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Why was that? Because that social issues truce line validated a narrative the Beltway was already really invested in, because it is one that Republicans had been telling them to say and it is that Republican politics this year are all about the Benjamins. Republican politics this year all about fiscal conservativism. All of those old-fashioned, divisive fire and brimstone, crusader politics are behind the Republicans.
Yes, the Democratic president may be charismatic and inspiring to naive idealists, but serious grown ups are looking to the Republican Party now for non-divisive, just common sense issues. And that means the social stuff can‘t be the priority anymore. Let‘s call a truce on the social issues as Mitch Daniels said. Let‘s just focus on money.
That is a very attributive line that the Republican Party has been wholesaling. And the Beltway media has very much bought it. And now, the Beltway media is busy selling it retail to the country. They have been for months now.
The problem is, is that this line, however attractive it is, it‘s not true. One of the ways you can tell it‘s not true is that all the Republican presidential contenders so far, even the most unlikely ones are crusading really hard on social issues.
The biggest political story in the news today is, of course, that former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich finally, sort of, officially announced his run for president this year.
Because of Mr. Gingrich‘s own troubled personal history, he should probably be the candidate least capable of crusading on moral and sexual issues, right? But that is exactly what Newt Gingrich has been doing in the run up to announcing this candidacy. Before this announced run for president, Mr. Gingrich chaired a group called Renewing American Leadership, a group he founded he said, in order to, and I quote, “bring moral leadership back to our nation.”
What sort of moral leadership is Newt Gingrich offering exactly? What sort of pressing moral issues are the ones that Newt Gingrich is qualified to be the crusader on? Well, I‘m glad you asked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Did you know there is a gay fascism in this country? Gay secular fascism plotting to use violence to take over the country, to make it a gay fascist country, so that we can destroy traditional religion. Duck, hide, arm yourself, send Newt money. I don‘t know. But that‘s his contention.
Earlier this year, Mr. Gingrich told a conservative talk radio host that the first thing he would do as president, the thing he would do on his very first day as President Gingrich would be to roll back abortion rights. That‘s what he says he would do on day one in office. That would be his first priority: abortion.
As he toured the country promoting yet another new book, recently, Mr.
Gingrich teamed up for a public appearance with Reverend Lou Engel. Mr.
Engel, seen here, praying over Newt Gingrich.
If Lou Engel seems familiar, you may remember him from his calls for Christian martyrs to die to stop abortion in America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOU ENGEL, EVANGELIST: The days are coming when we have to risk our lives to stand for truth in this society. Six hundred thousand men died on the battlefields of America. And if God required it for slavery, what will it mean if God requires it for America, for the bloodshed of 50 million babies?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Gingrich is not the only Republican presidential contender to turn toward the social conservativism—the part of social conservativism that is that radical and blood thirsty. Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, for example, will reportedly share the stage next month at a Tea Party-nominating convention for president and vice president, with an activist named Bradlee Dean.
If the name Bradlee Dean is familiar to you from this show, it maybe that you remember Bradlee Dean, like Lou Engel, calling for an upping of the bloodshed in America‘s culture wars.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BRADLEE DEAN, YOU CAN RUN MINISTRIES: Muslims are calling for the execution of homosexuals in America. This was just released yesterday and it shows you that they themselves are upholding the laws that are in the Bible of the Judeo-Christian God, but they seem to be more moral than even the American Christians do, because these people are livid about enforcing their laws. They know homosexuality is an abomination.
If America won‘t enforce the laws, God will raise up a foreign enemy to do just that. That‘s what you‘re seeing today in America.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Foreign enemies rising up against America because Christians aren‘t doing the job of killing the gays.
Whether the Beltway will acknowledge it or not, this is what it‘s like to compete for the Republican presidential nomination this year in 2011. It‘s public appearances with guys like this. Candidates or potential candidates like Michele Bachmann, like Rick Santorum, like Mike Huckabee, those are the kinds of candidates who are front-paging their social conservative views and, frankly, those are the kinds of candidates you would expect to do that.
But what the Beltway has been missing is just not the hilarity of Newt Gingrich trying to reinvent himself as a born-again moral leader. It is just not the always running of conservative social candidates like man on dog Rick Santorum, or preacher-turned-politician Mike Huckabee. It is also the supposedly serious candidates, the ones who supposedly really reflect what mainstream Republican candidates are all about right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
TIM PAWLENTY ®, FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: We need to be a country that turns toward God, not a country that turns away from God.
PAWLENTY: We have people in Washington, D.C. who believe the unborn do not have a right to life. Yes, they do.
PAWLENTY: We have people in Washington, D.C. who say marriage will be defined however we feel like defining it. No, it won‘t. It should be defined as between a man and a woman.
MITT ROMNEY ®, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: The social issues that this country considers and are very much in debate today are very important. Marriage must be defended. I think it‘s under attack. And I believe that being pro-life is a very important feature of the American culture. And that‘s something I will continue to defend.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Former Republican Governors Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney not thought of as great social issues crusaders both pushing social issues.
And then this week, Mr. “Truce on Social Issues,” himself, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, he ripped up that truce he wrote as well. After months of praise from the Beltway for the supposed Mitch Daniels mantra of focusing on fiscal issues and forgetting about divisive social issues, this week, Governor Daniels signed a bill that is expected to make Indiana‘s budget deficit worse by millions of dollars per year. It will do so because it will ban all federal funding to—excuse me—ban all funding to Planned Parenthood clinics whether or not they provide abortions.
Mr. Fiscal Discipline embracing the abortion culture war at the expense of his own state‘s budget, as the move puts at jeopardy $400 million a year to his state in federal funds.
“The Associated Press” helpfully noting today, quote, “The law could improve Daniels‘ status among social conservatives as he considers running for president in 2012.” Yes, you think?
There is no truce on social issues in Republican politics. This is as much an animating force in Republican politics as it has ever been. You can see it in the presidential candidates if you‘re willing to pay attention to what they‘re actually doing rather than what they say they‘re doing. And you can see it in the places where Republicans are in governing control, like in the states.
This year, Republicans have introduced approximately 570 bills to restrict abortion rights in 48 states. Republicans in the states right now are implementing the most radical rollback of abortion rights in this country since Roe versus Wade.
In the other place Republicans have governing control right now, the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans there are pursuing three separate federal rollbacks of abortion rights, including one that would raise taxes in order to curtail abortion rights.
What the Beltway media says Republicans are doing is just focusing on issues like the budget, letting all of that abortion fighting go by the wayside.
What Republicans are actually doing is raising taxes in order to curtail abortion rights. They‘re supposedly only focusing on taxes so they don‘t have to worry about stuff like abortion. What they‘re doing is raising taxes to go after abortion rights. In the states, they are making their budget deficits worse in order to go after abortion rights.
Republicans sold the Beltway this line that there wasn‘t going to be any culture war this year. So, the media apparently did not bother to hire any culture war correspondents.
But this war is underway. You guys are late, but it‘s not too late to start covering it. Get to know the candidates‘ friend Lou Engel, for example—there‘s a place to start.
Joining us now is E.J. Dionne, “Washington Post” columnist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
E.J., it‘s great to see you. Thanks for being here.
E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: Good to see you. Thanks for your moral leadership.
MADDOW: Oh, I am about as unqualified as Newt Gingrich, but I would never lord that over anybody on YouTube.
E.J., it has been more than a year now of intense Beltway coverage of the Tea Party phenomenon. There is purported great interest in the dynamics of Republican politics.
So, why the beltway common wisdom that culture war issues are passe in Republican politics right now when there really are so much of them in evidence?
DIONNE: Well, I think when the Tea Party came along, there was an impression, not just inside the Beltway, but certainly here, that this was a new kind of conservativism that it was more libertarian and that social issues were going to go by the wayside. But when you actually looked at who Tea Party were, it turns out that they may be libertarian on whether they want government to spend money or how they want to tax people, but actually, a majority of them are social conservatives.
Public Religion Research Institute did a poll where about half of the people who identify with the Tea Party also identified with themselves as Christian conservatives. Almost 2/3 of them were opposed to abortion.
So, these are socially conservative libertarians, not the kinds of people you associate with libertarianism. And I think it‘s just true in each party that there is a litmus test. You got to be pro-choice to win a Democratic nomination. And you‘ve got to be pro-life, anti-abortion, to win a Republican nomination.
The guy this is going to cause problems for I think is Mitt Romney because I was listening this afternoon to a debate in 2002 when he was running for governor of Massachusetts. And he persuaded me that he was pro-choice, which is what he was trying to do. He gave this very powerful pro-choice statement. Of course, now, he doesn‘t have that position anymore. And I think other people are going to watch that video before much time passes.
MADDOW: Well, Mitt Romney, having been questioned on the last time he ran for president, said he had had a sort of—he sort of got religion, metaphorically speaking, on the issue of abortion, that he had decided to change his mind about that, he sort of had a spiel about that.
We‘ve got Tim Pawlenty apologizing now for having previously believed that global warming was a real thing, previously believed in the Republican policy of cap-and-trade, which they‘re all running from right now.
But we‘re seeing is all of these guys, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, all of these people who are sort of seen as non-culture warriors as serious, mainstream, mostly fiscal-oriented, moderat-ish Republican candidates going hard line on culture war.
Is there any room at all in the Republican nominating process to be something other than what they are all desperately trying to morph themselves into right now?
DIONNE: Well, there isn‘t at the beginning of the Republican primary process. I think this has a lot to do with the Iowa caucuses where Christian conservatives are a very, very strong force, and the South Carolina primary, which is another place where social conservatives are very strong. Now, New Hampshire, which is a little more of a libertarian state, intervenes in that process.
But what—I think if you lose both Iowa and South Carolina, it gets very tough on you. I think the other thing is, a lot of social moderates, as well as liberals, have left the Republican Party. You‘re seeing the Republican primary electorate shrink to a much harder core kind of conservative. They‘re more conservative on spending and taxes, too, but they‘re very conservative on social issues. So, there aren‘t a lot of Rockefeller Republicans out there anymore.
MADDOW: I think that point that you just made about the early primary states is so important. And I have been wondering if that sway of the culture conservatives in places like Iowa and South Carolina, if that in part explains why so many Republican candidates have been so slow to enter the race this year, because they, looking ahead toward trying to win over independent voters, they do not want to spend another year getting press coverage for talking about sodomy in Iowa, which is what Iowa Republican primary voters are going to make them talk about.
DIONNE: Well, there is that. But I also think they have a problem in terms of who actually wants to run for president. I mean, Mitt Romney, if you go back to his old positions could actually be a socially moderate, fiscally conservative candidate, but he doesn‘t think he the get through. He got beaten in Iowa by Mike Huckabee the last time around. And it was very hard for him to recover.
The one guy who kind of snuck through this process was John McCain, the last time, but he had conservatives, kind of, splitting up the vote elsewhere. You thought that Mitch Daniels would try to play a role kind of like McCain‘s, but the fact that he had to sign that Planned Parenthood bill in Indiana tells you that he wasn‘t able to maintain the truce for very long, although he might not try to re-establish it.
MADDOW: E.J. Dionne, columnist with “The Washington Post,” senior fellow at the Brookings Institution—E.J., I always love having you on the show. Thank you for being here.
DIONNE: Always fun to be here. Thank you.
MADDOW: So, you paid more taxes on your grilled chicken prasada (ph) from the deli today than Exxon paid to the federal government today. You paid more than Exxon. I know that to be true if you are a taxpayer, even though I don‘t actually know what a prasada is.
New York City Senator Chuck Schumer will join us to talk about the Exxon part of that. Not the confusing deli order part of that. That‘s coming up next.
But, first, “One More Thing” about Newt Gingrich declaring his presidential run today. As you know, Mr. Gingrich has been professionally flirting with running for president for years. And by that, I mean he has made a profession out of doing that flirting.
In order to support his various Newt Gingrich incorporated organizations and money-making schemes and companies, there has to be some sense that Mr. Gingrich has political relevance. And so, he has to make it seem like maybe he‘s running for president in order to keep his name in the news, in order to keep making money off his name.
To that end, he has been stringing out the process that he‘s maybe running and maybe definitely running, and yes, surely, definitely running for months now. Today, Mr. Gingrich finally tweeted and then posted a YouTube video to make his presidential run seem official. And if you watched the video on YouTube of him announcing for president, here‘s how it appeared on your screen.
Check this out. OK? The video says, “It‘s official, Newt Gingrich is running for president! A video posted by N. Gingrich.”
Then, over on the right-hand side, the suggestions for videos you might want to watch since you like this one so much—Newt on the possibility of the government shutdown posted by N. Gingrich. Newt on the Wisconsin union protests, posted by N. Gingrich. Newt, why does the left hate nuclear power, posted by N. Gingrich.
And then there‘s this one, the scam that is Newt Gingrich for president posted not by N. Gingrich. Somebody cut and pasted one of our segments about Newt Gingrich and his for-profit permanent campaign and posted it on the YouTube, and then today, Mr. Gingrich inadvertently suggested to all the people who watched his presidential announcement video on YouTube that they also might want to check out our segment which calls him a rip off artist.
We had nothing to do with it. I swear to you.
MADDOW: New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the United States Senate, will join us next. Please stay with us.
MADDOW: If you pay taxes in this country, in America, then you—watching this on your iPhone on the bus, you wanting this on your couch at home right, you—you as individual human American taxpayer, you pay more in taxes than Exxon Mobil.
Exxon has been the most profitable company in America for eight years straight. In 2009, Exxon reported $19 billion in profit. What did they pay in terms of tax on that? They paid minus $156 million. They got an IRS rebate of $156 million. Sweet deal.
Full disclosure: when Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont did his list of epic corporate tax avoidance earlier this year, Exxon was not exactly alone. Although Exxon came in first on his list, our corporate overlords at G.E. came in third on Senator Sanders‘ top-10 list of giant corporate tax avoiders. So, even though you pay more taxes than Exxon, it should fairly be noted that you also pay more taxes than my giant corporate boss.
If you pay taxes in this country, you also pay more than Chevron, which made $10 billion profit in 2009 and they also got a nice check back from Uncle Sam, thank you very kindly.
Also, ConocoPhillips, which made $16 billion from 2006 to 2009, they at the same time got nearly a half billion dollars in tax breaks for doing the great public mitzvah of being a wildly profitable oil company.
Of the 10 worst tax avoiders on Senator Sanders‘ list, four of them are oil companies. And it‘s not just that oil companies are great at avoiding taxes, we help them do it. The U.S. government currently hands out $4 billion a year in subsidies in the form of tax breaks to the same oil companies that are the most profitable corporations on earth ever.
The three oil companies we just listed are all in the top five on the new “Fortune” 500. “Fortune” magazine also tallied their latest profits and the percentage by which the profits have grown since 2009.
Look at ConocoPhillips up by more than 130 percent. Oh, go ahead—put the fortune back in “Fortune” 500.
You may wonder why oil companies raking in that much money would need an additional $4 billion a year in the form of welfare from Uncle Sam. Money that might instead go toward—I don‘t know, fixing this, fixing stuff like this, right? Fixing our infrastructure, fixing our schools, or even just paying down the debt.
Why instead are we giving that money away to oil companies that are already making bank? And that are charging us all so much for gas that I had the learn to unpleasant truth this past weekend that once you hit 75 bucks on your debit card at the pump, you have to swipe your debit card again at the same pump so you can keep going because, the tank is not full yet even though you‘ve already spent $75.
Tomorrow, the nation‘s top five oil executives will get a chance to make their case on Capitol Hill for keeping their taxpayer subsidies.
ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva appeared in one ConocoPhillips press release today that called the prospect of taking away the subsidies for oil companies, quote, “un-American.” His company then issued a second press release that I think we are supposed to take as a ransom note, quote, “The oil and gas industry supports 19.1 million jobs in the United States. A fact that is too often overlooked. Also, taxes are included at gasoline prices. At a time when everyone is concerned over the price of gasoline, Congress shouldn‘t do anything that could actually worsen the situation.”
Nice economy you got there. Be ashamed if anything, you know, happen to it.
Joining us now: Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York. He is the Senate‘s third-ranking Democrat. He sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which is holding the hearing with the five oil company executives tomorrow.
Senator Schumer, thanks very much for being on the show tonight.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Glad to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: The ConocoPhillips CEO says said it would be un-American to stop paying subsidies to his oil company and other big oil companies. What is your feeling about that assertion?
SCHUMER: Well, I think he‘s on the different planet than almost every other American except oil company executives. To say it is un-American—
I‘ll tell you what‘s un-American. What‘s un-American is to take these tax breaks at a time when ConocoPhillips and other oil companies are making record profits, at a time when oil was over $4 a gallon at the pump and over $100 a barrel, when they argued that they need these subsides when the price of oil was $17 and they need to encourage exploration.
At $100 a barrel, they don‘t need any financial nudge from the federal government to explore. They‘re making so much money they‘re exploring, exploring, exploring.
MADDOW: In the short run, it seems to me like it makes sense politically to tie oil companies getting subsidies to how high gas prices are right now. But it seems like the more substantive question, maybe the longer term question that this gets at, is whether or not corporate taxes and corporate subsidies get counted as one of the things that we spend on as a country.
Are you opening that part of the conversation as D.C. fights about the deficit?
MADDOW: You are.
SCHUMER: In the bill that Senator Menendez is putting forward that the Senate will vote on next week, we put all of the money two deficit reduction. Now, some have said we should put the money into encouraging green energy. And we‘re going to try to do that later on this year.
But this is an issue of the deficit. Speaker Boehner says, mister—the congressman from Wisconsin says that we have to decimate Medicare, end Medicare as we know it to balance the budget. And yet, at the same time, they‘re not touching the oil company subsidies. So, we want to see if our Republican colleagues are actually going to say that keeping the subsidies to the oil companies when they‘re making record profits and need no encouragement to explore for oil is more important than say helping students go to college and not cutting Pell grants, doing cancer research and not cutting NIH research.
And one bit of good news actually happened tonight, Rachel. John McCain showed his old independent self when he said to a number of reporters, when asked, that he was seriously considering voting for our bill.
MADDOW: Do you think that you have a chance of passing this? Is Senator McCain‘s statement a sign of more Republican support to come?
SCHUMER: Well, actually, when you look at it, other Republicans in the past have supported ending these subsidies. Senator Thune did at one point. Speaker Boehner said that the big oil company shouldn‘t get subsidies. We‘ve had even some of the many other Republicans say the same thing.
So, we‘re hopeful this bill can pass. But I will tell you this—how are we every going to come to some kind of budget agreement if the Republicans in the House continue to block even this little cut, because what you say is right—you can balance the budget in one baby cutting programs and some of those programs need to be trimmed down, but some of them are extremely important to average middle class families. Or you can balance the budget by eliminating all these kinds of wasteful, what the economists would call, tax expenditures, like this oil and gas, one, and there are many others.
We also believe that millionaires shouldn‘t get the kind of tax break that George Bush gave them. And that is something we should do sooner than cutting Pell grants or cancer research which is Republicans in the House seem to want to do.
MADDOW: On that issue of the Bush tax cuts, Ezra Klein at “The Washington Post” today had some useful math talking about how if Senator Boehner wants to demand $2 trillion in cuts, which he demanded earlier this week at a speech in New York, in exchange for not holding the debt ceiling hostage, Ezra argued that if those $2 trillion of cuts were just granted to Speaker Boehner, whatever he wants them to be, the deficit would still not go down—the deficit would continue to grow because the Republicans want to hold on to the Bush tax cuts and indeed extend tax cuts for the wealthy and corporation beyond everything that we‘ve ever seen before.
MADDOW: How soon are we going to have the debate about the Bush tax cuts and the rest of the Republican tax cut proposals?
SCHUMER: Well, this is—the oil subsidies are opening, but we‘re going to go on to these other issues that you have mentioned. And the bottom line is very, very simple. If you want to get the deficit in order, you can do it in only one of two ways. There aren‘t enough cuts as you said and as Ezra Klein said today on the domestic discretionary programs to do it.
You have to do one of two things. You have to decimate Medicare, which the House Republican budget did, or you have to eliminate these tax cuts for the very wealthy—whether they be wealthy individuals or wealthy corporations like the great American company Conoco. And those are the only two choices.
And 80 percent of all Americans would favor the choice we make, which is to eliminate the tax cuts to the wealthy, not decimate Medicare. And Republicans, when they go home to their districts are learning just this. And that‘s why they‘re having some trouble.
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, sir, thank you very much for your time tonight. I really appreciate it.
SCHUMER: Nice to talk to you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Last night, we updated a story we have been covering for months now, actually for a couple of years now—efforts by politicians with strong American ties to make homosexuality punishable by death in their country. That‘s the so-called “kill the gays” bill introduced by Ugandan member of parliament who is linked to C Street, the boarding house for conservative members of Congress in Washington run by a secretive religious group known as The Family.
The long time dictator of Uganda is also linked to The Family, and he has been for years. He‘s due to be sworn to another terms as that country‘s president tomorrow. Amid protests after an election this past February that was widely disputed as rigged.
These images here are of police in Uganda‘s capital city shooting protesters with pink dye or pink paint at a demonstration in the capital city yesterday. On last night‘s show, we reported that the “kill the gays” bill appeared to be steaming ahead and it might be made as law as soon as today.
Now, it has been delayed. It is due to come up in parliament not today but instead on Friday, which means that Uganda‘s dictator backed for decades by C Street and the Family, he will not be signing the “kill the gays” law into effect as his last major action before his new inauguration tomorrow, but he could sign it into law on Friday, as the first act of his new term as president.
President Obama has condemned the “kill the gays” law as odious. We understand the U.S. State Department is monitoring the situation closely. U.S. Representative Barney Frank released the statement yesterday saying the U.S. should block aid to Uganda from institutions like the World Bank if the “kill the gays” bill becomes law.
As always, we will keep you posted on this sometimes hard to follow, but always rather alarming story.
MADDOW: One way to know when a political tactic is working, the party against which you are using that tactic starts yelling, “Uncle, Uncle, stop it!” A group of freshman Republican members of Congress held a press conference asking for President Barack Obama‘s help. The Republicans asked President Obama to get Democrats to stop criticizing them for voting to kill Medicare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM KINZINGER ®, ILLINOIS: House freshman asks the president to stand above bipartisanship, condemn the attacks and work with Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
It turns out that voting to end Medicare was not a popular move. And, apparently, these freshmen are not enjoying the consequences of having taken that vote. These freshman Republicans, 42 of them, also put their request for help to President Obama in letter form yesterday asking him: will you join us to stop the political rhetoric?
The vote on the Paul Ryan budget and killing Medicare was almost a month ago. The final tally was 235 to 193. Ninety-eight percent of all House Republicans, including all but one freshman voted for this thing. Now that they are feeling the political cost of that vote, today‘s Republican press event was a plea to the Democrats to please let that vote be forgotten.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KINZINGER: Let‘s get past the past. Let‘s move forward to the future and say, OK, today is today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today is today.
In fact, today is also another day Republicans can regret voting to kill Medicare, because Democrats are showing no signs of letting up on this.
In the special election campaign going on right now in New York‘s 26th district, Democrats ad nailing the Republican candidate for saying she would have voted for the “kill Medicare budget” seems to have turned that race around in what ought to be a very, very safe Republican safe in a red district, Republicans are having to fight as hard as they can to try to hold on to it. They have sent the speaker of the House, John Boehner, to that district, they have sent their majority leader, they have sent the head of the House Campaign Committee, all to this rural district in Upstate New York, not to mention a yet to be determined amount of money from the Republican House Campaign Committee, and $650,000 from Karl Rove‘s group to wage a fight to which the Republicans really shouldn‘t have had to commit any precious resource.
Today, we learn that had the Democratic House Campaign Committee will try to answer some of that spending with some ad spending of their own. The fact that this is even considered to be contested territory, that it is at all a political battleground is sort of a shocking political development. And it tells you why House Republicans freshmen, as a group, are begging for this thing they did to please go away.
Joining us now from New York‘s 26th district is Phil Fairbanks, political writer for “The Buffalo News.”
Mr. Fairbanks, thanks very much for joining us.
PHIL FAIRBANKS, THE BUFFALO NEWS: It‘s a pleasure to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: When Christopher Lee resigned this seat—was there any sign at all in the district that this would be a competitive race that the Democrats would make a good run for this?
FAIRBANKS: No, not at all. I mean, you have to keep in mind, this is a congressional seat that hasn‘t been Democratic in recent memory, probably more than 40 years. It‘s been a seat that‘s been held by Republicans like Jack Kemp, Bill Paxton, and Tom Reynolds.
So, this has been a very strong GOP territory for literally decades.
So, no, no one expected this kind of horse race.
MADDOW: I know that in this race, the third party candidate is really playing a factor. Those Karl Rove—that Karl Rove money is being spent on ads specifically attacking him. Can you explain that dynamic, how that‘s affecting the polling numbers? What that might mean for this election?
FAIRBANKS: Yes, we have a gentleman by the name of Jack Davis, who is actually a lifelong Republican, switch to the Democratic Party about eight years ago. He‘s very much an anti-free trade politician. He became unhappy with Republicans, switched to the Democrats, ran three times for this seat and was never successful.
Now, this time around, he‘s running for a fourth time, but this time as a Tea Party candidate. And he‘s proving to be at the very least a spoiler. Every poll so far shows him with an excess of 20 percent of the vote.
MADDOW: Is that vote coming purely at the expense of the Republican candidate or is this a more complicated dynamic?
FAIRBANKS: Certainly, for the most part from Jane Corwin, who‘s the endorsed Republican. The polling indicates that Davis, while he‘s drawing from both, is drawing certainly a great deal more from Corwin than the Democrat Kathy Hochul.
MADDOW: One of the reasons that Democrats tell us that they believe that Kathy Hochul, the Democrat, has been able to get traction in this race is not just because of that third party candidacy, but also because the Republican Jane Corwin said she would vote for the Paul Ryan budget.
Why did she—why did she say that if she didn‘t have to? I mean, look at those freshman Republicans up on Capitol Hill. And they got put in the position by their leadership where they had to take that vote.
But Jane Corwin didn‘t have to take that vote. She could have stayed out of that by saying I would make that decision when and if I was many the House and had to be put in a position to say yay or nay.
Would she be in a better place right now if she just hasn‘t said anything about what she‘d do about Medicare?
FAIRBANKS: I think you could argue that she would be. There‘s no question about it. But, keep in mind, Jane Corwin is—she will tell you this herself, a conservative. And so, it‘s—I don‘t think it‘s a surprise that she would side with the Republicans in terms of the Ryan budget.
And also, keep in mind that she took this position about, you know, three weeks ago when the budget first came out. And, certainly, a lot has changed over the last three weeks.
So, while she may regret having to take a stance publicly, I‘m not sure her stance would have been any different today than it was three weeks ago.
MADDOW: Phil Fairbanks, political writer for “The Buffalo News”—thank you for helping us cover the story. I really appreciate it.
FAIRBANKS: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown got into a strange and confusing political kerfuffle that went largely unnoticed outside of Massachusetts because it happened in the middle of all the “Osama bin Laden is dead” news. It‘s still a very interesting kerfuffle and we think we may have figured out why it happened—what happened, how the senator screwed it up and why it all happened specifically during the bin Laden news.
We think we‘ve got it. That‘s next.
MADDOW: One of the things that got lost in the morning until noon, until night news coverage of Osama bin Laden‘s death was an unexpected announcement from the office of Massachusetts‘ junior senator, Scott Brown. Besides being a state senator and a lawyer and a part-time model before he became a United States senator, Scott Brown is also a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
Last Monday, May the 2nd, the morning after the world learned about the death of Osama bin Laden, Senator Brown told “The Boston Globe” that he was headed for Afghanistan. Specifically, Mr. Brown told “The Globe” in a telephone interview, quote, “I‘m going to be going over at some point to do some missions.”
The morning after we all got the news that Osama bin Laden is dead, Senator Scott Brown is going to Afghanistan to do some missions. Very interesting.
The senator then released an official statement about his planned trip to Afghanistan. It said, in part, quote, “Following in the tradition of other lawmakers who have completed their military service requirements overseas, this year, I have requested to conduct my annual training in Afghanistan.”
Aha, Senator Brown requested to conduct his National Guard training in Afghanistan. Still interesting. But also a little strange, because in the past, Senator Brown had said it was unlikely he would be deployed to a war zone because, as a member of Congress, he would be consider a high-value target. He thought his presence in a war zone could endanger other people with whom he would be serving during a deployment, so he probably wouldn‘t deploy.
If he believed that in the past that him deploying would endanger U.S. troops, why would he be requesting to deploy now? Hmm.
Then this happened.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as a reserve member of the National Guard, you‘re required to undergo training every year and you just announce that you‘re going to be doing your training this year in Afghanistan. Why not just do it here, Senator? Why do you feel the need to go over and do this in Afghanistan?
SEN. SCOTT BROWN ®, MASSACHUSETTS: Well, it‘s something, with all due respect, has been in process for quite a while. So, the fact that somebody dropped a dime and it‘s out, you know, obviously, going to talk about now, but I‘m going to serve like others have served.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “Somebody dropped the dime and it‘s out, so I have to talk about it now”?
To be clear here: Scott Brown is outraged that somebody leaked the information about his training in Afghanistan that‘s coming up. He is totally reluctant to talk about it to this reporter, except anybody who knows Senator Scott Brown is going to Afghanistan knows about it because Senator Scott Brown got on the phone with “The Boston Globe” and told them that, and then Scott Brown‘s office sent out a press release about it.
And yet, there he is, acting like Julian Assange e-mailed this top-secret info to “The New York Times” and who knew how that happened?
We do not know for sure how Scott Brown bungled this announcement so badly and so weirdly, but we do now know something else that has been going on in the political world of Scott Brown at this time. This week, Scott Brown got a new challenger for 2012, something the politicos and party watchers have been speculating about as a potential challenger to him for weeks, a man named Setti Warren.
Setti Warren is the mayor of Newton, Massachusetts. He‘s a well-regarded Democrat in Massachusetts state politics. He‘s also an Iraq War veteran. Mr. Warren served in Iraq as a naval intelligence specialist.
Setti Warren‘s father was a Korean War vet. His military pedigree and his wartime service are, frankly, part of his political appeal.
So, you know, who‘s to say why Scott Brown was suddenly announcing in the middle of the “Osama bin Laden is dead” news cycle that he was about to go on some missions in Afghanistan, which was clarified by his press release, that he requested to do his National Guard training in Afghanistan, and who knows why he then pretended in that interview that the information had been leaked, to use his phrase, he‘d been dimed out by somebody else, we do not know. But we do know that his naval intelligence officer, Iraq War vet, 2012 opponent was delivered just a few days after his “I‘m going to be going on some secret missions” episode with “The Boston Globe.” So, there‘s that.
When as big a news event as the death of Osama bin Laden happens, it can take weeks to go back through all the other stuff that happened underneath that news cloud and didn‘t really get noticed, that really, probably, should have been noticed that. We‘ll keep doing that.
We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Oh, I like that.
The “Best New Thing in the World Today” is the national jukebox. The new Library of Congress Web site was actually unveiled yesterday, but we couldn‘t get it to work for hours and hours and hours, so, really, today is the day it‘s the best new thing in the world. It is rare audio from the Library of Congress‘ collection that‘s all been categorized and is playable online now for free. It is so cool.
Beyond some incredible music you never would have heard otherwise, you can also browse through their categories, things like “humorous monologues,” “political speeches,” “yodeling,” “whistling.”
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: The labels from the discs that these audio recordings were taken when they were digitized are visible in pictorial files on the Web site and you can click through this stuff and it‘s just awesome. “Best New Thing in the World Today” is loc.gov/jukebox, courtesy of the United States government. The link is on our blog today if you want to check it out.
Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.” Have a great night.
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