'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, June 27, 2011
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Guests: Chris Hayes, Jose Antonio Vargas
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thanks very much.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
You know, we should have known at PAYGO. We should have known at PAYGO. In 2005, four Republican senators decided to bring back something called PAYGO, basically a rule that says if the government spends something, it has to compensate for that somewhere else in the budget. It‘s called the PAYGO rule, which is just short for pay as you go.
That‘s what we had during the Clinton administration, and in March 2005, four Republican senators proposed bringing back that rule for Washington. Bring back PAYGO. And even though four Republican senators, including John McCain, had supported legislation to do that in the past, when President Obama said, “OK, come let us reason together, I will do this thing that you want,” those same Republicans decided that they did not want PAYGO anymore.
We should have known. We should have known at PAYGO. We should have realized that was not an aberration. That was a sign post.
If we didn‘t know at PAYGO, we should have known at bipartisan deficit commission, the idea of Congress setting up a bipartisan blue ribbon panel to work on bringing down the deficit. That was an idea Republicans had signed on for, originally proposed by former Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. Seven Republican senators co-sponsored legislation to establish that sort of commission last year.
And then when President Obama said, again, come, let us reason together, I like this idea of yours, let‘s go forward with this—those same seven Republicans decided they were against it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This law failed by seven votes. When seven Republicans who had co-sponsored the bill, had co-sponsored the idea, suddenly walked away from their own proposal after I endorsed it. They make a proposal. They sign on to the bill. I say, “Great, good idea.” I turn around, they‘re gone. What happened?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was from February of last year, more than a year ago. And since then, it has become clear that that was not a one-off. Those were not just one-off instances, little outbreaks of hypocrisy. Those were not one-off instances—Republicans abandoning what they supposedly believed just for the hope of hurting President Obama.
Since then, it has become clear that it is not just a coincidence every time this happens. This is a full-blown pattern. If the Obama administration is a movie, this character is now recurring enough to have its own theme music.
PAYGO—Republicans were for it. Then so was Obama. So now, Republicans are against it.
Bipartisan deficit commission—Republicans were for it. Then so was Obama. So, now, Republicans are against it.
Same thing on cap-and-trade. Democrats wanted to just ban certain levels of pollution in the air, but Republicans said, no, no, no, we have to use the market. So, OK, let‘s cap that pollution, but then let‘s let businesses and utilities trade their ability to pollute.
Cap and trade was the Republican idea. Republicans were for it.
Then, so was President Obama. So, now, Republicans are against it.
Same thing on health reform frankly. Democrats wanted to require that businesses cover all of their employees. Republicans said, no, no, we Republicans, we like bumper stickers about individual responsibility. So, their counterproposal, the Republican idea on health reform was that business would be required to cover all their employees, but individuals, individual responsible, individuals would be required to get insurance.
The individuals mandate—Republicans were for it. Then so was President Obama. So, now, Republicans are against it.
You know, it is fine if you don‘t care about policy. It‘s fine. There‘s a lot of things worth caring about in the world. Maybe you don‘t think policy is worth caring about.
But if you do not care about policy, don‘t get involved in it. Don‘t have it be your job to vote on policy if you are perfectly comfortable taking positions diametrically opposed to your previous positions without even really understanding the difference on policy. Don‘t have it be your job to vote on policy if your only standard for deciding whether or not a policy is good or bad is who the president is at the time somebody is asking you.
When George W. Bush proposed trying international terrorism suspects in U.S. federal courts, the outcry from congressional Republicans at the time sounded like this.
When Barack Obama proposed doing exactly the same thing, it sounded somewhat more loud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: This is really dangerous nonsense. We have a way to do it, John. Interrogate them, detain them, and try them in military commissions off shore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Did that idea just occurred to you? Republicans were for terrorism trials in the United States when George W. Bush was president. Then so was President Obama, so now Republicans are against it.
Under George W. Bush, the United States Senate voted to raise the debt crying seven separate times, and each time it enjoyed all sorts of Republican support. In 2002, 31 Republicans in the Senate voted to raise the debt ceiling. In 2003, 50 Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling. In 2004, again, 50 Republicans said let‘s raise the debt ceiling.
Two years later, in 2006, that number was up to 51 Republicans. In 2007, 26 Republicans.
In 2008, there were two votes to raise the debt ceiling supported by 34 Republicans the first time, and 33 Republicans the second time.
This is all during the Bush administration. And as you might expect in the Bush administration, raising the debt ceiling was a yearly occurrence, right?
And look at these numbers. This is how Republicans voted on it. It was no problem.
And remember, for context here, when President Bush came into office, there was no deficit, right? The nation was running a budget surplus of $127 billion. By the time George W. Bush left office, we had a projected budget deficit of $1.2 trillion.
But over that time, every time the debt ceiling came up for a vote, these were the votes of Senate Republicans to raise that debt ceiling. OK?
Since President Obama has been in office, here are the Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling. Yes.
What‘s the difference between raising the debt ceiling over there and raising the debt ceiling over there? What‘s the difference between these two totally different patterns of Republican behavior? You tell me.
What‘s the difference? What could it possibly be?
Now, as Washington staggers and jags towards the real deadline by which we might default on our debt and incidentally cause a global financial catastrophe, Republicans are now storming out of talks to prevent that catastrophe, storming out on principle, refusing to even continue to discuss the prospect of avoiding catastrophe because something so offensive to their deeply held principles was suggested by Democrats.
Democrats‘ grave offense here is that they have said they would like to please cut taxpayer subsidies for the biggest oil companies in the world, the most profitable companies the world has ever known should no longer get subsidies from the American taxpayer. Democrats have said that. And that is something that Republicans cannot abide—at least they can‘t abide it now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don‘t think the big oil companies need to have the oil depletion allowances.
REPORTER: So, would you be in favor of seeing some of the subsidies that are going to billing big oil at times of record profits—
BOEHNER: It‘s certainly something we ought to be looking at.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was a few months ago. Republicans were kind of OK with getting rid of the oil subsidies.
But now, the idea is so morally offensive to them that not only are Republicans saying no to it, they are not even willing to say no, they are getting up and storming out of the room and refusing to participate in discussions at all because of their horror that a policy like that might even be discussed in that room. They can‘t even sit there and say, no. They have to get out and storm out of the room and denounce the existence of the room.
It is OK if you do not care about policy. It is OK if all you care about is trying to make President Obama and the Democrats look bad. That is OK. That is your right.
But then your job should probably be public relations specialist and not lawmaker. Your job should be mud pie maker. Your job should be graffiti artist who draws little mean looking mustaches on Obama re-election posters.
You should not be in charge of policy if you do not care about policy. If the only way to predict what stand you have on any particular policy is how somebody else is going to vote on it.
In order to try to get this debt ceiling vote, Democrats have now proposed to Republicans a tax cut. Surely, you guys can get on with that, right? A payroll tax holiday. A business tax cut.
And Republicans have apparently decided that they are against that. The Republicans are against a business tax cut. John Boehner saying that a business tax cut right now won‘t, quote, “overcome the uncertainty that‘s out there.”
What is John Boehner‘s contribution to overcoming the uncertainty that‘s out there? Dragging the nation to the point of defaulting on all of our debts, saying it‘s going to come down to the wire and nobody knows how it‘s going to turn out and maybe we‘ll be crazy enough to let the whole global attorney blow up enough to make a point? So says the guy concerned about any risk of uncertainty in the business climate.
The Web site Think Progress totaled it up a few months ago and reported that during the Bush presidency, the current Republican leaders in Congress voted 19 times to increase the debt ceiling by a total of $4 trillion. But now, they have discovered a desire to take a stand on this issue.
The kind way to understand this is as disgusting hypocrisy. The kind way to understand this is shameless, craven, unprincipled partisan hackery. That‘s the nice way to see this.
The less nice way to see this is that Republicans in Congress actually do care about policy, and they not only care about policy, but they believe what they say about policy. They believe that a payroll tax deduction would probably be good for the economy, right? They say cutting business taxes is good. They believe it.
That a lot of—they believe their own rhetoric, right, that a lot of uncertainty in the business environment could potentially be fatal to the American economy.
The worst possible thing you could think about what congressional
Republicans are doing right now in this game of chicken they are playing on
the debt ceiling, the worst possible thing you can think about them with
what they are doing, with the threats they are making to cause another
global catastrophe, if not another deep recession, the worst you could say
about this is that they believe what they say when they talk about policy -
because if they believe what they say about policy, they‘re just playing it up fresh every day, then they know that what they are doing will guarantee bad economic outcomes, huge risk to the entire American economy and maybe even the global one.
Why would anybody want that? Maybe they think that is better for
their chances of beating President Obama in the next election
Given the choice between thinking of them as that evil and thinking of them as just disgusting, I would rather think of them as just disgusting.
Joining us now is Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine and MSNBC contributor.
Chris, do you want to go out for a beer later and talk me off this ledge?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC CONTRIBUOR: Yes. Although now I think I‘m up on the ledge with you after that monologue.
You know, I was glad that you said the second thing because I was sitting here thinking, well, I actually think they do kind of believe in this in a little bit, and I think in some ways what we‘re seeing now is if you look at this in the long scope, they have starved the beast, to use Grover Norquist‘s words, right, they have cut taxes. Now, they‘ve got everybody in the deficit debt, and now, the welfare state is in their sights.
HAYES: They understand they‘re going to get one shot at it, and they also understand the only way to kill it is to get a Democratic president to do it. Bush could not have gotten Social Security, couldn‘t privatize Social Security. Bill Clinton could have. Barack Obama can.
The only way to go after the big game they are hunting, which is Medicaid and Medicare, that‘s the social—that‘s the fundamental social insurance is on to get a Democrat to do it, and they have it in their sights, they‘re basically just standing there. They don‘t want to—they‘re going to pull the trigger when they can.
MADDOW: On the issue of the overall health of the economy right now, the prospect for a double dip recession is not only real, it is looming. What we just went through with the great recession was so traumatic to this economy that we‘re looking at a decades-long full recovery in terms of—it will actually restructure the way the American economy is forever.
The Fed and the CBO are saying as of, last week: do not take any spending out of the economy right now. If you want to cut spending in the long run or think about something else, fine, worry about that, and have deficit talks. But right now, it is too fragile to do this.
The Republicans‘ only demand is that money be taken out of the economy right now.
HAYES: Not only that, let me be even more—I want to be even more cynical interpretation than that, which is the one thing that refutes the deficit hysteria, which so benefits the Republicans in their mission to go after Medicare and Medicaid is the fact that interest rates are at historic lows. So, you can say, oh, no one is going to lend us money, and then you look out you there, and everybody is lending us money at historically low rates.
What is the one thing that could screw that up?
MADDOW: Debt ceiling.
HAYES: Exactly. A partial default, a delayment of payment—the last time this happened, it went up 50 basis points for a few months. I mean, that‘s a significant chunk of change.
Jared Bernstein referring today, calculating what a few weeks of sort of deferral would be. It would be about $50 billion a year. All of a sudden, if you have that, you can point and say, look, the markets are panicked. The interest rates are up. We really have a deficit problem.
So, the most cynical, the absolute most cynical interpretation of this is that they want some sort of crisis because that produces in the markets exactly the uncertainty they‘ve been claiming was already there, but has not manifested until now.
MADDOW: You and I have a few times in the last few months talked about—talked about this in sort of a tentative way. Is it possible that they‘re actually trying to tank things for political purposes?
It‘s pretty serious charge to levy, and we‘ve been sort of I think getting around the edges of it, but now, Democrats in the Senate are saying we have no explanation for what the Republicans are doing other than them wanting to sabotage things for political ends. This is becoming mainstream accusation.
If Democrats in the mainstream in Washington believe that, do not think that Republicans have the best interest of the country at heart economically, that they‘re trying to tank the economy, how do you negotiate with them? Why does President Obama immediate with Mitch McConnell tonight?
HAYES: I don‘t think the president believes that clearly. And I think the president has from the very beginning always taken the negotiating stance that you believe fundamentally as the precondition negotiation and discussion in the good faith of your opposition. I don‘t think anything will disabuse him of that notion.
In some ways, it‘s sort of an article of faith. I think it‘s dispositional. It‘s core of who he is. It‘s who he was at Harvard Law School. It‘s who he was in the state Senate in Illinois. It‘s who he is now.
So, nothing is going to knock him off that, and I think there are members of the coalition of whom it can be said that they genuinely believe we‘re on the precipice of some sort of debt crisis which will immensurate (ph) us and turn us into Greece.
MADDOW: But we just—I mean, that was early last year. The president making fun of the fact that the Republicans are abandoning their own positions for partisan gain, abandoning positions they supposedly hold because it‘s what the country needs.
So, the president is aware of that. I mean, he saw what they did on the individual mandate, on cap and trade, on PAYGO, on the deficit commission. He has made fun of them for holding up the giant publishers‘ clearinghouse size checks claiming credit for stimulus programs after they denounced a stimulus as useless. He gets that.
HAYES: Yes. And here‘s my grand, unified theory of the president, OK? We are at a moment when our institutions, our governing institutions, particularly, are manifestly dysfunctional and broken. Everyone sees that.
HAYES: It‘s reflected in the polling numbers, across the board, across the ideological spectrum. The president was elected at this moment of this crisis, and his mission is to sort of restore them. And the way that he thinks he is going to restore them is by willing them to work, literally by willing them to work. That if I enter in good faith, I will somehow manage to create trust and faith in these institutions that are manifestly broken.
I happen to believe they cannot be repaired through goodwill and good faith and just a lot of effort. I think they need to be repaired structurally through reform.
MADDOW: You should write a book about that?
HAYES: I‘m trying to.
MADDOW: Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” and man who will later buy me a beer because I will insist on it because now I‘m really stressed out. Thanks, Chris.
All right. Whatever you do, do not worry that floodwaters are very, very close to not one, but two nuclear plants in Nebraska. Be advised: there‘s nothing to worry about, especially about the fact that the berm around one of them was punctured accidentally over the weekend by a piece of heavy equipment.
Absolutely nothing to worry about. Do not worry. Be happy. Stay tuned.
MADDOW: The hottest part of a nuclear power plant—among all the buildings and the pipes and the wires, the hottest part in terms of temperature and radiation is, of course, the nuclear reactor itself where the fuel rods filled with pellets of radioactive uranium give off the intense heat that boils the water that generates steam, that turns the turbines that make the electricity. That‘s the reason we build nuclear power plants at all in the first place.
Nuclear power is the world‘s most terrifying and consequential means of boiling water. The actual reactor is contained in a very strong containment vessel. It‘s a sealed steel inner container, and then that is inside an outer container, which is sort of more like a building. In case something goes wrong with the first line of defense, can you hopefully still keep the radiation inside or alternatively, you can keep whatever is outside from coming in.
This is the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant in Nebraska. Not quite 20 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska, along the banks of the Missouri River. Due to the laws of gravity and hydrodynamics and a very, very wet spring, the Missouri River is now trying to get into Fort Calhoun.
When we talked about the story last week, the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant was fighting off this record flooding from the Missouri River with the help of eight foot inflatable walls called aqua dams. These walls are inflatable. They are filled with water, which Fort Calhoun has plenty of.
But over the weekend, workers moving sand on the dry side of the aqua dams, on the inside they brushed up against one of them. That‘s the way Fort Calhoun explained it to the local paper. The workers brushed up an aqua dam with some of the heavy equipment they were using and they punctured the aqua dam, and it collapsed.
That allowed water from the flooded Missouri River to reach the building that houses the nuclear plant‘s turbines where the electricity is generated, as well as its transformers, where electricity feeds into the plant to power the cooling pumps that keep nuclear power plants humming along instead of melting down.
So, the reassuring, if also slightly worrying news last week, that the aqua dams were holding back the water, that the plant was still an island, that was true last week, and then that changed on Sunday, at around 1:00 in the morning local time.
But the word from officials at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant on the banks of the Missouri River is still the same. Don‘t worry. Everything is fine.
Those aqua dams, they say, were not key to the plant‘s safety. The plant was not required to have them. They were extra, which as it turns out, was a good thing since the “Omaha World Herald” reports that when water from the Missouri River got past them after they were punctured, it then got through the next level of defense, which was a cement barrier around the main electrical transformer. Two feet of the Missouri River broke through those defenses to the transformer building, to the Fort Calhoun plant, disconnected from the electrical grid, disconnected from the power grid, and they used back-up diesel power to cool the plant while they pumped out the water and fixed the leaky barriers.
The plant spokesman telling the “Omaha World Herald, disconnecting from the power grid, quote, “gave us time to ascertain that all was fine.”
All was fine. All is fine. Nobody is freaking out here.
This is not Fort Calhoun‘s first time to go off the grid. It‘s not even the first time this calendar month. On June 7th, before the flooding, a small fire in an electrical closet knocked out power to the cooling system that prevents the spent fuel rods from overheating and melting down. The plant stayed unplugged for about an hour and a half while workers inspected the backup diesel pumps and then the regular pumps came back on.
But this thing with nuclear power plants staying on the grid matters a lot. In Japan this year, they first had an earthquake that caused a tsunami, but it was when the tsunami knocked out electricity at Fukushima nuclear power plant that the world knew Fukushima was really in trouble. Without electricity, Fukushima could not keep its spent nuclear—excuse me—could not keep its reactors or its spent nuclear fuel cool.
The Japanese government now says that three of the reactors may have suffered not just meltdowns, but melt-throughs. Melt through the internal super strong containment vessel. That is a real nuclear nightmare.
One of the things we are learning as this scary situation drags on in Nebraska is that Fort Calhoun, which was built in 1973, Fort Calhoun was built partly on the basis of a mistake. Somebody miscalculated the pumping capacity the plant would need for a catastrophic flood.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission discovered the error in an inspection two years ago, and the plant has been upgraded since under the “not very old” old system of flood protection. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission calculated that the pumping plant had a 97.5 percent chance of protecting the reacting core from a catastrophic flood, which is almost good enough.
The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant is now two feet below the level of the Missouri River where the plant is required to shut down. The river is at about 1,006 feet above sea level. The water got above 1,014 feet. They say it would knock out the backup generators and at some point it would come over the specific berm that protects the casks of spent nuclear fuel.
But, again, don‘t worry. The plant operators tell the Omaha paper that these 88 ton casks, these radioactive behemoths are anchored. So, they won‘t float away. So, at least there‘s that.
For now, everything is fine, if occasionally wet at Fort Calhoun, we are told. But with forecasts calling for a rainy summer, Fort Calhoun and its aqua dams and its concrete berms will need to keep holding out in the biggest test of a nuclear plant in the United States to the threat of flooding, and it will need to keep holding out against that threat for months.
MADDOW: In 2001, Orrin Hatch, Republican senator from Utah, introduced a high profile national attention kind of bill. He had 18 co-sponsors -- 12 Democrats and six Republicans. The Republicans included Sam Brownback, Larry Craig, Mike DeWine, Pete Domenici, Chuck Grassley and Dick Lugar. The bill called the DREAM Act.
The idea was simple—you create a path to legal residency status for the most deserving people who are technically here in this country illegally.
The DREAM Act would apply to you if you were brought to this country as a kid and you are between the ages of 12 and 35, if you have already been here for five years, if you graduated from high school or got your GED, or if you were already accepted to a college or university. And you have to have good moral character.
Then, once you qualify, you have to apply for the DREAM Act. You‘d have to enroll in a bachelor degree program or a higher degree program or you have to join the military.
Then after being in college or the military for at least two years, only then can you apply for legal permanent residency.
The DREAM Act was a chance for kids brought to this country through no fault of their own who had done everything right to stay here without the constant fear of deportation.
And despite the fact that it was their idea, the Republicans one associated with this have now turned against it. That includes Senator John McCain who co-sponsored the bill when it was introduced in 2003 and again in 2005, and again, yes, again, in 2007.
And here‘s where you get to scream “are you kidding me at your television?” In 2007, the DREAM Act was actually introduced twice. There was the one John McCain co-sponsored, and then there was the one John McCain high tailed it out of D.C. for, so we didn‘t have to vote on it. He did, however, tell conservative bloggers that if he had been in D.C. then, he wouldn‘t have voted for it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: So I would have voted against the moving forward with the DREAM Act because we haven‘t secured the borders yet.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: John McCain is not the only Republican to completely and totally abandon this thing he once championed, but as the Republican presidential nominee, it is Senator McCain who really embodies the Republican Party‘s bizarre 180 on this issue. The DREAM Act will forever be a relic of the hyper-partisanship of the Republican Party over the last decade.
And as a consequence, as a matter of policy, this particular act has languished. It was introduced with bipartisan support. It was introduced frankly as the consensus easy to pass small thing that could be done on immigration even if none of the hard stuff could get done.
But, now, 10 years later, not only is it not passed, it is just now getting its first hearing tomorrow in the Senate. The Obama administration has been more aggressive in enforcement of the immigration law—in the enforcement of immigration law than any other presidency in modern history, the Obama administration now deporting people at an estimated rate of 1,000 a day. They are set to hit the 1 million deportation mark sometime this summer. That‘s 10 percent more than in President Bush‘s last year in office, 25 percent more than in the year before that.
And yet, even as the Obama administration are aggressively criminalizing and prosecuting immigration violations, the White House still says they do want to change this law. They do still want the DREAM Act.
In December, during the lame-duck session when Democrats were able to pass up employment benefits and a food safety bill and health care and compensation for 9/11 first responders and nuclear arms control treaty and the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” and the ruinous extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy—even as all that passed, the president described not passing the DREAM Act as a great disappointment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What I will tell you, maybe my biggest disappointment was this DREAM Act vote. At minimum, we should be able to get DREAM Act done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The person who is the reason why after all that the DREAM Act might actually have another chance, that game-changer of a person, joins us next.
MADDOW: Watch this clip here for a second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS, “MY LIFE AS AN UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT”: I was born in the Philippines. I moved to the United States when I was 12. My mother wanted to give me a better life, so she sent me to live with my grandparents in Silicon Valley.
I loved America the moment I got here. Embrace the language, the culture, the people. English was my second language and I learned speak American by watching “Frasier,” “Home Improvement,” the “Golden Girls.”
I won a spelling bee in the eighth grade by spelling indefatigable.
In high school, I fell in love with journalism. I started working for my local newspaper, “The Mountain View Voice.” Then I got hired at “The Washington Post.”
I covered the 2008 presidential campaign, from traveling on Hillary Clinton‘s plane to pheasant hunting with Huckabee. I interviewed Al Gore for “Rolling Stone” and profiled Mark Zuckerberg for “The New Yorker.” I even won a Pulitzer Prize for covering the Virginia Tech massacre.
At age 16, I rode my book to the DMV to get my driver‘s permit. I brought my green card with me. The woman at the DMV flipped it around. She leaned over and she whispered, “This is fake. Don‘t come back here again.”
I went home and confronted my grandfather. That was the first time I realized that I‘m an undocumented immigrant. What some people call an illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is part of a clip that you can see at DefineAmerican.com. It‘s a Web site set up by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. Mr. Vargas, in a long beautifully written article for “”The New York Times Magazine” has just come out about growing up in America and being educated in America and living in America and working in America and paying taxes in America and succeeding in America, all while it is illegal for him to be here because of the circumstances under which he arrived as a rather adorable 12-year-old kid.
Jose Antonio Vargas joins us now in studio for “The Interview.”
Jose, thanks very much for being here.
VARGAS: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: My spelling bee word was absurdity.
MADDOW: So, I think that‘s actually—I feel like I‘ve turned out to be sort of a lifetime of absurdity, and I feel like you‘ve turned out to be a lifetime of indefatigable.
VARGAS: And, you know, now, I can actually say it properly. I can pronounce it properly now.
MADDOW: Did you say --
VARGAS: Yes, exactly, the F. I couldn‘t quite get the F sound right.
MADDOW: In the clip we just showed there, you described figuring out for the first time at age 16 that you‘re living in the U.S. illegally. Your grandfather had arranged your travel from the Philippines false papers.
How did you feel at age 16 when you figured it out?
VARGAS: I think the first kind of emotion was this woman must be lying. I went to the DMV. How could—how could she tell me that? You know, I road my bike home and confronted my grandfather—I mean, I think in many ways that was really the first time that I became a reporter because I was trying to, like being investigate how could this have happened?
You know, my grandfather was just trying to do what he thought was best, and he didn‘t imagine, again—I mean, the plan was basically, you know, get an under the table job, you know, work at the flea market or the Best Buy or bus tables and then marry a woman and get a green card. That was the plan.
And, of course, when I was in high school, I came out, you know, as being gay, and so that complicated matters even more. And I remember probably the worst conversation he and I had was when I told him, I‘m not going to live another lie. I‘m not—I‘m not going to not only am I going to be undocumented, but I‘m also going to marry a woman to get a green card? I wasn‘t going to do that, you know?
And in many ways I think the hardest thing about all of this is, like, how you honestly live with a lie. That‘s what I‘ve been trying to do is honestly live with a lie.
MADDOW: And you did for—you did until this year. You did to varying degrees. There were some people who you let—you let know essentially as a means of getting help, but how did you decide who to trust with that information?
VARGAS: It‘s a really good question. You know, I have been the beneficiary of kind, generous Americans, American citizens. I have been referring to them as kind of my underground, my personal 21st century underground railroad, with all due respect to African-American history, because, really, what they‘ve done is, I don‘t know what they saw in me when I was younger.
You know, when I first told Mrs. Denny, the choir teacher was the first person, she wanted—she told she is planned a trip to Japan. And I told her I couldn‘t go. And then she‘s like, oh, she thought maybe I couldn‘t afford it. And then I told her I don‘t have the right kind of passport. And she said, what do you mean? An when I told her, she‘s just like, her eyes is kind bugged out, and then the next day she said, we‘re going to go to Hawaii instead.
And, you know, recently I actually talked to her about this three months ago. I‘m, like, why did you do that? She said, because we don‘t want to hide—I didn‘t want to leave any, you know, any of my students behind.
And I think—I think now, I mean, back to the reason, how many other
I mean, thank you, by the way, for that great segment on the history of the DREAM Act. In the past 10 years, this coming on it‘s 10 years this August, how many students across this country, right, who could be tax paying, contributing citizens, who can be the engineers or the accountants or writers or whatever, which is not to say that only successful, you know, people deserve it. It‘s just that at the end of the day, people just want to live their lives and survive, and in many ways that‘s what I have done until this year when I decided I can‘t do this.
I mean, I think it‘s important to remember that it‘s not as if anybody was trying to out me.
VARGAS: You know? I wanted to come forward because I think the best way to solve the problem is to tell the truth about it. At the end of the day, again, back to your clip, you know, we have not had a credible conversation about immigration in this country. Not just about the DREAM Act, about immigration in this country, which is ironic given that we‘re living in a country that was founded and replenished by immigrants.
So, this is what this is going to be about.
MADDOW: You are as close as an observer of American politics, as anybody though, having covered presidential campaigns in real-time and up close.
MADDOW: Do you feel like we are capable of having that conversation as a country any time soon?
VARGAS: I think Americans—not just undocumented Americans, but Americans, I think they‘re going to demand it. You know, we have come right now, if you look at what‘s happening with the Tea Party movement, if you look at what‘s happening with the grassroots, you know, campaign that catapulted Obama, you know, into presidency. I know that because I was in Iowa. I was in New Hampshire. I covered that. They‘re going to demand it, and they need it.
We are right now at a moment in which we are trying to define what it means to be an American. The very question of American identity is in question, right? This is what the whole Obama—the whole Obama is not from here—all of that. That‘s what this is about, which is why I think I‘m so glad that, you know, define American. I think it‘s such—it‘s a fitting table for the campaign to have that kind of discussion.
MADDOW: DefineAmerican.com. Can you find more about the campaign, more about Jose Antonio Vargas‘ story. It‘s also sort of a—sort of a portal to a wider and more civil discussion about it, which I think is a real contribution in addition to you telling your story.
So, thank you. You‘re a brave guy.
VARGAS: No, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
MADDOW: Good luck. Stay in touch.
VARGAS: Thank you.
Jose Antonio Vargas is a former writer for “The Washington Post,” a Pulitzer Prize winner and as I mentioned, a brave guy.
All right. Coming up next right after the show here on MSNBC, it is “THE ED SHOW,” but it is hosted by the Reverend Al Sharpton. Yes!
We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Today, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann officially announced her already kind of official candidacy for president of the United States. If she wins her party‘s nomination, she would be the first female presidential nominee of either major party. If she became president, she would be the first female president, of course, and she would be the first person since James Garfield in 1880 to be elected president directly from the House of Representatives.
Still, though, even though things look good for Michele Bachmann‘s chances in Iowa, she‘s already polling right along side national frontrunner Mitt Romney there. Despite more Bachmann mania that you might expect from the Beltway press, despite all of those things, it‘s probably wise want to get too far ahead of ourselves when considering the presidential prospects for Michele Bachmann.
You may recall that on her first trip to New Hampshire this year as a proto-candidate, Ms. Bachmann congratulated on being the home of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts—which was weird.
But that wasn‘t nearly as weird as what she said today on her first interview with the FOX News Channel after declaring her candidacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELE BACHMANN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I want them to know is just like John Wayne is from Waterloo, Iowa, that‘s the kind of spirit I have too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: John Wayne, the movie actor was not born in Waterloo, Iowa.
He was born in a place a few hours away called Winterset.
The John Wayne who is from Waterloo, Iowa, is actually John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: What I want them to know is just like John Wayne is from Waterloo, Iowa, that‘s the kind of spirit I have too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: John, the killer, not the (INAUDIBLE).
I realize that Michele Bachmann‘s candidacy is very exciting for a number of reasons that I don‘t understand, but, still, word to the wise, let‘s not get ahead of ourselves in the whole electability issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: It‘s in God‘s hands. And, you know, my hands are shaky and my knees are weak and I can‘t stand on my own two feet. And I‘m praying and certainly hope for the best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Playing exactly to expectation. Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich quoted Elvis Presley on his way to court it this afternoon. Also playing fairly close to widely held expectations, a jury of the governor‘s peers at that courtroom found Mr. Blagojevich guilty on the vast majority of the criminal charges he was facing today.
On trying to sell Barack Obama‘s Senate seat after Barack Obama was elected president—Mr. Blagojevich, guilty. On trying to extort campaign donations out of a children‘s hospital—guilty. On trying to get cash in return for signing a bill—guilty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. ATTORNEY: I think it‘s often happens that people take criminal conduct and try to, you know, mush it into politics. There is legitimate politics and there are gray areas. Selling a Senate seat, and shaking down a children‘s hospital and squeezing a person to give money before you sign a bill that benefits them is not a gray area. It‘s a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: After the verdict, a discernibly less flamboyant Mr.
Blagojevich spoke with the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, among the many lessons I‘ve learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less. So, I‘m going to keep my remarks kind of short. Patti and I obviously are very disappointed in the outcome. I frankly am stunned.
There‘s not much left to say other than we want to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them, and then try to sort things out. And I‘m sure we‘ll see you again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Rod Blagojevich was acquitted on one charge of bribery. The jury deadlocked on two attempted extortion charges. But they found him guilty of 17 other counts, bribery, bribery conspiracy, attempted extortion, extortion conspiracy and wire fraud.
The most serious of those charges comes with a 20-year prison term. And he was facing up to five years in prison already for his previous conviction of lying to the FBI. That conviction was from his first trial last August. That jury deadlocked on the other counts.
Part of Mr. Blagojevich‘s successful defense during that first trial was pleading ignorant essentially. He suggested he didn‘t know what he was doing was illegal because none of his lawyers or advisers had told him so.
It was because of that defense that an interview from this TV show was requested as evidence for the prosecution during the new trial. They specifically wanted to use the interview from this show from January 27, 2009 when then indicted but still Governor Blagojevich told me this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Do you agree that it would be wrong that it would be—it would be wrong, it would be criminal for you to try to exchange Barack Obama‘s U.S. Senate seat appointment for something that was a value to you? You agree that that would be wrong?
BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, absolutely. Personal, you know, one for the other, personal gain—absolutely.
MADDOW: And you didn‘t do that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Absolutely not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The prosecution wanted to use that interview to show that Governor Blagojevich, despite what his lawyer argued during the last trial, that he did know that quid pro quo was wrong and illegal.
It turns they never actually used that exchange after they requested it, but in the second trial the prosecutor, did use another part of Governor Blagojevich‘s interview on the show, the part when I asked the governor about allegations he had asked his chief of staff to tell “The Chicago Tribune” owner that if “The Trib” wanted help on financing the sale of Wrigley Field, that “The Trib” owner has to fire all those bleeping people, get them the bleep out of there and get us some editorial support. The governor denied he said that.
And then I asked this follow-up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You told them to layoff.
BLAGOJEVICH: No, and there was never any discussion with anybody at “The Tribune.”
MADDOW: John Harris never told them to lay off on your behalf?
BLAGOJEVICH: I never directed to do any of that. But, again, I shouldn‘t get into this. That‘s the wrong to do. There‘s a Supreme Court rule that says you shouldn‘t talk about the specifics of the cases.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The prosecution read that out in court during the cross-examination of Mr. Blagojevich. Mr. Blagojevich denied he had been lying to me about pressuring “The Tribune.” He said that when I asked did you tell them to lay off, he didn‘t think I meant did you tell them to lay off, did you tell him to ease up on you. What he thought I meant was did you tell them to lay people off? Did you tell them to fire people?
According to the U.S. attorney‘s office, that part of the interview ended up in the trial not because of any particular charge at stake there, but they thought it was germane to Mr. Blagojevich‘s general truthfulness and demeanor.
Rod Blagojevich is now out on bond and back home. A status hearing for sentencing is set for August 1st. If he does end up doing jail time, Rod Blagojevich in the end will live up to one other sort of expectation. He will become the fourth Illinois governor in recent memory to wind up in prison.
We will be right back.
MADDOW: “The Best New Thing in the World Today” is in the realm of comedy/commentary. “Associated Press” reported last week that among Osama bin Laden‘s papers recovered by the U.S. Navy SEALs who killed in Pakistan was a letter from bin Laden lamenting that al Qaeda‘s brand wasn‘t good anymore.
Osama bin Laden wanted his group to be called al Qaeda al-Jihad but people keep drooping the “al-Jihad” and just calling them al Qaeda. Which is fine enough, it means the base in Arabic, but Mr. Bin Laden didn‘t believe it was Muslim-sounding enough to be his group.
So, he suggested some new names for al Qaeda. Maybe it should be called this, which I will not try to pronounce which is means monotheism and jihad group. Or maybe it should be called this, which means restoration of the caliphate group. Maybe. OK.
Honestly, if I‘m afraid of pronounce them on the first try, they‘re probably not exactly catchy in an international context. Sorry.
To help them out, by which I mean make obnoxiously good fun of them, “The Danger Room” blog at Wired.com has held an online contest to choose a new name for al Qaeda.
Among the best ideas in a fake rebranding campaign, we‘ll give them to you in PowerPoint. First, Hello Kaida. Also, Yes, we Quran. How about the bad news beards; 72 virgin airways, the artist formerly known as al Qaeda.
This one is for you, mom. Angry beards. Weird al Qaeda. Big guy al Queerda.
How about this one? League of extraordinary beards. This one, people organized to Osama‘s principles, which gets you to POP. And, of course, inevitably, SEAL bait.
“Best New Thing in the World Today.” The contest is still going on at Danger Room. The link is at MaddowBlog.com today if you want to vote for your favorite, Hello Kaida.
Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW,” which despite earlier reporting by big, dumb me, will, in fact, be guest-hosted by Thomas Roberts, with the Reverend Al Sharpton as a guest. Reverend Sharpton will be hosting tomorrow night.
For now, here‘s “THE ED SHOW.”
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