'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, December 5, 2011
Read the transcript to the Monday show
Past transcripts by month
Guests: David Yepsen, Tim Pawlenty, Dafna Linzer
ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Rachel, did you know the Republican
Party -- I was stunned yesterday watching "Meet the Press." It`s you and
me -- they`re concerned about us.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Well, Ed, I very rarely feel a warm feeling
toward the Republican Party. I feel it`s smart and sweet of them.
SCHULTZ: I knew they were concerned about you. Now they`re concerned
about me. I`m feeling really good, you know?
MADDOW: They have great taste.
Thank you, Ed. Thanks very much.
SCHULTZ: You bet.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next
hour. Happy Monday.
So, what did poor children do to deserve this? What could poor
children have done that was so wrong that earned them the role that they
are now playing in American presidential politics? The current front-
runner for the Republican nomination for president, the man who`s leading
in three of the four early voting states, as well as in the national polls,
has now made his third in a series of policy pronouncements about what he
wants to do to poor children. I ask you again, what they have done to
First, the candidate advocated making poor children janitors at their
own schools. Poor children would be taken out of class and given a mop.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They`d be dramatically
less expensive than unionized janitors. And you`d begin to reestablish the
dignity of work. And in very poor neighborhoods, you have to literally
reestablish the dignity of work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Right, because poor people don`t know anything about work.
Also child labor, underappreciated factor about it, it`s very cheap.
Deciding that one policy pronouncement about poor kids was not enough.
Mr. Gingrich then suggested that poor kids could be assistant janitors and
they would specifically be responsible for cleaning the toilets.
So poor children would be responsible under a Newt Gingrich presidency
for cleaning up the urine and feces of the other children in their schools.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: I will tell you personally, I believe, the kids could mop
the floor and clean out the bathroom and get paid for it, and it would be
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But because poor children are such a rich vain for this
year`s presidential campaign, that, too, wasn`t enough. And so, today, we
learned of a third proposal from the presidential front-runner. Now, he
says poor children should be put to work for Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: He did mention, if I could do something
for some of the kids in very, very poor schools throughout the city -- I
thought it was a great idea. We`re going to be picking 10 young, wonderful
children and we`re going to make them apprenti.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Apprenti. If you thought the Republican presidential
nominating contest was going to get less weird now that Herman Cain has
dropped out, welcome to the new normal. As we reported that he would on
Friday night, Mr. Cain officially suspended his campaign for the presidency
on Saturday afternoon. The root word in this case of suspended is ended.
If you were at all persuaded by my thesis that Herman Cain has been
not so much a candidate but rather an art project about being a candidate,
the way that Mr. Cain to bow out of the race will not disabuse you of that
notion. For starters, there was the fact that the event at which he
announced the end of his campaign was described by his staff as the opening
of a new campaign office in Georgia, it`s a little like doing a big
ceremonial ribbon cutting at an eviction. Immediately before Mr. Cain took
to the podium to announce he was ending his campaign, a featured speaker at
the event asked people to come down and volunteer at the new campaign
As Mr. Cain announced that his campaign was ending, he also announced
that a new Herman Cain-related thing was just beginning. The banner
awkwardly dropping behind him to reveal a new organization called
What`s TheCainSolutions.com? Unclear. That Web site is still under
construction at this moment. "The New York Times" reporting the Web site
was registered the day before Mr. Cain`s announcement by a Georgia company
that`s called Bell Research. Bell Research among other things makes low
fat powered peanut butter. All the yummy goodness of peanut butter without
the hefty calories that usually come with it.
And so, the artist formally known as Herman Cain and that whole phase
of the Republican primary this year, that`s over. The phase has been
replaced by new post-Herman Cain serious nominating phase of the Republican
presidential nominating process wherein the front-runner is Newt Gingrich
and he has tried to solidify his hold on Iowa this weekend by attending a
book signing on Staten Island in New York City.
Mr. Gingrich then tried to win Iowa the following day by attending the
celebrity studded Kennedy Center honors in Washington, D.C. Tickets for
that event were apparently $5,000.
He then continued trying to win Iowa today by taking a meeting with
Donald Trump and making their joint announcement about his vision of poor
children being apprenti to Donald Trump.
Donald Trump, himself, has a book that has just come out apparently,
shocker. So, this is working out great for him. If you`ve got a book to
sell, it`s obvious why you`d want to be a presidential debate moderator.
It`s obvious why you would want to be associated with the front-runner for
a major party presidential nomination.
It is harder to see why that major party would want to be associated
with you if you are Donald Trump.
In Mr. Trump`s book promotion/self-promotion media appearances today,
he not only announced the Newt Gingrich-endorsed poor children as apprenti
program, he also made a weird crack about the religion of two of the
Republican Party`s candidates for president. And he continues to push the
theory that President Obama is secretly foreign, and therefore secretly not
He`s still pushing the whole birtherism thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Mr. Huntsman called my office a number of times trying to set
up a meeting. I didn`t have a meeting with him. And then he went on the
debate and he said I didn`t meet with Mr. Trump like everybody else in the
room. So, you know, I`m sure he`ll tell the truth about that because he`s
Whether or not he was born here, you know, to me it means something,
but I guess it doesn`t mean a lot to a lot of people. But to me, it
happens to mean something. The fact they can`t find any records in the
hospital that his mother was ever in the hospital, you know, that to me
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: At one point this year, Donald Trump, that man you just heard
speaking, was the front-runner for Republican nomination for president.
But apparently, that was not just an aberration, that was not just a weird
glitch in this year`s political history. We`re now having round two of
Donald Trump as a leading indicator in Republican presidential politics.
The presidential front-runner for the Republican Party, Newt Gingrich,
has now said he will happily participate in the debate that Mr. Trump is
set to moderate in Iowa later this month.
The sideshow has been moved inside the tent. The sideshow has now
been put in the main ring of the circus. If you thought Michele Bachmann
was going to be the fringe in this campaign, now the fringe is the front-
For mainstream Republicans who may be a little bewildered by this
surrealist turn of events in their party`s politics, for you guys I think,
the silver lining here is that this late strong showing in the polls by Mr.
Gingrich has caused the Mitt Romney campaign to wake up and actually start
campaigning a little more vigorously. In what is perhaps a reaction to the
challenge from Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Romney -- his ads used to end like this,
with this image of Mitt Romney standing stiffly behind a podium in New
Now, Mr. Romney`s ads end like this. Mr. Romney hand in hand with his
lovely wife. Mr. Romney also featuring his wife in a softball interview
with "Parade" magazine this week, playing up his family values bona fides,
nudge, nudge, wink, wink, Newt Gingrich.
For instance, Mr. Romney was asked by "Parade," quote, "How do you
like to spend your Sundays when you`re not campaigning?" Mr. Romney
responded in part, quote, "Well, in the afternoon, we`ll watch a football
game, tell stories, wrestle." Wrestle?
Mr. Romney goes on to explain how at their mansion in New Hampshire,
they like to spend time playing on their private manmade beach.
It`s hard for Mitt Romney to seem like a regular Joe, but at least
they are finally trying, right? At least they paired him up with his wife
and family and they`re trying to show him as a human being who one might
conceivably relate to.
The campaign also unveiling a grab-a-bite with Mitt promotion online
today. Donate $5 and win a chance to join Mitt for a meal. The campaign
throwing in the folksy sounding, "if it`s up to Mitt, it will probably be
pizza" -- which unfortunately calls to mind the revelation of the latest
politico e-book about the campaign that Mr. Romney does not allow himself
to consume the cheese when he eats pizza. Pizza must be freed of cheese
before it encounters Romney-bot. Romney-bot, no fat.
But again, he`s trying.
It appears that this sort of out of nowhere challenge from Newt
Gingrich late in the campaign is forcing Mitt Romney to at least try to
become a better candidate. And if he makes it to the general election,
that will probably suit both Mr. Romney and the Republican Party well.
This is probably good for them.
It`s all depend on, though, if he makes it through the general
election. He will have to go through Newt Gingrich, first, which is
astonishing giving how Newt Gingrich has been barely bothering to run what
looks like a campaign.
Last week, it was revealed that Mr. Gingrich failed to file the
required number of state delegates in New Hampshire. The way it works is
you submit a list of 40 supporters to the New Hampshire secretary of
state`s office. Newt Gingrich could not come up with 40, he only managed
to list 27, which means if he wins the state, he conceivably can only pick
up 27 delegates.
Mr. Gingrich will not appear on the ballot for the Missouri primary in
the beginning of February. His explanation, he said he didn`t want to
qualify for the Missouri ballot anyway.
Despite his campaign still apparently knocking the rust off, Newt
Gingrich leads Mitt Romney by nine points in the key early voting state of
Iowa. Mr. Gingrich has opened up a big lead there, even though he only ran
his first Iowa TV ad today. And even though he did not get around to
opening up a campaign headquarters in Iowa until last week.
This is the new normal in running for president in the Republican
Good-bye, Herman Cain. Hello, apprenti.
Joining us now is a man who knows what it takes to win Iowa in any
year. David Yepsen, director of Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. He
covered every Iowa presidential caucus campaign since 1976 for "The Des
Mr. Yepsen, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
DAVID YEPSEN, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY: It`s good to be with you.
MADDOW: I think that Americans absorbed enough information about the
Iowa process to know that organization is important and retail politics,
meeting people is important. But can you tell us why that is the case?
What about the Iowa process requires those things?
YEPSEN: Because you`re asking people to go out on a cold January
night, find some school or courthouse or church basement and then stand
around for a couple of hours. And so, it`s helpful to find, to have an
organization that can find your most motivated supporters, can remind them
to get out, and on the margins, I think it`s helpful.
Now, it may not be as important this cycle as it has been in the past.
The cycle is shorter. We`ve seen the power of these debates to change the
campaign dialogue. And so, I think organization is important, but it may
not be as important as it`s been in the past.
MADDOW: Do you think that Iowa voters are swayed by the same sorts of
political winds that are swaying the rest of the national polls? Or is
there something in particular that you think the Iowa Republican voter is
looking for that might not match the way the rest of the country is looking
at and judging between these various candidates?
YEPSEN: Well, I think, we`re not talking about Iowa and Iowa
electorate. We`re talking about Republicans and we`re talking about
Republican activists. Out of the state of 3 million people, there`s
probably a target audience of 150,000 of the most active people in the
Republican Party. So, they do tend to be a little better educated, little
higher income and a little more conservative than the electorate as a
whole. That said, I think even social conservatives are saying in that
state that the most important issue to them is jobs, is the economy, is
health care. These are all the issues that they cite as important ones in
But, Rachel, the decision goes beyond just a checklist. It`s more of
a gut-level decision, about how they feel about these individuals that are
running for president. Do I see this person as a potential president? Do
I see them in the Oval Office?
And I think they get a chance to take a real close measure of
individuals and sometimes they like what they see and elevate them. Other
times, they don`t like what they see and vote against them and tend to win
from the field of candidates. I think that process is going on right now
on the Republican side.
MADDOW: It seems like it remains to be seen, that sort of gut-level -
- looking for a gut-level match that you were describing. That remains
kind of a major unknown with the Mitt Romney candidacy, whether voters are
almost viscerally comfortable with him as a man, and as a candidate, as a
potential Republican nominee.
He`s not thought this year as being a good ideological match with the
conservative Iowa Republican electorate that you`re describing. But I
wonder if you see in Iowa that Mr. Romney has been running the more
professional, more experienced, more savvy campaign.
Is his campaign in good shape in Iowa?
YEPSEN: Well, it`s not as in good a shape as he should want it to be.
He got in late. It`s interesting, he made a -- he was going back and forth
about whether he got into Iowa. And then -- got in. And I think it was a
wise move because you had the conservatives chopping up the vote all up and
down the line.
It was much like 1980 when George Herbert Walker Bush won with a
plurality, because other conservative candidates carved up the other end of
the spectrum. Romney gets in, and what happens? The Herman Cain episode
occurred and he drops out of the race. Some of the conservative vote is
now starting to coalesce.
Mitt Romney has got an authenticity problem with the Iowa Republicans.
It isn`t just issues. They`re not sure where he is on a lot of things.
He can still win with moderates. He can still do well with moderates.
Rachel, 60 percent of the caucus-goers say in the polls that they
could be persuaded to change their mind. And if we`re talking about 60
percent to 40 percent, 40 percent to 60 percent, somewhere in there of the
caucus-goers are social conservatives, you know, that means another 40
percent to 60 percent are not.
And so I think that there is still an opportunity for Mitt Romney to
go in there and say we have to have a sensible Republican candidate and I
can be that.
MADDOW: Does it make sense to you there will be a Donald Trump-
moderated debate that includes at least one of the front-runners in Newt
Gingrich? Does that -- do you see how that jibes with the Iowa Republican
electorate and their concerns right now?
YEPSEN: Well, these caucuses have always been something of an
entertainment for people in Iowa during some cold winter months. You know,
that`s been true in both parties. Celebrities come in and they do things
and they endorse candidates.
Iowa caucus-goers make up their own minds. They`ll take this debate
he`s going to do, no matter what shows up. Some will pay attention to it,
some won`t. The important thing would be to watch and see if anybody makes
a mistake. Debates maybe don`t help candidate as much as they can hurt
them. You can ask Rick Perry how that works.
And so, I think -- I think it will count for something, but I -- that
close to the election, all the candidates who appear are going to want to
do well because they`re not going to have time to recover from a mistake.
You know, Donald Trump is not the most popular guy with Iowa
Republicans. He stiffed them on an event he said he was going to do. You
know, we got some polling data that shows by 2-1, he`s a liability to
people he endorses.
So, you know, I think if he`s trying to help one candidate or another,
he has to be careful how he does it.
MADDOW: I was wondering if saying yes to this debate might, itself,
be the mistake for the candidates. But so far, that`s not been the
calculation. This is going to be fascinating to watch.
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute --
thanks for joining us tonight. I feel lucky to have you here. Thank you.
YEPSEN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. The interview tonight, Tim Pawlenty. Finally. I
know. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Four times before, they clashed.
MADDOW: Governor Pawlenty, it`s a pleasure to have you on the show
tonight. Thank you so much for being with us.
ANNOUNCER: Four times before, it was epic.
TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: I`m happy to be here,
and you`re funny, Rachel.
ANNOUNCER: She`s invariably courteous.
MADDOW: Thank you for being on the show. I appreciate it.
ANNOUNCER: He`s impossibly friendly. Until he`s not.
PAWLENTY: Tell Rachel Maddow that --
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: She`s listening.
PAWLENTY: -- she`s been afraid of me. She used to have me on her
show. And she`s ducking me, bobbing, weaving. She`s ducking me. So, tell
her to come out and let`s have it on.
ANNOUNCER: Governor Nice Guy talk junk. Well, two people known for
being respectful can play that game.
MADDOW: Governor Pawlenty, you say I`m ducking you, but at this
point, I`m rubber, you`re glue. Stop talking smack if you can`t back it
ANNOUNCER: But is Rachel Maddow tough enough to face down a
Midwestern family man who likes to watch hockey fights? Just ask the fish,
12/5/11. Pawlenty/Maddow V. Push comes to gov.
Available in this cable and see your local listings or just don`t
change the channel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s why there are special rules taped up on MSNBC on the
doors of the editing rooms that ban THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff from the
editing rooms at peak hours because that`s the kind of thing we do. That`s
why we can`t have nice things.
Joining us tonight for the long-awaited interview on this program is
the former Minnesota governor and former Republican presidential candidate,
At last we clash, Governor.
PAWLENTY: Well, Rachel, I was having a little fun with you when I
made those remarks and you go get serious on me. You go rhetorically
postal. You kind of lose it.
And then I come on your set a week or so ago and you brush me off.
So, I had to come back. I`ve been trying. So, here I am. I`m ready.
MADDOW: You know, you must have a different definition of postal than
I do. If you think that was me losing it, oh, sir.
PAWLENTY: No, I was just having a little fun with you and you took it
seriously. I thought, here`s Rachel Maddow, you know, somebody who`s got a
lot of capacity, obviously. I have a little fun with her and you took it
over the cliff.
MADDOW: Yes, it`s true. I`m completely unreasonable.
But if you prefer, we could just talk about politics instead of having
a big fight.
PAWLENTY: All right. Let`s do that.
MADDOW: Let`s do that. All right.
You are -- you`ve been a very good sport about this, I should say.
All right. You`re signed up for the Romney campaign now. So, I know you
have to give us his campaign`s line on things to a certain extent.
But why do you think that Donald Trump and Rick Perry and Herman Cain
and now, Newt Gingrich have gone through cycles of outpolling Mr. Romney?
Why has he not been able to sew up support from Republican voters over
PAWLENTY: Well, I would turn that around and ask, why has Mitt Romney
been the front-runner or near front-runner status since day one? Why has
he been such a consistently steady, strong candidate in the race? Other
candidates have risen and fallen, risen and fallen.
And it`s remarkable to the positive that you have Mitt Romney being so
steady at such a high level throughout. I think the reason for that,
Rachel, is he has these strengths -- conservative private sector business
person, didn`t spend his whole life in government.
He is steady. He`s smart. He`s capable. He`s knowledgeable. And
he`s got a great record.
And so, he`s not perfect. None of the candidates are. The president
of the United States isn`t perfect.
So, we`re not here to say he`s perfect, but he`s, in my view, the most
capable, the most knowledgeable, the most electable candidate in this race
MADDOW: He has been sort of de facto in the race, or at least in the
room considering running for president for a very long time. I was living
in Massachusetts when he was governor and we all knew when he was governor
that he was going to run for president. He made a run for it in 2008.
He`s making a run for it now.
People had a long time to know him. But all this year, while you say
he has been sort of steady toward the top, he can`t seem to really get
higher than, say, mid-20s. We`ve been calling him Mr. 22 Percent.
Everybody else has risen and fallen over time.
And there does seem to be the ceiling on his support. I can`t imagine
he needs to tell Republican voters anything more about him that they don`t
PAWLENTY: Well, keep in mind, Ronald Reagan spent many years -- in
fact, a decade or more, running, not being successful, laying the
groundwork intellectually and philosophically for the next campaign. And
then the moment in history was right for him to become president. And we
know the rest of the story.
And as to Governor Romney, as to Mitt, he`s been running against a
field of six, seven, eight people. It`s very hard to break out when you
have that much dilution in the field.
As this aggregates down to literally or actually or practically I
should say down to a few candidates, I think you`ll see him do very well.
But I don`t think it`s a negative that he`s been at or near the top of the
field the whole time. I think that`s actually a positive that he`s been
that steady, that strong for that long.
MADDOW: If you were still in the race right now, would you say yes to
the Donald Trump debate?
PAWLENTY: Well, I know Governor Romney has that under consideration.
He hasn`t said no. I don`t know the format. I don`t know what the rules
are. So, it`s hard for me to say whether I`d say yes or no to it.
But I think your previous guest said it well, Iowans are accustom to
people coming in and supporting candidates. You know, they find this to be
an interesting thing in Iowa. Of course, the debate isn`t just about Iowa.
It`s about the whole country.
But Donald Trump is going to bring a different take to it. He`ll
probably draw more interest and if he can get more people more interested
and more informed, you know, what`s the harm on that?
MADDOW: You know, I wouldn`t have pushed back on you at all on that
before Donald Trump gave interviews today, one big conference call thing,
and one interview, where he just went off again on the birther idea --
floating the idea and still arguing for the idea that President Obama is
secretly foreign and therefore not the president of the United States and
that is an unsettled issue and he thinks that`s a matter of national
significance that ought to be discussed in the presidential race. That`s
still his platform. He says he might get back into the presidential race
PAWLENTY: Yes. But, Rachel --
MADDOW: Given that, do we really understand any format in which it
would be OK to legitimatize that guy on the national stage?
PAWLENTY: Well, I mean, Al Sharpton has a show on your network. He
has said all kinds of things in the past that some people might think are
off the mark or unusual.
MADDOW: What are you going to put up against the birtherism on Al
PAWLENTY: Well, we`ve all done and said things, made comments, taken
positions with the passage of time, better information or the like, you
might look back and say, you know, that probably wasn`t the best move.
But as to the birther issue, my personal view is that should be put to
rest. I believe President Obama was born in the United States. It`s a
nonissue as far as I`m concerned.
Donald Trump has a different view of that, but that`s why we have a
democracy. People can express their views. They have free speech. It
doesn`t mean they`re right. It just means they have the ability to express
So I understand that`s in my view and your view that issue doesn`t
have credibility. But I don`t think we should forever chastise him because
he feels he has the right to express it.
MADDOW: It`s not in the past. He did do it this morning. So, it`s
not like this is something you can look back on with the passage and time
and say --
PAWLENTY: I know. I know it`s a hot button issue for you. I think
most of the country has moved on. He obviously still thinks it`s an
But I would just suggest to you, and I think you know this, that
presidential race isn`t going to rise or fall on that issue. We got
millions of people, over 10 million people unemployed. We`ve got an
economy that`s in the tank. We`re going to have a debate amongst other
things about who`s the best person to lead this country back toward a more
prosperous, vibrant economy?
And if you look at the candidates, there`s only one person spent the
bulk of his life starting businesses, growing businesses in the private
sector, providing jobs, it`s Mitt Romney. And I think that`s going to be
one of the main reasons he`s going to be the next president.
MADDOW: The reason I`m going to have you back again and chase you
around the country to get you back, it`s ridiculous that that debate you`re
talking about is going to be moderated by birther Donald Trump. And Mitt
Romney has to explain the part of his private sector experience that was
about closing businesses and sending all the American jobs overseas.
PAWLENTY: Rachel, now, come on, be fair.
MADDOW: I am.
PAWLENTY: Bain Capital, if you look at the net job increases, when he
was at Bain Capital, the number of jobs under his supervision increased,
didn`t decrease. Now, there`s individual companies that had a hard time
ort went bad. But overall, it was a net job increase, not increase.
MADDOW: A net job increase being associated with big companies like
Staples, but you go to a place like Marion, Indiana, and you talk to them
about how Bain and Company left them in the lurch and shipped their jobs
overseas, took the jobs back and made them worse jobs. And if they didn`t
want them back, they got shipped overseas. That`s as much of the record as
So, I --
PAWLENTY: Rachel, let`s -- if you look at Bain Capital, Mitt by all
accounts was a successful leader there, well liked. And people at Bain had
high regard for him, not just as a leader but as a person.
Number two, if you look at the whole Bain story, and private equity
firms buy and sell companies, hold them for periods of time and did that
over many years. So, are there going to be some companies that had
difficult times, went bankrupt, had layoffs? Of course. But if you look
at the full record and be fair minded about it, you`re going to see that
the story is one of a net job add.
And so, I know you want to be fair minded. I hope you`ll look at the
whole story, not just one slice of it.
MADDOW: I will -- I want to talk about the whole story. I have a
feeling I`m going to for a long time provided Mitt Romney doesn`t lose to
Newt Gingrich early on in the primaries. And I have a feeling that I`m
going to have that conversation with you, sir, because you`re going to come
back, aren`t you?
PAWLENTY: Well, I will come back. But, you know, I got to be careful
how I say that because you`ll chastise me mercilessly and rhetorically beat
head and shoulders for months. And I got other things to do. I got to go
get a job, I`ve got other responsibilities. I can`t just be the foil for
you and Lawrence O`Donnell all the time.
MADDOW: I understand that. But, you know, life is a hockey fight.
But I`m willing to fight it out with you, sir.
PAWLENTY: All right.
MADDOW: Governor Pawlenty, thank you for your time. I really
PAWLENTY: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: When you think about the Constitution, other than thinking of
it as a physical thing you might pull out of your hip pocket and brandish
at someone during an argument, when you think of the Constitution, what do
you think of? You think of the big stuff, right? You think of the
separation of powers, you think of the basics of who we are as a country,
divided government, checks and balances, no king, the bill of rights.
But the Constitution also prescribes some really, really specific nuts
and bolts things, too. The Census, for example. The reason we get counted
every 10 years is because the Constitution says we have to. The idea of
the president delivering periodic State of the Union addresses, that`s n
The post office, there is such a thing as the United States Postal
Service because of the Constitution, because the Constitution specifically
gives Congress the power to create the post office. The Founding Fathers
wanted us to have a Postal Service -- which is why the news today from the
postal service seemed so particularly disastrous.
At Congress` insistence, the Postal Service trying to cut costs by $20
billion. And part of the plan to do that now involves lowering the post
office`s delivery standards for the first time in 40 years.
The plan involves closing down about half the postal service`s mail
processing centers and slowing down first-class mail delivery, making the
post office which functions very well -- thank you very much -- and
purposely making it run worse.
So if you were getting your Netflix movies nice and quick, if in fact
that quick delivery was crucial to the success of businesses like Netflix
and many others, well, too bad, thanks to Congress, the post office is
about to slow the whole enterprise down.
This very specific super useful American thing that is specifically
provided for in the Constitution is now poised to drop its own standards
unless there is a "We the people" outcry over them being forced into this
One of the other really specific things provided for in the
Constitution is the presidential pardon. After you`ve exhausted all of the
rights you`re guaranteed in the criminal justice system, there`s one very
specific right that`s given to the president and the president, alone.
It`s the right to issue a pardon.
And something seems to have gone terribly awry with that power now.
That`s next in a primetime exclusive.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. Remember Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon? Gerald
Ford using his power as president to let the previous president off the
hook for Watergate.
Remember Poppy Bush pardoning all the Reagan administration officials
that were going to go to the pokey for Iran Contra?
Tonight, a new presidential pardon scandal that ranks right up there.
MADDOW: In Article 2 Section 2 of the Constitution, the president is
given the power to pardon people. For a country that took great pains to
be really un-kinglike, the pardon power is sort of kinglike. It`s
basically an absolute power given to the president alone. It has been used
thousands of times by presidents, and most of the time, pardons aren`t that
a big deal.
That said, sometimes, they are scandalous, like Gerald Ford`s pardon
of Richard Nixon in 1974, or like the Iran Contra pardons from President
George H.W. Bush pardoned Reagan administration officials, including former
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who`s about to go on trial in his role
in allegedly illegally selling arms to Iranians and using the money to fund
rebel groups in Nicaragua which Congress explicitly said it would be
illegal to fund.
So, sometimes, pardons are scandalous. Sometimes, pardons are a nice
mix of pitiful and disgusting, like when on his last day in office,
President Clinton pardoned a man named Marc Rich, who is a fugitive charged
with tax fraud and with running illegal oil deals with Iran. His ex-wife
was a big Democratic fund-raiser and lobbied heavily for the Marc Rich
pardon and she gave lots of money to the Clinton Library.
So, sometimes pardons make scandals. But most of the time, we hear
very little about them. And we hear nothing about it when somebody is
denied a pardon.
That is one reason why "ProPublica`s" blockbuster new investigation
into the pardon process is ground breaking. Through a Freedom of
Information Act request and a lot of shoe leather reporting thereafter,
"ProPublica" gained access to nearly 2,000 pardon request under President
George W. Bush. They then analyzed a random sample of 500 or so of those
And with rigorous statistical analysis, controlling for all other
factors, check out what they found. Look at this. Quote, "White criminals
seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four
times as likely to succeed as minorities."
White people are 400 percent more likely to get a presidential pardon
than African-Americans and other minorities. Even when you control for the
type of crime, the sentence, et cetera.
After the Clinton Marc Rich scandal, President George W. Bush decided
he would not handle pardon requests directly through the White House.
They`d all be delegated to a little office at the Justice Department called
the office of the pardon attorney. That office would make recommendations
and President Bush would then have the choice whether or not to follow
When the White House looks at a pardon recommendation from that little
Justice Department office, the president is not told the race of the person
who wants the pardon. Of course, the office of the pardon attorney says
that race plays no role whatsoever in whether they recommend someone should
get a pardon, or shouldn`t get one.
But somehow, it is the outcome of the squirrely process that you are
four times as likely to be pardoned simply by virtue of you being a white
person. Quote, "Every drug offender forgiven during the Bush
administration at the pardon attorney`s recommendation, 34 of them, every
single one, was a white person."
And although race is the most striking factor here, the "ProPublica"
investigation also found other weird things that affect your likelihood of
getting a pardon, like, say, whether you`ve been divorced, whether you are
in debt, and, of course, whether you have a friend in Congress. Pardon
applicants who had a friend in Congress were three times as likely to be
pardoned as a person who didn`t have a friend on the Hill doing that for
The president`s power to pardon is an extraordinary power. In a
country like ours, it is extraordinary for a president to have a power like
that. It is an extraordinary power given to the elected official from whom
we expect the most and the most extraordinary responsibility.
Fobbing that responsibility off to a secretive back water office
neither absolves the president for that responsibility, nor does it seem to
be a way to produce particularly sane outcomes.
Joining us is "ProPublica" senior reporter, Dafna Linzer. She wrote
this piece about presidential pardons, along with her colleague, Jennifer
Dafna, congratulations on the scoop. I know you`ve been working this
a long time.
DAFNA LINZER, PROPUBLICA SENIOR REPORTER: Yes, thank you very much.
MADDOW: Let me ask you first if I got any of that wrong? I know that
was only touching on what you found. But was that a fair summary?
LINZER: Yes, it was exactly right. And I think you`re right that,
you know, forgiveness is really what a pardon is about. It just is only
going to one segment of society. Only white applicants are receiving this
presidential forgiveness. Others are not getting it.
MADDOW: It made me think of that "Saturday Night Live" skit where the
black actor woke up in the morning as a white person and went to the
newsstand and got the paper for free. Wait a minute, this is how it works?
There`s this -- it is a documentation of really, really specific white
privilege, that if you are white, you`ll be allowed all sorts of things in
your pardon application that minority applicants never got away with.
How does the office of the pardon attorney and indeed the justice
structure around the pardoning process explain this racial disparity?
LINZER: You know, they haven`t. They haven`t explained it to us at
We went to them months before we published the story to tell sort of
what the findings were looking like and to say to them, look, you know,
here we are, we`ve got this gigantic race disparity right at the heart of
the president`s only unfettered power. You`re the only place in the world
that touches up against this power and all of your recommendations, really
I mean, you`re just really recommending white applicants for pardon.
And they have no explanation for it. You know, they didn`t challenge
the statistics at all. They said it all looked good to them.
And then they said, well, you know, you just looked at objective
measures. But there are subjective things we look at, too, which was kind
of surprising because the subjective things seem to be, you know, even more
extraordinary when we looked at them side by side, as you said, with
applicants, white and black applicants who are almost identical right down
to the race. In each case, the white applicant will get the pardon and the
minority applicant, almost always the African-American applicant does not
get the pardon.
MADDOW: They clearly say they do not intend for there to be a racial
disparity in the outcomes here, but they`re very open, at least open with
you in your reporting about the idea that something like debt or divorce
would be a reason for recommending a pardon or not recommending a pardon.
What is the justification for that?
LINZER: You know, they`re looking for the perfect person. They`re
looking for this incredibly stable person, this ideal person who will not
present a risk to the president, who will not be some person who goes out
and commits a crime again. That`s their sense of what they`re looking for.
Again, as you said, in each of these cases, you know, we looked at
bankruptcies, we looked at liens, tax liens against people. You know, did
they own their own home? All kinds of things.
And each case we found minorities who were struck out who had
bankruptcies or other issues. We found, you know, African-American
applicants who wanted a pardon in order to improve their employment
stability and were denied for employment instability. Or seeking a pardon
because they want, you know, they want a better job. They want financial
stability and are denied for financial instability.
And at the same time, we found successful white applicants pardoned by
President Bush who had bankruptcies who filed for bankruptcy more than
once, who were divorced multiple times, who had -- you know, for me one of
the striking things was language that was used to describe African-
Americans who had children outside of a marriage. Where those children
were described in denial recommendations as legitimate or born out of
White successful applicants who had children outside of a marriage,
those children were described as having been born from a previous or non-
marital relationship -- completely different language.
One of the factors that you found was statistically significant in
whether or not a person got a pardon is whether or not a member of Congress
intervened on their behalf. Was there also a correlation between the
person seeking the pardon or their family giving money to that member of
Congress? Are people, in effect, trying to buy pardons?
LINZER: We saw a couple things. One is, as you said, if you got a
member of Congress in your corner, you are three times more likely to get a
pardon. In some cases, you know, there are people who are seeking pardons
who are actively donating to that member of Congress.
We saw instances where there was a donation, you know, made on a
Tuesday. There was a letter written to the White House on behalf of the
applicant three days later. You know, the applicant gets a pardon a few
weeks later -- a new donation comes in from the family 10 days later. You
know, that happened.
We didn`t see a single member of Congress in one letter to the pardon
office disclose voluntarily if they were writing on behalf of a donor.
You know, so we saw, you know, we saw a bunch of different things.
One of the things that surprised me was the number of members of Congress
who have close personal friends who are convicted felons.
MADDOW: And who are willing to put that in writing on their behalf.
Well, would that be a potentially effective reform to the process? I
mean, on the one hand, this is -- this is a power that doesn`t come with a
lot of due process protections. It`s essentially supposed to be the
president`s mercy power. It`s a safety valve. It`s there for miscarriages
of justice. It`s not the way it`s used anymore.
But there aren`t any due process protections. So I guess while it is
horrifying, I don`t even know on what grounds we complain this is being
done so unfairly other than just a sense that it`s unfair.
But I wonder if there could be reforms to the process that would make
it less blatantly unfair? Would disclosing donations to the member of
Congress making the appeal on a person`s behalf help?
LINZER: Yes, maybe. I mean, one of the things, too, including in the
issue of donations or in members of Congress, you know, sometimes members
of Congress, you know, were doing just a regular, you know, nice
constituent service. They were writing on behalf of a constituent who they
But if you have a member of Congress, your representative who`s not
interested in writing a letter on your behalf, you know, then your chances
just fell to the likelihood of getting a pardon and the guy in the next
district over who has a representative who is interested in writing a
pardon has a better chance.
You know, the one thing about reform on the issues of pardons is that,
you know, this is completely at the president`s discretion. He actually
doesn`t need Congress to reform this. This pardon office was put together,
you know, at the very beginning of this country.
Grover Cleveland when he was president signed an executive order just
making all the paperwork go through a pardon clerk. But that pardon
office, that`s not what`s in the Constitution. That could change.
There`s lots of things they could look at, reform-wise. You know, you
could broaden the people who are looking and sifting through pardon
applications. You can take it out of the Justice Department with something
that, you know, early advisers to President Obama were looking at. Taking
it away from career prosecutors who made their names prosecuting, you know,
drug offenses in this country.
You could do that. You could make it much more similar to what they
do at state levels in some places where you have more of a parole or pardon
board where, in fact, you could even come before the board and argue your
case. Where there would be a lot more transparency in something like that.
MADDOW: Those proposals for reform early in the Obama administration,
one of the most interesting things in your reporting -- we posted a link to
the whole series at our Web site tonight.
But, congratulations on this, Dafna.
LINZER: Thank you.
MADDOW: I think this is the sort of reporting that`s going to change
the way things are done. Congratulations.
LINZER: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Dafna Linzer is a senior reporter for
"ProPublica" and at Maddowblog.com, you`ll find links to that whole series.
A year`s worth of reporting on this pardon process.
All right. Best new thing in the world is coming up.
MADDOW: Happy December 5th. Happy repeal day.
On this day 78 years ago, prohibition was repealed. Cheers.
Having failed to keep people from drinking, having made the booze
people did drink less good, having failed to reduce crime, having made
booze associated crime more organized, having cost the government a lot of
tax revenue -- prohibition met its maker when Pennsylvania, then Ohio and
then finally Utah became the 34th, 35th and 36th states to ratify the 21st
Amendment to the Constitution which repealed prohibition. Woo-hoo. Thank
At 6:55 p.m. on December 5th, 1933, FDR signed an official
proclamation, and prohibition was finally repealed throughout the land.
Mr. Roosevelt urged all Americans in all states to proceed to the drink
with caution. And he added specifically, quote, "I ask especially that no
state shall by law or otherwise authorize the return of the saloon."
Despite FDR`s request that states not authorize the return of saloons,
state did, in fact, authorize the return of saloons, and how. But dozens
of states also restricted booze sales to adults in all sorts of other ways.
So, no liquor on Election Day, or no liquor on Christmas Day, or no liquor
on Sundays in towns under or over a certain popular or in some states no
booze at all Sundays at all ever.
The state that still has one of the strictest set of alcohol laws in
the country is the state of Kansas, the home state of an infamous figure in
booze history, Carrie Nation. Carrie Nation was not born in Kansas but
that`s where she lived her life as an adult. Carrie Nation was, to put it
mildly, anti-alcohol, like the way that a black hole is anti-light, Carrie
Nation was anti-booze.
Her personal expression of prohibition activism was to pick up a
hatchet, as in an ax, and walk into a bar, and start swinging. Swinging
not at people but swinging that hatchet at liquor bottles, and at the bar
counter, and the mirrors, and whatever else she could hit before being
arrested. She was arrested 30 times for destroying saloon.
She paid the jail fines with the money she made from public speaking
and from selling little novelty hatchets.
Carrie Nation`s home base more than a decade was the south central
Kansas town of Medicine Lodge. That`s where she formed the chapter of the
Women`s Christian Temperance Union which in the 1950s bought her house and
turned it into a national historic landmark 25 years later.
Thirty-five years after that is now, today. And the best new thing in
the world I can report to you on this 78th anniversary of repeal day, that
Medicine Lodge, Kansas, the town which Carrie Nation launched her
hatchetations, Medicine Lodge, Kansas, population 2,000 has just approved
the sale of alcohol on Sundays.
Beer and liquor sold in Medicine Lodge`s two liquor stores on all
Sundays, bud Easter from here on out, as of a vote this month.
So, extra special happy repeal day to Medicine Lodge, Kansas. That`s
the best new thing in the world today.
That does it for us tonight. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
<Copy: Content and programming copyright 2011 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>
WATCH 'THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW' WEEKDAYS AT 9:00 P.M. ON MSNBC.
MORE FROM RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Add Rachel Maddow Show headlines to your news reader: