'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, December 13th, 2012
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
December 13, 2012
Guest: Dan Rather
ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Rhonda Lee, keep the faith. You`re a
great talent, and things will work out.
I appreciate your time on "THE ED SHOW" tonight. Thanks so much.
And that is "THE ED SHOW." I`m Ed Schultz.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. That was a tremendous closing
story. Great interview, man. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us for this hour.
After what has been honestly an amazing day of news, it was 3:42
Eastern this afternoon when NBC News, network news, broke into regular
programming with an exclusive special report. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is an NBC News special report. Here`s Brian
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Good day. We`re coming on the air
right now to break exclusive word that the United States ambassador to the
United Nations, Ambassador Susan Rice, has transmitted word to the
president of the United States that she is withdrawing her own name from
any future consideration for nomination to become perhaps the next
secretary of state following Hillary Rodham Clinton.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the news broken today by NBC at 3:40 in the
afternoon. Susan Rice remains the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,
and a high-profile one at that.
She`s known for being very close to President Obama, a long-time
friend and ally for the president. She`s also known for being blunt, and
for being aggressively intelligent. She is a Rhodes Scholar. She`s
She was on the National Security Council staff and served as assistant
secretary of state in the Clinton administration. She was unanimously
confirmed in 2009 for the post she holds now as the U.N. ambassador.
When Hillary Clinton made clearer than clear that she would not stay
on for a second term as secretary of state, Susan Rice`s name was floated
basically immediately as a potential nominee for that job. Hers was not
the only name floated for that job, but her potential nomination was given
new prominence and new political heat when Republican senators, led by John
Mc-Guess Who, decided that the political traction they could not get before
the election in attacking the president for the Benghazi attack, they would
try to get instead after the election by attacking Susan Rice for the
They attacked her specifically for going on Sunday morning talk shows
after the attack and delivering the administration`s talking points about
what was believed to have happened there.
It later emerged that those talking points were exactly what the
intelligence agencies told the administration they should say about the
attack. Senator McCain described that as the worst cover-up he had ever
seen in his life. He said it was worse than Watergate. He said that that
Susan Rice, she`s not very bright -- actually used that phrase about her,
"not very bright."
Part of the reason Susan Rice became such a high-profile potential
nominee was because of that criticism from Republican senators. More than
that, it ended up becoming a very high-profile potential nomination because
of the president`s response to that Republican criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say specifically
about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the
United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and
professionalism and toughness and grace. If Senator McCain and Senator
Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And
I`m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the
U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making
a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch
her reputation is outrageous.
And I don`t think there`s any debate in this country that when you
have four Americans killed that`s a problem. And we`ve got to get to the
bottom of it and there needs to be accountability. We`ve got to bring
those who carried it out to justice. They won`t get any debate from me on
But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they
think she`s an easy target, then they`ve got a problem with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One of the closest things to a flash of temper that we have
ever seen from President Barack Obama. That was at his first press
availability after being re-elected.
Still, though, the president`s spirited and maybe even angry defense
of Susan Rice appears to have been motivated as much by the president`s
disgust for the way she was being attacked as it was by any bottom line
determination that Susan Rice was definitively his number one choice for
that secretary of state job. Throughout this whole time as the Beltway and
the country waited to hear even the first news of who President Obama would
choose for his second-term cabinet, White House aides consistently
described to the president as genuinely conflicted about whether he wanted
Susan Rice or maybe somebody else, maybe Senator John Kerry of
Massachusetts, to put in that secretary of state job.
Well, if it was a contest in the president`s mind between Susan Rice
and John Kerry for that big job, for who would be the best successor to
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, well today at least the binary
competition between these two was settled with that letter that NBC News
broke the news of today, that letter from Susan Rice to President Obama.
Quote, "I am highly honored to be considered by you for appointment as
secretary of state. I`m fully confident that I could serve our country
ably and effectively in that role. However, if nominated, I am now
convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive, and
costly to you and to our most pressing national and international
priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country. It is
far more important that we devote precious legislative hours and energy to
enacting your core goals."
"The position of secretary of state," she says, "should never be
politicized. As someone who grew up in an era of comparative
bipartisanship and as a sitting U.S. national security official who has
served in two U.S. administrations, I am saddened that we have reached this
point, even before you have decided whom to nominate. We cannot afford
such an irresponsible distraction from the most pressing issues facing the
She says, "I am grateful as always for your unwavering confidence in
me and especially for your extraordinary personal support during these past
several weeks." That`s from the letter from president -- from Ambassador
Rice to President Obama today.
But here`s how Ambassador Rice explained herself this decision tonight
in an exclusive interview with NBC`s Brian Williams.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICE: I withdrew my name because I think it`s the right thing for the
country, and I think it`s the right thing for the president and putting
those things together, that makes it the right thing for me and my family.
I`ve all my life been a public servant. I`m not a political person by --
at my foundation. I just want to, as I`ve had in academia and think tanks
and two terms -- two administrations of this government tried to dot right
thing. And that`s what I`m going to continue doing.
WILLIAMS: You pulled yourself out today. Did you want the job?
RICE: I would have been very honored to serve in that job, just as
I`m delighted to do what I`m doing. But yes, sure. How can you not want
to, in my field, serve at the highest possible level?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Again, that exclusive interview with Brian Williams today.
Since that was taped, Susan Rice has tweeted this evening just within
the past hour, "Those of you who know me know that I`m a fighter but not at
the cost of what`s right for the country."
She then tweeted three minutes later, "I don`t do this work for me. I
do it because I believe in President Obama`s approach to the world, and I
want to get things done."
In terms of what happens next here, in terms of what this means here,
there is one line from Susan Rice`s letter withdrawing her name from
consideration for this position I think is going to be very important here,
is that line toward the end that I read a moment ago when she thanks the
president for his extraordinary personal support.
His support of her was extraordinary. And that I think ends up being
a big political deal here, because when a president personally sticks his
neck out for someone, like President Obama did so dramatically for Susan
Rice at his first press availability after being re-elected, a president
doing that is putting himself on the line along with that someone`s
So, now that Susan Rice has withdrawn from consideration for this job,
where does that leave the president? Especially vis-a-vis those Senate
Republican critics he took on so personally on her behalf.
And not to jump too far down the road here, but if this means
President Obama is now likely to nominate this man, John Kerry, for
secretary of state, will Republicans keep their word that they will happily
support his nomination for the job, they`ll confirm him in the Senate with
only enough of a pause to afford time for clapping?
And not to jump too much further down the road here, but if John Kerry
does lead the Senate to accept the nomination as secretary of state and if
he is confirmed as Republicans say they are so eager to do, who will
replace John Kerry in that Senate seat from Massachusetts? There will have
to be a special election in that state to replace him.
Now, Elizabeth Warren just beat the pants off incumbent Massachusetts
Republican Senator Scott Brown in this past election, but now, Elizabeth
Warren is already in the Senate. This is the other Senate seat for
Massachusetts. Today, Elizabeth Warren was celebrating her confirmed seat
on the Senate Banking Committee.
But meanwhile, Scott Brown just gave his farewell address and in his
farewell address he said in the senate that he would very much like to come
back. He told senators in his farewell address, quote, "Victory and defeat
is temporary." That`s how he said it. I would correct it if it was
somebody else sighing it but it was him.
"Victory and defeat is temporary. Depending on what happens and where
we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again."
Probably not, sir. You just got beat by seven points in a campaign
where your main line of attack was attacking Elizabeth Warren for having
Native American ancestry. Oh, also the bit about you making up stories
about meeting with kings and queens. Yes, and then you lost, as an
incumbent, by a lot. But still, you never know.
Has the Scott Brown comeback fantasy been inflecting the consideration
of John Kerry as a potential secretary of state vis-a-vis Susan Rice? How
is that affected by Susan Rice now taking her name out of consideration?
Was the withdrawal of Susan Rice`s nomination inevitable? How does
the president`s personal defense of her resonate now that he does have not
the choice to nominate her if he wanted to? And what does this all mean
about who is going to be running some of the most important parts of the
government in President Obama`s second term?
It`s a big news day. It was NBC News who first broke the news today
about Susan Rice.
Joining us now with the latest is NBC`s chief foreign affairs
correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.
Andrea, thank you so much for your time tonight.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.
Good to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: The White House released a statement this afternoon praising
Susan Rice but also condemning the political attacks that caused her to
remove her name from consideration. Is this what the White House was
hoping for? Do we know -- do we know if they wanted Susan Rice to bow out?
MITCHELL: I think they expected her to. I don`t think she was
pressured to. But it was a very uncomfortable situation. The conclusion
was that this was too painful and it was a distraction. And she wrote, she
has an op-ed that she`s already posted, has been posted by the "Washington
Post" for tomorrow, and saying that it had become a distraction, that she
wants to focus on her work and that clearly was not possible the way this
I think that no one asked her to withdraw but they were unable, since
she had not been nominated and the president was still obviously ambivalent
between her and John Kerry at this stage, they did not surround her with
the kind of support she would have had if she had been a nominee.
I think it`s very clear from our reporting and from Chuck Todd`s
reporting that some of the top advisers in the White House -- they were
divided also -- but some of the top advisers said to the president you do
not need this political battle right now with the Republican Senate because
this would stretch the Benghazi investigation forever and it would mean
that the confirmation hearing would be very difficult. They probably could
have won it. But that it would be a distraction from the main act, which
is to move on, create a cabinet, have a national security team and focus on
the tax-and-spending debate, which is already at loggerheads.
MADDOW: Is there a cost to the president?
MADDOW: Or does the White House perceive a cost to the president for
having this nomination end in this way given that he`s so personally and so
fervently supported her, including right after -- right after he was re-
MITCHELL: Well, I was told by someone who was very close to this,
very close to these conversations inside the White House, that the
president might have accepted a withdrawn nomination earlier but wanted to
fight it out because he did not want to back down in the face of a fight
and a challenge from John McCain, because there is a cost.
Now, I think that they think overall the Republicans will pay a higher
price because they have now opposed a woman and a very qualified person, a
person who`s a Stanford and Rhodes Scholar, you know, Oxford, and career
diplomat and U.N. ambassador. So, on paper, very, very well-qualified.
So I think that having opposed a woman and a woman of color given what
they`ve just experienced in this president election, I think the conclusion
on the White House is that Republicans will pay a higher price.
But a lot of Democrats are saying that the president did not show
enough loyalty. A lot of women in the administration are very angry. And
I`m saying this at a very high level -- angry because they feel she was not
treated with respect, she was not given the support she needed and she was
left to twist in the wind.
MADDOW: They`re angry with whom, though?
MITCHELL: Angry with the White House, and with the boss, with the
president for not being willing to fight this out. That he`s backed down
in the face of a challenge from a Republican minority after having won a
And most people in the foreign policy community understand that as
qualified as John Kerry is, and he`s superbly qualified, he was trained, he
lived for this, the son of a diplomat and clearly wanted this job and will
get this job.
But the anger is that she was not responsible for Benghazi and what
she said on those Sunday talk shows -- if you were to deny a promotion to
everyone who misspeaks or gets something wrong on Sunday television,
including all of us, there would be no one left in Washington.
So for her to be punished for Benghazi, which was not even her
responsibility, if there were failures and this independent review board is
coming out with its report next week or it`s going to be presented to
Congress next week and Hillary Clinton, we`re told from the House and
Senate, is scheduled to testify next Thursday, that is likely to conclude
that the State Department was largely at fault for failures, security
failures prior to Benghazi.
So, to blame Susan Rice who`s over at the U.N. mostly in New York City
for Benghazi is really a stretch, is that she was the person who went out
on Sunday television. And I think if she said today to Brian Williams that
she is not blameless. I think there was a lack of care with the talking
points and the Republicans seized on it and claimed that she was being
political and trying to be political at a key point in the presidential
election campaign, which she strongly denies.
MADDOW: But you`re saying that the president`s statements to that
effect were not enough because they were not backed up with essentially
procedural support for her to be fighting these attacks that could have
happened had he nominated her.
MITCHELL: I mean, once she`s nominated she is armed with the White
House counsel`s office, with all -- you know, every wise person, man or
woman in Washington who would be assigned to her to get her through the
But she was left -- she said she didn`t feel that she`s a victim here,
but she certainly did acknowledge to Brian that she thinks politics played
a part. And I don`t think there`s any way to deny that.
Now, the fact that he had an alternative nominee who is so well-
qualified, is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has gone on
secret missions for this White House, has done so much hard work in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, and can sail through confirmation and prevent
another big political fight when he`s got his hands full on the economic
side, that`s certainly a big plus.
MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent --
this is just an incredible story from every angle. Thank you so much for
your time. I appreciate it.
MITCHELL: You bet.
MADDOW: OK. We`ll be right back with Dan Rather. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICE: I would have been very honored to serve in that job, just as
I`m delighted to do what I`m doing. But yes, sure. How can you not want
to, in my field, serve at the highest possible level?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice talking with Brian Williams
exclusively tonight after withdrawing her name for consideration for
secretary of state. It has been a day of high-stakes politics in
Washington today and not a little bit of intrigue.
Joining us now is Dan Rather. He`s the anchor and managing editor of
"Dan Rather Reports" on AXS TV.
Mr. Rather, thank you for being here.
DAN RATHER, AXS TV`S "DAN RATHER REPORTS": I`m always honored to be
MADDOW: Susan Rice withdrawing her name from consideration for
secretary of state. This is not the most unforeseen thing in the world but
it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. What do you think is the
most important thing that just happened or that we should watch for
RATHER: Well, the most important thing that just happened is that
President Obama has once again been backed down and away. Let`s make no
This is chalk one up for the Republicans. They can hopefully in
private smile, even smirk, wink at one another. They have the professional
scalp of Susan Rice now hanging on their door. They backed President Obama
down and away.
President Obama for whatever reasons -- and I thought Andrea Mitchell
laid out, a lot of the potential reasons for it -- chose not to fight it to
the end. There will be any number of people, and not all of them
Democrats, who say this tells us something about President Obama.
He was not for a friend, a close friend, a long-time supporter,
someone who was eminently qualified, Rhodes Scholar, the whole -- public
servant. Somebody who made a lot of money on the outside but has dedicated
herself to public service.
He indicated in his press conference after the election, he made a
tough talk, he didn`t back it up.
So there are people who say listen, the kind of leader we want is one
who will fight to the finish, never give in.
On the other hand, one can make the case that President Obama has said
to himself, yes, I could probably force this to vote and win the vote but
it would cost me down the road.
But I think it raises very, very serious questions about what the
president`s second term is going to be now looking toward the future. I
said on this program, I think the last time I was here, that President
Obama needs to take it in basketball terms hard to the hoop. Instead, so
far in this early part of his second term but after the election, he`s
preferred, again, in basketball terms, to dribble and pass around the
Whether that`s a winning strategy or not over his second term, we`ll
just have to see.
MADDOW: You know, I hear that analysis from you and hearing what
Andrea was reporting about anger with the White House over the way this
worked out today, I understand it -- I understand it intellectually, that
the president could have done more, but I contrast that with the public
stances that he took on Susan right, which were so strong and emotional and
personal. And that public backing her up, you`re saying that that wasn`t
matched with appropriate politicking backing her up, supplying her with
RATHER: Talk is cheap.
RATHER: It`s what you do that counts.
MADDOW: What should he have done?
RATHER: Well, I think particularly after making that news conference
he should have taken it to a vote.
MADDOW: Nominated her.
RATHER: He should have said she`s my nominee, let`s take it to a
vote. Because what has happened today plays into the perception, the
perception that`s been growing among the Republicans that in street
language, President Obama can be rolled for his wallet and his watch. He`s
not a guy who`s going to put up much of a fight, even when he feels
strongly about it. Even when he has a strong emotional and loyalty
quotient, won`t fight for it.
For me, personally, I think it`s a little early to make that judgment.
But that perception is out there. And what happened today plays right into
Another way of -- you`ve heard it said, President Obama plays soft,
he`s too soft. In the early stages of his first term, that was more
understandable and I think more acceptable by more people, saying, well,
look, he`s come to Washington, wants to get along, nice guy, feels he wants
to take the toxicity out of it.
But he learned very quickly that the Republicans had a whole other
strategy, which was fight them trench by trench, fight them hand to hand if
Now, the message out of President Obama`s news conference appearance
was, listen, this woman is qualified and I will stick with her to hell and
back, until hell freezes over, and help her cut through the ice. That`s
the impression he gave. But that`s not the way he played it out.
MADDOW: Does this -- if he has, as you`re sort of arguing, if he`s
sort of incentivized the Republicans to keep fighting in this way, to keep
doing what John McCain did here, however unfair the president thought it
was, does that bode ill for his -- for whoever he does pick for his
We heard reporting today that Chuck Hagel may be in the running for
defense secretary. He`s a former senator. He`s a Republican. Both of
those things should make it easy.
But we`ve already heard in conservative media a lot of whining and
complaining about the Chuck Hagel nomination. We`re hearing from Andrea
Mitchell that John Kerry will certainly sail through if he is picked for
the secretary of state job.
Looking down the road what do you think this bodes?
RATHER: Well, first of all, I do think that John Kerry will probably
be nominated by the president. And I do think that he will sail through.
For one thing, as you pointed out, you earlier point out, there`s another
advantage for Republicans because it opens that Senate seat in
Massachusetts and they have a strong candidate, Scott Brown, giving that.
In terms of the Chuck Hagel appointment, from the outside looking in
this looks like a very smart, shrewd, perhaps even wise move. Hagel is a
Republican, fairly long-time Republican senator. He was in the service
during Vietnam. He knows what it was like to be in military uniform during
that -- during jungle hell.
MADDOW: Absolutely, yes.
RATHER: So that could be a very good appointment for him.
But you make a good point that the buffoons (ph) digging around on
Kerry and Hagel because many Republicans are in the more, quote,
"conservative wing" of the party consider Hagel not a real Republican. He
was too moderate, "too willing to compromise," quote-unquote, in their
words. So they`ll be poking around.
And if they can find anything on which to attack, they probably will.
MADDOW: Dan Rather, anchor and managing editor of "Dan Rather
Reports" on AXS TV -- it`s wonderful to have you here, sir.
RATHER: Good to be here. Thank you very much, Rachel.
MADDOW: The bigger the news the more excited I am that talk to you
RATHER: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. What remains of the Cold War is mainly archives,
right? Dramatic and world-altering history, John le Carre novels and the
memory that we used to hate and fear and know very little about the Soviet
Union. But there are remnants of the Cold War that are fully alive and
that matter a ton in the most dangerous place on the planet right now.
That story`s coming up.
MADDOW: The U.S. has military bases all over the world, right? Our
military is everywhere. The Army recruiting Web site right now, the page
on where might I end up serving if I signed up? It has a rollover map that
shows Army outposts sprinkled all over the world like glitter.
The U.S. military, whether you think it is a good thing or a bad thing
that this is true, has outposts covering the globe.
In contrast, our old Cold War adversary, Russia, has one military
outpost anywhere in the world that is not the former Soviet Union. They`ve
only got one. Guess where it is.
MADDOW: OK. It`s October 1973. President Richard Nixon is up to his
neck in the Watergate scandal, the scandal that will soon topple his
presidency. His vice president is just days away from resigning. The
walls are closing in around him.
And out of nowhere, a crisis breaks out half a world away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: Good evening.
It is an all-out war. That`s how Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan
describes an invasion of the Golan Heights and the east banks of the Suez
by Syria and Egypt. The surprise attacks came early this morning in the
air and on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Surprise attacks. In October 1973, as Richard Nixon is
crumbling beneath the weight of Watergate, our ally Israel is
simultaneously surprise attacked by Egypt from the west and by Syria from
After initially being caught off guard by the attacks, Israel
eventually takes the upper hand. They are not only able to defend their
own borders. They go on offense. They drive to within 65 miles of Cairo
and just 25 miles of the Syrian capital of Damascus. Israel is on the
And then something extraordinary happens. For the first time since
the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s, the United States military moves to
For some perspective, the only other time we have been at DEFCON 3
since then is on 9/11. This is something that almost never happens. And
when it does, it is historic and it is historically scary.
And when it happened in 1973, the order to go to DEFCON three was not
issued by President Nixon. He was apparently asleep at the time, and the
order had to be given by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
And it had to be given because this fight in the Middle East stopped
being just a fight in the Middle East. We went to DEFCON 3 that year while
President Nixon was sleeping because the Soviet Union threatened to get in
on that war, militarily, on behalf of not just Egypt but their long-time
The Soviets and Syria were like this. And us and Israel were like
this. So if Syria and Israel are going to go to war, that was going to
mean us and the Soviet Union going to war?
Ultimately, we, of course, did not go to war with the Soviet Union in
1973. A cease-fire was brokered. But it got close. It got DEFCON 3
And it got that close because of Syria`s great protector in Moscow.
For decades, the Soviet Union supplied Syria with billions of dollars`
worth of weapons and military aid, and Syria was their great ally in the
The two countries signed an official treaty of friendship and
cooperation in Moscow in 1980. And the years that followed that treaty,
when the Soviet Union was occupying Afghanistan for a decade, you`ll recall
of course that the Muslim world was enraged at that occupation, except for
Syria. Syria, they were fine with it, because Russia was their best
And this best friendship has survived the Cold War. Russia and Syria
have had a sort of de facto exchange program over the last few decades.
Syrian military officers go to Russia to study. And then they return to
Syria with their education and with Russian wives. There are a lot of
Russian women who are married to Syrian men who are living in Syria.
The two countries have had their share of disagreements over the
years, but honestly, they have stuck together. At times when Syria has not
had a friend in the whole world they have had Russia, and vice versa.
This is a Scud missile. Scud missiles are of Russian design. They`re
basically entry-level ballistic missiles, in the words of a BBC story about
them today -- ballistic missiles 101, if you will.
Scuds are not that accurate, but they are easy to move around.
They`re not that big. They`re not that complicated. You can put all sorts
of different warheads on them. Ek!
And as ballistic missiles go, Scud missiles are fairly ubiquitous in
the world. There are a lot of them around, in part because Russia during
the Cold War sent Scud missiles all over the world. Everybody that was
allied with Russia, at least enough to do business with them, was getting
And as these countries have held on to them and as these countries
have sold them on to other countries, in some cases even improving them as
they go -- North Korea apparently has a really nice Scud upgrade -- Scuds
have turned up in all sorts of conflicts over the decades.
In that Israel crisis in 1973 during Watergate, Egypt fired Scud
missiles at the western side of the Suez Canal. After the U.S. bombed
Libya in the 1980s, Libya fired Scud missiles at a U.S. facility on an
Italian island. The Soviets used them in Afghanistan. The Iranians and
the Iraqis shot them at each other during their war.
Scuds have turned up all over the place. And they still do.
So the news this week that Syria is using these Scud missiles right
now in its civil war -- Syria has denied it, but NATO says they`re doing it
-- that news is scary. If it`s true, and it seems to be true, it means
that Syria is using ballistic missiles inside their own borders, shooting
them at their own people. It is scary.
The White House press secretary yesterday described it as a "stunning,
desperate, and completely 2disproportionate military escalation in that
conflict." But however scary the firing scud missiles at their own people
development might be for the fighting in Syria, it is also a reminder of
how key Russia is -- not just to the history of how we got here and to the
history of what weaponry is there to be used in this fight, but how key
they are to what happens now, to how this maybe resolves.
After the Cold War, when we went from Soviet Union to Russia, right?
Russia kept their close ties to Syria. The one military base they have
outside the former Soviet Union, they have in Syria.
The Russians and the Syrians are very close. They`re very close to
Syria`s dictator, Bashar al Assad. They were very close with al Assad`s
dad. They`ve done billions of dollars` worth of trade deals, as I`ve said,
in weapons alone.
And in this year and a half-long civil war in Syria that has cost tens
of thousands of lives, Syria`s only friends in the world have been,
naturally, Iran and China but also their best friends, Russia -- Russia.
And that was true until today.
Russia today did not formally declare that they`re no longer going to
support the Syrian government against the rebels, but for the first time, a
high-ranking Russian official said publicly that, yes, it looks like Assad
is going to lose this war.
I mean, the United States has been saying that forever. NATO has been
saying that forever. Everybody who wants Assad to go has been saying that
forever. You try to create an air of inevitability about the thing you
want to happen, right? That makes sense.
But now for the other side to be saying it, for Syria`s best friend to
be saying, yes, Syria, you`re going to lose this, it`s going to happen,
that is a huge, huge deal.
It is sometimes hard to follow the day-to-day news out of this war --
to know what is an important day and what is just another awful day. But
this is a really important moment, because Syria was sort of down to their
last friend in the world. And if they are now down to not even having that
friend anymore, then Russia may not just be predicting that it`s over in
Syria. Russia may be ensuring that it is over in Syria.
What happened today is a big deal. Watch this space.
MADDOW: When Michigan Republicans came back after this last election
and suddenly moved without warning to get rid of union rights in their
state, one of the things that was so shocking about it was that they had
not campaigned on doing that. That was not what this election was about in
In fact, the Republican governor of the state, Rick Snyder, has said
that he didn`t want to do that. But they came back after this election and
they did it anyway. All of a sudden in a bit of a surprise attack.
Their cover, what they explained about why they felt justified doing
it, was that Michigan voters in this election had voted against a pro-union
rights constitutional amendment. Governor Rick Snyder explained that
because the voters said no to an unrelated pro-union rights measure, he
felt that was a green light for him to strip union rights across the state.
The logic is a stretch. But at least you can sort of follow it,
Well, now there`s this. In the 2012 election, in this past election,
Michigan voters also got to vote on Governor Snyder`s emergency manager
law, which let him come in and take over your town in Michigan and just
unilaterally get rid of democracy at the local level. Voters in Michigan
voted to repeal that law by a big margin. They voted no on Michigan`s
emergency manager law.
So Michigan voted no on union rights in the election. So that`s why
Rick Snyder says he got rid of union rights in the state. Michigan at the
same time voted no on the emergency manager law.
And so Rick Snyder responded to that vote by passing a new emergency
manager law, one that can`t be repealed by the voters this time. That
happened this afternoon. Snyder is due to sign it as soon as it hits his
desk. And this is how Michigan works these days. This is why Rick Snyder
is making Michigan famous for the most radical state governments in the
nation. They treat democracy there like a coin toss.
It`s one of those coin tosses where if it`s heads they win. But if
it`s tails, you lose. Do you want to flip again?
What has happened in Michigan so far is the most dramatic
manifestation of how the Republican Party intends to govern in response to
the last election. There`s been a lot of talking about what the
Republicans are going to do, what the Republicans might do differently now,
but this isn`t about talking. In Michigan, we are seeing what they are
Are these guys an outlier or is this representative of what we should
expect from Republicans around the country and in D.C. after this election?
Joining us now is Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for
the "Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.
Mr. Robinson, it is great to have you here tonight.
EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: It is great to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: I would not have expected it as the first big political thing
after the election, but it is Michigan that decided to make a real
spectacle of itself here -- the union stripping thing, the new emergency
manager law, really draconian new restrictions on abortion, on and on.
Why is this the result of the last election in a place like Michigan?
ROBINSON: You know, it`s a good question. One reason why is this
happening could be get it while you can, right? I mean, they still have
the majorities in the statehouses and they have Republican governors in the
states. And so, just go for it because who knows how long that will last.
But it`s very interesting that it`s in Michigan and it`s Governor
Snyder whom I`ve met, I spent a day with him about a year and a half ago,
right after he had taken office. And he clearly wanted to project a sort
of very, very far right conservative agenda but with a smile, with a kind
of technocratic smile.
And, all of a sudden, the smile is like missing. It`s gone. He`s not
And neither are the people of Michigan, who are not going to like this
sort of governance.
MADDOW: I think that state politics are important in illuminating
anyway, particularly when Republicans aren`t actually running anything from
Washington. You get to see the relationship between their rhetoric and how
they`re actually going to behave when they`re actually in control of
things, and they are in the state. So it`s always interesting.
But in this case, I feel like in these weeks after the election when
the Republicans just got shellacked, we hear from all the Republicans in
the Beltway that the party needs to change, they need to get off all these
fights about people`s rights and they need to focus on economics. And in
the states, I feel like it`s not that we don`t see signs of that happening.
I feel like it is the opposite.
And so, I don`t -- I don`t understand what the dynamic is at work here
or if maybe just the Beltway and the country don`t talk to each other.
ROBINSON: The Beltway and the country don`t talk to each other. We
inside the Beltway really ought to get out more. That`s one thing that
ought to happen.
But, you know, inside Washington, inside the Beltway you see the sort
of battle among the factions of the Republican Party and how they`re going
to have to work this out. And we talk about it all the time. It`s out in
the states where the sort of bloody battlefields are and where this stuff
is going on. And so you see it in Michigan.
Now, how is this going to impact the Republican brand nationwide? My
assessment is it`s not going to help. But it`s not going to help what some
people here at kind of party headquarters are trying to project about the
Republican Party going forward. So the party might someday win national
MADDOW: Gene, you write in your current column that -- you`re writing
about the factual basis of politics or the lack thereof. You write that
"Republicans are getting stuff so wrong that Democrats are not even forced
to go to the trouble of getting it right."
I feel like your diagnosis is that we are mentally atrophying as a
nation because of a lack of fact-based argument. Is that what you`re
condemning us all to?
ROBINSON: Basically, because look, competition is good. A
competition of ideas is good, and there should be a smart, forward-thinking
Republican Party to challenge progressive ideas, to challenge the
Democratic Party, to be creative, to come up with better solutions because,
you know, this may come as a secret but the Democratic Party is not
perfect, right? The Democratic Party gets a little hide-bound and a little
tied to old ways of doing things.
So we should have that challenge. But we`re not -- we`re not getting
it. It`s not coming from the Republican Party. And when is it going to
When, for example, the Heritage Foundation, a Republican think tank
essentially, which has been very important as a generator of ideas in the
past, is now going to be run by Jim DeMint, who doesn`t like most ideas.
He likes a few ideas. And I have a feeling that those are the ideas that
are going to be acceptable coming out of Heritage.
That`s a real shame, I think, for the Republican Party, and ultimately
for politics in this country.
MADDOW: Yes, it`s a replacement of purpose with tactics. It`s been
under way for a long time.
Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Washington
Post," MSNBC political analyst -- Gene, thank you. Appreciate it.
ROBINSON: OK, Rachel. I`ll keep flipping that coin and see if
somehow I win.
ROBINSON: You know, so far, no.
MADDOW: Tails you lose.
All right. There has been a series of pretty spooky, maybe connected,
maybe not connected stories on mostly handled in local news over the last
several weeks. They have not seemed to rise to the level of connected
national news stories until right now. Tonight, we have some exclusive
news on that. That`s coming up.
MADDOW: One year ago this Saturday, the war in Iraq ended. It ended
rather quietly, a trillion dollar, nine-year war that killed 4,000
Americans. A year ago, Saturday, they played the national anthem. They
took down the flag and we left.
And on this Saturday, on the one year anniversary, December 15th this
year, the great city of Chicago will hold a parade to say welcome home to
the people who fought it.
Are you anywhere Chicago? You could go. It`s Saturday. It starts at
noon in Grant Park, in Columbus Drive, and heads north from there.
Volunteers spent today stuffing more than 2,000 gift bags and resource
kit that will be handed out to veterans at the end of the parade. Sears
donated a bunch of staff. The Laugh Factory donated thousands of tickets.
The organizers tell us that among the volunteers this weekend will be
the folks who organized the St. Louis parade this past January. St. Louis,
of course, was the first U.S. city to hold the parade to mark the end of
the Iraq, but Chicago this weekend will be the biggest city to do it.
So, if you are anywhere Chicago this weekend, check out the link to
the parade`s Web site on our blog, MaddowBlog.com.
Pulling off something like this in a city as big as Chicago is not
easy. But the people of Chicago are proving it can be done.
So, seriously, New York your excuses for not having a welcome home
parade are starting to get fewer and fewer, right? I mean, if Chicago can
do it, why can`t we?
MADDOW: Here`s the story that so far has been only covered as a local
news story. But I think this may end up being a national story. And I
want to put it on your radar because of that, when on 1:00 p.m. yesterday
afternoon, a bunch of courthouses across the state of Mississippi started
getting alarming phone calls.
Local authorities say it sounded like a man`s voice. The call sounded
like they were recorded messages. And in each case, they are explicitly
By the end of the day, it was 31 courthouses and 29 different
Mississippi counties who got these threats, they were bomb threats.
A state emergency management agency spokesman told the Jackson
"Clarion Ledger" that when you looked at the chronology at which threats
came to which counties when, the threats it turns out were phoned in, in
alphabetical order by the name of the county.
Also tonight, law enforcement agencies hadn`t compiled the fullest of
the 29 counties that got the threats, but this is 25 of them. Because of
the threats, there were evacuations in Mississippi, but no explosive
devices were found and nobody was hurt.
So, at this one level, this is an interesting but ultimately local
Mississippi story, right?
Except, look at this, so here`s the day yesterday, when the
Mississippi threats came in, 31 bomb threats in 29 Mississippi counties.
Now, look back about six weeks ago, November 2nd. November 2nd, it was
Friday, shortly after 11:00 in the morning that day, nine court houses in
the state of Nebraska received bomb threats.
Roughly two weeks later, it happened in Washington state, eight court
houses receiving bomb threats beginning in the late afternoon. They were
cleared by authorities by early evening.
Four days later, November 19th, it was Oregon. Twenty-eight county
courthouses across the state of Oregon getting bomb threats.
A week after that, Tuesday, November 27th, it was 30 courthouses
across, in this time also other government buildings, across the state of
Tennessee. Bomb threats and once again, no devices were found by
authorities. In that case, one court clerk in Tennessee reported picking
up the phone and hearing a man`s voice say if this is the Cheatham County
courthouse, you are about to be blown up.
So it`s Nebraska, and then Washington and Oregon and Tennessee and now
Mississippi. After the news broke in Mississippi, we spoke of officials
from the FBI. And the Department of Homeland Security about whether law
enforcement agencies believe these threats are related. And they told us,
pretty unequivocally, yes.
A spokesperson for the FBI in Memphis telling us tonight, quote, "It`s
an ongoing investigation so we can`t comment specifically, but it would be
foolish not to look into the possibility that these are connected."
The director of homeland security in the state of Mississippi tonight
was much more specific. He told us, quote, "We were in contact with
several other states. And it does look like they maybe related." He
stressed that while no explosive devices had ever been found associated
with these threats, he told us, quote, "The threats have been narrowed down
to a couple of cell phones. Some might call them disposable cell phones."
So, that`s new information tonight on the strange stories that have
mostly been covered as local news, but that do seem to have some national
connection at least across these five states so far. We are watching this
one closely and we`ll keep you posted. I think it`s at least worth setting
a Google news alert for it in the meantime.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Have a great night.
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