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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 15, 2013

Guest: Sheldon Silver

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Thank you.

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. Tremendous news for you and
Wendy. Just amazing. I knew you were glowing today for some reason.
That`s awesome.

SCHULTZ: Well, I want to tell you, she is one tough girl.

MADDOW: Yes, and you have been a tough guy along with her all this
time. It`s been amazing to see you standing by her the way you have. And
it`s great news. Congratulations.

SCHULTZ: Thank you, Rachel. I appreciate that.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

Breaking news this hour in Washington. The House has finally passed
its bill to pay for relief efforts for hurricane Sandy. It has just
happened tonight.

The storm hit on October 29th. It caused 140 deaths. It caused
billions of dollars of damages in the densely populated regions of New York
City and New Jersey and Connecticut where it hit most directly. Although
the U.S. Senate acted last month on Sandy relief, it has taken John
Boehner`s Republican-controlled House 78 days since the storm to pass this
bill responding to the storm.

In the end, on the Republican side, it ended up being a grudging vote
for Sandy relief. Republicans voted against Sandy relief by a 3-1 margin.
The bill was only able to pass because a minority of Republicans joined
with Democrats to get it done in thousand.

Now, even though the Senate already passed its version of hurricane
Sandy relief last year, last month, the Senate bill has to be redone
because it took the House so long to get their side of it done. The Senate
is expected to get their side done again shortly. And then the president
says he will sign the measure into law.

And, tonight, in further breaking news, as slow as House Republicans
were to act in response to hurricane Sandy, tonight`s other major news is
about how fast New York state was able to move to respond to a different
kind of disaster. Tonight, one month and one day after the mass shooting
at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a town that is
only about nine miles from the New York/Connecticut border, tonight the
state of New York has become the first state in the country since that
tragedy to reform its gun laws. And it reformed its gun laws dramatically.

As of tonight, as of tonight, New York has just enacted the toughest
set of gun laws in the country. The state Senate, which is run by a
Republican-dominated coalition, passed the measure last night by a vote of
43-18. That was last night. Then it was this afternoon, the heavily
Democratic assembly voting. The margin in the assembly was 144-43.

And then tonight, less than an hour after it won final passage in the
legislature, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it, signed it into law. Parts of
it take effect immediately.

New York`s new law bans any gun magazines that can hold more than
seven rounds of ammunition, seven.

It expands an existing state assault weapons ban to ban guns that are
semiautomatic and have detachable magazines, and that have one what they
call military-style feature such as a flash suppresser or a bayonet mount.
It used to be you needed two of those features in addition to being a
semiautomatic weapon and having a detachable magazine, now you just need
one of the features.

Also, as of now, you can no longer have guns -- excuse me, as of now
you can no longer have guns that meet that description I just gave in New
York state. But if you already own a weapon like that in New York state,
you can keep it. You`re grandfathered in. But you will have to register
that weapon with the state. That is the part that`s new.

The new law requires a background check to buy a firearm, which you
need now if you buy a gun at a store. But it also closes the loophole. So
you will need a background check now if you buy your gun at a private sale.
It closes the gun show loophole, in other words.

You will also now need a background check to buy ammunition. And
mental health professionals will be required to report to the state
patients who they consider to be a threat to themselves or others. Law
enforcement would then be allowed to confiscate firearms owned by such a
patient.

And if you are a gun owner, you are responsible for keeping your
weapons inaccessible to others if you live with someone who legally should
not have access to weapons in New York state.

That`s the package. This is a big deal. And they did it a month and
a day after Sandy Hook. They did it on day two of the legislative session
in Albany.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: This is a complex, multifaceted
problem. And this is a comprehensive bill that addresses the full panorama
and spectrum of issues that come up.

I`m proud to be a New Yorker because New York is doing something,
because we are fighting back, because, yes, we`ve had tragedies and, yes,
we`ve had too many innocent people lose their life. And yes it`s
unfortunate that it took those tragedies to get us to this point.

But let`s at least learn from what has happened. Common sense can
win. And good people can win. And you can actually get government to work
and get good things to happen.

You can overpower the extremists with intelligence and with reason and
with common sense. And you can make this state a safer state.

(END VIDEO LCIP)

MADDOW: The National Rifle Association responded late today to New
York`s actions. They put out a statement saying naturally that they are
outraged by what New York has done.

It should also be noted that the NRA is frequently outraged.

But other states are looking to join New York. Maryland Governor
Martin O`Malley, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Connecticut Governor
Dan Malloy, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, have all announced in the past
few days announced ambitious legislative proposals on gun reform in their
own states.

And, of course, federally, tomorrow, ahead of schedule, President
Obama is set to unveil his own set of proposals in response to the Newtown
school shooting. The White House releasing this picture today of Vice
President Biden, presenting his findings to the president and other cabinet
members in a gun policy meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can tell you that tomorrow
the president and vice president will hold an event here at the White House
to unveil a package of concrete proposals to reduce gun violence and
prevent future tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut. They will
be joined by children from around the country who wrote the president
letters in the wake of that tragedy, expressing their concerns about gun
violence and school safety, along with their parents. That event will be
at approximately 11:45 a.m.

I will not get ahead of the president in terms of what his package of
proposals will include. I will simply note that the president has made
clear he intends to take a comprehensive approach. He has also made clear
that there are specific legislative actions that he will continue to call
on Congress to take, including the assault weapons ban, including a measure
to ban high capacity magazine clips, including an effort to close the very
big loopholes in the background check system in our country.

But I will beyond that leave to it the president to announce what
actions he proposes tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Joining us now is Sheldon Silver. He is the speaker of the
New York state assembly which passed New York state`s sweeping new gun
reforms this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for making time for us today. I know
it`s been a very busy day.

SPEAKER SHELDON SILVER (D), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY (via telephone):
Thank you, Rachel. Thank you for having me.

MADDOW: This has happened quickly. This is the second day of the
legislative session. It`s a month and a day after the Sandy Hook shooting.

We`ll all trying to understand exactly what was just passed in New
York. I feel like I should first ask you if my summary of the new law was
basically accurate. Is that -- is that basically what you -- what you
passed today?

SILVER: Your summary was fantastic, absolutely on point. We added
other things like increasing certain penalties such as straw sales, which
has been a problem in New York, where people go, get guns out of state,
come back and in a sense, purchase it for others who don`t clear background
checks. We have made those clearly illegal here in New York.

The registration of any existing assault weapon is very, very
important. And the outright ban of the multiple more than seven and you
cannot have more than seven in any clip. These are the key elements that
are designed basically to protect people, to protect children, to protect
police and fire.

There is no reason that I see that we should have guns that are
designed to kill the most number of people in the fastest time period
possible. And let`s face it. That`s what assault weapons are. It`s not
for hunting. It`s not for target shooting. It is for that and that alone.

MADDOW: I understand that one of the provisions included in this
package of reforms today would have increased the criminal penalties for
anybody who shoots a first responder. It`s being called the Webster
provision, because the Webster, New York, situation around the turn of the
year, around Christmas time when firefighters were ambushed and shot and
killed by somebody who laid in wait for them.

How much of what happened today was able to be achieved in Albany
because of recent tragic incidents like those and like Sandy Hook? How
much of this never would have been possible before?

SILVER: Well, it`s unfortunate that these were the impetus. Newtown,
our Webster in New York, where somebody set a fire in order to attract fire
personnel and then open fire on those fire personnel. That`s what happened
in Webster. And it`s almost tragic that we needed that in order to bring
the impetus for this kind of legislation. We needed that.

You know, we have been passing -- I say the New York state assembly.
The Democratic-controlled House has been passing an assault weapons
legislation like this on previous occasions, many previous occasions. But
it took the leadership of Governor Cuomo and those horrendous acts that
happened in Newtown and in Webster that actually brought the impetus for
this to take place. And this is really the first bill of the legislative
session that passed right on the opening.

MADDOW: Speaker of the New York state assembly, Sheldon Silver -- I
know this was a long-term goal of yours, sir, and a profound legislative
achievement, New York state. Thank you for your time tonight, sir. It`s
nice to have you here.

SILVER: A pleasure.

MADDOW: Thank you.

SILVER: All right. Let`s turn to E.J. Dionne. "Washington Post"
columnist, senior fellow at Brookings. E.J., it`s nice to have you here
too.

E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: Good to be with you.

SILVER: We just heard from Speaker Sheldon Silver in New York.
Obviously, New York is not exactly like the rest of the country politically
or in any other way.

Interesting, though. New York does have a Republican-controlled
Senate. It`s a Republican coalition that controls the Senate. The speaker
there saying we were able to do this in the assembly before, but never --
we were never able to get it all the way through in law before Governor
Cuomo made it a priority, and before these tragedies.

How significant do you think this is what New York did today?

DIONNE: I actually think it`s very significant. Of course, New York
is not typical of the whole country. In fact, there is no state in our
whole union that is typical of the whole country.

But there are a lot of Republicans in the House of Representatives
which is seen as the roadblock who are like the Republicans in the state
Senate, a few in the state assembly, who voted for this bill. If you look
at the numbers now, there are 12 Republicans from New York and New Jersey,
13 from Pennsylvania, 20 from the West Coast, 44 from the Midwest.

Within that group of 89 are the votes that you`re going to need to
pass assault weapons ban, bans on big magazines, tightening up the
background checks.

And I think that`s very possible. And I think the Sandy vote tonight
really tells us something. John Boehner allowed this to pass, even though
most Republicans voted against it. Forty-nine Republicans voted for it. I
bet you in those 49 are the votes you`re going to need for meaningful gun
control.

And so a lot will be up to John Boehner. Will he let Republicans who
are like the Republicans in New York who voted for this vote the views of
their constituents or will he impose the views of people from other parts
of the country and not let this stuff come up for a vote?

MADDOW: What do you think the White House`s assessment is of that
what you just laid out? What do you expect from President Obama tomorrow
in terms of a balance between things he can do himself and things he would
need Congress to do?

DIONNE: Well, he is going to do as much as he can to enforce existing
law and do things through executive orders. No, the gun owners don`t have
to fear he is not going to take guns away through executive orders. It`s
that fear, that paranoia being spread by the NRA and others. But he is
going to take executive action.

But I think he is going to propose a very robust plan from everything
I hear, including an assault weapons ban. That seems to be the measure
that has the most difficulty. One of the things I think they`re going to
propose, by the way, is to make it a lot easier to collect data on gun
violence, on people who die in violence. The NRA has blocked even the
collection of data. So we can`t know what is going on. So we can`t come
up with the right solutions. I hope that is part of his package, and I
think it will be.

MADDOW: E.J. Dionne of "The Washington Post" and the Brookings
Institution. Thank you. It`s always great to see you. Nice to have you
here.

DIONNE: It`s great to see you. Thank you.

MADDOW: You know, I will say this about blue states in the country.
We`ve got this major landmark action tonight from New York state, a blue
state acting on its own terms. We are anticipating this announcement
tomorrow from the Democratic president, but federal measures where he`s got
a divided Congress between the two different parties.

Here is the interesting thing about blue states and the rest of the
country. New York is a big state with a lot of gun owners. New York is
not just New York City. New York has a huge rural area, right, with a lot
of gun owners and gun rights folks, and a lot of Republican representatives
from those areas voted for gun law reform today.

It is underappreciated how much blue states can pilot new gun control
measures for the country, if only so that gun owners in those blue states
can then tell the country that those gun control measures have not resulted
in somebody coming in in a black helicopter and confiscating all their
guns.

People dismiss blue states as being able to do stuff that the rest of
the country can`t do. But blue states can move the ball forward. We`ll be
right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: How is the United States constitution like a banana peel?
Well, a certain group of people who are frequently unfunny keep slipping on
it. That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This was the scene earlier today on the House floor. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: We the people of the United States
in order to form a more perfect union establish justice, insure domestic
tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare,
and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity do
ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Now, he did not write that himself. Yes, it was Constitution
Day on the floor of the House of Representatives. Read the Constitution
day.

Remember two years ago when Republicans took over the House, John
Boehner became speaker for the first time, they decided to make a big show
out of reading the Constitution page by page on the floor of the House as
one of their first acts?

Well, they apparently enjoyed that so much a couple of years ago when
they did it the first time that they decided to bring it back. So, today,
for more than an hour, members of the House took turns reading a section of
the Constitution, again.

And honestly, the second time around, the whole thing sort of lost a
little bit of steam compared with last time. All told, just 74 members of
the House turned up today to read parts of the Constitution. Now
organizers had said they expected 120 members to show up. So they divided
the Constitution into 120 sections.

When not that many people showed up, they ended up having to stretch.
They had to give the congressmen and women who did show up two or three
sections apiece to read all at once. The sequel is never as good as the
original, right?

Fortunately, for House Republicans, though, it was not as flat-out
embarrassing for them as a group this time the way it was when they did it
the last time a couple of years ago. I mean, remember, a couple of years
ago when they did it, the first time they did not just skip parts of the
Constitution they didn`t like, they accidentally skipped some parts of the
Constitution that they liked just fine, but just had the misfortune of
getting lost when pages in their binder got stuck together.

This time, I think the group experience was a little less humiliating.
It was more sad and sparsely attended. But this year, they saved the real
embarrassment for just one guy, for just Republican Congressman Dennis Ross
of Florida. He drew the short straw today.

He was the guy who showed up I think totally randomly, but just in
time to be handed Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution
to read out loud. That`s what he got assigned.

If that specific clause is not ringing a bell, that`s the part of the
Constitution that goes like this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS ROSS (R), FLORIDA: Section 4. The validity of the public
debt of the United States authorized by law, including debts incurred for
payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection
or rebellion shall not be questioned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Ooh. The validity of the public debt of the United States
shall not be questioned. So says the Constitution, Section 4 of the
Fourteenth Amendment. That`s the part of the Constitution that says
explicitly that the U.S. government can`t under any circumstances default
on our debt.

And that made it a very awkward section for Republican Congressman
Dennis Ross to have to read out loud since he has been one of the House
Republicans who has been threatening to force the United States government
to default on our debt, damn the Constitution.

Lakeland`s Dennis Ross among the GOP freshmen to tell John Boehner no.
Ross was among the freshman Republicans who told John Boehner that he would
not be voting for the debt ceiling proposal. That was from the last time
the House Republicans threatened the country with defaulting on our debt
back in 2011.

Dennis Ross, you probably should have calibrated your place in line a
little better. Throw a Democrat in there ahead of you when you realize
that`s what you`re going to get. Get there in time for the repeal
prohibition amendment next time. That`s more fun.

If you have found yourself at home constitutionally -- forgive me,
constitutionally incapable of getting excited over having another fight
about the debt ceiling this year, if this isn`t exciting because it just
feels like Groundhog Day to you, oh my God, I`ve got reckless brinksmanship
fatigue, it is true that it`s hard to get excited over something we have
done before.

It is 2013 now. The last time we have a big fight over the debt
ceiling was 2011. And, of course, remember when it happened, it was a
total disaster.

Even if you just ignore the political consequences, if you just look
at the economic impact, it was a self-imposed economic disaster caused by
Washington refusing to do something that it needs to do and that it has
done dozens of times before. Republicans just refused to do it.

It was such a disaster, you would think that there would not be a
reason to explain that this shouldn`t happen again. But it`s happening
again in what looks like an exact repeat of 2011. Except for one thing --
there is one thing that is different so far this time around, and time will
tell will this proves to be a harbinger of something bigger, or whether
this is just a single outlying happy fact.

But this year, there is one Republican member of Congress who has
broken ranks on the big stupid debt ceiling thing. In 2011, there was not
a single Republican in Congress, in the House or in the Senate, who broke
ranks publicly and said actually, purposefully driving the American economy
into a ditch to make a point that even we don`t understand and that is
against the Constitution, that might not be a great idea. Nobody broke
ranks when the Republicans did this in 2011, nobody on the Republican side.

But today on the Republican side somebody did. Today, Republican
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke ranks. She gave an interview to her
hometown newspaper in Alaska, "The Fairbanks Daily News Miner". She said
she disagrees with her party`s strategy of threatening the country with
default.

Quote, "Senator Murkowski is breaking with Republican leadership in
the debate about raising the U.S. debt ceiling, saying the country has a
duty to assure it pays its bills. Lisa Murkowski said she does not think
the debt limit should be used for political leverage. Murkowski said not
all of her colleagues in the Senate will say it out loud, but she believes
most agree that failing to raise the debt limit would harm perception of
the country."

Quote, "If you incur an obligation, you have a responsibility to pay
for that," Murkowski said.

Time is going to tell if Lisa Murkowski is the first Republican to
break ranks or if she is the only Republican to break with Republican
leadership on this issue. But the fact that she has done it already makes
this a better movie than it was in 2011.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We`ve got Richard Engel here live tonight. Very much looking
forward to that.

And to wrap the show tonight, we have a big story, a big politics
story that -- well, if you know anybody who works with the Beltway media,
can you please call them and tell them to watch the last story on the show
tonight?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: When the United States was openly mulling the prospect of
going to war with Iraq, people inside Iraq who were enemies of Saddam,
people who wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq and overthrow him found that the
U.S. government, and in some cases the U.S. press were very interested in
hearing all the horrible things they had to say about Saddam.

Now, Saddam was a horrible guy, so it wasn`t hard to find horrible
things to say about him. But the known record of his awful behavior toward
his own people had previously not been enough to get the U.S. to invade
Iraq. But once the Bush administration got bent on war, once it seemed
like the U.S. was being led to war, and it just needed to be tipped a
little bit further, all sorts of new horrible things about Saddam Hussein
that hadn`t been known before started to pop up in the press.

A CIA report that Saddam had imported aluminum tubes that could be
used in centrifuges to enrich uranium to make nuclear weapons that exciting
little piece of data, which proved to be out of context and not true,
that`s not what the tubes were for. That nevertheless ended up on the
front page of "The New York Times." It had been leaked to "The New York
Times" by people inside the Bush administration who had access to raw bits
of out of context intel like that. Recognizing that that sort of thing
sounded really scary, they plucked it out of context, didn`t check it for
accuracy, leaked it to "The New York Times," and then cited the fact that
it had been in "The New York Times" as evidence that the scary claim was
out there and should be added to the case for going to war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Specifically, aluminum
tubes, there is a story in "The New York Times" this morning. This is --
and I want to attribute "The Times". I don`t want to talk about obviously
specific intelligence sources. But it`s now public that in fact he has
been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him
from acquiring through this particular channel the kinds of tubes that are
necessary to build a centrifuge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Yes, that was bullpuckey -- leaked for the purpose of trying
to get the U.S. to invade Iraq. But that leak to "The New York Times" and
then citing "The New York Times" as having published it, that was very
effective at the time.

Part of the Colin Powell presentation to the U.N. around that same
time, about why the U.S. was going to invade Iraq was what he described as
evidence of Iraq`s mobile biological weapons labs. That intel, which was
publicized to try to get us to war with Iraq came from an Iraqi defector
nicknamed Curveball, a guy who later admitted he made up everything he told
to German intelligence, specifically to try to get the West to go to war
with Iraq because he thought Saddam was an enemy.

The complicity and direct help of our own government in selling us
that bullpuckey that was not true in order to make it politically possible
to go to war in Iraq, that is the original sin of the George W. Bush era in
America. But it does not mean that they cooked up all that fake and
misleading intelligence all by themselves. Some of it came from enemies of
Saddam and Iraqi exiles and expats and activists who shoveled it to the
U.S., knowing it was false, but hoping that we would nevertheless fall for
it because they wanted us to invade.

That recent history of the U.S. and how we get into wars these days
looms large, right? It looms large particularly on days like this when we
see bombshell headlines like this one. Our friend Josh Rogan at "Foreign
Policy" tonight reporting that someone inside the Obama administration says
that he or she has seen a cable that if the information in that cable is
true would be a very scary thing.

The headline, as you can see there, "Chemical weapons used in Syria."
Chemical weapons used. Nobody is known to have used chemical weapons in 25
years.

We know Syria has them. But have they used them in their civil war?
Because that really would change everything.

But look back at that headline again. The part before the part that
would change everything is crucial. "Secret State Department cable says
chemical weapons used in Syria."

And can we see this secret State Department cable that says this
incredibly inflammatory thing? No, of course not. It`s secret. And it`s
an unnamed Obama administration official who says that he or she has seen
the cable. And that it makes a, quote, "compelling case" that this Rubicon
has been crossed in Syria.

The same official then quoted multiple times, insisting that the U.S.
must react, that Syria is testing our resolve. That when the president
said any use of chemical weapons would be a red line, well, then this
incident means he must really not have meant it.

It is, of course, possible that it is true, that Syria has used
chemical weapons. If it is true, it is both awful on its face, and it is
something that the president and the secretary of state said would be
treated as a red line, a serious response from the United States.

In his report tonight, Josh notes that it is activists and defectors
from Syria who are marketing this story that Syria has crossed that red
line. This reported secret document from U.S. State Department officials
in Turkey, Josh says, was also born of interviews with Syrian activists and
defectors, who of course very much want the largest military power on earth
involved on their side of their war with their own government.

The whole thing is both very worrying and almost sort of emotionally
triggering for us as a country still traumatized by the last time people
inside our own government stove-piped specific, scary intelligence to the
media in order to scare us into a war we wouldn`t have otherwise been
involved in.

Oh, and also incidentally, our ally France just invaded Mali, and
we`re helping in some ways.

Times like this we sort of need expert assistance to try to sort out
what is going on in the world and what we know about it.

Joining us is NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.

Richard, thank you for being here.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.

Bullpuckey?

MADDOW: Bullpuckey.

ENGEL: Twice. I was looking actually because from this angle, I can
see your teleprompter and you actually wrote bullpuckey.

MADDOW: I wrote the script and I wrote bullpuckey.

ENGEL: I wasn`t sure that was a real word.

MADDOW: Yes.

ENGEL: On a much more serious note --

MADDOW: What do you make of this report from Josh? It`s very scary,
and also for me reminds me of a lot of stuff I`ve heard before.

ENGEL: I had heard this report from Syrian rebels while I was inside
Syria, because at the time I was asking them did they think that the regime
would use chemical weapons. They said, well, of course, the regime already
has used chemical weapons, and they referred to an incident specifically in
Homs in December, around Christmas time, December 23rd. And I was
listening to activists tell me about it.

And it seemed not convincing, frankly. They said there had been some
gas released in Homs, potentially fired from tanks, maybe dropped from the
air, and that it made people sick.

I asked if anyone was killed. They said, no. I said, well, maybe
this is tear gas. Maybe there was something else that got people sick.

When your -- when buildings are dropping, there is asbestos in the
air, there`s dusts in the air, there are a lot of things that seem
suspicious. You hear claims like this all the time. When I was in Gaza,
for example, I`ve been there twice for wars, you hear Gazans talk about the
Israelis firing chemical weapons on them. I think they usually mean white
phosphorous, which is a different kind of weapon.

So, I generally treat these claims with a great deal of suspicion.
And in this case, I couldn`t find any compelling evidence and didn`t report
it.

Now we see this claim coming out --

MADDOW: Cable.

ENGEL: -- in a leaked cable.

So what`s new is the leaked cable. And what is new is that the United
States is investigating it. Good. And it deserves to be investigated.
It`s an inflammatory claim.

And that this leaked cable, that this cable has been leaked to the
media. What they`re talking about specifically, according to experts who
were listening to this testimony, and they were listening to some of the
symptoms, because this gas wouldn`t necessarily be lethal unto itself.

It was causing nausea. It was causing hallucinations. It sounds like
something called BZ gas.

And BZ gas is not sarin or tabun. It is not a nerve agent. It`s not
in the same kind of scale. This is a not a red line kind of event. This
is not a genocide weapon.

MADDOW: The type of symptoms would indicate it is that type of weapon
which is a chemical weapon, but not the worst kind of chemical weapon.

ENGEL: Not even close to the worst kind of chemical weapon.

MADDOW: OK.

ENGEL: The worst kind that Syria may or may not have, we pretty much
know that they have sarin and tabun. Those are nerve agents. They will
kill you.

If they`re dropped on a village, they will cause mass casualties and
then dissipate. VX, also a nerve agent, also lethal. What is worse about
that, if it`s dropped on a village, it kills people and then stays there.

MADDOW: Persists.

ENGEL: It persists. So people can`t go in.

This is a gas that makes people unconscious, disoriented, vomit, and
according to opposition medical sources, the people who died, allegedly
five, choked because they vomited and choked on their vomit.

So, it would be a different kind of scale if indeed --

MADDOW: If it indeed it happened.

ENGEL: If indeed it happened.

MADDOW: And we need to watch for further reports, including from the
State Department whether they confirm what is in this cable or how they
have assessed it. On another matter, on Mali, France has invaded Mali.
They`re up scaling --

ENGEL: Socialist government, unilateral military action. Who would
have thought that?

MADDOW: Well, is the U.S. going to get involved?

ENGEL: Not -- there will not be American boots on the ground. I
can`t imagine that. But the U.S. is involved. There are now about 800,
900 French troops on the ground, armored vehicles, 40 or so of them.

And the U.S. is providing logistical systems and more -- intelligence,
satellite images, aerial refueling, lift, which means airport -- air
transfer of some equipment. So the U.S. is very pleased that France is
doing this. I think to a degree surprised.

Even two weeks ago, France said it wouldn`t do this. And now France
is going to have eventually about 2,500 troops on the ground and be
involved in ground combat in Mali.

And there are some specific reasons France is doing this. France saw
that extremists in the north, some of them linked to al Qaeda, were
marching toward the capital, Bamako. They were heading south. And the
government in Bamako panicked, called France for assistance and France
intervened.

France also was worried that there is a very large community of people
from Mali, about 200,000 living in Paris, living in France. And France was
worried that these Malian nationals would be influenced by the extremists
back home and carry out attacks. France had intelligence an attack may
have been in the active planning stages.

MADDOW: France`s reaction to what happened in Mali and the U.S.
reaction to what France did is fascinating at the outset. It`s going to be
more fascinating when we see the extent of how much the U.S. decides to be
in support.

Will you come back and talk to us more with a big map?

ENGEL: Bring the map. And will you say bullpuckey?

MADDOW: I will say bullpuckey, but never accusingly at you.

Richard Engel --

ENGEL: Maybe. It depends on what I say.

MADDOW: That`s true. Richard Engel, of course, NBC`s chief foreign
correspondent.

All right. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: President Obama today chose the license plates that are going
to be on his limo when he driven to the Capitol to be inaugurated on
Monday.

They say taxation without representation. At the request of the D.C.
City Council, President Obama chose these tags. He did not need to, but he
is doing it. D.C. of course is taxed by Congress, but has no vote in
congress, which famously is not the way we`re supposed to do things in this
country.

What, you want to argue with James Otis? Taxation without
representation is tyranny, Boston, 1765?

The president getting those license plates on the giant limo that is
going the carry him to his inauguration officially makes the inauguration
better than it otherwise would have been. Or maybe ever has been before.
We`ll see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Iowa caucuses this year were a bit of a fiasco, right? On
the night of the caucuses, the Iowa Republican Party chairman proclaimed
that Mitt Romney had won, and then 16 days later he said, no, no, I was
wrong. Actually, the Iowa caucus were a tie between Mitt Romney and Rick
Santorum.

And then he hours later that, no, no, it wasn`t that Mitt Romney won,
and it wasn`t that it was a tie, it was actually that Rick Santorum won.
And then, ultimately, when it came to Iowa allocating its delegates,
actually participate in choosing a nominee for the Republican Party for
president, Iowa did not pick Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. Iowa picked Ron
Paul.

So the Iowa caucuses were a mess, right? Three different winners,
depending on when you asked.

After the caucuses this year, the chairman of the Iowa Republican
Party resigned, and then ultimately, there was a big fight for control of
the Republican Party. The end result was that some Ron Paul folks became
the chair and co-chair of the Iowa Republican Party.

And while that may not mean much for Iowa at this second, what does
that mean for the next presidential election, when in all important first
contest in the presidential race, the Republican Party in that state is
controlled by what is effectively an insurgency, the Ron Paul movement.

And if the Iowa Republican Party is still controlled by the Ron Paul
folks come 2016, is the rest of the Republican Party going to allow Iowa to
still go first? Because Iowa has defended their right to be first in the
nation, as if going first were all 10 of their first 10 commandments,
right? Iowa is first with the caucuses, New Hampshire is first with the
primaries, and no matter how screwed up those states might sometimes be, no
matter how dysmorphic their effect can be, it`s kind of strange states on
the presidential election process.

They have done everything in their power to be first. Everybody wants
to be fought over in a presidential election. Everybody wants someway to
monopolize the candidates and the nation`s attention.

So, we`re Iowa, we`re first in the caucus. You have to spend tons of
time here. You have to go to all 99 counties.

We`re New Hampshire. We`re the first primary. You have to spend tons
of time here. Mitt Romney, you`ve got to move here. You, too, Jon
Huntsman.

All of the candidates, you all have to move here and live in New
Hampshire. We want all your attention.

Every state wants to do anything they can for the presidential
candidates` attention. They all want a battle ground. They all want to be
fought over. Or at least they used to want to be fought over.

Something weird has been happening since this past election. And it
was percolating in some of these places before. But it seems like now that
the election is over, it`s really starting to happen. I think you should
know about it.

In Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Virginia and
Florida, there is now noise that these states, which were at pretty hard
fought in the presidential election, these were all battleground states,
these states are all fighting to make themselves less important in the next
election, to make themselves no longer presidential battlegrounds.

All of these states were battleground states this year, all of them
voted Democratic for president in the end. And all of them are controlled
at the state level by the Republican Party. So they`re red states that
voted blue. And all of those states with that combination of factors you
are seeing underground moves to stop those states from being battlegrounds,
at least to stop from being battlegrounds in a way that might enable a
Democratic candidate to win their electoral votes in there, by winning the
presidency.

We have been watching hints of this, and dribs and drabs, in all of
these states overtime. But now, it sort of seems as though it is falling
into place.

It started in Pennsylvania early in 2012, when Republicans who
controlled the legislature there tried to change the way that state votes
for president. So, no one candidate could win the whole state. Because
they tried this in 2012, right before the election, it was pretty much seen
as a transparent attempt to rig the election in Pennsylvania for whoever
the Republican presidential candidate would be. And so it lost.

But now after the election, with much less attention on any impending
election, Republicans in Pennsylvania are trying again.

Also in Wisconsin, Republicans tried to advance this idea in 2007
before the 2008 election. It lost in Wisconsin for the same reasons that
it lost in Pennsylvania, in that it seemed like a transparent attempt to
rig that state for the Republican presidential nominee. But then after
Wisconsin went for Barack Obama in `08 and went for Obama again in 2012,
now that Republican proposal has been brought back.

And this time, the member of the state legislature who unsuccessfully
pushed for it last time -- well, now, he is speaker of the assembly, the
assembly is controlled by Republican, the Senate is controlled by the
Republicans, and the governorship is held by a Republican. And the state`s
Republican governor, Scott Walker, now says he`s intrigued by this idea of
changing the rules.

Since the election, we`ve also seen Republican legislators in
Republican-controlled legislatures float the idea of changing the state`s
vote for president rules. In Ohio, you can see that the data on this one
was November the 8th, right after the election.

In Virginia, you can see the date here, a month later, December 9th,
one month later.

In Michigan, you can see the date on this one, December 18th.

This is a phenomenon. This is a phenomenon which is scarcely getting
covered by the Beltway at all. But this is a phenomenon right now in the
Republican-controlled states that voted blue for president.

What Republicans are doing in these states is trying to figure out if
they can use the fact that Republicans have the control of the state
government to change who that state votes for, for president.

If Republican legislatures take apart the Electoral College system
that exist in their states now, then, Wisconsin this last election would
have cast its 200,000 more votes for Obama rather than Romney. And then,
instead of Obama getting 10 electoral votes out of it, Wisconsin
effectively would have cast half a vote for Romney and half a vote for
Obama. It would have been five-to-five in terms of electoral votes.

Extrapolate this out to the national level, under the most aggressive
plan that`s been put forward on the Republican side, President Obama would
have finished the election nationwide with 5 million more votes than Mitt
Romney, but Mitt Romney could have still won the Electoral College and won
the presidency. Fair vote did the math on what the Republicans are maybe
rigging in the states, and it kind of works like magic.

Quote, "If the Republicans in 2012 had passed laws for allocating
electoral votes, the exact same votes cast in the exact same way in the
2012 election would have converted Barack Obama`s advantage of nearly 5
million popular votes and 126 electoral votes into a resounding Electoral
College defeat."

Republicans didn`t make those changes in 2011 so that it didn`t happen
for this past election. But they are very quietly thinking about making
those changes right now. And if they do change those rules in these states
now, and with Republican control and nobody really paying attention, why
wouldn`t they make these changes?

Effectively, what they would do is use the exact same gerrymandering,
that let Republicans keep the House this year, even though more people
voted for Democrats for Congress than voted for Republicans. It would let
them use the exact same maps that rigged the House for the Republicans this
year as their means of also rigging the next race for the presidency.

The next race for the presidency, and the next race for the
presidency, and the races after that, too. It would be rigged from here on
out until the Democrats could figure out a way to unrig it by changing the
rules back in the states, because they could have to take back all the
states, despite the gerrymandered thing being stacked against them.

In Republican-controlled states right now in these legislative
sessions, they could do it. And there have been signs that they are
thinking of doing it. There have been signs.

And now this week there is a really, really big sign. The chairman of
the National Republican Party endorsing this strategy of red states making
a change in a way they deal with the electoral vote. When "National
Journal" first reported on Republicans maybe doing this, and "National
Journal" is just about the only place reporting on this. The thing that
was most interesting about what they found was that it was not just
happening independently, spontaneously in individual Republican-controlled
states.

They reported that it was coordinated in Washington quietly by senior
level Republicans, the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, Saul
Anuzis, who said to have briefed the RNC chairman and the RNC`s chief of
staff on how they were trying to make this change in the states.

Well, now, the RNC chairman is coming out and said that he supports it
happening in his state, and, of course, the states will have to make the
decision on their own.

The vehicle by which the Republicans say they engineered the
congressional maps that let them keep the House this year, even though the
country voted against them for House seats, that vehicle is something
called "red map." A couple of weeks ago, Republicans released a triumphant
self assessment of how they rig the rules to keep control of the House this
year, even though the country voted for Democrats instead.

We posted that on our blog at Maddowblog.com if you want to look at
it. But it is blunt, unembarrassed. They are bragging how the Democratic
candidates for the U.S. House won more than a million more votes than their
Republican opponents, but the speaker of the House is a Republican and
presides over the Republican majority during the 113th Congress.

How did they do it? They say they erected a Republican firewall
through the redistricting process, that paved the way for the Republicans
retaining the House majority in 2012. In other words, we figured out a way
for us to win even when the country doesn`t vote for us.

And the same maps that let them do it in the House, they want to apply
for the presidential election in every state they can get away with it.

We have a ban on the show talking about 2016. This is a corner of the
white board. It`s written up there that nobody is allowed to talk about
the 2016 election, at least until next November.

But this is not about who the candidates are going to be in 2016.
This is about whether or not if the country votes for a Democratic
president in 2016, any Democratic candidate -- this is about whether or not
it results in us having a Democratic president. This is going on in the
states right now. Hey, Beltway, wake up.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."

Have a great night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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