'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, January 24th, 2013
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 24, 2013
Guests: Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, Sherrod Brown
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you, my friend.
ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Thank you.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It is a weird paradox in 21st century American politics. A lot more
people call themselves conservatives than call themselves liberals. But
liberal ideas are really widely popular. In fact, a lot of people who
would never call themselves liberal are very much in favor of liberal
policies. It`s been true for a long time.
But if you take a current example, take for example President Obama`s
inaugural address this week. Conservatives, of course, were outraged that
it was such a liberal speech. Liberals were delighted that it was such a
liberal speech. And everybody agreed that it was such a profoundly liberal
speech that the president gave for his second inaugural address.
And it wasn`t just liberal in the abstract. It was liberal in the
specific, in the sense that he proposed and endorsed a whole bunch of
liberal policy ideas. Like for example, his endorsement in the speech of
marriage equality. It was a big moment in the speech, right, because no
president had ever talked about gay people before, ever before in any
inaugural address. It was also a landmark thing for this president, who
did not publicly support same-sex marriage rights until well into his time
But there it was right in the inaugural address, calling for marriage
equality. Right there in the inaugural address. That is freaking liberal.
Also, that is the majority view held by most Americans. The NBC/"Wall
Street Journal" poll that came out last month polled on same-sex marriage
rights, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage rights. So it`s
liberal, but it`s also what the majority believes.
Same thing on immigration. Part of the reason everybody called the
inaugural such a liberal speech is because the president had a big multi-
sentence, full-throated endorsement of immigration reform. Even if you
came here illegally, there should be some path by which you should be able
to seek citizenship to become legal, to be officially welcomed and brought
into this country. That is freaking liberal, right?
It is also the majority view of most Americans. NBC/"Wall Street
Journal" poll from this month, from January, finds that a majority of
Americans support giving illegal immigrants the ability to apply for legal
status. It`s a liberal idea. It`s also what most Americans believe.
The other reason everybody thought the inaugural address was so
capital L liberal, liberal, liberal was because of the president`s shout
out by name of Medicare and Social Security, which in the beltway are
horrible, embarrassing profligacies that are mostly good for divining who
counts as a serious person in Washington because you cannot be a serious
person in Washington -- according to the Beltway -- unless you want to get
rid of those programs, or at least you see those programs as a problem that
needs to be addressed.
President Obama in his inaugural not only name-checked Medicare and
Social Security in a positive way, he defended them. He said he will
support them and that they are good for the country.
The only people other than a liberal like Barack Obama who likes
Social Security and Medicare is everybody. Really, it`s only in Washington
where these are controversial programs. If you ask the country, the
country`s kind of in love with Social Security and Medicare and thinks that
they work and thinks that we should not cut them.
Broadly speaking, most Americans do not call themselves liberals if
you ask. But broadly speaking, most Americans are in favor of liberal
ideas. The marquee signifiers of liberal policy are broadly accepted as
good ideas by most of the country. And that has been true for a long time.
But the gears that you see clinking over each other, the gears that
you see churning in Democratic politics right now, the work that is being
done in Democratic politics right now, led by President Obama at the start
of his second term is this effort to turn what has been long-standing
majority support for liberal policies into appreciation that those policies
aren`t just individual free-floating, technocratically good ideas that we
all agree on. Those policies come from a worldview and a problem-solving
approach that is in fact the governing philosophy of this country.
We`re a liberal country. We are not a center-right country the way
the right always wants to tell us. We are a country where liberal policies
are widely popular. And, frankly, at the national level we express that
right now by mostly voting for Democrats, by a lot.
That`s the portrait of the country that the president was painting
this week in his second inaugural, in tying this list of what get described
as liberal policies to fundamental centrist, widely acknowledged, basically
universal American values.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We hold these truths to
be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, we continue a never ending
journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our
time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident,
they have never been self-executing. That while freedom is a gift from
God, it must be secured by his people here on earth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And then, President Obama goes on in the speech to list as
examples of the ways that we must secure those American values now in our
time, he lists the specific policies of equal pay for equal work, and
marriage equality, and election reform, and immigration reform and a policy
response to help us reduce gun violence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the
streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown
know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm. That
is our generation`s task. To make these words, these rights, these values,
of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Tying the policies which he is associated with and which are
associated with his party and which are associated with a liberal idea of
American governance to the basic fundamental ideas of what America is.
That was the whole point, right?
As with the other issues that President Obama name-checked so
specifically in his inaugural address this week, the things that got his
speech branded as so liberal this week, what President Obama was alluding
to there at the end by bringing up gun violence in his inaugural address is
a set of policies that he and Vice President Biden have proposed for
dealing with gun policies.
And these policies get labeled liberal. But it turns out they are
very popular. They are very, very, very widely popular. Gallup just did a
national poll on the whole list of proposal as that President Obama and
Vice President Biden have put forward on gun violence.
Banning high-capacity ammo clips. That gets majority support in this
country, 54 percent.
Reinstating and strengthening the assault weapons ban we had for 10
years that expired back in `04. Majority support -- look at that -- 60
percent of the country wants that.
Making it so only the military and law enforcement can have so-called
cop killer bullets, those armor-piercing bullets, 67 percent of the country
And the numbers get higher from there. Emergency response plans in
schools, 69 percent support it. More cops, 70 percent support it.
Cracking down on straw purchases, right, where people buy a gun because
they don`t clear the background check but then they`re really buying it for
somebody who won`t clear the background check, 75 percent of people support
cracking down on that.
More training for responding to shooters and violent incidents in
schools, 79 percent of people support that. More resources for mental
health programs, especially for younger people, 82 percent of people
These are all of the things that have been proposed by President Obama
and Vice President Biden, right?
And the crown jewel of what they`re proposing? Look at this. It`s
the most popular one of all. It`s the centerpiece of their proposals. And
it is the most popular thing of all -- requiring criminal background checks
for all gun sales. Not just for 60 percent of gun sales, which is what we
have now in this country, but for all gun sales -- 91 percent of the
country supports that.
And that is the centerpiece of what the Obama administration is
proposing for guns, for gun reform, background checks for everybody, 91
percent support. And that is that number that is consistent across polls.
The big "New York Times" national poll on this last month had it at 92
percent, not 91 percent. So you can split those hairs if you want. But
basically, it`s kind of unanimous.
"The Washington Post" did roughly the same polling, again, a national
poll on these policies. But when the "Washington Post" did it, they broke
it down by party, which ends up being really useful.
Look at the support for the stuff from Republicans specifically. The
only one that flips, that drops below majority support, the only one where
Republicans do not give it majority support even though the country as a
whole does, is specifically the idea of banning assault rifles again. But
still, that one`s close. Even among Republicans, 45 percent of Republicans
think we ought to be banning assault weapons again.
That`s the only one that flips, all the rest of them still majority
support even from Republicans. Banning high-capacity ammunition clips?
Republicans want to do that too by a big number, 59 percent of Republicans.
The big kahuna, background checks for everybody, even at gun shows,
everywhere? Republicans are hugely in favor of that -- 89 percent of
Republicans want that.
What President Obama has proposed to do on gun reform is very popular,
even among Republican voters. When you ask them about the things that the
president`s proposing, pretty much Republicans think these things are good
ideas, we ought to be doing them, they are in favor.
And then the same "Washington Post" poll asked Republicans, OK,
broadly speaking, do you like what President Obama is proposing on gun
reform? And Republicans said, no, we hate it. After they said they
support all the individual proposals, they said -- well, do you like the
guy who`s proposing all these individual proposals that you liked? No, we
hate those ideas.
And that is insane. They like all the component parts of it. They
like all these ideas. But then when these ideas that they like are
proposed, they say they are against them because the person proposing them
is President Obama.
That is insane. That is mindless. Right?
How do you make constructive policy in that kind of environment?
People support the policy until they hear who else supports it and then
they think they might be against it. How do you make policy like that?
Well, today the senator who got the assault weapons ban passed in
1994, which was also a time that nobody said it could happen, that senator
came forward again and said she would do it again this year. California
Senator Dianne Feinstein, who herself became mayor of San Francisco because
the serving mayor of San Francisco at the time was shot to death, Senator
Feinstein today at this press conference made her case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Today, my colleagues and I are
introducing a bill to prohibit the sale, transfer, manufacture, and
importation of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding
devices that can accept more than 10 rounds. We have tried to recognize
legal hunting rights. We have tried to recognize legal defense rights. We
have tried to recognize the right a citizen to legally possess a weapon.
No weapon is taken from anyone. The purpose is to dry up the supply
of these weapons over time.
REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D), NEW YORK: I`ve watched the slaughter of so
many people and I`ve met with so many victims over the years. And in
Congress, nobody wanted to touch the issue. And the last several years,
the massacres were going on more and more.
And going through it, I kept saying, what`s wrong with all of us? How
many people have to be killed before we do something?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I will never forget the
sights and sounds of that day as parents emerged from that firehouse,
learning that their 5 and 6-year-old children would not be coming home that
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: The gun lobby has said over and
over again in the last several weeks that this is just a feel-good piece of
legislation. You know what? They`re right about that.
It would feel really good if Allison and Charlotte and Daniel and
Olivia and Josephine and Ana had gotten to enjoy Christmas with their
parents. You`d feel really good if Dylan and Madeline and Catherine and
Chase and Jesse and James took the bus to school this morning. You`d feel
really good if Grace and Emily and Jack and Noah and Caroline and Jessica
and Avielle and Ben were alive today.
You`d feel really good if parents all across this country didn`t have
to wake up every morning worrying that without action, that their kids were
at risk just like those kids in Newtown.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who before winning
election to the senate in this past year he was the congressman who
Joining us now is not only Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, but
actually the entire Senate delegation from the state of Connecticut,
Senator Murphy joined tonight by his colleague Senator Richard Blumenthal,
who you saw speak just before him.
Gentlemen, I really appreciate you both being here tonight. Thank you
so much for your time.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
MURPHY: Thank you.
MADDOW: Senator Blumenthal, let me -- let me start with you. You
said today that this is going to be a hard fight, that nobody should think
this is going to be easy.
Given how hard you think this is going to be, what do you think is the
best way to fight for it?
BLUMENTHAL: The best way to fight for it is to recall those images
that Senator Murphy and I recounted today -- the images of parents emerging
from that firehouse, the community grappling with that grief, the slaughter
that is wrecked upon America by these assault weapons and the high-capacity
magazines, and the need for banning them. And mobilizing and galvanizing
support so as to overcome the NRA and other entrenched interests, which no
doubt, no question will fight them, make no mistake, there will be a fight.
But as you said, the centerpiece really is a comprehensive program
that has to include the background checks. I propose background checks on
ammunition purchases as well as extended background checks on firearms
purchases so as to cover that 40 percent of private sales and gun show
sales that are not now covered and a comprehensive program of preventing
gun violence has support from the majority of Americans. We need to make
that support focused on Washington, D.C., so our congressional
representative representatives, whether in the Senate or the House, cannot
escape the brunt of that opinion.
MADDOW: Senator Murphy, let me turn to you for a moment. You
represented Newtown as Newtown`s congressman. Now, as senator you
represent the entire state of Connecticut as their senator -- Connecticut
is a small state, but it is a diverse state. It is both diverse in terms
of urban and rural areas. It`s diverse in terms of its population, and in
terms of its political views.
How do you talk to your constituents who feel very strongly about gun
rights and very wary about gun control, that this isn`t going to be
something that`s going to hurt their freedoms, it`s going to help them and
help their fellow citizens?
MURPHY: Listen, every decision you that make on legislation is a
balancing act. And on this one, the test is pretty clear. Do you want to
pass a law that`s going to keep more 6 and 7-year-old kids alive in the
future, or do you want to add some convenience to gun owners who want to
reload a little bit less frequently or want to pretend that they`re
soldiers by owning military-style assault weapons? When you pose that
question to people in Connecticut and frankly across this country as you`ve
shown by the surveys you that talked about earlier, people side with the 6
and 7-year-olds every single time.
And the fact is that that`s true of non-gun owners and gun owners. I
can`t tell you the number of responsible gun owners in Connecticut who have
come up to me over the course of the last month and said, let`s get
something done, I don`t need these kind of weapons or those kind of
cartridges in order to enjoy my sport. And I think we`re going to find
that all across the country, that there`s going to be a pretty impressive
coalition that wants to get this done.
MADDOW: Senator Blumenthal, when you just talked about sort of
honoring the experience of Newtown, remembering those images, remembering
what has created this political initiative, toward doing something about
this at a time when I think people wouldn`t have in advance noted we`d be
doing a gun control agenda right now, what`s the minimum to you in terms of
policy that would honor the experience of Newtown? What`s your single
highest priority, or what do you think is the least that we ought to do to
responsibly respond to what happened?
BLUMENTHAL: A ban on the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines
is very important. But background checks I think are common ground where
everyone can come together, whether it`s the background checks on firearms
purchases and I believe very, very strongly on ammunition sales right now.
You can walk into a Walmart, buy a shopping cart full of ammunition
without any background check, without answering any questions -- even if
you`re a convicted felon, a fugitive, a domestic abuser, a dangerously
mentally ill person. To make our neighborhoods safer we need those
But also mental health initiatives. Today, I helped to introduce a
measure providing, as it`s called, first aid mental health assistance for
the school boards and local officials. I think we need to emphasize mental
health and school security.
So, it really has to be a combined and comprehensive strategy.
There`s no single solution. And I would just also say in response to your
earlier question, you know, I know, the most important allies in this
effort are the law enforcement community. And I say it as someone who
served as attorney general of the state of Connecticut for 20 years, as a
federal prosecutor, United States attorney for 4 1/2 years.
The guys who are most eloquent and most compelling on this subject are
the ones on the front lines, in the trenches, who see that they`re
outgunned very often. They told me in Newtown that they could not probably
have stopped that shooter even wearing the body armor that they did because
of the assault weapon that he was firing.
Senator Murphy, one last question for you. In thinking about
important allies, as Senator Blumenthal was just saying there, and how to
move forward and who speaks with authority here -- one of the things that
we have heard from Washington is that as the Obama campaign turns its
campaign apparatus into a political effort to try to marshal support for
some of the president`s political priorities, they may try to work on this
issue. They may essentially try to turn their campaign apparatus loose on
both immigration reform and on the issue of gun reform.
Do you think that this is the kind of issue on which a grassroots
effort like that could be particularly effective?
MURPHY: It`s the only way that this gets done in the end. Listen, I
wish this weren`t about politics, but it is, right? This is ultimately
going to really come down to a question for Republicans in the House of
I think we can get something strong through the Senate. But in the
House Republicans are going to have to decide whether they`re going to pay
a political price for standing with the gun manufacturers and against
millions of families across this country who want to get this done. So, we
are going to need a massive national grassroots effort, and we are also
going to have to make Republicans understand that the NRA, who they have
long feared, who they have allowed to essentially lead them around by the
earlobe, just isn`t what they used to be. The NRA won 20 percent of the
elections that they participated in, in this last election.
We need a grassroots effort to try to support Republicans who want to
do the right thing. We need to convince them that there`s a price to pay
if they do the right thing. And we`ve got to take on the NRA to try to
debunk this myth that if you cross them there`s a political price to pay.
In fact, the opposite was true in the last election. The NRA barely
could win elections around this country. They just aren`t the force that
they once were.
MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy, Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Senate
delegation from the state of Connecticut -- the whole country is looking to
Connecticut for leadership, and I think also for moral resonance on this
issue. And everybody`s counting on you. Seeing you guys here together
tonight is a real treat for us to have you both here. Thank you.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
MADDOW: I appreciate it.
All right. After years of gridlock, Congress finally had a chance to
fix an enormous problem today, had a chance. Fix the filibuster day was
today. Do you want to know what happened?
MADDOW: The police force in Washington, D.C. is about 3,800 strong.
On Monday, though, they were closer to 6,000 of them. Just for the day.
Now, the force was augmented on Monday by more than 2,000 extra police
officers who were flown in from 86 other jurisdictions around the country.
In addition to them, 6,000 national guardsmen and women were deployed to
D.C. just for Monday. Some of them were even sworn in as special police
officers in Washington just for this assignment.
The security presence in D.C. for an inauguration these days is just
massive. The parade route and everything else is just unimaginably fit
with cops and soldiers and security personnel. It`s really all you see.
And according to the Capitol police, with all those extra security
personnel on hand on Monday and with roughly a million somewhat ecstatic
people crowding the streets for the inauguration, inevitably there were
some arrests. Specifically, there were three arrests in total the whole
day. One person arrested for an outstanding warrant. One person arrested
for public drinking.
And one other person arrested specifically for this. Ah. Anti-
abortion protester stuck in a tree. At first apparently he was not very
high up in the tree. Police tried to talk him down. That didn`t work, and
he screamed his lungs out through the whole inaugural ceremony and
especially through the president`s speech.
Police decided that when they couldn`t talk him out of the tree they
would go get him as if he were a kitten. They tried to get a fire truck to
drive to the tree and raise its ladder to go get him. But the fire truck
couldn`t get through the police barricades. So then the police brought
over their own ladder to the tree. And that`s when the guy climbed really
high up in the tree, 40 feet up. And that`s where he got stuck, 40 feet
up. Stuck there for five hours.
And they just left him be. And when he finally found his way down, he
was cold and he was arrested and charged with violating a previous order to
stay away from the Capitol. The same guy`s been arrested five times for
doing this kind of thing in recent years, and by court order he is supposed
to stay out of D.C., but he doesn`t stay out of D.C. He likes to climb
trees and yell about abortion. And so he gets arrested.
But he was one of only three arrests for the day. That was it for
arrests. It is amazing that there were only three arrests at such a
massive event, right?
There were a few scattered other protests at the inauguration. Nobody
applied for permits to protest at Lafayette Park, which they have done in
previous years at previous inaugurations, which I noted in our coverage on
But it turns out that there were five other permits to protest granted
for other places, including folks protesting drone strikes, some more anti-
abortion folks, and some other people, including those people from that
church in Kansas who try purposefully to offend and provoke everyone around
them so they end up getting media coverage for it, but we do not cover them
on this program as a matter of principle.
D.C. protests wax and wane with public opinion and with activist
fervor about whatever is going on in Washington at any given time.
Sometimes people are particularly inventive or particularly disruptive or
particularly naked and therefore they get special attention.
But basically, heckling and protest is kind of an accepted and
expected part of doing business in our nation`s capital. Most people who
do business in Washington don`t pay protesters any particular mind.
And that is why it was notable today and I think important when at
John Kerry`s secretary of state confirmation hearing everybody else kind of
rolled their eyes and scoffed when an anti-war protester interrupted the
hearing. Everybody else kind of blew it off. Ah, business as usual in
But John Kerry did not blow it off.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: So thank you, Mr. Chairman and
members of the committee. I know there`s a lot of ground to cover --
PROTESTER: We`re tilling thousands of people and the Middle East is
not a threat to us! When is it going to be enough? When are enough people
going to be killed? I`m tired of my friends in the Middle East dying. I
don`t know if they`re going to be alive the next day. We need peace with
KERRY: Well, you know, I`ll tell you, Mr. Chairman, I -- when I first
came to Washington and testified, I obviously was testifying as part of a
group of people who came here to have their voices heard. And that is
above all what this place is about.
So I respect I think the woman who was voicing her concerns about that
part of the world. And every one of you have traveled there. Some of you
were there recently.
Senator McCain, you were just there. You were in a refugee camp, and
I know you heard this kind of thing.
People measure what we do. And in a way that`s a good exclamation
point to my testimony.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In 1971, before he was Senator John Kerry, Navy Lieutenant
John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the same
committee he sat before today, to talk about the war he had just returned
from, which was the Vietnam War. John Kerry famously protested against
that war. And now the people who are protesting against the current war
and maybe the future ones are protesting at his hearing, at his
And everybody else rolls their eyes and laughs at it but he looked at
her instead and said essentially, hey, that was me. Full circle.
MADDOW: "The Huffington Post" headline today on what happened in
Congress was "Failibuster." Fail, as in bummer.
Over at "Talking Points Memo", it was, there won`t be reform, it`s
just "Re-norm." Wa, wa. Sad trombone.
If you need to feel better, if you need to feel better about politics
in particular, you will need to feel better after we get through the
details of what happened in the Senate today.
But I have just the thing. I have a tonic for you coming up in our
last story tonight. It is good. It is cute. It`s about politics.
And it`s not a sad trombone. I swear.
That`s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Why is it that everything takes 60 votes now? I mean, it
used to be 60 votes was a headline. If somebody forced 60 votes, that
meant they were filibustering and that meant that they were taking an
unusually strong stand against something. Now it`s 60 votes even for
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Rachel, this has to change.
It`s wrong what they`re doing because it`s never happened before. The
Republicans just this time have abused the system, and it`s going to have
to change. We`re going to have to look at ways to change that because
there should not be 60 votes in the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid during
an interview with me in his home state of Nevada in October 2010. This has
to change. There should not be a 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
And then this was the headline today in "The Washington Post." Harry
Reid : "I`m not personally at this stage ready to get rid of the 60-vote
Also this --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: If there were ever a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were
prophetic, it`s tonight. These two young fine senators said it was time we
change the rules in the Senate and we didn`t. They were right. The rest
of us were wrong -- or most of us anyway. What a shame.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Harry Reid on the Senate floor in May, saying
progressive Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley who were working to reform
the filibuster, they were right, he should have listened to their call to
alter the Senate rules, they were right and he was wrong not to have
listened to them.
That was then, this was today. "Progressive senators working to
dramatically alter Senate rules were defeated Thursday when Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid and his counterpart, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell,
set to announce a series of reforms on the Senate floor that fall far short
of their demands."
One more? One more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: We`re going to change the rules. We cannot continue in this
way. So I hope we can get something that that the Republicans will work
with us on but it won`t be a handshake. We tried that last time. It
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Harry Reid on the Senate floor in December or at the
Senate in December, saying that any deal to reform the filibuster would not
be a handshake deal. Today, a, quote, "handshake agreement" is how "Roll
Call" newspaper described a number of the filibuster reforms that Harry
Reid agreed to with Mitch McConnell.
Wow. Harry Reid. Yes.
This was the day everybody had been waiting for in terms of changing
how the Senate operates. And if you hear sad trombones, that`s why.
On Election Day this year, Americans, of course, voted overwhelmingly
to re-elect President Obama four more years. That same day, the American
people also voted to re-elect Senate Democrats and to send a large number
of them to Congress, more than the Republicans -- more Senate Democrats
than Republicans, which put Senate Majority Harry Reid in charge of the
Senate for another two years.
And the very next day after the election, Harry Reid in his first
post-election press conference said that he was going to fix the
unprecedented problem we have in Washington with how Republicans have
broken the United States Senate through abusing the rules.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: It looks like there are going to be a number of -- many
more filibusters on motions to proceed. Do you think -- do you have any
plans to change the filibuster?
REID: Yes, I do. I`ve said so publicly, and I continue to feel that
away. I think that the rules have been abused and that we`re going to work
to change them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: First press conference, day after the election, Harry Reid
saying that going forward things are going to change. Specifically, this
was going to change. The de facto rule that Republicans have gerrymandered
in the Senate for lack of a better term that pretty much everything
requires 60 votes to pass now.
That has never been how things have worked in this country. I mean,
constitutionally it takes a supermajority to impeach a president or ratify
a treaty or amend the Constitution, but not to pass an ordinary bill.
Ordinary bill passage should just take a majority.
But Republicans have made it take a supermajority. And Harry Reid the
day after the election said he was going to change that.
And that wasn`t a new promise from him. He didn`t pull that out of
thin air. He`s been telegraphing for months that should Democrats retain
control of the Senate, they were going to fix the rules. They were going
to do away with this whole "60 votes for everything" nonsense.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REID: It can be done if Obama`s re-elected and I still have the
majority. We can do it with a simple majority at the beginning of the
SCHULTZ: Think the president would go along with that?
REID: Damn, betcha.
SCHULTZ: You`d go that far? Would you make that commitment if Barack
Obama and the Democrats keep the Senate, if Barack Obama gets re-elected
and you hold the Senate?
REID: Ed, I don`t know how many people watch C-Span on every given
day but I`ve said so before everybody there. That`s what I would do.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: It turns out a lot of people watch C-Span, and if anybody was
watching C-Span tonight about an hour ago, you would have seen Harry Reid
there not at all fixing the problem that he has been saying for months now,
for years now that he was going to fix. Tonight, the Senate passed a
filibuster reform compromise that Harry Reid reached with Republican
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Here`s how the great Ezra Klein at "The Washington Post" summed up
what they agreed to and what was voted in in the Senate tonight. Quote,
"Reid and McConnell have come to a deal on filibuster reform. The deal is
this: the filibuster will not be reformed."
What Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell agreed to today was a package of
small changes that will marginally speed up business in the Senate and will
allow bills to be debated without as many opportunities to obstruct them.
It will reduce the number of hours the Senate has to wait before confirming
judges and some cabinet nominees.
But there is no challenge at all here to the minority`s ability to
force a supermajority vote on routine business as a matter of routine. The
problem in the Senate, right, has been that they are not able to get
anything done. The improvement on that today is that now, they`re not
going to be able to get anything done faster.
Nobody was ever talking about taking away the filibuster completely.
The idea was to make it something that hurt a little, that actually
required some commitment, that if you wanted to block something, it was
going to have to become a priority for you, you were going to have to do it
in a way that took up your time, that put you in a position of having to
explain why you were doing it.
That meant you couldn`t get on with all the other business you wanted
to work on in your little senator life because you were doing this other
thing that you had to prioritize, because it was something that was
important enough to you to say you know what, America, majority rule should
not apply here, this is really important and I`m willing to explain why and
take up time to prove it. That was the whole idea. And nothing has been
done toward making that happen at all.
It will still be a routine 60-vote supermajority for everything. And
this is now it for two years. The one baby, baby, baby, baby, baby step
toward actually shifting the burden onto people who want to block majority
rule consists today of Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid agreeing between them
that they will ask senators in their parties who are going to filibuster if
please maybe they would consider going down to the Senate floor and please
consider explaining themselves when they do it -- possibly, if they want
The agreement from Mitch McConnell that Republicans -- the agreement
with Mitch McConnell that the Republicans will even ask each other to
consider doing that, that agreement is of course a handshake agreement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: It won`t be a handshake. We tried that last time. It didn`t
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes. It`s a handshake. There`s a handshake deal this time,
which is the only progress toward getting anything done. It`s a handshake
deal. And a handshake deal did not work last time and that should have
told you something. And that is the apex of Senator Harry Reid`s
achievement today after those months, those years of promises that this
time he was really going to do it.
But, hey, at least we`ll be able to see them get nothing done faster
now. The stuff that they can`t do anything on is just going to fly by from
here on out. So we have that speed to look forward to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: On this vote the yeas are 78, the
nays are 16. The 60-vote threshold having been achieved, the resolution is
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: On this vote, the yeas are 86 and the
nays are nine. Two-thirds of those voting for adoption have voted in the
affirmative. And the resolution is agreed to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Two votes tonight. Two arguably missed opportunities to do
something substantive about this -- the fact that now for the first time in
our history practically every bill that comes before the United States
Senate requires a supermajority of 60 votes in order to pass.
That did not get fixed today. It got changed. But it doesn`t seem to
have been fixed.
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
Senator Brown, thank you for being here. I appreciate your being
willing to talk to us about this.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Sure. Of course.
MADDOW: Am I -- am I wrong to think that there`s not going to be a
big change to what we`ve come to accept as normal, which is Republicans
requiring a 60-vote supermajority on everything in the Senate?
BROWN: I think you were generally right. I think that there will be
-- I mean, the steps -- we didn`t do as much as many of us wanted to do. I
think it`s small progress. I think the Senate will be -- will work a
little better than it did. I think the -- we`ve got some things done in
In the House, the problem more than anything, Rachel, has been this
rule in the House, that the House majority, John Boehner, won`t move unless
he has majority of Republicans. So, we`ve sent the currency bill over,
we`ve sent the foreign bill, we`ve sent some transportation bills and some
bills that would move the country forward that have died there even though
they could have a majority.
So we are going to keep the pressure on in the Senate. I think that
last time, as you pointed out, it was a handshake. This time it was in
writing if the progress isn`t significant, working with a group of people
that want to stop the president of the United States and they will find
ways in the rules even with improvements, to slow things down. But I think
this was a step tonight. I wasn`t nearly what I know a lot of my friends
wanted it to be.
MADDOW: I think the disappointment from people who are Congress
watchers is that everybody thought that Democratic senators were so fed up
with that 60-vote supermajority threshold for everything that when you guys
got the chance to change it, you would pounce on it.
Is -- was that perception just wrong? Do senators just not mind this
as much as you thought that we did?
BROWN: Well, I think a lot of us. I think the votes weren`t there to
move in that way. There weren`t enough senators -- I`m not blaming any of
my colleagues in particular -- but there weren`t enough to take the bigger
steps that Senator Merkley, Senator Udall, and some of us wanted to take.
I think -- and this is not to deflect what you wanted to say, but I
think if you listened to the inaugural address as you did, I heard your
comments, one of the -- one of the things that I took out of that is we`re
going to see the president use his executive powers as much as he`s allowed
under federal law and under the Constitution, the more aggressive way than
last time. Even if we had reformed the Senate as well as we wanted, we
still would have had problems in the House. obviously -- I`m not begging
off the question.
But I think the president -- you are going to see the president use
the executive powers that are within his constitutional legal authority. I
think the progressive agenda is going to be driven that way that even if we
could get things to the Senate, which we will still do from time to time,
especially judges and appointees, presidential appointees, I hope, but
would it had gotten to the House, I think you`ll see some good news coming
That`s what I heard in the inaugural address that the president wants
to move on climate change, wants to move on voting rights, wants to move on
gun safety, and I think he will figure things out. I think the White House
is looking at those kinds of things. Labor law, Larry Cohen was on earlier
talking about some of this, I think it was on "ED SHOW", not yours, I`m not
sure. But, those kinds of things I`m hopeful the White House sees a path
to move the country forward.
MADDOW: Do you think immigration and gun reform which the president
has put forward as these temporal first priorities for this first term,
that they can move in the Senate?
BROWN: Well, I think -- I think immigration can move on the Senate.
I think that a number of these, that we can still get in the Senate,
because have a way sometimes of getting over the 60 votes or speeding up
the process and the House still doesn`t move on it.
So, I think that perhaps immigration gets through this, I feel good
about it getting through the Senate. If it doesn`t get through the House,
the president is going to use executive powers that he has. I mean, it`s
not ever as good using and evoking any executive powers, executive orders
and other things, not as good as the Congress passing something.
But, you know, it is going to be pretty hard and a lot of public
pressure on Boehner and on the Senate as there should be as the president
pushes us. But I think the president is going to use, the next four years,
use the bully pulpit. The Republicans are going to say, he`s out
campaigning. I think he is out pushing his agenda and he needs to go over
the heads of the Republicans in the Senate and House to do it.
So, I`m pretty optimistic that this going to be a pretty activist
presidency more in that sense than it was in the first term.
MADDOW: Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio -- I like talking to
you about stuff that I`m excited about. And I`m particular like talking to
you about stuff that I`m not excited about, because you`re such a straight
talker with us. I really appreciate your being here.
BROWN: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thanks a lot.
BROWN: Thanks always. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Ready for a good news story? We are in era in government
where it sometimes seems like there`s no technocratic skill left. The only
reason anybody goes to Congress is to be in Congress, and to fight with
people in Congress so that people will give them more money so that they
can stay in Congress. It sometimes seems pointless.
But that dysfunction that we see in Washington today shouldn`t be seen
as normal. It hasn`t always been like this.
Back to the year 2000, Congress was no prize then order, still
dysfunctional, still a lot of pointless showboating. But in today`s news,
we got a reminder. We actually got a payoff from something that the
Congress was able to do in 2008 that was not a pointless thing.
It was about apes. The Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance and
Protection Act, the CHIMP Act, created a national sanctuary for chimps who
have been used in research. There have been federal support for research
on these guys, who share 98 percent of our DNA, but nobody taken
responsibility for where they should go once the research was over.
In 2000, they fixed that. Lots of bipartisan support, 100 Democratic
cosponsors, 41 Republican cosponsors, it passed, Bill Clinton signed it
into law and we have a partially federally funded sanctuary for chimps. It
was a practical framework set in motion by policymakers doing something
practical instead of something pointless.
And because they did that, today, something else that wasn`t pointless
was able to happen in government. A panel at the National Institutes of
Health issued its recommendations on what America should do with the chimps
that we should have in captivity for research purposes. There are expert
panel recommendation is that we should stop research on all but 50 of the
more than 350 chimpanzees that we have in labs across the country. Part of
the reason we should set those 300 chimps free is because we can, because
we have somewhere they can go. We have in fact Chimp Haven in Louisiana,
which we have thanks in part to Congress` CHIMP Act actually doing
something useful in the year 2000.
The 50 chimps who will still be kept for research purposes, the NIH
panel says, should be housed in spacious conditions in groups of at least
seven with 1,000 square feet for space for chimp. They can`t be kept
isolated in the cage. If there is research done on the chimps who will
remain for research, there`s now going to be high bars for what that
research could potentially reveal. They`re going to do research on these
guys, it has to be for a really good reason. You have to show there is
potential for that research to be very beneficial to human.
And most of the chimps we`ve got, six out of every seven that we`ve
got now should be retired, free and easy. The folks at Chimp Haven are
psyche to their already getting in new chimps. As their country makes this
change, now they`ve got to focus on raising the portion of their budget
that is privately raised to make room for a big expansion, because here
Concerned advocacy about how concerned we are being toward these guys
lead and rational scientific well-informed study, which led to legislation,
which led to law, which led to a practical, real, totally feasible solution
to something that needed a solution.
This is the way that it needs to go. I mean, from our vantage point
watching this Congress, on their pointless, outrage treadmill sometimes
seems impossible, but Washington could be the means by which a problem is
debated and addressed in a practical way. But it worked -- it worked for
the chimps the least. Maybe it can work for all kinds of stuff.
Now, it is 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
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