ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
June 25, 2013
Guests: John Conyers, Debo Adegbile, Julie Fernandes, Mike Castle, Keith
Ellison, Sheldon Whitehouse, Christine Todd Whitman; Tim Dechristopher
CHRIS HAYES, HOST: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. Thank
you for joining us on a fascinating, frustrating news night.
Tonight on ALL IN:
We know where he is, at least we think we do. I`ll tell you where we
believe the NSA leaker Edward Snowden is holed up at this very minute and
why the trouble this guy is causing U.S. government has only just begun.
Plus, President Barack Obama stood in the 93-degree heat today and
delivered the speech Al Gore called the best ever on climate given by a
president. We will bring you the highlights.
But we begin tonight with the truly stunning decision by the Supreme Court
where, if I may speak metaphorically, I believe John Roberts` court took
out a knife and plunged it into the Voting Rights Act`s soft underbelly and
dragged the gasping, dying body across the street on to the steps of the
Capitol Building and left it there with a note to Congress saying it would
be a shame if this law were to die.
The decision in this case, Shelby County v. Holder is one that I believe
will go down in the annals of history as one of this court`s absolute
worst. It was an act of supreme judicial hubris and activism in which a
slim 5-justice majority ruled a key provision of the Voting Rights Act
unconstitutional and, thus, in the short term killed off the core of that
Now, whether it can be revived is an open question, one we`ll visit in a
moment. But, first, you have to understand what the court did today,
because there was a lot of confusion and there was confusion on part
because it was complicated, it was complicated on purpose. I want to just
walk through it.
Section 5 is often referred to as the heart of the Voting Rights Act. It
requires what`s known as preclearance of any changes to the way elections
are run in certain parts of this country.
Now, what is so brilliant about its approach? Informed by history, is in
the battle days before the Voting Rights Act, some racist locality would
enact some new voting rule to make it harder or impossible for black people
to vote. And sure, those people could sue but might be a year or two
before your lawsuit was heard a in the meantime, the election in question
would have happened and the damage would have been done.
This happened all the time. This is our history. And the genius of
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is it`s a preemptive, proactive means of
stopping those types of discriminatory rules from being enacted, without
some extra scrutiny by the federal government.
Now, the question becomes, which parts of the country should be subjected
to this scrutiny, to look at every little rule that they want to change
about their elections?
And that`s handled by a formula. It`s laid out in Section 4 of the Voting
Rights Act, which has been tweaked here and there over the years.
Basically it targets state and localities that were using special tests to
restrict voting rights when the act was passed. Things like literacy tests
and places where voter turnout or registration is below 50 percent or was
below 50 percent when it was last passed.
You`ll see, today, most of the jurisdictions targeted under that formula
are -- well, where you`d expect them to: states of the old confederacy,
states with a history of racial terrorism, oppression, domination and
exploitation. It also sweeps up some localities and states you would not
necessarily expect like a couple counties in South Dakota and California.
My own home borough of Brooklyn is covered because of the way the formula
works. Now, that`s OK with me.
These parts of the country are not allowed to just enact whatever
restrictive voting rules they want. In fact, any changes to voting rules.
This is what the Voting Rights Act protects us from.
United States congress has reauthorized the Voting Rights Act four times,
most recently in 2006 by huge bipartisan margins.
But today in a 5-4 majority decision, authored by Chief Justice John
Roberts, a man who has expressed skepticism toward the Voting Rights Act
from the time he was a young lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department, the
court decided that the formula Congress passed is unconstitutional. That
Congress just did it wrong. They didn`t like their math.
This despite the fact that the 15th Amendment for which hundreds of
thousands of Americans died, and which explicitly gives congress the
authority to enforce right to vote, despite the plain text of that part of
the Constitution, nope, said Roberts and Alito and Thomas and Kennedy and
Scalia, we don`t like the way you did it. So they struck it down.
And then said to congress, if you want to keep that law, you seem to like
so much, then fix it in a way that we like. If that sounds ambiguous,
complicated, it is ambiguous and complicated. It is by design.
So, let`s be very clear about what that means. What the Roberts court
majority wants to do is, I think quite clearly, kill off Section 5 of the
Voting Rights Act. The preclearance provision altogether.
But they understand how politically toxic that would be. They have come
up instead with a clever way of killing it without admitting to killing it.
These are people that sit just a block away from the Capitol. They look
out at the House caucus. They know who this Congress is, who it
represents, and what it does every day.
They know how unlikely it is that this Congress will be able to save the
Voting Rights Act, come up with a new formula that suits the Supreme Court.
We all know how likely that is.
And so, all the people telling you today, the law`s not dead, they are
right. But it`s wounded. And before we move on to how it might be saved,
which is absolutely a moral and legal imperative, and can be done, let us
not skip too quickly over the part where the Supreme Court tried to kill it
Joining me now is Congressman John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan. He`s
also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
And, Congressman, as someone who has lived this history, and watched this
history, and knows what this act means, what is your reaction to the
court`s decision today?
REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: Well, Chris, you said it so well. We`ve
driven a dagger through the heart of the Voting Rights Act. It is one of
the decisions, I thought Citizens United was about the worst decision I
would ever see in these times from the Supreme Court, but this -- this
drives a dagger through it and it gives us an enormous challenge because
everyone knows that the House is quite partisan.
We`re quite divided on almost everything. And it`s going to take a real
skill to bring people together, and the one thing that we all understand,
it`s got to be bipartisan.
CONYERS: The Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act and its
reauthorizations all were bipartisan. The 2006 extension of the Voter
Rights Act was bipartisan. So, we`ve got to work with Democrats and
Republicans and independents and we have to realize that without this,
there are going to be even more states enacting their own restrictive voter
ID laws to make voting more difficult for so many people, the people that
need them the most.
HAYES: Congressman John Conyers, let me ask you this question. If you
were sitting in the chambers of Chief Justice John Roberts as he was
contemplating writing his vote, what do you wish you could have told him?
CONYERS: Well, I would have told him how far we`ve come since the 15th
Amendment to the Constitution in which African-Americans finally got the
right to vote, specifically. And what we`re doing now will be a huge step
backwards, and it`s going to create a lot of work. It`s going to be a huge
challenge. And, please, let`s let this voter rights case of Shelby
Township be decided in a way that is fair to everybody in the nation, as
they ought to do about everything.
HAYES: Congressman John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, it will be in
your august body that this gets resolved, we hope.
Joining me at the table now is Debo Adegbile, special counsel of the NAACP
legal defense fund. He argued the Shelby case before the Supreme Court.
And, Julie Fernandes, former deputy assistant attorney general for civil
rights at the U.S. Department of Justice where she oversaw the enforcement
of this act and now a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Foundation.
Debo, can I begin with you? You argued this case. You read the decision.
DEBO ADEGBILE, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Yes.
HAYES: Why did they strike down? What t-- can you explain to me what
specifically the 5-4 majority found unconstitutional about the current
formula that is used by Congress?
ADEGBILE: In a sense the court put itself in a position you`d expect
Congress and the legislature to be in. They were grappling with the
progress that we`ve made as a nation. And what we said in our brief and
what I`ll say today is that we should not get hung up and misunderstand
The idea that we`ve made progress shouldn`t mean that we can`t stop
striving to make more progress. Somehow, the court got stuck on this
point, that because there`s been progress in voting, we need to cease and
reassess how we proceed.
HAYES: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a remarkable dissent, an excellent
dissent, said, "Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is
continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away
your umbrella in a rain storm because you are not getting wet. Hubris is a
fit word for today`s demolition of the VRA."
Julie, you work overseeing just the day the day of how this act work, how
preclearance work? Did it strike you, sitting there in the Department of
Justice looking at this paperwork that the formula that Congress had come
up with then which was essentially reauthorized was capricious or arbitrary
JULIE FERNANDES, OPEN SOCIETY FOUNDATION: No, not at all, Chris. I think
what our experience was in the department and has been for a lot of the
voting rights advocate is that the jurisdictions that were covered by
Section 5 were those jurisdictions that needed to be covered by Section 5,
the history of discrimination and the current day effects.
It`s an important point that Justice Roberts, in his opinion, made it seem
as if we were in the reauthorization only relying on what had happened a
long time ago to determine which jurisdiction need to continue to have the
preclearance obligations, when, in fact, what Congress did in 2006 was to
look very carefully at recent incidents of voting discrimination, what was
happening to real voters in real places.
Justice Roberts and the court just got it wrong. They haven`t walked in
the shoes of John Lewis. They haven`t walked to see what discrimination
looks like and where it looks that way.
HAYES: And they just also, I mean, this is just an amazing act of just of
judicial activism. I mean, they have just told Congress -- it`s just
incredible to me. The question to me, it strikes me, isn`t how much
progress there is or whether there`s been progress. It`s who gets to
decide the appropriate remedy for the problem on the table? And today, the
Supreme Court Debo, it struck me, it said, we do.
ADEGBILE: And that`s what`s stunning. Justice Kagan put this question to
our adversary during the oral argument. She said, who gets to decide? And
the Constitution on this point is crystal clear. The 15th Amendment puts
it with Congress to enforce the amendment against racial discrimination in
Congress looked at this very carefully, as Julie mentioned, and studies
done at the time and since have shown that the repetitive and adaptive
discrimination happens in certain places. Congress never said the voting
discrimination only happens there. What it said is we need a special
response in the places where the case-by-case method is inadequate.
HAYES: Really important point, too. These distinctions are not preserved
in amber. There is a way, if you feel like, oh, I`m the city of Boston,
this is unfair, we`re under the Voting Rights Act and have a really clean
record, you can get out of it, right?
FERNANDES: The whole idea of there being a formula was actually -- is not
really accurate. It was really a way to identify in `65 and `72 when it
was modified, a way to identify those jurisdictions that needed this type
But then the idea was when they can demonstrate they don`t need any more,
they can bail out. Jurisdictions do it all the time. They certainly do
And the other point is right now we are back with Congress. Just to say
we are back with Congress now. The court has said, look, there is voting
discrimination. We recognize there is still voting discrimination. We
think the way that Congress did this may not be the right way, but
congress, it`s up to you. That`s the important part we are now.
HAYES: We have a member of Congress, a Republican who voted for that
reauthorization the last time it came up and a current member of congress,
a Democrat. We`re going to talk about precisely that, which is, can this
Debo Adegbile from NAACP legal defense fund, Julie Fernandes from the Open
Society Foundation, thank you both so much.
FERNANDES: Thank you.
ADEGBILE: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: All right. How is Congress going to take on this mess? I will
ask a Democrat and a Republican if there`s any hope. That`s next.
HAYES: Right now as I speak, there is a state senator named Wendy Davis
doing a one-woman filibuster of legislation that would drastically restrict
access to abortions in Texas, calling Republican efforts to pass the bill
in a special session, quote, "a raw abuse of power." She is right now on
hour eight and has five more hours to go to stop this bill from being
passed. Meanwhile, hundreds of activists for and against the bill have
been storming the capitol to protest.
And THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW will be covering this story coming up. And you
definitely want to stick around for that. We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This decision represents a serious setback
for voting rights and has the potential to negatively affect millions of
Americans across the country.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is a sad day. I would hope
that the Congress would step in.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re going to work
with Congress in this effort and the administration can do everything in
our power to ensure fair and equal voting processes are maintained.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That is just some of the reaction from Washington officials today
after the Supreme Court basically said that until Congress fixes it,
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is dead. So, in the near term, at
least, it really is up to Congress and then the president to make this
Joining me now is Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota.
Last month, he announced he would introduce legislation to amend the U.S.
Constitution to guarantee the right to vote. And former Republican
Congressman Mike Castle, former governor of Delaware, who voted for the
reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.
Congressman Castle, can I begin with you, it was striking to me today that
Eric Cantor came out and issued a statement saying he supported a
reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, but he was really a voice in the
wilderness on the Republican side of the aisle. We tried to get Republican
sitting members of Congress to come on the show and talk about the future
of this important piece of legislation and basically have struck out.
So, my question to you as someone who voted for it in 2006 when it enjoyed
broad bipartisan support is, can your party rally to the cause yet again?
FORMER REP. MIKE CASTLE (R), DELAWARE: Well, does my party want to rally
to the cause is the issue? I tend to agree with Chuck Schumer, who
basically said that with the House under Republican control and needing 60
votes to get anything done in the Senate, that it`s unlikely that you`re
going to see preclearance be done by Congress in that format. And I think
that`s probably correct if I had to guess.
I don`t know all the facts that were before the Supreme Court in terms of
how they looked to various municipalities and various states that actually
have been named and placed into the Voting Rights Act and saying there`s
been a change over a period of time. Maybe there`s some, you know,
credibility to that. I don`t necessarily agree with the decision, but the
idea that this Congress is going to make changes, I think, is fairly
But there`s a remedy and the remedy is if somebody is wronged, they have
the right to bring suit and to reinstate --
HAYES: You`re referring to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which, of
course, does remain intact but does not have the preemptive effect of
Section 5. Congressman Ellison, hearing Congressman Castle talk about the
Congress you go to work in every day, you work with those colleagues across
the aisle. What is your sense of whether this Congress can come together
around a new formula?
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: You know, I believe that when
politicians feel the heat, they see the light. And if citizens step up and
tell this Congress that they expect every American to have equal and fair
right to vote and in jurisdictions where that right has historically
interfered with that they want some preclearance, I think we will get it.
Now, I`ll tell you that, you know, things like the Voting Rights Act, they
have had a high degree of bipartisanship over the years. I think voting
rights are different. I mean, the fact is that the last time this bill was
reauthorized, you had ample support on both sides of the aisle for it. I
mean, you know, Congressman Sensenbrenner voted for it, Congressman
Goodlatte did, Congressman Castle who`s with us tonight did.
I don`t see why any of these gentlemen or ladies would want to back away
from their prior commitment. I think we step up the plate. We get
hearings started right away. I`ve been talking with colleagues. I know
that we`re getting this thing rolling right away.
And I know that Senator Leahy is, too. But I think this is a moment when
all Americans, black, white, Latino, Asian, need to say, equal right to
vote for all and be real clear on it. This is a moment for that.
HAYES: Congressman Castle, can I ask you a question just as a matter of
institutional personal pride. I mean, you`re someone who`s had a
tremendously accomplished career in politics, and you voted. You cast a
vote for reauthorization based on the hearings, based on the testimony,
based on your judgment, based on being the elected representative in the
Article 1 institution in our proud republic.
And the court today just said you didn`t do your job. I mean, that is the
message from the John Roberts opinion is that you screwed up, you just
didn`t do a good enough job in figuring out whether this was the right way
to use the formula. Do you feel at all personally insulted by that?
CASTLE: Well, perhaps a little bit. As I said, I don`t know all the
facts that were before the Supreme Court, so I`m reluctant to be too
critical. But, yes, it bothers me. As I said, I don`t necessarily agree
with the underlying premise of this particular decision. But, you know,
they made it and now congress has to go to work.
You know, the congressman makes what I consider to be very valid points.
That is the members of the House and Senate need to sit down and at least
see if they can work this out. If they can`t, I think you will see court
remedies that will eventually straighten it out.
Whether that`s sooner or later, I`m not 100 percent sure. But the bottom
line is, you know, one can be critical of the Supreme Court in this, and I
can understand the reaction of those who believe in civil rights. As I do
in all this. But perhaps they knew something that I didn`t and perhaps
others did not, exactly.
HAYES: Congressman Ellison, let me ask you this. What I find maddening
here is the court said this formula doesn`t work for us. We think it
violates an unspecified part of the Constitution. What is to say whatever
you come up with is going to, you know, pass the liking of these same five
justices if you do come up with the formula?
ELLISON: You know, when Justice Scalia said that he believes that
somebody`s sort of -- I think the term of art that he used was -- oh my
goodness, I`m blanking on it.
HAYES: Racial entitlement.
ELLISON: Racial entitlement. Thank you.
When he used that terminology, it was clear to me he had a certain
perspective on things and that his preconceived ideas about civil rights
law, voting rights law, were going to prevail. I mean, look, Congress did
a lot of work, 15,000 pages, all kinds of hours of testimony. A number of
very egregious cases cited.
It was all there, but, you know, no amount of facts is going to overcome
somebody`s ideology. Congress has to sit down and get it done. We have a
bipartisan history of standing up for the right to vote.
Look, we can argue about taxes, we can argue about trade, we can go back
and forth on immigration, but give the people a right to vote.
HAYES: Congressman Keith Ellison, Democrat from Minnesota, former
Republican Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware -- thank you, gentlemen, for
ELLISON: Thank you.
HAYES: Why today`s Supreme Court decision on Voting Rights Act creates
huge problems, huge problems for the Republican Party, coming up.
HAYES: If I were Chief Justice John Roberts today, I imagine I`d be
feeling pretty good about myself. I`ve essentially just killed the heart
of the Voting Rights Act, finally achieving a personal goal of mine, and of
the larger conservative movement over the last 40 years.
This morning, when John Roberts killed Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act
and sent it back to Congress, he also created huge, massive problems for
the Republican Party.
Here`s why: Republicans know that the single biggest question in all of
American politics right now, the question that will determine the outcome
to almost every important issue in politics, from whether or not people get
health care and food stamps, to whether we stop the unceasing rise of the
oceans and the heating of the planet, is whether or not the electorate that
showed up in 2008 and 2012 to elect Barack Obama will be a durable,
sustainable electoral coalition in future elections, or whether it was the
product of an exceptional man who is an exceptional politician with an
Republican Party knows that if you get the electorate that came out, voted
for Obama in 2008, and again in 2012, the country and its future looks one
way and not a way that looks very good for the Grand Old Party. But if you
get the 2010 electorate, which, itself, was the most diverse midterm
electorate in history but still less diverse than 2008 and 2012, the
country looks a very different way. It is much more of a Tea Party nation.
Republicans understand that in a country that is getting less white, where
African-American turnout is reaching record highs, and Republicans are
losing by historic ass-kicking margins among the two fastest growing ethnic
groups, with Mitt Romney losing Hispanics in 2012 by 50 points to Obama and
Asians by 47 points, they know that all of this spells demographic and
electoral doom for them.
And right now, we are watching them tie themselves into knots over
immigration reform because of this very conundrum. Republicans know if
they continue to antagonize and insult the nation`s Latino voters, they
will pay an electoral price, and yet their base demands they do precisely
But if you thought the House Republican caucus was antagonizing the
ascendant Obama multicultural majority before, well now just watch as they
kill the Voting Rights Act. Because Chief Justice John Roberts might have
thought this morning he was being too clever today by kicking the Voting
Rights Act back to a dysfunctional Congress and wiping his hands of it, but
he just took the Voting Rights Act, the single most significant piece of
civil rights legislation in our country`s storied and bloodied history and
hung it around the neck of every Republican member of Congress.
So if there is ever any question about whether the people who stood in line
and knocked on doors and called their neighbors in 2008 and 2012, if there
was ever any question if those people would mobilize in an off-year
election, in 2014, John Roberts just issued all of those people, all of
you, a direct challenge. He may as well have walked up to each and every
volunteer, to each voter of color, and said we`re going to take away the
progress you have worked so hard for and there`s nothing you can do about
That`s where John Roberts is wrong. There is something we can do about it.
Because if it`s Congress that guarantees our rights, our right to vote, you
go out and you vote for that Congress. Make no mistake, the 2014 election
Russian President Vladimir Putin is now officially acknowledging that NSA
leaker Edward Snowden is holed up in a Moscow airport. Putin is also
acknowledging he doesn`t like shaving baby pigs. I`ll make some sense of
HAYES: It`s day two in the search for NSA leaker Edward Snowden. We have
strong confirmation where he is, perhaps. According to Russian President
Vladimir Putin, Edward Snowden is a free man. He is currently in the
transit zone of a Moscow airport. Putin says Snowden has not passed
through immigration so he is technically not in Russia, which has given
Russia the justification to refuse U.S. request for detention and
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lovrov saying there are no legal grounds
for such conduct of U.S. officials. Vladimir Putin took the opportunity to
deliver rhetorical wedgies during a news conference today. "Any accusation
directed towards Russia is ravings and sheer nonsense. Snowden is a
transit passenger and as such still remains in the transit lounge."
In fact, Putin dismissed the importance of the entire Snowden case saying
"it`s like shearing a pig, lots of screams but little wool." Putin to no
surprise is playing fast and loose for his own country`s visa rules, which
require a special transit visa for anyone staying more than 24 hours in
The stakes get higher including new information about Snowden`s escape
strategy. Glen Greenwald telling Eli Lake of "The Daily Beast" that
Snowden has given encoded files of the secret NSA documents to several
people and if anything happens to him the files will be unlocked. While
the tension ratchets up between the U.S. and Russia, Hongkong`s government
finally explained why it would not process the U.S. paperwork requesting
detention of Edward Snowden.
"On the diplomatic documents James was used as a middle name. On the
record upon entering the border, Joseph was used as the middle name. The
American court documents sent to us by the American Justice Department, it
only said Edward J. Snowden." I mean, who can`t relate to such confusion?
Remember how hard it was to keep track of Dr. Dre, the Rapper and Dr. Dre,
the host of "TV Raps or what about the Vanessa Williams, Vanessa K.
Williams crisis of the early `90s? And who hasn`t confused Dave Thomas of
Strange Brew with Dave Thomas of Wendy`s? What`s becoming obvious of the
Snowden affair is the opportunity it provides for other nations to give the
United States a big diplomatic middle finger.
And while the story still centers on Edward Snowden`s whereabouts and the
substance of the documents he leaked and what they revealed, it`s also
increasingly clear Edward Snowden is all things to all people, to all
nations, hero, traitor, pawn, weapon, he`s a fugitive the digital age, an
Avatar, whoever the user wants him to be.
Coming up, the president gave an amazing speech on climate change today.
It even included a special quasi secret shout-out that I bet you most
people didn`t even catch. I`m going to let you in on that next.
HAYES: The president did something today I find pretty remarkable. Yes,
he laid out a detailed plan to limit green gases from power plants and
listed ways a warming planet impacts our health. We`re going to talk about
the substance of these policies and what they mean in just a moment.
But the president did something today that basically no official in
Washington hardly ever does and that`s talk to the American people in
clear, complete adult sentences, sentences you can print without having to
snip the ums and the ahs about the single greatest threat that we face.
Our carbon pollution and the planet it is warming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So the question now is
whether we will have the courage to act before it`s too late. And how we
answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not
just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren. As a
president, as a father, and as an American, I`m here to say we need to act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The president is finally saying here is we don`t have time to deny
the fact that human activity is warming the earth. Sea levels practically
a foot higher than they were at the end of the 19th Century. The president
has understandably lost his patience for anyone who denies the science is
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We don`t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society.
Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it`s not
going to protect you from the coming storm. And ultimately we will be
judged as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The speech was refreshingly free from any ambiguity and light on
rhetorical hedges. It was bold and it was pressing because it needed to
be. The funny thing about climate change, it never seems to arrive really
per se. There`s not someday where you wake up and something called climate
change announces itself. You can start to think it`s not here. This is
just the weather. It`s just hot because it`s the weather. It`s just a
storm because that`s the weather and there have been storms before. But
the worst mistake we can make is to continue to view climate change as
some, "looming, perpetually unaddressed crisis."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Someday our children and our children`s children will look at us in
the eye and ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to
deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world?
And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Can we imagine a more worthy
goal? For while we may not live to see the full realization of our
ambition, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that the world we leave
to our children will be better off for what we did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining me now is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode
Island who`s been one of the most prophetic voices on climate change in the
entire United States government, certainly in Congress. Senator, my first
question to you is just to get your reaction to listening to that speech
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I suppose it was
ironically hot, but it was also a terrific speech and immensely welcome.
It is so frustrating to sit in this Congress that has been tied in knots by
the polluters and the special interests and not be able to make progress
and to look over at the potential in the executive branch, and today
President Obama seized that potential and it was a big day.
HAYES: One of the things the president did in his remarks was call out
your colleagues in the Senate for blocking the nomination of his nominee to
be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, and just
said there essentially is no reason for her to be blocked. They`ve been
making her do, jump through a million hoops. Do you --
WHITEHOUSE: Yes, they`ve been making her jump through specifically a
HAYES: Yes, explain that.
WHITEHOUSE: Asking her a thousand questions.
HAYES: They`ve asked her a thousand questions. Explain this, because it`s
kind of an amazing stalling technique the Republicans have employed here.
What is going on with her nomination? Why have they asked her a thousand
WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think they, frankly, can`t accept that the
Environmental Protection Agency exists. And so they are very concerned
about anybody who might lead it, notwithstanding that she has served five
Republican governors and has a wonderful reputation within the industry for
being somebody who`s smart and good to deal with.
She`ll follow the law, but she`s smart and she`s good to deal with. You
really couldn`t ask or better. So if you don`t want her, you really don`t
want anybody, and that means, I think, that we may end up having to go to
demolishing the Republican filibuster on this and use our other procedural
options. We can`t let this obstruction continue, not for a nominee like
HAYES: You are someone who has taken time in the Senate to try to call
attention to this issue. Do you feel sometimes like you`re just shouting
into the darkness? Because I feel that way sometimes when I cover this
issue on cable television, and I even, today, was watching the speech and
watching the networks turn away from the speech in the middle of the speech
as if it were not news at all. And I watched my Twitter feed and social
media and Facebook and people were talking about a lot of other stuff and
it was a very heavy news day. Does the president have the power to focus
the nation`s attention on this problem?
WHITEHOUSE: He does if he persists and continues to make this the issue of
our time that it is. The deniers win when this issue does not get
attention. Attention is the enemy of their position because their position
is unsustainable. It`s virtually hair brained at this point and it can`t
stand scrutiny. So the president applying attention and scrutiny and all
of us applying attention and scrutiny will enable us to begin to grapple
with this issue in a sensible way and force the Republicans to move to a
logical and sensible position on this.
HAYES: Quickly, let me finish with this. Do you think there will be
pushback from the Republicans in the Congress and in the Senate and the
House to these executive actions? Will they try to do things like defund
the EPA or attack it in other ways?
WHITEHOUSE: Yes, of course. There`s a pretty wild group of extremists in
the Republican Party right now, but I think we can count on a lot of the
more sensible voices who realize that this for the Republican Party is a
path of destruction. Every year it gets worse. Do they really want to go
down in history as the party that allied itself with the polluters and
ignored the scientists?
When things really continue to turn bad, that`s going to prove to have been
an awful choice for their party. It goes right up with immigration and
with gay rights, as places where they`re on the wrong demographic side and
they`ve got to catch up if they`re going to be a realistic party in the
HAYES: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island. Thank you
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you.
HAYES: We`ll be back with former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman
and climate activist, Tim Dechristopher.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What you`ll hear from the special interests and their allies in
Congress is that this will kill jobs and crush the economy and basically
end American free enterprise as we know it. For example, in 1970, when we
decided through the clean air act to do something about the smog that was
choking our cities. But at the time when we passed the clean air act to
try to get rid of some of this smog, some of the same doomsayers were
saying, new pollution standards will decimate the auto industry. Guess
what? It didn`t happen. Our air got cleaner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: We`re back talking about what the president can do on his own
without congressional approval to fight the most pressing issue of our
time, climate change. Joining me now is former Republican governor of New
Jersey Christine Todd Whitman. She was administrator of the Environmental
Protection Agency under George W. Bush, is now president of the Whitman
Strategy Group, a consulting firm that specializes in energy and
environmental issues, and Tim Dechristopher, a climate activist and co-
founder of the environmental group Peaceful Uprising. It`s great to have
you both here.
So we bump back in with the president`s long section on the clean air act
because that is one of the key policy elements announced today in this
speech. I want to just explain this briefly for people then I want to get
your response to it, Christine. The clean air act regulates things that
are dangerous or harmful to public health, right? And, in fact, requires
the EPA --
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, FORMER BUSH EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Absolutely.
HAYES: -- to regulate pollutants that are dangerous and harmful to public
health. The courts have found that carbon pollution is such a dangerous
HAYES: And my understanding is that under the court`s finding, it wasn`t
just that the EPA had the power to regulate carbon, it was then required --
WHITMAN: It is required.
HAYES: Isn`t it -- so the president today, what struck me as interesting,
the president announced today he`s directing the EPA to draft rules for
existing power plants that give off a lot of our carbon pollution. But, in
fact, that was actually required by law. I mean, it gives you a little bit
of sense of where the politics are on this issue that telling the EPA to do
its lawfully required job is news making.
WHITMAN: I know. That`s, well, to the extent that this makes news at all,
unfortunately. It is. It`s something the EPA is required to do. He was
calling out particular sections and a particular part of the energy
industry on which to focus, or of industry, the energy industry. So that
you could argue was slightly different and slightly new.
But, no, EPA has, they went to court, they said they`ve had a finding that,
in fact, carbon was bad, injurious to human health. It was taken to court
because everything EPA does is taken to court. And the court backed them
up on that. So there`s no question. They`ve been working on this rule for
What he did is set some timelines of when they`re supposed to come out with
it, and it really wouldn`t be -- come out with a final rule and require the
utilities to be back to the agency with how they were going to meet it
HAYES: So let me just make the stakes clear for people, right? We`ve got
a lot of the carbon pollution happening in our economy is coming directly
from coal. I mean --
WHITMAN: The 40 percent comes from the energy industry overall -- fossil
HAYES: And a big part of that is coal.
HAYES: And in directing coal-fire power plants, currently existing ones
and putting rules on them, this could actually be a quite seismic shift in
what our emissions are.
WHITMAN: It would be. You`re already seeing a shift within the energy
industry away from coal. Coal used to be 50 percent. It`s now down to
about 48 percent. What you`ll do is see other clean coals, I mean, not
clean coal, but clean energy and renewable energy, both nuclear, wind,
solar, start to have a bigger play.
HAYES: Tim, you`re someone who I think has a clear-eyed view of our
future. It`s not a particularly rosy one from our last conversation. It`s
like Cormac McCarthy`s the road, no matter what we do. When we hear
encouraging signs of progress, I think, Christine, you feel the same way
about this speech. What is your reaction to it?
TIM DECHRISTOPHER, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: I think if you look at this speech
and take out the substantive policy that he was talking about, everything
outside of that was a good speech on climate change and a step forward in
terms of his rhetoric. The substantive policy was not all that
encouraging. As you were saying, he`s telling the EPA by 2016 they have to
enforce the law the Supreme Court told them to enforce six years ago.
And obviously, you know, he was talking a lot about promoting natural gas
in there. And he had one little throw away comment about, of course,
there`s some controversy around natural gas development as well. I was
kind of waiting for him to say, but American ingenuity will find an
alternative to water because that`s the reality for people that are
impacted by hydraulic fracking, which is where an increasing part of our
natural gas --
HAYES: Natural gas is being produced.
DECHRISTOPHER: We`re seeing more and more studying show hydraulic
fracking, the entire life cycle of that natural gas is comparable to coal.
We`re not talking about major improvements with emissions. Certainly not
on the scale we need to turn things around.
HAYES: That last question always strikes me as the issue here. There`s
the political reality of how Washington works and I think anyone who
surveys the political scene and says the biggest obstacle to stopping
climate change is Barack Obama, I think is ridiculous, because I can name
you hundreds of thousands of people who are a bigger obstacle.
Obviously Barack Obama has a lot of power. There`s the political reality
of where we are, then there`s how quickly we need to get our act together
to avoid some really, really disastrous consequences. And one place where
this has come together is in the Keystone pipeline, which has become both a
real and symbolic battle line for where this president signs on it.
And whether we can ever make the decision as a society and as a political
community not take fossil fuels out of the ground is really what it kind of
comes down to. This is what the president said today on Keystone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I do want to be clear, allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built
requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation`s interest and our
national interest will be served only if this project does not
significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects
of the pipeline`s impact -- the net effects of the pipeline`s impact on our
climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is
allowed to go forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: How did you understand that very fine line he was walking there?
WHITMAN: It was a very fine line. He was parsing his words. I think it
all comes down to what he meant by substantive impact because clearly
fossil fuel of any sort has an impact.
HAYES: Particularly the tar sands coming out of the --
WHITMAN: Some of the worst. Is it better to ship that, move that by
pipeline than by truck? Yes, you`re still talking about you`re burning it
at the end. That`s a fossil fuel. You lose and pollute the atmosphere
even when it`s coming out. It`s a question, I think what he will get it
down to, is it going to happen anyway? And therefore, is it less polluting
if we take it in a pipeline? I think what he`s doing is giving himself
wiggle room here to decide how he really wants to go.
DECHRISTOPHER: And I would say this is one of those areas where what he`s
talking about in real terms doesn`t align with his policy or with his
rhetoric. You know, when he`s talking about the rhetoric of I want to be
able to tell my children and my grandchildren that we did all that we
could, right --
HAYES: Keystone is one of those key decision points.
DECHRISTOPHER: That`s absolutely clear on keystone.
HAYES: Let me play this last little bite where he shouts out the divest
movement, which organizers started a month ago. It was a remarkable moment
to me. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your
own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks
there`s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic
growth, and remind everyone who represents you at every level of government
that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is
a prerequisite for your vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: A pretty remarkable shout-out to all the activists across the
country right now working on divestment. The president has just said
DECHRISTOPHER: That was, to me, the most surprising thing of the speech.
I said, my God, he gave a shout-out to the divestment movement. The
climate movement has had a radical shift over the past few years and
created this moment for where Obama`s at right now and are going to keep
HAYES: I think he recognized how important it is to get moving. Former
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and climate activist, Tim
Dechristopher, thank you. That is ALL IN for this evening. The "RACHEL
MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
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