updated 9/5/2013 11:28:59 AM ET 2013-09-05T15:28:59

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
September 3, 2013

Guest: Ben Cardin

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

It is a fact of life in American politics. It is almost an
unbreakable law of American political science that when you have a midterm
election, the president`s party loses seats. So, if you have a Democratic
president who was elected or re-elected, then two years later, when there
is the next election, Republicans will do really well and vice versa. If
you`ve got a Republican president who`s just been elected or re-elected,
then two years later, the president`s party will lose seats and in that
case the Democrats will do well. It`s just the way it goes.

Every once in a while, we defy that but it`s basically a rule. In
American politics, we like the pendulum to swing back and forth between the
parties. And although we have been trained now for years to think about
Republican President Ronald Reagan as a saint, and to think of the Reagan
years as some sort of ground exception from all things predictable and
partisan and even depressing in American politics, that old rule about the
midterm elections was also true for the Ronald Reagan presidency.

He won re-election in 1984 by approximately a bazillion, but then in
1986, two years later at the midterm elections, it was the other party, the
Democratic Party that did very well. The Democrats already have the
majority in the House. They picked up five more seats that year. The
Democrats also picked up eight Senate seats and took control of the Senate.
It was a big, big victory for the Democrats.

The Democrats did great in those midterm elections. And nobody
noticed. I mean, the elections had the same practical consequences that
elections have, but the story of the Democrats` huge victory that year was
stomped on immediately by a giant scandal that broke in the Reagan White
House. That mementos midterm election was on November 4th that year. Less
than two weeks later, this was the cover of "Time" magazine, "Reagan`s
secret dealings with Iran."

Reagan it turns out was selling missiles to the Iranians. Toe
missiles which are anti-tank missiles. Hawk missiles as well which are
surface-to-air missiles designed to blow up planes. Ronald Reagan shipped
over 1,000 missiles to Iran in the 1980s. Iran. Yes.

This is after the Iranian hostage crisis. This is in the middle of
kind of another Iranian hostage crisis. This is in the middle of the
Iran/Iraq war when we were supposedly siding with Iraq against Iran.

You cannot send missiles to Iran! There`s Arms Export Control Act
passed by Congress signed by the president. Actual in place U.S. law which
says you cannot send missiles to Iran, or any other kind of weapon.

But President Ronald Reagan did it anyway. And that was not only mind
blowing that a U.S. president would secretly do something like that. It
was also very plainly illegal. In the uncomplicated sense of their being a
law in place that says you cannot do that and he did it anyway, this was
not a subtle thing. The president was told he could do this blatantly
illegal thing by this man, Ronald Reagan`s Attorney General Ed Meese who
argued the resident`s inherent powers as commander in chief, that he could
violate any law he wanted to as long as it was related to national
security.

Not only could he violate any law, the president should consider
himself authorized to withhold any prior or contemporaneous notice to
Congress.

So, the president was free to sell missiles to Iran, free to do
anything he wanted as long as it was related to national security, no
matter the law. He not only did not have to get permission from Congress
or anything, he didn`t even have to tell Congress the stuff that he was
doing without telling them at any point.

This was some of the real radicalism of the Ronald Reagan era that we
are not supposed to remember now, now that we`re supposed to think of him
as a saint. But they called that very radical doctrine the unitary
executive theory.

So, you know, forget everything the Constitution says about there
being three co-equal branches of government -- the president and Congress
and judiciary all being equal, right? It`s the unitary executive. That
was the idea.

It is a fascinating idea. It has nothing to do with our Constitution
or our structure of government. It is fundamentally un-American and not at
all congruent with the way we are set up as a country, but still, in theory
fascinating and radical and it is what those guys believed.

And that is why Reagan secretly shipped missiles to Iran and why
Reagan did not tell congress until he already started invading Granada.
Whether or not you think the idea of invading the Isle of Spice was a good
idea, nobody`s opinion mattered except the president`s own opinion, and he
did that on his own as if the U.S. Army was his personal thing and not the
country`s.

That idea of a president being able to make war all on his own, being
totally unconstrained by any other part of the government or even by our
nation`s laws, we have mostly grown out of that as a country.

I mean, those guys are still around. You`ll recall that Dick Cheney
didn`t even want the Iraq war brought to Congress, either Iraq war. Dick
Cheney thought that either President Bush or any president, even not a
Bush, could invade or wherever, whenever they wanted just on their own say
so. So, yes, Dick Cheney is still alive, and some of those Reagan-era guys
are still around.

But to their chagrin, the Iraq wars did go before Congress and
Congress decided both times that should go.

Generally, when Congress considers matters like this, when they`re
asked to consider the use of military force, Congress can almost always be
counted on to say yes, but those debates in Congress were in public. They
were not just one man in the White House arguing with himself in the mirror
with Ed Meese whispering in his ear.

Those public debates about getting involved in wars or using force,
those are important moments both for accountability and for focusing the
country`s tension on what ought to be the gravest decisions that we make as
a country.

When you`re voting for Congress, when you`re voting for president,
when you`re voting for your senator, it ought to matter to you what that
representative of yours thinks about using force.

Congress is often craven. It is almost always partisan. It is even
occasionally just plain dumb or at least easily fooled.

But if there is ever a time to get political leaders an the record, as
to what they think the country`s course of action should be, it is in those
debates. And as recently as 2008, we picked a nominee for president who
eventually became a two-term president in part on the basis of how his
rivals for that nomination blew it. How they made the wrong call, the
wrong vote when it came time to weigh in on one of those wartime debates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was opposed to Iraq from
the start. I think what the next president has to show is the kind of
judgment that will ensure that we are using our military power wisely.

HILLARY CLINTON, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people now think
that this was a very clear open and shut case. We bombed them for days in
1998 because Saddam Hussein threw out inspectors. Knowing that he was a
megalomaniac, knowing he would not want to compete for attention with Osama
bin Laden, there were legitimate concerns about what he might do. So I
think I made a reason judgment.

OBAMA: The question is, can we make an argument that this was a
conceptually flawed mission from the start, and that we need better
judgment when we decide to send our young men and women into war, that we
are making absolutely certain that it is because there is an imminent
threat, and that is an argument that I think we are going to have an easier
time making if they can`t turn around and say, but hold on a second, you
supported this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You supported this, Mrs. Clinton.

By 2008, by the time the full scale of the Iraq war disaster was
clear, a central part of the argument that year for who ought to be the
next president of the United States was about who had good judgment about
that war. Who had been smart enough and far sided enough to know that war
was a bad idea. Had Hillary Clinton in the Senate voted against that war
instead of voting for that war, while Barack Obama then a state senator was
out in the street giving speeches against it at the same time, had she
voted no instead of yes, Hillary Clinton might have had a better chance at
winning the nomination for president. And you`ll remember that it was a
pretty darn close race between Obama and Clinton.

During that campaign, candidate Obama made it a central pillar of his
appeal, made it a central pillar of his national security and foreign
policy platform that the whole unitary executive idea was dead. Or that it
ought to be. He said, "The president does not have power under the
constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation
that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

So the president cannot do it alone. Yes. If the country is attacked
or we`re about to be attacked, in that precisely imminent situation, then
yes, the president by necessity will sometimes have to take action on his
own. Just by virtue of needing the speed to act that quickly.

But if we are not being attacked, then no, frankly, it`s pretty
simple. It has to go through congress.

That was how Barack Obama, the candidate, campaigned for president.
And that is where Barack Obama, the president, is, again, right now, at
least sort of.

After indications that he might go it alone, after assertions that he
could go it alone, President Obama on Saturday shocked everybody when he
announced this decision about how to respond to Syria`s alleged use of
chemical weapons against its own people, when he announced that that
decision about how to respond to it should be subject to debate by the
United States Congress. And now it is subject to debate by the United
States Congress.

Even though Congress is staying classy with a "K" and technically
staying on vacation until next week, the Foreign Relations Committee in the
Senate cut short. They held an hours-long contentious hearing, with the
secretary of state, and the chairman of the joint chiefs and the secretary
of defense there today, drawing out the arguments, cross examining the
witnesses, arguing with each her, making the case.

There were protesters. There were unexpected hugs between former
political rivals. There was shouting over one another.

The debate has been joined. The debate is on. And that is very
inconvenient for anyone who wants wars to be easy for a president to start
at will. It is supposed to be hard.

That is a feature, not a bug. There is a reason why the Constitution
put decisions about using military force in the hands of this unruly, slow-
acting body of hundreds of people elected from all across the country.

And it is the same reason why that Constitution endures, for centuries
now, and why guys like Ed Meese are laughed at and eventually forgotten by
history.

The debate is joined. That is good. That is as it is supposed to be.

Joining us now is Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He`s a member of
the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Cardin, thank you so much for
being with us tonight.

SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Rachel, it`s good to be with you.
Thank you.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about first of all the fact you are back in
Washington, you are back for this hearing and that this debate is happening
in the Senate at the president`s request. Are you happy with that?

CARDIN: Well, Rachel, you`re absolutely right. There`s no more
difficult decision for a member of Congress to make than to authorize the
use of military force. This is heart wrenching, in any circumstance. And
clearly that`s the case.

So, the debate we had today was meaningful. The resolution we will
take up tomorrow will restrict the president`s authority so that there are
no ground troops. It will be limited in time.

This hearing was an important hearing. The public debate is an
important part of the process. So, yes, I was pleased that we had this
hearing. I was pleased that we had the debate we had today, and there`s
clearly different views. But at the end of the day, I hope we can come
together as a nation and speak with one voice and make it clear that we
won`t tolerate the use of chemical weapons like President Assad used.

MADDOW: Senator Cardin, I know there will be a vote tomorrow. There
will be presumably then a vote in the full Senate soon enough. You were
described in press reports today as having been uncommitted, or at least an
unstated position on this heading into today`s hearing.

Have you, in fact, decided which way you will vote tomorrow in
committee?

CARDIN: Well, there`s one more hearing. The hearing tomorrow, which
is a closed hearing which I want to hear the military information and the
support we have among other countries. But it`s clear to me that the use
of military to stop this gross violation of human rights that we can`t
stand by and just say that President Assad can use chemical weapons and,
perhaps, even use other weapons of mass destruction.

So, I thought the administration made a strong case today. However, I
want to make sure it`s limited, it`s focused, that this mission can many
accomplished. I want to make sure that we`re not drawn into a broader
conflict. And I want to make sure that we have adequate support
internationally.

I think at the end of the day, the administration`s making the case,
but that`s exactly what was anticipated by our Founding Fathers to have
this type of debate when time permits in the United States Congress.

MADDOW: Senator, I feel like a lot of energy has been spent, and
there was a lot of excellent argument today in both directions about
whether or not the United States, even acting alone, has the responsibility
to essentially enforce and police this international norm against the use
of chemical weapons.

I feel like that argument has been well made and we`re well joined on
that argument. What I`m feeling is less convincing or maybe there`s just
less debate about it in the specific is whether or not U.S. military action
would actually stop Assad from using chemical weapons again, whether we
would stop him either directly, physically, or whether it would have any
sort of deterrent effect.

CARDIN: I thought that Secretary Kerry made a very strong point today
that the absence of action makes it much more likely that we will see
chemical weapons used, again, by President Assad. If no one stands up and
says that he can`t do that.

How effective the military mission can be to deter and degrade Syria`s
ability to use chemical weapons, we`re going to get into the specifics of
that tomorrow in a closed session, but the military says they have a plan
and we`re going to listen to that. But I think it`s a very valid issue for
us to listen and see exactly how effective they can be in such a mission.
Clearly doing nothing encourages more use of chemical weapons and, perhaps,
other weapons of mass destruction.

MADDOW: Senator, if Congress votes on this both in the House and the
Senate and in either House, the resolution is voted down and so the
president does not receive the authorization for the use of military force
that he is seeking.

Do you believe the president could or should proceed on his own with
that no from Congress at that point?

CARDIN: Let me first make it clear that the votes to either support
or not support this resolution, each member of Congress has to make their
own judgment. It`s a matter of conscience. It`s a matter of what we think
is in the best interest of the United States.

And this is a tough vote. Any vote, I said, to authorize force. The
president has certain inherent powers. I believe in the War Powers
resolution. I believe that he should work with Congress so that we speak
with one voice. So -- but the president has certain inherent powers as
commander-in-chief, and he can certainly exercise those powers.

However, I think it`s clear that by the passage of the War Powers Act,
Congress wants to be part of that decision-making process.

Rachel, I remember the debate we had on going into Iraq. I voted
against going into Iraq. There the justification was whether Iraq was
involved in the attack on our country on 9/11, and we were talking about
using ground troops.

Here, we`re talking about no ground troops and we`re talking about
preventing the use of chemical weapons. So, I think it`s a different
debate than we had in Iraq, because I know a lot of my constituents are
calling saying this is another Iraq. I don`t think that`s the case.

MADDOW: Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, thank you very much for your
time tonight, sir. We feel lucky to have you here after this big day and
another big day ahead tomorrow. Thank you, sir.

CARDIN: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you.

All right. Much more to report tonight on Syria, including on some of
the specifics from that big Senate hearing this afternoon where the case
for military action was actually made. So, we`ve got lots ahead on Syria.
This debate is just getting started.

It`s a big deal that the debate is happening at all, but the quality
of the debate thus far is heartening.

Also, we`ve got some news regarding voting in North Carolina, that you
might not expect. That`s coming up soon. Pushing back works, at least
sometimes.

Lots ahead tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: It is after Labor Day, and that means that even if you are
now an old person who has not been at school in a long time, it still feels
like back to school days, doesn`t it? I sometimes wonder if I`m going to
be like 80-something years old at some point and the beginning of September
is going to make me feel like I have to get my book bag in order.

But in North Carolina, students heading back to school were greeted
today with a big one one-finger salute from their new Republican governor
and their Republican-controlled state legislature. Used to be in North
Carolina that if you were 16 or 17 years old, you could fill in a form now
that would pre-register you for voting.

You couldn`t actually vote, of course, until you turn 18. But in
civics class or through student government, through this long-standing
popular used to be bipartisan supported citizenship education effort in
North Carolina, 16 and 17-year-olds could fill out their voter registration
form ahead of time. So when they turned 18, they were already registered
to vote and good to go.

Used to be. Not anymore. Welcome back to the school year, North
Carolina teenagers. Your Republican-controlled state government just
killed that program.

So, you can`t preregister to vote anymore. There were no reported
problems with the program. There was no reported abuse of the program or
fraud or anything. It was working just fine. So they killed it.

And if you are looking for a clear difference of how and why elections
matter, and what the differences between the two major American political
parties is right now, consider that in the same week the Republican-
controlled North Carolina government killed that program to encourage young
people in vote, in the same week, the Democratic-controlled government of
Colorado enacted that same program that North Carolina just killed.

File this for reference the next time you see Republicans scratching
their heads and wondering why they`re not attracting young people to their
party. It`s hard to tell people you want them to vote for you, while at
the same time you`re telling them you do not want them to vote. That said,
there was some very unexpected, very surprising news out of North Carolina
today. Some big pushback, some big backlash even against the Republican
rollback of voter rights in that state, including a really big and decisive
victory for somebody who you met on this show.

It is a dramatic story, and that is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: If you lose this case, it`s going to be a big deal.

MONTRAVIAS KING: It really is.

MADDOW: No pressure.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: It really is. Yes.

MADDOW: Do you think any chance you`re going to lose this case?

KING: I believe we`re going to win. I really do. I`m optimistic
that, you know, my attorneys have been working extremely, extremely hard,
and I`m very confident in them and their capabilities and confident in the
state board of elections.

I really am. I believe in state board of elections when they say,
hey, you know, this is the law. I mean, how can you get wrong in the law?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: We have big news tonight, big developments in North Carolina,
where we have been covering the most aggressive push against voting rights
anywhere in the country in a very long time.

All right. The news tonight begins here in the town of Boone, North
Carolina, which is home to Appalachian State -- there we go -- Appalachian
State University. Last year in the precincts in and around Appalachian
state they voted for Barack Obama 60-35. It was a bright blue part of a
very narrowly red county. For Republicans in North Carolina, the college
vote is a nuisance. It is maybe even a problem.

And so, when North Carolina Republicans got control this year of all
the boards of elections across the state, they used that control
immediately to do something about this pesky student voting by trying to
make sure there could be less of it. And they have not been subtle about
this.

Last month, the newly Republican board in Watauga County, out of
Appalachian State, they voted to roll all three of the Boone precincts into
one super precinct. North Carolina elections guidance say precincts should
have something like 1,500 people. The one they made in Boone would have
over 9,000 people in it.

One big precinct. Under the new plan, Appalachian State student
voters would cast their ballots not at the convenient polling place they`ve
long had on campus, the one they`re used to, but instead at a single
polling place down this long road with no sidewalk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOLLIE CLAWSON, ASU COLLEGE DEMOCRATS PRESIDENT: Got to be careful.
This right here, this median or shoulder, actually, I`m sorry, is the
sidewalk. There is no other place to walk, so it`s either this median, or
this shoulder or the tall grass. This is not a sidewalk at all.

And see here, we actually have to step on the road. My shoes I`m
wearing would not work with this at all. It`s really not in good
condition. It puts me very close to the road. And it`s pretty much just
not a good place to walk at all. I can currently put my feet forward and
that`s it. And it`s getting smaller as we go.

Yes, this is agricultural conference center right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

CLAWSON: And do note that if you look how small the parking lot is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.

CLAWSON: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So the local Republicans in Watauga president put this super-
precinct down this long road, a building with 30 parking places for 9,300
voters and most of parking places would been by the poll workers,
themselves, so leaves 10 parking spots for the 9,000-plus rest of you.
Good luck voting.

The Republican board also decided to end early voting at Appalachian
State, so there`d be no more voting at school period. Well, today was the
big day. Today the state board of elections met to consider what happened
in Watauga County.

With the hearing set f today, Republicans on the county board folded,
as reported in the "Watauga Democrat," the Republicans on the county board
folded at least on one part of their plan. They said they`re resending
their proposal for the 9,300 voter super precinct down that highway with no
side walk in the 30 parking spots.

The chair of the local Republican board today told the big state board
that they were dropping that idea. No need to keep talking about it,
please, can we let this go?

The state board did vote to stop the early voting at Appalachian
state. At least for the municipal elections in November, but they did also
say today that they`re open to bringing it back. So, for Appalachian
State, for Watauga County, no 9,000-person precinct and the no has been
walked back to a maybe on the on-campus early voting location.

But we`ve also been covering another story in North Carolina, with I
think even bigger implications. And we have a big surprising development
in that story as well. A couple of weeks ago, you will recall, we took
this show to Elizabeth City, North Carolina. We went there to cover the
story of this young man named Montravias King. Mr. King has been trying to
run for city council in Elizabeth City. He`s a student at Elizabeth City
State University, which is the local historically black college.

Over the last few years, the chairman of the local county Republican
Party has been challenging voters from that school. He got dozens of them
purged off the voter rolls in April. Then, last month, he challenged the
right of Montravias King to run for city council in Elizabeth City. He
told the Republican elections board that because Mr. King lived at school
he couldn`t be a real resident. Going to college there doesn`t count for a
living there.

And the real kicker is that the requirements for running for office
are the same as the requirements for voting. So, if college students in
North Carolina can be barred from running for office, can they also be
barred from voting? I mean, the Supreme Court decided in 1979 students
have the right to vote where they go to college. It`s clear as day.

But if Pasquotank County set this new precedent, would the precedent
hold throughout North Carolina? Is it about voting rights not just in that
county or North Carolina, but in other states, too? Is this how
Republicans are going to play now?

When we talked to Montravias King last month, he said he knew how much
was riding on his case. He had already lost before the Republican
controlled local board of elections. Now, he was going to have to try
again before the Republican controlled state board of elections.

Against my skepticism, he insisted he was going to win.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: I can tell that you have the appetite for the fight. I
cannot tell from talking to you whether you are just spinning me by saying
you think you`re going to win.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Oh.

MADDOW: Is that just like, oh, yeah, I`m confident? Really, do you
think, you`re going to win?

KING: I`m completely -- I absolutely optimistically sure I`m going to
win.

MADDOW: Everything is against you. The local board, the local board
is against you. The state board is Republican-controlled. Appointed by
the governor who just rolled back voting rights further than any other
state in the country since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
Everything`s stacked against you and you`re like, I`m going to win.

KING: Oh, yes. I`m completely sure. I`m completely sure. And not
only do I know that the students are behind me and support me, but I
believe that a large number of people in the fourth ward are going to vote
for me. I`m really sure about that.

MADDOW: You are a man of great optimism.

KING: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Man, the deck is really stacked against you and there`s
Montravias King, man of great optimism. Today the state board of elections
heard his case. They heard Montravias King`s appeal.

At that hearing, the same local Republican chairman told the board
that Mr. King had provided only papers from a check cashing place. Not a
regular bank account. He told them Mr. King only had a part-time job. He
said Mr. King could not be a real resident.

The board considering that challenge has three Republican members and
two Democrats and sat through the testimony, not all of it looking good for
Montravias King, and then they voted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I hear a motion to reverse the order of the
August 20th, 2013, the Pasquotank board of elections and allow Mr. King to
run for office?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I make -- I make that as a formal motion, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a second?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those in favor say aye?

BOARD: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those opposed. Unanimous decision.

Mr. King, good luck with your race.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Good luck with your race, Montravias King, regardless of how
your bid for city council turns out, you won the race you really had to win
for voting rights for you and for voting rights in all of North Carolina
and maybe for voting rights in a really big way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Watching the television screen with
the announcement that any minute the president would make a statement, and
I turned to him and said I bet the missiles were launched and shot off
hours ago and we`ll hear about it now. And to my surprise, of course, the
president came forward and said, I have that authority, I`ve made that
decision, but I`m going to respect our constitutional democracy and give
the Congress, that is the American people through Congress, a voice in this
decision.

From where I was standing, that was good news, because for as long as
I`ve been in Congress, House and Senate, I`ve argued about that
congressional responsibility. Some presidents have respected it. Some
have not.

Most of the time, Congress, in writing or in speeches, insists on
being respected and being given this authority and then starts shaking when
it`s given. Because it calls on us to be part of historic life and death
decisions. It`s one of the toughest calls we`ll ever make as members of
Congress, but I salute the president for respecting the Constitution and
giving us that responsibility.

I think the turnout today on short notice in the midst of a break on
this committee, Mr. Chairman and ranking member, is an indication that
we`re taking this seriously and solemnly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Senator Dick Durbin speaking today. Congress is not supposed
to be in session right now, but there they were today, some of them at
least, back in the capitol. On Saturday, President Obama called on
Congress to hold hearings on a potential military strike in Syria. And
just like that, there they were, vacation over. There are 18 members on
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Today, every one of them showed up for this hearing. That was the
first step in the congress debating this military action.

Committee hearings almost always have at least a few empty seats but
not this one. Not today, 100 percent attendance. But check this out.

Not only did every senator on the committee show up, so did a couple
of senators who are not on the committee. West Virginia Senator Joe
Manchin, a conservative Democrat, he was there today. He is not on the
committee. He did not have to be there, but he attended anyway. He just
sat in the room off the dais, watching the proceedings as an observer. An
observer who felt it was important enough to be there to hear from the
secretaries of defense and state and the chairman of the joint chiefs.

Also here`s another one. I know he`s hard to see in this picture so
we added the arrow. But I promise you at the end of that arrow, that is
Maine Senator Angus King, the independent. He was sitting behind the other
senators, he`s sitting where committee staff usually sit.

But he was also there to observe the proceedings today. He`s not a
committee member. He is just a senator who felt he needed to be there to
be present to hear the arguments.

Today, Congress held its very first hearing on whether or not to
authorize military action in Syria. Usually, Congress does everything
possible to earn its terrible 9 percent approval rating, but not today.

If you`re cynical about Washington`s ability to do its job, that is
well-earned cynicism over time, but not today.

Joining us now is NBC News political reporter and producer, Kasie
Hunt, who was at the hearing today.

Kasie, thanks very much for being with us.

KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: Thanks for having me,
Rachel.

MADDOW: In terms of the atmospherics and progress of today`s hearing,
can you just describe the scene in the committee room today? Did it feel
like a different event than Congress as usual?

HUNT: It felt like a moment, without question, and there was sort of
a historical element to it. People were recalling when Kerry, himself,
testified years ago against the Vietnam War before Congress and he, in
fact, referenced that himself when a protester yelled out, interrupted the
proceedings and was escorted from the room.

There`s definitely a weighty sense up on Capitol Hill over the course
of the past few days. I`ve actually been up there. I was there on Sunday
after they received their classified briefing and members were coming out
with a great deal of skepticism initially. It`s pretty clear now that
they`re coming to some sort of agreement. That`s the committee on the --
the Foreign Relations Committee actually reached bipartisan agreement, as
you say, further evidence of them actually working together, getting along,
moving forward. They released it tonight.

It`s more limited than what the White House had initially proposed
over the weekend. It prohibits combat operations and it only lasts for 60
days. The president can ask for another 30-day extension if he wants to.
But this was really a record turnaround time for something like this. You
saw Menendez and Corker start negotiations almost immediately.

A lot of times when we`re dealing with big issues on Capitol Hill, it
takes a long time for coalitions to form. You remember immigration, health
care. All of these gangs. The gangs don`t usually come together until the
game is pretty far down the field already.

This happened overnight pretty much as far as Congress goes.

MADDOW: The president has said that he is open to Congress changing
up the language, the proposed draft for the authorization for use of
military force. He says that would not be a game changer. Obviously the
historical precedent here is that when Congress is asked to authorize
military force, they almost always say yes.

Has there been any discussion of whether the president would act to
take action against Syria even if Congress said no and how Congress might
react to that?

HUNT: That was a point of some contention at the hearing today
actually. Senator Rand Paul in particular said, challenged Secretary of
State John Kerry essentially saying is this all a show? Are you just sort
of pretending that this actually matters when, in fact, you`ve already made
up your mind to strike no matter what? And Paul tried to get John Kerry to
answer a question of whether or not the president would still have the
power to strike in the event Congress says no considering the Constitution
declares that the Congress has the power to declare war.

And Kerry said pretty definitively even if Congress votes this down,
the president still has the constitutional authority to strike. There`s no
question, though, that were a Congress voted down and Obama to proceed
anyway, it would be an extraordinarily difficult moment.

But I would say over the course of the last 12 or so hours, you`ve
heard senators moving in the direction starting to absorb the
administration`s argument that doing nothing really would put the
credibility of the United States on the line. So, I think that there are
some key voices that are starting to come around. You saw major Jewish
groups today come out and say that they want to support the president which
could be a key factor up on the Hill.

You also saw both Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner in the House coming
out and saying that they support strikes and it`s really very rare that a
vote has not -- that`s had support from both of those leaders has not
ultimately gone through the house. The bailout vote, the TARP vote, is one
exception to that, the first TARP vote. But otherwise the precedents here
sort of across the board point to this going through.

Now, whether or not they can negotiate still rocky waters between now
and next week remains to be seen.

MADDOW: NBC News political reporter and producer Kasie Hunt on day
one of the debate that I`m looking forward to every day of -- Kasie, thank
you so much. Appreciate it.

HUNT: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. Some news from Virginia today. And also from the
dystopian fake future in which a recent election went the other way. Hold
on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Here`s the pile of lute we`ve already known about so far.
This is what we know Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his family have
taken so far, all from one guy, a $15,000 catered chicken dinner, $6,500
Rolex watch, a $10,000 Oscar de la Renta suede jacket, a Louis Vuitton hand
bag, two pairs of designer shoes, a designer dress, a lake front home
vacation, thousands of dollars in trips on a private jet, a loan of the
CEO`s $190,000 the white Ferrari, woo! A check for $50,000 made out to a
corporate entity owned by the governor and his sister. Another check for
$20,000 to the same deal. A check for another $50,000 made out to the
governor`s wife and check for $10,000 made out to one of the governor`s
daughters -- all from one guy.

And now, apparently, because that is not enough stuff and because this
story never ends, there`s now more to add to the pile. There`s also a trip
paid for, for the governor`s daughter and a friend to fly to Florida for a
vacation last Labor Day weekend. Also that same last Labor Day weekend,
private airfare and five-night stay for the governor and his wife at this
lovely spot, a swanky hotel in Chatham on Cape Cod.

And no, wait, there`s more. Also now, a reported $7,000 worth of golf
equipment and golf games, what "The Washington Post" describes as elite
Richmond area country clubs. Those were enjoyed by the governor and his
twin sons and even some of the governor`s staff.

And the reason we know about at least the golf and Cape Cod trip is
because the Virginia businessman who gave all these things to Bob McDonnell
and his family, he expensed the golf thing and the Cape Cod thing with his
company. He got reimbursed by his company for the gifts he bought for the
governor and his family, and the company paid reimbursement for those
things because they were business expenses. They were expenses for which
the benefit was expected to redound to that company.

And that is kind of the whole point here. They knew what they were
paying for.

I didn`t know it goes like this in federal corruption investigations,
but apparently, if you are the subject of a federal bribery investigation,
a corruption investigation as a public official, you and your lawyers get
to go meet with the prosecutors to try to talk them out of charging you. I
didn`t know that`s the way it goes. But Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell`s
lawyers and his wife`s lawyers, separate groups, they have already met with
federal prosecutors to try to talk the governor`s way out of jail, to try
to convince prosecutors not to charge them under the federal law that says
you can`t trade public actions as a public official for personal gifts,
cash or otherwise.

Sources tell "The Washington Post" that in that meeting with the
prosecutors, Governor McDonnell`s big defense was ignorance. So, yes, as
governor, he may have taken actions to help that company, and yes, he and
his family may have taken a lot of personal gifts from that company, but --
big but -- he didn`t know about the gifts when he was doing the helping.

That was the case that the governor made. That was the way the
governor threw his wife under the bus incidentally, saying, yes, maybe, she
too some of those gifts and she knew about them but the governor did not.
That has been the defense, but that defense is now going all pear-shaped,
thanks to this latest reporting from "Washington Post" about all the new
gifts that we did not know about before, and about the governor personally
being there to witness his wife receiving some of the games. That $15,000
fashion shopping spree to New York that the governor has steadfastly
avoided taking any responsibility for, that was a gift accepted by his
family from this company.

It turns out that the governor was there in the room, in front of a
crowd of other people, when that gift was arranged and publicly offered to
his wife, according to "The Washington Post."

So, if he was there in that room for that, claiming ignorance and
blaming the wife are both getting to be a little bit harder, and this whole
thing is getting harder for Governor Bob McDonnell who has still not
resigned, but who now apparently gets the pleasure of going back for a
second round of begging and pleading with federal prosecutors to please not
indict him before he leaves office.

"The Washington Post" reporting that prosecutors have now asked the
governors and first ladies attorneys to return for a second round of
discussions, no later than the week of September 15th. Prosecutors could
decide whether to file charges after those meetings.

Interesting though, if they meet as last as September 15th, that alone
will be like six weeks away from the November elections, at which Virginia
voters are supposed to pick the successor to Bob McDonnell. Everybody
keeps say the prosecutors don`t want to make any move to close to the
election because they don`t want to affect the election one way or the
other. But these two dramas of Bob McDonnell`s public, slow motion, never
ending implosion and the race to succeed him in Virginia, at least just on
the calendar, these two things are starting to converge.

Watch this space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Thought experiment -- how many wars do you think we would
have been over the last five years if John McCain had been elected in 2008
instead of Barack Obama? I mean, talk about elections have consequences,
right?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That old Beach Boy song, "Bomb Iran",
you know? Bomb, bomb, bomb -- anyway --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Anyway, when he was in the middle of his presidential
campaign, Senator McCain sang the "Bomb Iran" song. That turned out to
campaign trail part of the long-standing John McCain effort to get
President Obama to intervene more in Iran, what could possibly go wrong?

Senator John McCain has also been on the war path for Georgia. When
Georgia fought its war in 2008 with Russia. So, Georgia was in a war with
Russia, John McCain wanted us to get involved in that war, as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: The small nation of Georgia has been subject to Russian
attacks that threatens its existence. I know I speak for every American
when I say to him, today, we are all Georgians.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Can we you put the map up, what could have been John McCain
wars? So, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran, on their side, Russia, oh wait, there is
more, there is the war in Libya, even though John McCain is not president.
But if Mr. John McCain had his way, it would have been the United States
doing that whole thing on his own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: If it is our policy that Moammar Gadhafi must go, then it
seems that some action must be taken. They are not a formidable force. We
are the strongest nation in the world. We should be able to take care of
their defenses as well as their air assets without too much difficulty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Shouldn`t be too much difficulty.

So John McCain wars in Georgia, Russia, Libya.

Anywhere else senator, could have been President John McCain?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Some U.S. forces, approximately 20,000 should remain for a
period of time to help the Iraqis secure the hard-earned gains that we had
made together.

I would be very reluctant to reduce the surge troops capabilities,
support troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Under a President John McCain we would have been in two wars,
in Iran, in Georgia against Russia, in Libya we still would be in Iraq, we
would not have left Iraq, and we would not be planning on leaving
Afghanistan. That`s right. He said he was against ending the surge and
reducing the troop numbers.

And now, of course, Senator McCain gets another chance in front of the
cameras, where we all pretend to wonder, as if there`s any suspense, what
he thinks the right course of action might be in yet another country. It
would be a catastrophe if Congress votes no, he said, and also that he
might vote no if the president`s military action is not big enough.

It is all war, more war, for Senator John McCain or he would cast a
vote that he says would be catastrophic for the country, go to war in Syria
or the country gets it.

John McCain ran for president in 2008 under the theme "Country First."
He lost that election, he lost that election, he lost. And so we do not
live in the world he would create if he ever had a chance to. Oh, my God,
do elections have consequences.

I wonder how Vice President Sarah Palin would be contributing to the
debate.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night.

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

Thanks.

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

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