'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, September 9th, 2013
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
September 9, 2013
Guests: Tommy Vietor, Barbara Lee
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, man. Turning 5 in TV is kind of like
turning 100 in people years, so --
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: Oh, it`s 500, are you kidding?
MADDOW: Yes. Thank you, man. I really appreciate it.
Which is a nice way of sort of saying that I feel old. But anyway,
here we go.
Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. This is
our five-year anniversary, and we are pretty happy to be here, got to say.
All right, these are the countries in the world that have nuclear
weapons. When United States and Russia set off the first atomic tests in
the 1940s, a lot of people thought over subsequent decades, every country
in the world would get nuclear weapons, but the international community
took steps to try to make it hard to become a nuclear weapons country, to
try to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. And so, now, 70-something
years into the existence of atomic weapons on earth, yes, this is a scarily
long list of countries that have nuclear weapons, but this is a much
shorter list than most people thought it would be by now.
I should note here that Israel is on the list because everybody knows
that Israel has nuclear weapons, even though Israel does not technically
admit that they have them. North Korea is also sort of only technically on
the list because, yes, North Korea kept setting off nuclear tests, but
whether or not they have a deployable nuclear weapon is a little bit harder
to figure out.
The question, though, overall of which country on this list causes the
most international agita is probably a toss-up between North Korea and
Pakistan. North Korea causes agita just because it is so crazy and
unpredictable. Pakistan causes agita for a number of reasons. Pakistan
has been very unstable over the years.
It has been a hotbed of radicalism. It is where we found Osama bin
Laden, after all. Nuclear Pakistan is in this longstanding, very touchy,
hair-trigger conflict with its neighbor, India, which also has nuclear
weapons, right? All of these reasons to be concerned.
The part of the reason that people get concerned about Pakistan having
nuclear weapons is because of this guy. Part of the reason Pakistan`s
nuclear weapons program freaks everybody out more than all of the other
nuclear programs in the world is because this man, this Pakistani nuclear
scientist took it upon himself to not only steal material and expertise
that led his own country to become a nuclear state, he also decided to sell
that material and knowledge and expertise around the world to the highest
bidder, no matter who it was.
And so, when rogue countries around the world have aspired to become
nuclear weapons countries or have started down that road, more often than
not, it has been because this guy helped them do it! His name is A.Q.
Khan, and one of A.Q. Khan`s most profitable success stories was the nation
of Libya. Thanks to A.Q. Khan being willing to sell nuclear equipment and
know-how on the black market, Libya under crazy Moammar Gadhafi, Libya
started to put together an illegal, secret nuclear weapons program in the
They had thousands of centrifuges, they had uranium, they had the
blueprints for a bomb. But when Libya started to fall apart a couple of
years ago when there was the Arab spring rebellion in Libya and the rebels
were going to topple Gadhafi and there was eventually the big international
military action that did topple Gadhafi and all of the chaos therein and
thereafter, do you remember how there were no worries about Libya`s nukes?
There were no worries about highly enriched uranium and what was going
to happen to Libya`s nuclear weapons program and their centrifuges and
everything. The reason in the middle of all that, the one thing we didn`t
have to worry about was Libya`s nukes is because although they had had a
nuclear weapons program for decades, which was fairly sophisticated, which
is everything they needed, Libya gave that program up. Libya gave up their
nuclear weapons program 10 years ago.
At the end of 2003, Moammar Gadhafi made a deal with the West. He
said he wanted to come in from the cold. He said he didn`t want to be
considered a state sponsor of terror anymore, he wanted to be taken off
that list, so Western companies could do business in Libya.
And in exchange for that, he let U.N. inspectors and British and
American inspectors come in to Libya to see his weapons facilities. He
allowed them to not only inspect those facilities but to take away his
highly enriched uranium and his centrifuges and his nuclear bomb parts and
blueprints. He gave up his entire nuclear program.
The United States went into Libya in 2003, picked up Gadhafi`s nuclear
program, put it on planes and took it to Tennessee. It is right now at the
Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee. And it was not just his nuclear
program. It was also his other programs for weapons of mass destruction.
Forever, Libya had resisted signing on to the international protocol
that bans the use and stockpiling and manufacturing of chemical weapons.
Gadhafi had 23 tons of mustard gas stockpiled in Libya. But as part of
this deal 10 years ago, Gadhafi said he would abide by the international
chemical weapons convention, he would give those weapons up, he would allow
them to be handed over to the international community and destroyed. That
happened in late 2003.
The George W. Bush years basically had no diplomatic victories at all
except for this one. But it happened. And eventually, there was a
revolution in Libya and Gadhafi was overthrown, Gadhafi was killed, and
Libya today is still chaotic and nobody quite knows how things will end up
in that country, but they gave up their nuclear weapons program, and they
gave up their chemical weapons. They handed them over to the U.N. for
And that was a rare thing and that was amazing. And maybe that is
about to happen again? Maybe.
And if it seems today like nobody is quite sure about whether
something like this really could happen again for the first time in 10
years, for the first time since Libya did it in 2003, if people seem a
little unsure about this today, it is because the idea was born and came to
fruition all in one day today, and nobody saw it coming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Syria`s foreign minister said today that
Syria would consider placing international inspections around its chemical
arsenal. Do you believe it? Are you skeptical? Do you think it might be
a stalling tactic?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think you have
to take it with a grain of salt initially, but between the statements that
we saw from the Russians, the statement today from the Syrians, this
represents a potentially positive development. We are going to run this to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There`s President Obama speaking tonight with Savannah
Guthrie of NBC News, one of six interviews the president did today with
major TV networks ahead of a personal presidential lobbying effort
scheduled for Capitol Hill tomorrow afternoon, also a major address to the
nation scheduled from the White House tomorrow night.
On the eve of that address, in the middle of this intense debate here
about whether the U.S. should use military force in Syria, in response to
Syria`s alleged use of chemical weapons, there was what seems to be a huge
and totally unexpected breakthrough today. This is a huge deal, if this
pans out. It started this morning in London, when Secretary of State John
Kerry made what seemed like a frustrated, off-the-cuff, even dismissive
remark about how, hypothetically, Syria might be able to convince the
United States to not hit them with cruise missiles.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CBS REPORTER: Is there anything at this point that his government
could do or offer that would stop an attack?
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Sure, he could turn over every single
bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next
week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total
accounting for that. But he isn`t about to do it and it can`t be done,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Or maybe it could be done. After John Kerry said that early
today in London, things moved very quickly today and very far ahead of
where they had been just hours before. Even as the State Department today
was still trying to explain that Secretary Kerry wasn`t really formally
proposing that when he said it, he was just speaking rhetorically about
something that everybody assumed could never happen.
Even as they were still explaining that today, first Russia and then
Syria weighed in to say, actually, we don`t care if he didn`t really mean
it. That really could happen. And thus was born a whole new way out of
this that nobody knew was coming.
Between what we have had so far, which is no international response to
the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria and what the United States has
been proposing, which is a U.S. military strike on Syria, maybe as of today
there is a credible, possible third way forward, which is not about us
bombing and is not about the world doing nothing, but which is specifically
about Syria`s chemical weapons, specifically about the specific problem.
It`s specifically about Syria turning those weapons over, as John Kerry
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Russia, perhaps seeking a way out, chose to take him
Only three hours later in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said,
"If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons makes
it possible to avoid strikes, then we will immediately get to work with
Syria`s foreign minister also in Moscow said his government welcomes
the Russian initiative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is amazing. If anybody told you this was going to
happen in advance, you wouldn`t have believed them. But that`s how this
went today. John Kerry says, listen, the only way out of this is if Syria
hands over its chemical weapons stockpiles right away, how likely is that
to happen? That`s not going to happen.
And Russia says, really? Well, turns out, we can get Syria to hand
over their chemical weapons stockpiles. And Syria responds to that by
saying we agree with Russia. Yes, we can do that. This is an amazing turn
Then, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon weighs in and says, hey,
don`t just hand over your chemical weapons, destroy them. Have them handed
over to the international control so they can be destroyed.
And the Russians say they agree with that. Quote, "And we call on the
Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage
sites under international control, but also to their subsequent
So, Russia said yes, their chemical weapons ought to be handed over
and destroyed. And so far, Syria says, yes, they`re going to go along with
it. They are being described as publicly welcoming the Russian proposal.
So, ta-da? Maybe? I mean, again, this is all moving very fast, but
even without knowing whether John Kerry meant to start what he seems to
have started, he does seem to have started something.
And you can feel the debate changing now as the United States
government that thought it was making the case for acts of American war
against Syria now starts to change tack, realizing that there might be
another, maybe even more direct way out of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: If the regime immediately
surrendered its stockpiles to international control, as was suggested by
Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step. But
this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was
at the White House for an unrelated event today when she made those remarks
on Syria. That was roughly midday today. And that was supposed to be just
one high-profile component of this huge full court press today by the
administration, including the national security adviser, Susan Rice,
speaking on this today, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power,
speaking about this today.
But as events changed and moved so fast over the course of the day
today, over the course of just a few hours, you had Hillary Clinton and
then President Obama himself in the stacked network interviews tonight
having to take account of this whole new idea, this potential light at the
end of the tunnel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUTHRIE: But does it feel like a ploy?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I think what we`re seeing is that a credible
threat of a military strike from the United States supported potentially by
a number of other countries around the world has given them pause and makes
them consider whether or not they would make this move. And if they do,
then this could potentially be a significant breakthrough. But we have to
be skeptical because this is not how we`ve seen them operate over the last
couple of years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama expressing that skepticism tonight based on
how Syria has behaved in the past around this issue. And he is right that
Syria has been super sketchy on this issue in the past.
As recently as yesterday, the Syrian president was still neither
confirming nor denying that his country even has chemical weapons. But
that was yesterday!
And today, they have moved past neither confirming nor denying it to
at least seeming to agree to a Russian proposal to hand over their chemical
weapons to international inspectors to have them destroyed by the
international community. And apparently, even, maybe, to sign on to the
chemical weapons convention, which has not had a new signatory since 10
years ago when Libya agreed to start complying with it, in an equally
unexpected move. What a difference day makes.
Man, I would love to talk to somebody from the White House about this,
wouldn`t you? That, of course, will never happen.
But, you know, the advantage of talking to people who were once at the
White House but are no longer there is that sometimes those people can tell
you even more of what they really think is going on now that they are free
of their White House shackles.
Joining us now is just such a man, Tommy Vietor. He served as
national security spokesman in the Obama administration.
Tommy, Mr. Vietor, thanks very much for being here tonight.
TOMMY VIETOR, NATIONAL SECURITY SPOKESMAN: Yes, shackle-free.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly. Well done.
Let me ask you, just from your experience in the White House but also
from your experience just in national security, do you see this as a
breakthrough? And if it is a breakthrough, does it matter if it`s
VIETOR: It doesn`t matter if it`s accidental. I am very skeptical
that it`s a break-through, but as you said -- I mean, the great thing about
this proposal is that the most durable efforts to disarm a country with
nuclear weapons had been when they voluntarily give them up. Efforts to
bomb them or, you know, sanction them out of these weapons have been more
difficult to make durable over time.
So, I think this is, you know, would be great, actually, in fact,
would be better than a military strike, because if this C.W. were shipped
out of the country, it would take that option out of his hands permanently,
rather than degrade the capability to use it.
MADDOW: Is there anything you can see the United States doing to make
this more likely to be true? I mean, I agree with you that just in terms
of tactics, this is a better way to solve the chemical weapons problem than
shooting cruise missiles into Syria that won`t materially affect
necessarily their ability to use them in the future. If they get rid of
them, this would be a better way to address that problem.
What can the United States do to make that more likely to happen?
VIETOR: I think ironically, the Congress needs to authorize the use
of military force, because this only happened today because, as the
president said, there is a credible military threat on the table. This is
classic diplomacy. You back up a diplomatic entree with a military threat
to force a bad actor to move.
MADDOW: How`s the administration and its surrogates who are making
the case -- do you think -- do you think they have made a convincing case
that there could be a blow hit against the Syrian regime on chemical
weapons by using a military strike? I mean, I think they -- I think you`re
right that they have persuaded the world that they are ready to shoot
cruise missiles at Syria even if the Congress says no, and maybe that is
what`s pushed is diplomatic breakthrough forward.
Do you think they have really made the case that hitting Syria with
cruise missiles would have any effect on chemical weapons use in the
VIETOR: I think they have began -- they have begun to make this case
over the weekend. As the intelligence came in, I think they made it even
more strongly than they did in those initial days. I think that there is a
very real impact on his military if you`re landing 300 cruise missiles on
runways or helicopters or airplanes or command and control sites. That
truly does degrade his ability to use these weapons. It also should serve
as a very strong deterrent to Assad.
Now, I think they`ve also tried to be un-Bush-like in saying that
there are unintended consequences to any military action. We do not know
what those will be, but we know that the unintended consequences of doing
nothing is likely to be that Assad does this again and continues to use
poison gas on children sleeping in the night, and that`s unacceptable.
MADDOW: Tommy, if the United States congress does authorize the use
of military force, or if, indeed, the administration keeps insisting that
they might wage that kind of strike, regardless of what Congress does, do
you think that precludes in the short term doing something that is truly
international, something that maybe even conceivably involves the U.N.
Security Council on this proposal?
MADDOW: Is there a way to hold that off in the distance while still
in the immediate terms trying to work with Russia on what they`re proposing
VIETOR: No, I think you need two tracks. You get that military
authorization so you have a real hammer to hold over Assad and that frees
you to up to pursue potentially something at the U.N. or a bilateral
agreement with the Russians and the Syrians.
I mean, I think that credible threat is what the president needs to
make the Syrians understand that their buddies at the U.N. Security
Council, the Russians and Chinese cannot protect them anymore. Those days
are over. When you gas 400 children in their sleep, when you basically
torture them to death with a chemical, you no longer get a free pass.
MADDOW: Tommy Vietor, former National Security Council spokesman for
the Obama administration -- Tommy, thanks for your time tonight. It`s nice
to see you.
VIETOR: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
All right. There are some politicians who have taken this moment of
crisis, this important decision moment on Syria to have a real honest and
thorough and painful debate about what to do. That group does not include
the most vocal wing of the Republican Party, and that story is ahead.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Every time chemical weapons
are moved, unloaded and used on the battlefield, it raises the likelihood
that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists active in Syria,
including Assad`s ally Hezbollah and al Qaeda affiliates. That prospect
puts Americans at risk of chemical attacks targeted at our soldiers and
diplomats in the region and even, potentially, our citizens at home.
AMB. SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: President Obama
does not want to get involved in this conflict. He wants to degrade
Assad`s capability of using this weapon and affect his cost-benefit
calculus, because he will use again and again and again. And it`s only a
matter of time before these weapons will fall into the hands of non-state
actors, again, imperiling some of our closest allies in the region but also
in the long term hurting the United States.
GUTHRIE: I know you`ve been asked this, and I`ll just try to pin you
down a little bit. If this resolution fails in Congress, would you act
without Congress? The answer could be yes, no or I haven`t decided.
OBAMA: Yes, I think it`s fair to say that I haven`t decided. I am
taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very
If you ask somebody, if you ask Michelle, do we -- do we want to be
involved in another war, the answer`s no. People are wary about it,
understandably. They have seen the consequences of this last decade.
So, I recognize how important that debate is, and it`s my belief that
for me, the president, to act without consensus in a situation where
there`s not a direct, imminent threat to the homeland or interests around
the world, that that`s not the kind of precedent that I want to set. And
I`ll evaluate after that whether or not we feel strongly enough about this
that we`re willing to move forward.
GUTHRIE: And you`re confident you`re going to get the votes?
OBAMA: You know, I wouldn`t say I`m confident. I`m confident that
members of Congress are taking this issue very seriously and they`re doing
their homework, and I appreciate that.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: President Obama speaking with NBC`s Savannah Guthrie tonight.
Part of a major messaging effort by the administration today and
tonight on Syria, you saw the president`s national security adviser, Susan
Rice. You saw the U.N. ambassador, Samantha power speaking there as well,
making the case about chemical weapons in particular, how alleged chemical
weapons use is a qualitatively different matter for the United States than
anything else that has been going on in Syria`s horrible civil war.
The president for his part tonight, you heard Savannah there ask him
about the congressional vote on using military force in Syria, the
president saying, "I would not say that I am confident about that vote."
Things are moving so fast now. Things moved on this so fast today
that you actually have to note that that interview was done before the
Senate postponed its vote. The Senate tonight decided to postpone its
vote. They had been due to vote on the Syria issue Wednesday. That plan
changed today after all the options on the table seemed to change.
Now that Russia and Syria have unexpectedly pounced on John Kerry`s
remark that Syria might avoid a U.S. military strike by handing over and
destroying all its chemical weapons, now that that possibility is out there
and Russia and Syria are making positive notions about that, the Senate is
delaying its vote to see what happens next. And that means that all of the
speculation about what happens in our Congress on this issue and what
happens between our Congress and our president on this issue, that all now
gets put on hold and potentially gets reset.
And here, this is the important part, here is maybe how it gets reset.
On Thursday last week, this did not get that much attention at the time,
but on Thursday last week, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Democratic
senator, said he would vote no on the Syria authorization that the Senate
was considering, but he said he had a different idea for what he would
support. Joe Manchin said, if the real problem is chemical weapons and the
real problem is Syria being an outlaw nation when it comes to chemical
weapons, well, why don`t we tell the Syrians that, yes, we will use
military force against them unless they stop being a chemical weapons
Let`s be specific. Let`s use all our threats at leverage, not to say
we disapprove of something they`ve already done but instead to force Syria
to get better on this issue. Senator Manchin`s proposal was that we use
all of our powers of threat and persuasion to persuade Syria to sign on to
the international ban on chemical weapons that Syria has never signed
And now today, Syria says it just might sign on to the international
ban on chemical weapons that it has never signed before. Syria`s best
friend, Russia, saying that, in fact, Syria will sign on to that ban, and
Syria will allow the international community to take all of its chemical
weapons and destroy them. And Syria seems to be going along with what
Russia says here. And that is why everything changed today in Washington,
and that is why the Senate has delayed its vote and the U.S. government and
the president say now that the only reason this progress was made is
because of a threat of U.S. military force seeming real in this case.
And they`re saying that is what Russia and Syria responded to. And if
it is up to the guy who I guess saw this coming, then the Senator Joe
Manchin path out of here, the way forward is that the U.S. and the Senate
and the president should change tact to reflect this progress today. Say
yes to this offer from Syria and Russia, say yes to this offer from Syria
to come in from the cold and hand over their chemical weapons, lead the
world in universal approval of that move, see to it that it happens and
save the prospect of the use of force for if they don`t follow through.
If the world-riveting problem, if the problem the U.S. cannot ignore
is chemical weapons, then what happened today should be and will be seized
on as a way to fix that problem, not symbolically but actually, and not
alone, but in concert with a unified international community. That was not
possible before today, and all of a sudden, that is the thing that is at
hand. Opportunities like this do not come along very often, but the world
will hang on the words of President Obama in his White House speech
tomorrow to see if and how he seizes this opportunity that has come his
This is a big deal. Watch this space.
MADDOW: Allow me to introduce you to United States Congresswoman
Michele Bachmann, who`s a member of the United States Congress from the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: My name is Michele Bachmann.
I`m a member of the United States Congress from the United States of
America. I want to assure the people of Egypt that I as a member of
Congress will stand strong in support of continuing military support for --
United States support financially to stand for the military in Egypt.
We`ve seen the threat that the Muslim Brotherhood has posed around the
world. We stand against this great evil. We are not for them. We
remember who caused 9/11 in America. We remember who it was that killed
3,000 brave Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No, you don`t remember, because the Muslim Brotherhood is
actually a thing. It`s not just a term for guys who are Muslims who maybe
have siblings. Muslim Brotherhood`s a thing in Egypt, a real thing, and
members of the United States Congress, from the United States of America,
going to Egypt and telling Egypt that as members of the U.S. Congress, you
think that it was the Muslim Brotherhood that did 9/11? Oh, excuse me,
911? That`s amazing, but that happened in Egypt.
Republicans Michele Bachmann, Steve King and Louie Gohmert, "A," have
passports, and "B," used them this weekend to go to Egypt to praise the
military coup there and to tell the Egyptian people that the Muslim
Brotherhood did 9/11.
Congressman Gohmert told the Egyptian generals that when he looks at
them, he thinks of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.
One political scientist who studies Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood
in particular told "The New York Times" about this trip today that, quote,
"Mr. Gohmert and Mr. King and Ms. Bachmann`s visit to Egypt was, quote,
`like a `Saturday Night Live` skit, unbelievable, ludicrous, almost comic
if it wasn`t so painful`."
At times, when war`s on the doorstep, when Congress is asked to make
decisions about war and peace, it`s a rise to the occasion kind of moment.
Congress may be terrible on everything else, they may be unable to resist
even the most petty distractions on everything else. But on war and peace,
we need there to be debate, we need the debate to be a good debate. We
expect that Congress will take that job seriously, even if they can`t take
anything else seriously.
We expect that even the most vehement partisan opposition will be
loyal opposition for the purpose of these hard, somber decisions about war
and peace. We expect that we ought to be able to expect that. But there`s
the Michele Bachmann flying circus in Cairo saying the Muslim Brotherhood
There is New York Congressman Michael Grimm going for the cash
solution. Congressman Grimm a week ago said he supported the president on
a military strike against Syria. That was a week ago.
Now, he`s fund-raising on this. Will you stand with me in opposing
President Obama`s plan for Syria with a donation of $25 or more right now?
Hours after pulling a switcheroo on whether or not to catapult
ammunition into a Middle Eastern country, Grimm says look, now I`m against
the military exploding things in Syria, give me some money! And if you
don`t want to give me money for that, hold on a minute, I might change my
mind the other way and ask you for another 25 bucks.
The congressman has reportedly now pulled that fund-raiser, but not
before sending it out to his constituents and donors, so everybody could
Meanwhile, the Republican leader in the United States Senate is
leading his flock on this most important issue by refusing to say anything
about it. Senator Harry Reid, leader of the Democrats, gave his floor
speech today, saying he was in favor of the president`s proposal to use
military force in Syria. When it came time for the Republicans to respond,
though, his counterpart in the Senate, the leader, Mitch McConnell, decided
to duck. Mitch McConnell`s up for re-election, don`t you know.
So, the Republican response in the Senate was delegated to Dan Coats.
Who? Dan Coats, yes, a senator from Indiana, because the leader of the
Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, doesn`t actually want to say what he
thinks, so Dan Coats gets to.
That said, the Republican Party has to go on the record every week
with its official party response to the president`s weekly address, so the
Republicans have to go on the record whether they want to or not with their
take on what they think is the most pressing issue facing the country every
week. The Republican weekly radio address this weekend tackled head on,
bravely, the pressing issue of how much Republicans hate health reform.
Yes, that was their weekly address to the nation this weekend. Down
with Obama care! Nothing else going on, right?
There is a good chance that the president of the United States could
order a military strike in Syria. Members of Congress, both parties in
Congress have been explicitly asked to weigh in on this very sober issue.
The Republican Party, for the most part, is just deciding not to weigh
in, or they`re going to Egypt to say the Muslim Brotherhood did 911.
It would be awesome at times like this for the opposition party in
Washington to be a useful part of the debate. Hard-fought fights are
better fights than fights that are wussy, right? The more contentious the
discussion sometimes the more rigorous the discussion.
Instead, though, a lot of the more substantive discussion and debate
is happening just inside one our two parties. It`s happening inside the
president`s party, among Democrats, who respect each other but who do
strongly disagree on this issue.
Joining us tonight for the interview is Congresswoman Barbara Lee of
Congresswoman, thank you very much for being with us. It`s nice to
have you here.
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: My pleasure.
MADDOW: You have circulated a draft resolution that presents a menu
of possible responses aimed at finding a solution to the Syrian crisis
other than through military means. Have you had any input, bipartisan or
otherwise, from your Democratic colleagues or your Republican colleagues on
working on this type of approach?
LEE: Rachel, I must say, we`ve had quite a bit of input from our
Democratic colleagues. We have not actually introduced it yet, but I think
it`s very important, one, to recognize that the president really exercised
tremendous leadership, constitutional leadership, by answering our call and
by really deciding that he should come to Congress for this debate and a
vote. He really believes in the process, in the democratic process.
And so, moving forward, we have submitted for review an alternative
that really lays out nonmilitary options, because many of us believe,
myself included, that, first of all, the Assad regime, Assad should be held
accountable for these horrific crimes against humanity.
No one believes that this can go unchecked, but we do believe that
there are other ways to put him in check and to hold him accountable. The
secretary of state, Secretary of State Kerry indicated and said, and so has
the president and others, that they want to get to a negotiated settlement,
that there is no military option. And so, many of us believe that we have
to seek and follow some nonmilitary strategies, diplomacy, negotiations,
because if not, a military strike could lead us in the opposite direction.
MADDOW: It seems like in these fast-moving developments today that
started with Secretary Kerry`s comments this morning but then moved very
quickly when Russia and Syria both responded to what he floated as a
potential way out of this, it seems like today, there is a much more
feasible, nonmilitary solution to this chemical weapons problem than there
was even 24 hours ago. Do you think that congress will play a role in
trying to push all parties involved here toward that specific nonmilitary
solution of Syria giving up its chemical weapons?
LEE: I hope so, because as part of my alternative, Rachel, we have
that listed as a strategy, as what we think is one of the ways we can get
to a negotiated settlement, and that`s by requiring Syria to join the
chemical weapons convention. Having said that, it`s very important that
this debate move forward and that we consider all of the nonmilitary
options, and I`m very pleased with the fact that, of course, Russia, and we
have to be cautiously optimistic about this, and Syria and others, are
really looking at viable alternatives now.
And so, I think the president once again has shown tremendous
leadership in being cautious, in being deliberative and really thinking
about how to move forward in consideration of what the American people are
saying in terms of the possible consequences, unintended consequences of a
MADDOW: Congresswoman Lee, you, of course, famously, were the one
vote in either House of Congress back in 2001 against starting the
Afghanistan war, which we are still in. You were opposed to the Iraq war.
You`ve taken the responsibilities of Congress voting on matters of war and
peace very seriously, even in the case of bucking all of Washington to vote
Do you feel like your House of Congress, do you feel that the House of
Representatives should get on this and start voting? So far it seems like
the plan is to wait until the Senate has made their move. The Senate`s
plan to vote on this has been delayed further by today`s developments. Do
you think the House ought to start talking about this sooner rather than
LEE: Rachel, the House is talking about it, the American people are
talking about it. There is no rush, as the president said. I believe this
debate is very informative and it`s very needed, because the use of
chemical weapons, it`s a dangerous, dangerous option that the Assad regime
has exercised, and that should never, ever happen.
And so, now we`re hearing from both sides of the aisle, we`re hearing
from the American people about the dangers of the use of chemical weapons,
the horrendous, tragic consequences and what we need to do to stop this
onslaught that`s taking place.
And so, we don`t need to rush, Rachel, we need to engage our diplomacy
in a way that we`re, I think, doing right now in a very methodical way, the
president and the administration. They`ve been doing this for years. And
so, a military strike, the military option, that`s always going to be on
So, we`re saying let diplomacy work, let`s see if we can get to a
negotiated settlement, hold the Assad regime accountable and really begin
to help resolve the conflict that`s taking place in Syria and so much of
the Middle East.
MADDOW: California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thank you so much for
your time tonight, ma`am. It`s great to have you here.
LEE: Thank you. My pleasure.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In 2010, the governor of Iowa was a man named Chet Culver.
Mr. Culver is a Democrat. He was first elected governor of Iowa in 2006.
He had a four-year term, so that meant he was heading into a re-election
fight in 2010.
And a few months before that 2010 election, the Iowa legislature
passed a new law about gun permits. The new law said if you wanted a
permit to carry a gun in Iowa, concealed or otherwise, there were almost no
grounds on which you could be turned down for that permit. Under that new
law which was backed by the NRA, Iowa sheriffs essentially lost the ability
to say no to gun permits, even for reasons that historically made sense in
Because of that, not surprisingly, most of Iowa`s sheriffs opposed the
NRA`s new law. But it passed, and the governor signed it, and a few months
later, he pocketed the endorsements of the NRA, whoo-hoo, for Chet Culver!
But yes, he lost anyway. The NRA`s support was not enough, and Democrat
Chet Culver lost the election that year anyway, and he got turfed out as
So, now Iowa is governed by Republican Terry Branstad, the kingdom of
Still, though, the NRA-backed law that Chet Culver signed has been
hanging around fully in effect for two years with some astounding results
so far. "The Des Moines Register" made a search of the new gun permits and
discovered that now, yes, as planned, basically, everyone in Iowa who asks
for a gun permit gets one, and that means the list of people to whom
sheriffs have had to give gun permits in Iowa includes a person known to
the local sheriff as a suicide risk. A man known to be a suicide risk gets
gun permit. So, does another person found by law enforcement with a lot of
the key ingredients for making methamphetamine.
"The Des Moines Register" published that report in March, then the
paper kept digging into these new permits. In May, "The Register" found
that 50 of the new easier-to-get gun permits in Iowa have gone to sex
offenders, most of whom would have been denied a gun permit before the
NRA`s new bill.
Well, now, "The Des Moines Register" is back on the case with a new
headline about the effects of this NRA-backed law in Iowa. Did you see
this today? It`s amazing. Look.
"Iowa grants permits for blind residents to carry guns in public." At
least three legally blind residents so far. Quote, "State law does not
allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on
Now, I just want to say, I know that basically impaired people can
shot guns. These days, people with even no vision at all can take target
practice using special audio gun sights that sound off when you get the
bull`s eye lined up.
That`s not what we`re talking about here. We`re not talking about
blind people taking target practice on specially equipped shooting ranges.
We`re talking about permits to carry. We`re talking about blind people
carrying guns around wherever, including concealed weapons.
What could possibly go wrong? But that is now public policy in Iowa,
guns for blind people, thanks to the NRA. The NRA got what it wanted.
See also Colorado. In March, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
signed some of the nation`s first gun reforms, responding in the massacre
in Newtown, Connecticut. Universal background checks, a 15-bullet limit in
The NRA was very angry about this and they fought those new laws in
Colorado, but they lost the fight and the new laws went into effect. And
so, now, the NRA is trying another means of flexing its muscles in
Colorado, they`re trying to get two state senators recalled because they
supported those gun reforms.
On the right there is Democrat Angela Heron. She`s one of the people
facing recall. On the left is the Democrat State Senate President John
Morse who is term limited out anyway but they are trying to recall him in
the meantime to make a point.
Recall elections are difficult to predict. What polling we do have
suggests that voters are not necessarily sold on the state`s new gun
restrictions but Coloradans also really do not like recalling lawmakers for
supporting those restrictions. Colorado voters say they oppose the recalls
by almost 2-1.
But the real poll, of course, is tomorrow, election day. Polls close
in Colorado at 7:00 p.m. local time, which is 9:00 on the East Coast.
Does the NRA win this one, too? Just like they won gun permits for
blind people in Iowa, do they win this one, too?
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Vice President Joe Biden lives at number one observatory
circle on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. In that
very, very nice house, the president and his wife, hosted a family style
Italian dinner with six Republican senators, and also a man named President
President Obama was there spending about an hour and a half to the
vice president`s house to bend the six senators` ears on his resolution for
military action against Syria. Tomorrow, the president will break bread
again with Republican senators at their weekly luncheon. Then, he will
attend the Senate Democrats luncheon, to lobby the senators of his own
This is the full court press. There`s also going to be more rounds of
classified briefings for members of Congress, from officials including the
secretary of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the
director of national intelligence.
In terms of the public case, President Obama gave six sit-down
interviews with TV anchors tonight. And that came after his chief of
staff, Denis McDonough, lobbied all five Sunday morning political shows on
the networks. And that came after a public speech by U.N. Ambassador
Samantha Power on Friday.
And after a public speech by national security adviser Susan Rice
earlier today, which was followed by a public speech by retired Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton. She talked about Syria in the midst of a speech
she was giving about a totally unrelated issue.
This is the administration`s game plane. This is how they`re building
their case for military action in Syria. In the first weeks of the
administration`s push for a strike on Syria, it seemed as if Secretary of
State John Kerry was going to be really the point man, the guy who was out
there every day ahead of this. He was the first man out for the
But now, the administration has got all hands on deck. Part of their
strategy, of course, is President Obama`s address to the nation tomorrow --
a direct appeal to the American public from the White House. We`re going
to bring that to you live here on MSNBC.
Of course, our coverage is going to start at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I
will be here for that along with Chris Matthews. And all of our prime time
anchors are going to be previewing the speech, which shall start at 9:01:30
p.m. And then we`ll return with reaction from our MSNBC casts, as well as
lawmakers and reporters.
It is a big, big night for the country and the world. Special
coverage starts tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. We hope you will
watch us -- you will join us to watch it.
We will be right back.
MADDOW: So, today is September 9th. Yesterday, September 8th, is the
birthday of "Star Trek".
It is also the birthday of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Happy
September 8 is also the birthday of Scotch Tape and the rapper Wiz
Khalifa, and the great Patsy Cline.
September 8 is also our birthday of this TV show. We started this
program five years ago, September 8, 2008. Our very first guess what Steve
Benen, who we sat down in front of a piece of linoleum on which a child had
drawn an impressionist rendering of books on a crooked bookshelf using
Steve Benen has since developed a better backdrop and we have now
approached from the ranks of our guest, so he is now a full-time writer for
us at "Maddow Blog".
Five years has flown by but we are all acutely conscious of what a
rare thing it is for a show in this business to make it to five years.
Speaking for myself, I feel lucky and blessed and grateful, grateful
to MSNBC for putting us on the air. Grateful to the best staff in
television who I get to work with every day. And grateful most of all to
you for making it worth MSNBC`s while to put the show on every day because
you apparently want to watch, for which I am grateful. So, thank you.
We are five. We made it to five years old, which means we are just
about ready to start learning to read. Watch out, we are just getting
Thank you for being with us every night, tonight, and for the last
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Have a great night.
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