THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
November 20, 2013
Guest: Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this
hour. It`s nice to have you with us.
Very excited to tell you that our first guest tonight, in just a
moment, is Elizabeth Warren. She`s senator from Massachusetts who is
making Democrats all over the country do back flips over the effect that
she is having on the Democratic Party, of course, over the prospect that
she could be a very big part of the next round of national Democratic
leadership for 2016 and beyond.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is our guest live in just a moment.
In Washington, though, this was the remarkable scene outside the home
of Republican House Speaker John Boehner early this morning. It`s dark in
these images because it started before dawn on the sidewalk in front of his
House on Capitol Hill. And it carried on into the early morning light this
morning -- as young activists were bold enough to go to John Boehner`s
doorstep to try to increase the pressure for him to allow a vote on
This footage is from NBC Latino, which covered the action this
(BEGIN VDIEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why are you protesting here at Boehner`s house?
PROTESTER: The reason why is because we have the vote for immigration
reform. There is still time left in their calendar, in the congressional
calendar. And the only thing stopping us is him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is true that the same immigration bill that passed the
United States Senate probably would pass in the House, too, if Speaker
Boehner put it up for a vote. But he will not put it up for a vote.
This group today set up a Thanksgiving table in front of Speaker
Boehner`s house in the wee hours of the morning. They set up place
settings and everything, in the centerpiece, as one young man pleaded from
the speaker from the sidewalk in front of his home, that the speaker should
imagine what it is like for him, for this young man, to not be able to have
Thanksgiving with his father next week, because for the first time he is
not able to do that. And the reason he is not able to do that is because
his father has just been deported.
This is the same group of very bold young activists who have staged
other emotional protests on this issue to show that immigration isn`t just
an issue of political calculation and economics. It`s a policy that quite
literally splits families apart. It forces children and parents to be
forcibly separated from one another.
These young people all raised in the United States are reaching
through the border fences at Nogales to see their mothers on the other side
of the fence. And the only way they are allowed to see them because our
immigration system is so dysfunctional.
It`s the same group of kids and moms and dads who spontaneously made
the decision to just sit down in front of a bus leaving an immigration
detention center in Phoenix, Arizona, a few weeks ago. Peaceful, but
fairly radical direct action to stop that massive deportation, and the
people in the bus crying, holding up their shackles, while the kids and the
parents sitting in front of the bus also cried and prayed and sang and
waited themselves to be arrested.
The votes are there, actually, to pass immigration reform. And it has
already passed the Senate with lots of Republicans voting for it. And of
course, the present would sign it. But it is the House Republicans who
will not let that happen. Speaker John Boehner personally will not let
that happen. And so, these emotional protests not only continue but they
are getting more and more intimately focused on the Republican leaders in
the House, who actually are the only reason why this policy is not
changing. Why this long awaited reform is not happening.
Speaker John Boehner eats breakfast every morning at the same diner in
Washington, D.C. It`s not a secret that he does it. It`s supposed to be
one of the charmingly down to earth things that we are allowed to know
Now, forget the golfing and the tanning thing, look, he eats grits
But with him standing in front of immigration reform and the kids who
are organizing for immigration reform being so bold and so unpredictable
and so emotionally compelling in their protests and their appeals, it
probably was just a matter of time before John Boehner sitting there at the
diner had a spectacularly articulate Latina 13-year-old, telling him very
politely as he was eating his grits, that her father was being deported,
and that she loved him and that she wanted her family to be able to stay
together and, please, wouldn`t he allow a vote?
And there they were again talking to his windows in the pre-dawn
gloaming, talking to the pulled blinds and closed drapes, setting that sad
Thanksgiving table out on the sidewalk.
And then once they left John Boehner`s House this morning, they went
to Eric Cantor`s office at the Capitol, where 11 of them were arrested for
peaceful civil disobedience.
It would be one thing, it would not be nearly as newsworthy actually
if these dramatic, resonant protest, this movement that has come up in the
last two years, it would be one thing if they were trying to get
Republicans to do something that Republicans just say they don`t want to
do. If these guys were protesting for let`s, say, abortion rights or a
progressive tax system or something else that Republicans just flat out say
they do not want, then what these kids were doing could still be an
interesting act of political expression, but it wouldn`t really have any
suspense to it.
The reason this is so compelling, though, is because in the case of
immigration, Republicans theoretically say they do want to do this. They
say they do want to help. Their one official Republican Party policy
prescription for themselves after they lost so badly in the last election
was that the party would have to find a way to say yes to immigration
reform. They say they want it.
Today, after the protesters were arrested at his office, Eric Cantor
continued to pay lip service to the idea, saying that he agrees, sure, they
should stay. He is even maybe working on a bill like that some day.
But the bill that would let that happen, one that already passed the
Senate, that`s ready to go, he and John Boehner will not let that go to a
vote, even though it would likely pass if they did.
Yesterday, President Obama even told "The Wall Street Journal" that he
would consent to passing immigration reform the way the Republicans say
they want to do it, he`d be a right with doing one piece at a time instead
of one big comprehensive bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats want to do comprehensive reform.
Republicans want to do step by step reform. It`s a poisonous political
Can you make it happen?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I am actually
optimistic that we`re going to get this done. I`m -- but I am a congenital
optimist, I have to be, I`m named Barack Obama, I ran for president. So --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And won.
OBAMA: And won twice.
So look, keep in mind first of all that what the CEOs here said is
absolutely right. This is a boost to our economy. They`re suspicious of
comprehensive bills, but you know what? If they want to chop that thing up
into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don`t care what it
looks like as long as it is actually delivering on those core values that
we talk about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The latest stated objection from House Republicans as to why
they won`t do immigration is that they wanted to do it piece by piece
instead of one bill. That was the last objection they had, the last thing
they could use to explain why they hadn`t done it.
Well, as of that interview yesterday with "The Wall Street Journal",
that problem for them is now solved. The Democrats are now saying, OK,
we`ll do it that way. Regardless, no signs at all that the Republicans are
going to move on this at all. And now, John Boehner can`t get out his
front door, even if he wanted to hit his favorite morning diner he would
probably hit another heart-rending 13-year-old once when he got there.
Last night on Comedy Central, on "The Colbert Report", Stephen Colbert
hosted the man who came in second to Mitt Romney in the Republican Party`s
2012 presidential primary. Rick Santorum, where you`ve been? We missed
Rick Santorum and Mr. Colbert talked about Mr. Santorum`s new
Hollywood movie studio. And then the conversation turned to how
conservatives, how Republicans can ever appeal to Latino voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDY CENTRAL: Yes, go ahead, give it up for going
forward. OK, the new movie is called "The Christmas Candle."
RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That`s correct.
COLBERT: And it`s a story of -- it`s a town with a set of miraculous
candles. So, the true meaning of Christmas --
SANTORUM: Not really.
COLBERT: It`s not?
SANTORUM: It`s a town --
COLBERT: There is no miraculous candles?
SANTORUM: There`s candles that blessed. Every 25 years, an angel
comes in this town and blesses a candle.
COLBERT: Just like it does in the Bible?
SANTORUM: Not exactly.
COLBERT: Not exactly. OK.
SANTORUM: And this candle was given to somebody who is in need, and a
miracle happens on Christmas Eve to that family. It`s a beautiful story.
And now, it`s --
COLBERT: So it`s not a miraculous candle.
SANTORUM: Well -- the candle is not miraculous, but the prayer that
is said, given the instructions, light it and pray. So, it`s not the
candle that gives the miracle, but it`s the prayer -- an answer to prayer
that is the miracle.
COLBERT: I can accept that.
SANTORUM: There you go.
COLBERT: I can accept that.
SANTORUM: We`re not -- you know, it is not like voodoo stuff. This
is a real prayer.
COLBERT: Miraculous candles is not voodoo, it is Hanukkah.
COLBERT: So, we`re both Catholics, OK?
COLBERT: You`re probably the most famous Catholic politician. I`m
the most famous Catholic on television. OK?
COLBERT: Can we talk about the Hispanic vote for a second? They`re
Catholics, we`re Catholics, why can`t conservatives reach out to the
Hispanics for the Pete`s sake? The pope, the Pope is a Hispanic now.
COLBERT: Doesn`t that kind of make us Hispanic ourselves?
COLBERT: You know, by the transitive property of popping --
SANTORUM: He is our father.
COLBERT: Yes, he is our holy father.
S can we reach out to them on social issues?
SANTORUM: Absolutely. That is one of the things I said with
Republicans who say I want to abandon the issues, the way we can reach out
to a large segment of the minority population is through social issues, is
through issues where there is common agreement on those biblical
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The transitive power of popping. Yes. I don`t know how that
But the long-held Republican theory which was voiced by Rick Santorum
there last night on "Colbert Report" that theory that Latinos would come to
Republicans, as long as the Republicans stay really hard core on social
conservatism, that theory, which Republicans have had forever, it got a
test last night in New Mexico, where the 47 percent Latino voting
population of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was treated by social conservatives
to a super divisive, super intense, super expensive, city-wide anti-
Albuquerque just had a mayoral election last month. They got 70,000
people to turn out for the mayor`s race. Last night for the abortion ban,
they got 17,000 more people to show up and vote. And the abortion ban lost
badly. There was a bit of a blowout. It lost by 10 points.
This was a test case for the long-held Republican view that the
Republicans don`t need to change anything about what they`re offering in
terms of policy. They can count on a Latino electorate turning out for
their side of things if they stay really hard core on abortion.
It turns out that in a test lab for that idea, in a largely Latino
city, in a single issue election, that test was a failure.
So, is there anything new under the sun from Republicans? They keep
telling themselves they definitely don`t have to change, that everybody
else is going to come around to their way of thinking? Is there anything
new from them on offer?
Today in Ohio, the Republican controlled legislature there passed the
"stand your ground" gun law. They loosened gun regulations on concealed
weapons and they moved to make it more legally defensible to shoot someone,
ala the George Zimmerman case in Florida, nice timing on that one,
Ohio Republicans also today passed new restrictions on voting rights.
These were the lines to vote in Ohio in 2004, lines up to 10 hours
long to vote in Ohio in the presidential election in 2004. Ohio did not
have lines like this in the two presidential elections after that, because
after 2004, the state instituted changes.
Like this is not a hypothetical thing in Ohio. The state has a really
recent history of it being terribly difficult to vote in heavily populated,
especially Democratic-leaning parts of the state. It was really bad in
`04, and they fixed that problem by making changes like expanding early
voting so the lines wouldn`t be so long on Election Day. About a third of
Ohio voted early last year. It is much easier to do that.
And the fact that so many people like early voting and are thereby
finding their ways to the polls, that, of course, is a problem for Ohio
Republicans. And so, Ohio Republicans moved to break that system again, to
go back to the old broken system that didn`t work before. Today, Ohio
Republicans voted to cut back early voting by six full days in Ohio.
They`re also voting to end same day voter registration, to make it harder
to get your vote counted if you have to cast a provisional ballot, and
they`re considering cutting back on the number of voting machines at the
Yes, we`ve always had way too many of those. Your state government at
work, Ohio. You`re hoping that your local state legislator would go to
Columbus and start working overtly to make the process of voting a lot
harder and a lot slower for you?
Congratulations, if you voted for a Republican, you got what you paid
The Republican governor of North Carolina was on "THE DAILY RUNDOWN"
with Chuck Todd here today on MSNBC. Chuck asked him about the law he
signed to dramatically roll back voting rights in North Carolina, much the
same that Ohio moved toward today.
When Chuck asked Governor McCrory why he and other North Carolina
Republicans had moved to cut seven days out of early voting in North
Carolina, the governor responded by saying that, you know, they`re not
cutting early voting. Really, his exact words were, what he says they were
doing was they were compacting the calendar.
Compacting the calendar. Try that on your boss the next time you`re
late for work. Hey, I`m not late, I`m just compacting the work day.
North Carolina Republicans are just compacting seven days off the
number of days in which you can early vote. Compacting -- they`re just
tidying it up, making it more compressed. It`s a denser calendar.
You want to see a magic duck appear on my desk? Look, the magic duck.
I compacted duck season this year so it fit on my desk, bang!
It`s just amazing. It`s just amazing. But you know what, it also
feels like deja news from the Republican Party when you stop covering
updates. You stop just writing down what they tell you to write down and
you actually look at what they`re doing. In the Republican Party, in the
states, around Washington, even in Washington, it`s deja news right now.
Senate Republicans are putting forward their own national version of
the abortion ban that just failed by 10 points last night in Albuquerque.
They said they want to run on being anti-abortion in 2014 and 2016. Enjoy.
They`re also holding the line in the face of immense pressure against
immigration reform. They`re also standing up against gay rights, not only
in the states, but in federal law, with the gay rights anti-discrimination
law that House Republicans won`t let come up for a vote.
They`re moving even more aggressively than they did before 2012 to
roll back voting rights, in North Carolina, in Ohio, in Texas, everywhere
they`re in control.
And if they move on to anything in Congress other than opposing health
reform, which is the only thing they say is definitely on their agenda
right now, the next thing down the pipe, the next thing to expect from them
is to let Paul Ryan introduce another Republican budget plan. Which if it
is like the Republican budget plan will have the knives out to gut Medicare
and maybe Social Security and maybe both.
Look familiar right? I mean, it`s deja news. It`s the same list of
offerings from the Republican Party that they have been bestowing on the
country for the last two cycle elections. No to immigration, no to health
reform, no to voting rights, no to reproductive rights. I mean, this is
It`s staying exactly the same. And why would they change? It worked
great for President Romney. No to health reform, no to immigration, no the
gay rights, no to reproductive rights, no to voting rights, and maybe we`ll
see, maybe no to Medicare and no to Social Security again, too. It`s all
From one side, it is all the same. What`s really interesting, though,
is the other side. Where the change is right now is on the other side of
the aisle. And, yes, on the Democratic side there are things that are the
same, too. The Democrats are saying yes to health reform, yes to
immigration, yes to gay rights, they`re mounting a defense of reproductive
rights, a defense of voting rights.
But on the Democratic side is where they are also adding something
new, where both the White House and the Democratic bench, the up and comers
in Congress and in the states, they are going back to a place they have not
been in a while and for which the Republicans, thus far, have absolutely no
answer, and that is economic populism.
Yesterday, the blue state, state Senate in Massachusetts voted to
raise that state`s minimum wage to $11 an hour. Blue state New Jersey
voters just voted to raise that state`s minimum wage, after Democrats and
the legislature passed it, but the Republican governor vetoed it. They
vetoed his veto.
After the president proposed raising the federal minimum wage back at
the beginning of the year in his State of the Union Address -- all of a
sudden, the Democrats said we`re on this, we think we can get it passed
maybe before the end of the year.
And then there is a big kahuna, after fighting for a generation, the
Republicans` constant threat to cut Social Security, to privatize Social
Security, to do away it, to pare it back, now, all of a sudden, Democrats
all of a sudden have found their sea legs on economic populism. And now,
they are not fighting with Republicans anymore about how much of a cut is
too much of a cut. Now, they are fighting not to cut Social Security but
to expand it. To make things better for seniors, and for everybody`s
retirement prospects instead of fighting with Republicans about how much
worse they`re going to be allowed to make things.
Whether or not Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is a candidate
for the Democratic nomination for president, against Hillary Clinton or
not, regardless of the presidential politics but mindful of them too, her
brand of economic populism and the brand of Bernie Sanders and Sherrod
Brown, and other aggressive Democrats on these issues, that brand is on the
ascendant right now in Democratic politics. The Republican Party is stuck
on pause, on the Democratic side they are doing something new.
Economic populism on the ascendant and on the offensive. And
Elizabeth Warren is our guest next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people of New Jersey have spoken and they want
a raise. Last night, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to raise the
minimum wage by a dollar an hour.
OBAMA: I am a congenital optimist. I would have to be, I`m named
Barack Obama, I ran for president. So --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And won.
OBAMA: And won twice.
So, look, keep in mind first of all that what the CEOs here said here
is absolutely right. This is a boost to our economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama this week making the case that immigration
reform should happen because it would be a good economic step forward for
the country. The voters of the state of New Jersey just a couple of weeks
ago making the case that people who make minimum wage ought to get paid
more. That that would be good economically for New Jersey. The state
Senate in Massachusetts today voting that Massachusetts should move to a
statewide $11 an hour minimum wage, because that would be good economically
for the state of Massachusetts.
And this week in the United States Senate, Senator Elizabeth Warren of
Massachusetts made a widely circulated Senate floor speech, making the case
that the era of fighting about cutting Social Security is over. And now it
is time to talk about expanding Social Security. At the very least, that
used to be Beltway heresy.
Senator Warren now joins us.
Senator, thank you very much for being with us. It`s nice to have you
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It`s good to be here.
MADDOW: So why now? Why do you think now is the time to talk about
this when all we`ve heard from the very serious people in the Beltway for
the past forever is that it`s time to cut it.
WARREN: Because it`s time to talk about reality.
You know, America`s middle class has been hammered for a generation
now. So, adjusted for inflation, the wages of the middle class family have
gone down. And yet, core expenses -- housing, health care, sending kids to
college have all shot through the roof.
Families cut back as best they could. They sent two people into the
workforce if they had a two-person household. And yet families couldn`t
So, they stopped saving. They went into debt. And now, as they`re
starting to hit their retirement years what we`re seeing are seniors who
are really in a financial squeeze. They have more debt. They don`t have
savings. They owe money on their homes.
The old defined pension plans that help protect them from their
employers. About 35 percent of the work force had them a generation ago.
Now, we`ve cut that in half.
So they`re really under a squeeze, and what they have got is Social
Security. So now we`ve got an America where about two thirds of all
seniors count on Social Security as their principal form of income.
And for 14 million Americans, Social Security is all that stands
between them and poverty. We have a retirement crisis in America. This is
no time. This is the last time to be talking about cutting Social
Security. This is the moment when we talk about expanding Social Security.
MADDOW: Are you talking about a narrowly targeted expansion that
would specifically try to steer more benefits towards seniors in need. So,
seniors at the lowest end of the economic spectrum, or do you think this
should be a broad, across the board rise in benefits even to seniors who
were better off?
WARREN: Yes. I think what we have to watch is we have to think about
two things on Social Security. The first one is, we absolutely need to
make the system secure over a long period of time. And I really want to
stop for a second and drill on that, because we have to remember all the
folks who talk about cutting Social Security, always start with the fact
that hey, listen -- you know, it`s just terrible what is happening with
It`s not. If we did nothing to Social Security, we go 20 years paying
at the same rate, and then after that we drop roughly about a quarter and
pay all the way to the end of the 21st century. So, what that tells us is
that we can make modest adjustments to Social Security and we could level
it out so that we`d be able to protect the benefits we`ve got.
But then is the time to start thinking beyond that. And it`s to think
about all the Americans who depend on Social Security.
Remember where I started this, Rachel. Two thirds of seniors right
now are counting on Social Security for their principal income. We have to
think about a broad approach to this.
MADDOW: The types of tweaks that it would take to make the program
fiscally sound in the very, very long-term that you`re talking about, I`m
assuming the basic one is raising the cap at which after which rich people
stop paying their Social Security taxes. So people at the higher end of
the economic spectrum just pay their Social Security taxes for a larger
proportion of their income.
That always seemed like a very simple fix to me, why has it always
been very politically radioactive?
WARREN: You know, it`s interesting part of it. What`s interesting to
me about is, Social Security, fixing it, to get it to work over the long
haul, when you remember how close it is now to working all the way through
the rest of the 21st century, there are a lot of fairly modest changes you
could make. You identify one of them. Another is how you bring more
people into the system so there are more payers into Social Security.
Another one is how you change some of the questions where parts of it
are bleeding out that shouldn`t. There are a lot of different dials you
could turn on getting Social Security leveled back out just a little.
That`s really all it takes.
What`s interesting to me is why we haven`t focused on that. Why the
conversation started with cutting benefits. That was always the direction
this went. And I just think it is fundamentally wrong.
We need to have a different conversation. We need to have a sensible
economic conversation about how to do it. It is not that hard.
But what we also need to do is remember, this is partly about math.
But it`s partly about our values. This is about what kind of a people we
are, what kind of a country we are trying to build.
I believe fundamentally, we are a people who believe that anyone
should be able to retire with dignity. And that`s what Social Security is
about. People who work all their lives and pay into it should have a
minimum level that they don`t fall beneath. That`s good economics. But
the point is, it is who we are. It is the kind of country we are building.
MADDOW: That argument that u are making about our American values,
but also what you want to fight for politically, is -- I know you don`t
want to have this conversation but it is why people are talking about you
as a national figure and not just a senator from Massachusetts and the
Democratic Party. I`m not going to ask you the facile question about
whether or not you want to run.
But do you believe the types of values you articulate are the future
of the Democratic Party. Do you feel at home in the Democratic Party? Or
do you feel like your fight is partly with your own side to get your fellow
Democrats to make these issues a priority?
WARREN: I think this is -- this is our moment. I think we have come
to understand that, you know, America changes much of the time. It`s in
increments. It is in small pieces.
But we truly have come to the crossroads now. And there are two very
different visions of how we build a future.
The Republicans have made theirs clear. You know, you protect those
at the very top. You make sure they`ve got the maximum number of loopholes
and subsidies. And, you know, everyone else, so be it. In other words,
their vision is -- I got mine, the rest of you are on your own.
Our vision is different. It says that we really do make these
investments together. And when we make these investments together, we
build a strong future. Not just for some of us, but for all of us.
The pieces are tied together. We`re here tonight to talk about Social
Security. And that is what I want to attack about. I`m glad to fight for
But remember, the pieces we`re talking about are tied together. It`s
about fighting for education, our kids who are being crushed by student
loan debt. It is, it is about fighting for the minimum wage. It is about
fighting for dignity when people retire.
It is about fighting for a world that we build together because we
believe that when we do that, we all got a better chance. We`ve all got a
fighting chance to make something. And that`s what we`ll do.
MADDOW: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts -- thank you very
much, very much for your time tonight. It`s always great to have you here,
ma`am. Thank you very much.
WARREN: Good to be here.
MADDOW: All right.
Something you will not believe happened in the great state of Oklahoma
today. And I bet you believe a lot of good things can happen in the great
state of Oklahoma, don`t you?
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: As of right now, five U.S. states are openly defying orders
from the Defense Department. They`re defying orders from the Defense
Department because they want to discriminate against certain members of the
United States military. And the Pentagon is telling them not to do that.
But now, one of those states has come up with an extra special way to
fix the problem -- by making it 100 times worse for everyone.
Cutting off ones` nose to spite ones` face, Oklahoma styly.
Stay tuned. More ahead.
MADDOW: Whenever you see a lawmaker standing on the house of the
Senate floor next to an easel, that lawmaker is very likely getting ready
to show us some fancy charts.
In Congress, they chart out the easel and the chart so often that
there`s a great blog dedicated just to screen grabbing them in action. So,
don`t worry, the fungal meningitis case count in map have been rescued from
obscurity by floorcharts.com. Or the top tax rate and total net job
creation chart -- don`t worry, that one is going to be around forever, at
least online, and notice all the empty seats there.
It`s lonely out there for the guy with the big chart executive order
Every once in a while, though, charts require human help. Do you
remember back on the campaign trail, poor Mitt Romney had to sign a
campaign staffer to the job of just holding that chair steady?
Props are hard. Now watch this guy -- on the Senate floor yesterday,
trying to help out New Hampshire Senate Republican Kelly Ayotte.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: If we lose the opportunity to
gather valuable information to protect our nation, then we can`t prevent
future attacks against the country. And here`s the problem that we face.
Here is the current head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That guy, whoever he is, is an unsung hero of congressional
Now look, the first one goes up. Al Qaeda guy number one has made it
to the easel, OK, the boss is reaching for the second al Qaeda guy, quick,
get the first guy out of there, get the first out of there.
Now, grand finale, bring back the first guy, bring back the first guy,
second chart is still there, first chart now on top. Come on now, stick
the landing, whew, who is the guy popping out of your head there? It is
like holiday on ice. This guy is great.
Last, though, Senator Ayotte lost that vote, she got the charts right,
except for the part that bin Laden looked like mini me. But in terms of
what she was trying to legislate and decorate with her charts, she endured
a real consequential failure in the Senate. In that failure, which was
both unexpected and pretty spectacular, Senator Ayotte actually made some
big news on the subject she was talking about. She managed to illuminate
something about where Washington stands on a really important issue and
what might be possible now that nobody thought was possible before.
As you know, President Obama has been trying to close the prison that
we keep in Cuba, the one in Guantanamo. Since his first day in office, he
signed an order on day one saying we would shut down that facility. It has
not happened yet, though, and that`s because of Congress. And it`s not just
Republicans in Congress who have blocked them.
In 2009, when Congress took a vote, the Senate took a vote on
stripping out the funding that would be used to close the Guantanamo
prison, the vote was 90-6.
In the new defense spending bill, though, in the military budget that
is being debated right now in Congress, part of that bill opens the way to
actually closing the prisons down. If people are not threats, send them
back to their own countries. If people are threats, put them on trial.
It`s not rocket science, right?
The prison has been running for more than 12 years now. Are we just
waiting until they get hold enough that they die? Is that the policy?
Well, closing down Guantanamo is what Senator Ayotte was trying to
stop yesterday with all the chart and the helpful staffer. And maybe it
was that old 90-6 votes four years ago that led her astray, maybe she just
made a freshman counting mistake, or somebody stirred her wrong, I don`t
But Kelly Ayotte brought up trying to keep Guantanamo going
indefinitely. And it lost, and it lost by a lot. It didn`t even get close
to 50 votes. It only got 43 votes. And that ends up being way more
interesting than I think even the senator expected it to be, because what
her mistake proved, what her mistake proved, just in bringing that thing up
and seeing it go down with such a bad vote, what it proved is that a
majority in Congress doesn`t feel the same way about Guantanamo that they
used to. Senator Ayotte just proved through her failure yesterday that
Congress is way more ready to shut this thing down than they have ever been
in the 90-6 pass.
And if Congress has changed on the question of Guantanamo, what is to
say they have not changed more than at?
Yesterday, NBC`s Richard Engel obtained and posted this draft
agreement between the American government and the Afghanistan government,
calls for an enduring military presence in Afghanistan long after 2014 when
U.S. troops were supposed to come home. Richard reporting yesterday that
in the draft agreement, in a sense, the war in Afghanistan just starts all
over again. Albeit on a smaller scale but with a time frame that stretches
Richard telling us here last time that it was striking to him that the
Afghan government this week is convening a loya jirga, convening a big
consultative body, to sign off on this long term about where U.S. troops
will be. But the American government has no such plans for that kind of
debate, let alone that kind of signoff from Congress.
Then today, NBC News reported that a bipartisan group of senators is
going to bring the own amendment to the defense budget that would require a
congressional signoff on any extension of the U.S. troop commitment in
Afghanistan past 2014. And look at this coalition, sponsoring the idea of
there being a time line in Afghanistan that Congress has to vote on.
Republican Mike Lee, Republican Rand Paul, obviously both from the far
right, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both from the left, also Joe
Manchin, from the land of smack-dab in the middle.
So, yes, sure, John McCain is never going to vote for something like
that. Kelly Ayotte is never going to vote for something like that. The
forever caucus is never going to say no to a war bill like this.
But guess who might say yes?
The old assumptions are proving wrong. Bedfellows are getting
stranger than ever on issues like this in our country. The Senate, as of
this week, has now stopped trying to keep Guantanamo open. Might they also
be willing now, despite the common wisdom, to actually try to put an end to
Joining us now is Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
Senator Merkley, thanks very much for being here tonight. It`s nice
to see you.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Oh, you`re welcome, Rachel. It`s
great to be with you.
MADDOW: So it seems to me you are on to something here that might be
unexpectedly popular, even though the Beltway common wisdom says stuff like
this never flies.
Do you think the Senate has changed enough to support this idea?
MERKLEY: Well, I absolutely do. The idea that we`re going to extend
this war another 1- years, make a commitment to have perhaps 7,000 to
12,000 troops there for that period, to spend at least another $50 million,
and I think that`s understating it probably by a factor of two. To do this
without any form of congressional dialogue to say, yes, this makes sense, I
think it`s a bipartisan sense that absolutely Congress should weigh in.
And, by the way, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on this back
in June. And they approved it 305-221, overwhelming support. You finally
found something both the House and Senate can say yes to.
MADDOW: I was just going -- I was just going to point that out,
because on every other issue in the world, when the Senate gets close to
doing something, unexpected, a departure from hawkish ways in the past, or
conservative ways in the past, we also think, oh, yes, but the House will
never go for it. In this case, the House has already jumped. They
considered the same issue.
The bedfellows are really strange on this. I wonder if it makes you
feel like the sort of Beltway common wisdom. The way that stuff like this
is instinctively thought of being impossible to happen. If you think
MERKLEY: Well, I think in this situation, you do have both the
grassroots on the right and the grassroots on the left saying enough is
enough. Let`s have a fundamental debate about what commitments we make.
I mean, we realize that al-Qaeda is everywhere. They`re not just in
Afghanistan. In fact, very few are in Afghanistan. So, we need to meet
the terrorist threat where it is, not necessarily lock ourselves into one
country for another decade.
By the way, an extraordinarily corrupt country, a country where we
have tremendous challenge of Afghan soldiers shooting American soldiers.
Tremendous challenges of cultural understanding, communication.
A lot has gone wrong in this presence. And the idea we`ll make
another 10-year commitment of this fashion without a congressional debate,
I just think people say enough is enough, let`s reevaluate.
Mr. President, come back to Congress and ask for authority by the
middle of next year before we make this kind of commitment.
MADDOW: I have to ask you, this is a little weird given the subject,
but I have to ask you about something that happened on "The Tonight Show,"
with Jay Leno. Specifically because Jay Leno asked former President George
It is a short clip, but I want your reaction to what George Bush said
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, THE TONIGHT SHOW: Do you think we`ll be there a long time
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I hope so. I don`t know how big
the footprint needs to be, but if we leave too early, women and young girls
will suffer a lot.
BUSH: And then the question is, does it matter to our conscience?
And I think it should.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Bush says he hopes we stay there a long time and he
thinks that the U.S. troop presence is good for women in Afghanistan. I
have to ask if you think that helps or hurts you in making your case here?
MERKLEY: Well, I think President Bush is arguing for the perpetual
war. And there are certainly our members of the Senate who will argue for
the same. Once anywhere in the world, they will say stay there, build the
permanent bases, they want to continue the bases and they want to continue
And let`s face it. This is a huge opportunity cost in terms of
American troops that can do other good things in the world elsewhere or
good things elsewhere in our security. There is a huge cost in terms of
dollars that are spent. We have huge infrastructure demands that would put
people to work and prepare the infrastructure for the next generation. We
have huge education demands.
I love the conversation you had with Elizabeth Warren, talking about
one of them, our kids can`t afford to go to college, which puts a big
aspirational vision for America that every child should have in our nation.
So, commitment unending for vast resources in a small country, or a fairly
large country in territory, but a small country in terms of numbers, half
way around the world that we have to re-think these types of things. They
shouldn`t be an automatic "let`s add another decade" to what s already been
the longest war in American history.
MADDOW: Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, I think you`ve got a better
chance with this than the Beltway press is giving you credit for. Stay in
touch with us as this moves in the Senate, sir. Thanks.
MERKLEY: Thank you.
MADDOW: Nice to see you.
MERKLEY: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Today, the conservative state government in Oklahoma made a
strong case that they should become really nationally famous really, really
fast. Oklahoma made a decision today so stunning that for a big part of
the day, I almost could not believe it was real, and it was one of those
far right groups trying to punk us into covering a story that we never
should have believed in the first place.
But we called Oklahoma, we checked it out. It`s real. They really
did it and that story is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Several states today are refusing to
issue these ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities.
This is wrong. It causes division among our ranks, and it furthers
prejudice, which DOD has fought to extinguish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel came to New York late last
month and he called out nine states that were defying orders from the U.S.
Department of Defense. He called out those states where national guard
facilities were refusing equal treatment to some married couples in the
U.S. military and he demanded those states get their "bleep" together, to
some discriminating against certain service members. He gave them a
deadline, December 1st.
But with 10 days until the December 1st deadline, there are still some
states holding out.
The Texas National Guard, for example, appears to be flat out defying
the direct order from the Pentagon. Texas is deliberately refusing to
process any benefits or any housing allowances or any ID cards for service
members who are in same-sex marriages.
Service members in those marriages are being told by Texas that if
they want the sort of housing allowance that other married couples get and
that they`re legally entitled to, they have to do it at a federal
installation because a state installation will not help them. They are not
welcome in Texas state facilities. Wow.
And the Lone Star State is not alone. Of the nine states that had
been thwarting federal law and refusing to follow the chain of military
command on this issue, only four states have come around since Chuck Hagel
gave that blistering speech in New York and gave them a deadline.
The rest are now arguing that their state anti-gay laws give them
reason to ignore federal military policy and give them the right to
discriminate between different service members on their own terms.
In terms of lengths the states will go to, to deny those the rights in
the military, it is the great state of Oklahoma that wins the prize, takes
the cake, blows everybody`s mind. Anything else I can say? Not really.
Hard for me to explain how amazing I think this is.
Governor Mary Fallin in Oklahoma has decided to stop Oklahoma from
processing benefits for all couples, gay and straight, so she can stick to
her guns and not give gay couples their rights. Polls closed, kids!
Everybody go home. All of our schools, they`re now private. Wow.
Because Oklahoma has anti-gay marriage laws on the books, Governor
Mary Fallin says she simply cannot recognize same-sex couples in the
National Guard no matter what they`re in the United States military and
subject to federal military policy. So, every benefit that any married
couple is due from the Oklahoma National Guard will have to be gotten at
any one of four federally run facilities, because given the choice the
state of Oklahoma will pass when it comes to treating members of the
military the way the military says they ought to be treated.
Instead of treating anybody -- instead of treating one group with
dignity and one group with indignity, now nobody gets treated at all.
In the state of Oklahoma, marriage is canceled because they didn`t
want to have to offer its benefits, privileges and rights under law to
people who are gay, when told that they couldn`t just single out the gay
people and leave it for the straight people. They took it away from the
straight people, too.
Congratulation, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, you`re about to be way,
way more famous than you have ever been before.
That does it for us tonight. Thank you for being with us tonight.
"THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL" starts right now.
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