updated 12/27/2013 5:49:07 PM ET 2013-12-27T22:49:07







RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you, Chris.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  You know how some
news stories are just too crazy to believe?  I mean, you hear them, think
you`re getting it from a reputable source, but you think, yes, no, no, this
can`t be.  No way this could be, too crazy to be an actual thing.

Like for example, the other day, the story of the dead mouse bodies
filled up with Tylenol that the U.S. government was supposedly air-dropping
over a military base on Guam because the mice would attract invasive brown
tree snakes that were killing all the birds on the island.

However, the brown tree snakes have an Achilles` heel -- they
apparently cannot survive eating even a single sliver of a single dose of
Tylenol.  And because Tylenol is inexplicably deadly to brown tree snakes
that have invaded Guam, the U.S. government decided to feed the snakes
lethal doses of Tylenol by feeding them dead mice that had Tylenol in them.

Oh, and they also tied little individual parachutes to each mouse body
so that the dead mice would get hung up in the tree canopy because the
snakes prefer to eat that way.  That story can`t be true, right?  That`s
insane!  It sounds completely made up.  Painkiller-loaded dead mice
parachuting into Guam to solve a snake problem to save the birds.

Sounds like Mad Libs news.  Insert noun here, right?  It sounds like
it cannot possibly be a real thing.

But then, here is, in fact, a homemade paper parachute for a dead,
Tylenol-stuffed mouse, property of the United States Department of
Agriculture.  And here are the dead Tylenol-stuffed mice.  That`s them
getting parachuted out of that helicopter!  Posthumously parachuting into
Guam.

It happened just the other day.  And it did, in fact, happen to save
the native birds from those invasive brown snakes.  That story sounded
crazy.  If you were drinking in a bar and the stranger in the next seat
over tried to tell you that story, you would not have believed that dude at
the bar and you might have asked for what he was having.

You might not believe me, your TV host right now, and I am perfectly
sober at the moment, but the dead mice parachuting into Guam thing was
true.  That was last week.

And now, here is this week`s story that is even less believable, but
apparently is also true.  And it is a politics story.  If political tricks
were assembled purely from plot lines rejected from the TV show "The
Sopranos" for being too unrealistic, too unlikely.

All right, on the first day of school this yearn Fort Lee, New Jersey,
this happened.  The busiest bridge in the whole country, a bridge that
carries tens of thousands of cars and trucks and buses every day, stopped
working.  Not the whole bridge, just this one part.  This is a section of
the George Washington Bridge, again, busiest bridge in the entire country.

This is the part of it that connects to a town called Fort Lee, New
Jersey.  Normally, they`ve got three lanes going up to the bridge out of
Fort Lee.  But on the first day of school in New Jersey, in Fort Lee, New
Jersey, this year, Fort Lee discovered that somebody had closed down two of
their three lanes.  You could still get on to the bridge, but a trip that
normally took 30 minutes now lasted more than four hours.  Happy first day
of school, everybody.

The backup was so bad, it gridlocked not just near the bridge, but
basically, the whole town.  And the closing down of those lanes was a
complete surprise.  That bridge is so vital to the people who live around
there, that officials typically send out a press release any time they`re
doing any sort of construction work or closing a lane or anything else that
might disrupt the commute, because the knock-on effects are so significant
for that part of that state.

This time, though, there was no notice.  They didn`t tell local
police, didn`t tell local officials.  Nobody knew what was coming.  Two of
the three lanes just closed down and traffic backed up and that`s how local
officials and law enforcement found out it was happening.

Commuters could not get to work.  The traffic backed up on to local
streets.  The school buses just sat there.  They couldn`t get the kids to
school for first day of classes.  Quoting the local police chief, "We first
heard about this at 7:15 Monday morning.  It was the first day of school. 
Our parents now have to get up an hour and a half earlier to get their kids
to class."

On Monday, while all this was going on, we had to contend with a
missing 4-year-old, a cardiac arrest requiring an ambulance and a car
running up against a building.  What would have happened if there was a
serious accident?

And because Fort Lee had no warning whatsoever about what was coming,
because nobody had told them that their town was about to get turned into a
parking lot, people in Fort Lee also had no idea when those toll booths are
going to open up again so things could go back to normal.  Is this the new
normal?  Why is this happening?

But the people of Fort Lee did have a few ideas about why this maybe
was being done to their little town.  As the situation dragged on, it
wasn`t just one day.  It went on for day after day after day, went on all
week.  As the situation dragged on, drivers started calling the local
newspaper, asked if somebody was trying to punish the Democratic mayor of
their town for not supporting the new increase in the toll that you have to
pay to drive over the bridge.  They asked if maybe somebody was punishing
their mayor for building a new apartment building near the bridge.

Quote, "One of the biggest selling points for living in Fort Lee is
the short commute, but if the trip to work is longer than it would be for
living farther away, who would want to live here?"

Yes, nice commute you`ve got there.  Be a shame if something happened
to it.

On the short list of the conspiracy theories for why bridge officials
were strangling this one town in New Jersey without any warning at all, on
the short list of conspiracy theories was this one.  The Democratic mayor
of Fort Lee refused to endorse Chris Christie for re-election.  Quote,
"People familiar with the matter noted that the mayor had been asked and
declined to endorse Mr. Christie for re-election two weeks before the toll
booths shut down, and that mayor`s town got forcibly gridlocked into a
complete standstill."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was never going to lose his re-
election last month.  The question was not whether he was going to win but
by how much.  He even moved a special election for a U.S. Senate seat to a
day when he would not have to be on the ballot with a popular Democrat, so
as to not risk shrinking his margin of victory, didn`t want to run on the
same day that New Jersey was going to pick Newark Mayor Cory Booker as
their new Democratic U.S. senator.

Governor Christie`s decision to hold that election on a separate-day
from his own re-coronation cost the state millions of dollars.  Chris
Christie made that decision, even though he led the governor`s race by
double digits the whole way.

On his way to his second term, Chris Christie got support from dozens
of leading New Jersey Democrats, including lots and lots of local mayors,
but he did not get the endorsement of the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.

Well, then, they happened to discover one morning that ordinary life
had been suspended in his town with no warning, no notice and no news of
when it would end, on day four of the gridlock shutdown of Fort Lee, the
mayor wrote a letter to the agency that runs the bridge.  Quote, "Having
received absolutely no notice of this decision, not having obtained any
response to our multiple inquiries concerning same, and try as we may to
understand its rationale without the benefit of a response, we are reaching
the conclusion that there are punitive overtones associated with this
initiative.  What other conclusion could we possibly reach?"

Sounds crazy, right?  It sounds like mice out of planes crazy. 
Somebody closes down a couple of lanes on the on-ramp to the busiest bridge
in America because they`re out to get your town!  It sounds crazy, right? 
Sounds purely, purely crazy.

Except that New Jersey is sometimes a place where you cannot rule out
the crazy.  New Jersey is the kind of place where you can serve 20 years in
office before turning up for your year and a half in jail.  That was the
career path of Sharpe James, the one-time mayor of New Jersey`s largest
city, Newark.  New Jersey`s the kind of place where rabbis get arrested in
combination divorce-kidnap-poacher scandals that involve cattle prods, and,
New Jersey, when they report that you confess to taking bribes, they start
by explaining that you are neither the alleged money-laundering rabbi nor
the alleged trafficker in human organs, but a different guy.

In New Jersey, they make up legends about a corrupt mayor using a desk
with specially designed drawers so people who wanted to give the mayor a
bribe could drop the money in more discretely.  Just push the drawer out
the other side of the desk and drop in the check.  And when that myth gets
debunked, they explain in New Jersey that the legendary corrupt mayor was
so powerful, he would never need to collect the money himself.  He didn`t
need a drawer like that, he had guys.

New Jersey is that kind of a place.  And there are other places in
America that are like that, but New Jersey`s that kind of a place.  So, if
you are a New Jersey governor with profoundly national ambitions, then
rightly or wrongly, fairly or not fairly, you have to make some sort of
break from the New Jersey crazy if you want to play on the national stage. 
You have to make a break from all of the crazy that people just assume goes
along with life and politics in New Jersey.

When the mayor and the people of Fort Lee, New Jersey, started asking
whether something more was up, whether their town and their mayor were
being punished for this political decision, the agency that`s in charge of
the bridge denied that there was any sort of retaliation like that going
on.  They issued a written statement explaining why they gridlocked Fort
Lee, why they shut down their access to the bridge.

This was the written statement, quote, "The port authority has
conducted a week of study at the George Washington Bridge of traffic safety
patterns.  We will now review those results and determine the best traffic
patterns at the bridge."

But if closing two of the three lanes on to the bridge was part of a
study, why did the director of the agency write a blistering letter saying
he`d never heard of this study?  If this was a study of traffic on the
nation`s single busiest bridge, then why had nobody alerted the rest of the
agency, including, say, the traffic division, or, say, the engineering
division, or, say, the people who worked on the bridge, or, hey, say, the
local cops?

Good question.  And despite how crazy a question it might have seemed,
the question was not going away.

Last month, the "Wall Street Journal" reported that those lanes were
closed on that bridge on the orders of a single person, a guy hired by an
appointee of Governor Christie.  "Wall Street Journal" reported that on the
Sunday before the traffic jams began -- remember, the traffic jams began
first day of school, Monday morning -- the Sunday before, that official
called the bridge and told them to shut down two of those three lanes.  The
guy who gave the order, it turns out, is a former high school classmate and
friend of Governor Christie`s.  He worked as a political blogger in New
Jersey before going to work for the governor.

And according to "The Wall Street Journal," he showed up that Monday
morning on the first day of school, when the school buses couldn`t get
through, when nobody could move, when the gridlock was astounding in Fort
Lee to the point where nobody could conduct their daily business.  He
showed up that morning on the New Jersey side of the bridge and "looked out
over the traffic jam" that he helped create.

Again, supposedly for a traffic study that the traffic department did
not know was coming and that does not appear to exist in agency records.

Do you believe this story?  Last month, the Democrats in the New
Jersey legislature hauled in another top official from the bridge authority
and asked him about this supposed traffic study.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This hearing is about the lack of communication
and the poor conduct of the port authority -- you are here trying to cover
that up. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There`s no -- hold on, Assemblywoman -- 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I want to know whether or not you have an e-mail
trail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That`s nonsense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You`re telling me this study that had a major
disruption on your major bridge has no paper trail, that there is not a
single e-mail that explains how this was done?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Assemblywoman, I have sat here -- 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That defies all logic and nobody in this room
believes that!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I love New Jersey.  That was the week before Thanksgiving. 
Democrats in the New Jersey state house openly questioning whether bridge
officials are telling the truth or whether something else happened here and
something bigger is at stake.

Last week, Governor Christie just started joking openly about the
conspiracy theories here, saying, oh, yes, he was the guy who was working
the traffic cones on the bridge that day, ha, ha!  He said, I did it funny
me, ha, ha.

But on Friday?  Look what happened.  Governor Christie`s old high
school buddy, the guy who reportedly ordered those lanes closed and then
showed up to watch the chaos that ensued, late in the day on Friday, he
very quietly quit.  He resigned, saying that he had become a distraction.

And so, maybe this crazy story is at least not only funny right now. 
Today it took at least another dramatic turn.  Two officials told New
Jersey lawmakers at a hearing today that they were directed not to let
anybody know about the changes that were planned for the bridge that day. 
They were told to shut down the bridge and told to tell no one they were
doing it.  They said they worried about what would happen if they broke the
chain of command that way by not alerting anyone, as they would usually do.

Asked by lawmakers whether keeping silent at the time seemed wrong,
one of those bridge workers told lawmakers today, yes, yes, it did.

So, crazy story.  Maybe even a really crazy story.  Maybe even
something really crazy with national implications.  But could this story
about the busiest bridge in America be so very crazy that it is true? 
Could this possibly be true?  And how is New Jersey going to figure out if
it`s true?

Joining us now is New Jersey Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski,
who`s the chairman of assembly transportation committee, which is
investigating this very weird thing.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here.

STATE REP. JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY:  Rachel, thank you for
having me again.

MADDOW:  I, as you can tell, am completely mesmerized by this story. 
I have to ask you if I got any of the details wrong in explaining it.  I
know you`re deep in the weeds on this.

WISNIEWSKI:  No, no, I think you`ve hit all the high points on it. 
It`s mystifying, frustrating, aggravating all at the same time.  We have
the busiest bridge in America in New Jersey, crossing over to New York, and
we have one unaccountable official who makes a phone call and says close
those lanes and don`t tell anyone.  Don`t tell your boss, don`t tell the
police, don`t tell the people of Fort Lee, just do it.

MADDOW:  The thing that makes this sort of amazing, that gives it the
gape factor -- people sort of can`t help but stare at it -- is how petty it
is, if it is political retaliation, this is an incredibly obnoxious and
vindictive and stupid act of political retribution.  So, the question
remains whether or not political retribution can be proven as the motive
here.

But even without that, can you help us understand the kind of impact
of this decision?  I mean, it seems like it would have a pretty
significant, not just hassle factor implication, but also an economic
implication.

WISNIEWSKI:  It has so many implications.  First of all, everybody who
uses that entrance -- and it`s not just the people who live in Fort Lee. 
Clearly, they use it.

MADDOW:  Yes.

WISNIEWSKI:  But lots of people use that entrance because they know
it`s there and they find a quick way to get on the bridge.  All of those
people going to job interviews, going to work, taking their children to
school, going to doctors, all late, all delayed by hours.

Thank God there wasn`t a major issue that required first aid or a fire
department response.  The entire town of Fort Lee was gridlocked.  It was a
parking lot.  You could not move across town.  This was because of one man
making phone call.

And as to whether it`s political retribution, look, it`s either gross
incompetence on the management of the nation`s busiest bridge or it`s
political incompetence by people who thought they could get away with
something like this in broad daylight.  Either way, it stinks.

MADDOW:  The first explanation was this traffic study, which they
could never substantiate and which seems to have been, from my perspective,
seems to be debunked at this point.  They produce no paper that suggests a
study was being done, no results of that, nobody knew it was coming and
nobody was notified.

The next explanation was, ah, Fort Lee shouldn`t have those lanes
anyway, so we were thinking of what we could do to screw with Fort Lee. 
That seems like it`s probably not going to fly.

Anyway, is there any competing explanation that`s potentially innocent
in terms of whether this -- I guess not innocent.  Is there a potential
explanation that has arisen that is not about politics, that is about
something else with regard to the bridge rather than retaliation?

WISNIEWSKI:  Well, the explanation has morphed as time has gone on.

MADDOW:  Yes.

WISNIEWSKI:  The initial statement was it was a traffic safety study. 
When we heard from a deputy executive director Baroney a couple weeks ago
it was about the fairness of having lanes from Fort Lee.  And today, his
boss, the executive director, said there was no study.

So, was it "A," was it "B" or was it "C"?  And we have two of the
lower employees saying it was Mr. Wildstein who told us to close the lanes,
but we were afraid to report this to anybody else.  They were afraid for
their jobs.

MADDOW:  So, the reason that this story has national implications is
not just because it is a very busy bridge and it has economic implications,
it`s because of Chris Christie being the closest thing the Republican Party
has to a sure bet for running for president, running for the presidency. 
And if he runs, and it seems like he will, he`ll start off as a top-tier
candidate and maybe the only top-tier candidate in the country on the
Republican side.

Do you believe that this sort of action is representative of the way
that his administration has conducted themselves in New Jersey?

WISNIEWSKI:  It`s clear he can`t be trusted to run a toll bridge.  I
don`t know how he could be trusted to run a country.

MADDOW:  He denies any responsibility.  He says I had nothing to do
with this, I don`t get involved with little low-lying stuff like that.

WISNIEWSKI:  Of course not.  With his high school friend being the
number three man at port authority, he knew absolutely nothing about it?  I
find that hard to believe.

MADDOW:  Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the assembly
investigative committee, which is investigating this matter.  Stay in touch
with me.  I`m now so fascinated, I can`t stop reading about it and it`s
hurting my other work.

WISNIEWSKI:  I appreciate it.  Thank you very much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ll be right back.  Thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  If you`re in Arizona, if you`re in Phoenix, Arizona, and you
head due east, out past Tempe, out past Mesa, Arizona, if you head due east
on, I kid you not, the Superstition Highway, toward the Superstition
Mountains.  Some time before you get to the Lost Dutchman State Park in the
Superstition Mountains -- yes, these are all real places!  Thank you,
Arizona!

If you are on the Superstition Highway and on your way to the Lost
Dutchman, you will eventually find yourself on the way in Apache Junction,
Arizona.  It`s about 30 miles east of Phoenix.

And on Friday, in Apache Junction, Arizona, congress came to town. 
This is one of the best stunts that Congress does.  When they feel like it,
when they feel like circumstances warrant, Congress can road trip, they can
road trip whole congressional committees out into the country they call
them field hearings.

And the idea is that Congress needs to fact-find out in the world in a
way that they cannot do if they stay in Washington, D.C.  They need to get
out to the people and see for themselves and hear what`s really going on
close to the ground so as to avoid e selection bias that occurs when you
only hear from witnesses who can get themselves to D.C. and so, Darrell
Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who is
rather known for his showmanship, Darrell Issa has started recently taking
his oversight committee out on the road.  They`ve been holding field
hearings around the country on health reform, which is what he was doing on
the Superstition Highway in Apache Junction, Arizona, on Friday afternoon.

Here`s the thing, though.  Nobody`s allowed to speak at the hearings. 
Anybody who turns up for the hearings is not allowed to testify at them, no
matter if you sign up in advance, no matter if you call and ask if you can
testify, no matter if you sit there patiently and raise your hand, you
can`t talk if you go to his gig, because Congressman Issa has set out the
ground rules in advance for exactly what he wants to hear at his hearings.

This is amazing.  Look at this.  This is in advance of the hearing at
Apache Junction.

Congressman Issa wrote an op-ed in the local paper explaining what
kind of testimony he wanted to hear at his hearing.  He said the committee
wanted to hear specifically, quote, "From individuals who have felt the
impact of increased premiums and dropped insurance coverage as a result of
Obamacare."  Quote, "Tell us how Obamacare has negatively impacted you." 
At Friday`s fact-gathering process, and if Obamacare has not affected you
in a way that is not negative?  Well, that will not be part of this
hearing.

Look at the local coverage from "The Arizona Republic."  The only four
witnesses invited to testify were residents who said they have been
negatively affected by the health care program.  Audience members were not
permitted to speak.  A group of local seniors gathered outside the hearing
in support of health care reform.  An Arizona Department of Corrections
retiree from Apache Junction said he hadn`t been able to find affordable
insurance for his wife, who`s pre-diabetic and has high blood pressure,
until the Affordable Care Act was here.  Quote, "My income was less than
$60,000.  Through the Affordable Care Act, we can get insurance for less
than $300 a month.  It is the only hope I have in the world of having
health care for my wife."

Another man, quote, "said he was sexually assaulted in 2004 and
contracted HIV.  The Affordable Care Act assures that he can get insurance,
despite his pre-existing condition and he can keep it without worrying
about a lifetime spending limit.  He says, quote, "It costs $40,000 a year
for medications for me to stay alive.  A lifetime spending limit makes your
life a time bomb."

The HIV-positive man and several others told "The Arizona Republic"
that they asked to be included on the witness list for Darrell Issa`s
hearing but they were denied.  And it turns out the Republicans did the
same thing three weeks ago in Georgia.  Nobody with a positive story about
health care was allowed to testify, the people with positive stories to
tell, they were kept outside the hearing, trying to get in.  They were not
allowed to speak.

And, it turns out the Republicans did the same thing two weeks ago as
well.  They drove in from neighboring states.  They drove up from Atlanta. 
They applied in advance to give their own testimony about how they liked
the law and how it helped them.  They were not allowed to speak.  The
meetings are only for people who hate the law.  Nobody else talks.

I said three weeks ago in Georgia, two weeks ago in Georgia, three
weeks ago in North Carolina.  Perhaps a little bit stung by all the people
turning up at these field hearings, saying, hey, wait a minute, all the
witnesses are saying the same thing.

We have something to say, too, that`s different than what they all
have to say.  Perhaps stunned by that criticism, now that they`ve tried to
pull off a few of these stunts and the local press keeps noticing the one-
sided nature of the hearings in all of these towns and states, perhaps
stunned by that, Congressman Issa did finally say in Arizona on Friday that
he wouldn`t mind hearing from people who do like the law.  He said, if
anybody has had positive experiences with the affordable care act and
they`d like to let his committee know, you could please e-mail him.  E-mail
him your positive stories.

Meanwhile, the House Republicans will keep holding these field
hearings as a sort of traveling road show where they advance book testimony
only from people who agree in advance to say what the Republicans are there
to hear.  So, it`s less of a hearing, more of a pageant, really.

Darrell Issa`s rich pageant of prearranged criticism may be coming to
your town soon, so, do please keep an eye out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  A few weeks ago on the show, I mentioned the wonder that is
"Duck Dynasty."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If you haven`t watched it, you owe it to yourself to watch it
just so you understand your country, in the sense that you need to
understand what everybody else is watching.  "Duck Dynasty" is a phenomenon
like no other on the TV machine in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  In America, yes, it`s true, "Duck Dynasty" wins everything
when it comes to reality TV.  And why shouldn`t it?  "Duck Dynasty" is the
most-watched reality TV show thing in the history of reality TV show
things.

In America, "Duck Dynasty" rightly is the king.  In other countries,
reality TV is different.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MADDOW:  A very unexpected contender from today`s news for Debunktion
Junction tonight for "Arabs Got Talent," for prison news, for Senator Rand
Paul`s efforts to find an African-American audience in Detroit.  We are in
an unexpectedly busy time in the news cycle, and it turns out, some of it
is bunk.

Debunktion Junction is coming up in just a moment.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In one picture, this is what`s going on in the federal court
system.  This is as of last month.  As you can see here, the number of
federal judges who are appointed by Republican presidents and also the
number of federal judges who are appointed by Democratic presidents, they
are equal numbers.  It`s an even split.  Mazel tov!

We have parody in the federal court system.  But what is really,
really interesting about this even split in the court system is that this,
it turns out, is not the whole picture.  This is the whole picture, because
in addition to the even split between judges appointed by Republicans and
judges appointed by Democrats, there are also 93 vacancies, 93 seats on the
federal courts that have no judge in them rig now, and that, therefore,
could be filled by President Obama if he had nominees for those seats and
if those nominations could get through the Senate.

In June, President Obama put forward three nominees for three
vacancies on one particularly important federal court that sits in D.C.  At
the Rose Garden ceremony where he put forward those three nominees, the
president said, "What I am doing today is my job.  I need the Senate to do
its job."

Republicans in the Senate, though, decided that they were going to
block all three of those nominees.  Now, interestingly, they had no
objections to any of the judges as judges.  They did not even try to make
the case that they found anything about them objectionable.  One of the
nominees worked in the George W. Bush administration as an assistant
solicitor general. 

Republicans had no problem with any of these people being judges, no
substantive problems.  They just didn`t want preside Obama to be able to
sit his own nominees on that court, no matter who the nominees were.

There are judicial vacancies, but they don`t want President Obama to
fill those vacancies, so the Republicans blocked those three nominees.  And
the Democrats responded by being very upset, as usual, right?  Exclaiming
about how terrible it all was and threatening!  Oh, boy, did they threaten,
like they always do.

The Democrats huffed and they puffed and got very upset, just like
they always do when Republicans do stuff like this, except this time, they
actually huffed and puffed and did blow the house down.  The Democrats made
good on their threats, blowing everybody`s minds in the process.

Democrats finally decided to do something about the fact that
Republicans were blocking the president`s nominations just because they
didn`t want this particular president to be able to do that particular part
of the job of being president.  Democrats responded to that by changing the
rules in the Senate.  They took away Senate Republicans` ability to block
judges with just a minority of votes.

Now, any judge who can get a majority, any judge who can get 51 votes
in the Senate gets confirmed.  Republicans cannot block judicial nominees
anymore unless they can get a majority of senators to agree with them.  And
it is interesting in terms of the political combat, right?  Democrats
standing up for themselves!

Hmm.  It`s interesting in terms of those three nominees who were
blocked through no fault of their own.  But in the big picture, this is
really, really, really interesting mostly because it`s so stupid, right?

I mean, for Republicans, this was terrifically bad strategy.  I mean,
maybe they thought Democrats would never actually follow through on their
threats and change the rules, but when the Democrats did follow up on their
threats and they changed the rules, look at the trade-off the Republicans
made.  I mean, what happened is in order to block three appointees to one
court, in order to push the envelope as far as possible to block these
three judges who they didn`t even dislike, Republicans in the Senate
torpedoed their own ability to block any more judges going forward
indefinitely.  Thus, all but insuring those three judges who they objected
to are going to get their jobs.

But also, maybe another 93 judges are going to get named as well. 
There are 93 vacancies, 93 federal judges who can now be appointed by a
Democratic president, and the Republicans can no longer block that
president from seating his nominees with only a minority of votes.

That change happens in the Senate on November 21st.  And then the
Senate promptly adjourned.  And today was the first day that we are going
to have Washington`s new rules in action.  Today was the first day of the
new, changed Washington.

Today, the Senate had scheduled their very first vote, the nomination
-- for the very first vote.  They had scheduled a vote on the nomination of
one of those three judges who the Republicans had blocked before but who
they are now powerless to block, and it was all this speculation today
about what the Republicans were going do with that vote.  Do they have a
trick up their sleeve, right?  Is there something they could try to do to
disrupt this process in some other way that nobody`s seen before?  The
Republicans keep saying they`re going to get their revenge and Democrats
will be sorry for what they did.

What are Republicans going to do?  I mean, this is unchartered
territory as of today.  First vote after this big, historic, long-
threatened, never-done-before rules change.  What are the Republicans going
to do?  What`s going to happen?

No idea.  No idea!  Because it turns out, snow day.  Yes, snow day in
Washington today.  Schools were closed, the federal government opened late.

And the Senate was basically snowed out.  They canceled almost
everything.  They did have that judge vote on the schedule, but snow day. 
If you watched any East Coast NFL games yesterday, you know that it was
snowing.  And because of the hard weather on the East Coast, senators got
stranded in their home states, they couldn`t get back to Washington for
votes, so they moved all of today`s votes to tomorrow.

But hey, look, here`s the weather forecast for tomorrow, chance of
snow on Tuesday in Washington?  Chance of snow 100 percent.  So, if today
was a snow day, who knows if it`s going to happen tomorrow, either.

But when senators do finally tunnel their way like mole men back into
the U.S. capitol building, what are they going to do?  What`s the new
normal?  They`re going to be operating under this whole set of new rules
they have never operated under before. 

Do the Republicans have trick up their sleeves to sort of stymie what
the Democrats think they can do now?  Do they have other things they can do
to stop these nominations from going forward or from stopping the Senate
wholesale? 

These nominees that have been bottlenecked, it`s not just judges, it`s
the new chair of the Federal Reserve.  The nominee is Janet Yellen.  It`s
the nominee to be director of homeland security, Jeh Johnson.  Are all of
these nominees that have been bottlenecked for so long, are they all now
going to get a vote or do Republicans have something in mind?

By the way, if the bottleneck is cleared, are those 93 vacancies on
the federal bench all now going to get filled in, too, all in a rush, all
at once?

So far, the weather report says no.  The political report, however, is
cloudier at this point and harder to read.

Joining us to help is Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for "The
Huffington Post."

Mr. Grim, nice to see you.  Thanks for being here.

RYAN GRIM, HUFFINGTON POST:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  So, we`re all set for this showdown, this historic vote on
Patricia Millet, and then a snow day.  There is speculation of what
Republicans would have done if it hadn`t been snowing.

Did you have any idea what their strategy was going to be or what
their plans are?

GRIM:  There isn`t much they can do, because they`re operating more or
less under the same rules they used to, it`s just that the number of votes
needed to move forward is different.  You know, they could make a motion to
adjourn and they could force a couple of show votes, but as long as
everybody`s there in the Senate, they can get through the snow and they can
cast their votes, say, no, we`re not adjourning, you know, they can only
push it off for a couple hours.

You know, they have a bigger problem in that there are, as you said,
there are 93 judges.  And in the Senate, you can`t call up all 93 and just
run them right through, because each one has to go through some amount of
hours of cloture period.  And you know, the Senate moves so slowly that you
actually do then start running into, say, the July recess.

MADDOW:  In terms of the next steps here, do we -- there had been some
noise from the Republicans that they might stop everything in the Senate,
that they wouldn`t just make this a fight over nominees, that they would
refuse to do even the regular business of the Senate.

Do you expect to see any of that?  We already are seeing some noises
that they`re going to do things like passing a defense bill. 

GRIM:  Right, exactly.  So, the minority party, when the majority
threatens to change the rules always says if you do that, we are going to
gum everything up, we`re going to make life so difficult for you that you
won`t be able to govern this chamber.  But that`s a threat and it`s an
empty threat.

And the reason is that it makes sense in general to say something like
that, but when something specific comes up, like a defense bill, it doesn`t
help you back at home, say, well, why did you block this defense bill?  Oh,
I blocked it because I was upset about a rules change they had made two
months earlier.  That doesn`t fly.

So, once individual things start moving, they just start moving and
life gets back to normal.  And you`re right, they did that, they threw a
tantrum over a defense bill right before a recess, so that didn`t move. 
And so, it sat there for a couple weeks.  But things are going to start
moving, you know, as they get back now.

It`s one of those empty threats that is always made.  Democrats didn`t
back down.  They changed the rules anyway and Republicans are now kind of
stuck with it.

MADDOW:  Ryan, to that point, when we got the announcement today that
because of snow, there would be no votes today, after that point, we did
actually get a vote on extending the plastic gun ban.  If almost no
senators were back at the capitol and back in Washington and so many people
were stranded, how were they able to take that plastic gun vote?

GRIM:  That`s actually a perfect example.  So, the way they do a vote
like that is they send out what`s called a hotline to every Senate office. 
They say, we want to pass this by unanimous consent.

If you object, just tell us, and we won`t do it, or we`ll put it on
the floor and we`ll make one person object just so that we can have that
show.  So, they sent this hotline out.  And nobody objected.  Everybody
said, look, yes, this is a gun law that we want to see passed.  I know
there`s a lot of pressure to do something about this expiring plastic gun
law.

And so, they passed it.  And so, this is after there had been these
threats that nothing would get through the Senate.

And it steps back on that specific reverse general logic.  It`s fine
in general to say you`re going to stop everything, but then this law comes
forward and they say, well, actually, that we`re going to let pass.

MADDOW:  Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for "The Huffington Post,"
a provider of much-needed perspective, thanks for your time tonight, Ryan.

GRIM:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  Straight ahead, we got another installment of
Debunktion Junction, now with extra singing.  Luckily, none of it by me.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  This was the scene earlier today inside the South African
embassy in Washington, D.C.  Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr.
Jill Biden, visiting that embassy this morning to officially sign the book
of condolences for Nelson Mandela.

Vice President Biden was received at the embassy by South Africa`s
ambassador to the U.S.  Mr. Biden said at the meeting that Nelson Mandela
was, quote, "The most remarkable man I ever met in my whole career."

A few hours before the vice president`s trip to the embassy, President
Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama boarded Air Force One to start the
long, 16-hour flight to South Africa, where they will attend the memorial
service for Nelson Mandela that will be held tomorrow morning.

As we speak, world leaders from every corner of the globe are on their
way to South Africa for that memorial service and for the funeral and the
other events that are going to take place there over the next few days. 
The American delegation to South Africa includes not only President Obama
and the first lady, but also three former presidents, George W. Bush will
be there and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.  This appears to be on the
second time in U.S. history that that many presidents, four living
presidents, will be together, somewhere outside the United States.

The only other time that has ever happened in history was at the
funeral of Jordan`s King Hussein back in 1999, when the president was Bill
Clinton and he was joined by three of his presidential predecessors.

But four U.S. presidents all together, all at once, that will be part
of the remarkable scene tomorrow morning outside South Africa`s largest
soccer stadium in the city of Johannesburg, in Soweto.

You may remember this from the amazingly large chorus of vuvuzelas
there when South Africa hosted the World Cup.  That huge stadium in Soweto
is where Nelson Mandela made his final public appearance during that World
Cup three years ago.  When President Obama left the White House this
morning, it was unclear whether or no he would be asked to speak at
tomorrow`s memorial service at the stadium, but we now know that President
Obama will be one of six foreign leaders who will be delivering remarks at
the event.  It will be our president along with the presidents of Brazil,
Namibia, India, Cuba, as well as the vice president of China.

After tomorrow`s memorial service, Nelson Mandela`s body will lie in
state for three days in the capital city of Pretoria, before he`s finally
laid to rest on Sunday in his childhood home of Qunu.

In all, more than 90 world leaders and dignitaries are expected to
attend the memorial service tomorrow, which the South African government
says will likely be among the largest gathering of world leaders in human
industry.  This is going to be a big deal.  And if you want to see it given
that you are awake right now and hearing the sound of my voice, you may
want to set your DVR right now for the morning.

MSNBC is going to have live coverage of tomorrow`s memorial service
for Nelson Mandela starting at 4:00 a.m. Eastern Time.  It is the miracle
of time zones, right?  Again, the starting time for the live service
tomorrow morning in Johannesburg is 4:00 a.m. Eastern, right here on MSNBC.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Hoot, hoot!  Debunktion Junction, what`s my function?

All right.  True or false?  This was the audience at the Republican
Party`s African-American outreach event in Detroit on Friday.  The
Republican Party threw an African-American outreach event, but they held it
for an almost all-white audience.  Is that true or is that false?

True.

These pictures are from Ann Savage at the awesome Michigan politics
site at Eclectablog.  And they showed the audience at the Grace Bible
Chapel in Detroit, as Senator Rand Paul hosted as what was billed as a
celebration of the opening of the Republican Party`s African-American
engagement office in Detroit.

If you were trying to attract black voters to the Republican Party, it
is a mysterious decision to pick the guy who could not say he supported the
Civil Rights Act, the guy who hired the masked Confederate Southern Avenger
guy as his staffer and to co-write his book.  It would be hard to imagine a
worse person for the Republican Party to choose in 2013 to roll out the
welcome mat to black voters.

But if you do, choose that guy to try to attract black voters.  This
is apparently what you get for turnout.  That is true.

OK.  Next up, true or false.  Although President Obama wants to close
Guantanamo and put the prisoners there on trial or send them home, Congress
is blocking that from happening.  Is that true or is that false?

False, kind of.  At least as of tomorrow, it is probably false.

Ever since President Obama announced his plans to close Guantanamo,
congress really has been blocking him from sending prisoners to their home
countries or transferring them to the real court system.  You`ll recall
that in the `08 campaign, it was Barack Obama who said he would close
Guantanamo, running against John McCain, who said he would close
Guantanamo, both vying to replace President George W. Bush, who also said
we should close Guantanamo.

This did not used to be a controversial thing.  But then President
Obama actually got inaugurated and Congress freaked out, Republicans and
Democrats in Congress both.  They`ve used the defense bill every year since
2009 to stop President Obama from transferring Guantanamo prisoners to
their home countries, even if they have been cleared for release.

But now, tonight, Republicans and Democrats in the House and the
Senate say the new dense bill for this year will start to drop those
restrictions, finally.  So the Obama administration will finally be able to
start sending home some of the dozens of Guantanamo prisoners who are
cleared for release, who have only had Congress standing in the way.  That
is the plan, at least, the vote should be tomorrow.  Snow permitting.

OK, and finally, this is the best one.  Is it true or is it false that
the American singer who is a new international superstar in classical
Arabic singing does not speak Arabic?  Here she is singing what I am told
is a near-perfect rendition of a famous Arabic love song.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MADDOW:  That is Jennifer Grout, a 23-year-old woman from Boston,
singing a classical love song on "Arabs Got Talent," a competition airing
out of Beirut.

But is it true or false that this U.S. superstar in classical Arabic
singing does not speak Arabic?  Is that true or is that false?

True.  It is true.  Turns out you don`t have to speak it to sing it. 
She is a classically trained vocalist who studied at Mcgill University in
Canada.  She tells "The Guardian" newspaper that she has a natural affinity
for picking up accents, but not a natural affinity for picking up
languages.

Here she is auditioning for the show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated):  What is your name?

JENNIFER GROUT:  Sorry? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What`s your name? 

GROUT:  Jennifer.

OK.

(SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Jennifer, Jennifer.  Jennifer, Jennifer,
Jennifer.

(translated):  You do not know one word in Arabic, but you sing in
Arabic better than those who do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  She did so well, singing in Arabic, that she made it all the
way to the finale this past weekend and she almost won.  She almost won the
"Arabs Got Talent" competition singing Arabic songs and -- yes, speaking no
Arabic whatsoever.  It`s true and amazing, and humbling in about 9,000
different ways.

That does it for us tonight.

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

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Today, Republicans were called
heartless about unemployment benefits and clueless when talking to women
voters, again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The steadily improving economy is actually on the
horizon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A budget deal by the end of the week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But, of course, there`s a caveat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But at what cost for the unemployed. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Congress has just five days left.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Federal benefits expire at the end of the year,
to vote to extend the unemployment benefit program. 

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY:  I do support unemployment benefits for
the 26 weeks they`re paid for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The Republican argument from Senator Rand Paul.

PAUL:  If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these
workers.

END





this year, discovered that somebody had closed down two of their three
lanes.  If the bottleneck is cleared, 93 vacancies on the federal bench are
all now going to get filled in. >
Politics>

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you, Chris.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  You know how some
news stories are just too crazy to believe?  I mean, you hear them, think
you`re getting it from a reputable source, but you think, yes, no, no, this
can`t be.  No way this could be, too crazy to be an actual thing.

Like for example, the other day, the story of the dead mouse bodies
filled up with Tylenol that the U.S. government was supposedly air-dropping
over a military base on Guam because the mice would attract invasive brown
tree snakes that were killing all the birds on the island.

However, the brown tree snakes have an Achilles` heel -- they
apparently cannot survive eating even a single sliver of a single dose of
Tylenol.  And because Tylenol is inexplicably deadly to brown tree snakes
that have invaded Guam, the U.S. government decided to feed the snakes
lethal doses of Tylenol by feeding them dead mice that had Tylenol in them.

Oh, and they also tied little individual parachutes to each mouse body
so that the dead mice would get hung up in the tree canopy because the
snakes prefer to eat that way.  That story can`t be true, right?  That`s
insane!  It sounds completely made up.  Painkiller-loaded dead mice
parachuting into Guam to solve a snake problem to save the birds.

Sounds like Mad Libs news.  Insert noun here, right?  It sounds like
it cannot possibly be a real thing.

But then, here is, in fact, a homemade paper parachute for a dead,
Tylenol-stuffed mouse, property of the United States Department of
Agriculture.  And here are the dead Tylenol-stuffed mice.  That`s them
getting parachuted out of that helicopter!  Posthumously parachuting into
Guam.

It happened just the other day.  And it did, in fact, happen to save
the native birds from those invasive brown snakes.  That story sounded
crazy.  If you were drinking in a bar and the stranger in the next seat
over tried to tell you that story, you would not have believed that dude at
the bar and you might have asked for what he was having.

You might not believe me, your TV host right now, and I am perfectly
sober at the moment, but the dead mice parachuting into Guam thing was
true.  That was last week.

And now, here is this week`s story that is even less believable, but
apparently is also true.  And it is a politics story.  If political tricks
were assembled purely from plot lines rejected from the TV show "The
Sopranos" for being too unrealistic, too unlikely.

All right, on the first day of school this yearn Fort Lee, New Jersey,
this happened.  The busiest bridge in the whole country, a bridge that
carries tens of thousands of cars and trucks and buses every day, stopped
working.  Not the whole bridge, just this one part.  This is a section of
the George Washington Bridge, again, busiest bridge in the entire country.

This is the part of it that connects to a town called Fort Lee, New
Jersey.  Normally, they`ve got three lanes going up to the bridge out of
Fort Lee.  But on the first day of school in New Jersey, in Fort Lee, New
Jersey, this year, Fort Lee discovered that somebody had closed down two of
their three lanes.  You could still get on to the bridge, but a trip that
normally took 30 minutes now lasted more than four hours.  Happy first day
of school, everybody.

The backup was so bad, it gridlocked not just near the bridge, but
basically, the whole town.  And the closing down of those lanes was a
complete surprise.  That bridge is so vital to the people who live around
there, that officials typically send out a press release any time they`re
doing any sort of construction work or closing a lane or anything else that
might disrupt the commute, because the knock-on effects are so significant
for that part of that state.

This time, though, there was no notice.  They didn`t tell local
police, didn`t tell local officials.  Nobody knew what was coming.  Two of
the three lanes just closed down and traffic backed up and that`s how local
officials and law enforcement found out it was happening.

Commuters could not get to work.  The traffic backed up on to local
streets.  The school buses just sat there.  They couldn`t get the kids to
school for first day of classes.  Quoting the local police chief, "We first
heard about this at 7:15 Monday morning.  It was the first day of school. 
Our parents now have to get up an hour and a half earlier to get their kids
to class."

On Monday, while all this was going on, we had to contend with a
missing 4-year-old, a cardiac arrest requiring an ambulance and a car
running up against a building.  What would have happened if there was a
serious accident?

And because Fort Lee had no warning whatsoever about what was coming,
because nobody had told them that their town was about to get turned into a
parking lot, people in Fort Lee also had no idea when those toll booths are
going to open up again so things could go back to normal.  Is this the new
normal?  Why is this happening?

But the people of Fort Lee did have a few ideas about why this maybe
was being done to their little town.  As the situation dragged on, it
wasn`t just one day.  It went on for day after day after day, went on all
week.  As the situation dragged on, drivers started calling the local
newspaper, asked if somebody was trying to punish the Democratic mayor of
their town for not supporting the new increase in the toll that you have to
pay to drive over the bridge.  They asked if maybe somebody was punishing
their mayor for building a new apartment building near the bridge.

Quote, "One of the biggest selling points for living in Fort Lee is
the short commute, but if the trip to work is longer than it would be for
living farther away, who would want to live here?"

Yes, nice commute you`ve got there.  Be a shame if something happened
to it.

On the short list of the conspiracy theories for why bridge officials
were strangling this one town in New Jersey without any warning at all, on
the short list of conspiracy theories was this one.  The Democratic mayor
of Fort Lee refused to endorse Chris Christie for re-election.  Quote,
"People familiar with the matter noted that the mayor had been asked and
declined to endorse Mr. Christie for re-election two weeks before the toll
booths shut down, and that mayor`s town got forcibly gridlocked into a
complete standstill."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was never going to lose his re-
election last month.  The question was not whether he was going to win but
by how much.  He even moved a special election for a U.S. Senate seat to a
day when he would not have to be on the ballot with a popular Democrat, so
as to not risk shrinking his margin of victory, didn`t want to run on the
same day that New Jersey was going to pick Newark Mayor Cory Booker as
their new Democratic U.S. senator.

Governor Christie`s decision to hold that election on a separate-day
from his own re-coronation cost the state millions of dollars.  Chris
Christie made that decision, even though he led the governor`s race by
double digits the whole way.

On his way to his second term, Chris Christie got support from dozens
of leading New Jersey Democrats, including lots and lots of local mayors,
but he did not get the endorsement of the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.

Well, then, they happened to discover one morning that ordinary life
had been suspended in his town with no warning, no notice and no news of
when it would end, on day four of the gridlock shutdown of Fort Lee, the
mayor wrote a letter to the agency that runs the bridge.  Quote, "Having
received absolutely no notice of this decision, not having obtained any
response to our multiple inquiries concerning same, and try as we may to
understand its rationale without the benefit of a response, we are reaching
the conclusion that there are punitive overtones associated with this
initiative.  What other conclusion could we possibly reach?"

Sounds crazy, right?  It sounds like mice out of planes crazy. 
Somebody closes down a couple of lanes on the on-ramp to the busiest bridge
in America because they`re out to get your town!  It sounds crazy, right? 
Sounds purely, purely crazy.

Except that New Jersey is sometimes a place where you cannot rule out
the crazy.  New Jersey is the kind of place where you can serve 20 years in
office before turning up for your year and a half in jail.  That was the
career path of Sharpe James, the one-time mayor of New Jersey`s largest
city, Newark.  New Jersey`s the kind of place where rabbis get arrested in
combination divorce-kidnap-poacher scandals that involve cattle prods, and,
New Jersey, when they report that you confess to taking bribes, they start
by explaining that you are neither the alleged money-laundering rabbi nor
the alleged trafficker in human organs, but a different guy.

In New Jersey, they make up legends about a corrupt mayor using a desk
with specially designed drawers so people who wanted to give the mayor a
bribe could drop the money in more discretely.  Just push the drawer out
the other side of the desk and drop in the check.  And when that myth gets
debunked, they explain in New Jersey that the legendary corrupt mayor was
so powerful, he would never need to collect the money himself.  He didn`t
need a drawer like that, he had guys.

New Jersey is that kind of a place.  And there are other places in
America that are like that, but New Jersey`s that kind of a place.  So, if
you are a New Jersey governor with profoundly national ambitions, then
rightly or wrongly, fairly or not fairly, you have to make some sort of
break from the New Jersey crazy if you want to play on the national stage. 
You have to make a break from all of the crazy that people just assume goes
along with life and politics in New Jersey.

When the mayor and the people of Fort Lee, New Jersey, started asking
whether something more was up, whether their town and their mayor were
being punished for this political decision, the agency that`s in charge of
the bridge denied that there was any sort of retaliation like that going
on.  They issued a written statement explaining why they gridlocked Fort
Lee, why they shut down their access to the bridge.

This was the written statement, quote, "The port authority has
conducted a week of study at the George Washington Bridge of traffic safety
patterns.  We will now review those results and determine the best traffic
patterns at the bridge."

But if closing two of the three lanes on to the bridge was part of a
study, why did the director of the agency write a blistering letter saying
he`d never heard of this study?  If this was a study of traffic on the
nation`s single busiest bridge, then why had nobody alerted the rest of the
agency, including, say, the traffic division, or, say, the engineering
division, or, say, the people who worked on the bridge, or, hey, say, the
local cops?

Good question.  And despite how crazy a question it might have seemed,
the question was not going away.

Last month, the "Wall Street Journal" reported that those lanes were
closed on that bridge on the orders of a single person, a guy hired by an
appointee of Governor Christie.  "Wall Street Journal" reported that on the
Sunday before the traffic jams began -- remember, the traffic jams began
first day of school, Monday morning -- the Sunday before, that official
called the bridge and told them to shut down two of those three lanes.  The
guy who gave the order, it turns out, is a former high school classmate and
friend of Governor Christie`s.  He worked as a political blogger in New
Jersey before going to work for the governor.

And according to "The Wall Street Journal," he showed up that Monday
morning on the first day of school, when the school buses couldn`t get
through, when nobody could move, when the gridlock was astounding in Fort
Lee to the point where nobody could conduct their daily business.  He
showed up that morning on the New Jersey side of the bridge and "looked out
over the traffic jam" that he helped create.

Again, supposedly for a traffic study that the traffic department did
not know was coming and that does not appear to exist in agency records.

Do you believe this story?  Last month, the Democrats in the New
Jersey legislature hauled in another top official from the bridge authority
and asked him about this supposed traffic study.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This hearing is about the lack of communication
and the poor conduct of the port authority -- you are here trying to cover
that up. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There`s no -- hold on, Assemblywoman -- 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I want to know whether or not you have an e-mail
trail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That`s nonsense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You`re telling me this study that had a major
disruption on your major bridge has no paper trail, that there is not a
single e-mail that explains how this was done?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Assemblywoman, I have sat here -- 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That defies all logic and nobody in this room
believes that!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I love New Jersey.  That was the week before Thanksgiving. 
Democrats in the New Jersey state house openly questioning whether bridge
officials are telling the truth or whether something else happened here and
something bigger is at stake.

Last week, Governor Christie just started joking openly about the
conspiracy theories here, saying, oh, yes, he was the guy who was working
the traffic cones on the bridge that day, ha, ha!  He said, I did it funny
me, ha, ha.

But on Friday?  Look what happened.  Governor Christie`s old high
school buddy, the guy who reportedly ordered those lanes closed and then
showed up to watch the chaos that ensued, late in the day on Friday, he
very quietly quit.  He resigned, saying that he had become a distraction.

And so, maybe this crazy story is at least not only funny right now. 
Today it took at least another dramatic turn.  Two officials told New
Jersey lawmakers at a hearing today that they were directed not to let
anybody know about the changes that were planned for the bridge that day. 
They were told to shut down the bridge and told to tell no one they were
doing it.  They said they worried about what would happen if they broke the
chain of command that way by not alerting anyone, as they would usually do.

Asked by lawmakers whether keeping silent at the time seemed wrong,
one of those bridge workers told lawmakers today, yes, yes, it did.

So, crazy story.  Maybe even a really crazy story.  Maybe even
something really crazy with national implications.  But could this story
about the busiest bridge in America be so very crazy that it is true? 
Could this possibly be true?  And how is New Jersey going to figure out if
it`s true?

Joining us now is New Jersey Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski,
who`s the chairman of assembly transportation committee, which is
investigating this very weird thing.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here.

STATE REP. JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY:  Rachel, thank you for
having me again.

MADDOW:  I, as you can tell, am completely mesmerized by this story. 
I have to ask you if I got any of the details wrong in explaining it.  I
know you`re deep in the weeds on this.

WISNIEWSKI:  No, no, I think you`ve hit all the high points on it. 
It`s mystifying, frustrating, aggravating all at the same time.  We have
the busiest bridge in America in New Jersey, crossing over to New York, and
we have one unaccountable official who makes a phone call and says close
those lanes and don`t tell anyone.  Don`t tell your boss, don`t tell the
police, don`t tell the people of Fort Lee, just do it.

MADDOW:  The thing that makes this sort of amazing, that gives it the
gape factor -- people sort of can`t help but stare at it -- is how petty it
is, if it is political retaliation, this is an incredibly obnoxious and
vindictive and stupid act of political retribution.  So, the question
remains whether or not political retribution can be proven as the motive
here.

But even without that, can you help us understand the kind of impact
of this decision?  I mean, it seems like it would have a pretty
significant, not just hassle factor implication, but also an economic
implication.

WISNIEWSKI:  It has so many implications.  First of all, everybody who
uses that entrance -- and it`s not just the people who live in Fort Lee. 
Clearly, they use it.

MADDOW:  Yes.

WISNIEWSKI:  But lots of people use that entrance because they know
it`s there and they find a quick way to get on the bridge.  All of those
people going to job interviews, going to work, taking their children to
school, going to doctors, all late, all delayed by hours.

Thank God there wasn`t a major issue that required first aid or a fire
department response.  The entire town of Fort Lee was gridlocked.  It was a
parking lot.  You could not move across town.  This was because of one man
making phone call.

And as to whether it`s political retribution, look, it`s either gross
incompetence on the management of the nation`s busiest bridge or it`s
political incompetence by people who thought they could get away with
something like this in broad daylight.  Either way, it stinks.

MADDOW:  The first explanation was this traffic study, which they
could never substantiate and which seems to have been, from my perspective,
seems to be debunked at this point.  They produce no paper that suggests a
study was being done, no results of that, nobody knew it was coming and
nobody was notified.

The next explanation was, ah, Fort Lee shouldn`t have those lanes
anyway, so we were thinking of what we could do to screw with Fort Lee. 
That seems like it`s probably not going to fly.

Anyway, is there any competing explanation that`s potentially innocent
in terms of whether this -- I guess not innocent.  Is there a potential
explanation that has arisen that is not about politics, that is about
something else with regard to the bridge rather than retaliation?

WISNIEWSKI:  Well, the explanation has morphed as time has gone on.

MADDOW:  Yes.

WISNIEWSKI:  The initial statement was it was a traffic safety study. 
When we heard from a deputy executive director Baroney a couple weeks ago
it was about the fairness of having lanes from Fort Lee.  And today, his
boss, the executive director, said there was no study.

So, was it "A," was it "B" or was it "C"?  And we have two of the
lower employees saying it was Mr. Wildstein who told us to close the lanes,
but we were afraid to report this to anybody else.  They were afraid for
their jobs.

MADDOW:  So, the reason that this story has national implications is
not just because it is a very busy bridge and it has economic implications,
it`s because of Chris Christie being the closest thing the Republican Party
has to a sure bet for running for president, running for the presidency. 
And if he runs, and it seems like he will, he`ll start off as a top-tier
candidate and maybe the only top-tier candidate in the country on the
Republican side.

Do you believe that this sort of action is representative of the way
that his administration has conducted themselves in New Jersey?

WISNIEWSKI:  It`s clear he can`t be trusted to run a toll bridge.  I
don`t know how he could be trusted to run a country.

MADDOW:  He denies any responsibility.  He says I had nothing to do
with this, I don`t get involved with little low-lying stuff like that.

WISNIEWSKI:  Of course not.  With his high school friend being the
number three man at port authority, he knew absolutely nothing about it?  I
find that hard to believe.

MADDOW:  Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the assembly
investigative committee, which is investigating this matter.  Stay in touch
with me.  I`m now so fascinated, I can`t stop reading about it and it`s
hurting my other work.

WISNIEWSKI:  I appreciate it.  Thank you very much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  We`ll be right back.  Thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  If you`re in Arizona, if you`re in Phoenix, Arizona, and you
head due east, out past Tempe, out past Mesa, Arizona, if you head due east
on, I kid you not, the Superstition Highway, toward the Superstition
Mountains.  Some time before you get to the Lost Dutchman State Park in the
Superstition Mountains -- yes, these are all real places!  Thank you,
Arizona!

If you are on the Superstition Highway and on your way to the Lost
Dutchman, you will eventually find yourself on the way in Apache Junction,
Arizona.  It`s about 30 miles east of Phoenix.

And on Friday, in Apache Junction, Arizona, congress came to town. 
This is one of the best stunts that Congress does.  When they feel like it,
when they feel like circumstances warrant, Congress can road trip, they can
road trip whole congressional committees out into the country they call
them field hearings.

And the idea is that Congress needs to fact-find out in the world in a
way that they cannot do if they stay in Washington, D.C.  They need to get
out to the people and see for themselves and hear what`s really going on
close to the ground so as to avoid e selection bias that occurs when you
only hear from witnesses who can get themselves to D.C. and so, Darrell
Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who is
rather known for his showmanship, Darrell Issa has started recently taking
his oversight committee out on the road.  They`ve been holding field
hearings around the country on health reform, which is what he was doing on
the Superstition Highway in Apache Junction, Arizona, on Friday afternoon.

Here`s the thing, though.  Nobody`s allowed to speak at the hearings. 
Anybody who turns up for the hearings is not allowed to testify at them, no
matter if you sign up in advance, no matter if you call and ask if you can
testify, no matter if you sit there patiently and raise your hand, you
can`t talk if you go to his gig, because Congressman Issa has set out the
ground rules in advance for exactly what he wants to hear at his hearings.

This is amazing.  Look at this.  This is in advance of the hearing at
Apache Junction.

Congressman Issa wrote an op-ed in the local paper explaining what
kind of testimony he wanted to hear at his hearing.  He said the committee
wanted to hear specifically, quote, "From individuals who have felt the
impact of increased premiums and dropped insurance coverage as a result of
Obamacare."  Quote, "Tell us how Obamacare has negatively impacted you." 
At Friday`s fact-gathering process, and if Obamacare has not affected you
in a way that is not negative?  Well, that will not be part of this
hearing.

Look at the local coverage from "The Arizona Republic."  The only four
witnesses invited to testify were residents who said they have been
negatively affected by the health care program.  Audience members were not
permitted to speak.  A group of local seniors gathered outside the hearing
in support of health care reform.  An Arizona Department of Corrections
retiree from Apache Junction said he hadn`t been able to find affordable
insurance for his wife, who`s pre-diabetic and has high blood pressure,
until the Affordable Care Act was here.  Quote, "My income was less than
$60,000.  Through the Affordable Care Act, we can get insurance for less
than $300 a month.  It is the only hope I have in the world of having
health care for my wife."

Another man, quote, "said he was sexually assaulted in 2004 and
contracted HIV.  The Affordable Care Act assures that he can get insurance,
despite his pre-existing condition and he can keep it without worrying
about a lifetime spending limit.  He says, quote, "It costs $40,000 a year
for medications for me to stay alive.  A lifetime spending limit makes your
life a time bomb."

The HIV-positive man and several others told "The Arizona Republic"
that they asked to be included on the witness list for Darrell Issa`s
hearing but they were denied.  And it turns out the Republicans did the
same thing three weeks ago in Georgia.  Nobody with a positive story about
health care was allowed to testify, the people with positive stories to
tell, they were kept outside the hearing, trying to get in.  They were not
allowed to speak.

And, it turns out the Republicans did the same thing two weeks ago as
well.  They drove in from neighboring states.  They drove up from Atlanta. 
They applied in advance to give their own testimony about how they liked
the law and how it helped them.  They were not allowed to speak.  The
meetings are only for people who hate the law.  Nobody else talks.

I said three weeks ago in Georgia, two weeks ago in Georgia, three
weeks ago in North Carolina.  Perhaps a little bit stung by all the people
turning up at these field hearings, saying, hey, wait a minute, all the
witnesses are saying the same thing.

We have something to say, too, that`s different than what they all
have to say.  Perhaps stunned by that criticism, now that they`ve tried to
pull off a few of these stunts and the local press keeps noticing the one-
sided nature of the hearings in all of these towns and states, perhaps
stunned by that, Congressman Issa did finally say in Arizona on Friday that
he wouldn`t mind hearing from people who do like the law.  He said, if
anybody has had positive experiences with the affordable care act and
they`d like to let his committee know, you could please e-mail him.  E-mail
him your positive stories.

Meanwhile, the House Republicans will keep holding these field
hearings as a sort of traveling road show where they advance book testimony
only from people who agree in advance to say what the Republicans are there
to hear.  So, it`s less of a hearing, more of a pageant, really.

Darrell Issa`s rich pageant of prearranged criticism may be coming to
your town soon, so, do please keep an eye out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  A few weeks ago on the show, I mentioned the wonder that is
"Duck Dynasty."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If you haven`t watched it, you owe it to yourself to watch it
just so you understand your country, in the sense that you need to
understand what everybody else is watching.  "Duck Dynasty" is a phenomenon
like no other on the TV machine in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  In America, yes, it`s true, "Duck Dynasty" wins everything
when it comes to reality TV.  And why shouldn`t it?  "Duck Dynasty" is the
most-watched reality TV show thing in the history of reality TV show
things.

In America, "Duck Dynasty" rightly is the king.  In other countries,
reality TV is different.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MADDOW:  A very unexpected contender from today`s news for Debunktion
Junction tonight for "Arabs Got Talent," for prison news, for Senator Rand
Paul`s efforts to find an African-American audience in Detroit.  We are in
an unexpectedly busy time in the news cycle, and it turns out, some of it
is bunk.

Debunktion Junction is coming up in just a moment.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In one picture, this is what`s going on in the federal court
system.  This is as of last month.  As you can see here, the number of
federal judges who are appointed by Republican presidents and also the
number of federal judges who are appointed by Democratic presidents, they
are equal numbers.  It`s an even split.  Mazel tov!

We have parody in the federal court system.  But what is really,
really interesting about this even split in the court system is that this,
it turns out, is not the whole picture.  This is the whole picture, because
in addition to the even split between judges appointed by Republicans and
judges appointed by Democrats, there are also 93 vacancies, 93 seats on the
federal courts that have no judge in them rig now, and that, therefore,
could be filled by President Obama if he had nominees for those seats and
if those nominations could get through the Senate.

In June, President Obama put forward three nominees for three
vacancies on one particularly important federal court that sits in D.C.  At
the Rose Garden ceremony where he put forward those three nominees, the
president said, "What I am doing today is my job.  I need the Senate to do
its job."

Republicans in the Senate, though, decided that they were going to
block all three of those nominees.  Now, interestingly, they had no
objections to any of the judges as judges.  They did not even try to make
the case that they found anything about them objectionable.  One of the
nominees worked in the George W. Bush administration as an assistant
solicitor general. 

Republicans had no problem with any of these people being judges, no
substantive problems.  They just didn`t want preside Obama to be able to
sit his own nominees on that court, no matter who the nominees were.

There are judicial vacancies, but they don`t want President Obama to
fill those vacancies, so the Republicans blocked those three nominees.  And
the Democrats responded by being very upset, as usual, right?  Exclaiming
about how terrible it all was and threatening!  Oh, boy, did they threaten,
like they always do.

The Democrats huffed and they puffed and got very upset, just like
they always do when Republicans do stuff like this, except this time, they
actually huffed and puffed and did blow the house down.  The Democrats made
good on their threats, blowing everybody`s minds in the process.

Democrats finally decided to do something about the fact that
Republicans were blocking the president`s nominations just because they
didn`t want this particular president to be able to do that particular part
of the job of being president.  Democrats responded to that by changing the
rules in the Senate.  They took away Senate Republicans` ability to block
judges with just a minority of votes.

Now, any judge who can get a majority, any judge who can get 51 votes
in the Senate gets confirmed.  Republicans cannot block judicial nominees
anymore unless they can get a majority of senators to agree with them.  And
it is interesting in terms of the political combat, right?  Democrats
standing up for themselves!

Hmm.  It`s interesting in terms of those three nominees who were
blocked through no fault of their own.  But in the big picture, this is
really, really, really interesting mostly because it`s so stupid, right?

I mean, for Republicans, this was terrifically bad strategy.  I mean,
maybe they thought Democrats would never actually follow through on their
threats and change the rules, but when the Democrats did follow up on their
threats and they changed the rules, look at the trade-off the Republicans
made.  I mean, what happened is in order to block three appointees to one
court, in order to push the envelope as far as possible to block these
three judges who they didn`t even dislike, Republicans in the Senate
torpedoed their own ability to block any more judges going forward
indefinitely.  Thus, all but insuring those three judges who they objected
to are going to get their jobs.

But also, maybe another 93 judges are going to get named as well. 
There are 93 vacancies, 93 federal judges who can now be appointed by a
Democratic president, and the Republicans can no longer block that
president from seating his nominees with only a minority of votes.

That change happens in the Senate on November 21st.  And then the
Senate promptly adjourned.  And today was the first day that we are going
to have Washington`s new rules in action.  Today was the first day of the
new, changed Washington.

Today, the Senate had scheduled their very first vote, the nomination
-- for the very first vote.  They had scheduled a vote on the nomination of
one of those three judges who the Republicans had blocked before but who
they are now powerless to block, and it was all this speculation today
about what the Republicans were going do with that vote.  Do they have a
trick up their sleeve, right?  Is there something they could try to do to
disrupt this process in some other way that nobody`s seen before?  The
Republicans keep saying they`re going to get their revenge and Democrats
will be sorry for what they did.

What are Republicans going to do?  I mean, this is unchartered
territory as of today.  First vote after this big, historic, long-
threatened, never-done-before rules change.  What are the Republicans going
to do?  What`s going to happen?

No idea.  No idea!  Because it turns out, snow day.  Yes, snow day in
Washington today.  Schools were closed, the federal government opened late.

And the Senate was basically snowed out.  They canceled almost
everything.  They did have that judge vote on the schedule, but snow day. 
If you watched any East Coast NFL games yesterday, you know that it was
snowing.  And because of the hard weather on the East Coast, senators got
stranded in their home states, they couldn`t get back to Washington for
votes, so they moved all of today`s votes to tomorrow.

But hey, look, here`s the weather forecast for tomorrow, chance of
snow on Tuesday in Washington?  Chance of snow 100 percent.  So, if today
was a snow day, who knows if it`s going to happen tomorrow, either.

But when senators do finally tunnel their way like mole men back into
the U.S. capitol building, what are they going to do?  What`s the new
normal?  They`re going to be operating under this whole set of new rules
they have never operated under before. 

Do the Republicans have trick up their sleeves to sort of stymie what
the Democrats think they can do now?  Do they have other things they can do
to stop these nominations from going forward or from stopping the Senate
wholesale? 

These nominees that have been bottlenecked, it`s not just judges, it`s
the new chair of the Federal Reserve.  The nominee is Janet Yellen.  It`s
the nominee to be director of homeland security, Jeh Johnson.  Are all of
these nominees that have been bottlenecked for so long, are they all now
going to get a vote or do Republicans have something in mind?

By the way, if the bottleneck is cleared, are those 93 vacancies on
the federal bench all now going to get filled in, too, all in a rush, all
at once?

So far, the weather report says no.  The political report, however, is
cloudier at this point and harder to read.

Joining us to help is Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for "The
Huffington Post."

Mr. Grim, nice to see you.  Thanks for being here.

RYAN GRIM, HUFFINGTON POST:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  So, we`re all set for this showdown, this historic vote on
Patricia Millet, and then a snow day.  There is speculation of what
Republicans would have done if it hadn`t been snowing.

Did you have any idea what their strategy was going to be or what
their plans are?

GRIM:  There isn`t much they can do, because they`re operating more or
less under the same rules they used to, it`s just that the number of votes
needed to move forward is different.  You know, they could make a motion to
adjourn and they could force a couple of show votes, but as long as
everybody`s there in the Senate, they can get through the snow and they can
cast their votes, say, no, we`re not adjourning, you know, they can only
push it off for a couple hours.

You know, they have a bigger problem in that there are, as you said,
there are 93 judges.  And in the Senate, you can`t call up all 93 and just
run them right through, because each one has to go through some amount of
hours of cloture period.  And you know, the Senate moves so slowly that you
actually do then start running into, say, the July recess.

MADDOW:  In terms of the next steps here, do we -- there had been some
noise from the Republicans that they might stop everything in the Senate,
that they wouldn`t just make this a fight over nominees, that they would
refuse to do even the regular business of the Senate.

Do you expect to see any of that?  We already are seeing some noises
that they`re going to do things like passing a defense bill. 

GRIM:  Right, exactly.  So, the minority party, when the majority
threatens to change the rules always says if you do that, we are going to
gum everything up, we`re going to make life so difficult for you that you
won`t be able to govern this chamber.  But that`s a threat and it`s an
empty threat.

And the reason is that it makes sense in general to say something like
that, but when something specific comes up, like a defense bill, it doesn`t
help you back at home, say, well, why did you block this defense bill?  Oh,
I blocked it because I was upset about a rules change they had made two
months earlier.  That doesn`t fly.

So, once individual things start moving, they just start moving and
life gets back to normal.  And you`re right, they did that, they threw a
tantrum over a defense bill right before a recess, so that didn`t move. 
And so, it sat there for a couple weeks.  But things are going to start
moving, you know, as they get back now.

It`s one of those empty threats that is always made.  Democrats didn`t
back down.  They changed the rules anyway and Republicans are now kind of
stuck with it.

MADDOW:  Ryan, to that point, when we got the announcement today that
because of snow, there would be no votes today, after that point, we did
actually get a vote on extending the plastic gun ban.  If almost no
senators were back at the capitol and back in Washington and so many people
were stranded, how were they able to take that plastic gun vote?

GRIM:  That`s actually a perfect example.  So, the way they do a vote
like that is they send out what`s called a hotline to every Senate office. 
They say, we want to pass this by unanimous consent.

If you object, just tell us, and we won`t do it, or we`ll put it on
the floor and we`ll make one person object just so that we can have that
show.  So, they sent this hotline out.  And nobody objected.  Everybody
said, look, yes, this is a gun law that we want to see passed.  I know
there`s a lot of pressure to do something about this expiring plastic gun
law.

And so, they passed it.  And so, this is after there had been these
threats that nothing would get through the Senate.

And it steps back on that specific reverse general logic.  It`s fine
in general to say you`re going to stop everything, but then this law comes
forward and they say, well, actually, that we`re going to let pass.

MADDOW:  Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for "The Huffington Post,"
a provider of much-needed perspective, thanks for your time tonight, Ryan.

GRIM:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  Straight ahead, we got another installment of
Debunktion Junction, now with extra singing.  Luckily, none of it by me.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  This was the scene earlier today inside the South African
embassy in Washington, D.C.  Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr.
Jill Biden, visiting that embassy this morning to officially sign the book
of condolences for Nelson Mandela.

Vice President Biden was received at the embassy by South Africa`s
ambassador to the U.S.  Mr. Biden said at the meeting that Nelson Mandela
was, quote, "The most remarkable man I ever met in my whole career."

A few hours before the vice president`s trip to the embassy, President
Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama boarded Air Force One to start the
long, 16-hour flight to South Africa, where they will attend the memorial
service for Nelson Mandela that will be held tomorrow morning.

As we speak, world leaders from every corner of the globe are on their
way to South Africa for that memorial service and for the funeral and the
other events that are going to take place there over the next few days. 
The American delegation to South Africa includes not only President Obama
and the first lady, but also three former presidents, George W. Bush will
be there and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.  This appears to be on the
second time in U.S. history that that many presidents, four living
presidents, will be together, somewhere outside the United States.

The only other time that has ever happened in history was at the
funeral of Jordan`s King Hussein back in 1999, when the president was Bill
Clinton and he was joined by three of his presidential predecessors.

But four U.S. presidents all together, all at once, that will be part
of the remarkable scene tomorrow morning outside South Africa`s largest
soccer stadium in the city of Johannesburg, in Soweto.

You may remember this from the amazingly large chorus of vuvuzelas
there when South Africa hosted the World Cup.  That huge stadium in Soweto
is where Nelson Mandela made his final public appearance during that World
Cup three years ago.  When President Obama left the White House this
morning, it was unclear whether or no he would be asked to speak at
tomorrow`s memorial service at the stadium, but we now know that President
Obama will be one of six foreign leaders who will be delivering remarks at
the event.  It will be our president along with the presidents of Brazil,
Namibia, India, Cuba, as well as the vice president of China.

After tomorrow`s memorial service, Nelson Mandela`s body will lie in
state for three days in the capital city of Pretoria, before he`s finally
laid to rest on Sunday in his childhood home of Qunu.

In all, more than 90 world leaders and dignitaries are expected to
attend the memorial service tomorrow, which the South African government
says will likely be among the largest gathering of world leaders in human
industry.  This is going to be a big deal.  And if you want to see it given
that you are awake right now and hearing the sound of my voice, you may
want to set your DVR right now for the morning.

MSNBC is going to have live coverage of tomorrow`s memorial service
for Nelson Mandela starting at 4:00 a.m. Eastern Time.  It is the miracle
of time zones, right?  Again, the starting time for the live service
tomorrow morning in Johannesburg is 4:00 a.m. Eastern, right here on MSNBC.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Hoot, hoot!  Debunktion Junction, what`s my function?

All right.  True or false?  This was the audience at the Republican
Party`s African-American outreach event in Detroit on Friday.  The
Republican Party threw an African-American outreach event, but they held it
for an almost all-white audience.  Is that true or is that false?

True.

These pictures are from Ann Savage at the awesome Michigan politics
site at Eclectablog.  And they showed the audience at the Grace Bible
Chapel in Detroit, as Senator Rand Paul hosted as what was billed as a
celebration of the opening of the Republican Party`s African-American
engagement office in Detroit.

If you were trying to attract black voters to the Republican Party, it
is a mysterious decision to pick the guy who could not say he supported the
Civil Rights Act, the guy who hired the masked Confederate Southern Avenger
guy as his staffer and to co-write his book.  It would be hard to imagine a
worse person for the Republican Party to choose in 2013 to roll out the
welcome mat to black voters.

But if you do, choose that guy to try to attract black voters.  This
is apparently what you get for turnout.  That is true.

OK.  Next up, true or false.  Although President Obama wants to close
Guantanamo and put the prisoners there on trial or send them home, Congress
is blocking that from happening.  Is that true or is that false?

False, kind of.  At least as of tomorrow, it is probably false.

Ever since President Obama announced his plans to close Guantanamo,
congress really has been blocking him from sending prisoners to their home
countries or transferring them to the real court system.  You`ll recall
that in the `08 campaign, it was Barack Obama who said he would close
Guantanamo, running against John McCain, who said he would close
Guantanamo, both vying to replace President George W. Bush, who also said
we should close Guantanamo.

This did not used to be a controversial thing.  But then President
Obama actually got inaugurated and Congress freaked out, Republicans and
Democrats in Congress both.  They`ve used the defense bill every year since
2009 to stop President Obama from transferring Guantanamo prisoners to
their home countries, even if they have been cleared for release.

But now, tonight, Republicans and Democrats in the House and the
Senate say the new dense bill for this year will start to drop those
restrictions, finally.  So the Obama administration will finally be able to
start sending home some of the dozens of Guantanamo prisoners who are
cleared for release, who have only had Congress standing in the way.  That
is the plan, at least, the vote should be tomorrow.  Snow permitting.

OK, and finally, this is the best one.  Is it true or is it false that
the American singer who is a new international superstar in classical
Arabic singing does not speak Arabic?  Here she is singing what I am told
is a near-perfect rendition of a famous Arabic love song.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

MADDOW:  That is Jennifer Grout, a 23-year-old woman from Boston,
singing a classical love song on "Arabs Got Talent," a competition airing
out of Beirut.

But is it true or false that this U.S. superstar in classical Arabic
singing does not speak Arabic?  Is that true or is that false?

True.  It is true.  Turns out you don`t have to speak it to sing it. 
She is a classically trained vocalist who studied at Mcgill University in
Canada.  She tells "The Guardian" newspaper that she has a natural affinity
for picking up accents, but not a natural affinity for picking up
languages.

Here she is auditioning for the show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated):  What is your name?

JENNIFER GROUT:  Sorry? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What`s your name? 

GROUT:  Jennifer.

OK.

(SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Jennifer, Jennifer.  Jennifer, Jennifer,
Jennifer.

(translated):  You do not know one word in Arabic, but you sing in
Arabic better than those who do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  She did so well, singing in Arabic, that she made it all the
way to the finale this past weekend and she almost won.  She almost won the
"Arabs Got Talent" competition singing Arabic songs and -- yes, speaking no
Arabic whatsoever.  It`s true and amazing, and humbling in about 9,000
different ways.

That does it for us tonight.

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

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

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