THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 6, 2014
Guests: Charles Schumer
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Wow. Then we get a square, straight-up
ruling or the constitutionality of marriage bans. That will be
something. Matthew Breen from "The Advocate", Camilla Taylor from
Lambda Legal, thank you much.
That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. The United
States of America needs a new ice breaker. Not in some metaphorical
sense like a getting to know you game at a party ice breaker, but I mean
an actual ice breaking ship. We only have one. Or at least we only
have one that is considered to be a heavy duty ice breaker.
And it`s this guy right here. It`s called the Polar Star. It was
built in 1976. When it was built in 1976, it was supposed to have a 30
year life span. Do the math. Starting in 1976, that gets us to 2006.
And in 2006, the Polar Star was, in fact, taken offline after 30 yards
of hard duty. Being a heavy duty ice breaker is really hard work. The
ships can`t last forever.
And so at the end of its expected 30 years, in 2006, the Polar Star
was not moth-balled exactly, but they stopped deploying it. It
basically retired as a ship.
Four years into that retirement, though, in 2010, the only other
ship that the coast guard had with that same capacity broke down, that
one was the same vintage, a sister ship. It broke down in 2010, pretty
catastrophically. It had engine failure. When that ship broke down,
that left the United States of America with no capacity at all to get
through heavy sea ice.
And we need to be able to get through heavy sea ice. We have
needs. We have the ye oldie, northwest passage. We have this thing
called Alaska you might have heard of.
We also have McMurdo station, a research hub for the National
Science Foundation in Antarctica. We have the American station at the
South Pole. We`ve got places to go, people to see, stuff to maintain in
a way that requires us to have the capacity to get through really heavy,
thick sea ice. We have to be able to do it.
And as of 2010, when the Polar Star`s sister ship broke down, while
the Polar Star was already in retirement, when that happened, we had
none of that capacity. We had not a single ship that could do it. We
did not have a heavy ice breaker. Eek.
So, in 2010, when its sister ship broke down, they unmoth-balled
the Polar Star. They took it out of retirement. Congress passed an
appropriation to do it. They spent $90 million and 3 years getting the
Polar Star out of retirement, getting it ready to go, break heavy sea
The repairs were done, 90 million bucks. The upgrades were done.
As of last week, the Polar Star was back out there again, back out on
its first deployment after its big $90 million makeover. The ship was
in Australia. It was about to start a supply run south to McMurdo
Station. A mission they were calling Operation Deep Freeze.
But while the Polar Star was in port in Sydney getting ready to
start Operation Deep Freeze to go to McMurdo, while they were there,
they saw the bat signal. They got the distress signal. The United
States has been asked and now the United States has agreed to assist
with something that nobody else in the world can do. Only the Polar
Star can do it. This 38-year-old ship that we just dragged out of
retirement, that we don`t have a backup for, it`s the only one that can
When it comes to navigating through an icy ocean, there are lots of
degrees of seaworthiness. There are lots of ships that are comfortable
in an icy environment. Like, for example, this Russian research and
tourism ship. It makes regular trips to Antarctic waters. It`s
comfortable in an icy environment.
But you know, when the pack ice gets really thick, gets more than a
few feet thick, this kind of ship really does not have capacity to cut
through the ice or break through the ice in any way. And so, it was on
Christmas morning when that tough little Russian ship, which is
seaworthy in icy waters but not an ice breaker, it got stuck. It got
stuck. You heard about this.
And there were these 52 tourists and scientists onboard that ship.
They got stuck in the pack ice. They had no way to move their ship to
get out of it and so they called in what basically seemed like the
Calvary. They called in two big icebreakers.
And here they are. One of them is a Chinese icebreaker. It`s
really big. It`s called the Snow Dragon. It`s more than 500 feet long.
It is not only comfortable in an icy environment. It can break out and
break through ice as a steady clip. If it`s going just under two miles
an hour, it can steadily break through ice that`s 3 1/2 feet thick.
But the Chinese ship did not go on that rescue mission, alone. An
Australian icebreaker went, too. This one`s a little smaller. It`s 300
feet long, instead of 500 feet long like the Chinese ship. But the
Australian one is also a stronger vessel.
While going faster than the Chinese ship does, it can steadily
break through ice that is more than four feet thick. So it`s tough guy,
right? So last week, the giant Chinese icebreaker and the Australian
icebreaker both went down there to go rescue the people who were trapped
on that little Russian ship in the packed sea ice in Antarctica.
They used a helicopter from the Chinese ship to pluck all of the
tourists and scientists off of the little Russian boat and it moved all
of the rescued passengers and scientists on to the Australian ship for
safekeeping. So, all the people are safe, right?
Then the Chinese ship got stuck. The giant Chinese icebreaker is
in ice it cannot get out of. Now, when we last reported on this story
on Friday night, it kind of seemed like that might happen. They were
worried about it happening on Friday. But on Saturday morning,
according to one reporter onboard the Chinese ship, quote, "an iceberg
appeared overnight." They woke up to a brand new iceberg right in their
faces and the Chinese ship is stuck.
Now, that Australian ship down there, too, is more powerful and can
break through thicker ice than the Chinese ship, and it is not now
stuck, but that has apparently been pretty dicey as well. And so, in
what is starting to feel like kind of a food chain diagram, they have
now called in the big mamma jamma. They have called in the heavy
artillery. They have called in the Polar Star, which luckily for them
was already in the southern hemisphere in Australia getting ready for
operation deep freeze when it was going to go into Antarctic waters
But, remember, this is the Polar Star`s first deployment since
2006. It just got refurbished. Had this crisis happened any time in
the last few years, the United States would have had no capacity to help
out here. No one would have. The capacity of this coast guard heavy
icebreaker, the "polar star," it`s just incredible capacity. I mean,
those other ships out there that are stuck are pretty incredible,
themselves, but the Polar Star has 5 1/2 times the engine capacity of
that stuck Chinese ship.
The Polar Star has 75,000 horsepower. Going faster than either
that Chinese ship or that Australian ship, it can steadily break through
ice that is six feet thick, continuously crushing ahead at 3 knots going
through 6-foot-thick ice. And if the ice gets thicker than that, the
Polar Star has other options.
Watch this. Look at what it does here. Yes. That is not us
manipulating the footage. It`s going backwards and forwards. This is
the delicate little maneuver that in the icebreaking rule they call
ramming. They just back it up, gun it and ram right into the ice ahead
Using this kind of technique, the Polar Star can ram its way
through ice that`s more than 21 feet thick. What? It can steadily cut
through ice that`s more than six feet thick, but doing this 21 feet
thick. That`s taking one of me, two of me, three of me, 3 1/2 of me and
stacking me on top. Are you kidding?
It also has a special bow design that`s curved in such a way,
shaped in such a way that it can use its engine thrust to actually push
the ship up out of the water on top of the ice to then use the 11,000-
ton weight of the boat to crush the ice underneath it and break it that
way. Having a hard time imagining that?
Well, you know this pro wrestling move? That`s what the Polar Star
does. It pushes itself up on top of the ice and body slams it. Not
every icebreaker can do that. And now, the Polar Star, America`s only
body slamming, heavy icebreaking ship is on its way to rescue the other
really quite impressive massive icebreaking vessel down there that still
cannot handle what the Polar Star can handle.
Now, what if the Polar Star gets stuck? Really? I mean, really,
no options. Arguably, no options. The United States Coast Guard does
not have anything more powerful than the Polar Star. And, again, we
only have one Polar Star and it`s really old, no offense.
The only icebreaking ships that are thought to be more powerful in
the whole world, more powerful than the one we`ve got which is now on
this mission, the only things thought to be more powerful and more
capable are the nuclear icebreakers, because -- yes, we live on a planet
where we have nuclear ice breakers.
We don`t have one actually. The United States does not have one.
The Russians apparently have four of them. So, theoretically, I guess,
they might be able to help if all else fails. The Russian nuclear
icebreakers can apparently cut through 10 feet of ice at a steady clip.
But the Russian nuclear icebreakers, none of them have ever been
deployed in the southern hemisphere. Ever.
So, the Polar Star is kind of it. It`s due to be there by
And while that story, and that technical understanding of our human
capacity to break ice using amazing machines is an amazing story on
itself own terms, that story is also a rather obvious allegory for the
icebound stucktude of our national political system. The ice bound
stuckitude of Washington.
We elect members of Congress, members of the House every do years,
so Congress is a two-year thing. Each of the years in a two-year
Congress is a session. So session one of this Congress was its first
year, 2013. Session two of this Congress is 2014. And session two of
this congress started today.
Last year`s session of Congress was the worst session of Congress
in the history of Congress. Measured according to whether or not they
actually got anything done, it was the worst ever. They really got
nothing done at all. They passed fewer laws than any session of
Congress in the history of the United States of America last year. In
the words of the "Washington Post" today, quote, "Last year was a
legislative wasteland. Among the laws enacted, it is impossible to find
a significant new accomplishment."
The number of new laws passed is, quote, "easily the lowest tally
for any year in history." and this year`s expected to be worse. The
first year of any two-year Congress is usually when they actually do get
the work done, because the second year is always an election year,
right? This is the election year. This is the year we`re not supposed
to get anything done because we were so busy last year.
Last year, we got less done than ever before. And this year,
they`re planning on doing even less than they did last year. Last year,
they worked a grand total of 135 days. This year they`re only planning
on working a grand total of 112.
Do the math. That`s one day on, two days off, all year long. It
must be nice.
Today`s day one, and you never know what they might unexpectedly
get around to doing but their plans in the House are to pretty much do
nothing all year long after having done nothing all year last year.
But the Senate was back today, too, and in the Senate, there are
some signs of life. Tonight, the Senate voted to confirm Janet Yellen
to be the new chair of the Federal Reserve. She`s been the vice chair
of the Fed before now. On paper, she is the most qualified person ever
nominated to the job, probably.
She`s also the first woman to ever head the Federal Reserve and one
of the only female central bankers anywhere in the world. So that got
The White House today also announced this list, which we`re going
to scroll here because it`s too long to show in a static way. It`s a
really long list. This long list of 664 nominees for appeals court
judges, district court judges, superior court judges, U.S. Marshals was
put forward by the White House today. Huge, long list of nominees.
And most of these nominees are re-nominations of people who had
already been put forward by the White House last year, but the senate
didn`t act on them. So, maybe the length of this list is deceiving
since it`s a lot of re-nominations, but this is a very long list of
people. And it is possible that a great number of these people, if not
all of them, could happen now that the Democrats in the Senate have
changed the rules so Republicans can`t block nominees with just a
minority of votes anymore. It`s a huge list that the White House put
So, Janet Yellen, that happened. That list of nominees, that could
happen. And tomorrow morning, at 10:30 Eastern Time, we will find out
what else can happen, because tomorrow morning the United States Senate
has scheduled a vote on a bipartisan proposal to extend for three months
the unemployment benefits that got cut off at Christmastime for 1.3
million Americans. The Labor Department estimates that that cutoff
letting those benefits expire will cost the U.S. economy 240,000 jobs.
The Senate will vote tomorrow on whether or not to reinstate those
benefits and thereby try to save those jobs.
When you look at Washington from most angles, it feels like the sea
ice is winning. It feels like we are stuck, there is no hope of
movement, and it is starting to feel like our little ship of state might
be at risk of being crushed by the ice and sunk altogether.
But then, you know what, along comes the old, tough, many times
refurbished Polar Star, and maybe we can keep going. Maybe movement is
possible. Maybe there is an American way to get unstuck, even here at
Joining us now is Senator Charles Schumer of New York. He`s vice
chair of the Democratic Conference.
Senator Schumer, thanks very much for being with us.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Your "Polar Star" at your
service here, ma`am.
MADDOW: When it comes to the unemployment insurance issue,
specifically, 1.3 million Americans cut off from unemployment benefits.
We`re learning tonight at least three Republican senators are saying
they will vote with you, the Democrats, for that extension. Do you
think it`s possible it can pass the Senate?
SCHUMER: I think it is possible. The pressure is mounting on our
Republicans because what`s happening is this. The tectonic plates
beneath our politics are changing. The issues that dominated the first
five years of President Obama`s term, "A," the deficit, "B", health
care, Obamacare, are giving way to a new issue and that is the decline
of middle class incomes, the lack of good jobs and the increase in
poverty. And the public is feeling that.
And so, on an issue that used to get bipartisan support like
unemployment insurance, the fact that it`s deadlocked and gridlocked now
makes no sense. It shows you how far the Republicans have moved over.
In 2007, when the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, now it`s 7 percent,
George Bush, mainstream conservative, put in place the present regime we
have for unemployment insurance, the present amount of weeks and
And yet these Republicans are trying to block it. But I think
enough of them are beginning to say they can`t follow the Tea Party, the
hard right, over a cliff. And I`m very hopeful we can actually get an
unemployment insurance done, if not in this vote, where right now, we`re
only a vote or two shy.
If we do it again and again, the pressure mounts and we`ll get it
done. I think the same will happen for reducing the costs for tuition
and Pell Grants so kids can go to college.
The middle class is hurting and yearning for us to end the
gridlock, to stop this freeze and get things done for them. And it`s
becoming clearer and clearer to them that it`s the hard right
Republicans who are stopping everything.
MADDOW: Senator Schumer, let me ask you about one procedural
reference you just made there. You said, if we don`t have the votes
tomorrow morning, we`ll keep doing it again and again. Should I take
that to mean that this vote on extending unemployment insurance is
something that you will keep putting up for a vote until you can get the
SCHUMER: And I would recommend we do the same with minimum wage,
we do the same with the kind of low-cost student loans that Elizabeth
Warren has advocated. We`ll win every one of these. It`s becoming
clearer and clearer to the American people that gridlock is not being
caused by both parties but by one party.
The turning away from the middle class is dominated by one party.
The refusal to do things that even mainstream Republicans did, like
unemployment insurance, like minimum wage increases, even five years
ago, is hurting them.
And our politics works. It works slowly. It`s like ice melting,
unfortunately. But it does work, and I can sense signs where it`s
really beginning to work. As I walk the streets of New York this
weekend, average folks said to me, get that unemployment insurance done.
And these were people with jobs. They were middle class people. But
everyone now knows somebody who`s been out of work.
And one other point, you know, one of my colleagues, Rand Paul,
said that unemployment insurance is a disservice to the American worker.
Well, I find that insulting. What he`s saying is that people would
rather not work. And collect these meager unemployment benefits.
That is not true. There is a work ethos in America. It`s part of
our American being, and it doesn`t just apply to CEOs or nuclear
physicists. The guy who cleans the floor late at night has a pride in
making sure that floor is really clean. The woman who will organize an
office has a real pride in making sure it`s extremely well-organized and
everything`s in its place.
So this idea that the hard right has that if we extend unemployment
benefits, people will stop looking for work, is just bunk and insulting
to the American worker and to the American ethos.
MADDOW: Senator Charles Schumer of New York, vice chair of the
Democratic conference -- thank you for helping us understand this
tonight, sir. It`s nice to have you here.
SCHUMER: Great to be here. Thanks.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. There`s an expression that involves still fighting the
last war. There`s also apparently a thing that involves fighting the
war two wars ago which is what a certain Arizona senator appears eager
to keep doing.
Richard Engel is going to be joining us live in just a moment.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: The National Republican Party does not usually make a big
splash with their annual winter meeting. Last year`s meeting, they
drafted several obscure resolutions like this one calling out the Obama
White House for, quote, "veiled socialist slanting tactics", very
serious sounding stuff if you believe that sort of thing. But nobody
found it newsworthy that the Republican Party officially declared that
it believed this and it didn`t get much coverage.
This year`s Republican winter meeting is happening in Washington,
D.C., where they have not met for a few years, and this is interesting.
It turns out that the RNC winter meeting opens this year in D.C. on the
same day as the big national antiabortion march, which they hold in D.C.
every year around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
So what do you do if you`re Reince Priebus? What does an
antiabortion Republican Party chairman do when he has nevertheless been
calling the whole Republican war on women thing a myth? A myth? Right?
But he suddenly finds himself holding a national Republican Party
meeting in the same city, on the same day, that antiabortion activists
are holding their once a year huge national antiabortion March. Your
meeting conflicts with the March. What do you do?
What does he do? He decides to get out of the way. The
conservative "Washington Times" newspaper reporting, quote, "Winter
meeting to be delayed so members can attend the antiabortion march."
Chairman Reince Priebus explained to the paper, quote, "this is a
core principle of our party. It was natural for me to support our
members and our principles."
And Chairman Priebus is not only delaying the start of the
Republicans` annual winter meeting so they can go to the antiabortion
march. Instead, he has decided to charter an official Republican
National Committee bus to take people to the antiabortion march on the
Republican Party`s dime. They`re just going for it.
Republicans in Congress have been derided as the do-nothing
Congress, and in fact, Republicans have done nothing in this Congress.
This Republican-controlled House has been setting new records for
congressional do-nothingness. Last year, the number of laws they passed
was so small we had to create a special flashing, phasing arrow because
otherwise you almost could not see their progress on this historically
But as little as they get done in Washington, Republicans actually
get a lot done when it comes to being antiabortion in the states. Over
the last three years. As they have done basically nothing at all in
Washington. Republicans in the states have passed more antiabortion
laws than were passed in the entire proceeding decade.
Republicans swept to power in the states in 2010. They have used
that new power in the states to prioritize restricting and criminalizing
abortion almost above all other priorities. Roe v. Wade supposedly
protects American women`s right to access abortion services, in every
state in the country. But Republican-controlled states are testing that
like never before. Some of the most aggressive antiabortion legislation
in the states has aimed to shut down whole clinics by requiring those
clinics to have agreements with local hospitals.
Now, no other types of clinics are being required to have these
agreements, just clinics that provide abortions and the laws are being
passed with the knowledge that these special agreements with hospitals
will be basically impossible for these clinics to get. In four states,
courts have blocked new laws like that. In Alabama, Mississippi, North
Dakota and Wisconsin.
In a fifth state, in Texas, a similar law is already in effect.
And that law being in effect has forced a third of the clinics in the
state to close or stop providing abortions. That kind of law has been
blocked in four states already, but not in Texas. Is it constitutional
for the state of Texas to try to make abortion inaccessible in this way?
Is it constitutional for the state of Texas to pass laws like that
with no real purpose other than to shut down clinics that are providing
what is supposed to be a federally protected, constitutionally protected
right? A right that 60,000 women in Texas access every year?
Today, a federal appeals court held a really important hearing on
that question. A panel of three judges considered a challenge to some
of the antiabortion restrictions passed by Texas Republicans last
summer, including the ones designed to shut down the clinics with those
Irin Carmon was in the courtroom reporting for MSNBC.com and
summarized the oral arguments today as a debate over how much hardship
is too much hardship for Texas women to endure on purpose at the hands
of their state government?
All three judges in that Texas courtroom today are women. All
three are Republican appointees. All three have been hostile to
abortion rights in the past and two of the three already have ruled in
favor of letting the Texas antiabortion restrictions go ahead.
So nobody`s really expecting a big abortion rights breakthrough
from that court that`s hearing that hugely important Texas case. But if
that court does, as expected, rule in favor of the state of Texas, if
that court does say that Texas can restrict abortion rights the way it
wants to, that ruling, a ruling like that would conflict directly with
the other federal appeals courts in other jurisdictions that have ruled
the other way on that exact same question. And that cannot stand.
Right? Conflicting decisions on an issue like this can`t stand.
With Republicans pushing laws like this as far and as fast as they
can all over the country, shutting down clinics with laws like this
can`t be federally constitutional in one place and federally
unconstitutional in another place. At that point, someone`s going to
have to decide. These guys are going to have to decide. And depending
on that Texas ruling that we`re all waiting for now, the day when it
goes to these guys should be coming very, very soon.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: For the past couple of years "Associated Press"
photographer David Guttenfelder has had incredible access to the really
isolated country of North Korea. The "A.P.`s" chief Asia photographer,
he captured countless images of everyday life in a very secretive place
we otherwise know very little about. He frequently posts a lot of these
photographs to his Instagram account like this one which was taken at a
dress shop in Pyongyang.
Or this one of a bride and groom standing in front of statues of
Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-Il. Or this one of Dennis Rodman, to visit Kim
Jong-un who he says is his friend.
Last month, Mr. Guttenfelder took these photographs of commuters
reading from a public newspaper displayed in a Pyongyang subway station.
This is how these North Koreans learned the news that the uncle of Kim
Jong-un had been executed.
Now, say what you will about the North Korean media, but these
commuters in these pictures were probably getting better information
than the rest of us about that uncle.
Debunktion junction is sorely needed tonight, and that story is
MADDOW: Between Christmas and New Year`s, somebody leaked
something rather extraordinary to "The L.A. Times", specifically to
David Cloud at "The L.A. Times." He quotes an unnamed official saying
the U.S. commander in Afghanistan has told the White House that after
the war in Afghanistan is over, so even after the end of this year, he
wants a force of at least 12,000 troops to stay in Afghanistan, 8,000
American troops and 4,000 from other allied countries.
And here`s the important part. If he can`t get approval for there
to be 12,000 troops in Afghanistan, indefinitely, even after the war is
supposedly over, then reportedly he doesn`t want any, 12,000 minimum or
forget it, just leave altogether, just go down to a couple hundred, a
token force. Equivalent to the tiny number of U.S. troops who are still
Should we leave altogether? Does the war in Afghanistan ever end?
It is already our longest war ever. But if ending it means leaving
minimum 12,000 people there, indefinitely, and bases and all the rest,
then what does it even mean to say the war is over at the end of this
The other thing that got leaked between Christmas and New Year`s is
this. The National Intelligence Estimate for Afghanistan, which is a
classified document, but somebody is leaking it to the press, or at
least describing parts of it to the press. And although the basic
details are different depending on who`s leaking and who`s reporting and
we don`t have the actual classified document to confirm, what`s in the
press about it is that the intelligence community`s consensus view about
what`s going to happen when U.S. troops leave Afghanistan is a dark
In one estimation, quote, "insurgents could quickly regain control
of key areas of Afghanistan and threaten the capital city of Kabul as
soon as next year." As soon as next year, 2015. No matter what we do
this year. This year is already year 13 of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
The first U.S. combat casualty of the year in Afghanistan was on
Saturday. U.S. service member killed in eastern Afghanistan in what was
described by Afghan officials as an attack on that base by multiple
Should we stay longer in Afghanistan? If what`s reported about
that NIE is correct, and parts of Afghanistan do backslide toward the
Taliban after U.S. troops leave, at that point, would we wish that U.S.
troops were still there? Or would we be happy that U.S. troops were
That is a question about the future, but it is also a question that
we are living right now. As the reporting becomes clear from Iraq that
two years after American troops left Iraq, altogether, the western Iraqi
cities of Ramadi and Fallujah are under the control of Sunni extremist
insurgents, some of whom claim affiliation with al Qaeda. If you know
nothing else about the American war fought in Iraq over 8 1/2 years, if
you know about only one battle in that war, you know about Fallujah,
right? You know about the battle for Fallujah in 2004.
It was actually two huge battles in Fallujah, sustained face-to-
face urban combat. The heaviest sustained street-to-street combat for
any U.S. service member since Vietnam.
More than nine years after more than 1,000 Americans were wounded
in Fallujah, and nearly 150 Americans were killed in Fallujah, Fallujah
apparently is gone again now. And Ramadi is teetering. And the
residents are fleeing again and the civilians are caught in crossfire
again and the large-scale military fight is on again to retake the
cities of Anbar province, only this time it is the Iraqi military doing
that fighting, not the American military.
It is resonant and chilling to see the smoke rising again and the
extremists raising their black flag again over the site of the largest
battle of the Iraq war now that our American/Iraq war is over. But does
it make us wish that U.S. troops were still there? Or were going back?
If Afghanistan will teeter once U.S. troops are gone after 13
years, if parts of Iraq teeter now, after U.S. troops were there for 8
1/2 years, does that mean we should have been there longer? Does anyone
wish we would go back?
And if not, what else can we do? What else should we do? And how
does it feel to be seeing this right now in Anbar province if you were
there to see it all happen the first time around?
Joining us now from Sochi, Russia is NBC News chief foreign
correspondent, Richard Engel, who as usual stayed up into the middle of
the night for us.
Richard, I really appreciate you being here. I`ve got to ask your
reaction to what`s happening now in Anbar province.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think
it is, as you said, a very chilling reminder of what`s happened in Iraq,
what is continuing to happen in Iraq. And I think you`re drawing the
right parallel for what lessons we should draw for Afghanistan, because
we are facing now this same situation. U.S. troops left Iraq and the
civil war returned and al Qaeda went back right to the center of
Fallujah and Ramadi.
Now, as we leave Afghanistan, what is going to happen? Are we
going to leave a residual force behind? If so, how large?
I think going back to that comment by the general that was quoted
in "The L.A. Times," I was in Afghanistan not that long ago and I think
that is quite a powerful statement. If you have 12,000 troops there or
a number of that scale which is a pretty big number, then you can
actually do something. You cannot only defend yourselves, you can do
some sort of missions to support the Afghan security forces. If you
don`t, and if you just have 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, then really what`s the
point in being there because most of your time and most of your
capability is just going to be to defend yourselves?
So, what`s the point of having troops stationed in the middle of
central Asia if all they can do is defend themselves against incoming
MADDOW: Richard, do you feel, like, when you talk to your sources
in intelligence and in the military and in foreign policy circles, even
other -- the foreign correspondents that you talk to, do you feel like
the experience of leaving Iraq is coloring, is shadowing the decision-
making process and the debate about how to leave Afghanistan? Are those
parallels being drawn?
ENGEL: I think they are being drawn 100 percent.
I spoke to a commander who said, well, maybe we can get one out of
two. There`s a pride issue here. There is a legacy issue. The U.S.
military`s prestige is on the line.
Generally, the consensus is Iraq didn`t go very well, and they`re
hoping that if Afghanistan doesn`t totally fall to pieces, that it will
be something of a saving grace for the military, that they can pull out
from this experience and say, look, we didn`t fail over this last decade
in our foreign endeavors, we didn`t launch these wars only to see chaos
and turmoil in the wake.
But the question is, going back to Iraq and going back to
Afghanistan, and these aren`t theoretical issues. These are issues that
we`re going to face right now.
What would have happened if the U.S. left a small force in Iraq of
a few thousand? We can never know, but I think you can have a pretty
Let`s say we had left behind 5,000, 6,000 troops, 10,000 troops,
even, in Iraq. Would that have been enough to stop the civil war from
breaking out again? Would it have been enough to stop this Sunni/Shiite
divide which is a 1,300-year-old conflict, from return to that country?
I`m not sure that it would have, especially when you had this absolute
outbreak of violence across the border in Syria. You had the whole Arab
spring. Would that residual force in Iraq have been enough to stop the
flow of history, as it has changed?
And I`m not sure the same thing in Afghanistan, would a small
force, even 12,000, be enough to keep the Taliban from coming back?
Already, the Taliban is coming back. Already, they are making inroads
in southern Afghanistan and eastern Afghanistan. And that is with 50-
plus thousand American and other foreign troops on the ground right now.
If 50,000 can`t do it, how could 12,000 do it?
MADDOW: NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, live
for us tonight in Sochi, Russia -- Richard, I really appreciate you
staying up to do this for us. It`s good to see you, my friend.
ENGEL: My pleasure.
MADDOW: Thanks a lot.
All right. Lots to come tonight including how rock ribbed Tea
Party principles were defeated by a pizza. That`s just ahead on another
installment of Debunktion Junction.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a fight that belongs to
the Iraqis. That`s exactly what the president and world decided some
time ago when we left Iraq. So, we are not obviously contemplating
returning. We`re not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This
is their fight. We`re going to help them in their fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. This is not the most important thing in the world,
but for the record, this is generally believed to be the first official
White House press secretary. This is FDR`s press secretary, a man named
Stephen Early. He was press secretary from 1933 to 1945. He served
again a few years later as press secretary for President Harry Truman.
So what you are looking at here are FDR`s press secretary and Harry
Truman`s press secretaries.
This handsome fellow here, he was Dwight Eisenhower`s press
secretary. This was JFK`s press secretary. These were LBJ`s press
secretaries. He burned through a few of them.
This guy had a tough job. He was Richard Nixon`s press secretary.
These were Gerald Ford`s press secretaries. He had two.
This was Jimmy Carter`s press secretary. Only had one his whole
These were Ronald Reagan`s press secretaries. The last guy you see
there, Marlin Fitzwater, he was also George H.W. Bush`s only press
These were all of Bill Clinton`s press secretaries. He had a
These were George W. Bush`s press secretaries. This was President
Obama`s first press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
And this, as of today, is President Obama`s current press
secretary, Jay Carney.
Notice anything different here between Jay Carney and all of his
press secretary predecessors? Notice something new that we have never
seen before? Ah! Oh, my God! What`s that?
That. This -- I think it`s that, has never happened before in the
history of the United States. At least we think so. We reached out to
NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss about this today, and he
said since the modern press secretary has only existed since FDR, this
in fact might be the first ever beard at the presidential press
Now, Abraham Lincoln did have a really cute guy with a beard who
used to talk to the press for him, but he was not technically a press
secretary because that job didn`t exist yet. Thank you, Michael
But otherwise, until we are proven wrong, and I would love to be,
until we are proven wrong, I believe that Jay Carney today has made
hirsute history. First ever beardy White House press secretary. First
Change is possible. Whoo-hoo!
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Debunktion Junction, what`s my function? Ready?
True or false -- Republicans in Idaho decided over the weekend to
eliminate their ability to nominate a candidate for president in 2016.
Is that true, or is that false?
False. Although it looked like that for a second today. This is
such a weird story.
In 2012, Idaho Republicans held a caucus to nominate their
candidate for president. They held their caucus in March. Mitt Romney
won the caucuses. Well, this weekend, the "Idaho State Journal"
reported that Idaho Republicans voted to kill the caucus, do away with
that method of selecting a nominee.
The newspaper reported that in 2016, Idaho Republicans will no
longer hold a presidential caucus. And that would be an amazing
development because that would leave Idaho Republicans with no way of
nominating a candidate for president.
See, when they voted in the caucus system back in 2012, the
governor of Idaho signed a law eliminating the state`s presidential
primary system. So, no primary but now no caucus either?
Did Idaho Republicans by killing their caucus leave themselves with
no way of nominating a candidate in 2016? No, they did not.
Apparently, it`s all a big misunderstanding.
The Republican official quoted in that story over the weekend about
Republicans deciding to kill their caucus told us today that there was
a, quote, "miscommunication" between him and the newspaper. He said
that the Idaho caucus is just fine, it has not been killed. He
attributed the miscommunication to a lack of sleep on his own part.
So, to repeat, despite the headlines to the contrary, the Idaho
caucus is still alive. It has not been killed. It was all just a big
misunderstanding. And jack tripper`s not gay. And then, Mr. Roper came
in and things got totally zany.
All right. Next up, true or false? A Tea Partier in Utah has
committed to fasting, as in not eating -- according to his Web site --
quote, "until the state of Utah exercises its right of nullification
against gay marriage." He is not eating until Utah stands up to the
tyranny of activist federal judges.
Is that true or is that false?
Also false. Turns out dude is eating pizza this very day and gay
marriage has not been nullified in Utah or anywhere.
Today, the United States Supreme Court did put at least a temporary
halt to same-sex marriages in Utah while the state appeals the
overturning of its gay marriage ban. You will recall that the
overturning of Utah`s gay marriage ban sent hundreds of couples racing
to their local clerk`s offices and left Utah with nearly 1,000 married
gay couples before today`s stay.
The Supreme Court`s stay, the decision to sort of hit the pause
button, does not invalidate those Utah marriages. It does not overturn
the ruling that allowed those marriages in the first place. It does not
even hint at what may ultimately become of same-sex marriage in Utah or
around the country.
It simply says pause. It simply says no more gay marriages in Utah
until we figure this thing out.
So, no Utah lawmakers stood up and said no to the tyranny of
federal judges. No Utah lawmakers stood up for the people in the face
of the satanic marriage hordes. There has been no nullification of
marriage of any kind in Utah.
But still, the guy who said he wouldn`t eat until that happened is
eating. Utah`s most demonstrably anti-gay marriage person, a man named
Trestin Meacham, a failed candidate for public office, he broke his
starvation until nullification promise. Not only did he order pizza
today, he`s asking people to send him more pizza. His fast has
apparently ended on the 16th day.
In any case, Mr. Meacham would like you all to know there was more
to his fast against gay marriage than his opposition to gay marriage.
He says the fast was also to expose the hatred of the homosexual
movement. Yes, I don`t know either.
Finally, true or false? Back in December, Kim Jong-un, the supreme
leader of North Korea, executed his uncle and second in command by
stripping him naked and feeding him to starving ravenous dogs. Is that
true or is that false?
Thank you. False. File this under sounds to absurd and so
outrageous that you believed it could actually happen because North
Korea. Kim Jong-un did not feed his uncle to starving dogs.
The original report, story, idea, the original fabrication came
from an online satirist based in China. The satire was then lifted
nearly word for word and published in a Hong Kong tabloid. People
probably should have known the story was potentially less than true
because the originator`s Web site background is a photo of Kim Jong-un
flipping the double bird.
Wait a minute, that`s not a photo. That`s a cartoon. It`s almost
as if you can`t blindly believe whatever you see on the Internet
anymore, especially if it`s about North Korea.
Just to be clear, the supreme leader did have his uncle/vice
chairman of national defense executed. It was likely execution by
firing squad. Still brutal. Still authoritarian. Still a terrifying
Still, the execution of a family member, right? Just not as
cartoon as real-life style. As much as it feels like you should, do not
believe every insane-sounding thing about the person in charge of North
Korea. Some of them really are made up.
Now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a
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