'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
January 7, 2014
Guest: Jeff Merkley
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks very much, my
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. From 1961 to 1963, the
United States increased our number of nuclear weapons by 50 percent -- a 50
percent increase in nuclear weapons in three years. By this time 50 years
ago, by January of 1964, we had tens of thousands of nuclear bombs in our
national stockpile. And we were building more at a faster rate than we had
ever built them before.
Now, for all these nuclear bombs, we needed enriched uranium. And we
produced our enriched uranium at gaseous diffusion plants in places like
Paducah, Kentucky, and Portsmouth, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
We were working so hard to build nuclear bombs as fast as we could in 1964,
that those plants where we made highly enriched uranium, those plants were
consuming 6 percent of our nation`s total electrical output in order to
make uranium. Wow.
But, again, we already had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons stockpiled.
How many were we ever planning on using?
Fifty years ago this week, 50 years ago tomorrow, the new president, the
elected vice president who had been elevated to the highest office in the
land by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy just seven weeks
earlier, Lyndon B. Johnson, 50 years ago this week, stood in front of a
joint session of Congress to deliver his State of the Union message and he
made huge news in that State of the Union. He made huge news when he said
he wanted to cut back on some of our massive, expensive uranium production.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s telling Congress that he will put the output of
uranium by 25 percent. This is the first cutback since invention of the
atomic bomb in 1945. He doesn`t say specifically that this will cut down
on weapons, but he implies it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was part of the NBC News post-State of the Union roundup the
night of the speech, the same kind of roundtable that we do now. That was
50 years ago this week when LBJ gave his first State of the Union as
president. And looking back at that contemporaneous coverage now, you
would think that that State of the Union Address in 1964 would be
remembered as the "Oh my God, he`s slowing down our uranium production"
I mean, that`s pretty much how it was greeted at the time. A cut in
uranium production? Whoa! That was essentially the big news out of the
State of the Union at the time, it was covered in 1964.
And LBJ did follow through on that promise. Within three days, there were
reports from across the country about hundreds of people being laid off at
the reactors and the uranium production plants.
The Beltway press was also very excited at the time that President Johnson
was proposing an overall federal budget for the country that was smaller
than what President Kennedy had asked for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert, in a manner of speaking, you were home on the
range for about 10 days down to Johnson City, Texas, shuttling back and
forth between Austin and the LBJ ranch. How much of an indication did all
of you get down there that the budget would be this much under $100
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, frankly, it came as a surprise to me to find out
that it would be less than the last fiscal year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this means that the Johnson spending plan is $500
billion smaller than the latest estimate of spending under the Kennedy
budget. And this, I submit is quite a feat. Democrats, they praise the
president, and the Republicans say they like the budget cutting part,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, here we are at the 50-year anniversary of that State of the
Union. That cut uranium production and that very slightly shrunk the
budget from the previous year, which, of course, nobody remembers that
State of the Union for now. That`s exactly the way it was covered at the
time that it happened.
But now, we look back on it and remember it for something very, very
different. Because the other thing that Lyndon Johnson announced in that
State of the Union, which the beltway press really did not care about at
all at the time, the thing that he is remembered for that we are
acknowledging the 50-year anniversary of this week, the big deal of that
speech was this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT: This administration today, here and
now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this
Congress and all Americans to join with me that effort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s true that Lyndon Johnson did propose a slightly shrunken
federal budget in his first year as president, as well as laying those
people off from the uranium plants. He did propose spending less overall
than John F. Kennedy ever had as president.
But, you know, the smallness of the size of his budget proposal that year
was not for a lack of ambition for what LBJ wanted to do. That war on
poverty that he declared 50 years ago tomorrow was not just a declared war,
it was actually a fought war, as part of the ambitious activist government
of LBJ and the Great Society era.
That Congress that he addressed 50 years ago this week and the next
Congress, President Johnson proposed more than 100 pieces of legislation to
each of those congresses that were, in fact, accepted by the Congress and
enacted into law. Things like, oh, hey, Medicare and head start and the
food stamp program in 1967. A big increase in Social Security benefits,
coverage of nursing home care for elderly Americans, community health
centers, job training programs.
That speech, the start of all of it was 50 years ago tomorrow. And so,
tomorrow, in the Lyndon Baines Johnson room at the U.S. Capitol which is
off the Senate floor, on the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty speech,
the junior senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, will go before the cameras in
the LBJ room on that anniversary, so he can denounce LBJ as a failure.
And we know that`s what Marco Rubio is planning on doing tomorrow because
he previewed his address this weekend with a sleepy-looking video I think
was filmed in a broom closet somewhere near his office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Hello, I`m U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Fifty
years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared a big government war on
poverty. After 50 years, isn`t it time to declare big government`s war on
poverty a failure?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Appropriate question to ask on the anniversary on the war on
poverty speech 50 years later. Every time we do get to a round numbered
anniversary of that speech, conservatives insist on declaring a total
failure in the war. They insist on declaring that waging war on poverty is
a stupid idea because obviously there`s still poverty and, therefore,
everything done to fight it was a bad idea.
And every year on round numbered anniversaries of that speech, defenders of
LBJ and people who think the argument ought to pursue policies designed to
minimize poverty, argue for the successes of the war on poverty.
LBJ`s top aide on domestic affairs throughout his whole presidency and
throughout this whole period was Joseph Califano. Joseph Califano has long
been one of the loudest cheerleaders for the success of the war on poverty
and Great Society programs, arguing those programs ought to be recognized
as having worked.
Quote, "From 1963, when Lyndon Johnson took office, until 1970, as the
impact of his Great Society programs were felt, the portion of Americans
living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent,
the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century."
And if you measure it that way, Joseph Califano is right. I mean, that is
a reduction in poverty in this country of 43 percent over eight years. And
it`s not magic or hard to see how it works. When President Johnson in the
war on poverty made sure every old person in the country had health
insurance with Medicare and when he greatly increased the amount of money
that people got from Social Security, just the size of the check you
received as a Social Security recipient, doing things like that, duh, had a
huge impact on the number of elderly people in America who were poor.
And it`s not hard to see. Right now, if you look at the official poverty
rate for old people in this country, just for the elderly, 44 percent of
the elderly people in America would be considered poor, would be at or
below the poverty line today, 44 percent, if you did not factor in their
Social Security benefits.
As it is, the elderly poverty rate in this country is only 9 percent
because people do get Social Security. If you took away everybody`s Social
Security benefits, the elderly poverty rate would be 44 percent. This is
not subtle stuff. This is not complicated math.
Social Security, though, is kind of a singular example because Social
Security is such a successful program and such a beloved and popular
program that Washington hasn`t been able to mess with it too much since
President Johnson expanded it in the war on poverty.
I mean, if you try to cut social securities you will get burned. Just ask
Vice President Paul Ryan.
But other war on poverty programs have not faired as well over the years as
Social Security has. Michael Tomasky writing in "The Daily Beast" this
week, that what`s wrong with Marco Rubio`s thinking when he declared the
war on poverty a failure is that, quote, "We have not, of course, been
fighting any kind of serious war on poverty for five decades. We fought it
with truly adequate funding for about one decade. Less, even. Then the
backlash started. By 1981, Ronald Reagan`s government was fighting a war
on the war on poverty."
And he`s right. Mocking and deriding and campaigning against programs to
fight poverty was a big part of how Ronald Reagan got elected. And it was
central to the whole idea of his presidency, in terms of domestic policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: My friends, some years ago, the federal
government declared war on poverty. And poverty won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Poverty won. We lost. We should stop fighting.
Marco Rubio surely wants to be seen as Reaganesque. Right now he does have
that same message. Stop fighting.
To get people out of poverty, any policy effort to do that is big
government that`s doomed to fail. Still, though, Senator Rubio wants to
run for president and as part of wanting to run for president, he`s going
to give a speech in the LBJ room tomorrow, ostensibly about the issue of
poverty and from his perspective, why the government can`t help.
But it is a speech on the subject of poverty, and a lot of Republicans have
been giving speeches and doing campaign-style events around the issue of
poverty recently. Which if you really care about income inequality and the
problem of deep poverty in this country, it is kind of a heartening
development to see even Republicans talking about it.
Rand Paul has been doing this sort of thing, too. He`s been giving
speeches in Detroit that, again, are mostly mocking and criticizing the
idea that government can do anything about poverty. But at least he is
talking about poverty.
Senator Mike Lee has been talking about it. Congressman Eric Cantor, Paul
Ryan, Senator Mitch McConnell. Whether you credit the leadership of Pope
Francis or not, the issue of poverty has suddenly become popular in
And now comes the really interesting part which is figuring out whether it
is all a bunch of talk or whether anything is actually going to happen.
Fifty years after the declared war on poverty in this nation, what is the
status of that war?
Part of the reason this is turning out to be a really interesting question
right now in Washington is because nobody knows the answer. Nobody knows
if something is really going to happen.
Today in Washington, there was the rarest of all Washington things. Today
in Washington, there was an actual surprise and it was on this issue. The
U.S. Senate today voted on extending unemployment insurance for people who
have been unemployed for a long time. Those benefits were cut off at
Christmastime, 1.3 million Americans lost their unemployment benefits.
If Congress doesn`t reverse that cutoff, something like 14 million
Americans are going to be affected by that this year, 1.3 million Americans
were just cut off. It`s going to be 14 million Americans who will with cut
off this year because of that change. People who otherwise would have
unemployment benefits but they`re going to be cut off or already have been.
Last night on this show, we had the number three Democrat in the Senate,
here on this show, sort of showing us the Democrats` low expectations for
this vote today. Senator Schumer was here on this program last night
talking about how the Democrats were planning to make the Republicans keep
voting on this issue over and over and over again once the Republicans
inevitably voted it down today.
But, surprise, they didn`t vote it down. Legitimately, surprise. Nobody
expected this. Even while the vote was still taking place today, nobody
knew whether or not this thing was going to pass.
The Republicans were filibustering it. Most of them said they were against
it. But Dean Heller supported it. They needed four more.
Then there was Kelly Ayotte. Then there was Dan Coates of Indiana. Then
there was Susan Collins of Maine. Then there was Lisa Murkowski of Alaska,
and then Rob Portman of Ohio. With Senator Portman`s totally unexpected
vote for unemployment insurance, that was enough to break the Republican
Party`s filibuster on the bill.
And so, the unemployment extension looks like it is going to pass the
Senate. They got enough Republican votes to break the filibuster and
nobody saw that coming. Nobody saw that coming. Nobody saw that coming.
Marco Rubio who`s been talking about poverty and giving his big speech on
it tomorrow, he voted no. Rand Paul, who`s been talking about poverty, he
voted no. Mike Lee who`s been talking about poverty, he voted no. Even
Mitch McConnell who`s been talking about poverty, of course, no, he voted
But enough other Republicans voted yes that it happened and that
legitimately was a surprise. And once it passes the Senate, that will mean
it goes to the Republican-controlled House where it would be, again, a
legitimate surprise if the Republicans in the House even allowed a vote on
But one surprise means maybe there can be another. You know, the problem
created by this cutoff of benefits is a real problem. We just cut back to
26 weeks of unemployment benefits. You want to know the average time it
takes an out of work person to find a new job right now? Thirty-five
weeks. We`re cutting off unemployment when?
The Labor Department says cutting off these benefits is going to cost the
economy 240,000 jobs. JPMorgan economists say it`s going to cut the annual
economic growth rate for the entire country by almost half a point in the
first quarter. It`s a real problem that they cut off these benefits.
Reinstating them is not a messaging bill. This is not a bumper sticker
bill. This is not some fantasy program or fantasy repeal designed to
placate an ideologically motivated constituency that Mike Huckabee is going
to do infomercials about on FOX News, right?
This is an actual policy. This is a real problem. This is a real thing
affecting real people and affecting our economy in a real way.
And it turns out the Democrats are planning on keeping real pressure on it
as the legislative future here seems more and more hard to predict.
President Obama in the East Room of the White House today praised the
Senate for having moved unexpectedly toward reinstating those benefits. He
pressured today the House to at least allow a vote on it.
And the president introduced to the nation one of the real people, one of
the real and frankly really sympathetic people who have been hurt by
unemployment getting cut off. Her name is Catherine Hackett.
She`s from Moodus, Connecticut. She`s unemployed. She`s looking for work.
She raised her two sons on her own and both of them right now are serving
in the U.S. military.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have cut expenses everywhere possible. And I am not
just sitting home enjoying the good life. My cuts include heating my house
to 58 degrees, wearing a hat and a coat to stay warm because oil is
expensive. I have lost weight because food is expensive.
As a single mother, I worked many different jobs and never asked for a
handout while I raised two wonderful boys. Both of my sons are serving in
the U.S. military.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we`ve got the mom of
two of our troops who is working hard out there but is having to wear a
coat inside the house, we`ve got a problem. And it`s one that can be
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon.
Senator Merkley, thanks very much for being here tonight. I know that you
were a yes vote on extending those unemployment benefits. So
congratulations on that vote today.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Thank you very much, Rachel.
And I`ve got to say, you`re giving the Senate Republicans way too much
credit because today they only voted in favor of having a debate on the
issue. They did not vote in favor of closing debate on the bill, itself.
In fact, we anticipate that based on McConnell`s proposal today, they`re
going to try to attach conditions that will make it extremely hard to pass
unemployment, so we really need to rally people across America to have them
weigh in with their senators not only should we debate the issue, we should
actually restore the unemployment program.
MADDOW: So their vote today is essentially a vote to move forward in the
process of potentially voting on the bill? But you`re expecting that that
means it`s just going to mean more obstruction and no guaranteed even up or
MERKLEY: Yes, this sounds so absurd across America, but today, the vote
was to close debate on whether to debate and forcing us to take an
intervening day before we actually vote on closing debate and only then
later in the week will we actually start debating the bill.
And at that point, McConnell says he`ll put forward a proposal and probably
have to do with dismantling parts of the Affordable Care Act to try to
actually pass this through the Senate.
So, we are a very, very long way from having a Senate proposal go forward
and I hope citizens across the country can weigh in heavily about how
outrageous it is to shut down this Bush era bipartisan program that`s
carefully calibrated to increase the number of unemployment weeks during
periods of high unemployment state-by-state, very carefully calculated. It
should absolutely go forward, but we`re not close to getting it done.
MADDOW: In terms of your reference to it as a Bush-era program. As far as
I understand it, as long as this program has been in existence, when it has
been voted on outside of big budget deals, when it`s been voted on as a
standalone thing, there`s never before been conditions, pay-for conditions
attach to bills like this, has there? This hasn`t been the way this has
been dealt with in the past.
MERKLEY: Not in all cases, but primarily it`s been an understanding this
does not need a pay for, and for good reason. Because these are funds that
go to families that keep a financial bridge to the next job during periods
of high unemployment and the funds they spend in the community help the
economy recover, reduce the unemployment rate, which then in turn retires
So, it`s self-retiring. And to force to take money from somewhere else to
pay for this has not been in the spirit of the program, has not been the
MADDOW: The president has proposed not only extending these unemployment
benefits but also a rise in the minimum wage. Also things like universal
pre-kindergarten, preschool for kids across the country.
A bit of a populist agenda in terms of his last State of the Union and what
he most recently said he`s planning to spend the whole year on, what we
expect to hear from him in his next State of the Union in a couple weeks.
Should we see the Democrats party as a whole and Democrats in the Senate as
having that same sort of economically driven agenda right now? Are those
MERKLEY: Absolutely. What we see in this society across America is huge
income inequality. I know you address this all the time, but 95 percent of
the new income going to just the 1 percent at the top, huge differences in
wealth. We`re losing living wage jobs. Out of the great recession, 60
percent of the jobs we lost were living wage and only 40 percent of the
jobs we`re getting back are living wage.
So, families are going from middle class with benefits to near minimum wage
part-time jobs, no benefits that you just can`t have a good foundation for
a family, which means you have to have help creating new jobs that are
living wage and in the meantime, you need these bridges of unemployment
insurance and food stamps.
And right now, the Republican Party has been becoming the program basically
or the party of the Grinch and Santa Claus putting coal in the stocking for
the American families. And so, here we have Marco Rubio trying to reshape
the image and we have this memo from the Republican Party in the House
today that basically says, well, members, got to coach you. They had to
coach the members how to talk about women`s issues.
Now, they`re saying we`ve got to coach you on how to be empathetic when
we`re blocking these programs, how to emphatic, so people don`t realize how
much of a Grinch we are being.
MADDOW: Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon -- thank you for helping
us understand this tonight. Stay in touch with us as this continues to
wind its way through the Senate. It sounds like the debate is going to be
feistier than anybody knew.
Thank you, sir. Thanks very much.
MERKLEY: Yes, indeed. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In four days, Terry McAuliffe will be the new governor of
Virginia. He`s a Democrat. He`s going to be taking over the governorship
from governor ultrasound, from Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, marked
not only with an ethics and corruption scandal, but also with a really
aggressively conservative policy agenda.
Since he has been governor-elect, Terry McAuliffe promised he would move to
expand Medicaid in the state which Governor McDonnell rejected. Governor-
elect McAuliffe says he will find a way to do that, even if he has to go
around the legislature to do if it.
Mr. McAuliffe has also promised to roll back Governor McDonnell`s law that
forces Virginia women to have medically unnecessary ultrasound exams if
they want to get an abortion in the state.
Governor-elect McAuliffe has also promised to reform the state`s lax ethics
laws which governor ultrasound repeatedly blamed for his own scandal
involving a Virginia businessman, more than $100,000 in cash and gifts from
that businessman and also sort of inexplicably a white Ferrari.
Just today, the top Republican and top Democrat in the Virginia state
assembly co-wrote an editorial in the "Richmond Times Dispatch" explaining
the two parties reached a bipartisan agreement on reforming the state`s
So, a problem like Bob McDonnell can never happen again. Terry McAuliffe
for his part says if the legislature passes such a law, he will sign it and
also says even if they don`t pass such a law, he will make the same change
by executive order.
So, Terry McAuliffe hasn`t taken office yet in Virginia but he`s already
deep into it on the policy changes that he wants, cleaning up from the Bob
McDonnell mess, the flat-out reversals h wants, his plans to try to go
outside the legislature to get what he wants if he can`t get it through the
legislature. The swearing in Virginia is not until this weekend and it`s
already on in Virginia.
And here`s the really fascinating thing. The Virginia governorship and
lieutenant governorship and the attorney general race and the two U.S.
senators from Virginia may all have gone to the Democrats now. Every
single statewide office in Virginia may now be held by a Democrat.
But the Virginia legislature is still very Republican. The House of
Delegates is really quite extremely Republican as you can see here.
But the Senate has been under Republican control, but sort of under a
different story. And it is a story that is in part potentially being
rewritten tonight. See, heading into the elections in November, the Senate
in Virginia was an even split, 50/50 Democrats and Republicans. The tie
breaking vote in the Senate is the lieutenant governor.
Of course, the lieutenant governor under Bob McDonnell had been a
Republican. That meant effectively Republican control of the evenly split
Senate, 50/50 plus 1 Republican in the form of the lieutenant governor.
While Democrats ran the table in the November election, one of the things
they won was the lieutenant governorship. So on paper, that means the
50/50 Senate swings to Democratic control, too. You think.
But the guy who the Democrats ran for lieutenant governor, this guy, Ralph
Northam, he, himself, was a state senator, which means his seat just opened
up. He now needs to be replaced as a senator.
And in order for the Republicans to have any hope of controlling the
Senate, the Democrats need to hold on to his seat in the special election
to replace him. And that special election to replace him was held today
and tonight in Virginia. It was already expected to be a low turnout
affair because it`s a special election in the middle of January. It was
already expected to be low turnout and that was before Virginia got polar-
vortexed along with the rest of the country.
The polls closed at 7:00 tonight. At this hour, look at this race. You
can count the number of votes between these guys on your fingers and toes.
The Republican in the race is Wayne Coleman. The Democrat is Lynwood
Lewis. He`s been a member of the House of Delegates since 2004. This is
just incredibly close, 97 percent in. Way, way, way too close to call.
For a state Senate seat, this has been a heated battle on a massively
shortened timeframe. The two campaigns combined to spend more than $1
million over just the last two months and that is way more than what`s been
spent in the district. And that`s, of course, because it`s not just for
control of that one Senate seat. It`s the Republicans trying to hold on to
control of the Senate as a whole and the Democrats are trying to take it
We`re going to keep you posted as results come in tonight. As it looks
right now, this is way too close to call. It`s less than 1 percent, it`s
going to be a recount.
If the Democrats pull this out and win this, they still need to hold on to
the other Senate seat that was vacated by their candidate who won the
attorney generals race in November, too. If Democrats do that, too, in two
weeks, if they hold on to the seat tonight and they hold on to that other
vacant seat in two weeks, then the Democrats will control the Virginia
Senate. It will be 50/50 and the Democrats will have the tie breaking vote
with the lieutenant governor, and that means Terry McAuliffe`s life will
get easier as the state`s new governor if the Democrats can do it. They`re
going to have to win this one tonight and it`s so close you can`t believe
it. Amazing stuff.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: There is a job opening now that paid the last person who held it
well north of $100,000 a year. The job requires almost no real work, like
you almost don`t have to do anything. You can show up if you want, but
there`s nothing for you to do.
The catch with this job is you have to move to Tallahassee, Florida, and
have to spend a lot of time with Governor Rick Scott.
It turns out that is the hardest job in American government to fill. That
whole amazing story is coming up.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: America does not take strikes to punish individuals. We act
against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the
And when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing
the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty
that no civilians will be killed or injured, the highest standard we can
This last point is critical because much of the criticism about drone
strikes, both here at home and abroad, understandably centers on reports of
civilian casualties. There`s a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such
casualties and nongovernmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact
that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists
in every war.
And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can
justify their loss.
For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as
long as we live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Obama speaking last spring. Those deaths will haunt us
as long as we live.
Before that speech, there had been no acknowledgement by a president, ever,
of the drone program. Everybody knows it existed. People regularly
reported on drone strikes, but there had been almost no public
acknowledgement of it, certainly not at the level of the president.
Until that day last spring when President Obama defended the program but
also addressed its downfall. He promised greater transparency, promised
more oversight. He promised, interestingly, to shift responsibility for
the program away from the CIA and toward the military instead so we can at
least understand the chain of command for this kind of shadow war.
Tonight, we are learning exclusively about a move on this issue in
Washington. And in order to bring you that news, I have to warn you that
the video you`re about to see is not from Washington, and it is graphic.
This happened last month. A drone strike in Yemen targeting a suspected al
Qaeda terrorist. A man suspected of orchestrating the plot that led to the
shutdown of the U.S. embassy in Yemen in August.
That drone strike reportedly hit civilians who were in a convoy on their
way to a wedding. This footage of the aftermath was posted on "The New
York Times`" lead blog. This exclusive video shown here, this footage was
taken by Yemeni journalist and given to NBC News by the human rights group,
As you can see, it`s graphic. It shows several casualties of the attack.
Local villagers say that in all, 12 civilians were killed and 14 people
were injured. NBC showed this video to White House and Pentagon officials
who declined to comment on it.
A Yemeni official said the video is consistent with what the Yemeni
government knows about what happened after the attack, although that
country`s security agency still maintained that some militants were killed
in the strike.
Drone strikes are less frequent than they used to be now. But they are not
unfrequent. Nor are claims and even documented reports that drone strikes
have killed civilians instead of their targets. None of that is new.
What is new here, what we`re learning tonight is this. U.S. officials have
told NBC News national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff that
they have now launched an internal investigation into this strike that we
just showed you that footage from.
And that is news. It seems like it could be important news. Watch this
from Michael Isikoff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Drones
have become America`s weapon of choice against terrorists enclaves
overseas. This exclusive video showing bodies of victims of a pentagon
drone strike on the 12th was taken by a Yemeni journalist and given to NBC
News by Reprieve, a human rights group critical of U.S. drone policy.
U.S. and Yemeni officials say the strike which killed 12 and injured 14 was
aiming for Shawqi al-Badani, suspected of orchestrating a plot that led to
the shutdown of U.S. embassies last August.
But local villagers say the victims were in a convoy that was part of a
"Yes, for sure, it was a wedding", this villager says. Yemeni sources say
Badani was wounded and escaped. U.S. officials decline comment on who was
killed. In a rare acknowledgement, they tell NBC News they have launched
an internal investigation into the strike.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: An internal investigation into the strike in Yemen launched
internally meaning inside the Obama administration. That is not the kind
of news, not the kind of review we are used to hearing about after reports
like this. NBC`s Michael Isikoff is here now live with us for more.
Mike, U.S. officials telling you they have launched an internal
investigation into this. Is this a rare development? It seems rare to me.
ISIKOFF: It is. First of all, I think this whole story is the reminder
while the rest of the Mideast appears to be blowing up, we`re still
actively fighting a very aggressive drone war in Yemen that`s killing
people and if our reporting is correct, making lots of enemies.
But while President Obama did acknowledge that civilians have been killed
by U.S. drone strikes in that speech last May which you showed, it is
extremely rare for the U.S. government to comment about any particular
drone strike, much less acknowledge it is investigating whether or not that
strike killed civilians.
But that`s what happened here, couple of factors. First, we showed this
video to the administration. And it was after that that they made this
acknowledgement that they are launching this investigation.
But also, the Yemeni government while it officially claims that those were
militants that were killed, those scorched bodies that you see in that
video, it also sent representatives to that village right after that attack
to offer compensation to the tribe, cash and Kalashnikov rifles. And that
seemed to be a pretty big concession that something may have gone awry
I spoke to a Yemeni official about this who says, look, this whole thing is
a mess, we`re not sure who was killed. It is -- this should be a reminder
we need more openness and transparency about what is going on in the drone
MADDOW: Well, on that issue, part of what has been so singular about
covering this war, this in effect shadow war with the drone strikes is that
there really isn`t a lot of independent journalism available in the places
where these drone strikes happen. In this case, thanks to this group
that`s critical of U.S. policy Reprieve, for making this footage from local
sources available, you do have this documentation.
Do you think that this documentation, which, again, is a very rare thing,
is what has caused the administration to take this unusual step of making
the review? I mean, is it because there isn`t film like this of other
drone strikes that they haven`t had reviews of other strikes before this?
ISIKOFF: Look, it is very hard to say, and I wouldn`t say that they
haven`t had reviews. They would tell you they have. In fact, the official
statement from the White House is whenever we have reports of civilian
casualties, we investigate thoroughly.
But then getting from there, that general statement, to a particular
strike, which strikes have killed civilians? How many civilians does the
U.S. government believe have been killed in these strikes is something
we`ve never gotten an answer to. It`s something that human rights groups
have been calling for. Some of them met with senior administration
officials today to press on this very issue including about this strike.
So there are still a lot of unanswered questions here. In our package,
which is now on NBCNews.com, you can watch a former Obama administration
official says, look, this video doesn`t prove the case one way or another,
whether those are civilians or militants but it does say -- but it does
demand and suggest that we need more transparency, the transparency that
was promised last May, we still don`t have.
MADDOW: Michael Isikoff, NBC News investigative correspondent -- Michael,
thank you for helping us understand this. Congratulations on the stoop.
It is a dark story, but a really interesting political development. Thanks
ISIKOFF: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Hey, good news update. Last night, we told you about the
icebreaker food chain succession of stuck ships in the Antarctic. It
started with a Russian research ship getting stuck in icy Antarctic waters
on Christmas morning, 52 freezing tourists and scientists stuck onboard.
They got rescued by two ice breakers, one giant Chinese one called the Snow
Dragon and also an Australia icebreaker.
But after saving the little Russian ship`s passengers and putting them on
one boat, getting out of their way, the Snow Dragon got stuck, the Chinese
ship got stuck and the Australian one was close to getting stuck again
well. And so, America`s one and only heavy ice breaking ship, the mighty
polar star was dispatched to go rescue the rescue party.
Hold tight, stay warm, help is on the way. We`ll be there on Thursday.
That was the status as of last night. But now, there`s new news. Tonight
we can gladly report the polar star has received the order to stand down.
And that`s because the stuck Chinese snow dragon and the originally stuck
little Russian ship have become unstuck.
Both vessels are reportedly now free from the Antarctic ice, thanks to a
favorable change in wind conditions, a large crack thankfully formed in the
ice and the Chinese ship at least is now navigating out into the open water
and no longer needs rescuing.
So yes, wherever you live, it is cold and icy right now. But you do not
need America`s most massive and powerful heavy ice breaker to come rescue
you and as of tonight, neither do the Chinese. Tada!
MADDOW: This is an amazing story.
All right. Florida Governor Rick Scott got sued yesterday in state court.
Here`s why, it`s because Florida has no lieutenant governor. This is the
last person to hold that office. In March, Jennifer Carroll resigned as
lieutenant governor in a scandal involving a supposedly charity for
veterans and Internet gambling cafes and really enormous amounts of cash
generated by the supposed charity that were going to lots of places but not
Lieutenant Governor Carroll and her P.R. firm had promoted that supposed
charity and when the scandal about the supposed charity broke, she resigned
last March. That same week, Rick Scott shut down the office of Florida
lieutenant governor. She`s gone, he got the files packed up, sent the
workers home, turned off the lights. That office has been empty ever
Now, by way of the state constitution, there is supposed to be a lieutenant
governor for the state of Florida, somebody who`s ready to take over if
governor quits or for whatever reason cannot serve. The Florida
constitution says the governor has to pick somebody for that job. Look --
upon vacancy in the office of the lieutenant governor, the governor shall
appoint a successor, Rick Scott.
But here we are coming up on a year after the old lieutenant governor quits
and Florida still does not have a new one. And so, lawsuit.
The Florida Democratic activists who filed this lawsuit today against Rick
Scott told reporters, quote, "I think it`s time he`s done his job. It`s
been nine months. A woman could have conceived and delivered a baby in
that time." Which is true.
Now, here`s where it gets really interesting, because as slow as Rick Scott
might seem to have been about picking a replacement, Rick Scott has, in
fact, tried to appoint people to fill that office. He has tried. First,
he tried a county school superintendent, but the school superintendent
turned him down, said no.
So, then he tried a county sheriff. But the county sheriff also turned him
down and said no.
Then, he floated the name of a state senator who didn`t exactly say no but
who did make it very clear that he`s quite open to taking a whole different
job that`s not being Rick Scott`s lieutenant governor. "The Tampa Tribune"
reporting that neither that state senator, nor a fourth person on Rick
Scott`s list would answer when asked directly if they would be willing to
become Florida`s number two elected official.
So, part of the problem may just be Rick Scott. I mean, it`s not like -- I
don`t know. It`s not exactly like not being able to get a date but it`s
kind of like not being able to get a date. He`s very unpopular in the
state and maybe no one wants to be seen as the side kick to the unpopular
That said, the job does have a $125,000 salary. So they really ought to be
able to find somebody no matter how much everybody dislikes it.
Governor Scott is up for re-election this November. At this very early
stage of the race, he does appear to be trailing. Picking a person new
lieutenant governor, it doesn`t have much upside for him, right? Picking
the new person for this one largely ceremonial office, it`s almost
inherently risky for Rick Scott.
Whoever he decides on when he find somebody who will say yes, he`s then
going to spend a big part of his re-election campaign year trying to vet
that person and then defending this new officeholder who by design will do
practically nothing once they are in office.
And this is kind of the curse of the lieutenant governor. What do you do
if you`re a lieutenant governor? I mean, it is the number one
characteristic of being number two that you can add next to nothing. You
can be a liability if you screw up.
You have basically nothing to contribute to the administration because you
have no responsibilities, but you sure can embarrass the boss if things go
And the curse of the lieutenant governor actually seems to be kind of a
national curse right now. It isn`t just Florida`s lieutenant governor who
quit and apparently can`t be replaced, even under the threat of lawsuit.
Also, there`s issues in Nebraska. Nebraska`s Republican lieutenant
governor quit in February over certain phone calls made on his official
state cell phone to women who were not his wife.
The Massachusetts Democratic lieutenant governor quit in June after
crashing his official state car while reportedly driving 108 miles an hour.
Then today, in Arkansas, today, the lieutenant governor of Arkansas refused
calls for his resignation over alleged ethics violations. Those calls for
his resignation coming in part from the governor of Arkansas. And now his
own Republican Party is talking about impeaching him if he refuses to
Lieutenant governors are almost their own existential problem. One after
the other. I mean, here we have the lieutenant governor of Texas doing his
best to get a relative out of jail, and doing it on tape.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DAVID DEWHURST, TEXAS LT. GOV.: I want to talk to the most senior police
officer you have where you are right now. My name David Dewhurst. I`m the
lieutenant governor of the state of Texas. You incarcerated my sister-in-
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s the number two guy in Texas. This is the number two in
Wisconsin. She`s amazing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REBECCA KLEEFISH, WISCONSIN LT. GOV.: Hi to (INAUDIBLE) listeners. Rebecca
Kleefisch here. I`m in the global warming today poisoning the world with
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I don`t know what it is about lieutenant governors. That`s the
lieutenant governor from Wisconsin. And God bless South Carolina, where
the last lieutenant governor to stick around was a guy who compared people
who received public assistance to stray animals. His name was Andre Bower.
He managed to serve full two full terms. The next lieutenant governor in
South Carolina served for a year, then quit in a campaign finance scandal.
Under South Carolina succession rules, that guy got replaced by the state
senator who you see in the middle here, masquerading as a federal general
with slaves. Today in South Carolina, that replacement lieutenant governor
who plays Confederate dresser (ph), announced that he won`t run for re-
election. Instead he will apply for the job of president at the College of
Charleston. He said he had been forced by providence and the South
Carolina constitution to become lieutenant governor but he never had any
desire to have the job. Because who would want a job like that?
And from the perspective of Florida Governor Rick Scott, why would you ever
want to pick a new person for that job, even if you could finally get
somebody, anybody to say yes. The new lawsuit in Florida wants to force
Mr. Scott to name somebody, anybody as lieutenant governor within 30 days.
The question is, can he do it? Can you do it, Governor? Can you find
somebody to say yes?
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
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