updated 1/16/2014 12:59:16 PM ET 2014-01-16T17:59:16

ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
January 15, 2014

Guests: Darryl Isherwood, Kate Zernike, Tara Dowdell, Baratunde R. Thurston, Sam Seder, Charles Pierce, Baratunde Thurston, Tom Seder, Charles Pierce, Jeff Merkley

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes.

Chris Christie is ready to move on. In fact a lot of people on the right
are ready to turn the page on the George Washington Bridge scandal. It`s
over, he`s apologized, time to move on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Without a doubt we will cooperate
with all appropriate inquiries to ensure that this breach of trust does not
happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Not for nothing, Governor, but these inquiries aren`t happening to
ensure nothing like this ever happens again. In fact, it`s hard to imagine
anyone in the future being quite as craven. They`re to find out what
actually happened this time, because we still don`t know. There are still
so many questions that need to be answered including what was David
Samson`s role in the George Washington Bridge scandal?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIE: So I`ve sat and met for two hours yesterday with Mr. Samson,
General Samson, and again I`m confident that he had no knowledge of this.

HAYES: Last week, Chris Christie issued a sweeping defense of this man,
David Samson, one of several people implicated in the first batch of e-
mails who has managed to escape the axe.

Now David Samson is not a formerly anonymous political operative like David
"Wally Edge" Wildstein" or obscure staffer like Bridget Kelly. No, David
Samson is a pillar of New Jersey politics.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: The question, I think, of the hour is, is
David Samson at some point going to be subpoenaed by this committee and
what I am hearing is that there is an enormous amount of pressure not to
have this committee subpoena David Samson because of his role in New Jersey
politics.

HAYES: This guy has one of the thickest resumes in the state. The 2012
article on his law firm`s Web site calls him the second most influential
man in New Jersey politics. He`s worked under four governors, Democrats
and Republicans. Serving as everything from general counsel to the New
Jersey Turnpike Authority to attorney general of New Jersey in 2002 under
Democrat Jim McGreevey.

Oh, and he runs one of the most powerful law firms in the state. In fact
Christie appointed Samson`s partner at his law firm, Jeffrey Chiesa as the
state`s interim senator.

David Samson is also very, very tight with Christie. In 2009, he served as
Chris Christie`s campaign council. He then went on to head up his
transition team and when Chris Christie`s inauguration day arrived Samson
helped to do the honors.

DAVID SAMSON, CHRIS CHRISTIE TRANSITION TEAM: My name is David Samson, and
over the past two and a half months, I`ve been privileged to serve as
chairman of the Governor Elect`s Transition Committee.

HAYES: Later than year Christie appointed Samson chairman of the Port
Authority. And Chris Christie did his walk-through of the stage for the
2012 Republican National Convention, Samson was there.

He is, simply put, one of Christie`s closest advisers.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Traveling with the governor today New Mexicos`
Republican Governor Susannah Martinez. Also on the bus this morning, Port
Authority chairman David Samson.

HAYES: Even as Christie was calling his other newly fired advisers liars,
he stood by David Samson whose name appears in the first batch of e-mails
from David Wildstein. Wildstein saying Samson was, quote, "helping us to
retaliate against the New York Port Authority."

On September 13th, the now resigned Bill Baroni forwarded an irate e-mail
from the executive director of the Port Authority to David Samson with the
question, "General," as in former attorney general, "can I call you on this
now?" And then just four hours later, Wildstein was e-mailing that Samson
was helping us to retaliate.

The document dumb also includes a text message indicating that Samson
discussed a possible meeting with Christie just days before the traffic jam
in Fort Lee plot was put into motion. We do not know if that meeting
actually took place, but we do know that Christie and his close adviser
Samson were together in the same place on the third day of that same
traffic jam.

The inconsistencies of David Samson`s story are becoming more clearer by
the day. Today he was forced to tell the press, "I have no plans to
immediately resign."

The big question now is, what`s your definition of immediately, General?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAYES: Joining me now, Darryl Isherwood, senior political reporter for
NJ.com, Kate Zernike, national correspondent for the "New York Times,"
political strategist Tara Dowdell, who actually worked at the Port
Authority and in the McGreevey administration where David Samson was
attorney general.

So I want to just get -- to me as I follow this and I get barbarian on it,
Samson`s role becomes more and more important. And partly because, A --
two reasons, A, this is a prominent very important figure in New Jersey
politics. This guy is a big mocker. I mean, this guys is a rainmaker, you
want to do a development deal, you hire David Samson. He is like an
eminence crease.

He`s a big deal. It`s not Bridget Kelly who most people have never heard
of until two weeks ago. Right?

And B, he`s the one guy who`s in all these e-mails, but Governor Christie
sat down with for two hours, apparently the day they all said and Samson
convinced him, I had nothing to do with it, and Chris Christie wants us to
believe he had nothing to do with it, so to me, Samson is the fire all, am
I wrong about that?

DARRYL ISHERWOOD, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, NJ.COM: Yes, I agree with
you. And the problem for the governor is he came out here and did it --
gave yet another assurance that somebody else was not involved. Remember,
that`s how this started. None of my staff was involved, they all told me.
He did it again with Samson. Yet Samson`s name is -- are all over those e-
mails. And including one that says Samson helping us to retaliate which is
a -- you know, a problem.

HAYES: So here`s what you`ve got to believe, if the story -- if the
Governor -- Chris Christie sang the truth and you believe him. Here`s what
has to have happened.

Stepian and Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni cook up the plan, the Fort Lee
traffic study plan, and they pull it off. And the guy on the New York
side, Randy Foye catches wind and loses his mind and writes a letter
saying, what the heck are you idiots doing? You`re going to get someone
killed, I`ve shut this down.

And they, not having been happy with shutting down traffic for four days,
they want the thing to keep going, they push back hard against the New York
side and they call in Samson who`s the chair of the whole Port Authority to
help them.

In order for the truth to already be on the table it has to be the case
that Samson is helping them push back against New York having been told a
lie about the origin of the traffic jam, believing that lie and acting upon
the lie when pushing back against the New York side.

KATE ZERNIKE, NEW YORK TIMES NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so not only
that, at the very least didn`t ask any questions, because you have to
wonder, well, why was this traffic study such a big deal? And what -- you
know, is there any merit to Foye`s argument? You think that someone would
have asked those basic questions. But also what strikes me about the e-
mails between Foye and Samson -- sorry, between Baroni and Samson, and some
of the other people in the Port Authority, is that Samson was most
interested not in what happened to the people of Fort Lee and all those at
the New Jersey commuters trying to get across the George Washington Bridge.

He was most interested in, we have to protect the governor, we have to stop
this story. We are angry at Foye for putting this story out there. So
there -- his primary interest was political damage control.

HAYES: He is furious at Foye for -- he think Foye is the source for the
"Wall Street Journal" story. He`s furious, he`s furious, they`re all
furious, and you know, because you worked at the Port Authority, and I want
to -- part of the context is the just snakes nest that is the Port
Authority.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, these are really brutal politics. I mean, these are brutal
politics. There`s like what? A $20 billion budget or something crazy like
that? And it`s co-appointed by the New York governor and New Jersey
governor, and they`re always basically at war with each other. Right?

TARA DOWDELL, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Yes. And that`s great context and
that`s absolutely right. The Port Authority is -- there`s so much tension
between people in New York and people in New Jersey. So that`s the
context. So I think that explains a lot of the push back because there`s
this push and pull that goes on.

But I think what`s really problematic, though, for Governor Christie is
that if in fact attorney general -- former Attorney General Samson knew,
then it is really, really going to be hard for Governor Christie to make
the case that he did not know.

HAYES: He did not -- right. That is the firewall argument. I think it`s
like -- you know, we just played you that footage, this isn`t some guy I
never met or I was student president and athlete in high school, I haven`t
seen David Wildstein -- here`s the guy who`s walking around with you on the
stage (INAUDIBLE) of the RNC. He`s on the bus tour with you, he`s
introducing you to donors. It`s like this is one of your guys. Right?

ISHERWOOD: I think he`s called him a mentor at times. And you`re right,
and this is not -- you know, again, this not Bridget Kelly. This is -- you
opened the show saying this guy is a pillar. I mean, in political circles,
this guy is it. They showed the power list, New Jersey power list that I
actually put that together.

HAYES: And I was not on it somehow.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: But continue.

ISHERWOOD: You were 104.

HAYES: Yes. I was smarting, exactly.

ISHERWOOD: I think we put David Samson last year at number two, and I`m
sure he was top five this year. I mean, this is a guy who`s -- he`s been
in politics for years and had prominent positions in both Republican and
Democratic administrations. Christie`s counsel for his first campaign, his
transitional director.

I mean, this is a guy who is politics in New Jersey. So he`s not a guy who
you can say, well, he -- you know, he operated on his own and nobody knew.

DOWDELL: Right, and he also is very loyal. So he`s very well respected by
both parties.

HAYES: Yes. That`s it. He`s very -- this is not -- I want to make this
clear to everyone and I have no idea whether David Samson knew about this
or not. I mean we`re asking questions precipitated by these e-mails. I do
not know.

DOWDELL: Right.

HAYES: Maybe it`s totally the case. But he had no idea that he was just
going to war against the New York people because he was being loyal?
Because that`s what he believe? I just want to make that clear that I
don`t -- I don`t want to impugn the guy without the facts there.

But he is very well respected. That`s the other thing. Right? I mean,
this isn`t some like half operative.

DOWDELL: Right. He is extremely well respected on both sides of the
aisle, which in this day and age is really hard to be. So -- and people
like him, his firm is well respected. And he also does ethics for the
judiciary. Isn`t that part of what he does?

ISHERWOOD: Yes.

DOWDELL: So the other thing -- what`s interesting here is that, if in fact
he knew, which, you know, obviously this is where people are trying to go
and figure out, if in fact he knew this creates another problem for
Christie. As more and more people are implicated and with the specter of
them knowing, it just gets so much closer to him and also from a fund-
raising standpoint, 2016.

HAYES: Right.

DOWDELL: I know it`s premature but obviously --

HAYES: It`s not premature.

DOWDELL: -- we know his eyes are on that prize.

HAYES: Yes.

DOWDELL: Is the more stuff that comes out it just prolongs this.

HAYES: Yes.

DOWDELL: And it keeps the drip going.

HAYES: Speaking of drip, we`re going to get probably subpoenas tomorrow.
It looks like from the -- we`ve got two different committees, one is the
state assembly.

What are you expecting out of those?

ZERNIKE: Well, I think they`re going to try to -- remember there`s also
the U.S. attorney`s investigation, so I think we`re also going to see --
we`re going to see that committee trying to get its work on or get its work
out quickly because they`re -- they don`t want to be preempted by the U.S.
attorney`s investigation.

They don`t want to have the governor say, well, I`m going to cooperate with
the appropriate investigation by the U.S. attorney, I`m not going to do
your legislative investigations. So I think that they`re going to be
rushing to get those subpoenas out and get as many people and as many e-
mails as they can.

HAYES: Do you think -- the big question right now is everyone knows that
they`re going to subpoena Bridget Kelly because obviously she is the one
who writes, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." You want to see
what other things she happened to write or who knows what is in those e-
mails.

I have heard from some people I talked to in New Jersey politics that there
is a lot of resistance or pushback against this thought of subpoenaing
David Samson, precisely because he`s a powerful guy. And you can imagine,
there are some favors being called in right now to make sure that doesn`t
happen.

Is that what your theory?

ISHERWOOD: Yes, I don`t think they`d do that lightly. You know, and
you`re right. It`s not a Bridget Kelly who was a deputy chief of staff in
the governor`s office. This is a guy you`ve got to thread light around.
And I don`t know that it`s just a power thing. This is a hugely respected
guy in New Jersey politics.

ZERNIKE: Yes. Yes.

ISHERWOOD: You`re not -- you know, this is not a shady guy by all
accounts.

ZERNIKE: Right.

ISHERWOOD: This is a guy who for years has been respected by both sides of
the aisle. So you don`t just drag him into this lightly. And from his
side, I`ve got to think he wants nothing to do with this.

ZERNIKE: Right.

ISHERWOOD: You know, he -- he`s got a very, very prominent law firm in the
state of New Jersey. To even be mentioned in this thing has got to be
killing him.

HAYES: Finally today, we had some news that one of the committees has
hired former U.S. prosecutor who`s the person who prosecuted Rob
Blagojevich to be their chief investigator. Like you said, there`s kind of
race right now, OK, right, about who is going to get to what fast, and the
best thing to happen, I think, for Christie, is the fact that he -- a U.S.
attorney investigation he can cooperate with that isn`t in the papers every
day, releasing e-mails and he can say, well, I`m cooperating and try to
snuff this out.

The worst case is that they get more subpoenas, we get more documents and
there`s more fuel on the fire.

ZERNIKE: Right. And I think that`s true. And I think legislative will
more likely than from the U.S. attorney`s office which really is not
leaving.

HAYES: No.

ZERNIKE: They do not want to say anything. They don`t even want -- they
were reluctant to say that they were even looking into this at all.

HAYES: Darryl Isherwood from NJ.com, Kate Zernike, "New York Times,"
political strategist Tara Dowdell, thank you for joining me.

All right. Coming up next --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don`t know if Chris Christie ordered the lanes
closed to get back at a mayor or knew that his close friend did. But if it
comes out that he did, it is 100 percent disqualifying for higher office.
Someone willing to shut down the world`s busiest bridge as payback over a
petty political slight cannot be trusted with the IRS or the NSA or the
nuclear codes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: That was in the first report we did on this story one month ago
again tomorrow.

The question remains, does the public -- do Republican primary voters and
big money donors agree it`s disqualifying?

We`ll talk about the political future of Chris Christie ahead and what
counts as disqualifying right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: How did Bill Clinton politically survive when Anthony Weiner
crashed and burned? What separated them? What is the point of no return
in a given politician`s scandal? Does it matter who is crossing the line
and what the line being crossed is?

I`ll be talking about that next. First I want to ask you, when does a
scandal disqualify a political figure from holding public office? Tweet
your answers @allinwithChris or post to facebook.com/alinwithchris.

I`ll share a couple at the end of the show, so stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: The bad news for Chris Christie politically is that the bridge
scandal is entering the pop culture mockery face. It`s been building on
the late-night shows for week, culminating in this epic takedown last night
on Jimmy Fallon.

In case it wasn`t clear, that was actual Bruce Springsteen up there with
Jimmy Fallon. And what really hurts about what you just saw is that Bruce
Springsteen is Chris Christie`s personal hero. The man so idolized that
the Governor Christie got emotional when they met.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: We hugged. He told me it`s official, we`re friends. So --

(LAUGHTER)

So I told the president today actually that the hug was great and there --
when we got home, there was a lot of weeping because of the hug. And the
president said that`s why, so to be honest, I was the one doing the
weeping.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Mockery is a key element in a scandal becoming so crippling for a
politician they cannot recover from it. Just ask former Democratic front
runner Howard Dean who`s forced to abandon his presidential ambitions not
because of a scandal or an abuse of power, but rather a mike that was
turned up a bit too high.

The question surrounding Chris Christie and his (INAUDIBLE) office are far
more serious of course, but many political observers are wondering
immediately is Chris Christie toast?

A test of that is set for this weekend. Chris Christie heads to Florida,
sleighed to headline fundraisers for Governor Rick Scott across the state.
With high dollar donors, will they buy what Christie is selling? Can
Christie survive this?

It got us thinking about what is survivable and what is not.

May, 1987, Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart, considered a
frontrunner, wasn`t even a month into his quest for the presidency, he had
to end his campaign, a political career undone by what "The New York Times"
called a dalliance for the 29-year-old model/actress named Donna Rice. A
week before he dropped out of the race he addressed questions of marital
infidelity for NBC News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY HARD, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s standard for
being well known in this country, whatever profession you`re in. They only
-- those charges only hurt if they stick, and they only stick if there`s
some credibility to them. And in my case there isn`t, so life goes on.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just an hour later he flew to Washington where he
met Donna Rice for the weekend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: That one hurts.

A few months after that, presidential candidate Joe Biden was forced to end
his bid for the White House after the crime of -- well, plagiarizing some
speeches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Biden supporters in eastern Iowa today preferred to
watch the senator`s withdrawal in private. Headquarters doors were locked,
what appeared to be final paychecks taped on the windows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: His presidential hopes had been dashed. His political career, of
course, was definitely not over. Neither was Republican Senator David
Vitter after his number was found in the phone records of a prostitution
ring. That guy is still in office.

Of course, President Bill Clinton survived impeachment, leaving the office
with 68 percent of the approval rating. And South Carolina Governor Mark
Sanford stayed in office after admitting that yes, you know the time I went
missing for six days? Well, I lied to my staff and the people of the state
because I wasn`t hiking the Appalachian Trail. I left my country to be
with my Argentine lover.

Chris Christie`s current political mess doesn`t involve a fishy hiking
story, a yacht named Monkey Business, or using some else`s words as your
own. But from the very beginning of the scandal, I as well as others have
said if the governor had anything to do with the traffic problems in Fort
Lee it absolutely disqualifies him from being president.

The question now is will donors, Republican primary voters, and the public
at large feels that way?

Joining me right now to discuss, Baratunde Thurston, author of the book,
"How to Be Black," which is hilarious and I recommend, and also CEO and co-
founder of Cultivated Wit, a company that looks at comedy`s role on
technology (INAUDIBLE). Sam Seder, host of the online podcast, "The
Majority Report," co-host of Ring of Fire radio show, and Charles P.
Pierce, "Esquire" magazine writer-at-large, political blogger for
esquire.com, and a man who`s covered his fair share of disgraced
politicians.

All right. So first of all, I think -- there`s two questions, right?
There`s the question of, like, what gains traction and sells in the media
that gets out of control of people such that they have to jump out. And
then there`s a first question of, like, what do we think is disqualifying,
you know, just as people, as citizens?

So let`s start with that. I -- from the first moment that I caught a whiff
of this, when I first looked into it, it just seemed to me like if you had
anything to do with it, it`s absolutely disqualifying. That -- you know.
And George Will made this point recently on FOX in terms of comparing it to
Nixon. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WILL: A memo to Mr. Higby, who is the assistant of the Chief of
Staff Alderman, saying we should use the machinery, the federal machinery
of government to screw our enemies, that`s what this was about up there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Yes, 37 disqualify?

SAM SEDER, THE MAJORITY REPORTER: Yes, I mean, I think it`s disqualifying
for a lot of reasons, because of the timing. I mean, it`s disqualifying
for me simply because this is a guy who clearly is abusing his power at the
very least. It may be also disqualifying --

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Or his hand selected people are abusing their power --

SEDER: He`s so clueless, despite the fact of what is sort of projected in
terms of being about confidence that you can`t trust anything that he`s
saying. But I think ultimately what`s going to disqualify him is a
combination of the fact that he has no constituency really. I mean he has
no -- there`s no hardcore --

HAYES: There`s no one defending him, that`s right.

SEDER: And, you know, it`s a very --

BARATUNDE THURSTON, CEO, CULTIVATED WIT: Rudy Giuliani did.

HAYES: Yes. Ken Langone and Rudy Giuliani. I mean --

SEDER: And look, you know, he`s going to fund raise for Rick Scott, but
that`s about the lowest bar out there, right? I mean, can you find anybody
less popular than Rick Scott in the country?

HAYES: You mean, the man who ran a company that paid the largest Medicare
fraud in the history of the United States?

SEDER: He is --

HAYES: That guy?

SEDER: He`s woefully unpopular in Florida. If he had anything to lose, I
don`t think Chris Christie would be there.

THURSTON: I want to rewind a bit on the whole concept of what type of
scandal this is.

HAYES: Yes.

THURSTON: And the use of the word scandal, I think honestly I`m
disappointed in the level of complexity involved in this.

(LAUGHTER)

We do things big in this country. You know, we write scandal into our
laws, we create markets that discriminate against entire demographics of
people. We make it unpalatable to have more than two political parties at
any given time. This is petty, partisan payback. It`s dictatorial in
developing nature. It was America, go big or go home.

HAYES: Well, that is --

THURSTON: (INAUDIBLE) up your corruption game.

HAYES: This is the John (INAUDIBLE) for me and this is -- the pettiness of
that, actually, frankly that makes it sort of gripping as drama, because
ultimately, you know, if there were 100 Americans dead from this thing,
this would be -- this is horrible morose disaster to sift through with you
know -- you know. So this is -- in the grand scheme of things, what to me
makes it disqualifying isn`t necessarily the harm caused, right? It`s the
violation --

THURSTON: Or the abuse.

HAYES: It`s the abuse of power.

Charlie, what do you -- what do you think about that?

CHARLES P. PIERCE, ESQUIRE.COM: Every time we have a presidential cycle,
the argument is made that senators have a tough time getting elected
president because it`s always two or three votes that they have to defend.

HAYES: Yes.

PIERCE: That they can`t defend. Governors have a different problem. And
I may be a cynical guy because I cut my teeth covering politics in that
terrarium for drifters known as the Massachusetts State legislature. But
every state house has five or six guys who hang around the elevators and
know everything, whether it`s true or not.

Governors have problems with the people back in their states.

HAYES: Yes.

PIERCE: You saw this with Bill Clinton when the national press believed
every pool room liar in Little Rock for five years. Now what you`ve got
here, though -- this is what the scandal -- and I think Mr. Thurston is
correct on this, basically this is local political -- well, Donald Segretti
had a word for it, called rat copulation.

I mean, the legend of Richard Daley is full of mysterious construction
outside his opponent`s headquarters on Election Day.

HAYES: The guy bulldozed an --

(CROSSTALK)

PIERCE: No, no. No, wait, James Michael Curley was -- his opponents were
always afflicted with water mains breaking on Election Day.

HAYES: Right.

PIERCE: To an extent that`s what this is, but it`s that -- it`s that thing
at large, and it`s a classic example of the problem governors have when
they run for president.

I mean, Scott Walker came out yesterday and, you know, sort of like half
defended Chris Christie, but Scott Walker`s got his own problems, his whole
administration is covered with this penny ante, you know, scandals and his
first campaign where people were, you know, literally robbing from war
orphans to go to the zoo and things like that.

HAYES: Well -- and we`ve just seen what happened to Bob McDonnell, who had
a rough time in Virginia, again with a bunch of like shady state Republican
operatives.

So I agree, there`s this tainted -- But I also want to talk about the
timing, right? I mean, the -- I think the hope that the Christie folks
have is that this is early enough, that he`s going to ride it out. And I
want to get you guys to respond to that after we take this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: That`s Governor Chris Christie doing a karaoke rendition of "Born
To Run." Still with me, Baratunde Thurston, Tom Seder and Charles P.
Pierce. We are talking about what is and not tolerated this political
scandal go. The question on the table before I left is the timing. The
Christie camp is hoping this is early enough that we`re going to digest it.
It will go away. You do the thing that Donald Rumsfeld did. You don`t --
you let it go, and people lose -- they find something else.

SEDER: That`s a nice story. But I think this is actually one of the worst
times for it. I mean, if it happened three months before the election and
he had been elected governor of New Jersey, the story would have been over
because the New Jersey voters had decided at that point. If it happened
when he was one of the frontrunners in the Republican primary, you would
see the Republicans coalesce and it would become sort of some type of like
cultural --

HAYES: If this were during an election year, you think it would be better
for him?

SEDER: Absolutely. If he was out (inaudible) you would see conservative
rally around him because this is a liberal attack. But in fact, you think
conservatives are attacking him because they`re using it to get him out of
the race.

THURSTON: I think there are a lot of complex factors that go into the
formula of disqualification, timing, how much diet Coke the populous has
consumed and what audience we`re talking about. I think with Christie,
we`re talking about Republican king makers, Tea Party people and primary
decisions. I think of the two things he`s done, bridge situation and all
the petty pay back, or the nonviolent physical contact he had with
President Obama, the hug, I think the latter is actually much more
offensive to the Republican base than this.

HAYES: Right, but that`s also part of the reason not to like him and/or
not rallying to him. Charlie, do you think it -- the timing here actually
works against him for the reason Sam said?

CHARLES P. PIERCE, ESOPOLITICS: I`m less sure that the conservatives would
throw him overboard during the primary campaign either. I think they`ve
been looking for an opportunity, but I think there are (inaudible) in the
Republican Party. If you take Chris Christie out of the mix, who`s your
candidate? Off the top of my head, we`re back in the previous, in the Iowa
clown show.

In fact, were I Chris Christie, the first thing I would do is announcing my
candidacy, is announce I`m not going anywhere near the state of Iowa.
Republicans in the state of Iowa represent nothing except the Democratic
cataclysm that`s looming up before the Republican Party for the next
30 years. If I`m Chris Christie, I`m going to New Hampshire.

HAYES: There is precedent also I think for, you know -- and I want to
separate out two things, the merits of what someone did. I just mentioned
Abo Grabe before obviously, which is on a scale that doesn`t --

THURSTON: That we know of.

HAYES: But, you know, having an affair with someone, which is also --
these are all different substantively, right. The question is how they are
handled politically. That`s why we are talking about --

SEDER: You made a point.

HAYES: Yes, please.

PIERCE: I`m sorry, you made a good point, you can ride them out, the worst
political scandal of my lifetime was not Watergate, it was Iran Contra, and
as far as I know, very few people involved in the Iran contra scandal
missed a beat in their political careers. George H.W. Bush was up to his
hips in it and got elected president because he got to be mean to Dan
Rather on TV.

HAYES: Right. That`s actually a really good point. They`ll ride it out.
There`s also there is two different ways, Dan. There is the ride it out,
right. So I think Christie wants to ride it out at this point. The
problem for Christie is, there`s more subpoenas. We`re going to find out
more. There`s this huge victory that`s going to be solved and when it`s
solved --

THURSTON: The opposite of it, it gets better for him.

SEDER: I don`t think there`s a formula when it comes to scandal. I mean,
the reason why Bush was able to ride it out was because this is about
defending Ronald Reagan on some respect. I think in this situation, it`s
very hard to defend on any grounds that you can pay toward any type of
ideological --

HAYES: It is arguably even more indefensible from eye small government Tea
Party type.

SEDER: To the egregious sort of --

HAYES: That`s right, that`s right.

THURSTON: There is no formula, but there is a context, and it`s always
changing. It`s a sad answer, but it depends. I mean, Jon Huntsman, he
spoke Mandarin and believed in the threat of climate change, that was
disqualifying.

HAYES: Ultimately, it is a primary set of primary voters and donors that
decide who is disqualifying. I think going back to this sort of timing
question. There are two examples of candidates having big things blow up
in the midst of them running. There`s Bill Clinton with Jennifer Flowers,
which I think everyone said he`s toast and he wasn`t.

PIERCE: When it comes to surviving a scandal, Bill Clinton is --

HAYES: That is probably true.

HAYES: He exists in another realm. And there was Barack Obama who had the
Reverend Wright tape that was playing on every cable news channel. Now,
again, substance of this, I don`t think it was scandalous, but volume and
in terms of like media frenzy, right. There was a media frenzy and he came
out and he gave one of the greatest speeches in the history of American
politics. And the key to me here is the substance is about using the power
that is granted to you by the voter for this petty end and you -- that is
as core central disqualifying to me as anything having to do with judgment
or lying.

SEDER: There`s also about a half a dozen different bodies that are
investigating this for criminal reasons which you didn`t have in those
other situations.

HAYES: Baratunde Thurston from Cultivated Wit, Sam Seder from "Majority
Report," and the legendary Charlie Pierce from Esquire. Thanks for joining
us.

PIERCE: You`re not legendary?

HAYES: You`re not Charlie Pierce.

OK, speaking of the how is Wendy Davis doing in her bid to become the first
Democratic governor of Texas in 20 years? Numbers released today say,
better than you think. That is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Good news for Democrats out of red state Texas today. Fundraising
numbers are out and Democrat Wendy Davis has outraised her top Republican
opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott in the race for governor. Davis
pulled together more than $12.2 million from July through December compared
to Abbott`s $11.5 million.

Davis of course rose to fame and earned a passionate national following for
her filibuster of a draconian anti-abortion bill back in June. That bill
ultimately was signed into law in Texas, part of an unprecedented assault
on abortion rights in the states with more new anti-abortion laws in the
past three years than in the 10 previous years.

Today, that assault was front and center in Washington at the Supreme
Court. Anti-abortion groups are challenging the constitutionality of
Massachusetts 2007 buffer zone law. A measure designed to combat the
systemic harassment and intimidation of women trying to access a
constitutionally protected medical service and clinic workers trying to
provide that service.

And I have to say, you have to tip your hat to the anti-abortion forces who
have found the best possible plaintiff for their cause. The 77-year-old
Eleanor McAuliffe who described herself in court documents as a plump, 5`1
inch grandmother and says she just wants to have quiet conversations with
women seeking abortions.

Of course, buffer zones and other laws protecting clinic entrances were not
enacted because of all the harmless quiet conversations taking place there,
they were enacted because stuff like this was happening at clinic
entrances. Also, even worse, stuff like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The violence at abortion clinics has again claimed
lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gunman shot four people before escaping here, one
woman, a clinic worker died at the scene, but the terror wasn`t over, just
10 minutes later, a similar attack at a clinic blocks away by a gunman also
dressed in black.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: That was the news out of a Boston suburb December, 1994. Now
obviously shooting up abortion clinics is illegal even without buffer
zones. The polling by the National Abortion Federation found that 51
percent of clinics with buffer zones reported a drop in criminal activity
near their facilities after the buffer zone was enacted and 75 percent said
the buffer zones improved patient and staff access to their clinics.

Now, I`m actually a free speech maximalist and as such, I tend to be deeply
skeptical of laws like this. In fact, I think in the past I even thought
they were bad idea. We have a record now, and it`s very difficult to
believe that the first amendment is being trampled because even the
shortest, kindest, most well meaning anti-abortion grandmother can be
forced to stand on one side of the line that is roughly the size of two
parking spaces. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A couple years ago, I lost my job, and unemployment
ran out, and I`m spending my 401(k) money. Employers are in a place where
they can pick and choose who they want. They can pick people who have
every single thing on their wish list as -- for an employee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: That was Nancy Penn appearing on this show on Monday. She`s a
woman who did everything she was told. She got an education, got herself
off welfare, got a job, before being laid off two years ago. She`s among
the nearly 4 million Americans who have been out of work for 27 weeks or
more.

On December 28th, 1.3 million of them lost their long term unemployment
benefits and yesterday Senate Republicans voted to prevent those people and
the 2.3 million children in their households from getting that lifeline
back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A vote to extend long term unemployment benefits went
down in the Senate as the chamber descended into partisan argument instead
the vote was 55 to 45. It needed 60 votes to advance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: There were actually two votes yesterday. One a bill that would
have extend long term unemployment benefits for 11 months and paid for with
cuts to Medicare providers. Another on a bill that would have extended
long term benefits for three months at a cost of $6.4 billion that would be
added to the deficit.

Senate Republicans blocked both proposals and despite GOP arguments about
the unfairness of the process, the simple fact is this. Republicans chose
to keep millions of Americans from gaining back benefits they desperately
need. In fact, they filibustered those folks.

Every day that goes by without those benefits brings the prospect of one
more mortgage going under, one more eviction notice. One more mother who
does not know how she will put food on the table. Extending long term
unemployment benefits was a top priority for the White House, for Harry
Reid and frankly for me and this show.

We are here on January 15th with no clear path forward and for millions of
struggling Americans little reason for hope. Joining me now is Senator
Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, a yes vote on extending unemployment
benefits. Senator, what are you saying to your Republican colleagues at
this point?

SENATOR JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Well, I say you really have to stop
distributing lumps of coal, you need to allow an up and down vote. This is
not a theoretical issue. These are folks who are not going to be able to
pay their mortgage. They are going to lose their homes. They may be
kicked out of their homes, apartments, be homeless. This plan we were
voting on was a Republican led plan under the Bush administration, to say
when unemployment is high, we need a longer bridge to the next job. It`s
not a partisan issue in the past. It shouldn`t be a partisan issue today.
Allow an up and down vote for people across America.

HAYES: Here is my fear. This is going to be -- this is the John Boehner
and immigration strategy, which is you put our hands in your pockets and
you whistle and have press conferences on other things, every day you rip
a new page off the calendar, and you throw it in the trash and hope
everyone forgets about it, meanwhile, millions of people suffer, millions
of people`s lives are screwed, you wait for everything to dissipate, and
that to me struck as a strategy, what do you do to counter that strategy?

MERKLEY: Well, we`re insisting that as soon as we come back, we take up
this issue. We`re hoping as people go out across America, Americans will
come to the town halls, if senators don`t hold town halls, we hope they
will go to their offices across this country and let them know it`s
absolutely wrong to be protecting these breaks for the very rich and never,
if you will, saying there need to be offsets while you`re throwing the
struggling working Americans out on the street if they get that message, I
think they will come back and we will get a deal on this, it should have
been done. I mean, December 28th is quite a while ago now, families are
desperate. It should have been done immediately. We cannot let this issue
drop.

HAYES: Here`s what`s so bonkers to me. You have this incredibly
historically gridlocked Congress led by an off the charts right wing
Republican caucus. You have a deal on the budget with Patty Murray and
Paul Ryan getting together. Today the House passes north of a trillion
dollars on a spending bill. Of all the things, this is the hill you`re
going to die on. This is the war you`re going to wage? These 1.3 million
people who are unemployed? This is where you`re going to put your
political capital?

MERKLEY: What really is astounding, the House is saying, let`s cut $40
billion out of food stamps, absolutely will not discuss raising the minimum
wage, does not want to leave in place the bridge to the next job that has
worked so well during periods of high unemployment. They`re getting
advice. They need to start talking sympathetically about the poor and
poverty and the challenges of the shrinking number of living wage jobs.

Let`s not talk sympathetically, let`s act to fix the challenge. To create
the living wage jobs, to keep the safety net in place to make sure there`s
food on the table for the children. Talk is cheap, action counts.

HAYES: Last week it was the headlines everywhere, Republicans get serious
on poverty. Here is the vote. This is what getting serious means.
Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat from Oregon, thank you for your time.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

HAYES: Now as for some other Senate Democrats, they seem absolutely intent
on sabotaging the president`s peace talks with Iran and pushing us toward
war. I`m going to name names, so stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Earlier in the show, we asked you when does a scandal disqualify a
political figure from holding public office, got a tons of answers posted
to our Facebook and Twitter accounts like Julia from Facebook who said
people like Clinton a lot, and sexual wandering is not in the same class as
messing up the public for purposes of revenge or gain. Not comparable at
all.

Alabama outcast on Twitter, thinks a politician is disqualified when,
quote, "It contradicts, compromises or affects the values, laws or
constituents they represent."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Today, just a few hours ago, President Obama met with the
Democratic Senate caucus at the White House for several hours. We don`t
know what exactly was said in that meeting. If I were the president here
is what I would have started out with, fellow Democrats, welcome. Why are
you trying to get us into another war, and why are you sabotaging my
presidency to do it?

There are currently 16 Senate Democrats led by Robert Menendez of New
Jersey are poised to join the Senate Republicans to sabotage what could be
the single this administration, a real shot at a peaceful resolution to the
Iranian nuclear program.

After 30 years of silence, Iran and the U.S. are engaged in direct talks
over the fate of Iran`s nuclear program. They`ve agreed to an interim deal
that requires Iran to roll back some of its nuclear enrichment.

Two countries try to work toward a comprehensive agreement that would
result in Iran abandoning a nuclear weapons program, in exchange for
lifting sanctions, and full diplomatic recognition in both directions.
This would be a big effing deal. Now there are set of usual suspects who
are apoplectic at the thought of peace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We`re giving them an additional seven,
some people say as much as $20 billion, which they will use to continue to
spread terror over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are getting sanctions relief for just really
unbelievable, dismantling nothing in getting sanctions released.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s like the Iranians dangle a shiny object in front
of the negotiators and they fell for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Now those sorts of criticisms can be heard abroad too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: America has managed to anger two of its staunchest
allies in the region with this agreement. One is Israel as Margaret
mentioned earlier. The other is Saudi Arabia, which is worried about Iran
growing stronger and exercising more influence in the region.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s an historic mistake. This agreement has made the
world a much more dangerous place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: So it is not surprising that Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans
are doing their best to blow up the deal with a new Senate bill that would
add more sanctions to Iran. This despite the fact Iran already has a set
of absolutely crippling sanctions in place, nearly all of which will stay
in place for the duration of the current rounds of talks, advocates of the
bill say they`re trying to give the White House more leverage.

President Obama himself said in a statement that imposing additional
sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts to resolve this issue
peacefully. On top of that, Iran`s foreign minister seen by many as the
person invested in a diplomatic solution, says if Congress passes
sanctions, the entire deal is dead. It is absolutely clear to anyone
following this.

That the bill is designed to destroy the current talks, burn diplomacy to
the ground and salt the ashes end of story. Why the heck are 16 Democrats
co-sponsors this piece of legislation, it`s not like there`s some broad
revolt against the talks. They`re skeptical it will work. Diplomacy has
been endorsed by peace groups to the head of the foreign relations.

The only plausible answer is that the Democrats either genuinely want
military escalation with Iran or they`re afraid APEC, which has made
passing this bill their current number one priority. They`re making a
political calculation that is in their political interest not to cross APEC
and its allies they`re not a group you want to get on the wrong side of.

Here`s what I would say to these Democrats. The ones you see listed
there, who are thought to entertain aspirations for higher office. Years
ago, another group of senators faced a monumental choice on how to vote on
an urgent matter of war and peace, their advisers were telling them they
had to look in such a way they would look tough and resolute and bolster
their credibility. When the time came to vote on a resolution for the
force in Iraq, this is what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I have concluded after careful
and serious consideration that a vote for the resolution best serves the
security of our nation.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I will vote because I believe it is the
best way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: So Senator Booker, before voting on this bill maybe call up John
Kerry and Hillary Clinton and ask them if they could have that vote back.
If we end up in a war with Iran, it will be seen as a disaster, and you`ll
be condemned by history and your role for bringing it about. If we end up
with peace with Iran, it will be your obstruction. So think hard Senator
Booker and Gillibrand and Coons and Blumenthal and everyone else, whose
advice you should listen to on this vote.

And if you happen to be a constituent of one of these senators you see on
the screen right now then maybe you should tell them how you feel because
war and peace is too darn important to leave to the professionals.

All right that is ALL IN for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW" starts --

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

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