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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, March 7th, 2014

Read the transcript to the Friday show

March 7, 2014

Guest: Julia Ioffe

one and only Steve Kornacki in for Rachel this evening.

Good evening, Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Good evening, Chris. And thank you for

And thanks to you at home for being with us the next hour. Rachel, as
Chris said, has the night off.

There`s lots of show to come. But we`re following the news of the
Malaysia Airline 777 passenger jet.

Malaysia Air Flight MH-370 has lost contact with air traffic control
during its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The Boeing-made airplane
was carrying 239 people, 227 of them passengers and 12 crew members.

According to the airline, among the passengers are people of 13
different nationalities. The airline released a statement confirming the
news earlier this evening Eastern Time in the United States. Plane has not
been heard from since earlier this afternoon, our time. Search and rescue
operation is under way.

This is a file photo of the Boeing 777 200-ER, carrying 239 people.
It lost traffic with air traffic control hours ago between Kuala Lumpur and
Beijing. Chinese state news agent Xinhua reports that the plane lost radar
contact in Vietnamese airspace.

Authorities from both Malaysia and China are now participating in that
search and rescue mission.

MSNBC will continue to follow and report this story throughout the

There is, though, a lot of other news around the world, and here in
the U.S. tonight. Including the political news out of Washington, D.C.

Remember when Chris Christie was this guy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor Christie, all kidding aside, I`ve been
listening to you tonight. You`re a very powerful and eloquent speaker.
You know how to tell the American people what they need to hear.

And I say this from the bottom of my heart, for my daughter who`s
right here and my grandchildren who are at home, I know New Jersey needs
you, but I really implore you. I really do. This isn`t funny. I mean
this with all my heart.

We can`t wait another four years until 2016, and I --


I really implore you, as a citizen of this country, to please, sir, to
reconsider. Don`t even say anything tonight. Of course you would. Go
home and really think about it. Please.

Do it -- do it for my daughter. Do it for our grandchildren. Do it
for our sons.

Please, sir. Don`t -- we need you. Your country needs you to run for


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Let me -- let me just say this
because -- there are a lot of people who have asked me about this over the
course of the last number of weeks and months. And this all I`ll say about
that tonight is that I hear exactly what you`re saying and I feel the
passion with which you say it. And it touches me.


KORNACKI: That was back in the fall of 2011 when New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie made the great Republican trek to the Reagan Library in
California. And he made it amidst calls like that from big names in the
Republican Party and from activists and from rank-and-file voters to make a
last-minute entrance into the Republican presidential race.

That was the context in which Christie spoke about the Reagan Library
back then, basking in the nostalgic glow of the Republican president from
the last century who`s so loved by Republicans of our own time.

The Chris Christie who spoke that night was such a phenomenon in the
Republican Party that two people who were there actually got up and
implored him to run for president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My family is all still in New Jersey and I just
want to let you know, you make us so proud to be New Jerseyans and so proud
to be Americans. And my Italian mother, she told me to tell you that
you`ve got to run for president.



KORNACKI: And it was after that speech in September 2011, after that
response from that audience, that Christie publicly reversed himself and he
said that he would consider jumping into the 2012 race. Of course, he
ultimately decided not to.

But there was no disputing back then, Chris Christie`s popularity,
both in New Jersey and in the national Republican Party.

But then he committed a few cardinal sins -- cardinal sins at least
when it comes to modern Republican Party politics. Chief among them was
that he praised President Obama`s response when Hurricane Sandy devastated
the Jersey shore. Christie toured the damage with the president and said
Obama was doing an outstanding job -- this just days before the 2012
election, after the campaign in which partisan polarization had been the
rule and bipartisan praise like Christie offered Obama had basically been

Now, whether that episode contributed significantly to the final
result is something that`s going to be debated for years to come, but all
we know is that Mitt Romney lost, and the right didn`t forget what Chris
Christie had done, which brings us to this same time last year. The
headline news back then about Chris Christie and how he was waiting by the
mailbox for an invitation that never arrived. They had left him off the
guest list for CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

They invited Marco Rubio and Scott Walker and Rick Santorum and Jeb
Bush. Invited Paul Ryan. They even invited Mitt Romney. But not Chris
Christie. He was snubbed by CPAC.

And supposedly this was a disaster for Chris Christie. He wanted to
run for president in 2016 but just cozied up to Barack Obama. He`d snubbed
Mitt Romney a week before the election. Now his party`s base was getting
its revenge. Telling them they didn`t want him at his big annual

The reality, though, that supposed disaster was actually a gift to
Christie, because Christie had almost nothing to gain and had a lot to lose
if he`d been anywhere near CPAC last year. That`s because last year was an
election year in New Jersey. It was Christie`s re-election year.

His goal wasn`t just to win re-election but his own admission to run
up a score in a deeply blue state that voted for Obama by 17 points over
Mitt Romney. Chris Christie wanted -- Chris Christie needed a big chunk of
those Obama voters, moderates and liberals in New Jersey who don`t usually
vote Republican. He needed them to vote for him in 2013 so he could turn
around and tell national Republicans that he, and he alone, had the formula
to shatter that red state/blue state divide and to win back the White House
for the GOP.

To get the kind of numbers he wanted to rack up in New Jersey last
year, Christie needed to look moderate. So, CPAC and the hard right
conservatism that it showcases snubbed him last year, well so much better
for his moderate cred. Christie, did, of course, get himself re-elected by
22 points last November. That was the biggest margin for Republican in New
Jersey in 28 years. So, it seemed he was on his way.

Then his world turned upside-down. Days before his inauguration for
that second term, the state legislature released thousands of pages of e-
mails tying members of his inner circle to the scandal commonly known as

His deputy chief of staff apparently ordered up gridlock traffic for
the town of Fort Lee perhaps because the mayor refused to endorse Governor
Christie. One of the top Christie appointees at the Port Authority appears
to have carried out the plans. Christie plan, of course, before all this
had been to parlay a lopsided re-election triumph in blue state New Jersey
into an irresistible pitch to national Republicans.

But instead, Christie suddenly found himself firing top staffers,
fending off reporter questions about what he knew and when he knew it. His
office, campaign, and office subpoenaed by federal prosecutors. His poll
numbers took a dive not just in New Jersey but with those national
Republicans he had been just about to begin courting for 2016.

About a third of all Republicans now say they definitely would not
vote for Chris Christie for president next time. That is the worst showing
of anyone they did polling on.

New Jersey bridge scandal wounded Chris Christie. That much is
obvious. But also ironically enough he was invited to CPAC this year. Now
that he`s done running for governor, there was every reason for him to go.

If you watched his speech on Thursday, you could almost imagine it
being the kind of speech he was rehearsing in his head all last year.
Stressing conservative themes and dishing out the kind of red meat that`s
poisonous in New Jersey politics but it`s also music to the ears of
national Republicans.

Christie played up electability on Thursday. He implored the crowd to
be committed to more than just principle, to what it takes to win, but he
also talked in a way he never talked in New Jersey last year.


CHRISTIE: When they said it could never be done, now twice, twice for
the first time since Roe v. Wade, New Jersey has elected a pro-life
governor of New Jersey.

You know, what we need to start saying is, what we need to start
saying is that we`re not going to put up any longer with them defining who
we are, but the way we have to define ourselves to say what we`re for.
When we say we`re pro-life and that we`re proudly pro-life, that doesn`t
mean we`re pro-life just when that human being is in the womb. We need to
be pro-life when they leave the womb as well, for every step of their


KORNACKI: And that was Chris Christie`s turn on the stage at CPAC.
His appearance at the conference that snubbed him last year was supposed to
be a triumphant moment. It was supposed to be the day that Chris Christie
called the Republican Party home from the wilderness -- the day he showed
the right that he has more in common with them than they thought and that
he, unlike any other Republican they`d seen, that he could take their
values and turn blue states into red states with them.

It`s supposed to be a day that would begin to shift the Tea Party
base`s psychology to get them more excited about winning national elections
than proving their purity in primaries. But instead, Chris Christie talked
about social issues and he got some polite applause. And then the Tea
Party wing of the Republican Party just roared on.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: It is time for Washington to focus on the
few things the Constitution establishes as the federal government`s role --
defend our country, provide a cogent foreign policy, and what the heck,
deliver the mail, preferably on time and on Saturdays.


Get out of the health care business. Get out of the education
business. Stop hammering industry. Let the sleeping giant of American
enterprise create prosperity again.

My fellow conservatives, the future of this nation is upon you. It
belongs to you. You have the power to change America.


KORNACKI: Texas Governor Rick Perry was last seen on the national
stage trying to remember the name of the third federal agency he wanted to
kill. He didn`t get halfway as close to the White House as Mitt Romney in
2012 but today at CPAC, he set the barn on fire with his anti-government

If Chris Christie meant to move conservative hearts away from that
kind of politics, he missed by a George Washington Bridge mile. Instead of
Christie bringing down the House, himself, he had to settle for polite
applause. In his new political weakness created an opening for Rick Perry
of all people to start to revive himself.

And it wasn`t just Rick Perry, it was also Rand Paul today rallying
the crowd with the kind of rhetoric that has fueled the Tea Party
insurgency for these past four years.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It isn`t good enough to pick the lesser
of two evils. We must elect men and women of principle and conviction and
action who will lead us back to greatness. Will we be firm in our
convictions or will we cower, defeated and meekly dilute our message? Will
we sit oddly by and let our rights be trampled upon? Will we be like
lemmings rushing to the comfort of big brother`s crushing embrace?

Or will we stand like men and women of character and say, we are free
and no man, no matter how well intentioned, will take our freedom from us.


KORNACKI: That message worked for Rand Paul in Kentucky in 2010, but
another story that year, and it`s also a story in 2012, was Republican
primary voters prioritizing purity and picking utterly unelectable
candidates who would then go on and to lose races that the party otherwise
would never have lost.

Also this week at CPAC, reemergence of Texas Tea Party Senator Ted
Cruz, not only sounded the same call as Rand Paul but attacked Republican
icons while he was at it.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: And, of course, all of us remember
President Dole and President McCain and President Romney. Look, those are
good men. They`re decent men, but when you don`t stand and draw a clear
distinction, when you don`t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate.

You win elections by standing for principle and inspiring people that
there is a better tomorrow.


These solutions will not come from Washington, but I`ll tell you where
they will come from which is the American people.


KORNACKI: That was Rick Perry and Rand Paul and Ted Cruz who made the
big splash at CPAC this year. They made the headlines. While Chris
Christie -- well, he made a nice speech, I guess.

And that might tell us as much about Governor Christie`s personal
political standing as it does about the state of Republican politics.

Joining us now is Perry Bacon Jr. He`s a veteran political journalist
and he`s the political editor for

Perry, thanks for being here tonight.


KORNACKI: I know you`ve been at CPAC obviously so you have a front-
row seat for all this. I guess, you know, we sort of set this up by
talking about Chris Christie and I can sort of imagine the past year before
this scandal all hit, the past year was sort of building toward this moment
for him. He was never going to be the favorite of everybody at CPAC but
this was a chance for him to come and show them, hey, I got a lot more in
common than you ever thought, and by the way I can win in blue states. We
see sort of a polite reception publicly there.

I wonder in talking to the activists, talking to the people there,
what are they saying about? You know, what are they telling you about him?

BACON: When I asked them about him, is I asked them, you know, where
is he in your mind now? What they say, he`s not as strong as he was last
year. They also say, I wasn`t for him anyway.

CPAC as you know, Steve, is not the moderate Republican convention.
It`s the conservative convention. So, in the straw poll last year,
Christie was well behind, anyway, and this year even more, people just
aren`t talking about him very much, Christie and Rubio. Particularly,
Rubio was second in the straw poll last year, kind of off the map this

Christie and Rubio, much less popular. Rand Paul, very popular here.
The room really got bigger. The crowd was huge for Rand Paul.

Then, Cruz was way behind in the straw poll last year. I think he`ll
finish a close second to Rand Paul this time. Cruz`s speech got a great
reception. People love that Bob Dole line in particular.

KORNACKI: The people at the CPAC may have loved that Bob Dole line
but outside CPAC today that provoked a response from Senator John McCain,
obviously who was close to Bob Dole, called on Ted Cruz to publicly
apologize to Bob Dole. He`s a war hero. Telling him he lacked principle
and he was standing on that hill in Italy.

But that`s interesting what you say about the response that generated
from the crowd because that brings me to something else I want to ask you
about. The basic dilemma I guess the Tea Party movement faces and anyone
faces in politics between purity and electability.

And the whole idea of Christie being, win, baby, like the old Al Davis
message -- forget Christie, forget 2016. You`re looking at 2014, we have
all of these, you know, Republican primary challengers still to come on the
docket. It sounds like talking to the Republican base, the conservative
base at CPAC, they`re not thinking any more pragmatically about these
primaries this year than they were about 2012, 2010 when people like
Sharron Angle are winning primaries.

BACON: Well, key thing to note. Matthew Bevin, the guy running in
Kentucky against McConnell, he was here walking around the panel but he
wasn`t invited to speak. Mitch McConnell was.

So, that does tell me there is practicality here. John Cornyn won the
primary this week. There is practicality in terms of the midterms. The
Republicans feel so confident about a lot of seats they`re not worried
about that.

And I will say, Steve, one thing that`s striking, there are side
workshops at CPAC. And a lot of them, there was one about reaching beyond
our base. There was one about how social conservatives and libertarians
work together.

There`s a lot of talk here about how do we win? So, I was in a forum
with bloggers and Ted Cruz, somebody asked Cruz, how do we stop Republicans
fighting each other? Cruz`s response, of course, remember Ronald Reagan
primaried Gerald Ford. Fighting is OK. We need to have a more principled
person win.

So, there`s definitely that tension is playing out here. Less on
stage and more in the private discussions between how do we win and how do
we make sure we have a -- people here want a pure candidate, but they want
a purist principled candidate who also can win.

KORNACKI: Well, that is interesting. So I wonder when we think back
to that, the famous Republican Party autopsy after the 2012 election, and
they -- immigration was one of the few issues they singled out. They
talked about gay marriage and gay rights being a gateway issue for younger
voters, hey, if you`re on the wrong side of this issue, the younger voters,
they`re not going to look at you when it come to any other issues.

So, when you`re talking about thinking a little bit more strategically
and talking a little bit more strategically, are there particular issues
that you`re hearing Republicans maybe -- you`re hearing conservatives at
this conference taking a different tone on than we have heard for the last
few years?

BACON: There were two issues, Steve. On immigration, first of all,
they have not moved at all. This is a very anti-comprehensive immigration
crowd. And that is a danger for the Republicans.

But two issues. First, there was a forum on criminal justice reform.
And Rick Perry was on the panel. Rick Perry sounded like Eric Holder in
terms of talking about we want to have fewer people in jail, we want to
change how prison sentences work. He sounded fairly liberal and that got a
great applause.

So, on criminal justice, on mandatory minimums, the Republicans are
moving left. That could help them with minorities and the edge of things.

The other thing, think about how many rulings we`ve had the last few
months in favor of gay marriage, but on stage, there were almost no
speeches that mentioned that issue. And that tells me -- I talk to people
in private about this, too -- is the Republican activists here feel like
that issue, they need to move on from that issue. Banning gay marriage is
not going to happen and they`re losing the issue and people here were
talking about the new issue should be maybe religious liberty and think
about it that way instead of thinking about banning gay marriage.

And I thought the silence on the issue was very striking and tells me
the Republican Party is moving on that issue.

KORNACKI: That`s interesting, especially prisons, too, when you hear
from somebody like Rick Perry, governor of Texas. Of course, incarceration
does cost money. There`s that fiscal conservative argument there.

Anyway, Perry Bacon Jr., he`s the political editor at "The Grio" and
he will have more coverage of the convention of CPAC this weekend on my
show "UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI". That is starting at 8:00 Eastern Time,
Saturday and Sunday mornings. I`m looking forward to seeing that.

And thank you, Perry, for being with us tonight.

BACON: Thanks, Steve.

KORNACKI: We continue to monitor news about the missing Malaysia
Airline 777 aircraft which lost contact with air traffic control early this
afternoon, East Coast Time, with 239 people aboard. As we get more
information, we`re going to bring it to you.

So, stay with us.



GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: You know, we have long thought and
said this president is a smart man. It may be time to revisit that

President Carter, I want to issue a sincere apology. It is no longer
fair to say he was the worst president of this great country in my
lifetime. President Obama has proven me wrong.



KORNACKI: Now, there is something we have heard from the right a lot
these past five years. I thought Jimmy Carter was bad, but he`s nothing
compared to how bad this guy is. It`s a line that gets trotted out all the
time as a way for the right to portray Obama as an inept socialist
ideologue who`s going to drive the country to ruin.


small business administration I`ve seen probably since Carter. Who would
have guessed we`d look back at the Carter years as the good old days? You
know, it`s --



KORNACKI: And this has been the right`s refrain throughout President
Obama`s time in office. And in fact, it`s not actually just President
Obama. It has been the refrain from the right for just about every
Democrat seeking major office since Jimmy Carter left the White House.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: So when you hear "tax the rich",
Mr. and Mrs. America, watch your wallet. Lock your wallet because he`s
coming right after you just like Jimmy Carter did and just like you`re
going to get -- you`re going to end up with interest rates at 21 percent
and you`re going to have inflation going through the roof.


KORNACKI: That was President George H.W. Bush invoking the Carter
comparison against Bill Clinton back in 1992. That was 22 years ago.

Now, as a tactic, this all makes sense. Carter presided over an
economically traumatic part of American history -- high unemployment,
soaring inflation, brutal interest rates, gas lines. There`s also the
endless Iran hostage crisis.

When he ran for re-election in 1980, Carter lost 44 states. So,
strategically, I get it. Equate the current Democratic president with a
past Democratic president whose tenure is not generally remembered well.

But there are two things that bother me about it. The first is just
how far off the right`s character of Carter is from reality, because the
way they tell it, he failed because he was some kind of radical European-
style president who was pursuing a far left agenda. You know, just like
that far left agenda that Barack Obama supposedly pursued.

But that is not true at all. Carter, at least when he was president,
was actually a pretty conservative Democrat. He had tense relationships
with the Democratic Party`s traditional coalition groups. He resisted
expansive government programs. He dismantled regulations on major
industries. Unions considered him hostile to them.

Historians have called Carter the most conservative Democratic
president since Grover Cleveland and his conservatism created a deep and
bitter split in his own party. And it was that split that gave rise to Ted
Kennedy`s primary challenge to Carter in 1980. That was a liberal senator
rallying the traditional base against a sitting president they believe to
be too far to the right.

Kennedy lost that challenge, but three decades after Carter left
office, there was still obvious animosity between him and Kennedy. In
2010, at the height of the health care debate, Carter was still taking digs
at Kennedy, telling CBS, "The fact is we should have had comprehensive
health care had it not been for Ted Kennedy`s deliberately blocking the
legislation u proposed. It was his fault. Ted Kennedy killed the bill."

That was that a president, Jimmy Carter, who led a unified party or in
lock step with its liberal wing. That Carter was ever nominated by the
Democratic Party in the first place, itself, was a credit to his savviness.

It was long before the powerful forces of his party, he was the one
who grasped the significance in what in 1976 was a radically expanded
primary season. He amassed momentum and in delegates very early that made
him unstoppable. And when the rest of his party realized what he was
pulling off, it was too late to stop him and he had the nomination.

So, that`s what bothers me, the history of it. We can debate the
Carter presidency. The caricature of him that Republicans have been
relying on is our official socialist president is just totally off base.

But the simpler question is this -- it has been 33 years since Jimmy
Carter left office. So, why are Republicans so intent on still beating him
up? Why are they obsessed with trying to turn every Democratic president
into another Jimmy Carter?

Joining us now is Jonathan Alter, MSNBC -- I`ll get that out --
political analyst. He`s also the author of "The Center Holds: Obama and
His Enemies."

Jonathan, thanks for being here tonight.


KORNACKI: To point out right away, thank few you for wearing the
sweater. It`s appropriate in our Carter conversation.

ALTER: That`s right.

KORNACKI: It`s not Carter gear, but pretty close.

ALTER: Not intended that way.

KORNACKI: Well, unintentional, but still a fortunate decision.

So, I guess let`s just start with that question. I mean, I always
wonder when you see Bobby Jindal doing this at CPAC bringing up Carter,
Donald Trump brought him up, called him the late great Jimmy Carter,
forgetting Jimmy Carter is still alive, very much alive.

But is that something -- it clearly means something to the audience
there. Does that have resonance outside of that room, outside the
conservative --

ALTER: I really don`t think it does. Just do the math. So they pick
this idea up from the Democrats who beat up on Herbert Hoover for many
years after FDR beat Hoover. But 33 years after Hoover was president was
the late 1960s and it wasn`t like Democrats were using Hoover against Nixon
and Reagan and the Bushes. By that time, it wasn`t working anymore.

So, think about how long ago it was that Carter was president. If
you`re under 50, you barely remember him. If you`re under 35, you were
barely born when Carter was president.

So, this is a message to the Republican base of elderly people. And
it really doesn`t resonate anymore, anyway.

And as you point out, it`s factually inaccurate about the Carter
presidency, which is not a successful presidency, but not for the reasons
that they describe.

And I kind of lived a little bit of this. I was an intern in the
Jimmy Carter White House when I was in college, then after college, I felt
he was too conservative for me and I went and worked for Ted Kennedy in

And I -- there were quite a number of other liberals at the time who
did the same thing, because we thought that Carter wasn`t liberal enough.

KORNACKI: So, you sort of embody that split we were talking about in

ALTER: So, you know, also it just completely ignores Carter`s main
foreign policy accomplishment which remains one of the greatest
achievements in American foreign policy over the last 50 years, which was
the Camp David Accords of 1978 which Egypt still respects. They continue
to recognize Israel`s right to exist.

So, they`re beating up on them this week. Foreign policy context, I
guess because of the failed Iran hostage --


KORNACKI: But what I wonder when I look at this, too, is if there`s
an aspect of we talk about how the right has sort of changed Carter`s image
from, you know, he was the president who was sort of too conservative,
that, you know, reputation at least among Democrats in the late `70s. And
now, he`s our first socialist president.

ALTER: Right.

KORNACKI: That kind of revisionism, that sort of happened with Ronald
Reagan, too, right? The Reagan of the 1980s was a lot different. A Reagan
who actually governed this country is a lot different from the caricature
version of him, conservatives celebrate now.

I wonder if those two are not linked, right? Like --


KORNACKI: You know, Ronald Reagan to become the heroic figure they`ve
built him up to be had to succeed as president somebody who was absolute
total failure.


KORNACKI: So, you can`t have the Reagan legend without Carter being
the worst thing ever.

ALTER: Yes, and on top of that, this is something I write about some
in the "Center Holds" is that the Romney people in 2012 were certain right
up to election night that this was going to be a repeat of 1980 with Obama
as Carter and Mitt Romney as Ronald Reagan and would be this huge wave.

People forget that Carter was expected to get re-elected until very
close to 1980 election and then there was this human wave of disgust with
him and Reagan was swept into office.

So, they would actually talk explicitly in 2012 about the
Carter/Reagan analogy and, of course didn`t --


KORNACKI: That`s right. In 1980, there was the assumption that
Reagan was too conservative to win the general elections right up until --

ALTER: Right. The other factor, Steve, I think at play here is that
as ex-president, and Carter has set the pace for being a great ex-
president, he`s been essentially a pacifist who`s going around the world
making peace, supervising elections, curing diseases, doing all kinds of
liberal things which are good things that the Republicans are trying to
make now seem as if somehow discredit that? That it would have been better
if he`d been playing golf and making money?

KORNACKI: Still added at 89 years old which is something Trump didn`t
get the memo on.

Anyway, Jonathan Alter, MSNBC political analyst and author of "The
Center Holds", Obama and his enemies, thanks for joining us tonight.

ALTER: Thanks, Steve.

KORNACKI: The news, again, we`re monitoring throughout the hour is
the missing Malaysia Airlines 777 airline. The Flight MH-370 lost contact
with air traffic control between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. Search and
rescue mission is under way. There are more details we`ll bring to you as
soon as we get them.

So, stick around. Stay with us.


KORNACKI: It was a very busy night in the news.

We`re monitoring events in Malaysia, where a Malaysia Airlines 777 has
gone missing with 239 people onboard.

There`s news of further escalation in Ukraine, where Russian President
Vladimir Putin continues to defy President Obama and the rest of the
Western world by tightening his grip on the Crimea region.

More reporting coming up, and an update also on the greatest story
about spelling that THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW has ever reported.

Stay with us.


KORNACKI: Late this afternoon, the report started trickling in that
Russian troops had stormed a Ukrainian military base in Ukraine in Crimea
after dark and taken control of it. What you are seeing here is the
aftermath of that.

About 15 Russian trucks filled with Russian soldiers from the black
sea fleet, which is based in Crimea. It reportedly made their way to the
base by ramming a truck into its gates. Troops then flooded in and within
two hours the Russians had seized control of the air force portion of that

Like the other troops that have taken posts in Crimea, these Russian
forces wore uniforms without any visible insignia. Though the license
plates on their vehicles appear to be Russian.

No shots were fired but the Russian forces then attempted to seize
control of the rest of the base reportedly negotiated with Ukrainian forces
to lay down their weapons and to surrender. Some journalists on the ground
trying to cover the takeover were reportedly beaten by the Russian troops,
while they were attempting to take pictures.

And then, in a surprising turn of events Russian soldiers retreated.
They just withdrew and left the base back to the Ukrainians.

So, obviously, this is all very strange. It`s yet another baffling
twist in this ongoing standoff in the Crimea region of Ukraine.

While today`s attempted takeover ended with a withdrawal, the Pentagon
estimated Russia still has 20,000 troops on the ground in Crimea. This
estimate comes a few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin flat-out
denied the very existence of Russian troops in Crimea in a press
conference. He suggested that the troops that are there are well trained
self-defense forces who bought their fake Russian uniforms at a store.

And at that same press conference, Putin also said Russia was not
considering annexing Crimea, the citizens, he said, "should be allowed to
determine their own future."

Today, though, leaders in the Russian parliament said they`d support a
vote by Crimeans to break away from Ukraine and join the Russian
federation. The delegation of lawmakers from Crimea arrived in Moscow
today to lay the groundwork for that move. And this comes on the heels of
a vote by the pro-Russian Crimean parliament to secede from Ukraine and a
vote happened yesterday. A public referendum has been set for March 16th,
that`s just a little more than a week away.

President Obama has rejected the referendum as illegal and he slapped
Russia with a set of sanctions placing visa restrictions and economic
sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for the military action
in Ukraine. Just hours after announcing the sanctions, President Obama
picked up the phone and called President Putin. This was the second phone
call between the two leaders since the crisis began last week.

They spoke for about an hour. President Obama urged President Putin
to talk to Ukraine`s new government. He proposed pulling Russian troops
out and allowing international monitors in. That is something that
President Putin apparently had no interest in.

Putin also called Ukraine`s current government unconstitutional. He
vowed that Russia would not ignore the calls for help from Crimea. Now the
readouts from the calls are so wildly different from each side that one can
only imagine what actually being on the call must have been like.

Now, one worrying thing to note here, though, is that Crimea is made
up of three major ethnic groups, there`s Ukrainians, Russians and Tatars.
We`re learning about some alarming -- we`re learning some alarming news
about members of the Tatar Muslim minority in the region. There are
reports circulating that Tatars in the Crimea area are finding markings of
an X or cross outside their homes -- markings that you can see here.

There`s, of course, raises concerns that ethnic tensions in the region
are at an all-time high. It`s unclear what will happen next in this
ongoing conflict.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions. The E.U. is considering sanctions.
Russia`s state-owned national gas company Gazprom is threatening to cut off
Ukraine`s natural gas supply if it doesn`t pay up immediately.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are on the ground in Crimea. The
vote for secession is just around the corner. And even if the residents of
Crimea vote for secession from the Ukraine, it`s hardly clear what will
happen after that.

Julia Ioffe is a senior editor at "The New Republic", where she covers
Russia. She is also recently back from Russia. She joins us now.

Julia, thanks for taking a few minutes.

I guess the first question, we have this story today about the brief
takeover of the base and then the retreat with no shots being fired and, of
course, the troops have no official markings that they`re Russian troops
but all indications are they`re Russian troops.

I`m curious why if everybody knows these are Russian troops, if the
world is practically laughing at Vladimir Putin for pretending they are
not, why is he doing this? Does he think anybody actually believes him?

JULIA IOFFE, THE NEW REPUBLIC: You know, I don`t think it`s funny at
all. The Russians are playing extremely dirty on this one. And I think
the reason he`s doing this is to make it seem like this is an organic
grassroots thing that the Crimeans rose up and welcome the Russians in,
called for their help, and just desperately were just banging down
Russians` door to be let in.

And, I mean, there`s a lot of -- none of them can be aired on TV, but
look at what`s happening in Southern and Eastern Ukraine, for example. All
of these rallies, these pro-Russian rallies, a lot of those protesters have
been bused in from across the border from Russia. The guy who raised the
flag over the Donetsk City government building was a Kremlin activist who`s
done this kind of thing before. He raised the Soviet flag on the building
of the last independent TV channel left in Russia.

It`s just, you know, beating up journalists. Pretending that these
guys with the latest weaponry with clearly -- I mean, these are clearly
Russian uniforms designed by the Russian designer (INAUDIBLE). These
clearly Russian cars just pretending like none of this exists is just --
it`s, I don`t know, I find it infuriating.

KORNACKI: So, I guess the next question, clearly, you know, Russian
troops, clearly something that`s being executed, we know, with Putin`s
blessing. He wants Crimea to be part of the Russian federation apparently.
Why does he want Crimea? Is this part of a broader strategy to bring other
areas that used to be part of the Soviet empire back into the Russian fold?
Is it about Crimea? What do you think his goal is here?

IOFFE: I think it`s just about Crimea. The vote to set up the
referendum for March 16th, they didn`t tell -- they didn`t make it known
that they were going to have a vote, that local parliament. They didn`t
tell the deputies that, you know, the MPs, that they knew were going to
vote against it. They just didn`t tell them this was going to be a vote.

I mean, this is how it`s being done on the ground. The reason
Vladimir Putin wants Crimea is Russia has been obsessed with this area for
centuries. It`s this very important access to a warm water port for
northern landlocked country. Where, you know, it has plenty of access to
water, a lot of it frozen a lot of the time.

And Crimea, you know, could naturally be either part of Ukraine or
part of Russia. It`s historically been part of Russia. Only switched
sides from the Russian republic inside the Soviet Union to the Ukrainian
republic in 1954.

So, I think Vladimir Putin thinks he`s taking what`s his and setting
up this kind of -- the smoke and mirrors to legitimatize it. But look at
what he told then-President George W. Bush at the NATO Russia Summit in
April 2008 in Bucharest. He said, George, you realize this isn`t a real
country, right? Ukraine is not a country.

This is how he sees it.

KORNACKI: That`s really interesting. I mean, so Putin had his eyes
on it for a while.

IOFFE: Yes. At the same summit, sorry to interrupt, at the same
summit, he said there was talk of taking Ukraine into NATO and he said, you
know what, if you guys take Ukraine, I`m taking Crimea. He`s been looking
for pretext to take Crimea for at least six years.

KORNACKI: The question I have, though, if we`re talking about 20,000
Russian troops being on the ground, this being a long-term goal of Vladimir
Putin`s, no one, you know, basically no one in the United States, no one in
the west talking about putting troops on the ground to fight him here. If
this referendum passes on the 16th -- I mean, are we looking at a scenario
where there`s no way to keep Russia from taking this if they want it?

IOFFE: I think we`ve been looking at the scenario for a few days.
Crimea`s gone. It`s Russia. The Russian parliament introduced this law
kind of laying the groundwork for the annexation of Crimea a few days ago.
You know, Russia`s had troops stationed there as part of this bilateral
agreement for a long time.

But who`s going to fight -- I mean, is Ukraine going to fight Russia?
Is NATO going to fight Russia? Are we going to fight Russia?

Nobody is going to get into a war with Russia. And that`s why -- and
Putin knows that. He`s just calling our bluff. He just exploited this
moment of weakness in Kiev, a moment of political uncertainty to take
something he`s been eyeing for a really long time, knowing that he would
get a slap on the wrist with very targeted sanctions that don`t really
affect him. Or even if they do, it`s a price he`s willing to pay.

I mean, Crimea is gone. You can forget about it.

KORNACKI: All right. Julia Ioffe --

IOFFE: I`m sorry.

KORNACKI: -- she`s a senior editor at "The New Republic." Thank you
for joining us tonight, Julia.

We`ll be right back with a lot more.


KORNACKI: As we`ve been telling you, there`s news breaking tonight in
Malaysia, where it is now mid-morning. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-370
with 239 people onboard lost contact with air traffic control during its
flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The Boeing 777-200 has not been heard
from since early Friday afternoon East Coast Time.

A Chinese state media is reporting that there were 160 Chinese
citizens who were onboard that flight and that the plane lost radar contact
in Vietnamese air space. Both Chinese and Malaysian authorities have
undertaken a search and rescue mission.

The Malaysian Airlines stated earlier that they are notifying the next
of kin of those onboard the plane. Since introducing the 777 in 1995,
Boeing has delivered more than 1,000 of them worldwide and it`s safety
record has been very good over that time. It was though a 777, though,
that crashed on its approach to San Francisco last July.

At this hour, there is no indication of what went on Malaysian
Airlines MH-370. It is missing, having lost contact with air traffic
control about eight hours ago during its flight from Kuala Lumpur to
Beijing with 239 people onboard. More information on this breaking news as
it becomes available here on MSNBC.





When Aretha first told us what R-E-S-P-E-C-T meant to her, she had no
idea it would become a rallying cry for African-Americans and women, and
then everyone who felt marginalized because of what they looked like or who
they loved. They wanted some respect.


KORNACKI: Anyone who`s ever heard of Aretha Franklin, anyone who`s
ever been to a wedding knows how to spell the word respect. People who
can`t spell cat if you spell C and T, they can spell R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

It seemed President Obama knew right after he started to attempt to
spell it last night that something just wasn`t right. And luckily for him,
the White House transcript office tried to cover for him by fixing his flub
in the official transcript of his remarks last night at the woman of soul

But it was too late. The deed was done, and a CET was way out of the

Now, a couple weeks ago, the epic tale of how four kids essentially
broke their county spelling bees. Each of these four kids spelled so well
during their bees, attacking tough words zeitgeber and bobbejaan like
nobody`s business. They did it so well that no one would be declared the

In DeKalb County, Illinois, 13-year-old Matthew Rodgers and 14-year-
old Keith Mokrhi (ph) went through 66 rounds, just the two of them on stage
for hours. They did that until judges called it quits and sent everyone

In Kansas City, Missouri, 11-year-old Sophia Hoffman (ph) and 13-year-
old Kush Sharma (ph) officially became the final two standing in their bee.
And they went through so many rounds, that the judges actually ran out of
words. They had no more words left for them to spell.

So, during the break, the judges consulted with Miriam Webster to find
more words and still the kids could not be stumped.

So, finally, the judges decided to call it a day. This was sort of a
problem because the winners of each match were supposed to win a trip to
Maryland this May to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But
since there were no declared winners in these bees, there was a bit of a
campaign to send all of these talented kids, all of four of them.

In Kansas City, there was an online push to send both Kush and Sophia,
and their families agreed. But the Scripps said they could not allow it,
which seems sort of U-N-F-A-I-R. The rules and regulations of the Scripps
national spelling bee are apparently not to be missed with.

So, the spellers are going to settle it tomorrow morning. Yes, that`s
right. They are going into overtime in the spelling bees. In Kansas City,
Missouri, the rematch between Kush and Sophia is scheduled for 9:00 a.m.
local time. The Kansas City Public Library says they have amassed 266
words just in case. This one could be a nail biter.

In the DeKalb County, Illinois, the rematch between Matthew Rodgers
and Keith Mokhri is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. local time.

So, best of luck to all you master spellers in your quest for spelling
superiority. In our eyes, you`re already winners due to your demonstrative
abilities to effectively take down the dictionary.

And that does it for us tonight. Rachel will be back Monday. Don`t
forget me to catch me tomorrow morning here account at 8:00 a.m. here on

Breaking news tonight: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-370, Boeing 777,
carrying 239 people lost contact with air traffic on route from Kuala
Lumpur to Beijing early this afternoon East Coast Time. It is considered
missing. Chinese and Malaysian authorities have undertaken a search and
rescue mission.

If there`s more information to report, we will bring it to you all
night right here on MSNBC.

Thanks for watching. Have a great night.


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