'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, April 9, 2014
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
April 9, 2014
Guests: John Wisniewski, Tom Vilsack
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Out of New Jersey. Since the scandal first
came to light, five Christie administration appointees or staffers have
stepped down or been fired in relation to this scandal. Two of those
people, the governor`s former deputy chief of staff and his former campaign
manager, they have been fighting an effort by the state legislature to
investigate the bridge scandal, the closure of access lanes under the
George Washington Bridge back in September.
Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien had both invoked their Fifth Amendment
rights and said that they would not hand over documents to the
investigation for fear of incriminating themselves.
Well, today just after 4:00 p.m. a Superior Court judge in New Jersey
agreed with Bill Stepien and Bridget Anne Kelly and said, in fact, they do
not have to comply with the subpoenas from the legislature. They do not
have to hand over any documents. The judge ruled that their Fifth
Amendment claims, basically, were legitimate, because it is reasonable, she
said, for them to fear that they may face criminal prosecution related to
their roles in the bridge lane closures.
The judge in her ruling today said they could, feasibly, be criminally
liable under New Jersey`s official misconduct law. And according to the
judge, quote, "It is reasonable for Mr. Stepien and Miss Kelly to fear that
they currently face the hazard of prosecution in the federal investigation
into these matters."
And that is the whole basis of invoking your Fifth Amendment rights, right?
Pleading the Fifth. Right? If there is a reasonable likelihood that you
could be criminally charged and prosecuted for something that you did, the
government can`t force you to say things or hand over things that will
So, on the one hand, this is really good news today for Bridget Anne Kelly
and for Chris Christie`s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, because
they do not have to hand over their BlackBerrys and hand over all their e-
mail records and their text messages to this investigation by the
legislature. On the other hand, the judge says that the reason they don`t
have to do that is because federal prosecutors might be coming after them.
So imagine this sort of feels like a bit of a mixed blessing.
Now the other really important part of this ruling today, which we knew the
committee was waiting to hear about with bated breath. The other part of
this ruling today is the question of whether or not the committee can offer
people immunity from prosecution in exchange for them testifying.
David Wildstein, the man who shut down the bridge lanes, you`ll remember
that he pled the Fifth to the committee. He refused to answer questions,
and his lawyer said, if the committee was willing to grant him immunity,
Mr. Wildstein would tell all he knew. Bridget Kelly, who worked in
Governor Christie`s office when she sent the "Time for some traffic
problems in Ft. Lee" e-mail, her Fifth Amendment claims not to have to turn
over documents, those claims were, today, upheld by this judge.
But for the last month, Bridget Kelly`s lawyer has been hinting, and then
just explicitly saying that she, too, would be willing to tell all she knew
if the legislature was willing to give her immunity.
Well, that committee and the legislature has maintained either that it
didn`t think it could grant immunity or that it was pretty sure that it
couldn`t grant immunity. But this was settled today. This was the other
issue that this Superior Court judge in New Jersey today ruled on. And the
judge said, in very clear terms, yes, this committee and the legislature
can give people immunity. And if the legislature gives people immunity,
then presumably, they can also compel all the testimony and all the
documents that they want from those people who they have immunized.
But they`ve got to think twice before they do that, right? Because the
legislature may really want to give Bridget Kelly, David Wildstein, Bill
Stepien, any of these people may want to give these people immunity in
order to get their documents and get their testimony. But according to
this judge`s ruling today, if they get immunity, that immunity applies to
all subsequent potential prosecutions on these issues in any venue.
And that means that it includes the federal criminal inquiry underway at
the U.S. attorney`s office in New Jersey. It means that the federal
prosecutors in New Jersey could never, for example, prosecute Bridget Anne
Kelly or David Wildstein or Bill Stepien or anybody else who the
legislature decided to immunize.
Quoting from the judge`s ruling today, "Thus, in these cases, the committee
may compel the production of the requested documents by promising immunity
to Mr. Stepien and Miss Kelly. Protecting them from the future use of any
incriminating evidence that they may produce. If the committee chooses
this route, Mr. Stepien and Miss Kelly would have to comply with the
subpoenas in their entirety to avoid being held in contempt. Mr. Stepien
and Miss Kelly would then be immunized from the use of any produced
evidence that is incriminating in any subsequent prosecution, including any
prosecution resulting from the ongoing federal grand jury investigation."
So this is kind of a moment of truth, right? Is it worth it for the
legislature to do this? Is it worth it for the legislature to get all
these folks to testify and turn over their documents, to force them to, if
the price of doing that is that those folks can never be held accountable
in what may end up being a federal criminal case.
I mean, in not so many words, the judge ruled today that the legislature in
New Jersey can keep investigating this thing if they want to, but if they
want to, it`s going to be at the expense of the federal prosecutor`s
This is not the way it was supposed to go in New Jersey, according to the
people running these investigations. We`ve got the chairman of the
investigation in the legislature here in just a moment to react to this
judge`s ruling today and to tell us if this basically means, game over for
But, remember how this came to be in the first place. Right? When the
Christie administration took office, shortly thereafter, there was a huge
toll hike that was floated and then ultimately announced from the Port
Authority. And by huge toll, I mean like crazy huge. It would have $114
to drive a truck like this across the George Washington Bridge. That would
be the toll.
Later, reporting emerged detailing some real political shenanigans around
the toll hike decision and the whole process around the toll hike getting
sort of rigged, maybe sort of faked in a way that was designed to
apparently make New Jersey governor Chris Christie look good in the
So the New Jersey legislature was looking into that scandal last year.
That`s how they got subpoena power in the first place, for their
transportation committee, in order to look into that other unrelated
scandal at the port authority. And in the course of looking into that
other unrelated scandal, this strange thing happened with the access lanes
on to the George Washington bridge.
What happened on that bridge was a consequential thing. It gridlocked that
town for days on end including school buses and first responders. The Port
Authority had clearly done it on purpose. The Port Authority`s immediate
explanation for why they`ve done this traffic study idea, it seemed from
the very beginning, from the very first reporting on traffic lanes being
shutdown. It was called bogus by the executive director of the agency.
That seemed pretty clear that there was weird going on there.
So the committee have these subpoena powers already and they use the
subpoena powers they already had from that previous investigation into the
Port Authority to compel a few people involved in this bridge issue to hand
over documents about what happened. That is how this whole thing happen.
That is how the whole thing blew up.
Ryan Lizza wrote about it at great length for the "New Yorker" this week.
How on the night of December 26th, the night after Christmas, Assemblyman
John Wisniewski from New Jersey was alone in his office at home poring over
these hundreds of pages of documents that had been turned over to his
committee from the Port Authority and he is the one who found that e-mail,
late at night, on the 26th, alone in his office, the one that said, "Time
for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." That e-mail from Governor
Christie`s deputy chief of staff. And he saw the response from the man
inside the Port Authority, "Got it."
The legislature and its investigation is how anybody learned that what
happened here wasn`t just some traffic screw-up. It was actually a
scandal. And it was one that went all the way to the governor`s office.
There never would have been federal prosecutors looking into this matter in
the first place had the investigation in the legislature not turned up
these documents, this evidence trail that led right into the office of New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
And when the legislature released some of those documents that John
Wisniewski had been personally poring over on December 26th, when they
released the first 22 pages of documents and the story blew up and people
including Bridget Kelly started getting fired in Trenton, and the governor
finally stopped mocking people for covering this story and finally started
apologizing for it instead, well, then the legislature constituted a new
committee, a bipartisan committee from both the Senate and the House and
they hired a pro chief counsel to try to make sure they did it right, to
liaise with federal prosecutors, to make sure that a federal criminal
inquiry on these matters and the legislature`s investigation, they could
both go on at the same time without stepping on each other`s toes.
But now apparently they have been stepping on each other`s toes. John
Wisniewski, the guy heading up the legislature`s investigation he has been
defending the existence of that investigation and the importance of that
investigation ever since the investigatory committee was first formed
including yesterday in Trenton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE REP. JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: Let me remind committee
members that our investigation had its genesis in an examination of the
Port Authority, its lack of transparency and accountability. It is only
because of the meticulous work that was patiently done that we followed the
evidence that led us into the governor`s office.
Having arrived there, it would be a disservice to ourselves and to the
people of the state if we did not pursue this investigation to its
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Can they still do that? Did this judge`s ruling today in New
Jersey, telling two top Chris Christie staffers that they can continue to
refuse to hand over documents to that investigation? Did this judge`s
ruling today basically neuter the legislature`s ongoing investigation? If
so, will the legislature appeal? And if so, will they prevail?
Joining us now is Assemblyman John Wisniewski. He`s the co-chair of the
investigations committee into the George Washington Bridge lane closures
and the New Jersey state legislature.
Mr. Chairman, thanks for being with us tonight on what I`m sure is a very
WISNIEWSKI: Rachel, thanks for the opportunity. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: What was your reaction to Judge Jacobson`s ruling this evening?
I`m sure you were hoping that Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien would
have been compelled by the judge to hand over the documents you had
requested. What`s your reaction to her saying no to that?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, it`s not the decision that we had anticipated. Clearly,
we felt very comfortable in the advice that our counsel had given us and
the arguments that were made.
Judge Jacobson wrote a very thorough hundred-page ruling that very narrowly
construed the rights of the legislature to seek documents through
compulsion when witnesses such as Bridget Kelly or Mr. Stepien fear federal
prosecution. And so while this is something that we would prefer not to
have happened, it by no means signals any change or interruption in the
MADDOW: She suggested pretty explicitly that you could, in fact, compel
both testimony and the production of documents from these witnesses, who
are invoking their Fifth Amendment rights, that you could get them to
testify and give you everything you wanted, provided that you gave them
immunity. Whether or not you could give them immunity felt like an open
question before this ruling. What`s your reaction to that?
WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think what our opinion was before this ruling was that
while there is the statutory authority for the committee to give immunity,
I think it was an open question by those who would receive it, whether they
would be comfortable in just simply having a grant of immunity from the
legislature, and not also want to see some kind of affirmative sign from
federal authorities, that they would also grant immunity.
What we have to look at now is whether it makes sense for the committee to
consider that. And if we do take that step whether they will honor that
immunity grant or whether they would look towards federal authorities to
see whether the federal authorities essentially give that grant of immunity
a thumbs up.
I think we`re not at that juncture yet. We still have to examine all of
the words in Judge Jacobson`s decision. We have to consider all of our
options. We`re going to be meeting with our counsel and our staff over the
next day or two, to make those decisions. But I think it`s important to
understand, and I`ve said this all along, that this is an important issue,
but it is not a dispositive issue.
The investigative work of this committee can continue, notwithstanding
Judge Jacobson`s ruling. Obviously, two important individuals with regard
to the subpoena we had issued are now set back a step, but the judge did
say that the subpoena was overbroad, so clearly opens up the opportunity to
perhaps redraw that subpoena.
As you pointed out, there`s the opportunity for immunity. There`s also the
possibility of an appeal. And we still have documents we continue to
receive from individuals who continue to comply. And there`s also, now
we`ve talked about at the last committee meeting, about bringing people in
actually for testimony.
MADDOW: In terms of that issue of whether you might appeal, do you have a
personal opinion on that, or are you going to wait to talk to your
committee members about that?
WISNIEWSKI: I think we have to wade through the decisions. Obviously, we
have to see whether there`s an appealable issue, whether there`s an error
in law. The judge did a very good job in crafting her opinion. It was a
very narrowly construed opinion. I don`t want to give an opinion right now
as to whether or not we have grounds to appeal. That`s something we`re
going to examine.
But whether or not we appeal, whether or not we consider the issue of
immunity with Kelly and Stepien still gives us plenty of opportunity to
continue the investigation. There are a number of individuals that the
committee would like to bring before it for oral testimony. Because we now
have a foundation of thousands of pages of documents in which we can ask
significant questions of some of the individuals who watched this happen.
They may not have been the people who orchestrated it. They may not even
have been the people who authorized it, but they were the people who were
involved in watching the meetings take place, the conversations take place,
and that, too, would be very instructive for the committee.
MADDOW: If you are going to move toward taking all testimony from some of
those folks, what do you think the time frame would be on that? Is that
something that you`d expect to happen within the next few days or weeks?
WISNIEWSKI: I think we would start that process in May. Right now, the
legislature is on a -- what we call a budget break and so the budget
committee is working very hard on crafting a budget. But when we come back
into session in May, I think it`s an opportunity for the committee to start
bringing individuals in, one by one, to start asking substantive questions
about who knew what when, and to really develop the body of information
And fundamentally, Rachel, what we need to know beyond the fact that
Bridget Kelly sent this e-mail, is we still don`t know why she sent it. I
mean, the Gibson report tries to create this image of a woman scorned,
which is absolute hogwash. We know that there`s some motivating factor, we
don`t know what it is, we need to get to it.
MADDOW: John Wisniewski, co-chair of the investigation in the New Jersey
legislature into the Chris Christie administration and the bridge lane
scandal. Thank you for clearing this up tonight and helping us understand
it, sir. Thank you.
WISNIEWSKI: Rachel, thank you very much.
MADDOW: It`s interesting, this will be reported in the next 24 hours as
sort of a -- you know, sort of a devastating blow to the committee`s
investigation. This will be -- this will be closing up the legislative
investigation that told us all we knew about Christiegate so far or
bridgegate so far. From talking to John Wisniewski there, it seems like if
they`re about to move on to taking testimony from witnesses at the
legislature, it does not sound like they are closing up shop.
All right. There is one more development actually to bring you in this
story tonight. Some reporting earlier this week suggested that a second
federal prosecutor`s office had become involved in this case. That in
addition to the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, the office of the U.S.
attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, had also become involved in
investigating part of this scandal, the part that relates to the port
authority, and specifically to its recently resigned chairman, David
Samson, who has a lot of alleged conflicts of interest hanging over from
his time as Port Authority chair.
Well, the Port Authority has offices in Manhattan. Several weeks ago,
there was news of a subpoena going to the Port Authority from that second
U.S. attorney`s office in Manhattan, so this did not seem like totally
implausible news. But I can now report, we have now learned, conclusively
here at MSNBC, that the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York
is not currently involved in investigating David Samson.
Doesn`t mean they won`t ever be involved in investigating David Samson or
any other aspect of this scandal, but they are not now investigating him.
So this case is all in the hands of the U.S. attorney in New Jersey right
now, Paul Fishman. More so than we ever knew before, and more so than we
knew even at the beginning of the day today.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: The name of the governor of Ohio is John Kasich. He`s been there
since he got elected in 2010, and he`s not that popular. If you ask
Ohioans whether they like their governor, 42 percent of them do say they
like him, but 30 percent say their opinion of him is unfavorable.
Now, obviously, he`s doing better than some folks with numbers like that,
but he`s not in great shape for a guy who has to run for re-election this
year. One of the ways you can tell he`s not in great shape is that in that
same poll, this incumbent governor, John Kasich, is leading his Democratic
challenger by only five points.
And that is despite the fact that freaking 70 percent of Ohio voters don`t
even know who his Democratic challenger is. They don`t know who the person
is who`s running against John Kasich. Seventy percent of people in Ohio
have no freaking idea who Ed Fitzgerald is. They do not know enough about
him, they say, to form an opinion on him. But even so, this guy no one has
heard of is polling within five points of this serving governor.
Imagine how it might go in Ohio if people actually figured out who this guy
is and they decided that they liked him.
Ohio`s always a big national battleground state in every election,
obviously. In the 2012 election, you might remember that John Kasich and
Ohio Republicans tried very hard to cut early voting so people, in
particular, could not vote early in the -- vote early in the presidential
election on the weekend before Election Day. That`s a very popular time
for people to vote early in Ohio, particularly minority voters and other
Democratic constituencies. And the Kasich folks and the Republicans in
Ohio tried to get rid of it.
Well, the Ohio Reelection Campaign sued the state of Ohio to try to make
them not cut those early voting days. And the Reelection Campaign was
successful in their lawsuit. They blocked Ohio Republicans from cutting
the last weekend of early voting.
And in Ohio, in the 2012 election, turnout was strong, both in general and
for early voting, including on that weekend before the election that they
had to fight for. And in the end, President Obama won Ohio by two points,
and that was the tipping point. That was the state that put him over the
top to win the whole country and to win four more years in office.
However, since that 2012 election, John Kasich and State House Republicans
are still in charge of the Ohio state government and they have been going
hammer and tongs to make it harder to vote in Ohio ever since they lost
that big one in 2012. First, they voted to reduce the number of voting
machines that counties have at their voting sites. Then if you get forced
to cast a provisional ballot, they made it harder for your provision ballot
to get counted.
Then John Kasich signed a Republican bill cutting a total of six days out
of the early voting period. He also cut what they called the golden week
in Ohio, which is a week during early voting when you can register to vote
and vote on the same day. Then the Republican secretary of state announced
there would be no early voting anymore on the Sunday before Election Day,
or, indeed, on any Sundays before Election Day, so much for the fight that
the Obama campaign had won back in 2012.
The Republican secretary of state also announced that there would no longer
be any early voting in Ohio on weeknights, so no early voting after work
hours. Then they passed another new law that bans Ohio counties from
sending out absentee ballots. The new law says only the secretary of
state, only Republican John Husted, can send out absentee ballots around
the state, and he only has to do that if he wants to do it, and if the
legislature appropriates specific money for him to do it.
Counties have always done that in the past, but the new law bans the
counties from doing that anymore. And apparently, that was the last straw
for old Ed Fitzgerald. He is the Democrat who has almost no statewide name
recognition in Ohio, even though he`s trying to run against John Kasich.
He is also, though, the county executive for the most populous county in
Ohio, for Cuyahoga County.
And Ed Fitzgerald first announced that he was going to sue the state over
all these cutbacks that the Republicans have instituted against voting
rights in the state over the last year and a half. And then, beyond that,
he went the civil disobedience route, sort of. He had the county council,
in his county, in Cuyahoga County, vote for a local measure that he wrote,
which said the county wouldn`t comply with this new law banning them from
sending out absentee ballots.
The county voted on this measure that he wrote, that said, regardless of
this new law that John Kasich signed, Cuyahoga County was going to keep
sending out those absentee ballot applications just like they always had.
And that`s where it got really interesting, because the Republicans in the
Ohio legislature decided to retaliate against him. They introduced
legislation a few days ago that would punish any county in Ohio that sent
out absentee ballot applications.
It would withhold 10 percent of all state money from that county if any
county did what Ed Fitzgerald said he was going to do in Cuyahoga County
was sending out those ballots just like they always have. In response, Ed
Fitzgerald said, oh, yes? He called a press conference saying that
Cuyahoga would not back down, would not change its plan, would not be
intimidated. Then he wrote to the U.S. attorney in Ohio and to the
attorney general of the United States, saying, please investigate the
attacks on voting rights here in Ohio by the Republicans in state
government. This is unconscionable what they`re doing and what they are
now threatening us with.
And you know what? The Republicans in Ohio blinked. They backed down.
They pulled their bill that would have punished the counties by taking that
money away. And Governor John Kasich and the Republican secretary of state
both said, yes, OK, Republicans in the legislature probably shouldn`t do
that. We won`t go ahead with this bill.
And so, Cuyahoga County, your county executive apparently just saved one
part of your voting rights, by fighting really hard for it. And if you`re
just learning this about him, because of this fight that he picked and he
won with Republicans in the state capital, and if you like that he picked
that fight and that he won it for you, then he would probably also like you
to remember, now and at least for the rest of this year, that his name is
Ed Fitzgerald and he is a Democrat and he is running for governor against
And that is the story of name recognition the earned way.
MADDOW: The governor of South Carolina, in 1802, published this book, "A
View of South Carolina as Respects Her Natural and Civil Concerns." One of
the natural concerns the governor wrote about are these fossils that were
dug up in 1725 by a group of slaves outside of Charleston, South Carolina.
He describes these fossils as the grinders of an elephant.
Turns out those grinders were the very first fossils found in North
America, and they did not belong to an elephant, they belonged to a mighty,
mighty woolly mammoth. And that has new, eye-popping relevance to some
news out of South Carolina tonight that you probably will not believe, but
I swear it is true. And that story is coming up. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Before I came here today, I
stopped at Zingerman`s, which is the --
Which is the right thing to do when you`re in Ann Arbor. I stopped for two
reasons. The first is, the Reuben is killer.
So I ordered like the small, and it didn`t look that small. So I gave half
to Valerie Jarrett, who`s traveling with us, and then after I finished the
half, I wanted the half back. But it was --
It was too late. It was too late. All she had left was the pickle.
So I took the pickle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was President Obama speaking last week in Michigan, having a
really good time, apparently. That was the day after the House Republicans
introduced the newest version of the Paul Ryan budget. And the president
was not only delighted about that, he was very, very eager to talk about it
that day that he was in such a good mood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If this all sounds familiar, it should be familiar, because it was
their economic plan in the 2012 campaign. It was their economic plan in
2010. It`s like that movie, "Groundhog Day."
Except it`s not funny.
If they tried --
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman`s, they`d have to call it
the stink burger, or the meanwich.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He`s like, did somebody really put that in my teleprompter? A
mean burger, a stink burger, a meanwich. President Obama, and all the
Democrats, frankly, loved running against the Paul Ryan budget in 2012,
even before Mitt Romney delighted the Democrats by choosing the actual Paul
Ryan to be his running mate for that election, Democrats, even before then,
were already running against Paul Ryan`s budget for the 2012 elections.
And since Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan did not win the 2012 elections, and
therefore Paul Ryan kept his seat in Congress on the House Budget
Committee, he is still, now, year after year, introducing new versions of
what Democrats have long reveled in calling some version of a meanwich.
Among other things, like it always does, Mr. Ryan`s budget would cut taxes
for millionaires, it would cut food stamps by over $100 billion over the
next decade. That`s why Democrats look forward to Paul Ryan`s budget every
year. It`s not just that they dislike it as policy. They think it is a
political nightmare for Republicans. That it makes Republicans who vote
for it look very bad. And that`s why Democrats enjoy it when he enrolls it
out every year.
Here`s thing, though. The overall point of the stink burger and meanwich
speech that President Obama gave last week in Michigan, it was not to just
make fun of the Paul Ryan budget and to try to make Republicans embarrassed
to vote for it. The overall point of that speech was to make the case for
raising the minimum wage.
That minimum wage speech in Michigan was on Wednesday, then a few days
later, on Monday of this week, he was back again before another young
audience, this time at a high school in Maryland, again talking about that
same suspect, talking about the minimum wage. And in a remarkable bit of
timing, after the president gave that Maryland speech, praising Maryland
Democrats and the Maryland Democratic governor, Martin O`Malley, for trying
to raise the minimum wage in that state.
After the president encouraged him to keep at it and in his words give
Maryland a raise, in a remarkable bit of timing, as the motorcade was
rolling out of Maryland after that presidential speech, the Maryland
legislature did, in fact, do exactly what he was telling them to do. They
did pass that raise.
And so they are going up to $10.10 an hour over the next four years. The
first rise will happen in eight months and then the rest will happen after
Maryland`s the second state to have raised its minimum wage in recent
weeks. Connecticut also raised their minimum wage to $10.10 three weeks
ago. Lawmakers in Hawaii and Minnesota and Massachusetts are right now
hammering out the final details for raising the minimum wage for their
states. Those arguments are all but done in those three states. And this
is all just in the last month.
There is movement on this issue. And, yes, these are all blue states. At
least bluish states. Connecticut, Maryland, Hawaii, Minnesota,
Massachusetts. But as Republicans in these states are not going along with
what Democrats are doing in this effort, and as Republicans in Washington
are not going along with what Democrats are doing for this effort,
federally either, while Republicans in Washington are voting to cut food
stamps instead, turns out that one great way to actually cut what we spend
on food stamps, one way to cut food stamps that Democrats would
enthusiastically agree to, would be to raise the minimum wage.
Because these two policies are related. Democrats want to raise the
minimum wage, Republicans want to cut food stamps. Turns out that doing
one accomplishes the other. And it makes sense, right? I mean, people
getting paid poverty wages qualify for food stamps because they`re getting
poverty wages. If you raise the amount that they`re getting paid, they get
paid more and they no longer have to get food stamps in order to get by.
The Center for American Progress studied the net impact of raising the
federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, to what Connecticut and Maryland
just adopted and to what the president and congressional Democrats say they
want for the whole country. They calculated that raising the minimum wage
to $10.10 an hour would cut spending on food stamps by nearly $50 billion
over the next decade, because we wouldn`t have as many poor people in this
country so they wouldn`t have to get food stamps.
$50 billion over the next decade you could save. And yes, in the Paul Ryan
budget Republicans want to cut way more than that out of food stamps. But
here is basically a way for them to get half the way there. And every
Democrat in the country would be on board with it. And no one from either
side of the aisle would ever have a reason to call it a stink burger or a
meanwich or to use that policy to beat up on each other ever again.
Is that too easy? Of course that`s too easy.
Joining us now for the interview is the man who heads the federal cabinet
level agency, in which the food stamp program and a lot more resides. He`s
been our nation`s secretary of agriculture in both terms of the Obama
administration, Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Thank you for being here.
TOM VILSACK, U.S. SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: Rachel, it`s good to be with
MADDOW: What do you make of this emerging argument that if we did raise
the minimum wage, that there would be less spending on food stamps? Does
that seem right to you?
VILSACK: Absolutely. When you raise the minimum wage, you raise wages for
28 million Americans. About 50 percent of those Americans make less than
$35,000 a year. A substantial percentage of those folks live in rural
communities that I care deeply about. You raise those wages, you are
absolutely going to move people out of the need for SNAP or as much SNAP as
they`ve been currently receiving, the food stamps.
So absolutely, it`s going to save $46 billion, as the American Center for
Progress indicated. It is a no-brainer and it is the right thing to do.
You know, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has been diminished
considerably over my lifetime. To the point now where every single year,
we lose a percent to a percent and a half of purchasing power. That`s 250
bucks for each family.
If you don`t raise the minimum wage this year and do it next year, they
will have lost $250 of purchasing power this year. That`s a month`s full
of groceries for many families.
MADDOW: In terms of food stamps and its role in the overall debate in
Washington, one of the reasons I wanted to talk about Paul Ryan introducing
a similar version, at least, of his same budget every year and that
becoming the Republican template, is because he aims really squarely at
food stamps, as if food stamps is a scandal.
And obviously, that budget doesn`t pass. I mean, Republicans always vote
for it, but then it never becomes law, as long as -- as long as Democrats
have some control. But has he succeeded by being so insistent about it, in
moving the debate to the right about food stamps? Is the defense of food
stamps getting wobblier as the Republican attack on it is so sustained for
so many years?
VILSACK: No, I don`t think so, because the recent farm bill, there was a
conversation about potentially reducing food stamps by $40 billion. That
didn`t go anywhere and it ended up being a very small reduction and many
governors around the country are figuring out ways to even avoid that
So I don`t think it`s particularly successful and here`s why it`s not
successful. Sixty-six percent of people receiving food stamps are one of
three types of individual. You`re either a child, a person with a
disability, or a senior citizen. Add the 7 percent that are veterans, and
you have nearly three quarters of the people receiving food stamps, not any
politician is going to want to cut support for children, for senior
citizens, for people with disabilities and very veterans.
And then when you realized that 42 percent of food stamp recipient families
are earning some kind of wage, that only 8 percent of all food stamp
recipients are receiving cash welfare, this is really about the working
poor. That`s why raising the minimum wage will help move people out of
SNAP and out of dependence on that food assistance program.
MADDOW: Right. That --
VILSACK: It`s the right thing to do.
MADDOW: The argument about that connection between those two policies
wouldn`t make sense if everybody getting food stamps was employed. It`s
about people being employed but at low wages.
Let me also ask you about another sort of deadlock standoff in Washington
that you`re right in the middle of, and that is immigration. The
agriculture industry, farming industry, uses more labor by people who are
here illegally, people who are here without working illegally, without
documents, than any other industry in the country.
How does the agriculture business and farmers as an interest group, how do
they factor into this debate?
VILSACK: They are very much for comprehensive immigration reform. There
has been an historic agreement those represent workers through the farm
workers` union and agro business to advance the need for comprehensive
Look, you want to talk about a no-brainer? How many people on the
Republican side of the aisle want to reduce the deficit? This will reduce
the deficit by $800 billion over 20 years. How many folks want to shore up
Social Security? This will actually extend the life of Social Security
How many people want to secure the border? How many people want to make
sure that we fully realize all of our potential from agriculture? Today,
people are not growing what they`re capable of growing, not harvesting what
they`re capable of harvesting, because they simply don`t have enough hands
to do the work.
Immigration reform is one of the top priorities for Farm Bureau, for the
National Farmers Union, for many of the -- Western Growers Association. A
lot of these commodity groups realize, it is absolutely essential we get
MADDOW: And it`s -- from the outside, we just think of -- we think of the
farming community, rural interest more broadly, but farming industry and
agriculture business as being such a Republican key constituency, but their
views on this issue are something that the Republicans felt very
VILSACK: Not just the farm -- not just those folks, but also the
evangelical church leaders understand that there is a biblical
responsibility from their perspective to take care of folks who are in
need. And they see this as a moral issue. So it`s an economic issue, it`s
a deficit reduction issue, it`s an agricultural potential issue, and it`s a
MADDOW: Secretary of Agricultural, Tom Vilsack, thank you very much for
being here tonight. It`s always really nice to see you. Thank you.
VILSACK: Good to see you.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. This is an amazing story. Washington, D.C. is divided into
quadrants, from the U.S. capitol dome at the center point, the city streets
are divided into southwest, northwest, northeast, and southeast. And in
southeast Washington, D.C. on the corner of 1st Street and F Street
Southeast, someone found a fossil.
January of 1898 they think it was the potential ancestor of the
tyrannosaurus. And apparently it also has some skeletal relation to a
dinosaur that`s called the Acrocanthosaurus. But they did find it right in
the heart of Washington, D.C. And now if you go to that street corner in
southeast Washington you will see the street sign there that bears the name
of that dinosaur. Unfortunately what they named it is the Capitalsaurus,
and so the residents of First and F Streets Southeast have both the honor
of living in a place where really important dinosaur was found but also the
embarrassment of living on Capitalsaurus court.
But the Capitalsaurus is the official fossil of the District of Columbia.
And lots of U.S. states have official fossils. Wisconsin has this creepy
four millimeter long trilobite, West Virginia has the Jefferson`s ground
sloth. In South Dakota it`s sort of terrifying Triceratops from the
Out of the 50 U.S. states. Forty-three states plus D.C. have designated
official state fossils. But not the great state of -- South Carolina.
This past January, an 8-year-old girl from South Carolina names Olivia
McConnell. She was at a restaurant in South Carolina with her dad. She
was looking at a menu that featured all of the state`s official symbols,
the state spider, and the state plaid, and the state fish striped bass.
It was this big long list of all the state symbols. The state migratory
marine mammal is the northern white whale. The state heritage horses, the
Carolina Marsh Tacky, the official state beverage is milk. The official
state hospitality beverage is tea. But Olivia looking at this menu, of all
these symbols, she noticed that there was no official state fossil. And
so, this science interested 8-year-old, Olivia McConnell decided to write a
letter to her state lawmakers asking them to sponsor a bill to make the
Woolie Mammoth, the official state fossil of South Carolina.
And she came up with three reasons for that. Number, Woolie mammoth`s
teeth were drug up by saves in a south Carolina swamp in 1725. Number two,
all but seven states have an official state fossil. So why shouldn`t South
Carolina? And number three. Clothing Olivia, quote, "Fossils tell us
about our past. Yes, Olivia, that is true. Well done. Well, Olivia,
signed her letter. Please work on this for me. Your friend, Olivia.
And both of those South Carolina lawmakers did work on it for her. They
introduced a bill on her behalf in the South Carolina legislature to in
fact make it the Woolie Mammoth South Carolina`s official fossil. The bill
passed in the House overwhelmingly. It passed 94-2 then it moved over to
the Senate. And in the Senate things went horribly awry.
One Republican senator decided that the state fossil bill was offensive to
him. And so Senator Kevin Bryant proposed amending the bill to make the
state fossil bill not so much about fossils telling us about our past but
more about fossils telling us about Senator Kevin Bryant. The official
bill basically just said Woolie mammoth will be our official state fossil.
Senator Bryant proposed amending the bill by adding to it. Three versus
straight from the book of Genesis in the bibl.
So the law would say to Woolie mammoth. They`ll be our official state
fossil and also quote, "And God said let the earth bring forth the living
creature after his kind, cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth
after his kind and it was so and God made the beast of the earth after his
kind and everything that creep upon the earth after his kind and God saw
that it was good and god saw everything that he had made it was good, and
the evening, and the morning, were that sixth day.
So the Woolie Mammoth is our state fossil. And also in terms of where the
Woolie Mammoth comes from well, that was day 6 when God created the Woolie
mammoth along with the creeping things in the "Beast of the Earth."
And the book of Genesis does tell the story like that. And Senator Kevin
Bryant and many other people believe that that is not an allegory, but the
literal truth of the creation of animal life on this planet. And it is
everybody`s right to believe whatever they want to. But this is also state
law. And the local paper of the state. Sort of delicately note that the
Woollie mammoth want extinct about 10,000 years ago.
So if you l believe that the book of genesis is literally true and not an
allegory and the earth is only 6.000 years old, then you do not believe in
the woolly mammoth. You do not believe what was dug up in that South
Carolina swamp in the 1700s was actually 10,000-year-old thing. Because
you don`t believe that there are any 10,000-year-old things. You don`t
believe in fossils. And, if you`ve don`t believe that fossils are real
things, then what on earth are you doing writing the state law about
establishing the official fossil of your state?
I mean there are people who believe the earth its flat. And that`s
awesome. More power to you. But you would not hire a person who believed
that to captain your sailing vessel for an around the world trip. The dude
was like be flipping a flip turn at the end of the world, right? But this
is the flip turn at the end of the world, state legislature, that Olivia
has to work with because this is her home state.
The original amendment adding those three verses from the book of Genesis,
that amendment did get pulled out of the bill on a procedural technicality.
The senator who wanted didn`t give up. He revised his language so the bill
would instead read as follows. Quote, "The Colombian mammoth which was
created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field is designated
as official state fossil of South Carolina. And must officially be
referred to as the Columbian mammoth which was created on the sixth day
with the beasts of the field.
And that is what passed the South Carolina Senate. This science interested
third grader wanted her state to have its own official a fossil. And what
she ended up with was South Carolina Legislators on their behalf, trying to
enshrine in the state law that the Woolie Mammo, MNNPO, Thai What`s
created by God on the sixth day of the week when god created the world
along with the other B`s of the field. At least 4,000 years earlier than
any of this could feasibly have happened. Aren`t you glad you got involved
in politics. When this whole thing started apparently Olivia wanted to
grow up to be scientist. Please, Jesus. Let the sloth Carolina
legislature and her experience with them, not have robbed her of that
desire. We pray.
MADDOW: Programming note, this show will not be seen on Friday night.
This coming Friday night so that we can bring you something that we are
very, very, very proud of. On Friday night we`re going to be air our
documentary that`s called "WHY WE DID IT."
You may have heard about Liz Cheney a few days ago snarked to that, Rand
Paul gets his talking points on war from Rachel Maddow. Hope you will
watch it. "WHY WE DID IT." Airing right here this Friday night at 9:00
Eastern. I very much hope that you`ll watch it. This is something that we
worked on for a very long time. And very proud to be associated with it.
Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL. Have a great
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