'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, April 16th, 2015
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Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: April 16, 2015
Guest: Harry Reid, Sarah Feinberg
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That was not just fun, that was heroic.
That was heroic cable news, Chris. Spectacularly well done. The force is
CHRIS HAYES, ALL IN: Thank you. Thank you.
MADDOW: Well done.
Thanks to you at staying with us for the next hour. The force is with
The reason I`m doing the show in Washington -- beautiful Washington,
D.C. is because I got an interview with the top Democrat in the Senate,
Senator Harry Reid. That interview had some unexpected moments like, for
example, when we had to bleep him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: You know, this is so timely. Yesterday
on the Senate floor, John McCain came to me and told me, he said, that
little incident we had together where I said, you know, because you did
this, I`m going to kick the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I did not see that coming. That part of our conversation, I
will have for you in just a moment.
It was really funny. It`s even funnier totally in context.
But in this interview today, Senator Reid also made headline national
news when he told me that he has a plan, before today, was a secret plan,
apparently, to try to confirm Loretta Lynch, President Obama`s nominee to
be the next attorney general of the United States. This, of course, is the
current attorney general of the United States, who the Republicans do not
like, but who they are stuck with in the job, as long as they refuse to
vote on Loretta Lynch. Eric Holder is the current A.G.
When he was out for confirmation, the Senate made his nomination after
his confirmation hearings for eight days. They made him wait after his
hearings for eight days on the floor of the Senate. Before Eric Holder,
the attorney general was Michael Mukasey. Before that, it was Alberto
Gonzalez. Before that, it was John Ashcroft. Before that, Janet Reno,
William Barr, and Dick Thornburgh.
One of the things the White House has recently been arguing about
Loretta Lynch, and her nomination to be attorney general is that if you
take all the time the last seven attorney general nominees had to wait on
the Senate floor for a vote, if you take all their wait time combined, and
then double it, Loretta Lynch has waited longer than that. She has waited
more than five months without getting a vote in the Senate. Eric Holder,
eight days. Loretta Lynch, five months and counting.
Senate Republicans just won`t schedule a vote on her. And Republicans
are in control of the Senate, so what can you do?
Today, Senator Harry Reid told me even though Republicans are in
control and Democrats are not and he is a Democrat, he told me today that
he has a trick up his sleeve which he thinks will let him and the Democrats
force a vote on Loretta Lynch. Oh, really?
MADDOW: One thing that has not been done and is now approaching a
historic delay is the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney
general of the United States. What is going on there? And is she ever
going to get a vote?
REID: The first part of May -- I don`t know if it`s the 1st or 2nd --
she will have been in limbo, in purgatory for six months. This is a woman
no one, no one can question her qualities, her educational background, her
In fact, we had Republicans McCain, McConnell, Lindsey Graham, saying
what a good woman she was. Suddenly, they`re not allowing her to have a
vote. And they`re basing it on such shallow evidence. I mean, we`re here
trying to have a woman confirmed as attorney general of the United States
and they`re off on some abortion issue someplace, it`s ridiculous.
I want to say this to all your viewers. We put up with this far too
long. And we`re going to have a vote on her very soon. That`s created by
Mitch McConnell. Or I`ll create one. I can still do that. I know
parliamentary procedure around here. And we`re going to put up with this
for a little while longer but not much.
MADDOW: You have a way you think you can force a vote even if
REID: Absolutely, I`m going to force a vote. If we don`t get
something done soon, I will force a vote.
MADDOW: What will be the trigger for that happening? Just more time
happening, just more time passing?
REID: I had a conversation today with a number of Republicans and
told them really to get her done or I will make sure they have an
opportunity to vote against her.
MADDOW: That was a surprise.
Senator Harry Reid telling me today, "I know parliamentary procedure
around her, we`re going to put up with this for little while longer but not
much. We will have a vote very soon."
This was new. What Senator Reid is proposing doing to get the Loretta
Lynch nomination finally voted on to have a new attorney general in this
country, what he`s proposing is something that I think if he`s proposing
what I think he`s proposing it would be a huge breach of Senate protocol.
It would be very upsetting to Washington and to the Senate.
But it wouldn`t technically be against the rules. With the
Republicans holding the majority in the Senate, that means Mitch McConnell
decides what gets voted on in the Senate or what doesn`t. Loretta Lynch`s
nomination to be attorney general has been approved by the committee that
held her confirmation hearings, just hasn`t been put to the full Senate
floor for a vote because Mitch McConnell doesn`t want to.
What Harry Reid thinks he can do specifically because Loretta Lynch
did clear that committee and is just waiting for a floor vote, he thinks
because of that procedurally he can break protocol and himself call for a
vote on her nomination. It is not the way they do things. Democrats are
not in control in the Senate. But technically, he says it`s not against
the rules and would only need a simply majority vote of 51 senators to put
her up for a vote.
Now, there are 51 senators who say they support Loretta Lynch being
confirmed as our new attorney general. It`s always Democrats in the Senate
and a small handful of Republicans.
I mean, this scheme, though, this is not how the Senate runs. But it
is what he says he`s now willing to do and when he told me that, at this
interview today, we released the clip of him saying that today, it went off
like a shot heard around the world. The Democrats are going to force a
vote, we didn`t know Harry Reid could do that. It got covered nationwide.
Word came back soon from the Republicans, well, we don`t think he can
do that. This was "Politico" today, Republicans scoffed at Reid`s threat.
He can`t force a vote on her.
Harry Reid thinks he can. He responded to the Republicans today with
this, with this tweet. Quote, "I want everybody to know that Loretta
Lynch`s nomination will not remain in purgatory forever." He seems to
think he can pull this off. He seems to believe this plan could work. And
he does, I will tell you.
He does seem to have the Republicans a little rattled. They may be
scoffing at him and saying this is nothing they`re worried about to outfits
like "Politico", but they do seem a little rattled. I`ll tell you how I
know. There`s a lot of nice things about going to the U.S. Capitol in
person, if you`ve never done it, try to do it, just take a tour, it`s
First, it`s pretty. It`s really nice this time of year. Look, it`s
Also if you can get inside you might get a chance to get up close and
personal with LBJ. That`s me in the LBJ room with the LBJ portrait. I was
trying to do the "I`m squeezing your head thing" but it didn`t work at all.
Lots of nice things about going to the Capitol in person.
But one of the things going to the capitol in person means is you can
pick up stuff like this in person -- this is the printed calendar of
business for today`s day in the Senate and it`s out on all the desks and
you can take one. I asked. It`s OK to take.
Thursday, April 16th. Senate convenes at 10:00 a.m. and right there
on the cover it says what today`s pending business is. It`s printed on
today`s schedule. Pending business: Senate Bill 178, a bill to provide
justice for victims of trafficking.
This is the bill the Republicans are using as their reason to not vote
on Loretta Lynch. Until this bill passes, they say, including antiabortion
language they put it in that Democrats object to, until this thing passes,
there will be no vote on Loretta Lynch.
They had plans to go ahead with this, this morning, it was on the
schedule printed up and everything. It was today`s pending business. This
is what they were going to do, but then they yanked it at the last minute
and nobody knew why.
Now, though, after my interview with Harry Reid, now we know that they
yanked it right after Harry Reid told Republican senators he was going to
pull this stunt. That he was going to break Senate protocol, dump the
silverware drawer all out the kitchen floor and subvert the Republicans to
himself force a vote on the Loretta Lynch attorney general nomination.
He apparently, this morning, told them that plan and shortly
thereafter, they yanked their own bill, which they had otherwise been
planning on voting on today.
Senator Reid`s office today told us they don`t know why exactly the
Republicans freaked out and yanked their own bill they scheduled right
after Harry Reid threw this particular variety of hard ball at him.
But Senator Reid told us him threatening them and him pulling the
bill, quote, "is a heck of coincidence."
So, is Senator Reid bluffing? So, if he can force a vote so we got a
new attorney general, will it pass? Will even the Republicans who support
Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney general, would they be too afraid to
support her this way because it would mean letting Harry Reid pull this
And at the end of the day, does this mean we`ll finally get a new
attorney general after they force Loretta Lynch to wait longer -- more than
twice as long than the last seven attorney generals have had to wait
Joining us now, NBC News Capitol Hill producer Frank Thorp.
Frank, it was nice to see you today after my Harry Reid interview. We
were trying to figure out the importance of what he just said. It`s nice
to have you here. Thanks for being here.
FRANK THORP, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL PRODUCER: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: After what happened today with what Senator Reid has
threatened and the way it has been received, are we any closer to Loretta
Lynch getting voted on do you think?
THORP: Well, I think this strategy might not be as effective as
Senator Reid is hoping that it would be. I mean, Senator Reid is known as
kind of a Jedi master of Senate procedure to use a "Star Wars" term. But
at the same time, I mean, what he`s effectively trying to do is go into
executive session which would require a simple majority.
Those five Republicans that have already said they would vote for
Loretta Lynch`s nomination are really unlikely to go against Republican
leadership to force this vote. I mean, this vote is eventually going to
happen after they finish this trafficking bill, so it`s highly unlikely
you`re going to see those five Republicans also vote with Senator Reid to
try to force McConnell`s hand on this.
MADDOW: Although the case from the Democratic side of it, I guess the
counterstrategy on this would be looking at a guy like Senator Mark Kirk in
Illinois who`s got a hard re-election effort and is up in 2016, and is very
much trying to tact to the center, tact to the left so he can appeal to a
blue state electorate in Illinois for his re-election effort, he won`t want
to be seen as voting no on Loretta Lynch, and the Democrats will try to
hang that around him if he doesn`t side with Harry Reid on this, even
though he`ll have to say as his defense, it wasn`t technically a vote on
the substance of her, it was a procedural vote to not vote on her at all.
THORP: Sure. Yes. I mean, that`s true but at the same time we saw
these kind of tactics happen when the government shut down, where Democrats
try to bring up some kind of procedural motion to force Republicans` hands
and force them to vote on whether or not to open the government back up or
not. And it didn`t really work.
Not only that, but working for Republicans in the situation is just
the fact that they seem to be very close to a deal on the trafficking bill,
which is the big holdup as you mentioned. So, you know, Senator McConnell
said they expect to finish the trafficking bill early next week. They`re
trying to dot the T`s and cross the I`s. But at the same time, we don`t
know whether or not that deal will actually materialize.
If they do vote on that, McConnell said it will take a day to consider
and then they will get to Loretta Lynch before they move on to the Iran
sanctions, the Iran deal bill which they plan on doing next week as well.
MADDOW: So, if they move on that trafficking bill, if they come up
with some way to move forward on that, break the impasse on that, if
Loretta Lynch was next, that could happen as soon as next week? Next few
THORP: If they come up with a deal and McConnell stays true to his
word, and they say they think that they could do this in a day. I mean,
you could see it as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday.
But I mean, the Senate moves really slow. It`s very hard to predict
how -- whether or not they`re going to get an agreement one way or the
other. So, early next week could be what they -- when they can actually
finish this up. But it could leak into the end of the week as well.
I mean, if they can`t get an agreement, this impasse could continue
MADDOW: That`s right. And Mitch McConnell did promise she`d have a
vote on the week of March 16tH -- before that Republicans promised that if
Democrats didn`t get this done in the lame duck they`d make sure she got
voted on at the beginning of the session, so the -- I don`t trust anybody
as far as I can throw them in this game. But it`s getting to be a more
interesting game all the time.
NBC News Capitol Hill producer Frank Thorp -- Frank, thanks for
helping us understand. Appreciate it.
THORP: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got lots more to come up tonight. Busy
show. Please stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: You tell me you remember our Vegas visit, I`ll tell you what I
remember about it. I`ve never seen you standing. I realize you`re more
MADDOW: I always tell people, that`s my super power, that I`m
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In case you were wondering in the interview with Harry Reid
why Senator Reid was wearing sun glasses inside, it is not because John
McCain followed through on his threat to beat up Senator Reid, we`ll have
more on that in a moment actually.
Senator Reid is still recovering from an exercise equipment accident
on New Year`s Day which left him blind in his right eye. That`s why he`s
wearing the glasses. I asked him about the accident today and how he was
feeling and his response was more on less, eh, could be worse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Things happen. This was a freak accident and I`m not blind in
my right eye. But I`m so grateful that it didn`t do any damage to my
brain, almost got smacked in the temple there.
And I`m -- accepted where I am just and I look around, it`s easy to
do. People have a few more problems than you have.
The main problem of not being able to see out of one eye, the real
problem it takes awhile for my brain to adjust. So I have trouble with
REID: But right now, I stumble a bit, once in a while. I`ll get over
that. Your brain will adjust to that and I`ll be fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I`ll be fine. Brain will adjust. We`ll have more on that
interview with Senator Reid just ahead in the show including his
surprisingly elaborate take on why women are the best thing ever to happen
to the United States Senate. And why senators threaten to beat each other
up all the time.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is Catherine Cortez Masto. She`s the former attorney
general of the state of Nevada and she is Nevada Senator Harry Reid`s pick
to succeed him from his Senate seat after he retires from the Senate next
year at 30 years. Senator Reid runs the Senate for the Democrats in
Washington and he has been in Washington for more than 30 years. But to a
large extent, he`s also run the Democratic politics of his home state.
It is interesting he`s endorsed a woman to try to hold on to his seat
for the Democratic Party. It`s interesting and it`s very deliberate.
Watch what he says about his home state but also about women running
for office. Watch.
MADDOW: Should we think of Nevada as a blue state going forward in
national politics or is it influx?
REID: I think Nevada is a blue state. We had, like a lot of states
had this last terrible cycle. We had damage done, but the party
organization I helped develop is still there. And I`m -- one of the things
I am happy that I was able to work toward is having Nevada the third state
in the Union that`s going to decide who should be our president. I`m happy
about that. It`s going to be the case this time.
Nevada is a blue state and Hillary Clinton likely will prove that
without any doubt.
MADDOW: In terms of Secretary Clinton and her candidacy, obviously,
it`s a historic candidacy if she becomes the Democratic nominee. There`s
never been a woman who`s been a major party presidential nominee. If she`s
elected the president, all the more historic.
One of the things that you have talked about in the Senate is that
you`ve said the greatest change in the Senate over the time that you have
been here is the increasing number of female senators. That they have
improved the institution.
What`s different about female senators? What do you like about them?
REID: Two things I want to talk about my experience in the Senate.
One that is really positive and one isn`t. And I`ve said when I came to
the Senate it was Barbara Mikulski, she was it. Great senator from
But now, we have lots of senators and I`ve said and I repeat here on
your show, the Senate is a better place because of women. Men and women
I`m so impressed with how women appear to me to be more patient,
they`re less inclined to do things like (INAUDIBLE), like -- I just -- I
wish I could articulate the way I really feel about how much better the
Senate is because of women.
MADDOW: In terms of women`s leadership in the Senate, it seems like
Senator Schumer is going to be replacing you as Democratic leader. There
are women, Patty Murray, Barbara Mikulski and others, who have played
leadership roles in the party over time, would it change the Senate to have
a woman as a majority or minority leader? Are we ready for that now or
REID: I`m so happy, gratified that during the time that I was
majority leader and now the time I`m minority leader, that we have women
who lead these committees. I mean, we had Feinstein, head of intelligence,
Boxer, environment and public works, Patty Murray, budget, she`s going to
labor HHS. Maria Cantwell, small business. On and on with these women who
are just so dynamic and prior to Mikulski, and I can be here, they weren`t
So the answer is yes. The country is ready for a woman to be
president of the United States and of course the Senate`s ready for a woman
being -- it`s just a question of time until they will replace Reid and
Schumer, there will be leaders that come from the ranks of women who serve
so adequately here in the Senate.
MADDOW: In terms of -- I guess in terms of women and men being
different and female and male senators having different styles, you said
something to my colleague John Harwood at CNBC in a recent interview about
John McCain. Senator John McCain, you told John Harwood, had threatened to
kick the bleep out of you. He said it at one point about something that
happened in the Senate. Was he kidding or was John McCain actually
threatening to beat you up?
REID: This is so timely. Yesterday on the Senate floor, John McCain
came to me and told, he said, that little incident we had together where I
said, you know, because you did this, I`m going to kick the (EXPLETIVE
DELETED) out of you, and I said to him, John, if I were in your position, I
would do the same thing. He said, you know, I felt so sentimental when I
heard you say that.
That`s what he said. John McCain and I are friends. I understand --
we came to the House together. We came to the Senate together. And so --
MADDOW: So, there is no actual threat of violence? This is just the
way you guys talk to each other?
REID: Yes, it`s how we talk to each other. I would like to be able
to tell everybody here, my female colleagues haven`t said something
comparable to me, but they have.
MADDOW: The women and men maybe aren`t all that different at least on
MADDOW: Let the record show that I actually said bleep. Senator Reid
did not say bleep. We had to add the bleep to what he said. Don`t get mad
Apparently, senators threaten to bleep the bleep out of each other all
the bleeping time, the women and the men. I had no bleeping idea that was
part of the job but that`s what they do.
Senator Reid said there in the exchange there is one great thing that
changed in the Senate since he has been there and that`s the influx of
women and there is also one terrible change in the Senate since he`s been
there. And here is what he thinks is the terrible change is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: I talked about what I thought was food in the Senate since I`ve
been here and that`s women. What I think is bad since I`ve been here is
the Supreme Court making this horrible, rotten, awful decision, Citizens
United. It has changed this country dramatically.
We have about 15 people in the country who are making major decisions
for all of us, with hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. The Koch
brothers, for example, already agreed to spend $1 billion in this election
cycle. Is that America? I don`t think so.
So, if I can wave a magic wand and say, here`s what I want to happen,
I will say I want the Supreme Court to reverse that decision so that there
is control on how much money can be spend on these campaigns.
MADDOW: Is without the magic wand available for you, what can be
done? I mean, I was surprised to see Senator Clinton puts that issue that
you just described right at the forefront of what she says she wants to do
with her candidacy. If that is part of what she runs on, that puts it
right at center of American politics, right as a point of focus for a
What could be done? Does it have to be a constitutional amendment?
REID: Well, we try -- we can change the law and help things a great
deal. When we had 59 senators and we had a vote, it was the Disclose Act
and the people had to disclose the money they gave.
Right now, a lot of it is hidden money. You never know where the
money is coming from and we lost that.
Not a single Republican. Not a single Republican voted with us. We
got 59 votes, every Democrat voted for it, so there could be disclosure.
The best, a constitutional amendment. Short of that, if we had a law pass
these people give all this dark money would have to come out of their
hiding and tell us who they are. That would be a big help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Harry Reid speaking to me today at the capitol.
Former Senator Hillary Clinton has said big money and politics is one
of top things she`s running for president to try to fix. She said this
week in Iowa it may take an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to fix big
unaccountable money in politics. Senator Reid today saying that short of
that, short of a constitutional amendment, if there were more Democrats in
Congress, they could at least pass a change in the law. They could at
least pass legislation like the Disclose Act to not keep the money out of
politics but to at least prevent the money from being anonymous.
There`s lots more ahead tonight. Please stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: John McCain came to me and told me, he said, that little
incident we had together where I said you know, because you did this, I`m
going to kick the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, Minnesota`s getting weird. Earlier this week, we
reported that the Minnesota state Senate decided to keep its long-standing
rule forbidding senators from making eye contact with each other.
They also voted down rule change that would have allowed senators the
radical change of being allowed to have water at their desks.
But it turns out the Minnesota state government has another
controversy on its hands now. This one is about umlauts. The two little
dots above vowels in lots of languages I don`t speak.
A few years ago, the umlauts over the o in the town of Lindstrom,
Minnesota, the umlauts were removed from highway signs by the State
Department of Transportation. This is a town that calls itself America`s
little Sweden. Their umlauts over the Lindstrom is important to them and
were not happy when it was taken down.
To have the state unilateral take the umlaut away, it was kind of
Well, yesterday because state government is more heroic than you might
think. Yesterday, Minnesota`s governor issued an executive order to give
the umlaut back. He has ordered the state Department of Transportation to
reinstate the little dots on their road signs.
Saying as he did so, quote, "Even if I have to drive to Lindstrom and
paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself I will do it."
So, Lindstrom, Minnesota, regained its umlaut. See? There it is on
the brand new sign installed today.
Lawmakers are happy to have intense Senate debates about eye contact
rules and whether they`re allowed to drink water. And governors will drive
across the states to add umlauts themselves.
But right now, in Washington officials are finalizing rules for
something way, way serious than any of that. And in that case, nobody`s
talking about it and that`s our big story next.
MADDOW: In the `80s, the federal government intentionally crashed an
airplane. This is not a conspiracy theory from the comment section on a
Rand Paul fan site. This actually happened.
And the plane that the federal government intentionally crashed was
not some experimental prototype or even a military aircraft of some kind.
What they crashed on purpose was actually a full-size commercial airliner.
It happened in California. The government took a Boeing 720 airliner
to the desert, and then they deliberately crash it into the ground. The
idea was to test a new fuel additive that was supposed to make jet fuel
less combustible. Could this new fuel additive prevent planes from
bursting into flames on impact when they crashed?
Government officials flew the plane by remote control. Nobody was on
board obviously. But this is how it went, the crash test of the supposedly
less combustible jet fuel in a passenger airliner. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One hundred.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another view through a camera in the nose of the
plane, right to the time the lens breaks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes, so that didn`t work. That was the supposedly less
combustible jet fuel bursting into flames just like it wasn`t supposed to.
This is the view from inside the cabin of the plane. The test dummies
handle the anymore impact of the crash, but then the entire cabin just
fills with flames and it`s bye-bye to those poor dummies.
When we think about the government crash testing stuff, it`s usually
cars, right, with those dummies going head first into the steering column
or whatever. But it`s not always cars. But sometimes it`s a full sized
commercial airliner with a camera attached to the tail so the government
can see what happens when you crash a thing like that into the ground.
So, sometimes it`s planes and sometimes it`s automobiles, sometimes
what the government is crashing on purpose are trains.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: At a railroad testing grounds on the high plains of Pueblo,
Colorado, today, the Department of Transportation sends two passenger cars
at 26 miles an hour into a concrete wall.
Here it is again, different view. An unusual test to learn more about
rail car safety.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That high speed crash test of a passenger train car was
conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration about 15 years ago. There
had been a spade of commuter train crashes in the `90s. The Federal
Railroad Administration wanted to see how passenger trains could be made
safer in the event of a crash. So they started crashing them into walls in
The Federal Railroad Administration sounds like one of those vestigial
government agencies that we never got rid of from the 1800s, right? But
it`s actually not as ancient as it sounds and it`s supposed to make sure
what happens on the rails across America is happening safely, which in the
21st century is now turning out to be a really freaking urgent concern,
because this is what`s been happening on the rails around our country with
increasing regularity over the last few years. This is an oil train that
derailed and exploded in Galena, Illinois, just last month. That train was
carrying more than 100 tanker cars filled if oil and when it derailed,
those cars exploded and the fire could not be put out for days.
Just a few weeks before that, it was Mt. Carbon, West Virginia, 109
car oil train came off the tracks. The cars full of oil exploded. It
turned that area of West Virginia into the same of a flaming inferno. That
oil train disaster lead to the evacuation of hundreds of people, threaten
the whole drinking water supply in that area.
A few months before that, it was Lynchburg, Virginia, a train packed
with crude oil derailed and the cars full of oil blew up right there in
that city of 75,000 people, along the banks of the James River. This
wasn`t out in the middle of nowhere. This was right in Lynchburg. It was
the nightmare scenario that passed through your mind if you sat at a rail
crossing in your town attend saw the rail cars rumble by.
In Lynchburg, Virginia derailment, in addition to the huge explosions
and the fires, a bunch of tanker cars full of oil also dumped their
contents into the James River. It caused the evacuation of hundreds of
people. Incredibly, nobody was killed.
So, this keeps happening. The trains seem fine on the tracks but one
after the other we`ve watched as these oil trains rolling with increasing
frequency through towns large and small all across the country one after
another we have watched these trains full of oil jump the tracks for
whatever reason they derail, they erupt then we just hope they aren`t too
close to any major population centers and we wait for days while local
first responders try to contain the fires because local fire departments
don`t have the power to put these things out. So really they burn for
But in that equation, in that derail, erupt, burn for days equation,
the erupting part is not necessarily a given. I mean, trains carry all
sorts of hazardous materials, even flammable hazardous materials derail all
the time across America but don`t result in Armageddon-like fireballs that
nobody can put out.
Trains carrying hazardous cargoes is not a new phenomenon in this
country. What is a new phenomenon is where the particular trains we`ve
seen in such huge numbers now, where they are coming from and what exactly
they are carrying.
This is how many carloads of crude royal were traveling on the
railways at the end of the Bush administration in 2008. This is the number
now. This huge rise in the amount of oil moving by train is mostly
attributable to the oil fields of North Dakota. And that matters because
that particular oil is really freaking combustible.
And as those trains have been going off like bombs one after another
all across the country, there has been this really urgent policy question
about what the government can do to make it more safe, and the answer to
that question is in part the Federal Railroad Administration. This
administration that sounds like an old fashioned agency but it does things
like crashing train cars into walls in Colorado to see how to make them
Now, what we need are rules how to make these bomb trains safer. And
the Federal Railroad Administration as part of the Transportation
Department, they`re working on doing that. Next month we expect new rules
from the Obama administration to tell the oil industry and railroad
industry what they`ve got to do to prevent more of this from happening
across the country.
This has been a fight that`s been going for months now, largely behind
closed doors. Honestly. I`m kind of desperate to know what they`re going
to come up with, because I want to know if it`s going to be enough to make
otherwise normal news shows to look like outtakes from terrible action
movies about the end of the world.
MADDOW: We have scored our second great interview tonight. The woman
who is now in charge of making sure that trains are safe, including the oil
trains that seem to be blowing up around the country. She joins us live in
the studio in a moment. I`m so looking forward to this. Please stay with
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH FEINBERG, FED. RAILROAD ADMIN. ACTING ADMINISTRATOR: As we
become a country that is more energy independent, this is one of the
challenges we face. How do you safely move energy products like this, very
volatile, very flammable products across the country, from where they were
taking out of the ground to the refineries on the coast?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Sarah Feinberg, the acting administrator of the
Federal Railroad Administration, speaking in February at the site of an oil
train explosion in West Virginia that lead to the evacuation of hundreds of
people. That disaster in addition to being part of her remit at work was
also a little bit personal from her because she`s from that area.
Administrator Sarah Feinberg joins us now on set. Thank you so much
for being here. I appreciate it.
FEINBERG: Thank you for having me and the reporting you have been
doing a long time.
MADDOW: I wonder what it feels like as head of the Federal Railroad
Administration, I wonder what it feels like to see the footage of all those
trains blows up. I mean, obviously, it`s your job to fix it.
Do you feel like you have a grasp of why it`s happening? Is it just
volume or are we doing something wrong?
FEINBERG: So it`s a lot of things. It`s volume. It`s quantities.
You showed the tank cars in the graphic. It`s quantity like we`ve never
It`s a volatile energy product. So, it`s not just your typical heavy
crude that has moved for a long time and it`s moving more than 1,000 miles
on average in either direction to the coast. It`s a lot of product and
it`s moving a really long ways.
MADDOW: And terms of what the product is, in this case, is that clear
and does everybody on all sides of this agree that the oil from North
Dakota, the shale oil, is a more combustible material? That it is
something that`s more dangerous to ship? Is that contested science?
FEINBERG: I think everyone agrees it`s very volatile. Very
combustible, very flammable liquid. There are those in the industry say
crude is crude, they`re all the same. There`s risk in the system, you can
never get it out. There are others that believe you can lower the
Right now, it`s an on going debate. The Department of Energy is
teaming up with the department of transportation to do research to figure
out, we know if you lower the volatility, you`re inherently making the
product safer but how far does it need to come down? What all do you need
to do to the product to make it generally safer for transport?
MADDOW: Is it a hugely untested, brand new process to make the oil
less volatile? My understanding, and I just have a layman`s understanding
to it, but it`s my understanding that there are a lot of experience with
conditioning the oil basically to make it more stable so it`s safer to
FEINBERG: I`m not an expert on physics and taking volatility out of
products. And taking light -- it`s done in Texas. It`s done elsewhere
before it`s put into pipelines and before it`s shipped. It`s certainly a
possibility, it can certainly be done. But the science is still out how
the best way is to treat this product before placing it into transport.
MADDOW: I want to play the footage from you at Mt. Carbon in part
from that spill and explosion in part because there weren`t a lot of
reporters at that site. There wasn`t --
FEINBERG: They`re my hometown reporters.
MADDOW: Yes. It was -- some of these things happen in the middle of
city center, some in the middle of nowhere. In a lot of cases, it`s very
hard to get the footage of what happened.
Having been there in the immediate aftermath, can you give some sense
of how big of a conflagration this is? Are local fire department just
really outmatched when these things blow up?
FEINBERG: Yes, every fire department is going to be outmatched if you
have an incident like that. If you have a smaller incident, the
firefighters have a chance. But the reality is, this product is explosive.
It`s reacts violently.
The best thing for first responders to do is be trained in how to
respond to these incidents. In Mt. Carbon, for example, the Montgomery
Fire Department did the right thing. They got everybody out of the way.
They didn`t try to treat the fire or put it out. They got everyone out of
harm`s way which is what they should have done.
MADDOW: They`re doing harm reduction. They`re not stopping the
problem, they`re stopping the harm that`s happening.
FEINBERG: You`re evacuating. You`re trying to buy time.
MADDOW: The energy industry is the most profitable in the world. Are
-- should we -- when we look at the rules on this stuff, to get safety
standards improved, should we look at the energy industry or the railroad
industry as partners who want to work on this because this affects their
bottom line, too, and they`re really prioritizing safety, or are they
really trying to stop new rules?
Is that part of the reason it`s taken so long to do anything about
FEINBERG: I don`t think anyone is actively trying to stop it. You
make a really good point. I think we need more people working together,
more industries focusing on this problem not trying to block anything but
actually coming to the table and trying to be helpful.
Look, the rail industry has taken a bunch of steps in recent months,
mostly at our urging, at the Department of Transportation`s urging. More
inspections. You know, more braking systems.
MADDOW: Slowing trains down.
FEINBERG: Slowing trains down. Speed restrictions. Those are good
steps in the right direction. I think they`re at a point where they are
welcoming new rules. They want the rules to come out. Frankly, we`re
hearing the same thing from the energy industry, that they`re welcoming new
rules and they want a new ten-car standard, too.
MADDOW: Honestly, when there can be a new federal standard and
applies to everybody, everybody knows what it is and everybody knows what
it is, and everybody knows what the time frame, it eliminates any
competitive disadvantage that anybody could have in the energy for being
compliant or more safety conscious if everybody abides by the same rule.
FEINBERG: That`s right. The rule is not going to be a silver bullet,
right? So, we`re all very focused on the rule. I`m anxious for the rule
to come out. I think everyone is.
That said, it`s important to remember when the rule comes out, it
still has to be implemented, right? It`s not going to come out on Monday
and solve the problem on a Tuesday. That`s why we continue to look at
everything we can do -- emergency orders, safety advisories, steps we can
take in the short term to keep our eye on the ball and make sure we`re
making this as safe as possible.
MADDOW: Well, thank you for being willing to talk with us about it.
This is something that freaks me out which is why we cover it so much. But
it`s nice to be able to talk to you, who`s actively involved in trying to
fix it. I appreciate it.
FEINBERG: Thank you.
MADDOW: Sarah Feinberg is acting administrator of the Federal
Railroad Administration, which is a thing your tax dollars pay for. Aren`t
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: This is not a story about football but this is one of the
best newscasts about football that I have ever seen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM CUMMINS, NBC NEWS: The Chicago Bears have one of the worst
records in pro football. One win, five losses so far this season. The low
point came last Sunday when had he lost to the previously winless
Washington Redskins. The paying fans expected a better product. Even the
players who are the product admit it`s not much good.
GARY FENCIK: We deserved every single boo that we got.
CUMMINS: One disgruntled Bear fan who is tired of getting mad decided
to get even with the Bears by suing them for damages.
Jim Tully, a salesman, filed a small claims suit charging the Chicago
Bears with consumer fraud. Asking a judge to award him and his wife the
cost of two game tickets, transportation and a baby-sitter for the last
game -- $58.40 all together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: October 1981, Jim Tully and his wife paid 16 bucks each for
two seats on the 40 yard line plus 18 bucks for gas, plus $15 for a baby-
sitter plus $2.40 for tolls and he wanted it all back. His small claims
lawsuit claimed the Chicago Bears were lying to customers when they tried
to pass themselves off as a professional team.
Jim Tully did not get his $58.40 back from the Bears but he tried.
And this week, another disgruntled Illinois man on the sidelines is
trying again, except this time he doesn`t want his money back from a
terrible Illinois football team. This time he wants his money back from a
terrible Illinois congressman.
The man is suing recently resigned Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock
for fraud. Howard Foster says he willingly donated 500 bucks to
Congressman Schock`s campaign in 2012 because he believed Aaron Schock was
an ethical man, a breath of fresh air in Illinois politics. and that he had
a bright future in Congress.
But the lawsuit says, quote, "The opposite was true and while Aaron
Schock may have been a new young face in congress, he willingly followed
well tread paths of political sleaze for personal gain."
And so, the dude wants his donation back. He wants to make it a class
action lawsuit where all of Aaron Schock`s donors can get their money back
because he was such a fraud.
Congressman Aaron Schock resigned last month after an ethics probe
started to digging into his handling of campaign money. As he announced
his resignation from Congress, that congressional ethics yielded to what is
now a federal criminal investigation into him.
And while Aaron Schock has personally left Congress now, it`s
interesting, his office is still there and his staff is still there,
working in what is now known as office of the 18th congressional district
of Illinois. They`re still doing all the things congressional offices do
like constituent services, they`re just doing all those things with no
member of Congress.
But because his staffers are still working in Congress, they have a
responsibility to notify Congress as an institution if they receive, say, a
subpoena. And this week, that happened. Four of Aaron Schock`s former
staffers who all still work for Congress if not him, four had to officially
report to Congress that they got subpoenas to testify before a grand jury
in Illinois that`s investigating Aaron Schock.
Ands as Illinois prepares to run a special election to replace him in
Congress now that he`s resigned, one county in his district is so annoyed
with having to replace him under the circumstances that they have just sent
Aaron Schock a bill for how much it will cost that county to hold the
special election for his seat. They just sent him an invoice for $76,000,
payable upon receipt, please.
Latest FEC filings just out yesterday show the former congressman`s
campaign treasury in the first quarter of this year, spent over $3,000 on
bowls from Tiffany`s, and even more than that, on gourmet popcorn
apparently for campaign volunteers.
Aaron Schock made being a congressman seem really glamorous. He made
it seemed really fun, it seems like he had a ball (ph) being a member of
Congress. It would be interest to find out how he paid for that. But
there does now seem to be an inverse relationship between how much fun
Aaron Schock had while in office and this opposite of fun that is piling up
on him now since he quit.
Watch this space.
Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Thanks for being with us.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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