'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, June 10th, 2015
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Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: June 10, 2015
Guest: Chris Sununu, Chris Murphy
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Seeing you talk basketball, it brings such
joy to my heart.
HAYES: On an editorial meeting I went on a long rant about statistics
and I said, now, this we`re going to save for my sports podcast. Like
let`s just do it in the show.
MADDOW: Just do it, just do it. Anyone who knows you, seeing you tap
into basketball, it`s like there is Chris` spine on the outside. It is
awesome, man. It`s great work. Well done.
Thanks to you as well for joining us this hour.
In the modern history of American political scandals, a few chunks of
time compare to what happened over the course of one 25-day period in the
year 1992. There have been political scandals that have been more
consequential. But just in terms of salaciousness and shock factor and it
all happened in a very compressed time period that was a very important
time period, there is really nothing that compares with this.
This was the cover of a tabloid called "Star" magazine, published
January 23rd, 1992, it was a story about the then front-runner for the
Democratic nomination for president, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. And
this tabloid newspaper alleged that Bill Clinton had an extramarital
affair. This was published January 23rd.
Three days later, on January 26th, Bill Clinton with his wife at his
side, gave an interview to "60 Minutes" fighting back against those tabloid
allegations calling them flat-out false.
The very next day, after that "60 Minutes" interview, in front of
basically every media outlet in the world, a woman named Gennifer Flowers
gave a spectacle of a press conference, flanked by that tabloid magazine
cover featuring her, in which she fought back against the Clintons and what
they`ve said on "60 Minutes" and she gave what she said were details of
this alleged affair.
And this was all happening in January 1992. That`s the election year,
right? Bill Clinton, that year, was trying to win the Democratic
nomination for president in 1992. It was January of that year, which means
this was all happening at basically the key moment, the key test of whether
this Arkansas governor really was going to make a run for the presidency.
This was all happening right on the precipice of the New Hampshire primary.
And just as the Gennifer Flowers allegations started snowballing in
the media, then another story dropped about Bill Clinton`s past, which
blindsided everybody and it could have proven to be just as hurtful to his
chances. Just about a week after the Gennifer Flowers story, this emerged
-- it was a letter written by a young Bill Clinton, he was a Rhodes Scholar
going to school in England. It`s a letter in which he argued that he would
not return to the United States to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.
That letter was dated December 1969.
Quote, "No government really rooted in limited parliamentary democracy
should have the power to make its citizens fight and kill and die in a war
they may oppose, a war which even possibly may be wrong. Sincerely, Bill
He wrote that in 1969, to the colonel in charge of the ROTC program,
at the University of Arkansas. "I here in England won`t come home to get
drafted to fight that terrible war."
So, all at once, you`ve got the infidelity scandal, which includes not
just the tabloid, but the rebuttal and then the rebuttal to the rebuttal
with the salacious press conference. Then immediately there after you have
the apparent draft dodger scandal, you have two scandals breaking one on
top of the other, dominating the news, dominating the political coverage,
going right into the all important New Hampshire primaries in 1992.
And because of that, nobody really expected Bill Clinton candidacy to
survive those 25 days leading up to New Hampshire. But he survived it. He
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me say that the
evening is young and we don`t know yet what the final tally will be, I
think we know enough to say with some certainty that New Hampshire tonight
has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Bill Clinton came in second that night in New Hampshire. He
didn`t win New Hampshire. But he didn`t lose either in a strong field.
And him showing so strongly in New Hampshire after he took the best
that anybody could have possibly conjured up to throw at him in terms of
truly juicy salacious scandals not one, but two of them, right on top of
each other, right ahead of that primary, him showing so strongly in the
face of that, it is safe to say it saved his campaign, the New Hampshire
primary 1992 saved the Bill Clinton for president campaign.
And, of course, Bill Clinton went on to win the Democratic nomination
and then to be president for two full terms.
But his presidential viability really did start with New Hampshire,
with New Hampshire making him the comeback kid. More recently, New
Hampshire made a comeback kid out of another candidate for president who
everybody thought was beat until New Hampshire showed that he wasn`t.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I`m past the age when I can claim the
noun "kid" no matter what adjective precedes it. But today we sure showed
them what a comeback looks like.
Thank you. Thank you.
When the pundits -- when the pundits declared us finished, I told
them, I`m going to New Hampshire where the voters don`t let you make their
decision for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: John McCain had a tough primary campaign in 2008. There were
whole stretches of months at a time when the biggest news out of the McCain
campaign was how many of his staff members were quitting, how poorly his
campaign was going, how demoralized everybody was, how he had no money, no
support. John McCain had to win New Hampshire in 2008. Specifically had
to beat Mitt Romney there.
And predictions of his demise to the contrary, he did it. He won New
Hampshire. And that victory in New Hampshire went a really long way to
helping John McCain look strong and resilient, helping him win the
Republican nomination that year.
That same year, on the Democratic side of the New Hampshire primary,
in 2008, it was even more dramatic than it was on the John McCain/Mitt
Romney side. On the Democratic side in 2008, the drama there was in part
about how wrong all the polls were on the Democratic side.
Barack Obama had just beaten Hillary Clinton in Iowa the week before,
that Iowa victory was huge for him. All signs were pointing to him doing
the same thing again in New Hampshire. But it turns out all those signs
were wrong. Everybody was wrong. The polls were super wrong in 2008 about
the Democratic primary in New Hampshire.
Hillary Clinton, in fact, beat Barack Obama in New Hampshire that
night. And that was our first concrete early sign that the fight that year
for the Democratic nomination was going to be an epic, epic fight. Which
it was, right? It went all the way, almost, to the Democratic convention
in terms of figuring it out, between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It
was just an amazing primary battle.
But the polling before New Hampshire that year had basically called it
a done deal for Barack Obama. And that specifically led to one very funny,
very sobering moment, which I can, like, play, like, on a loop in my head
when it is called for. I think I have still yet to live it down.
Basically this moment, live on the air, when all of us here in this
studio got schooled by Tom Brokaw on the night of the New Hampshire
primary, right? Tom Brokaw, eminence grace of NBC News, taking part in our
MSNBC coverage and we`re on the air marveling about how wrong the polls
were in New Hampshire, and what a surprise it is that Hillary Clinton won
in New Hampshire when the polls said Barack Obama would win.
We all marched into the coverage expecting something based on the
polling. That led to this awesome moment from Tom Brokaw that night on the
subject of us taking polling as a substitute for the voters` judgment.
This was great.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: You know, what I think we`re going to have to
go back and do?
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Yes, sir.
BROKAW: Wait for the voters to make their judgment. How about that?
MATTHEWS: Well, what do we do then in the days before the
balloting? We must stay home, I guess.
BROKAW: No, no, we don`t stay home. There are reasons to analyze
what they`re saying. We know from how the people voted today, what moved
them to vote, you can take a look at that.
But we don`t have to get in the business of making judgments before
the polls have closed and trying to stampede in an effective process. I`m
not picking on just us, it`s part of the culture in which we live these
But I think the people out there are going to make some judgments
about us if they haven`t already if we don`t begin to temper that
temptation to constantly try to get ahead of what the voters are deciding
in many cases as we learned in New Hampshire when they went into the
polling booth today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Tom Brokaw on the night of the New Hampshire primary 2008.
Saying we the media should not get ahead of the voters, right? Avoid the
temptation to try to get ahead of what the voters are deciding.
Don`t let the polls dictate the results before the results are in. It
is the voters. Boy, did we learn that lesson in 2008. I mean, in New
Hampshire alone we learned that lesson, right?
And partly you learn that lesson because, you know, sometimes the
polls are wrong. So, if you go into your punditry, based on what the polls
are saying, sometimes you get showed up. Sometimes that`s the reason, but
ultimately you learn that lesson because this is an election, right? It`s
not a reality show.
It really is up to the voters to decide and there`s no substitute for
the voters deciding. That is it. That is the apex. That`s the only thing
That media failure in 2008 and in conservative media misreading the
polls in 2012, and the few other times it has happened, right? Those
embarrassments were just about, you know, taking the polls and making bad
predictions on the air. Misreading the momentum, right, based on the
Just about -- the problem there was just the way people talked about
the election. This year, that ongoing problem is much more serious and
much more consequential. Because this year it is not just about how people
are talking about the election, this year the FOX News Channel has proposed
taking the polling and using it to actually decide who gets to compete for
president in the first place in the Republican Party. Who gets to be on
the stage who gets to make the case to the voters.
The FOX News Channel is hosting the first Republican primary debate
this year. They said they`ll only allow ten candidates on the stage for
that first debate, and the way FOX says they are going to decide which ten
candidates is by using the most recent national polling leading up to that
debate. FOX is essentially saying they want to use polling not just to,
you know, inform their anchors and their correspondents and their pundits
in terms of how they talk about the race on TV, they want to use the
polling to decide who gets to compete for the nomination in the first
I mean, the way most Americans will decide who to vote for in the
primary process, the way most voters experience the candidates and decide
between them is by watching the debates, right? There are not many that
many of these debates, especially this year.
FOX News is the gatekeeper for the first one. They said they`ll keep
quite a lot of the candidates out of that debate, out of the process based
on national polling.
CNN is proposing doing the same thing. CNN is going to hosting the
second Republican debate. CNN at least is being a little more open about
what criteria they`re going to use to pick their top ten and exclude other
FOX is being really vague. We don`t know, for example, which polls
they`re going to consider when they make that top ten candidate cutoff. We
don`t know if they`re going to be rounding their polling averages. That
may sound like an esoteric math geek problem, but it`s life or death for a
candidate like Carly Fiorina.
The folks at FiveThirtyEight analyzed this, this week. Right now,
Carly Fiorina averaging out to 1.6 percent in the polls. If FOX rounds her
1.6 percent up to 2 percent, then she ties with John Kasich and then makes
it into the debates.
If FOX is not going to round up if they don`t say 1.6 is roughly 2
percent, it`s 1.6 percent, then she`ll be out, 0.4 percent in the decision
about rounding and the national polls would be the determining factor here
to decide whether or not the only woman potential nominee on the Republican
side will allow -- be allowed to realistically compete for the nomination.
That`s ridiculous. I mean, you`re talking about infinitesimal differences
here. Really it will determine whether or not a candidate`s campaign is
And the gatekeeper is the cable news network? The way that FOX News
is proposing winnowing down the field this year, what they have disclosed
anyway, is at best an arbitrary basis on which to be deciding something as
important as who is allowed to compete for the presidency. It is a
terrible decision that they have decided to make, making this decision
themselves instead of leaving it to the voters.
I mean, it`s bad enough when cable news networks or anybody talking
about this stuff on TV supplants their own judgment for the voters. But
for the network to decide organizationally that they`re deciding who is
running? And they`re not even disclosing how exactly they`re making that
And this is all happening as more and more and more and more and more
viable candidates have been getting in on the Republican side. Look at the
folk on this list. These are not cooks and cranks, right?
These are not people who are faking a run or running a protest
candidacy or not planning on hiring staff and they just want a book deal.
Republicans are right when they say they have a deep bench. This is a
group of candidates they can be proud of. They`re right. This is not a
But as more and more and more of those potentially viable candidates
have gotten in, with still more to come, it has become more and more clear
that fox can`t do what they have said they`re going to do. It can`t stand.
It cannot stand.
And now as of today, and as of tonight, it is on. Because as of
today, it is not just me wenging about that on liberal TV, as of now,
basically the entire Republican leadership of the all important state of
New Hampshire is saying it too.
This is a letter from dozens and dozens of Republican leaders in New
Hampshire sent to FOX News today saying, basically, we the voters of New
Hampshire get to decide who deserves this nomination. We have done it in
years past. We`re good at it. We deserve to do it again this year. It is
going to be us making this decision. Not you, some cable news network.
Quote, "Historically, it has been the responsibility of early primary
and caucus states to closely examine and winnow the field of candidates and
it is not in the electorate`s interest to have TV debate criteria supplant
this solemn duty. The proposed limitations are unnecessarily narrow and
risk eliminating potentially viable candidates based on unreliable national
polling that is rarely predictive of primary election outcomes."
The letter goes on to say, denying candidates the opportunity to
participate in the first debate would, quote, "artificially distort the
political process" and they make a strong cogent reasoned case that what
FOX News proposed would be bad for the Republican Party and it would be bad
for the country.
And then there is also just the sheer number of signers of this letter
that make the most powerful part of their argument for them, right, more
than 50 Republican elected officials and leaders and activists have signed
on to this thing. This is not some crank outfit, right? This is
essentially the powers that be in New Hampshire saying, whoa, whoa, whoa,
we`re in an early state for a reason, we make the decision about which
candidates get on the stage and which candidates don`t, our voters make
those decisions, those decisions don`t get made by some TV network.
They also went on to propose some alternate ideas that they think
would be more fair in terms of how organized the early debates, they
proposed an idea in which FOX would broadcast multiple debates, back-to-
back debates, mix the top tier and lower tier candidates randomly together,
so you don`t have 20 people on stage all at once, but maybe two back-to-
back debates of ten. And you mix them according to top tier candidates and
lower tier candidates and see how it goes. And who knows, maybe that would
be a better way of doing it. I don`t know.
But what is becoming very clear is FOX News` plan to cut off the field
at a round number based on flexible, irrelevant and opaque criteria, it is
really not going to stand. That`s not going to be the way it happens. It
is not going to stand with Republicans. It`s not going to stand in New
Hampshire. And it`s really just not going to stand for the country.
And further, we have a bit of breaking news on that last point. "The
New Hampshire Union Leader", the newspaper in New Hampshire, right, "The
Union Leader", the most influential newspaper in New Hampshire has just
announced that on the same night as this troubling first debate that has
been scheduled by FOX News, on that same night, "The New Hampshire Union
Leader" is calling the question, they`re going to host what they`re calling
a candidates forum. They`re inviting the candidates to participate and say
it will be televised live by C-SPAN.
This is the FOX killer. The paper`s publisher tonight calling FOX
News debate plan a, quote, "real threat to the first in the nation
primary," quote, "voters here have an independent streak, they might well
be disposed to vote for a so-called also ran who didn`t meet the FOX
criteria but spent the time and effort here to answer and meet their
"The New Hampshire Union Leader" and New Hampshire Republicans just
blew up the Republican primary process for 2016.
We have reached out to the FOX News Channel and to the Republican
National Committee for their comment and their reaction tonight, we have
not yet heard anything back, but we`re sitting by the phone waiting.
Honestly, though, this is a huge, huge, huge set of developments for
the run for the presidency this year. The FOX News plan for the debates is
not going to stand. It is not going to stand in New Hampshire. That means
it cannot stand.
And what just happened tonight is that New Hampshire, the Republican
Party, and "The Union Leader" newspaper in New Hampshire have just blown up
the Republican Party`s plans for how to run its primary process for 2016.
Blown up, as of tonight. Whoo-hoo.
MADDOW: OK. So, step one, FOX News Channel issues their decree about
who gets to participate in the very first Republican primary debate, which
is effectively who gets to compete for the Republican nomination for
president. They decree that it will be only the top ten candidates in
national polling. So, you know, who cares how you`re doing in Iowa, who
cares how you`re doing in New Hampshire? FOX News said we`ll pick them
ourselves in our own terms. That`s step one.
Step two, basically every leading Republican official and activist in
the all important state of New Hampshire rebels, and tells FOX News no way,
you don`t get to decide who our candidates are. Our voters do that.
That`s the whole reason Iowa and New Hampshire go early. We do the
winnowing at the ballot box. You don`t get to do it based on who you want
to put on TV.
Step three, a leading New Hampshire -- leading newspaper in New
Hampshire threatens to hold their own competing Republican debate on the
very same night of the FOX News debate.
Well, now, there has been step four. FOX News has sort of tried to
cave and failed. This is some breaking news within just the last few
moments, FOX News in response to the developments, FOX News says they will
hold what they`re calling the candidates forum on the same night as their
official debate for the candidates who don`t make their arbitrary and
widely criticized cut, which is nuts.
They essentially want to have the debate and then a kids table ahead
of the debate and say they`re treating everybody fairly, giving everybody
an equal platform. It seems like New Hampshire Republicans threw this
whole thing into chaos today with this letter they wrote to FOX News saying
they objected to the FOX News criteria and that FOX was essentially
usurping this role that New Hampshire voters have played over the long-
It seems to me like this is not yet resolved, this is chaos now, but
the fight is turning out to be really, really interesting.
Joining us is Chris Sununu. He`s an executive councilor for the state
of New Hampshire. Counselor Sununu, really appreciate you joining us this
evening. Thanks for being here.
CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NH EXECUTIVE COUNCILOR: Thank you, Rachel. Thanks
for having me.
MADDOW: So, this is exciting. I don`t know how this is going to -- I
don`t know how this is going to play out with FOX now offering this kids
table idea for a candidates forum and "The New Hampshire Union Leader"
saying don`t go to FOX, be on our event instead. Did you know when you put
this letter together you would be stirring up some chaos here?
SUNUNU: No. I don`t -- no, I think that is -- stirring up chaos was
not the intent of the letter. I can tell you, just hearing that the news
about `The Union Leader" and FOX News` response in the last few moments,
I`m surprised but I`m not surprised.
Again, the point wasn`t to stir up chaos, more to re-emphasize a lot
of what you brought up at the top of the show, just that the New Hampshire
model works, it`s tried, it is true. We know what we`re doing. It is
something the country entrusted with us and we`re trying to encourage FOX
to make sure they include all the candidates because if anything, that
history has shown, any candidate really has a chance, especially six or
seven months before the first primary.
So, there is a lot of opportunity for the first candidates and we want
to make sure they have their fair share.
MADDOW: When I look at the Republican field now, I can -- I can
empathize with fox and making this decision in the abstract. You know, top
10, people over 1 percent, like those kind of cutoffs seem like a
reasonable expectation of how to put together a debate field in a
reasonable year that looks like other years.
I look at this problem and see this emerged from a very, very
unusually strong and unusually flat Republican field. Just seems to me
like, yes, you can name a few front-runners, but there may very well be
more than 15 candidates who are conceivably viable and that`s why this
decision is hard to make. Is that how you see it?
SUNUNU: Absolutely. I don`t want to speak for the folks at FOX.
Like you said, in traditional years, the field seems to kind of winnow
itself down on its own to ten or even less.
This year, there is no front-runner. And frankly, I don`t think we`ll
see a frontrunner until maybe December, January, February, which makes it
really, really executive. It is a very deep bench. All these candidates
are doing very, very well across the state. Nobody is faltering, nobody is
Maybe there was the assumption that might happen on its own, but I
don`t think it`s going to happen before the first debate, I don`t think
it`s going to happen for quite a while, which keeps it real interesting. I
think it will remain to be seen how the "Union Leader`s" piece and the
FOX`s forum kind of -- those will have to be sorted out I think over time
between now and the first debate.
But my sense is that I`m hopeful everyone is clearly looking at it and
looking at the issue and will come to a resolution that satisfies all the
candidates. That`s our hope, at least.
MADDOW: If things stay the way they are in terms of what is being
proposed and FOX still wants to keep its real debate as only the top ten
candidates, even if they want to add this sort of afternoon adjunct where
the FOX declared also-rans can sit at the kids table, it seems to be what
they`re offering tonight. If they stick with that and the "New Hampshire
Union Leader" sticks with their proposal, that instead of doing that FOX
debate, candidates should do the "Union Leader`s" event and it should be on
C-SPAN, they`ll let everybody in, let voters decide rather than having an
Do you think it will be in a situation where candidates are being
lobbied as to which one of those debates they want to participate in?
SUNUNU: That very well could happen. I give a lot of credit here to
Joe McQuaid, the publisher of "The Union Leader". He`s bold. He`s been
around a long time. He will fight for New Hampshire and New Hampshire is
first nation status, harder than anyone.
And he`s right. He`s absolutely right. I think even some of the
feedback we have received from the other candidates, they understand that
the issue and they understand the situation. So, it will be interesting to
see how it plays out, especially as my sense is nothing will happen for a
little while, and that as the weeks grow nearer and nearer, jockeying for
position and as you said maybe even lobbying for candidates` time.
SUNUNU: One way or another, the debates will be exciting. They`ll be
informative, people are definitely going to tune in. And frankly maybe we
have gotten some more people that might not typically tune in to actually
stand up and take notice.
Obviously, New Hampshire always has a very high active rate in terms
of our voter participation. But my sense is with all the national
publicity, maybe a few more people take notice and help shape Iowa, New
Hampshire, South Carolina and those earlier states. It will be fun.
That`s for sure, it will be fun.
MADDOW: Chris Sununu, executive councilor -- absolutely, from a
storied New Hampshire political family, appreciate you being here, sir.
Thanks very much.
SUNUNU: Thank you.
MADDOW: You know, it is amazing on stories like this, you think this
is, like, there`s got to be friction here. This can`t possibly work here.
Something has to give here.
And then when it gives it all gives like, you can`t believe like the
floor is gone. Between this letter from New Hampshire Republicans and the
"Union Leader" saying, no, we`re going to do a competing thing and FOX
proposing to change the whole criteria, that`s all happened within a few
hours today. What`s going to happen tomorrow? Whoo-hoo!
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Unexpected update today on the manhunt for two prisoners who
escaped from maximum security prison in New York state this weekend. The
bottom line is they`re still not found. Forest rangers, police, FBI,
correction officers, U.S. Marshals all going door to door, stopping cars at
roadblocks, questioning drivers.
But it turns out the geography of where they`re looking just got more
interesting and more intriguing, frankly. The prison these guys escaped
from is in Dannemora, New York, which is 25 miles south of the Canadian
border. Dannemora is near to the Adirondacks, which means several million
acres of fairly impenetrable wilderness. The Adirondack Park is the size
of Vermont, just a huge forested mountainous area.
But Dannemora is also just west of Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain is
also enormous and it is shared between two states. Lake Champlain is
bordered on one side by New York and on the other side by Vermont.
Now, as we reported last night, authorities spent much of yesterday
combing through the town of Willsboro, New York, which is south of the
prison, it`s right against the shore of big old Lake Champlain. They
didn`t find the escaped prisoners there yesterday.
But today, they revealed they shifted some of their focus in the
search, beyond New York and into Vermont. They`re now saying this may be a
two-state ordeal. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo showed up for his
press conference today outside the prison, with the head of the New York
State police, he also brought with him the colonel of the Vermont state
police and the governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. PETER SHUMLIN, VERMONT: We have information that suggests that
they thought that New York was going to be hot, Vermont would be cooler, in
terms of law enforcement, and that a camp in Vermont might be a better
place to be than New York.
REPORTER: Do you know where in Vermont?
SHUMLIN: We do not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, now, it`s not just New York for the search. It is
Vermont as well. They`ve got state police searching cabins and homes along
Lake Champlain. They say they have increased marine patrols on Lake
Champlain. They`re passing out flyers at private campgrounds and watching
ferry landings. They`re watching a big state park that`s on an island in
And obviously, these escaped guys could be anywhere. But now we know
they`re looking in some of the wildest and most remote reaches of not just
one state, but two states.
This is now day five since these two murders broke out. Watch this
MADDOW: Not long after President Obama first got to the White House,
the brand-new president and his brand-new administration started kind of an
accidental book club. It was a book that got into the west wing,
apparently because the deputy national security adviser Tom Donilon was
reading it. After he read it, he passed it on to the White House chief of
staff Rahm Emanuel. Rahm Emanuel reportedly read it all in one weekend and
he decided to show the book to the president.
But when he brought the book to the president, turns out the president
was already reading it. So, Rahm Emanuel instead gave his copy to David
Axelrod, who was senior adviser to the president. After the president
finished his copy of the book, he gave his copy to Vice President Joe Biden
And that basically is an accidental book club. When word got out that
that president and every other top tier person in the new administration
was reading this one book -- well, good luck finding yourself a copy of
that book, especially in a D.C. book shop.
This is from "The Wall Street Journal" at the time, quote, "In
Washington, books are flying off the shelves. None of the major bookstores
near the White House have the recently released paperback edition of the
book in stock. One major shop in Georgetown said it had copies, but none
for sale. All of its remaining copies were being held for buyers. In
other words, people had phoned in to the Barnes & Noble in Georgetown and
given their credit card number to put a hold on one of last copies of the
book so it wouldn`t be gone by the time they show up to get it.
The Obama administration accidental book club that broke out in 2009
was over this book, "Lessons in Disaster" by Gordon Goldstein. It`s a book
about what happened in Washington to make the Vietnam War such an American
disaster. It`s told through the lens of the man who was national security
adviser to both JFK and Lyndon Johnson.
The bottom line of the book is that Johnson escalated the Vietnam War,
even though he didn`t want to, even though we didn`t have to, even though
we shouldn`t have, and had Johnson not been president, had he not been in a
position to make that mistake, had John F. Kennedy not been assassinated in
1963, the huge escalation of that war, that ballooning failure of American
involvement in that doomed exercise, it wouldn`t have happened.
Eisenhower was the first president to send troops or advisers into
Vietnam in the 1950s after Ike came -- John F. Kennedy and Kennedy sworn in
1961, and yes, Kennedy, did escalate the number of Americans there, but it
was really after Kennedy was killed in 1963 that the numbers of U.S. troops
in Vietnam go through the roof. And it`s hundreds of thousands of American
troops for years and years and years, an American death toll that hits
50,000 and then keeps climbing.
I mean, LBJ didn`t want a war in Vietnam. He campaigned against it.
He said it was a terrible idea.
But once he was president, he escalated it like a house on fire.
Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war, Nixon didn`t have a secret
plan to end the war. And the insanity of the war dragged on for years and
years and years, the escalation they couldn`t get out of.
It started in the 50s, didn`t end until the 70s. Even then it was
lost, and the president who came after Nixon even made a half hearted
effort to restart it after it was over.
When the Obama administration started in 2009, the new president and
the new administration let it be known in ways large and small, including
letting everybody know what they were all reading, they were letting
everybody know they were cognizant of the lessons of the escalation in
Vietnam, they would not keep dumping more and more live bodies on to a
losing fight, to compensate for the fundamental pointlessness of the fight
into which those lives were being thrown.
Students of Vietnam, admirers of JFK say that had he lived, 58,000
Americans would not have died in Vietnam. And that war wouldn`t have
stretched through three separate decades.
In the Vietnam analogy, the new Obama administration aspired to be
JFK, not LBJ. So, at the start of the Obama administration, they were
cognizant of his analogies, right? Yes, they might surge in Afghanistan,
but wouldn`t let Afghanistan be a quagmire. That was 2009. The
Afghanistan war obviously is still on.
Then, about a year ago, President Obama now second term grayer haired
president went into the White House briefing room about a year ago and
announced in addition to the U.S. troops, there were already in Iraq
watching over the U.S. embassy in Iraq, he was going to send, quote, "a
small number of additional American military advisers, up to 300, to assess
how we can best train and advise and support Iraqi security forces going
forward. That was June 19th, 300 troops.
Then, by the end of the month, on June 30th, it was 200 more. Then,
in August, another 130 troops being sent.
Then, in September, it was another 350 troops being sent. Then, about
a week later, another 475 troops being sent. By November, another 1,500
troops being sent. And then today, another 450 troops.
A year of steady escalation sending more and more U.S. troops into
Iraq on the ground, it`s now thousands of U.S. troops there. And today`s
announced escalation means U.S. troops will be operating out of a military
base that U.S. troops previously used in Iraq during the last war, a base
in eastern Anbar province, a base that is really close to the huge swaths
of territory that ISIS already controls in that part of Iraq.
So, the numbers are up, and rising steadily. The proximity to ISIS is
now radically up. The number of reopened bases is up. And so far,
Congress has taken no action to debate or vote on this new and quickly
What was the title of that book they had been reading? "Lessons in
Joining us now is Chris Murphy, U.S. senator from Connecticut and a
member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Murphy, it`s really nice to have you here. Thanks for being
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Let me ask your reaction to President Obama authorizing
sending 450 more troops, reopening that base in Anbar province.
What`s your reaction to that, broadly?
MURPHY: Well, let me answer that in context of what you just
explained. I do think there is an important distinction between the
lessons from the Vietnam War and the fight in against ISIS. The fight in
Vietnam was about what was called a domino theory, that idea that if we
didn`t step forward to stop the Vietcong there, that there was going to be
a series of dominos that would fall, that eventually would lead to attack
on the United States.
Here, it`s arguably, I think a very good argument, very different in
that the United States could be the very next domino, that if ISIS gains
control of a significant amount of territory in the Middle East, that they
could use that territory to launch attacks against the United States.
But we don`t have to look back to Vietnam to understand the lessons of
how not to proceed in that region. It is just the last ten years worth of
experience in Iraq that tells us that a massive deployment of ground troops
there may kill a lot of enemies, but they create many more.
I support the president`s mission to try to assist in the training of
the Iraqi forces. But I would be much more comfortable in supporting that
mission if I knew what the limits of it were, which is why I think Congress
has to vote this week, next week, on a prohibition on the large scale
deployment of ground troops, so that that creeping number of hundreds at a
time doesn`t become a second Iraq war before we have anything to say that.
MADDOW: You have been pressing for this for a long time. You,
Senator Tim Kaine as well, have been a leading light on this in the Senate.
There`s a number of Democrats who pushed for this, there`s even some
Republicans who say they agree with you on this. It still doesn`t feel
like leadership, either in the House or the Senate and either party is
willing to actually make this a priority and do it.
Do -- what -- you`ve been pushing for it so far and haven`t gotten it.
Is there some other way that you can push? Is there something else that
can be done to make Congress take this up?
MURPHY: Listen, I think you`re asking the $16,000 question. You
know, it`s relatively easy to authorize a war when you have been attacked
in the immediate past, right, whether that be after the attack on Pearl
Harbor or the World Trade Centers.
This is different. This is a much more shadowy, diffuse enemy. It
may not today present the kind of threat it would if it morphed into
something that had control of large parts of that region. But it doesn`t
mean our constitutional obligation is any less.
And there is where I think the lessons from the Vietnam War do come
into play. Congress knew over time that the strategy wasn`t working. But
because the strategy was moving at incremental paces, they never felt there
was an imperative to step in and set the record straight.
We`re ten months into this new war against ISIS. We had Americans die
overseas. We`re spending hundreds of billions of dollars. I think there
is goodwill on both sides to do something about it.
But the clock is ticking and we`re going to get into a Vietnam
situation in which Congress is essentially permanently abdicating its
responsibility if we don`t do something soon.
MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, thank you for your time.
Thank you for being so out there on this issue in terms of your consistent
willingness to put yourself out there and speak out on this. You`re a rare
light on this in Washington. I really appreciate it, sir.
MURPHY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The news gods gave us a treat today in what happens when
insufferably self-righteous people get exactly what is coming to them.
Thank you, news gods. That`s next.
MADDOW: Ernie Pyle died on Okinawa in 1945. He was gunned down by
machine gunfire. Ernie Pyle was an American civilian, but he died in the
middle of the war covering the front lines as he did throughout World War
But the time war correspondent Ernie Pyle died, his columns were
running in more than 300 newspapers throughout the U.S.
Ernie Pyle was a Hoosier. He was born in Indiana in 1900. Indiana is
rightly proud of him.
Last year, Indiana University put up this awesome statue of Ernie
Pyle, shows him sitting on an ammunition box at a plain wooden table. He`s
typing on his typewriter. He`s got a cup of coffee and stack of papers
next to him. It`s this life sized statue and set up so you can sit down
opposite Ernie Pyle at that table and imagine what it might have been like
to know him. It`s very, very cool.
One problem, though, typo. In the statue, he`s got a patch on his
sleeve that says U.S. war correspondent, but there`s only one "R" in
Ernie Pyle was amazing. The Ernie Pyle statue they put last year at
Indiana University is also amazing. That typo is not amazing.
But today, they fixed it. Here`s before the fix. Here`s during the
fix, and here`s after the fix. Ta-da! Two R`s.
The Ernie Pyle statue has been successfully edited. And when a
mistake in the world needs to be fixed, sometimes it takes a Good
Samaritan, sometimes it takes an act of Congress, sometimes, like with the
Ernie Pyle statue in Indiana, it takes a guy from a bronze works in Detroit
to come out and expertly fix it.
But sometimes, the universe fixes the mistake itself. And there`s a
spectacular story of that in today`s news and that truly satisfying story
is straight ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Perhaps you have seen this lovely gentleman in a giant truck
having some kind of road rage episode. He is flipping off another driver,
he`s racing around her, he`s cutting her off in the road, screaming bloody
murder, swearing, and then as he is flipping her off he promptly -- gets
hoisted on his own petard and crashes his trust because he wasn`t paying
attention to his driving because he was flipping her off. Instant karma.
And now, the American banking version of instant karma has just
happened. On our blog today, Steve Benen called it the sweetest banking
commercial of all time. I`m not showing this as a way of promoting this
bank but the ad is relevant because this is the news story.
This is an ad that Wells Fargo has been running for the last couple of
months on TV. It`s a minute-long. First half of the ad shows two women
each learning sign language. And then the second half looks like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: Everyone works hard for a reason. Working together, we can
help you prepare financially for when two with becomes three. Wells Fargo.
Together, we`ll go far.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It`s true. It`s perhaps the sweetest banking commercial of
all times. Lovely -- unless you are this guy.
Franklin Graham inherited an evangelism empire from his dad, the
Reverend Billy Graham. And when Franklin Graham saw that ad from Wells
Fargo about the couple adopting the adorable deaf girl, Franklin Graham
decided to napalm Facebook with his bad feelings about it. He wrote on
Facebook, quote, "Have you ever asked yourself, how can we fight the tide
of moral decay that`s being cramped down our throats by big business, the
media and the gay and lesbian community? Wells Fargo Bank is using a same-
sex couple in their advertising. Well, we are moving our accounts from
Wells Fargo to another bank."
And he did. Franklin Graham took his money out of Wells Fargo that
brings us the part of the story that I want bottled so I can enjoy a sip of
it over and over again forever.
Franklin Graham took his money out of gay friendly Wells Fargo in a
fit of angry raid of their depiction of the nice couple adopting the deaf
child. And in that fit of pique, he announced he would put his Franklin
Graham evangelism money not in Wells Fargo but in a different bank. He`d
be putting it in a bank called BB&T.
BB&T, you may be happy to hear, it turns is a platinum sponsor of the
Miami Beach gay pride parade. BB&T is the chief sponsor of the Miami Beach
gay pride legacy couple`s program, which is a fund-raiser that celebrates
same-sex couples in committed relationships for ten years or longer. The
Miami Branch of BB&T actually built a chapel in their bank, specifically to
let these two men get married there.
Franklin Graham threw a Facebook hissy fit and moved his accounts
because of a commercial that showed two women adopting a deaf little girl,
but it turns out his bank is so much gayer than his old bank.
The universe has a way of making these things work out, big guy. I
love this story -- I love this story so much, I want to take it to Franklin
Graham`s new bank and marry it, if it`s a lady.
MADDOW: We are wrapping up to hand over to Lawrence right now. But I
just want to recap the breaking news that happened during our hour, which
is the Republican presidential primary process just blew up. Today, dozens
of leading New Hampshire Republicans wrote to FOX News Channel and the
National Republican Party, asking them to reconsider their decision to
limit the first debate to ten candidates.
Following that tonight, the leading New Hampshire newspaper, "The
Union Leader", threw a huge can of gas on that fire and said that they will
usurp the debate process from FOX and the RNC. They will sponsor their own
candidate`s forum for Republican candidates on the same night as the FOX
debate, and broadcast it on C-Span. They are essentially tell the
candidates, bail on FOX if you want to win New Hampshire.
Then, just moments ago, FOX News announced they would hold a
candidates forum before their official debate for people that don`t make
the cut off for the real debate.
Is that going to fly? We`re setting up a kid`s table for the people
who don`t make it? I have no idea.
It`s worth noting that the RNC has threatened any candidate who
debates in some sort of debate not sanctioned by the party will be
punished, will be barred from future debates. But that question is really
being called. It`s totally unclear how any of this is going to get
resolved between FOX News and the Republican Party and New Hampshire
Republican establishment and the New Hampshire conservative media. Who
This time tomorrow, it will be a different story. Watch this space.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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