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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for January 28, 2009

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guest: Peter DeFazio, Don Manzullo, Russ Feingold, Gwen Ifill

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith, and thank you for that.

Thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

The big “save us from the soup line” stimulus pill passed the House of Representatives tonight and not one Republican voted for it.  We will be joined by one of the nay-voting Republicans in just a moment to explain himself.

Also—Senator Russ Feingold will be here, as Keith said, to give us his inside scoop on whether any senior Bush administration officials might be going to the hooskow for stuff like torture.

And—we can‘t be sure what it was, but something happened in the last 24 hours or so that made Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich changed his mind about whether it was a good idea to show up at his impeachment hearings in Illinois.  Blagojevich news lies ahead.

But first, completely un-shocking news tonight that in January, in the United States, which is located in the northern hemisphere, so it is, therefore, winter, a large swath of our country has been beset by a winter storm.  This is not an end-of-the-world storm; this is not a once-in-a-life time storm.  This is a storm.  It‘s a winter storm.

And in 2009, in the United States, in the most powerful nation and economy on the face of this earth, a winter storm means that there are more than a million people with no electrical power, from Oklahoma to Arkansas to Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and everywhere in between, because there is a storm—wow, who could have seen that coming - - in January, the power is out, in a lot of places.

Our government justifies billions of dollars in homeland security spending in part on the threat that terrorists will hit a force-multiplying target, like our power grid and thereby paralyze a portion of this country and cause great inconvenience, and maybe panic and maybe even economic shock.  It is a reasonable concern.  But what exactly is the protect-the-homeland defense against—I don‘t know—normal weather patterns for January?  We‘ve e been attacked by the weather.  The power grid is down.

It‘s as if we are made of sugar.  When it rains, we melt.  When it snows, we melt and then freeze and then fall down on ourselves.  Even President Obama cannot believe what happens in this country in bad weather.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  My children‘s school was canceled today because of, what?


OBAMA:  Some ice?




OBAMA:  As my children pointed out, in Chicago, school is never canceled.  In fact, my 7-year-old pointed out that you‘d go outside for recess.  We‘re going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town.



MADDOW:  You know, personally divined regional flinty toughness is neat but it probably will not fix the big embarrassing problem we‘ve got as a country.  Our infrastructure is broken.  More than a million Americans are sitting in the cold and dark tonight because of the “who could predict it” miracle that is snow in January.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report today that estimates that we need to invest $2.2 trillion in our infrastructure over the next five years if we just to bring our system essentially up to code.  The engineers give our country‘s infrastructure a “D,” our roads a “D-minus,” our bridges a “C,” our rail “C-minus,” drinking water “D-minus.”

With a report card like that, it‘s clear that we‘re just not applying ourselves.  Given that we haven‘t upgraded our nation‘s infrastructure in a meaningful way in about 50 years, since President Reagan chose to skip scheduled maintenance, we are overdue.

Meanwhile, there‘s that Great Depression sneaking up on us every single day.  The post office wants to cut delivery to five days a week to save money.  Since Monday, since two days ago, 100,000 more Americans have lost their jobs.

You know what infrastructure spending does?  It puts people to work.  Policy-wise, there is not really a serious debate here.  The lucky thing that got its picture in the political science dictionary next to the entry for policy comma economic stimulus is infrastructure spending.  A cute little light rail station under construction smiling at the camera.

But President Obama while talks a good pro-infrastructure game, he decided, politically, to try to get everybody to vote for his stimulus bill and he decided that he was willing to make it a way worse bill to try to get that political outcome.  He replaced a ton of spending plans with tax cuts to please Republicans.  Republicans rejected to family planning programs being part of the stimulus bill.  And the president directed his fellow Democrats in Congress to take out the family planning programs.

Apparently, it‘s crazy to think that we can improve poor people‘s financial situation and give them more to spend by helping them with family planning, apparently, that‘s crazy talk.  Maturely vexing thing as our infrastructure collapses under the wait of wintry mix all over the country is that President Obama does not need Republican votes.  With huge Democratic margins in the House and the Senate, the Democratic president could have steamrolled the stimulus he liked best.  He didn‘t.  He watered it down to chase Republican support.

And after all of the watering down, including scaling back the infrastructure spending—tonight, not a single Republican voted for the stimulus bill.  Not one.  Of course, some of their constituents won‘t hear about that because they don‘t have any electricity tonight.

Here is the bottom line: Post-partisanship is a very pleasing political idea.  But the pursuit of post-partisanship left us with a lousy bill—when we could have had a good one—and no Republican votes to show for it.  If Republicans are not going to vote for anything the Democrats put forward anyway, can‘t the Democrats just ignore the Republicans altogether now and do what‘s right policy-wise?  And can I put in a special request for an electrical grid that works even in the snow?

Joining us now is Congressman Pete DeFazio, who is a Democrat from Oregon.  He‘s a member of the all-important House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Congressman DeFazio, it‘s a pleasure to have you back on the show. 

Thank you.


Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  First off, I have to congratulate you and a couple of other Democrats in the House today who got an amendment passed to the stimulus, an extra $3 billion in mass transit spending.  How did that come about?

DEFAZIO:  Actually, the leadership was listening.  Quite a few of us have been speaking out in the caucus over the last couple of weeks, speaking up to the president‘s advisers the couple of times they showed up for a few minutes to listen to us.  She heard it and she insisted at the last minute that that amendment be allowed and we get more money for transit.

Good for the traveling public in urban areas, good for people who will get jobs when we build that infrastructure, build the buses, build the rail cars—a nice addition to the bill but nowhere near enough.

MADDOW:  I sense frustration from you in terms of your access, Democrats‘ access to White House advisers to the president.  Am I right to sense that?

DEFAZIO:  Yes, last week, after we had one caucus kind of blow up over the issue, they said, well, president‘s advisers would come to the next caucus.  We had a special one that afternoon.  But they only had 45 minutes before they had to go somewhere else, probably over to the Republican caucus.  I don‘t know where they went.

MADDOW:  Are they spending more time with Republicans than they are with their own party?

DEFAZIO:  Well, the president didn‘t come to talk to us yesterday.

MADDOW:  You mentioned the last time that we spoke that the president‘s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, hated infrastructure, that he was not a pro-infrastructure guy even though he said some nice things about it of late.  I wondered if the administration got in touch with you about that.  You said that—when you said it on the show, it seemed that you might suggest that you were making a little noise that might get a response.  Did you?

DEFAZIO:  Actually, there seems to be a response coming.  So, I‘m going to have some conversations with some folks downtown.  Maybe after tonight‘s vote, maybe that‘s a game changer.  They didn‘t get a single Republican vote.

What‘s this $300 billion of tax cuts about, we know that tax cuts don‘t work.  We tried them with Bush.  Let‘s put that money into proven investment in the future of this country—energy efficient transportation, you know, a new grid, as you talked about, that would be nice, a grid that can withstand even a winter storm.


MADDOW:  Because the House Republicans effectively took themselves out of this game tonight by having 100 percent no votes on it, I am assuming that the silver lining here to that vote is that—when this moves on to the Senate passing the bill and then we are looking at a final markup in a conference committee before it goes to the president—is it a silver lining that we might end up with a better bill because Republican concerns are now no longer going to be considered?

DEFAZIO:  I really hope it‘s a game-changer.  Either the Republicans come to their senses and support things that really put people back to work and rebuild this country or on the Senate side and in the conference, or the White House figures out that we‘ve got the right formula and they come our way.

I would encourage all of your viewers and your listeners to call the Senate tomorrow, to e-mail the Senate, to call the White House, to e-mail the White House and let them know where you stand.  You‘ve seen the polling by Frank Luntz, Republican pollster, there is overwhelming support for investment in infrastructure in this country.  Even 71 percent of Republicans say they‘d pay more taxes for it let alone borrow money to do it.

MADDOW:  On that prospect, because I know, whenever we talk about infrastructure on this show, the response from our viewers is strong enough to indicate that people probably will call their senators tomorrow because you just suggested that.  In terms of what to say, we know that the American Society of Civil Engineers, their report out today says we need to spend about $2.2 trillion on infrastructure to get us up to code over the course of the next five years.  They say we need $2.2 trillion in spending just in terms of what we need as a country.

By comparison, so people know, how much infrastructure spending is in the stimulus bill that passed today?

DEFAZIO:  Transportation and infrastructure about $43 million, and the most generous interpretation of the infrastructure in this bill around $100 billion, which is a pretty small fraction of $1 trillion.

MADDOW:  If you do not get the kind of investment in infrastructure you think this country needs out of the stimulus bill, if it doesn‘t get dramatically scaled up in the Senate, it doesn‘t get dramatically scaled up in the conference committee by the time President Obama actually signs something, are there other opportunities this year to go after it or is this our big chance?

DEFAZIO:  Well, I‘m worried that we are going to borrow so much money

remember, every penny of this $825 billion is borrowed.  How big is our credit line out there with the world?  I‘m worried about that.  And when it comes to the major service transportation re-authorization later this year, the water resources development act re-authorization, the FAA re-authorization—are they going to say “Gee, we‘re sorry.  We are out of money now.  We kind of blew it on that first package.”

So, I have concerns.  But we do have more opportunities pending later in the year, major bills that we are going to move out of our committee and through the Congress that could invest more in our infrastructure.

MADDOW:  Congressman Pete DeFazio of Oregon—thanks for your leadership on this issue.  Thanks for coming on the show tonight.  If I got you in trouble, I apologize in advance.


DEFAZIO:  Not at all.  I think we are both troublemakers, and that‘s what you got to do sometimes to get the right thing done.

MADDOW:  That‘s probably why we get along.  Thanks, Pete.  Nice to see you.

DEFAZIO:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  So, how many House Republicans voted for President Obama‘s stimulus plan, the one he watered down with the tax cuts and the duh, the big, long sit-down meetings, and the long meetings to listen to the GOP‘s ideas?  He got zero votes.  Zero Republican votes.  Guess who didn‘t get the post-partisan memo this week?

Coming up next, I will speak with Republican Congressman Don Manzullo.  He is one of those Republicans who voted against the stimulus bill tonight but we‘ll hear from him why he did so.

Later on: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Barack Obama‘s choice of Eric Holder to be our next attorney general today.  Did you hear that at least one Republican senator says Mr. Holder privately promised him he won‘t prosecute any Bush administration officials once he is attorney general?  Privately promised him?  Are you serious?

We‘ll talk with Senator Russ Feingold about that very hot issue in just a moment.


MADDOW:  Time now for another episode of our ongoing tragic comic chronicle of the Republicans‘ search for meaning as the party way out of power.  Today, the RNC began their winter meeting during which they will choose a new leader to guide them in exile.


MADDOW:  There are six candidates competing for the Republican Party‘s previously not particularly coveted top spot.  And based on an NBC News survey of voting RNC members, guess who is in the lead?  That would be current RNC Chairman Mike Duncan.  Yes, the guy picked by President Bush, who stood by President Bush who led his party to crushing defeat in 2008 -- that Mike Duncan.

How is it possible to lead a re-election fight on such a Bushy record?  Well, it doesn‘t hurt when another candidate, former Tennessee Party Chairman Chip Saltsman distributed a holiday C.D. which included a cut called “Barack the Magic Negro,” and it doesn‘t hurt that another candidate, South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson, lampooned here in a fake “USA Today” cover distributed by his Republican rivals, had to resign from an all-white country club because of, you know, the need to not look like a giant racist.

Election results should be known on Friday.  May the best man win. 

Oh, yes.  Did I mention that all the candidates are men?


MADDOW:  At this moment somewhere in the White House, Republican Minority Leader John Boehner might be bellied up to a government-funded bar, ordering himself and Barack Obama another Shirley Temple.  Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi could be asking Republican Congressman Eric Cantor to grab her another pig in a blanket.

As far as I know, unless they got out really early, there right now is a bipartisan cocktail party going on in the White House, courtesy of Barack Obama who invited over to his pad about two dozen Republican and Democratic senior members of Congress.  Oh, to be the fly on the wall.  Oh, to be the Cherry Heering in someone‘s Singapore Sling.

Tonight‘s cocktail party is the latest overture on what has been an all-out effort on the part of President Obama to reach out to Republicans in Congress, to get his economic stimulus bill passed with bipartisan support.  Despite the president‘s personal approval rating hovering somewhere between pictures of baby pandas on the Internet and free beer, despite huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, President Obama went halfway and then halfway again and then halfway again toward Republican positions on this stimulus plan, looking to listen and compromise in exchange for, hopefully, some Republican votes.

He urged members of his own party, for example, to drop funding for the decrepit National Mall and family planning aid after Republicans singled out those items for ridicule.  As we‘ve been discussing, he traded away some direct government spending in favor of tax cuts which is, in effect, picking the kumbaya idea of political consensus and post-partisanship over what would actually be effective policy.  The measure of effectiveness for a stimulus package is whether or not it simulates the economy.

What does stimulating the economy?  Well, in this kind of economy, nobody is buying, right?  Nobody is investing.  We can produce stuff still for now, but there‘s nobody that sell anything to.  So, a stimulus plan is meant to stimulate the demand side of that whole supply-and-demand idea, right?  It‘s to get people buying and investing again.

What‘s the most effective way to do that?  Well, Moody‘s Investor Service looked into it.  Moody‘s doesn‘t really play politics.  They play money.

And they say that every dollar spent on food stamps generates about $1.73 in economic activity.  Every dollar spent on infrastructure about $1.59 on economic activity.  Tax cuts, which Republicans are ideologically committed to, they can have stimulative effect on the economy but not nearly as much, about $1.03.  When you start talking corporate tax cuts specifically, you are down into negative territory.  Every buck you spent to do that stimulates the economy about 30 cents.

Barack Obama OKed a slew of, quote, “stimulus tax cuts.”  And what did he get for all of his “I‘ll extend my hand if you‘ll unclench yours” thing?  He got zero Republican votes.  Zero.  Goose egg.  None.  Zero out of 178 Republicans voted in favor of the stimulus plan.  Whoo-hoo! Bottoms up.  We‘re all in this together, right?

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Don Manzullo from Illinois. 

He voted no on the stimulus bill tonight.

Congressman Manzullo, thank you so much for coming on the show.

REP. DON MANZULLO, ® VOTED AGAINST STIMULUS BILL:  Hi, Rachel.  How are you this evening?

MADDOW:  I‘m great.  I‘m very happy that you are here.  I cannot tell you the number of times Republican members of Congress say no over the course of a typical day where we‘re trying to book people and I‘m so grateful that you said yes.  Thank you.

MANZULLO:  Well, I‘m here because you‘ve got a great reputation and a lot of people watch your show.

MADDOW:  Well, thank you.  Let‘s talk stimulus.


MADDOW:  Do you agree with me about what I just said about what constitutes an effective stimulus bill?  What a stimulus bill is for?

MANZULLO:  I agree with Congressman DeFazio.  He said only 10 percent of this bill dealt with infrastructure and you can tell how extraordinarily frustrated he was with this bill.  In fact, the big problem is defining what measures are necessary to stimulate the economy and what measures are long-term.

There was an extraordinary quote in today‘s “Washington Post” by Alice Rivlin who said that we have to divide the two.  She said, “You have the stimulus bills that stimulate the economy immediately,” and then she said, “Then you have long-term investment programs which should not be put together hastily and lumped in with an anti-recession package.”  That‘s the whole problem.

We had $825 billion bill, about $90 billion worth for infrastructure, $50 million for national endowment for the arts, $1 billion for post 2010 census examination.  You can go on and on and on and on.  This was not a stimulus bill.  Just a tiny portion was.

MADDOW:  Are you saying, though, that you would have voted for this had there been more infrastructure funding in it?  That‘s not what your conference is arguing.

MANZULLO:  If it had been a true stimulus bill, I would have voted along with the rest of Republicans.

MADDOW:  Why did the Republicans insist then on it being a big tax—and getting more tax cuts and saying that—Republican leadership said the reason they didn‘t want to support it is that it didn‘t have enough tax cuts in it?

MANZULLO:  Well, there was too much overall spending.

MADDOW:  Well, isn‘t spending the point of stimulus?

MANZULLO:  As far as I‘m concerned, the purpose of stimulus is to prime the pump.  What measures do we take to prime the pump?  And you have to separate that from, you know, the family planning money, the $4 million there, and the money to reseed the lawn.  That was only thrown out after President Obama met with the Republican conference yesterday afternoon.

MADDOW:  Right.  But, can I .


MADDOW:  On those issues, though, I would say, thinking about the National Mall, if the rehabbing of the National Mall involves putting down new grass and shoring up the retaining walls around the monuments which are crumbling into the Potomac and building up law enforcement efforts on that area of national property, why isn‘t that stimulative?  You need to hire people to do all that?

MANZULLO:  Well, then on that basis, any time you hire anybody to do anything, it‘s stimulus spending.

MADDOW:  Yes, it is.


MADDOW:  That‘s why having a big bill is a good idea, right?

MANZULLO:  No, not really.  I mean, you are putting the same bureaucrats to work.  You are not hiring extra people to do that?

MADDOW:  Well, wait.  What bureaucrat is going to be responsible for putting the sod down?

MANZULLO:  Well, park service.

MADDOW:  Right, park service employs people to do those jobs.

MANZULLO:  I understand it but it doesn‘t create jobs.  Rachel, here is the problem.


MANZULLO:  How do you prime the pump to restart for example manufacturing?  I‘ve got a Chrysler facility in my district.  The big problem is lack of orders.

So, here‘s something very, very simple.  You take a $5,000 voucher, you go to your Chrysler dealer or a dealer of your choice, you buy the car, you knock 25 percent off that car and you can buy a nice Jeep Patriot for less than there $300 a month.  We have to restart the channels of the supply line and manufacturing .

MADDOW:  But, honestly, just to the economic coaching here, though, one of the ways that you sell more Chryslers from that plant in your district is that you get people jobs doing stuff like shoring up the retaining walls around the monuments in the National Mall, then people get -- you get contracts to do that or you hire people directly.  Either way, you spend money to do that.  Those people get jobs.  They then have paychecks they didn‘t have before and they can spend them to buy a beautiful Chrysler.

MANZULLO:  Rachel, you don‘t make—you don‘t make jobs when jobs already exist, say for the lack of orders.  There are enough people working in this country today that would like to buy new cars.  We went from 17 million new cars down to 10 million new cars.  If we could get up to 15 million new cars, $75 billion in vouchers, that would trigger over $1 trillion.  In that way, people go back to work.  There is nothing in this bill that puts people back to work.

MADDOW:  The idea that family planning .

MANZULLO:  There‘s a very small amount that puts people back to work.

MADDOW:  Family planning programs, putting down grass on the National Mall, all of these things that you guys have demonized are, in fact, things that would put people back to work.

MANZULLO:  I‘m not—wait a second.  Wait a second.

MADDOW:  That‘s the problem here.

MANZULLO:  I am not demonizing putting grass back to work.  The issue is—items should be budgeted and then you should have items that are stimulus that go—in the spending for stimulus—is off budget and goes directly to the deficit.  Based upon your definition—I don‘t mean to argue with you but I‘m having fun with you—every item of spending could be stimulus .

MADDOW:  Right.

MANZULLO:  . that means you don‘t—that means you don‘t worry about paying for it; that means you don‘t worry about budget; that means we have $11 trillion in debt.  This stimulus package will add $365 billion in interest over the next 10 years, bringing it up to $1.16 trillion.

MADDOW:  Congressman, we do agree, though, that the idea is that the government should spend money to stimulate demand.  We agree there, yes?



MADDOW:  I think that‘s the last thing on which we agree.

MANZULLO:  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  One last question, we are totally out of time and I‘m in trouble, but, if—would you ever vote for a stimulus bill or do you hate the whole idea?

MANZULLO:  Sure.  You bet.

MADDOW:  All right.

MANZULLO:  You bet I‘d vote for a stimulus package if it was modest.

MADDOW:  All right.

MANZULLO:  If it was targeted .

MADDOW:  Modest stimulus.

MANZULLO:  If—that‘s right.

MADDOW:  We don‘t have a modest problem, sir.

MANZULLO:  Well, but, you know, you can have a series of stimulus .


MANZULLO:  . or a stimuli, whatever it is.

MADDOW:  It would be stimuli.


MADDOW:  Well, in that case, when the next one—when the next one comes up and you guys are considering whether or not to vote on it, I would love to have you back to debate it again.

MANZULLO:  I would love to be back here again.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Congressman Don Manzullo, thank you for being a good sport. 

I really appreciate it.

MANZULLO:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Congressman Manzullo is a member of the House Financial Services Committee.  And I do tell you, I can‘t tell you how many times a day Republicans say no to invitations to be on the show.  So, we are very grateful to him for saying yes tonight.

Coming up: Barack Obama‘s big tent post-partisanship and inclusive world view have given him about 80 percent approval rating, which is good for him, right?  But, has it ended up being good for getting the right policies in place for the country?

We are very fortunate to have joining us on the show tonight, ace broadcaster, one of my heroes, Gwen Ifill.  She‘ll be here to discuss whether sometimes, friendliness in Washington doesn‘t equal effectiveness in Washington.


MADDOW:  Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold and I will talk in a moment about his proposed constitutional amendment that would bar governors from personally appointing U.S. senators to fill vacant Senate seats. 

Attention passengers Blagojevich, Burris, Paterson, and Gillibrand, your circus is leaving.  You are now free to awkwardly avoid answering questions about how you will vote on Feingold‘s proposed amendment.  We‘ll have more on that in just a moment.

First, though, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night staves these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. 

They have been saying those words about letter carriers since Herodotus.  I have been saying that wrong all day.  It‘s one of those things you always write - Herodotus first noticed his mail arriving without interruption in about 500 B.C.

Flash forward 2500 or so, and it‘s neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night messing with this carriers.  It is this lousy economy.  The U.S. Post Office delivers mail every day with the exception of Sundays and federal holidays. 

But today, Postmaster General John Potter asked Congress to lift the requirement to deliver mail six days a week.  Why?  Because the post office, kind of one of the most American things about America - it‘s broke. 

Despite price increases on stamps, the post office was $2.8 billion in the red last year - volume is down.  One interesting detail about this proposal - if the change is made, if they do go down to five days instead of six, it doesn‘t necessarily mean an end to Saturday mail delivery. 

Studies have shown - I‘m just saying - that Tuesdays are probably the lightest delivery day of the week.  How weird would it be to not get mail on Tuesdays? 

And there‘s some nation food news today.  First, the Obama family has hired a 28-year-old chef from Chicago named Sam Cass to come to the White House to work alongside the Bush chosen executive chef Cristeta Comerford.  Mr. Cass worked at a restaurant in Chicago called “Avec” which means you will never, ever be able to get a reservation there ever again, even if you could have before today. 

In other national food news, the American contestant in what‘s kind of thought of us the Food Olympics, the Bocuse d‘Or competition in France came in sixth place there today.  During the two-day cooking marathon, chefs from 24 countries sweated it out over hot stoves in front of a rowdy audience of about 1,000 people. 

It was the Norwegian chef who won this year, believe it or not.  Sweden got silver.  France got the bronze.  Our national representative was a 28-year-old named Timothy Hollingsworth.  He should not feel bad; an American has never placed higher than number six in this annual contest. 

But hopes are high.  As our recent election proved, our taste is improving.  Bon appetit. 


MADDOW:  The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17 to two today in favor of moving Eric Holder‘s nomination to for attorney general to the full U.S.  Senate.  That vote may come tomorrow. 

So congratulations, America.  We are about to get our first African-American attorney general.  Yay.  On the occasion of the start of Mr. Holder‘s expected tenure, New York Senator Chuck Schumer said, quote, “The rancid political considerations of the Department of Justice will be history.” 

History?  Yes.  But if it really is rancid and you really want to get rid of that stink, this may require some cleaning up.

And so it is time for THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s special series on President Obama‘s post-Bush mission, “Scrub, Rinse, Repeat,” because this is going to take a while. 

Probably the big exclamation point in Mr. Holder‘s confirmation hearings came when Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin asked about crimes committed, misconduct committed by Bush administration officials. 


SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D-WI):  As with so many mistakes and abuses in the last administration, I don‘t think it‘s just enough to end the misconduct.  What will you do to make sure that justice is truly served, that who engaged in wrongdoing don‘t, in effect, have the last laugh? 

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL-DESIGNATE:  One of the things I‘m going to have to do, I think, as attorney general in short order, is to make - basically do a damage assessment and understand in a way I do not know now, how has the institution been harmed by the activities that were uncovered by these inspector general reports. 


MADDOW:  Whether officials from the Bush administration will be prosecuted for their actions is turning out to be among the most pressing issues for the new Obama administration. 

The hottest topic, of course, is possible war crimes stemming from Bush policies on imprisonment and torture.  There are also crucial misconduct questions about warrantless wiretapping and the politicization of the Justice Department. 

On that last issue, House Judiciary Chair John Conyers has subpoenaed Karl Rove to testify on Monday about his role in the firing of U.S. attorneys.  Rove‘s lawyer has suggested that Mr. Rove might actually show up this time.  That would be novel. 

But while it is clear the Obama administration will be different from its predecessor on a lot of national security, privacy, politicization and secrecy issues the question is, will it be different enough? 

The ACLU - the American Civil Liberties Union - is testing the theory of change in the White House in classic ACLU style.  They filed a big fat Freedom of Information Act request, sent it to the Obama administration today.  They are seeking a bunch of Bush Administration documents, legal memos on interrogation, detention and warrantless wiretapping. 

So new administration, new policies - that‘s great.  But we still don‘t know if this new team will investigate the Bush administration.  If the officials broke the law, will they pay a price, or will they get away with it? 

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. 

He‘s chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee of the Constitution. 

Sen. Feingold, thank you so much for coming on the show. 

FEINGOLD:  Hi, Rachel.  Thank you for inviting me.  There was a report in the “Washington Times” today, an interview with Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri who is not on the Judiciary Committee, but he said that he plans to vote for Mr. Holder‘s confirmation in the full Senate because Eric Holder assured him privately that as attorney general, he would not pursue possible prosecutions of any Bush officials, specifically on the issue of interrogations and torture. 

If that is true, if he did tell that to Sen. Bond, would you see that as being at odds with what he said in his confirmation hearing? 

FEINGOLD:  Yes, I heard this allegation from Sen. Bond.  And we checked with Mr. Holder‘s people and the president‘s people and they indicated that is not the case, that he certainly did not give an assurance for no prosecutions.  Mr. Holder knows very well that if there is clear evidence somebody did something inappropriate, that that still has to be on the table.  So I don‘t think that assurance and I don‘t think Sen. Bond should rely on such an assurance. 

MADDOW:  Very clear.  Thank you.  On the issue of prosecutions and looking back, if it does turn out that the Justice Department under Mr.  Holder does not move forward with investigations, do you think that there is a role for the Senate to take up these sorts of investigations, possibly, you know, subpoenaing, possibly looking at possible criminal referral? 

FEINGOLD:  I‘d say regardless of what the administration comes up with, Congress has an independent responsibility, the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, both of which set on to look at the past practices, look at things people did, what went wrong, what actually happened and potentially if there are wrongdoers that need to be pursued to make that clear to the proper authorities. 

I think all of that has to be on the table.  The notion that somehow you just wipe the slate clean, not even consider the record of what happened, I think, is wrong.  Our first priority is changing our international program and what we are doing around the world and fixing the terrible difficulties we have in this country.  Those are the top priorities.

But we should not ignore the need to deal with accountability and correcting the very serious attack on the rule of law that characterized the Bush administration. 

MADDOW:  You have long fought against secrecy in the Bush administration.  It‘s another thing that you asked Mr. Holder about during his confirmation hearings, the freeing of documents long held back by the Bush administration. 

Do you think pressure from congressional leaders and from outside groups like the ACLU who filed their big FOIA request today - do you think that sort of external pressure will be needed to get release these materials relating to interrogation practices and wiretapping and politicization of the Justice Department?

FEINGOLD:  Well, I think external factors, ACLU, others - people in Congress should keep the heat on.  But one of the reasons I felt really good about voting for Eric Holder is that I think he has a great attitude about keeping things open. 

I asked him some very specific questions when we met in my office and before the committee about whether he would reveal information - critical information about FBI guidelines or whatever the issue might be. 

And every answer I got suggests he is a person who understands that the material should be released unless there‘s an incredibly important reason not to inform the Congress and the public.  So I have a good feeling about that, but I think keeping the heat on is always a good idea. 

MADDOW:  I want to turn to the constitutional amendment you are proposing for the way states fill Senate vacancies.  Obviously, this has become a bit of a circus with Gov. Blagojevich of Illinois who I interviewed yesterday and some of the other Senate vacancies as well have been handled in a circus-like atmosphere.  Could you explain what exactly you are proposing in this constitutional amendment? 

FEINGOLD:  Yes.  You get a circus-like atmosphere many times when you

instead of having the people decide, you have one person, a governor, make a decision that the people of an entire state should make. 

Now, of course, we as a nation, came to this conclusion with regard to House races at the origin of our nation.  We only have special elections in House races under the Constitution.  Came to the same conclusion in 1913 about Senate races under the leadership of people like Bob LaFollette of Wisconsin. 

So let‘s have direct election of senators instead of the monkey business that was going on in state legislatures.  So we passed the 17th Amendment which required special elections except where in cases of a vacancy like this.  And that, to me, was just a loophole.  Now, we‘re seeing the problem with the loophole. 

MADDOW:  There are states in which the governor does not appoint somebody to the vacancy. 


MADDOW:  Why do this with a constitutional amendment instead of pushing other states to follow what‘s contemplated here?

FEINGOLD:  Well, I don‘t there should be any exceptions to this.  To me, this has to do with voting rights.  To me, this has to do with the fundamental law of the land that everybody should have their vote counted when it comes to something that‘s sacred as whether or not you get to decide who is going to be your United States senator. 

So we don‘t just push the states when it comes to voting rights.  We don‘t just put the states when it comes to civil rights.  We say, “Look, this is way it has to be in a country that‘s based on democracy.  It is not a states rights issue when it comes to the question of whether one person in state can override the will of all the people of the state.  It‘s a voting rights issue to me.

MADDOW:  Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution on the Senate Judiciary Committee, thank you so much for coming back. 

FEINGOLD:  You bet, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Nice to see you.  President Barack Obama has an optimistic vision of a post-partisan Washington.  But today, not one House Republican voted for his stimulus plan despite some very strenuous reaching across the aisle.  Gwen Ifill will join us next to discuss how Barack Obama‘s politics might survive along with all of the elephants in the room.


MADDOW:  The day after taking office, President Barack Obama had a 69 percent job approval rating in the Gallup poll - that‘s the highest since President Kennedy in 1961.  And that approval was cross-spectrum - 83 percent of liberals approved; 75 percent of moderates, even 52 percent of conservatives. 

Across the board enthusiasm like that, I‘m guessing, is in part due to him being a very good communicator and to the fact that the message that he is communicating is an inclusive one.  He has chosen rhetoric in many policy positions that do have broad appeal across political lines. 

He is a man who literally laughed in my face when I asked him directly why he didn‘t attack the conservative principles which I believe contributed to the hand basket in which we are all currently riding to you-know-where. 

There‘s a case to be made that that same post-partisan attitude appears to have weakened the policy of his first big legislative initiative, this economic stimulus plan. 

President Obama tried to appeal and cooperate with Republicans by replacing stimulative spending with less stimulative tax cuts.  And yet, after all that effort, not one Republican voted for that bill tonight.  Not one. 

So now, we have a stimulus package without bipartisan support, but with hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts that don‘t help the economy nearly as much as spending programs like infrastructure would. 

And if the weakened stimulus plan doesn‘t have its desired effect, I‘m just guessing here, but Republicans running for office in 2010, I‘m guessing will, probably remind us how they voted against that darn stimulus.  That‘s how I see it. 

Joining me now for a much more balanced take on the politics of the new president is Gwen Ifill who is host and managing editor of PBS‘ “Washington Week “and a senior correspondent with the “News Hour” with Jim Lehrer.  Her book, “The Breakthrough:  Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” is available now. 

Gwen Ifill, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight. 

It‘s a real honor to have you. 

GWEN IFILL, HOST, “WASHINGTON WEEK”:  Hey, Rachel, girl, what do you really think? 

MADDOW:  Oh, you know, secretly, I‘m a deep conservative.  I just do this for the money. 

IFILL:  Yes.

MADDOW:  You know how it is.  Well, let me ask you if you agree that President Obama‘s political success is, in part, due this “everyone can get along” approach? 

IFILL:  Absolutely.  And if you look back over President Obama‘s history, we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) should be surprised that what‘s he‘s trying to do is to win over people.  He‘s a compromiser.  He‘s an accommodator in so many ways which makes a lot of the people who supported him - they‘re waking up and saying, “Wait a second.  What do you mean he‘s talking to Republicans?”  And a lot of people who supported him on other levels look to him and say, “What do you mean he‘s talking to Iran?” 

He is trying to do the best to not have the kind of vote he had today where all Republicans are on one side, and all Democrats are on one side.  But Washington is a pretty intransigent place.  

MADDOW:  You have covered Washington in depth for a really long time.  And are there previous models of very strong, deliberate, overt efforts at post-partisanship sort of blowing up like this? 

IFILL:  Two words - Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton came to office.  He had a big healthcare plan.  He had all kinds of plans.  But in the end, he had to deal with the fact that even though he had a Democratic Congress as well, there are a lot of people out there who have a certain set of principles. 

That‘s the way they look at it, that they stick to.  They think the spending bill is out of control.  They think it‘s not stimulative, and you can debate whether it‘s true or not.  But they also are looking for, in the face of this headwind of Barack Obama‘s popularity.  They are looking for some place to take a stand, a safe stand.  And this was the first one.  

MADDOW:  Well, is there - I worry though that we get into this idea that there is - it‘s a mirror image.  There‘s a mirror in the center of the aisle and that both parties do the same thing on this.  And I‘m definitely coming from a specific ideological place.  I am I liberal.  And maybe, that affects why I see it this way. 

But I see the Republicans as not really wanting to do the cross-party thing, the “cross the aisle” thing.  And I see Democrats as being more interested in that, whether or not they‘re in power, I see the parties as having different inclinations around this.  Do you think that‘s true? 

IFILL:  The parties may have different inclinations.  But it‘s

important to remember that we are a week into this.  We don‘t really know

this is the first test.  We don‘t really know whether this is an indication

of everything to come, or whether there are other opportunities, whether

we‘ll be compromised or whether there are other conversations going now as

this moves into the Senate in order to take some of the things out of the

bill that made some of Republicans so unhappy, whether this was a shot

across the vows that were -

You know, legislation - I don‘t have to tell you this.  It‘s this ongoing continuous process.  And I think that this is what we‘re going to have to watch for and just start to add them up, not say, “Oh, well.  This is never going - there‘s never going to be any cooperation because of one House vote.  

MADDOW:  In your new book, you argue that the black political power structure formed during the civil rights movement is giving way now.  And there‘s a new generation of men and women who are the beneficiaries of that struggle, but lead in a very different way. 

Part of the successes of leaders like Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama - those are very different politicians.  You were just thinking about the two of them.  Do you think there is a single hallmark of the new black leadership that‘s on the rise now? 

IFILL:  Well, it‘s not so different from what we were just talking about, Rachel.  Because if you look at people like Cory Booker and you look at people like Artur Davis and Deval Patrick, they didn‘t run and get elected because they were depending only on their base.  They had to also build some sort of coalition - political. 

Even in Newark, which people think of as - oh, it‘s had a couple of black mayors.  It‘s a black city.  It‘s not really.  He had to win over white folks on the north side.  He had to win over Portuguese voters.  He had to win over Latino voters in order to be elected mayor and to succeed as mayor, succeed in governing. 

And that‘s what happened to Deval Patrick in Massachusetts.  Only seven percent of Massachusetts is black.  So he would have never have gotten elected if he had only depended on that base.  And of course, it also helps that Deval Patrick‘s campaign managers were David Plouffe and David Axelrod.  So there are a lot of similarities among all of these breakthrough candidates.

MADDOW:  One last question for you.  Do you think that having a black president now creates pressure to have a more diverse press corps in Washington? 

IFILL:  Wouldn‘t you think?  But I‘m waiting on that one.  Someone asked me this yesterday whether I thought it was reverse racism, that some were all of these black people on the air.  And I said, “Who are you talking about?”

I don‘t think we have seen an awful lot of diversity or any change yet at the top of the most elite post in Washington‘s press corps.  And I don‘t think that Barack Obama is going to be the catalyst even though, as a black person in the Washington press corps, I would love to see it.  

MADDOW:  Gwen Ifill, host and managing editor of PBS‘ “Washington Week,” author of the new book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”  It‘s available now.  Gwen, thank you so much for joining us tonight.  I really appreciate it.

IFILL:  Thanks a lot.

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” will Obama release the secret Bush memos that the ACLU wants?  And if not, why not? 

And next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones.  Tonight, what kind of Web sites do they surf at the National Science Foundation?  It‘s not science, if you know what I mean.


MADDOW:  Now it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones. 

Hi, Kent.  What have you got? 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Good evening, Rachel.  Now, with all the talk about the stimulus plan today, we may have overlooked some issues of national importance, namely porn. 

“Politico” reports that some Republicans are mad at the National Science Foundation because of a report that says - that claims that several officials spent big chunks of their time on porn Web sites and chat rooms. 

The report said that one NSF senior official spent as much as 20 percent of his workday over a two-year span, quote, “viewing sexually explicit images and engaging sexually explicit online chat rooms with various women. 

You know, you could have seen his coming.  Science guys, trying to beat girls, highly computer literate, you do the math - including a cubicle red car.

JONES:  As part of their series honoring all 50 states and the territories, the U.S. Mint released its Washington, D.C. commemorative quarter into circulation.  And check out the back.  It‘s D.C. native and jazz colossus Duke Ellington ...

MADDOW:  No way!

JONES:  ... and the city‘s motto “Justice for all.”  Coolest currency ever.  That is change I can believe in.  Washingtonians can use these cool new Duke Ellington quarters to pay their taxes to the Federal Government, where they have no voting representative.   Swing out, Duke. 

Finally, here‘s a story for a cold‘s winter day.  The Chicago White Sox have invited first fan, President Obama, to throw out the first pitch before their season opener, April 6th in Chi-town. 

Now, in the past, presidents have thrown out the first pitch of the season either for the hometown Washington or Baltimore teams. 

On opening night, just so you know, the White Sox will play the Kansas City Royals.  You know, it‘s going to be quite a scene, wouldn‘t that?  Hometown hero Barack Obama returning to the south side as president of the United States, taking the mound to open the season.  You know, I can hear the cheers now of the thousands of White Sox fans now.  Cubs suck!  You guys haven‘t won in 100 years.  

MADDOW:  Oh, it‘s so inspiring. 

JONES:  And there‘s some other stuff.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Thank you, Kent.  And thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you here tomorrow night.  Until then, you can check out our podcast.  Go to iTunes or  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Good night. 



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