Guest: Lynn Woolsey, Lincoln Chafee, Nate Silver, Bob Casey, Kent Jones
High: Senator Arlen Specter switches parties.
Spec: Politics; Government
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you for staying with us for the next hour.
We are broadcasting today from sunny, boisterous San Francisco.
We‘ll be joined by former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee; by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, who‘s co-chair of the progressive caucus in the House; we‘ll joined by the best numbers guy in the politics, as Keith said, FiveThirtyEight.com‘s Nate Silver; and we‘ll be joined by the man, who, for the first day in his life, can be called the other Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, Mr. Bob Casey.
Today, longtime Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania became brand new Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
This sort of party switching is often a shock when it happens as it was today, but it‘s not unprecedented. In 2001, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords handed Democrats control of the Senate by leaving the Republican Party to become an independent. Colorado‘s Ben Nighthorse Campbell, went from a Democrat to a Republican in 1995, and then was promptly never heard from again. And so for Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, who went from a Democrat to a Republican in 1994.
The biggest implication of Arlen Specter‘s switch is not mathematical. As long as there is still no second senator from the state of Minnesota, as long as Mr. Specter and Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh and other conservadems pledge to vote on controversial issues against the Democratic Party despite their membership in it, any hope of 60 votes of a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate majority, it‘s like my dream—my life-long dream of an erasable, no cap, never dries out highlighter? It‘s a really great idea. It just doesn‘t exist.
The biggest implication of Arlen Specter‘s switch is it‘s verdict, it‘s his verdict on what‘s happened to the Republican Party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: As the Republican party has moved further and further to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy, and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Specter had no kind words for the Democratic Party today. His explanation of why he switched was laid at the feet of the Republican Party that he is leaving, accusing them of having rendered themselves impractical and extremists. Republicans and conservative activists responded by saying they respectfully disagreed with Senator Specter. They‘re sorry to see him leave the party, but they wish him all the best.
Yes, right. Actually, they all but came after him with torches and pitchforks.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: To me, this is not a question of, “Oh, gee, all of a sudden I found principles of a Democrat,” this is about political survival.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: The conservative Club for Growth hit the same theme. They said, quote, “This cynical play for political survival calls into question whether Pennsylvania taxpayers can believe anything Arlen Specter says. His only principle is personal ambition.”
You might also require that the Club for Growth has named Specter “Comrade of the Month” in February for supporting the economic stimulus. Specter‘s likely Republican primary challenger is Pat Toomey. He himself is the former head of Club for Growth. He released a statement today, saying in part, quote, “What Pennsylvanians must now ask themselves is whether Senator Specter is in fact devoted to any principle at all other than his own re-election.” All of these folks on the right essentially attacked Arlen Specter today by calling him craven, saying he has no principles.
Specter‘s response was first to concede that he did make the switch in order to give himself a shot at getting reelected. But then, he took on that issue of principles and political strategy, and that‘s the part that was devastating.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: The party has shifted very far to the right. A stimulus move was a schism. And I used some language from domestic relations lawyer, irreconcilable conflict. I have to make a calculation as to whether it‘s possible, realistic, to fight for the moderate wing of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania. And I do not think it‘s realistic. It‘s bleak.
They don‘t make any bones about their willingness to lose the general election, if they can purify the party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Purify the party. Anyone looking to get into politics, consider that the page in your playbook tiled, “How to Deal with Your Critics.” See, you just concede their point and then you destroy them with it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: And for the people who are Republicans, to sit by and allow them to continue to dominate the party—there ought to be rebellion, there ought to be an uprising.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Arlen Specter calling for a rebellion and an uprising inside the Republican Party. The Republicans have been nudging toward this crisis ever since they got rooted in the 2006 elections. If their most potent power and fundraising and organizing is not within the Republican Party but is rather within the conservative movement, a movement that insists on ideological purity above all, how will Republicans ever win elections again?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: Republicans didn‘t rally to Wayne Gilchrist in Maryland. He was beaten by the Club for Growth on the far right. Republicans didn‘t rally to the banner of Joe Schwartz in Michigan. And he was beaten by a conservative in a Club for Growth.
Club for Growth challenged Linc Chafee. Remember Linc Chafee? They made him spend all of his money in the primary and he lost in the general.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. As you just heard from the newest Democrat in the Senate, Arlen Specter, Mr. Chafee is no longer in the Senate. He‘s now a visiting fellow at Brown University.
Senator Chafee, thanks for joining us.
FMR. SEN. LINCOLN CHAFEE, ® RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, Senator Specter invoked your name repeatedly and passionately today. So, I have to ask if you agree with his assessment about what‘s happened to the Republican Party.
CHAFEE: Yes, absolutely. And especially his point about the Club for Growth, which is the tremendously successful fundraising juggernaut that pours the money into these primary races against moderate Republicans in particular. I saw it happen to me in 2006, largely responsible for my general—my loss in the general election.
And I like to say, this is America, anybody can run for office. It‘s the money that pours in that really makes these primaries destructive ultimately to the party. And the math speaks for itself, down to 40 seats as it looks now.
MADDOW: Well, Senator Specter didn‘t take on the Club for Growth today on the basis of their positions on political issues; he took them on on the issue of the math—as you say—on the political strategy here. I think there‘s been a little bit of debate of about whether or not conservatives, like the Club for Growth, like the ones who came after you, whether they don‘t care about winning general elections, or whether they do care, but they think the way Republicans could win is for them to be really uniformly, narrowly right-wing. Which do you think it is?
CHAFEE: It‘s the former. It‘s a—there‘s no doubt that we can—if we‘re weakened (ph) by a primary, destructive and expensive primary, and then we can go into a general and win. Primaries run-up your negatives and they cost you money. And yet those primary opponents, if they beat us, as Senator Specter cited, particular examples, Gilchrist and Schwartz, then they go on to lose the general. It makes no logical sense.
MADDOW: The reason that I know that liberals think about running Democratic primary challengers against members of their party who they know -- who they think have strayed from liberal orthodoxy, I think is the same. I assume it‘s the same, as where the Club for Growth is coming from, which is that, ultimately, you‘ll make the party stronger, more electable by pushing people to be accountable for their votes to the ideological basic idea of what the party is about.
Do you think that‘s—do you think that‘s what‘s happening on both the left and right, or do you think it‘s a different calculation for liberals and conservatives?
CHAFEE: I don‘t see it happening on the left. Don‘t forget, Joe Lieberman was challenged from the left in the primary. But that‘s Connecticut, that‘s a fairly liberal state, fairly blue state through the years. So, I don‘t see it happening from the left the same way it‘s happening to us Republicans trying to hold on in blue states, such as I was in Rhode Island, such as Senator Specter was in a very, very increasingly blue state of Pennsylvania—to be challenged by that expensive primary.
Yes, the individual can run, but have the money pour in from the right
ultimately results in losing the seat. And as I said, I don‘t see that
happening on the left. But it‘s certainly is happening within the
Republican Party and is responsible now for the numbers that are undeniable
40 seats in the Senate.
MADDOW: Seeing Senator Specter today calling for an uprising, calling for a rebellion essentially within the Republican Party while he‘s on his way out the door, just striking concurrence of events in the sense that he‘s saying that there needs to be radical change. But rather than stay inside the party and try to make it, because he thinks that he won‘t be allowed to stay in the party much longer, he won‘t be able to hold on to his seat, he‘s got to get out of the party.
Do you think that the Republican Party will change, that it will become more tolerant of moderates in its midst, or do you feel like the wilderness is still dark and deep?
CHAFEE: Well, I left the Republican Party, ultimately, after considering for a long time that exact question. Is it going to change? And I ultimately decided—no, the party is not going to change. And so, I disaffiliated, become an independent.
And I think I was vindicated when I saw the right-wing forced John McCain into choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. There was no doubt that he would have a floor fight at the Republican convention if he had chosen, say, Tom Ridge, pro-choice former governor of Pennsylvania. The far right said, “We won‘t let that happen,” and saddled him with an inexperienced running mate.
So, the party is not changing.
MADDOW: Do you see any path out of the wilderness for them? If you think they are not going to change anything, this is essentially the cause of their current political low status, the low number of seats they‘ve gotten in Washington, certainly—how does—how does it ultimately turn around? Does the Republican Party go away?
CHAFEE: Well, Senator Specter was calling them for a rebellion, but ultimately, I think it‘s going to become a—not a viable national party. That‘s what I foresee for the Republican Party. And that opens doors for another party to form, who knows whether that might happen.
I‘m running as an independent here in Rhode Island. But the opportunity might come down the road to actually be part of a different party. That‘s possible.
MADDOW: When you run for governor in Rhode Island, did you ever consider running as a Democrat?
CHAFEE: Of course, I considered all of the options. But ultimately, Rhode Island has a strong streak of independence. And it‘s the largest voting bloc actually, our unaffiliated voters in Rhode Island. So, I decided to run as an independent.
MADDOW: Former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island—thank you for your time and your insights tonight. It‘s nice to see you.
CHAFEE: Good to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, Arlen Specter, Democrat. Does that mean more Democratic legislation will pass now or does that mean, you know, Joe Lieberman? Coming up next: Pennsylvania‘s other Democratic senator, Bob Casey, Jr. will join us to help figure out if we need to use finger quotes around the word “Democrat” when we talked about Mr. Specter.
MADDOW: There are now at least 68 confirmed cases of the swine flu in the United States, most of them in New York. Today, the acting director of Centers for Disease Control said it‘s yet clear why cases of the infection appeared to be more severe in Mexico than they are here. But he did say he fully expects that there will eventually be deaths attributable to swine flu in this country. A total of seven countries of confirmed cases of the disease so far.
President Obama has asked Congress for $1.5 billion in emergency funds to fight the flu outbreak here. Congress has not acted on that request yet, but they did act today, finally, to confirm President Obama‘s choice for secretary of health and human services, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who was sworn in just moments ago. Imagine having a potential pandemic on your desk the first day of work.
Congratulations, Secretary Sebelius. And wow, good luck, we need you to have good luck.
Meanwhile, America, meet the new governor of Kansas, his name is Mark Parkinson. He was a Republican until he switched party affiliation a couple of years ago and is now a Democrat. Good luck to you, too, sir.
MADDOW: Permit me if you will, a very quick moment of RACHEL MADDOW SHOW amateur theater.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats, on first learning the news that Arlen Specter is leaving the Republican Party.
MADDOW: Whoo hoo! Specter is not a Republican anymore. Specter is not a Republican! Whoo hoo!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, Democrats, five minutes after that initial realization sunk in.
MADDOW: Wait. Arlen Specter is a Democrat now? A Democrat? Is that kind of a stretch?
MADDOW: Thank you, thank you. We‘re here all week. Thanks, Kent.
It‘s true that Arlen Specter flipping parties, in theory, puts the Democrats one contested Minnesota Senate seat away from getting what they want in Congress, even in the event of Republican filibuster. But to beat a filibuster, what Democrats need are 60 votes—everyone voting the same way not just 60 Democrats. If Democrats don‘t vote with their party, it doesn‘t matter how many seats they‘ve got.
What they‘re getting when they get Arlen Specter is another, frankly, another conservadem—a conservative Democrat who hasn‘t necessarily pledged to the party‘s agenda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: I will not be an automatic 60th vote. I have always agreed with John Kennedy that sometimes a party asks too much. And if the Democratic Party asks too much, I will not hesitate to disagree and vote my independent thinking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Just look at Arlen Specter‘s positions on a few key, big “D” Democratic issues. For example, how will Democrat Arlen Specter vote on the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, President Obama‘s pick to head the Office of Legal Counsel, who‘s currently being blocked by Republicans in the Senate?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: I‘m opposed to the nominee for assistant attorney general, and Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. How about the party‘s important union legislation—the Employee Free Choice Act?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: I think it is a bad deal, and I‘m opposed to it, and would not vote to invoke cloture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hmm. That sounds a lot like Arlen Specter Republican, doesn‘t it?
And, of course, this is the same senator who consistently voted against setting timetables in Iraq, who, just this month, voted against President Obama‘s budget, and who—even after making that critical crossover vote in favor of stimulus—also voted for the GOP‘s mega-anti-stimulus five-year spending freeze.
So, losing Specter is clearly a big loss for the Republican Party.
The question now, though, is whether it is the Democrats‘ gain.
Joining us is Senator Bob Casey, who, I‘m amazed to say, is the other Democratic senator from Pennsylvania.
Senator Casey, congratulations to you and your party on this news today.
SEN. ROBERT CASEY, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Do you think that Senator Specter is going to vote more like a Democrat now?
CASEY: Well, I—look, if you look at his record overall on some of the issues, the president putting forth and going to confront and we‘re all confronting, not only as senators but as Americans—the economy, voting for the recovery bill was a very important vote for him. I also believe on health care, which is a major priority for me and for a lot of Democrats and a lot of people across the country, I think we‘ll get a lot of support there.
There will be times when he—look, he and I disagree on the Employee Free Choice Act. I‘m not only a supporter but I‘m a co-sponsor. But that legislation might change. And if it does change, I think we‘d all look very hard to get his vote and a lot of other votes. But there‘s no way to predict how one senator is going to vote all of the time.
But, I think, overall, this is very good news for moving the president‘s agenda forward on the main thrust: the economy, education, health care, energy—all of those. And we welcome him to the party. I‘ve known him a long time. We‘ve worked together in our state on a lot of projects. So, we‘re going to continue that working relationship. But, I think, overall, it moves the president‘s agenda forward.
MADDOW: If Senator Specter gets a Democratic primary challenge, if somebody like Congressman Patrick Murphy or Congressman Joe Sestak, or even if it‘s the currently declared Democrat, Joseph Torsella—would you consider staying neutral on the primary or would you consider supporting a challenger to Mr. Specter?
CASEY: Well, I was asked today about the 2010 race. I think it‘s a little premature. I hope we can come to a consensus—even Democrats can do that once in a while, even Pennsylvania Democrats. When I was running, for example, in 2006, we had a primary, but it wasn‘t as intense as it could have been because the parties came together. I hope we can have a consensus.
The goal here is, in January 2011, to have two Democratic senators from Pennsylvania. I think we can achieve that.
MADDOW: Do you think that, right now, the Democratic Party and
Republican Party have fundamentally different ideas about tolerance, of
ideological diversion among their members? I mean, you, yourself divert
from party orthodoxy on the issue of choice, and now, on some other issues
and that‘s been a major issue in your rise to the prominent position that you have now in the Democratic Party. Do you feel like Democrats and Republicans fundamentally disagree about how tightly their leaders need to cue to the party line?
CASEY: I think there is a fundamental difference, but I also believe the Democrats have been more united than some might—some might assert. On the big issues, for example, on the budget itself, and on the recovery bill, we‘ve had tremendous unanimity. That doesn‘t mean we‘re going to have—we‘re not going to have some who disagree, some who have a different point of view on individual votes.
But, overall, when you see the work that was done in the first 100 days, the children‘s health insurance legislation, Lilly Ledbetter, the recovery bill, the budget—overall, I think the Democrats have had in the Senate significant consensus on the major issues, and I think Senator Specter will join that.
MADDOW: Senator Specter really lashed out today against Pennsylvanians who‘d vote in a Republican primary, saying essentially that they‘ve been taken over by the extremes. Do you agree with him on that?
CASEY: Well, I‘ll tell you, I‘m not an expert on their party. But you go across Pennsylvania and even beyond Pennsylvania—just look what happens here in Washington—the Republican leadership position in Washington right now is not just “no” to senator, to now President Obama‘s agenda, and then when he was candidate as Senator Obama. It was not just no, it was “hell no,” “We are not supporting anything that this president stands for,” and, unfortunately, for their party, I think that‘s not a winning formula.
President Obama and his agenda on health care, on energy, on the economy, is very popular for a good reason. The American people voted for change and he‘s doing very well on delivering that change—even in the midst of a terrible, terrible economy.
Who would ever believe, even six months ago, I know I wouldn‘t believe it, if someone walked up to you and said, “In the middle of this economy, because we have a president leading us, the right direction number is going to be higher than the wrong track number in the polling.” It‘s extraordinary, and I have to give the president most of the credit for that. But I believe there‘s a—there‘s a—if there‘s one message on their side, it‘s “Stop President Obama,” and I think that is not a strategy that will serve them well over time.
MADDOW: Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania—thank you so much for joining us tonight.
CASEY: Rachel, thank you.
MADDOW: This afternoon, President Obama met with the Congressional Progressive Caucus for the first time since taking office. How come you met with the blue dog conservative Democrats and even the Republicans so long before he met with the liberals? And more importantly, what do the liberals want to extract from him as an apology for the snub? Obama and his left flank—that‘s coming up.
MADDOW: The number of self-defined moderate Republicans in Washington is dropping faster than a barometer reading in a tornado. Numbers guru, Nate Silver, will join us in just a moment to assess the likelihood of the political survival of the last few holdouts.
But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
Early this morning, at about 6:30 Eastern Time, a water main break in downtown Baltimore sent a torrent of water through the city‘s inner harbor district, causing some streets and sidewalks to partially collapse. The closed roads, of course, did a number on the early morning commute. Baltimore‘s giant impromptu water fountain was finally shut off by about 11:30 a.m., at which point the water level began to subside.
But the problem of reduced water pressure remained. With the water main shutdown, air conditioning systems, sprinkler systems, and other fire suppression systems were all compromised. More than a thousand people who work in the area were sent home. Of course, some businesses, such as the hustler club remained open for business. They are known for their scrappiness under adversity.
In a press conference, Mayor Sheila Dixon explained the problem. She said, “This is an example of what happens when you have a very aging infrastructure.” Indeed.
Public works officials were already scheduled to meet today to discuss a $2.6 million resurfacing project that would have replaced some underground water and sewer lines. Work was supposed to begin on that project as early as next month. I have a feeling the ceremonial groundbreaking has been moved up by the accidental groundbreaking and pipe-breaking that happened today.
And, on the occasion of Earth Day, what‘s the perfect gift? Earth, of course. Showing excellent etiquette in commemoration of Earth Day this year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave the state of New Jersey an island, Petty‘s Island. It‘s located between Camden, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. CITGO, which, of course, is the Venezuelan-owned oil company, used that island for years as a storage facility.
Despite the rather unnatural nature of things like big petroleum storage tanks, Petty‘s Island became home to wildlife like bald eagles and migrating birds. Now, thanks to CITGO giving New Jersey this nice Earth Day present and 3 million bucks to do preservation work and put up an education center, Petty‘s Island will end up, eventually, looking a lot different in a few years than it does right now.
New Jersey, of course, is stuck trying to figure out what it‘s going to do, you know, to get Venezuela their Earth Day present next year. I mean, how do you top someone giving you an island?
Finally, two corrections about things we have cited on the show in the past few days. First, I cited “The Wall Street Journal” as the source for information that torture memo author federal judge and impeachment candidate Jay Bybee has lawyered up securing the representation of a high-power defense attorney at Latham and Watkins - pro bono, no less.
“The Wall Street Journal” did in fact print that, but that reporting should have been credited to a California legal publication called “The Recorder,” a publication that regularly punches way above its weight in terms of legal news and definitely deserved the on-air shout-out.
Also, when we showed this map of Taliban influence in northwest Pakistan last week, I credited “The Long Wars Journal.” It‘s actually not singular, not plural, duh - “Long War” not “Long Wars.” You can and should check them out online at “LongWarJournal.org.” We‘re actually thinking about putting a “maps we like” section up on our Web site as well. So if you‘re a maps dork like me, keep an eye on the Website at Rachel.MSNBC.com.
I‘m sorry for screwing stuff up sometimes. We now resume our committee to total, divine, 100 percent perfection.
MADDOW: It was one of the most jarring, unexpected moves of the Obama administration in its first 100 days when the president and his Justice Department sought to uphold one of the Bush administration‘s legal maneuvers.
They asked for the dismissal of a case brought by five terrorism suspects not on the merits what the plaintiffs were claiming, but because even talking about the very subject matter of their allegations, even talking in general terms about the U.S. Government arresting people abroad and then flying them to third countries for interrogation, even talking about those things in general terms was so dangerous to national security that the president is willing to invoke state secrets privilege to stop the case.
Bush had argued that originally, no surprise there. But then, the Obama administration maintained the Bush administration‘s argument. Huge surprise there. Well, today, the ninth circuit U.S. Court of Appeals right here in San Francisco ruled that the White House can‘t do that. It can‘t throw the state secret‘s privilege over the entire case. They can only use it to argue against disclosing specific evidence, specific witnesses the way state secrets claims used to be invoked.
The lawsuit, in other words, is back on. ACLU memberships once again get a bump. Progressives call this a good day. The Obama administration loses one to its left flank. Speaking of president‘s left flank, there‘s also news today that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is reenergizing his push for a truth commission to investigate the Bush administration‘s torture policy.
Even as the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House itself tried to go slow or kibosh a big non-partisan commission, “Politico.com” reports that Leahy is still going for it. Even if that is not every progressive‘s favorite means of pursuing accountability for the torture program, it does mean that the pressure for accountability is still on.
So, torture commission - good news for progressives. State secrets argument rejected - also good news for progressives. And can we make it a liberal triumvirate? How about the end of lobbyist and PAC donations to Democratic members of Congress? Also good news for progressives? Not so fast, actually, on this one.
Democrats announced this week that when President Obama attends a big fundraiser for congressional Democrats in June, the party‘s congressional fundraising groups will take the same stand that Obama did during the campaign. They will forgo contributions from PACs and lobbyists.
Here‘s the giant catch. They‘re only taking that principled stand for one day, for the one night that Obama is there. Activists and liberal bloggers calling bullpucky on that one-day hiatus with a Web site called “StopFakeReform.com,” singed by a whole lot of well-known progressives.
With that on the agenda this afternoon, when President Obama met for the first time since taking office with at least 50 members of congressional progressive caucus, common political wisdom holds that the Republican Party has to answer to its conservative base, even to its own electoral detriment.
But Democrats, at least the common wisdom holds, don‘t have to answer to their liberal base in the same way. Is that common wisdom changing and should it?
Joining us now is Democratic Representative Lynn Woolsey of California, co-chair of the progressive caucus which met today with President Obama. Congresswoman Woolsey, thank you so much for your time.
REP. LYNN WOOLSEY (D-CA), CO-CHAIR, PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS: Oh, thank you for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: So last month, when the president still had not met with the progressive caucus, you said that your message to him would be, “We are good soldiers, but we‘re not just go-along, get-along people. Otherwise, we wouldn‘t be progressives.” Was that the spirit of today‘s meeting?
WOOLSEY: Today‘s meeting was very spirited. It was very open. And we brought with us two issues that the progressives wanted to talk to the president about. And he sat with us and he listened and responded. And the two issues included healthcare and the second one was the supplemental.
MADDOW: The supplemental for the war spending.
MADDOW: What was the discussion today about Afghanistan specifically? Did you raise the prospect of the caucus - members of the caucus actually voting against funding for the war?
WOOLSEY: Well, caucus is not 100 percent together on the supplemental, but we are pretty closely tied in wanting the president to use his funds for something other than a military solution to Afghanistan. We don‘t see a solution there. We‘d like to see - use those funds to a much greater degree for diplomacy, for development, for humanity and human resources, for the Iraqi people. We think that that is what will make the United States more secure.
MADDOW: Was he receptive to that suggestion?
WOOLSEY: He was open to it. He talked about it with us. You know, he‘s really quite amazing. He doesn‘t get all defensive. He knows why he believes what he believes. And he told us that he believes that supplemental was what he inherited and many of us, including myself - I didn‘t help inherit that supplemental. I never voted for it in the first place with the Bushes. So I feel, you know, very free to vote against it.
But others, may want to support him in making sure that he doesn‘t have a big loss right after his first 100 days.
MADDOW: As co-chair of the progressive caucus - and the progressive caucus, it should be noted, is the biggest caucus in Congress, right?
WOOLSEY: Absolutely, and the most diverse. We have 78 members and we absolutely represent what this country looks like in age and ethnic and religion and race. I mean we‘re quite a group.
MADDOW: As co-chair of that big, and as you say, very diverse caucus, does it matter to you that the president met with Republicans and met with conservative blue dog Democrats and so many other groups before he decided to meet with the progressive caucus? Does that bother you?
WOOLSEY: Well, actually, probably every single one of the 78 has been invited to the White House at one time or another, maybe more than once over this last 100 days. It‘s not easy to bring - invite 70 people to the White House. We were there today. We had an open discussion and we certainly intend to be back many times over.
MADDOW: What is the position of the caucus, or what is your sense of the position of the members of the caucus on this fundraising issue? President Obama, quite famously, took a position during the campaign that he wasn‘t going to take PAC money. He wasn‘t going to take lobbyist money.
The DNC is operating on the same terms but the congressional committees, the parts of the Democratic Party that raised money for House candidates and Senate candidates - they have not followed that policy. They are going to do so for one day when President Obama is speaking at a fundraiser. How does that strike you?
WOOLSEY: Oh, it‘s pretty manipulative, but it‘s symbolic. Actually, what strikes me is we need to have public financing for our fundraising in order to run our races. We need a shorter campaign season, and we need free press. Until we have that, we‘re going to have to raise money, and we‘re going to have to raise money from PACs as well as individuals. So a one-day hiatus - OK, good. Fine. But that doesn‘t mean a bunch.
California Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, thanks for joining us. It‘s always a pleasure to hear your straight talk, ma‘am.
WOOLSEY: Thank you.
MADDOW: And then, there were two - two moderate Republicans left in the Senate. Both women, both from Maine. What are the odds from them also being banished or self-exiled from the Republican Party like Arlen Specter was? Nate Silver from “FiveThirtyEight.com” will be our guest, next.
MADDOW: As the Republican Party seeks - sorry, I was just blissing out the little cartoon of the train there. Sorry. As the Republican Party seeks to find the meaning in the political minority, the number two Republican in the House is finding himself on both sides of one important debate.
Congressman Eric Cantor‘s strategy for leading the opposition to the stimulus bill last month involved singling out for ridicule specific parts of the bill that he thought sounded un-stimulus-y. He particularly went after trains. On TV shows like “Meet the Press” and on the House floor, Cantor made a habit of making fun of a theoretical new train route in Southern California.
That was last month. Now, Congressman Cantor is publicly touting how many jobs a new train route could bring to his district. In arguing for more federal funding a high-speed train from Richmond to Washington, D.C., Cantor told “The Richmond Times Dispatch” that the train would generate thousands of jobs and provide a much-needed economic boost to the region he represents.
Right, which makes total sense, because government spending on new train routes is really good economic stimulus. Who is going to be the one to break it to him that Congressman Cantor of this month thinks Congressman Cantor of last month didn‘t have any idea what he was talking about?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA): The party has shifted very far to the right. I‘ve decided to be a candidate for re-election 2010, in the Democratic primary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And with Sen. Specter‘s defection, then there were two, two moderate Republicans left in the United States Senate - Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Both women, both from the State of Maine - the State of Maine where Obama beat John McCain by 18 points last year and where a January Gallup tracking poll found that 53 percent of Mainers are Democrats or leaning Democrats, compared with only with 33 percent(sic) who said they are Republican or leaning Republican.
The moderate Maine senators‘ reaction to the loss of their colleague today? Well, Sen. Collins said that she is quote, “extremely surprised and disappointed with his decision to leave the Republican Party.” On the other hand, Sen. Snowe says she‘s disappointed with her party, telling CNN, quote, “I‘ve always been concerned about the Republican Party nationally, about their exclusionary policies towards moderate Republicans.”
Wait, their exclusionary policies toward moderate Republicans? Their? I don‘t want to get too precious here, but don‘t you usually say “our” when you‘re talking about a group of which you think of yourself as a member?
With one moderate senator driven across the aisle by what he called the radicalization of the Republican Party, what will happen with the remaining pair of moderates left in Maine?
Joining us now is Nate Silver of “FiveThirtyEight.com.” Nate, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
NATE SILVER, “FiveThirtyEight.COM”: Yes. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: What kinds of factors do you look at to figure out the odds that we could see Senators Snowe and Collins follow Specter‘s lead?
SILVER: Well, I assume the first thing every senator thinks about is getting reelected. The Republicans in Maine aren‘t quite the same as the ones in Pennsylvania. You don‘t have that kind of “Pennsyltucky” part where you have a lot of Evangelicals and you have very conservative Catholics.
Instead, it‘s more a backwoods-y kind of New Hampshire libertarian thing. They tend to be reasonably happy within the Republican Party with Collins and Snowe. So they would not have to move for survival like Specter did. They might move parties because they just don‘t get along with Senate Republicans anymore. That would be something different.
MADDOW: Is there something that Democrats could conceivably offer them if they‘re ideologically close enough to be tempted? Is there something that Democrats could offer them that might make it attractive enough in terms of what they would be able to bring home to the state?
SILVER: Well, you have the usual trading chips as far as committee chairmanship, as far as support in a primary and so forth. But they also don‘t have to be worried about losing to a Democrat. I think Susan Collins last year won her race by 14 or 15 is points against Tom Allen who was a pretty strong Democratic candidate. They are very popular up there. They are really exceptions but they‘re already practically independents.
I mean, I think we‘ll see this year, actually Collins and Snowe, vote with Obama more often than say, Ben Nelson in Nebraska. You might actually that crossover which you haven‘t had in a few years.
MADDOW: Nate, after the Republicans got control of the House in 1994, within a year, it was five House Democrats, two Senate Democrats who all switched over to the Republican Party. Is it possible that, with that history in mind, that Sen. Specter is the beginning of a party shuffle here that Republicans who are at all inclined toward the center will feel a great incentive to jump over to the Democratic Party just so they can have some power?
SILVER: Well, it‘s kind of a trick question because there aren‘t very many moderate senators and representatives as you indicated at the top of the segment. Except for Collins and Snowe, you have people like George Voinovich who‘s may be a moderate but is retiring anyway, people like Chuck Hagel who retired last year.
This contrast with in the mid ‘90s where you had a lot of southern Democrats, where the Democratic Party was very different in the south than it had been in the ‘60s and ‘70s. You had some long overdue, I think, party switches.
So I think it will more likely be just Specter, maybe. Maybe one or two in the House, but I don‘t think we‘ll see a big groundswell here. They‘ve lost those seats electorally without people actually having to switch.
MADDOW: Nate, you mentioned earlier about what you thought could happen in terms of Specter‘s voting pattern. I know at “FiveThirtyEight.com” today you wrote about how history suggests statistically Specter might end up voting. How do you think - how far do you think they‘ll go if he does shift toward a more Democratic voting pattern and how soon would we see it?
SILVER: Well, I think it‘s kind of a cliche, but you might see kind of a Joe Lieberman-type of Democrat who was certainly in the more conservative half of his party but wouldn‘t be quite as conservative as Ben Nelson. He still will still face some pressure from the left.
The blogs are skeptical, the unions after his deciding not to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act are pretty skeptical. So, he has to kind of tap-dance here very carefully. I think he doesn‘t want to flip-flop right out of the box after having flip-flopped on it before. But I think, certainly, if he doesn‘t support with some kind of gusto, health care and cap-and-trade, the core elements of the agenda, he could find himself in almost as much trouble with the left as he already was in with Pat Toomey(ph) on the right.
MADDOW: Nate, thinking about what happens next to the Republican Party and there was such a vivid denunciation of the Republican Party strategy right now from Sen. Specter today, you‘ve described what they are in right now post-election as a death spiral. How does that work and how do they get out of that?
SILVER: Well, I think they probably need a “leader,” quote, unquote. Lindsey Graham was at an event in Washington D.C. where I attended last night. And he was asked, “Who is the leader of the Republican Party?” And he said, “Well, it‘s whoever we nominate in 2012.” To go without a leader and to have power vacuum for three or four years is really tough when everyone is kind of jockeying for a position.
You know, I don‘t know. I think they need to find a way to kind of reconcile the kind of libertarian side of the party with more of the Sarah Palin social conservative side of the party in a way that seems somehow fresh and new.
It is a very difficult problem, I think. In some ways, they‘re going to have their best hands handed to them by mistakes Obama might make down the road if the economy doesn‘t recover.
But if the economy does recover, it‘s not going to matter. They haven‘t played that side of the argument very well. And they‘re going to lose probably even more seats certainly in the Senate, maybe not in the House where the picture is a little better for them. But they are not in good shape in the long term here.
MADDOW: Nate Silver of “FiveThirtyEight.com” - thank you so much for coming on the show, Nate.
SILVER: Yes. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” the president is promising that the Air Force One photo-op that terrified downtown Manhattan this week will never happen again. Yes, duh. But how is it allowed to happen in the first place?
Coming up next on this show, I will get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones plus a cocktail movie moment from the White House.
MADDOW: Hi, Kent. Nice to see you.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel in San Francisco.
MADDOW: What have you got?
JONES: Well, by a 5 to 4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld a Bush administration policy saying it‘s OK for the FCC to fine TV networks for isolate incidents of people saying, as Justice Scalia from the bench, F-word and S-word. I‘m guessing not “fudge” or “shucks.” The kind of things the court is worried about - well, here‘s Bono at the 2003 Golden Globes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BONO, LEAD SINGER, U2: That‘s really, really (EXPLETIVE DELETED) brilliant.
MADDOW: Yes. Typical. You know, they‘re persecuting Bono for simply talking while Irish. Not fair. That‘s not OK.
MADDOW: Well, so, now it‘s OK to - now OK to be fined for stuff you didn‘t mean to say.
JONES: Yes, yes.
MADDOW: Oops, shoot. All right.
JONES: Shoot. Next, remember this one? Those are empty seats in the insanely expensive field-level seats at the brand New Yankee Stadium. Daunted, the Bronx Bombers have decided to slash season ticket prices for some premium seats by up to 50 percent ...
JONES: ... offering refunds and free tickets to others who had already bought seats for up to $2,500 a game.
JONES: So, laid off Wall Street brokers plus $161 million paid for CC Sabathia, plus getting swept by the Red Sox equals bargain, bargain, bargain, liquidation. Everything must go, come on in!
MADDOW: I love that the resistance to cutting the seat prices was that the people who paid full price ...
MADDOW: ... would feel like they‘d been duped and so you have to sort of bribe them with other unrelated items.
JONES: Come to our game, it will be entertaining.
MADDOW: Very nice.
JONES: Finally, look who reported for jury duty yesterday at the Cook County Criminal Court in Chicago.
JONES: A jovial Mr. T. shook hands and posed for photos with his fellow jurors but somehow was not picked to actually serve on the jury. Nonetheless, Mr. T. said, quote, “If you‘re innocent, I‘m your best friend. But if you‘re guilty, I pity that fool.” Lessons in civics - you know, you get them when you can.
MADDOW: I pity the fool.
JONES: Mr. T. is never wrong.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. Hey, a very quick cocktail moment for you.
MADDOW: White House photographer Pete Souza has released this whole stream, this whole line of new photos from the White House. And look at this - it‘s Obama in the White House Theater with 3D glasses on.
JONES: That‘s tremendous.
MADDOW: I don‘t actually know what he‘s watching but that makes me very, very happy.
JONES: Could be “Monsters Versus Aliens.” We don‘t know.
MADDOW: Yes, it could be. Thank you, Kent. And thank you at home for watching tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. .
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