Guests: Eugene Robinson, Andrea Mitchell, Kent Jones, Rush Holt, Frank Schaeffer
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We have more on accused murderer Scott Roeder‘s menacing prediction from jail—coming up this hour. Gene Robinson from “The Washington Post” will be here to review the Republican‘s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad party planning. And just because, the hair band front man who was nearly coldcocked by the scenery at the Tony Awards.
That will all be coming up over the course of the next hour.
But we begin tonight with today‘s Supreme Court decision about the fate of former U.S. Army Captain James Pietrangelo. Captain Pietrangelo is a six-veteran of the U.S. Army, a seven-year veteran of the Vermont National Guard, a combat veteran of the First Gulf War. And after 13 years of honorable service to this country, Captain Pietrangelo was fired because he‘s gay.
In 2004, Captain Pietrangelo and 11 other veterans in similar circumstances challenged their dismissal in federal court. A federal appeals court in Boston upheld the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy and ruled against the veterans. Of those 12 plaintiffs in this case, Captain Pietrangelo, alone, decided to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Today, the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case. So, Captain Pietrangelo is still fired and “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is still in place.
Does this mean that “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” has been ruled definitively constitutional? No. That is not what this means. The Supreme Court has yet to test the law.
Does this mean that there‘s been some new federal precedent set on the issue of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”? No. It doesn‘t mean that either.
Is this a huge loss for those who are seeking to overturn “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”? Actually, it is not. Most of the people fighting on the front lines to overturn this policy didn‘t think that this specific case was the case that they would be able to use to end the policy.
So, why then is this case today a big deal?
It‘s a big deal because of this—quote, “Anybody who is willing to serve our country and die on a battlefield for us and are patriots, that‘s the criteria for whether or not they should be able to serve in our military.”
Or this—quote, “I will work for a full repeal of ‘don‘t ask, don‘t tell.‘ That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office. America is ready to get rid of the ‘don‘t ask, don‘t tell‘ policy. All that is required is leadership.”
That was candidate Obama during the presidential campaign. After he won the election, when he became President-elect Obama, he had this to say on the subject.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DECEMBER 18)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: I think that it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans.
Well, since he has been a “fierce advocate in chief,” has he repealed the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy? No. Has he pushed Congress to repeal the policy? Not really. Has he hit the pause button on investigating members of the military to ferret out who‘s guy and who‘s not? No, he has not.
Has he used his stop-loss powers to put a hold on dismissals of people under the policy? No. No, he hasn‘t. In fact, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, “president fierce advocate” actively still is firing people from the U.S. military because they‘re gay.
And Captain Pietrangelo‘s case goes one step further. It‘s the first case to feature the Obama administration arguing at the Supreme Court against the gay soldier in favor of the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy, telling the court the policy is, quote, “rationally related to the government‘s legitimate interests in military discipline and cohesion.”
I wonder what his record would be like so far if he weren‘t such a fierce advocate for guy rights.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey. He is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, chairman of the Self-Select Intelligence Oversight Panel and co-sponsor of legislation in Congress that would overturn “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”
Congressman Holt, it‘s really nice to see you. Thank you for joining us tonight.
REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY: A pleasure to be with you, Rachel.
MADDOW: What happened to the Barack Obama who ran for president who was so against “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”?
HOLT: Well, the most important thing is what you said a moment ago is
America is ready for the change, a change in this policy. It can come on a temporary basis from the White House, on a more permanent basis from Congress. One way or another, it is going to come.
Clearly, it‘s an outmoded, outdated policy based on a fallacious view of morality, and it is leading our country less secure.
MADDOW: Do you agree with his arguments that we‘re just still waiting for action on them I suppose?
HOLT: The action could come in several different ways.
HOLT: And we are waiting for it. But it‘s going to come soon, because the public is way ahead of the policymakers on this. You know, some weeks ago, you had Lieutenant Dan Choi on your program. I happened to be in the Middle East at that time, and I was with servicemen and women in Iraq and other countries.
You know, their private lives, their sexual orientation didn‘t come up once. You know, these are men and women doing a good job for our country, for the people back home. This is not, should not be an issue.
MADDOW: You have more than 140 cosponsors on legislation right now to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” As I understand it, I spent some time trying to track the bill today, and it seems like it started cooling its heels in committee right now. Is there any political pressure to not move that bill, to let it just not happen now, to make sure that it doesn‘t roll forward this summer?
HOLT: I don‘t know of any pressure. There‘s the usual inertia for any change. It would be good to have a—you know, a word from leadership, a word from the White House, to move it along. But I don‘t think there is any overt stop-action.
MADDOW: What‘s—I mean, politics .
HOLT: Or covert stop-action for that matter. That‘s right.
MADDOW: Politics is the art of the possible. I mean, I think that when Bill Clinton addressed this issue and started to address this issue at the very beginning of his presidency, he would not have expected that what he‘d end up with is a policy that would have 13,000 members of the military kicked out by the time that we speak now. Is .
HOLT: You know, and let me ask your viewers to think a moment on that
13,000 skilled people. In other words, we are operating now with fewer skilled, talented people than we should have defending our country. And, 13,000 is a lot.
MADDOW: And meanwhile, you think stop-loss, using stop-loss to keep people in who would like to get out.
MADDOW: Because we need them for their skills. Well, in terms of how this could be approached—is there a risk that if this were put forward this summer, with all the cosponsors that you have, with the incredible Gallup ratings that we‘ve got right now on this issue, 69 percent?
HOLT: Yes, there is an argument whether it‘s 75 or 69 or 68.
MADDOW: It‘s a huge majority in favor either way.
HOLT: That‘s right.
MADDOW: Is there a risk that putting legislation forward now would result in some sort of political backlash in Washington, that would result in the codification of some other new bad policy? Or is it really just a matter of making it better or leaving it at the status quo?
HOLT: You know, I don‘t think there is any chance of a backlash like that because of the numbers that you just talked about. The public is way ahead on this, by large margins. You know, if it were a close call, you might worry about a backlash that would leave lingering, long-term damage. I don‘t think so.
You know, a year ago I was sitting in the rotunda at a memorial or at a recognition ceremony of Harry Truman‘s desegregation, racial desegregation of the military 60 years before, and thinking about the improvements that came to the military and to society from that decision. I was really struck by the parallels.
MADDOW: Truman having not exactly been a civil rights crusader up until that point in history.
HOLT: And furthermore, everybody said, this will hurt morale.
HOLT: You know, this is—we shouldn‘t be doing this. It will leave lingering damage. Well, it‘s been of great benefit to our country.
MADDOW: Briefly, President Obama could issue an executive order to stop the military from investigating whether or not people are gay or to halt the dismissal process temporarily while the issue is looked into. Would you support either of those actions just to sort of stop the harm caused by the policy now while it can be considered at greater—at greater length?
HOLT: Sure. Sure. But we can go further.
MADDOW: Yes. Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey, of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, co-sponsor of H.R. 1283 to overturn “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”—it is such a pleasure to have you here. Thank you, sir.
HOLT: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: Last week‘s murder of an abortion provider named Dr. George Tiller, who had been vilified and hounded and threatened and attacked for years by the militant anti-abortion movement, begs the question of whether there will now be further attacks on other providers. The grim answer may have come from a prison cell where the main suspect in Dr. Tiller‘s murder told reporters that more violence is coming. That story is next. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The man accused of murdering Kansas doctor, George Tiller, says that more violence against abortion providers is coming unless abortion is outlawed. Exactly one week after he allegedly gunned down Dr. Tiller inside Tiller‘s church, Scott Roeder made a phone call from the Sedgwick County Kansas jail to “The Associated Press,” during which he said, quote, “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.”
“The A.P.” asked Mr. Roeder if he meant specifically that there would be more shootings. Mr. Roeder refused to elaborate. However, he did tell “The A.P.” that he refused to talk to investigators when he was arrested last week and that even though he has now been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault, he still hasn‘t spoken to police.
So, you have a man in custody accused of committing an act of violent extremism, known to have ties to extremist groups, saying he has knowledge of future violent attacks. But he‘s not talking to authorities. It‘s tempting to be flipped about this and to wonder if Dick Cheney will be calling for a waterboarding any time soon, but the more serious question is this: Is the U.S. treating Dr. Tiller‘s assassination as terrorism?
We do know that the Justice Department has opened up an investigation to determine whether or not Mr. Roeder acted alone and that U.S. Marshals have been dispatched to protect other abortion providers and clinics. But is it enough?
Responding to Mr. Roeder‘s jail house threat of attacks yet to come, the attorney for the late George Tiller‘s family told “The Associated Press,” quote, “I am hopeful that state and federal authorities, including Homeland Security, will give Mr. Roeder and his information the deserving response.”
Joining us now is Frank Schaeffer, author of the book “Crazy For God:
How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All or Almost All of It Back.”
Mr. Schaeffer, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
FRANK SCHAEFFER, FMR. MEMBER OF ANTI-ABORTION RIGHTS MOVEMENT: Hi.
Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: You used to be part of the religious right more broadly, and specifically, part of the anti-abortion movement. When you were involved in that movement, was violence ever discussed as part of political strategy and as part of the overall ambient discussion about those politics?
SCHAEFFER: Yes. I got involved in the movement early, in the early 1970s, dropped out in the mid-‘80s. But when we were involved—I say we because my father, Dr. C. Everett Koop, and other pro-life leaders who brought evangelical Protestants into the movement were active, we were essentially concentrating on the issue itself, just getting evangelicals to take part in voting their conscience on the issue, perhaps picketing abortion clinics and so forth.
By the time I was getting out, this movement had been much more radicalized. People like Randall Terry and others whom I knew were talking about getting arrested, chaining themselves to abortion clinic fences. There was a lot of talk about vandalizing property, fire bombing, gluing locks shut and so forth.
When it came to the actual issue of killing, people were making both prescriptive and descriptive discussions of the issue, saying, “Well, someday, someone will do this. One of us will do this.” And other people talking about it from the point of view, “Well, is this a good tactic?” Not, “Would I do it myself? But if someone did, would it help the movement? Would it stop more doctors from doing abortions? Would it hinder the movement?”
So, by the time I was getting out in the mid-‘80s, and my last involvement with the pro-life movement in any sense, in 1990 or so, it was definitely in the air. And then, of course, our family actually had some connections to some of the people who murdered some abortion doctors in Florida, the person there who killed the abortion doctor and also his escort was someone who had read my dad‘s books, corresponded with him.
Kopp, who shot somebody else later, had actually been to my father‘s ministry for a couple of days, a quick visit, to a brief fellowship in Switzerland and many years before. So, that we—we were not involved directly with people who pulled triggers but we knew that we had some real fruit loops and extremists involved in the movement from the very beginning.
And as I talk about in my book, the way the movement developed was a gradual process of radicalization. By the time—by the time it became a big part of the Republican agenda, it definitely had a fringe that was committed to violence.
MADDOW: In terms of what‘s going on right now in the wake of Dr. Tiller‘s murder, do you think when Scott Roeder threatens that there will be further attacks from his jail cell in Kansas—do you think that there‘s any chance that Scott Roeder actually knows of specific plans for further violence against abortion providers? Is it likely that he‘s part of some sort of coordinated network where he might have—might actually have advanced knowledge of future attacks?
SCHAEFFER: I doubt he has advance knowledge of some specific future attack, although he might have somebody, as was the case with Timothy McVeigh, who was kind of a buddy who he‘s been trading information with.
But what‘s interesting to me is that he definitely had connections to folks in Randall Terry‘s group and Operation Rescue. Their name and address and phone number was in his car. I don‘t think they were part of the planning of this attack.
But look—when I was in the pro-life movement, we knew who was gluing doors shut. We knew who was vandalizing property. We knew of people who had thrown fire bombs. We knew, of course, people who were in jail. There was this fringe.
And the issue to me that I‘d like to bring up tonight here on your show is that if the pro-life movement is serious about salvaging its reputation in terms of caring about life rather than being a domestic terrorist organization, they will begin to alert the FBI and the Justice Department to the people in their midst, who they know perfectly well have been gluing doors shut, vandalizing clinics, and so forth—which Scott Roeder was doing and observed doing before this incident was alleged to have taken place where he murdered somebody.
So, the fact of the matter is, if you want to actually do something about this and you‘re in the pro-life movement, if you‘re serious rather than just paying lip service and saying, “Oh, this is terrible, we don‘t believe in murder, we‘re pro-lifers”—most of these pro-life groups have a group of people always on the fringe who are hanging around, more extreme than others, who they know have been involved in acts of vandalism, petty theft, maybe a fire bombing, this or that—it‘s time to begin to blow the whistle on these guys. Had that happened with Scott Roeder, Dr. Tiller would not have been murdered.
MADDOW: To be clear, Mr. Schaeffer, you‘re saying that if people are within the movement, essentially bragging about having committed smaller acts of violence—not necessarily murder, not necessarily attempted murder—but the types of things that we know people that like Scott Roeder did, the types of things that became federal crimes .
MADDOW: . when the FACE Act was passed, that patriotic Americans who are part of the pro-life movement .
MADDOW: . should do the right thing by the country and make sure those people are turned in.
SCHAEFFER: I mean, look—we‘ve seen this before in this country. We‘ve had domestic terrorism from the left and from the right. If you roll back into ‘60s and the Vietnam era, we were at a time when people were committing little acts of vandalism against recruiting stations and so forth, and that began to morph into a more violent Weather Underground movement and so forth.
The fringe element that will do the vandalism is largely the group of people from whom the next group of assassins will be drawn. That‘s the case with Scott Roeder.
These groups—these evangelical groups, these pro-life groups, these Roman Catholic groups, they know they have some people who are wackos in and around their meetings. They‘ve seen them. These are the people who do crazy things. And they know perfectly well that some of them may go to the next step.
And in that sense, if they‘re not doing something about curbing that, and working with law enforcement, they‘re really then part of the problem.
MADDOW: Frank Schaeffer is author of the book, “Crazy for God.” He‘s blogging now at “Huffington Post.” Mr. Schaeffer, your insight is just invaluable to this whole—this whole issue. Thank you so much for joining us.
SCHAEFFER: Thanks for having me on.
MADDOW: There is a big, big, big Republican fundraiser tonight in Washington, D.C.—just down the block from here. Sarah Palin will not be speaking, mustn‘t upstage Newt Gingrich. You know how he gets. With more whacky junior high infighting that is the upper echelons of the Republican Party right now—no offense to junior high. I will be joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Eugene Robinson, in just a moment.
MADDOW: Among the things Republicans could use right now: a party planner. Not one that plans stuff for the political party, I actually mean a person who plans parties—like the one that newt Gingrich is headlining right now, right down the block from where I‘m sitting. The party that Sarah Palin was then wasn‘t then was then wasn‘t attending. Eugene Robinson will be here to discuss in just a moment.
But first, it‘s time for a couple holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.
The recovery effort for Air France Flight 447 continued through the weekend and resulted in some really important and telling clues as to what caused this Airbus jetliner carrying 228 people to mysteriously fall out of the sky. Working in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles off Brazil‘s northern coast, divers have thus far been able to recover 24 bodies. Recovery crews also found what appeared to be the vertical stabilizer from the tail section of the plane as well as other large portions of the fuselage. What‘s notable here is not just that they found this piece of the tail, but that there are no burn marks on it, no signs of a fire or an explosion.
In a radio interview, the French transportation minister said authorities are now focusing on a last-minute transmission from the plane. Apparently, this message indicated a malfunction in air speed readings. The readings were reportedly inconsistent, which might mean that the plane was going either too slow or too fast—either of which could have caused the crash. Of course, the best hope for figuring out what happened to Flight 447 is the so-called black box, the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder that are designed to survive a crash and to send out electronic homing signals so they can be found.
The bad news in this case is that these items as well, as much of the rest of the plane, may have sunk in water that is more than 13,000 feet deep. The good news is that the U.S. Navy has sent a search team armed with technology that can detect the electronic signals emitted by the black box from a depth of up to 20,000 feet. The clock is ticking, though. The black box is only expected to keep pinging for another three weeks or so before its batteries die.
Next up: Court documents unsealed on Friday revealed a dramatic and surprising new American spy story. A former State Department official, Kendall Myers, and his wife Gwendolyn, neither of whom had any known connection to Cuba are accused of spying for Cuba. Both have pled not guilty.
Federal investigators say that Myers‘ alleged spying career started in 1978 with a brief visit to Cuba that was followed up a year later when a Cuban intelligence officer visited him in South Dakota to recruit him to a life of Cuban spying. The Cuban operative allegedly convinced Mr. Myers to take a job at the State Department where he could access information of interest to the Cuban government. His code name was reportedly “202.” His wife was “123.”
They allegedly passed information on to the Cubans through a short wave radio. And in secret meetings, they would pass documents by exchanging shopping carts with their handlers in grocery stores. They would also meet in third countries, like in Brazil, Italy, Jamaica, and Ecuador.
Finally, in 1995, they allegedly flew to Cuba via Mexico, and traveling under false papers, met Fidel Castro himself who is, A, still alive and, B, neither confirming nor denying the Myers‘ spying activities so far. Stay tuned.
And finally, there is a presidential election this week in Iran. Now, Iran is a theocracy. So, president isn‘t the most powerful job in the country. That honor goes to the cleric holding the easy to remember title of supreme leader.
The supreme leader will stay the same, but as of Friday, there seems to be a fairly good chance that the president of Iran will no longer be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He‘s facing three challengers, one of the reformist candidates, a former prime minister named Mir Hossein Mousavi, is 15 points ahead of Ahmadinejad in a new unofficial poll described by “The New York Times.”
Now, the prospect of losing the presidency appears to have freaked out the already fairly freaky Ahmadinejad. At a nationally televised debate last week, he held up a picture of his rival‘s wife and demanded, “Do you know this woman?” He then went on to accuse Mr. Mousavi‘s wife of faking her way into grad school.
She is demanding an apology. The other candidates are springing to her defense. And now, all of Mr. Ahmadinejad‘s electoral opponents appear to have come together around the idea that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is just too much of a kook to be re-elected president in Iran.
Exhibit A for the “he‘s a kook” allegation is a video clip that has just started circulating, which shows Ahmadinejad describing his speech to the U.N. in 2005. Now, in the clip, he says in Farsi, “A member of the Iranian delegation told me, ‘I saw a light that surrounded you.‘ I sensed it myself, too.”
All leaders in audience didn‘t blink for 27, 28 minutes. I‘m not exaggerating. What I‘m saying, they didn‘t blink. Twenty-seven minutes without blinking while staring into a bright light emanating from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
I wonder if he can see Russia from his house.
MADDOW: Tonight, as we speak, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee is hosting the event at which it is expecting to raise more money than any other single event this year. It is essentially a big dinner party to raise millions of dollars to get incumbent Republicans re-elected and maybe get some new ones elected over Democrats.
It should be a simple thing. Washington is sort of built for stuff like this, except these are Republicans and this is the year 2009. So that means it‘s all very complicated and awkward.
Last week, our friend Ana Marie Cox reported on this show Mr. Gingrich was almost dis-invited from tonight‘s event. Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House, after he tweeted that President Obama‘s Supreme Court nominee was a, quote, “Latina woman racist.” After Republicans including Senators John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions recoiled publicly against that, and reportedly after the party threatened to yank his speaking slot at tonight‘s party, Mr. Gingrich newt-tracted the racist charge saying, quote, “The word ‘racist‘ should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person.”
That climb-down was enough to get him back invited but he has been backsliding ever since. Last week Mr. Gingrich went on Fox News and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: It‘s clear that the quote is clearly racist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ah, just her quote. Not actually her. I see the difference?
Then, there was some further fine-tuning this weekend on CBS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: It‘s clear that what she said was racist and it‘s clear or as somebody wrote recently “racialist” if you prefer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Racialist. Yes, that‘s totally different than racist? That‘s totally not racial-dating at all. It‘s totally - what‘s he talking about?
Amidst all the Gingrich inviting and dis-inviting drama, there has also been a cringey-awkward back-and-forth about Gov. Sarah Palin‘s role in tonight‘s event. In March, the Republican Campaign Committee issued a press release announcing that Gov. Palin would be the keynote speaker for tonight‘s event.
But this walk across the stage was as close as she got to that. Depending who you believe Palin either accepted and then bagged the invitation or never accepted in the first place. But either way, she was out and they invited Newt Gingrich to replace her.
After Palin‘s people let the fundraisers know she actually would be in D.C. tonight, according to “Politico.com,” a new invitation for Palin to speak was extended. But then, some big heads at the campaign committees worried a Palin speech might upstage the Gingrich speech so they let Gov. Palin know she was welcome but would not be allowed near a microphone which reportedly made the governor mad.
And then it wasn‘t clear at all that she would be attending at all and then she showed up anyway. Yes. More drama than a junior prom, a shotgun wedding, and paternity test all rolled into one.
Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an associate editor for the “The Washington Post.” He‘s also an MSNBC political analyst to our great credit. Nice to see you, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING COLUMNIST AND ASSOCIATE
EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Good to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: So you‘re not at the big Republican money machine party tonight.
ROBINSON: No, I‘m not but I can‘t imagine what I‘m missing. I mean, what a saga. Just for a - basically a routine political fundraiser ...
ROBINSON: ... that any political party is accustomed to bringing off and brings off. You know, without the drama usually.
ROBINSON: But this is the Republicans as you said in 2009 and they‘re nothing but drama. All drama all the time.
MADDOW: I follow John McCain on Twitter and I was just watching his Twitter updates, “Great to see Sarah and Todd at the dinner tonight. Nice reunion.”
ROBINSON: I noted in a column after Newt Gingrich‘s unfortunate tweet that politicians of a certain age should not be allowed by their staffs to get anywhere near social networking, into (UNINTELLIGIBLE) cable social networking. Now, for you and me, obviously we ...
MADDOW: It‘s gold.
ROBINSON: ... love it.
MADDOW: Yes. It‘s manna from heaven.
ROBINSON: They should tweet forever.
MADDOW: Tweet away. Well, let me ask you about the Newt Gingrich saga because Newt Gingrich. In terms of tonight‘s event, was brought on after they felt dissed by Sarah Palin. And then Sarah Palin tried to get back in and there was all this interpersonal drama in terms of who is going to be leadership in the party and how people get along.
But the reason Newt Gingrich himself was controversial here is because he has accused Judge Sotomayor of being racist. And then said she was not a racist but her words are racist and now, “racialist.”
MADDOW: Any idea?
ROBINSON: I have no idea what that means, first of all.
ROBINSON: All those clips, Newt Gingrich kept saying, “It‘s clear that ... it‘s clear that.” But in fact it was - nothing was clear about what he was saying. And then, certainly, distinction is not clear. The whole drama about Newt has another dimension, really.
And it‘s the question of whether Newt Gingrich is the right person to be speaking for the Republican Party, whether his idea of aggressive conservatism, ala 1994, is a viable concept for, say, 2012.
MADDOW: Is Newt 2009 substantially different than Newt 1994? I mean, obviously he‘s twittering now.
MADDOW: He‘s on second (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I‘ve seen his avatar.
MADDOW: But beyond that, is he promoting the same type of approach to party politics?
ROBINSON: I think he kind of is. It‘s a bit different. There‘s actually, in a sense, more of - you know, I don‘t want to characterize, but almost a bitterness and edge to him these days.
I was frankly surprised at his outburst at Sotomayor. I wouldn‘t have associated that particular sentiment, you know, “She‘s a racist, racist Latina,” with the Newt Gingrich of 1994, who trod much more carefully, I think, on racial and ethnic issues.
MADDOW: One of the issues that will, I think, play a major role in defining what the post-Bush, post-McCain Republican Party is the character of their opposition to Sotomayor. I mean, the Supreme Court nomination is always a big deal in Washington.
Is it possible for them to mount an opposition campaign to her that isn‘t about her being a racist or racialist or a racist quote-maker, who is not herself racist? Is it possible for them to have a principled opposition to her that‘s not based on these things that have already, I think, gotten them into some deep political waters?
ROBINSON: I actually doubt it, and I‘ll tell you why. I mean, from everything I‘ve seen of her record and people who looked into it a lot more closely than I have, have seen in her record, she doesn‘t have some sort of, you know, raging liberal radical record on anything, really.
MADDOW: I know, much to my disappointment, yes.
ROBINSON: Right. But if you look - exactly. She‘s a moderate judge.
MADDOW: Right. She‘s going to move the court to the right in all likelihood.
ROBINSON: Well, in some ways she might.
ROBINSON: I mean, compared to Souter. So on what other basis would you do it? I don‘t - I think if they try to hang their entire opposition to her on something she did not mean by one remark in 2001, that would be a grievous mistake, I think. And I think people who were in the party recognize that.
I mean, if they have second thoughts about Newt Gingrich as a speaker tonight based on, you know, his attack on Sotomayor, there may be people in the party who realize that if you lose Latinos, you‘re not likely to win a lot of national elections, if they go against you by 2/3 or more.
MADDOW: I think it‘s going to be the best political show we‘ve had outside of an election in a very long time. I look forward to the debate.
ROBINSON: Oh, it‘s going to be really good. It‘s going to be good.
MADDOW: Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, editor at “The Washington Post,” and also an MSNBC political analyst and enthusiasts of older senators tweeting whenever possible without their staffs‘ involvement.
ROBINSON: Tweet away - yes.
MADDOW: Nice to see you. Thanks for coming here.
ROBINSON: Good to see you, Rachel.
MADDOW: An isolated, bizarre Stalinist regime, armed with nuclear weapons that don‘t actually work very well, just sentenced two American journalists to 12 years of hard labor for unspecified grave crimes.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee appear to have become diplomatic and political bargaining chips. What exactly can we do on their behalf? We will have more on that with NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, next.
But first, one more thing. Republicans have called Sonia Sotomayor some very unkind things - a racist, a racialist, the Latina equivalent of a KKK member, whatever that means. Well, now you can add “impervious to physical pain” to that list.
The Supreme Court nominee fell and fractured her ankle this morning while running to catch a plane at New York‘s LaGuardia airport. Sotomayor managed to make the one-hour flight to Washington and stop at the White House before heading to the hospital for treatment.
Two hours, one cast, and a set of crutches later the judge left the hospital for six - count them - six meetings with senators on Capitol Hill. How a broken ankle makes her a radical leftist, activist, racist remains to be understood. But I‘m sure there is someone out there on the right-wing fringe of cable news land who will soon explain it to us.
MADDOW: Before the Republican Party can return from the political wilderness, its leaders must assess the reasons it is out in the proverbial woods. Enter Norm Coleman. Here he was, speaking at a conservative convention in Missouri a few days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R-MN): We need to cultivate our grass e-roots. Grass e-roots. I heard a little bit about that discuss this morning. That‘s grass, space, E-hyphen roots. We have a new phenomenon in American politics that I call grass e-roots. In this new world, the one with the most cell phone numbers, E-mail addresses, and YouTube hits wins. Despite the fact that we had superior tickets and issues in November, we never caught up on the Democrats on the ability to raise funds fast and cheap, and communicate with millions of people in milliseconds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So you got that? It‘s grass e-roots. It‘s grass space, e-hyphen, roots. It‘s not “grassy roots,” even though it may sound that way and even though those are essential for a healthy lawn.
Grass e-roots beats the Republicans, not the legacy of the Iraq War or Hurricane Katrina or warrant-less wiretapping or torture or Jack Abramoff or the onset of the new Great Depression. It was grass e-roots.
For the record, neither Doug E. Fresh nor Chuck E. Cheese would comment on the story. But we did reach Alfred E. Newman who said, “What me, E-worry?”
MADDOW: Nearly three months after they were first arrested, it took five days for something that North Korea calls a “court” to pronounce American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling guilty of a grave crime and to sentence them each to 12 years of reform through labor.
The sum total of all North Korean reports about the trial is zip
nothing. There are no outsiders in the court. No information about the trial has been released.
Citing the length of the sentence and the secrecy of the proceedings, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is, quote, “deeply concerned.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We‘re engaged in all possible ways through every possible channel to secure their release. And we once again urge North Korea to grant their immediate release on humanitarian grounds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That call is being echoed by the journalists‘ families who gave a statement today saying that they believe that the three months Euna Lee and Laura Ling have already spent under arrest with little communication with their families is long enough.
They asked the government of North Korea to show compassion and grant Laura and Euna clemency and allow them to return home to their families - the statement from the families today. As horrifying as these 12-year sentences are, a sentence, any sentence is considered to be a possible step forward in a case like this.
Bill Richardson has experienced negotiating with North Korea. Here‘s how he explained this “through the looking glass” process with North Korea today on NBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM): In the sense that the sentence is harsh and I feel deeply for the families of these women, it means that the legal process of the North Koreans has ended. That‘s good, because in previous instances where I was involved in negotiating releases, you couldn‘t even start until the legal process had ended.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You couldn‘t start negotiating until the legal process had ended, he‘s saying. He‘s saying once you have the sentence, even an egregious sentence like this, then you can start negotiations.
Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell who has been covering this story. Andrea, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight.
ANDREA MITCHELL, CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, MSNBC: My pleasure. There is an “Alice in Wonderland” quality to this whole sense of justice in Pyongyang, isn‘t there?
MADDOW: There certainly is. And I wish we knew more about what they considered to be a trial, what they considered to be a court proceeding. We know this is not appealable. We know that there were no outsiders involved, no consul or access, obviously. Do you have any expectation of what circumstances these young women are actually in right now? Is there any way to know?
MITCHELL: You know, we don‘t. I asked Hillary Clinton that today. We don‘t know where they are, what circumstances they are being held. It is possible that they are at a government guest house right now in tolerable conditions, what even might be good conditions. Because we expect that there‘s about 10 days - that would be the norm, before they are actually sent to the hard labor camp.
Once there, it would be very difficult to get them back. And in fact, the conditions would be pretty atrocious, given what we know about North Korean prison camps. So the whole hope is to get them out between now and when they are set to start serving the sentence, and that is why they are reaching out.
There has been, I‘m told, almost daily communication with the former Vice President Al Gore whose Current TV, you know, employs the two women. And at the right time, I think that they will launch him to Pyongyang.
MADDOW: In terms of how these negotiations proceed, Andrea, we hear a lot from people who have been involved here that they want to be - and including from people like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that this should be dealt with as a humanitarian matter ...
MADDOW: ... that this shouldn‘t be enfolded into diplomatic discussions. Is it possible to keep these things separate? Or is North Korea now using them essentially as diplomatic chips?
MITCHELL: Well, I think probably the latter. They are hoping the former. This is so complicated to keep these things on separate tracks.
Here, you‘ve got this insular, paranoid regime, afraid that they are going to be attacked, afraid their borders are being breached, showing their muscle with these missile launches, some of which work, some which sort of don‘t work and half work. And the nuclear test which did work, perhaps not as large as they might have wanted, but certainly worked from all the testing that was taken from our airplanes which were collecting radiation samples.
So you‘ve got this paranoid regime, and they are involved in a leadership struggle, a power struggle. We think that information is that the military is trying to get some hold on this succession because we have the very ineffectual third son, the youngest son, who has now been named as the successor by his father, and the military also perhaps not wanting a third regime from the same blood line. So it‘s a very complicated and mysterious process.
And that‘s why it‘s very difficult to keep them separate. You keep hearing everyone in the administration emphasizing this is humanitarian. This has nothing to do with the nuclear tract. But at the same time, we are, at the United Nations, ratcheting up the pressure and talking about sanctions. So if you‘re in Pyongyang, how do you keep that separate? Not easy.
MADDOW: Andrea, in terms of this window of opportunity, before these young women may actually be sent to one of these prison camps, if we are looking at about a 10-day period, should we expect that some prominent American, some well-respected American, maybe somebody who is already known to the North Koreans, will be dispatched to Pyongyang to go do these negotiations? What should we expect?
MITCHELL: Well, according to people whom I‘ve talked to today who are deeply involved and very knowledgeable about all this - they think they have perhaps one shot. They‘ve got to time this right. And it‘s very hard.
When you go to Pyongyang - I‘ve been there a couple of times - and you don‘t know who you are going to meet until it actually happens. And so, they don‘t want, for instance, to launch Al Gore who is the senior person with a direct connection to the case who really ought to be the most effective and would have the prominence to impress the North Koreans.
You don‘t want to send him if it‘s the wrong time, if they are not ready to receive him, because you won‘t have a second shot at that. So that‘s why they are trying to get as much information as they can through the Chinese, the neighbors who have the most influence over North Korea to see how to make this work and try to get it done and keep it a part from the nuclear tract.
At the same time, we are seeing evidence that they might be ready to launch another missile test. That‘s not good news.
MADDOW: Trying to get all the leverage they can, obviously.
MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, great insight into this very complicated situation. Thanks for joining us, Andrea.
MITCHELL: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith asks former New York Attorney General Denise O‘Donnell who successfully prosecute the anti-abortion extremist James Kopp. Why the violent anti-abortion movement isn‘t being considered domestic terrorism.
Next on this show, a lesson in stage presence 101, and the best story about discus ever.
MADDOW: We turn now to our Broadway smash correspondent, Kent Jones.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel. Big doings at the Tony Awards last night which is the touch of danger. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(voice-over): The great ones make it look easy on stage.
You think, how hard can that be? Well, last night at the Tony Awards, Bret Michaels gave us the answer, pretty freaking hard, after incident-free performances from Dolly Parton and Elton John.
And even Liza with a “Z.”
Bret was rocking out with his band poison like he‘s done a zillion
And then, this happened. Oh! He became this close to becoming a pressed ham sandwich.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His number gave head-banging a whole new meaning.
JONES: If only his “Rock of Love” ladies had been there to warn him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, you are rocking, baby. Just don‘t get hurt.
You‘re too sexy and wonderful. Oh, whoa!
JONES: But before we judge Bret, remember, the stage is a treacherous place. No one is immune. Not the dictator of Cuba nor Republican nominee for president, nor Miss USA. Isaac Newton was right, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Remember, gravity is our boss, not our buddy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ow! Thank you, Kent. Excellent. Wow. All right. I have the antidote, a cocktail moment ...
JONES: Ah, very good.
MADDOW: ... in which I want to congratulate the Rochelle High School
women‘s track team in Rochelle, Texas - population 600. Rochelle High just
won their second track team state championship in two years. And the track
team only has one person on it -
MADDOW: Bonnie Richardson. Long jump to high jump, she ran the 100 and the 200.
JONES: That‘s fantastic.
MADDOW: God bless her. Thanks, Kent. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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