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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, November 16, 2009

Read the transcript to the Monday show


November 16, 2009



Guests: Lynn Sweet, Michael Beschloss, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Keith.

And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

As the Obama administration plans to try accused terrorists in real live American courts, leaders like Rudy Giuliani and Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk are falling all over themselves to try to make sure that that doesn't happen.

Another leader, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell poised to block health reform the only way he knows how, which is rather maddening.

And the leader of this country has been doing some curious interior-decorating inside the West Sing, I think. Maybe. Historian Michael Beschloss, "The Chicago Sun Times'" Lynn Sweet and the interview with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio-all ahead on those topics and more coming up over the course of the next hour.

But we begin with the future of the Republican Party. With the only name brand nationally known household word Republican politician in America who is not named Bush or Cheney-the biggest unanswered question in American partisan politics in 2009 is whether Sarah Palin represents the future of the Republican Party or not. Now, untethered from the responsibilities of governing or even of campaigning, Ms. Palin is at this point a pure political celebrity.

And this week, as a celebrity, the launch of her memoir will dominate the headlines. Whether or not you are interested in Ms. Palin as a personality, the quantifiable truth of her star power and the absence of anyone else in the GOP having any right now, means that you can't really understand American partisan politics today without understanding her political power.

Since coming in second along with John McCain in the election last year, Governor Palin has made three big gambles on her political future.

First, in July, she quit as Alaska's governor, leaving before even her first term was up.


SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I will support others who seek to serve in or out of office, but I won't do it from the governor's desk. I've never believed that I, nor anyone else, needs a title to do this.


MADDOW: "I don't believe I need a title to do this." That was her first political gamble, dropping her one position of political authority, her job as Alaska's governor. The move was viewed broadly as inexplicable. People running for higher office, generally, announce they won't run for another term rather than quitting in the middle of their first one-so as to have demonstrate at least a basic interest in governing, which, after all, is what you're asking voters to give you the power to do when you run for office.

Governor Palin's second gamble came this fall when she endorsed the conservative party candidate, Doug Hoffman, in a special election in New York State. That split on the right, that split between national celebrity conservatives, like Governor Palin, and the local Republicans whose candidate she attacked threw that seat in Congress to the Democratic Party for the first time since roughly the Civil War.

Governor Palin's third gamble was coming out with this new book. It is a modern American political tradition for campaign staffers and strategists and consultants and underlings to write books about their political experiences. Books, like that, are, generally, an effort to move upward politically. They're an effort in upward political mobility.

People who worked on a winning campaign or in a beloved administration, they-in these types of books-take credit graciously for things that went so very well. People who worked on losing campaigns or in unpopular administrations, they use books like this to name and blame other people for losses and scandals for which those staffers might otherwise be blamed. It's not rocket science. It's political underling 101.

But there's a reason candidates for future office themselves write books about policy and history and things other than who's to blame other than themselves for their last losing campaign. Governor Palin's book is the third of three political gambles that she has made since she and John McCain lost the election-and none of these three gambles has gone her way. I'm not sure she knows that, though.


OPRAH WINFREY, TV TALK SHOW HOST: What I didn't understand was you

saying that you could better serve the American people, the Alaskan people,

by not being governor. I didn't understand that.

PALIN: I decided, no, I'm going to get out there and I'm going to fight for Alaska's issues and I'm going to fight for what I think is right for Americans on a different plain and that's what I've been able to do. And it's all.

WINFREY: Just as-just as-not ordinary citizens, because you can

you will never be an ordinary citizen.

PALIN: But, no, as an ordinary citizen without having to worry that everything that I were to say would result in another lawsuit or another ethics violation charge.

WINFREY: This is what I was wondering.

PALIN: OK, but my dad's quote, I think, it sums it up better perhaps than I'm summing up. He says, "She's not retreating, she's reloading."

WINFREY: Reloading.

PALIN: Yes. "She's able to get out there and fight for what is right."

WINFREY: Does that mean-does that mean you're reloading for 2012?

PALIN: I'm concentrating on 2010 and making sure that we have issues tackled as Americans to make sure that we're on the right road.

WINFREY: But you wouldn't tell me.


MADDOW: Like her resignation for governorship, Governor Palin sees her new book and her new book tour as setting herself up for national political leadership.

In Governor Palin's own mind, she is, as she said, leading her party to 2010. She's focused on 2010, the midterm elections. She's focused on them by making a book-length attack on the campaign that plucked her from obscurity and vaulted her to the household name status she enjoys today.

She attacks the campaign manager Steve Schmidt for being a smoker. She calls him overweight. She accuses Mr. Schmidt of swearing in front of her children. She accuses Mr. Schmidt and others of scripting her on the campaign to the point of political incoherence.

Mr. Schmidt has dismissed Palin's criticism as fiction.

Governor Palin accuses Nicolle Wallace, another senior campaign aide of being disloyal to President George W. Bush and whose White House she served as communications director. She further accuses Ms. Wallace as acting essentially as a mole for CBS News on the campaign, pushing Palin into an interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric because Nicolle Wallace used to work for CBS-despite the fact that the interview was bad for the campaign.

Ms. Wallace similarly has dismissed Palin's criticism, saying she, quote, "didn't have to make stuff up," and saying, quote, "it's not even like it's slightly wrong. I feel totally the opposite."

One of our producers has done a more extensive interview with Nicolle Wallace late this evening, just before we've gone on the air. We will bring you Ms. Wallace's full statement on tomorrow's show. You should look forward to that.

Like a junior speechwriter or a fired pollster, Palin is portraying herself in her book and on the media tour that accompanies the book as the one who really knew the right thing to do. But she was steered wrong by the incompetent and blinkered people around her. "If only they'd listened to me," she says.


WINFREY: Let's talk about the interview with Katie Couric.

PALIN: Must we?



WINFREY: You talk about in the book, so I assume everything in the book is fair game today.

PALIN: Yes, yes, yes. It is.

WINFREY: You do say that it wasn't your best interview. Why you prepped for that interview?

PALIN: Not so much because it was supposed to be kind of a light-hearted fun, working mom speaking with working mom, and the challenges that we have with teenage daughters. It was supposed to be, but more light-hearted, and we were going to have just one installment, one segment of the interview. And if that went well, if we connected, then we would schedule more. So, after the first segment, which didn't go well-I didn't do very well. I was annoyed with kind of her badgering of questions and didn't do well. So, I was very surprised when.

WINFREY: But why did you do the second interview?

PALIN: Well, it was scheduled to do a second and then a third and then a fourth. And I don't know how many segments finally were pieced together in the package and aired. Because I was absent, too, from what the-what the final outcome was. But I know that there were hours of tape that were shot.

WINFREY: Did you think that was a seminal defining moment for you?

That interview?

PALIN: I did not. And neither did the campaign. In fact, that is why segment two and three and four and maybe five were scheduled. The campaign said, right on, good, you're showing your independence, this is what America needs to see, and it was a good interview. And, of course, I'm thinking, if you thought that was a good interview, I don't know what a bad interview was, because I knew it wasn't a good interview.


MADDOW: If only that dumb campaign hadn't listened to me. They should have listened to me. If only they listened to me.

Governor Palin is still taking pains to personally compliment her running mate, John McCain, whenever she's had given the opportunity to. But it is all in the context of slamming his campaign and the people he chose for his staff, many of whom are now slamming her right back.

McCain strategist John Weaver is telling today, quote, "The score-settling by someone who wants to be considered a serious national player is petty and pathetic."

There's no single path to building political power in America. There's no one road to the presidency. It is possible that quitting a governorship, endorsing a disastrous down-ticket spoiler third-party candidate, and writing a book-length denunciation of the campaign that made you famous is the new way we make leaders in America. It's more likely not.

And so, the challenge to the Republican Party is much more clear this week with the publication of Governor Palin's book than it was before this week. Sarah Palin will continue to be the biggest celebrity in Republican politics by a country mile, but in all likelihood, she will not be the party's formal standard bearer. She will not in all likelihood be their candidate.

And so, some other Republican will have to figure out how to become that standard bearer, how to become that candidate while she is still taking up all the room on the stage.

Stay tuned.


MADDOW: On the hills of the Obama administration's announcement that it would try the alleged 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City, federal officials took a trip today to a maximum security prison in Illinois, to see if that prison could hold prisoners transferred from Guantanamo. Immediately, several Republican congressmen called a press conference to say that a maximum security prison holding those types of prisoners was simply too dangerous an idea-because if there's one thing this country can't do is keep people in prison well?

Next: "Chicago Sun Times" columnist Lynn Sweet joins us on the politicization of terrorism post-Bush/Cheney and whether it still works now.


MADDOW: Accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his alleged 9/11 co-conspirators are coming to New York City to face trial. It is done deal that it's happening. It's at least some of the 9/11 perpetrators finally being brought to justice more than eight years after the crime and it's apparently being seen as a golden opportunity to revive the Bush/Cheney era politicization of terrorism.


RUDY GIULIANI ®, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: He's asking for a trial in New York and we're giving it to him. Since when are we in the business of granting the wishes of terrorists? He should be tried in a military tribunal. He is a war criminal. This was an act of war.


MADDOW: He should be tried in a military tribunal, not in federal court. Very punchy talking point, right? Awkwardness from Mr. Giuliani is that back in 1994 when the first World Trade Center bombing was prosecuted in federal court, he took the exact opposite position, saying at the time, quote, "I think it shows you put terrorism on one side, you put our legal system on the other and our legal system comes out ahead." Yes, legal system can handle it except when it can't, and then it's an outrage.

In the event of terrorism convictions, we have now learned that one of the places administration officials are thinking about housing prisoners is a maximum security prison in Thomson, Illinois, about 150 miles west of Chicago. It's called the Thomson Correctional Center, a giant prison that's been largely vacant since it was built in 2001. The prison has about 1,600 empty maximum security cells, and 200 minimum security cells which are the only ones that are being used right now.

Federal officials toured the prison today to see if it might be suitable for, say, some prisoners brought from Guantanamo. It was an idea suggested by the governor of Illinois. It has support from both of the state's U.S. senators, and residents of Thomson appear to favor the idea since it's expected to create around 3,000 jobs and to pump about $1 billion into the local economy there.

With all of that support, what would stop something like this from

happening? Well, say hello to Republican Congressman Mark Kirk of

Illinois. He's running for the United States Senate there. In one of the

in one of those "you can't make this up" moments, Mr. Kirk has now launched a new Web site called

If you type into your computer, you will be redirected to Congressman Kirk's campaign Web site. And alongside the big red "contribute" button, you can read a letter to President Obama that reads in part, quote, "As home to America's tallest building, we should not invite al Qaeda to make Illinois its number one target." We should only imprison people convicted of terrorism in places with low-slung buildings obviously.

Congressman Kirk and three of his Republican House colleagues held a press conference on the issue earlier today.


REP. MARK KIRK ®, ILLINOIS: By bringing them to a U.S. facility and granting them the right to visitation, a flow will now start through O'Hare International Airport, looking at the Sears Tower which they looked at before. And I just wonder if this is an acceptable risk.

REP. DON MANZULLO ®, ILLINOIS: That's all we need in northern Illinois is to be known as the Gitmo north, the place that replaced Gitmo.


MADDOW: Gitmo north, thousands of al Qaeda terrorists flowing through the O'Hare.

If this sort of thing strikes you as embarrassingly transparently politics at its worst fearmongering, you might be a member of the American Conservative Union or the fiercely conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, because leaders of those two groups have come together to blast their otherwise ideological brethren for trying to score political points on this one. Quote, "Civilian federal courts are the proper forum for terrorism cases. Civilian prisons are the safe, cost effective, and appropriate venue to hold persons convicted in federal courts. The scaremongering about these issues should stop."

Again, that's not me; that's American Conservative Union leader and Americans for Tax Reform leader-politicizing terrorism so badly right now that even guys on the right are calling it out as scaremongering.

Joining us is Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times." She's been covering this story for

Lynn, thanks very much for joining us tonight.


MADDOW: So, in Illinois, the governor, the state's two senators, and the town of Thomson all supporting this decision to possibly move prisoners there. Given that, what explains the political hubbub here?

SWEET: Two words: February 2nd. That's the date of the Illinois primary. Now, a lot of the nation has not focused on this because so much attention was on the Virginia and the New Jersey governor's races and an open House seat in New York that few people realize that this big contest is coming up and, symbolically, you couldn't have more of a perfect storm. It's President Obama's old seat. It's the governor fighting for the job, the governor who got his job when Rod Blagojevich was impeached.

I mean, all your stories that you've done for the past, you know, period of months come together here. So, you have this dramatic governor's race and he has a primary with another Democrat. You've got the wide open Senate race and Kirk has-is-you know, is a front-runner Republican candidate.

So, the two words as to why this became a sizzling political story right away is: you have this primary just a few weeks away.

MADDOW: In terms of the character of the opposition, the substance of the opposition here, Congressman Kirk is saying that thousands of members of al Qaeda are going to be streaming through O'Hare Airport to visit the prisoners there.

I know that you talked to the White House about that issue today.

What are they saying about it?

SWEET: Well, what-well, what they're saying-and I wish the White House would come forward more on this, deal more publicly with facts on this-that this detention facility will be bought by the Bureau of Prisons, Rachel. They will lease a part of it to the Department of Defense. They'll run this. That will be a military brig.

So, and I talked to some of the-you know, I just wish people could listen to some facts on this one. There is a very meaty debate to be had about where you locate these facilities. The Bureau of Prisons has mandatory visitation. This is not going to be a Bureau of Prisons facility. It's going to be run by the Defense Department. They'll have the rules. The White House told me "no visitors."

MADDOW: As we've noted on this show before, there are hundreds of people convicted of terrorism-related offenses in prisons across the country right now. I think that includes something like 35 convicted terrorists currently housed in Illinois.

Has that ever been a political issue in Illinois before or politicians ever argued that those prisoners should be transferred to other states or anything?

SWEET: No, this is a facility in a town called Marion in far southern Illinois. And that has been there for years and the people in there have never been a source of controversy.

MADDOW: Wow. The town of Thomson, Illinois, has this huge prison sitting there basically empty. I'm guessing it was sort of built on spec in 2001.

SWEET: Well.

MADDOW: What can you tell us about Thomson?

SWEET: Well, not really. It was during a building boom. You know, governors had money back in the day. It was completed in '01 and no one foresaw the whole fall-collapse of the economy. So, Governor Blagojevich-remember that name, you know him well-he never had the money to open it up. So, they just made it a minimum security facility.

The town is hurting. So, you don't have any local resistance. The town already was set for a super max facility with a lot of bad guys in it.

The larger national discussion is going on now because you have, just on Friday-you know, the announcement that the 9/11 detainees will be sent to New York. The next day, you have this announcement.

Now, this is not a done deal. There are other places being looked at, but I'm told that this is pretty far along right now. The building is already there. You have a friendly infrastructure of the state officials because it's all Democrats who run the state.

But you do have a lot of Republican House members. And with the big, you know, Senate contest there, they are making their views known. Also, the House member from that district is a Republican, and so, he would like the state facility to be sold to the federal government but just don't put any detainees in it.

MADDOW: Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-Times" and columnist for is the most nuanced "not in my backyard" debate ever. Thanks for your time tonight helping us sort it out. Appreciate it.

SWEET: Thank you.

MADDOW: Armed with not nearly enough votes to really matter and no competing health plan of their own, Senate Republicans now say they plan to exploit their only asset, time, to try to kill health reform. Tonight, in the interview, I'll talk with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown about the fierce urgency of later.


MADDOW: There are new developments tonight in one of the more surprising internal battles of the health reform debate: the battle between Republicans and their own party's health insurance provider. If you remember, oh, say, the month of August, you may recall the town hall meetings/protest events that became a platform for the really quite spectacularly, entertainingly extreme opposition to health reform.

One of the greatest hits of the August town halls was, of course, the Republican Party's attack on the proposal to reimburse doctors for providing end-of-life counseling. Remember "death panels"? Because President Obama wants health reform because it's a secret plot to kill old people?

Well, imagine the awkwardness for the Republican Party now that Amanda Terkel from "Think Progress" has reported that CIGNA, the Republican National Committee's own insurance provider, already has in place what Republicans have been calling death panels. CIGNA has a whole Web page dedicated to helping patients make informed choices about end-of-life care.

But news of CIGNA's death panels are just the icing on the embarrassment cake for the RNC on health insurance. They first wandered into this lose/lose battle with their own insurance plan last week when reported that the RNC's plan also had covered abortion and had since 1991, prompting the RNC to announce plans to opt-out of the abortion coverage immediately-after having it for 18 years.

Red-faced over its own party's off-message insurance plans, Republicans in the Senate have decided to fight the Democrats' health reform plan, not with their own countervailing but confusion Republican plan but rather with time.

"Roll Call" newspaper reporting today that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is confident he'll be able to get debate on the Senate's version on health reform started before Thanksgiving. But Republicans would like everyone to slow down. Hey, slow, slow, hey, slow down on health reform. Take a breather, smell the roses. There's plenty of time to fix America's health care system. How about we just table it for now, revisit this thing on the 16th of never?


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: We know it's been in Harry Reid's office for six weeks and the other 99 senators have not seen it. I think we ought to at least have as much time for the other 99 senators and all of the American people to take a look at this bill as Majority Leader Reid has had. The only way to guarantee that for sure would be to delay the process to allow everyone to fully understand what's in the bill.


MADDOW: Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spelling out the plan for health reform: death by delay. But Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, head of the health committee, is out with a strategy memo of his own today, saying, if the Republicans are going to delay and particularly if they're going to filibuster to block a vote on health reform, Senator Harkin says Democrats will not make it easy for them. It's going to require a lot of red bull or chocolate frosted sugar bombs or something.


SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA): We are planning that we will do something that will require Republicans to be there 24 hours a day. And if they leave the floor, then we ask unanimous consent to dispense with the reading, and that will be the end of it. So they're going to have to have someone there at all times.


MADDOW: A real filibuster, in other words. Joining us now is Sen. Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Sen. Brown, thanks very much for joining us.


PENSIONS COMMITTEE: Glad to be back, Rachel. Thanks.

MADDOW: What kind of time frame do you think that we're looking at for health reform? Senator Reid says he wants the debate underway before thanksgiving. Do you think that will happen?

BROWN: Yes, I think it can. I think that - and this is the same old game. First of all, these people have a pretty short memory. In the first part of the decade, the Bush administration, with Mitch McConnell as one of their most loyal soldiers, jammed through the tax cuts for the rich by May of the first year. Took them four months, four and a half months, something like that.

So they're talking out of both sides of their mouth. But they know their best ally is delay. The longer they delay, the more time the drug companies, the more time the insurance companies, the more time the special interests have to create these myths and spin these ideas and make up this whole - make up stuff like death panels. That's the game they play. That's what their delay is all about.

If they can delay and delay and delay, they think they can defeat us. But we're on to that game. It's taken too long already because of some things that happened in August and September as you and I and others on the show have talked about, Rachel. But we're ready this time.

MADDOW: But what about Sen. Harkin's suggestion today that one of the ways to combat the Republican strategy on this is to pressure Republicans who want to filibuster, making a filibuster be a real 24-hour around-the-clock debate. Would Democrats really do that?

BROWN: Yes. Well, I think it's whatever it takes. Everybody in the Democratic caucus understands - and I mean everybody, including those who are not quite as supportive of the public option as many of the rest of us. But everybody understands that this is the most important thing they have ever done in their professional lives, frankly, passing this health care bill.

Next to my vote against the war in Iraq - it's the most important

vote I'll ever cast when I vote for this in December, then again, whenever

with the second time when it's sent to the president's desk.

And we'll do whatever it takes. If it means 24-hour sessions, if it means staying here weekends and working Saturday night, Sunday night, I don't care. And I think that virtually all my Democratic colleagues understand the importance of it.

And we're going to do whatever it takes. If they force the reading of the bill word by word, line by line, page by page, which will take hours and hours doing that, the clerk has to do that. The Republicans have the right to order that.

Then we stay in and we read - we have the clerk read. They - not the same clerk but they alternate. They read for 24, 26 hours, 28 hours, however long it takes. We just need to do this and not let them play these games anymore.

MADDOW: With the exception to that shared commitment you're describing among the Democratic caucus is, of course, Joe Lieberman, who has been promising for weeks to join a Republican filibuster if the Senate bill includes a public option.

Now, Ben Nelson of Nebraska also making noises that he might join Joe Lieberman and the Republicans with the same strategy. What do you think will be the response to that? And do you think the bill that will come to the floor will have a public option?

BROWN: No. First of all, I think we moved forward. We met with leader Reid today. The overwhelming support in the Democratic caucus, at least as Chairman Harkin, thinks - 55 votes out of 60 are for the public option. We're not going to let the tail wag the dog here, the three or four members who don't support it.

And what it comes down to is this - everybody votes to bring it to the floor. We have the debate for a couple of weeks, however long it takes. And during that process, anybody that's opposed to certain things has a chance to amend it.

And I think by the end - I can't obviously speak or commit for my colleagues. But I think in the end, the people who are less supportive of the public option than some of us, I think they don't want to be on the wrong side of history.

I think they're going to have great difficulty in their own minds and their own hearts voting to kill the most important issue of their careers on a procedural vote. They can vote against the legislation, fine. But don't kill this on a procedural vote.

And I think that Joe and Ben - and again, I can't speak for them. But I think in the end that they're going to understand the importance of this after they've had their chance to amend the bill in these two or three weeks on a straight, fair up-or-down vote, make your arguments against the public option.

We'll make our arguments for it. I think our arguments clearly have won in the court of public opinion and will win in the Senate. And then I think they vote for cloture for the procedural issue, then final passage. We only need 51 votes. And we'll get significantly more than that.

MADDOW: I just want to ask you about something that emerged last week as a potentially, major divisive issue for Democrats, and that is, of course, the issue of abortion. House progressives have made it clear that Congressman Stupak's abortion amendment is a bit of a poison pill, describing it, frankly, in the way I see it, which is a way to use health reform to further restrict access to abortion.

How serious of a threat is that abortion issue to passing health reform in the Senate?

BROWN: Well, I don't think it's a threat at all. I think that there are no more than four or five senators - Democratic senators that you would say are - that I would say are anti-choice. There are - at least, there are I think two Republicans that are pro-choice.

So, again, on an up-or-down vote, Harry Reid is not going to put the Stupak language in the bill. I'd be certain. I haven't spoken to him but I'd be certain on that. Then the Republicans will try to amend it in the bill and they will be unsuccessful. They won't get even close to 50 votes on trying to amend it into the bill.

Diana DeGette, the House Democrat from Denver, who has been a great leader on this issue, as she has on a lot of health care issues, diabetes and other things. Diana told me over the phone on the weekend that she's convinced the House can pass it without the Stupak language because, again, it's such an important issue.

And that's why we get elected. That's why we run for office - is to do things as important as health care. I just feel so privileged. I was in Oberlin over the weekend and was talking to some old friends.

And I just said, "I feel so privileged to be here in the Senate at this time when we can do what people in this government have tried to do for 75 years, what people in this country have wanted to do for decades to finally pass health insurance reform so those people from New Orleans that MSNBC has shown, people like from New Orleans to Cleveland to Toledo to Dayton will finally get health insurance and won't have to worry about preexisting condition and have insurance companies drop them from their coverage because they got sick and it cost too much money.

MADDOW: Sen. Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, thank you so much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.

BROWN: Always. Thank you very much, Rachel.

MADDOW: Sen. Brown - you will see that quote from Sen. Brown tomorrow in the news, "Whatever it takes." Also describing Sen. Reid as - at least in Se. Brown's perception, he's certain not to include the Stupak language in the bill. Making some news here.

Once you have conceded a political race and let almost two weeks go by, can you then un-concede the race? Depends on which politician is talking to which conservative talk show host. The latest on the fringing and purging of New York's 23rd congressional district, the candidate who appears to have lost and how Glenn Beck is trying to undo that. It's all coming up, next.


MADDOW: Do you remember how in Scooby Doo, when there would be a haunt house, that there was a portrait on the wall, there would always be a bad guy standing behind the portrait looking through the eyes of the painting?

I'm not saying that is going on in the White House, but something spooky appears to be going on with the wall hangings just outside the Oval Office. And I'm not kidding. Plus, Kent Jones will be here as well with a video of Vladimir Putin at a hip-hop show in a turtleneck.

But first a few holy mackerel stories in today's news. It is a long-standing Washington tradition to bury news by releasing it late on a Friday, so that at most, it ends up in the largely unread Saturday newspapers.

Friday news dump, meet the Monday evening un-dump. Late in the day, on Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates filed a notice with the Supreme Court effectively blocking the release of more than 40 photographs that purportedly document abuse of prisoners by U.S. personnel. So much for transparency.

You may recall that the ACLU had sued the Pentagon for some of these pictures. A lower court ruled in the ACLU's favor. And President Obama had said that he supported making them public, until he didn't.


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: It's therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.

In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.


MADDOW: An amendment in this year's Military Appropriations Bill gave Secretary Gates the power to exempt photographs from the Freedom of Information Act. Not all the photographs in the whole world, just ones taken between September 11th, 2001 and January 22nd, 2009, surely dates chosen particularly at random.

Also, they have to be photos that are by members of the armed forces and they have to be photos that are by members of the armed forces outside the United States. Yes, those are all exempt.

There's change you can believe in and change you'd like to believe in, but what you can really easily obstruct by amendments to military spending bills.

Next up, the outcome of the New York congressional race between a Democrat, a Republican and a conservative party candidate was arguably determined by a very passionate group of conservative activists and celebrities.

I'm talking to you, Fred Thompson. The Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava was forced out of the race before Election Day, leaving the conservative candidate Doug Hoffman, free to lose, which he did.

Mr. Hoffman conceded on election night and Democratic Congressman Bill Owens was sworn in. Now, thanks to post-election night clarifications, Owens' lead has narrowed to around 3,000 votes. And the New York Board of Elections is still counting approximately 10,000 absentee ballots.

A Hoffman win is still really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really unlikely at this point but that is not stopping Glenn Beck, who Mr. Hoffman once described as his mentor, from prodding the conservative candidate to get back into the race.


GLENN BECK, HOST, "THE GLENN BECK SHOW": Are you officially un-conceding at this moment?

DOUG HOFFMAN, CONSERVATIVE CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Yes, if I knew this information at the election night, I would not have conceded.

BECK: So are you un-conceding.

HOFFMAN: If that's possible, yes.

MADDOW: I think so. Mr. Hoffman's un-concession battle is certainly an uphill one. But parts of this congressional district have not been represented by a Democrat since roughly the Civil War until this year. So anything is possible? Not really. But still, it's very exciting.

Finally, what began as a small-scale radio ad bite has turned into an all-out TV advertising war. It's the American Energy Alliance, a nonprofit energy organization that's not legally required to reveal its donors. But it's known to be funded by oil and gas companies.

It's them versus South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. The latest act of political war is a television ad on which the American Energy Alliance has dropped nearly $70,000 on top of $300,000 it's already spent attacking Sen. Graham.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Energy is the lifeblood of our economy. From home, to work, to play. Energy fuels us. So why would Sen. Lindsey Graham support a new national energy tax called cap and trade which could significantly increase electricity bills, gas prices and cost American jobs?

Call Sen. Graham. Tell him you're turned off by his support for cap and trade.


MADDOW: The industry-funded group has its drill bits in a bunch over Sen. Graham's support for cap and trade by which companies could buy credits to offset carbon emissions.

And just last week, a South Carolina Republican group censured Sen. Graham for, sin of all sins, working with Democrats on this same issue, which all means that perhaps "Graham'd" will soon be a recognized political word like "Scozzafava'd."

To be "Scozzafava'd," of course, is to be run out of your local political race by national conservative celebrities who don't come from there.

To be "Graham'd" is to be bullied by a non-profit which may or may not be a huge corporate front because you didn't do exactly what that unnamed but suspected huge corporate interest group wanted you to do. It's easier to say "Graham'd" than it is to say Scozzafava'd. It is easier but less fun. Scozzafava. Scozzafava. Scozzafava.


MADDOW: Why is it that the paintings in the Oval Office private dining room change a lot? The great White House art mystery of 2009, next.


MADDOW: When an enormous number of people watches every single thing you do, every single thing you allow them to see is enormously important. Can't get a campaign speech, for example, with a wrong set of people standing behind you as props, right?

Along those lines, "'s" foreign policy reporter, Laura Rozen, noticed something very interesting in the backdrop of some of President Obama's meetings this year.

Last Monday, President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a private dining room that's just off the Oval Office.

The painting on the wall above them was P.A. Healy's "The Peacemakers." It was painted sometime in the late 1860s. It shows President Lincoln meeting with his generals two weeks before the Confederacy surrendered to the Union in the Civil War.

That was the painting that was there as of last week for the Netanyahu meeting. Now, the same painting was also on the wall of that same dining room late last month when the president met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This was taken on October 22nd.

But Laura Rozen points out that sometime before October, that painting changed, and it changed more than once. When the president sat at that same table in that same room to meet with the king of Jordan in April, look. Totally different painting. It's a pastoral landscape of some stripe.

And before that, same table, same room, meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, another painting all together. That's a portrait of John Quincy Adams. A very nice one, too.

We reached out to the White House to ask for an explanation of the painting shift but haven't heard back. And, frankly, I kind of hope they're too busy to bother to get back to us on this. But, still, what is the deal?

Joining us now is NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Mr. Beschloss, thanks very much for joining us.


MADDOW: I will admit off the bat that I am quite sure I'm blowing this out of proportion, but I'm desperately curious.

BESCHLOSS: You know what? You're doing great.

MADDOW: Is it just coincidence? What do you think is going on?

BESCHLOSS: I don't think it's sort of a mystery of the universe, sort of like the Da Vinci Code. But if I had to guess I would say the John Quincy Adams portrait was there, that was a leftover from George W. Bush.

Why did he have it there? He had it there because John Quincy Adams, as I'm sure you well know, was the first son of a president elected president himself. Who was the second? George W. Bush.

MADDOW: George W. Bush, right.

BESCHLOSS: And even within the Bush family, apparently, for a while, his brothers and sister referred to him as Quincy, so I assume that's sort of a private family joke.

The other painting - I think the pastoral landscape, if I'm not wrong, was a landscape called "Indian Guides" by Alvan Fisher, 1849. And that's just a nice painting. That was elsewhere in the Oval Office complex for a while.

Then comes "The Peacemakers" which is, again, part of the White House collection, as you said, Lincoln and the generals. A lot of presidents have had it. But the cardinal question, and this is what the mystery is - did that painting appear because President Obama was going to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

My guess is, no. That would be sort of like if Bill Clinton were meeting with Boris Yeltsin and somehow an anti-drinking poster materialized behind his head. That didn't happen either. So I think it's probably just coincidence.

MADDOW: Although I love the idea they would so tightly script it that depending who was sitting down in that office, they'd just hit a button and then the appropriate painting would spin around behind them.

BESCHLOSS: It's like these political candidates, you know, now, especially presidential candidates. They give a speech on national defense and that wallpaper is behind them, strength, strength, strength, strength. You know, other kinds of props, young kids.

MADDOW: Have spaces like the Oval Office and those private, small spaces around where the president works - have they always had things in them tweaked for symbolic value or for symbolic public appearances?

BESCHLOSS: Well, especially in recent years. You know, before the 1970s, you didn't often have certainly TV cameras in the Oval Office and even outsiders' still cameras.

But now, the idea is that if you go into the Oval Office, you know nothing about who's president. You can almost look at the objects and the paintings and get an idea of who this is.

MADDOW: NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss, thank you for making the time for what is not the most important story of the day, I recognize. But I've been completely obsessed with it since I heard about it. Thank you so much.

BESCHLOSS: We should always relive a mystery.

MADDOW: Yes. Thank you, sir. Nice to see you.

BESCHLOSS: My pleasure.

MADDOW: Coming up on "COUNTDOWN," Keith's translation of Sarah Palin's Oprah interview. Next on this show, the man nicknamed "Pootie Poot" by the previous commander-in-chief gets his put-on. Kent Jones is here to share it all with us and to censor the horrible parts. That's coming up next.


MADDOW: We turn now to our beleaguered, very important Eurasian hip-hop correspondent, Kent Jones. It's a tough job but you alone can do it.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: I'm exhausted frankly. But Russian leader Vladimir Putin knows that the time to stop polishing your image is never. So he's reaching out to a whole new demographic now and I think the new word for "Pootie Poot" is down. He's down.



JONES: You don't stick around as long as Putin has by letting your voters get bored. Let them see you hunting. Let them see you fishing. Let them see your man-boobs.

As if young Russians weren't already enthralled to the topless strongman, all I can say is, M.C. Vlad is in the house. Rocking a funky fresh turtleneck, Putin turned up at the Battle for Respect, a hip-hop contest run by a Russian music channel.

Everybody throw your hands in the air and wave them like you have a casual disregard for authority. Then, it was time for a little Putin freestyle. Check, check. One, two, one, two.

The youngsters who work in this art in our country, they bring unique Russian charm. Street rap may be a little rough but it contains social meaning, raising social problems. Nice. Close (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

But as far as the rappers are concerned, though, Putin is O.G. and KGB.


"I'm glad I won the battle for respect but it would be cool to invite Mr. Putin to record a joint track because this man is a legend. He is our icon." Word to your mother. Russia.


MADDOW: I feel so unsettled that I sort of agree with Vladimir Putin on hip-hop.

JONES: Yes. There's a lot of common ground there.

MADDOW: A lot of common ground - me and Vlad on the meaning and the importance of the street art. Yes.

JONES: We're fortunate enough we didn't have to watch him do it, so that's the thing.

MADDOW: Yes, that's true. If I wear a turtleneck tomorrow, shoot me,


JONES: Isn't going to happen.

MADDOW: Fair enough. All right. Thank you, Kent. Thank you for watching tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night. Until then, you can E-mail our show, . Our podcast is at iTunes or at "" "COUNTDOWN" with Mr. Keith Olbermann starts right now. Have a great night.



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