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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, December 18th, 2009

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Kent Jones, Andrea Mitchell, Sen. Mark Begich, Thomas Frank, Kent Jones


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thank you very much. 

Have a great weekend.


MADDOW:  We‘ve got lots going on this Friday night, movement even in the last hour on health reform tonight as the Senate hunkers down for what looks like is going to be a weekend of fighting it out.

President Obama gets a dramatic win right in Senator James Inhofe‘s face.  The conservative movement re-embraces its original “Looney Toon” kook-enders, the John Birch Society.

We have too much information to share with you about health reform denier, Senator Ben Nelson.

And I have some original reporting, exclusive news tonight, that involves high-level American politics, secrets and booze—really, really good booze.  Stay tuned.

But where we begin tonight is with a weird thing that we discovered today in the C-SPAN online archives.  Back in 2002, when the Senate was debating whether to give President Bush authorization to go to Iraq, Democratic Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota delivered an impassioned speech against the war, against giving President Bush authorization to use force.

And then something happened toward the end of his next appearance on the Senate floor.


THEN-SEN. MARK DAYTON (D), MINNESOTA:  I‘m not a legal scholar, but I cited the—in using my, making my comments, the opinion of the council at the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service to which.


MADDOW:  It just that—it just like --- it just goes to black?  That

this is the C-SPAN archives.  That never happened.  It just goes to black, drops out.


Now, we know from the transcript that the video feed does come back. 

We‘re guessing sort of a minute or so later.


SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  How much time do I have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The senator has 29 minutes and 20 seconds.

BYRD:  How many minutes?


BYRD:  I thank the chair.


MADDOW:  That‘s where it picks up, but there is this gap of about a minute that‘s just gone, both audio and video, gone from the C-SPAN archives.  Now, we know what happened during that gap because we have the written congressional record from that day.

Do you want to know what happened during that phantom minute or so that‘s gone?  Well, Senator Mark Dayton is making his case against the war and he runs out of time.  He asks for an additional 30 seconds to finish his remarks and John McCain—Senator John McCain—says no.  You cannot have an additional 30 seconds.

Now, specifically, here‘s how it goes.

Hi, Kent.


MADDOW:  OK.  So, I‘ll be Mark Dayton and you be John McCain.


MADDOW:  OK?  So, Mark Dayton says, “I ask for unanimous consent that I have 30 seconds more to finish my remarks.”

JONES:  I object.

MADDOW:  Thank you.  It‘s yours.

So that‘s what it says happens in the transcript.  But it‘s not on the tape.

So, is this one eighteenth of an 18-minute Nixon-Rose Mary Woods gap? 

I don‘t know.  We have no idea why there is this gap in the archives.

Why does it matter?  It matters because John McCain, for the last two days has been publicly outraged over the fact that Democrats are also now objecting to any senator getting any extra time on anything so that senators can keep on track with a crazy schedule to get health care voted on by Christmas.

Here was Joe Lieberman having that whip cracked on him by Al Franken.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  . will provide an opportunity for broad savings for health care and health insurance for pretty much everybody in our country.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA:  The senator has spoken for—I‘m sorry, the senator has spoken for 10 minutes.

LIEBERMAN:  I wonder if I could ask unanimous consent for just an additional moment.

FRANKEN:  In my capacity as senator from Minnesota, I object.

LIEBERMAN:  Really?  OK.  I don‘t take it personally.


MADDOW:  Sorry, not a minute to spare.  We‘re out of schedule here. 

Nothing personal.

Here was Senator John Cornyn having that same whip cracked him by Senator Mark Begich of Alaska.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS:  Well, Americans know this is going to make an unsustainable status quo even worse.  Yet the president and the majority.

SEN. MARK BEGICH (D), ALASKA:  Senator, your time is expired.

CORNYN:  Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for an additional two minutes.

BEGICH:  In my capacity as senator from Alaska, I object.

CORNYN:  I thank the senator for his courtesy.


MADDOW:  Same deal.  No time to spare.  Nothing personal.

And here‘s how “Senator Mark Dayton, you shall have no more time” John McCain, reacted to these developments yesterday.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I‘ve been around here 20-some years.  First time I‘ve ever seen a member denied an extra minute or two to finish his remarks and I must say that I don‘t know what‘s happening here in this body, but I think it‘s wrong.  I never seen a member denied an extra minute or so as the chair just did.


MADDOW:  I‘ve never seen it happen.  I‘ve never seen it happened, he says.  I would love to show you John McCain doing that exact same thing to Mark Dayton in 2002, but it‘s apparently gone inexplicably from C-SPAN video archives and we have only our lame re-enactment which I did here with Kent, of him doing exactly what he says he‘s never seen done in all his years in the Senate.

All of this drama, conspiratorial and otherwise, is because the Democrats are in a full-on sprint right now to try to get health reform done by Christmas.  Because of the anti-health reform strategy of just delaying everything over the past few weeks, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid is now up against it in terms of how he is going to get this bill passed in the next six days.

Because of all sorts of procedural rules, here‘s what we think the breakneck pace is going to look like.  The schedule will convene a rare Saturday morning session tomorrow to vote on a defense funding bill at around 7:30 a.m.  Once they‘ve done with that, Harry Reid will introduce what‘s called his manager‘s amendment to the health reform bill.  This is the one with all of the last-minute compromises and changes to try to get conservative votes.  Surprise, surprise, Republicans are expected to make the Senate clear that thing out lout, every word of it.  That will take probably from six to eight hours on Saturday.

Then on Sunday, senators will have the opportunity to make speeches for and against the health reform bill all day.  Then the moment of truth will come at around 1:00 a.m. Monday morning, an hour after midnight Sunday night.  That should be the vote to break an expected Republican filibuster.

If Democrats get 60 votes on that one, at 1:00 a.m. on Monday, late Sunday night, that‘s essentially game over.  There will be a series of additional votes the following days to pass the bill, but really, the filibuster is the thing.  One a.m. Monday morning is the big deal.

This weekend‘s schedule, this need to hold votes at all sorts of odd hours led to some late-night drama last night/early this morning, when the Senate reconvened at 12:01 a.m. to cast a procedural vote on the defense bill.  Part of the drama included an ailing 92-year-old Robert Byrd being wheeled into the Senate chamber at 1:06 a.m. to cast his vote and then to castigate Republicans for their stalling tactics that required the late night session.



BYRD:  You should be ashamed!  Shame!  Shame!


MADDOW:  It‘s an awkward standoff.  Them applauding him for being there, him saying “Shame, shame” for making him be there.

Senate Democrats are going to great logistical lengths to get health reform passed by Christmas and Senate Republicans are going to similarly great logistical lengths to stop it.  They always say that parliamentary rules are based on the rules of warfare—this is when we get some visceral reminders of that.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, previously seen keeping a very tight schedule in the Senate yesterday afternoon.

Senator Begich, thanks very much for your time tonight.

BEGICH:  Thank you very much.  And I have to say, as I drove to the studio tonight, there‘s a little bit of snow starting to come and I hope when we‘re in tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m., it piles up about two feet outside and keeps us there until we‘re done.  So, you know, I can smell the snow in the air and maybe there‘s just desserts here.

MADDOW:  So, that‘s what—that‘s how people know that you‘re the senator from Alaska.  When it starts to snow, you think, good news, now we‘ll get something done.


BEGICH:  That‘s right, because now, no school, no time to leave.  And, you know, maybe they‘ll even shut down the cafeteria.  So, they got to stay in the chamber and get some work done.  But it‘s going to be, you know, we started like you said, early this morning at 1:00 a.m.  One of our first votes at 1:01, and my attitude is, the shenanigans, their plan are just outrageous.

Even without the majority making that decision of limiting people to 10 minutes, I might have just done it because I‘m fed up, to be very frank with you.  And it‘s not what I came to Washington, D.C. about.  I came here to do business, get the business done for this country.

And here we are on a defense bill which in the past, has never had a problem, based on what I‘ve seen and what I‘ve studied in the years past.  And yet, they‘re using it and using our soldiers as basically a pawn in their political game, which is outrageous and I think is a total disrespect to our military.

MADDOW:  Well, just to be clear, on this defense bill, we‘ve been thinking about this as a fight over health reform.  But what happened last night, the reason that Senator Byrd was getting wheeled into the chamber after midnight last night—am I right to say it‘s because Republicans were filibustering the funding for the troops, they‘re filibustering the defense funding bill?

BEGICH:  You are absolutely right.  I mean, we received the letter yesterday, both our caucus, as well the Republican caucus, the minority caucus, from Secretary Gates, indicating by midnight tonight, we are unable to fund the military, both the folks that are fighting the war—we can argue over whether the war is good or bad.  But the fact is we‘ve got soldiers on the front line.  We have families that are at home that need their services that support them and as well as everything else with our defense.

And last night was the vote to break the filibuster, to move forward.  The reality was we had only three Republicans join us.  And then after that vote, Senator Durbin, the majority whip, asked a very simple thing, to get an agreement to just vote right then and be done so we can move on to health care.

And it‘s interesting the Republican minority had a press conference today and they said, “Oh, yes, this thing will pass, this defense bill.”  But what they‘ve done—which I think is just outrageous and the American people should be outraged, as you saw with Senator Byrd, calling them and shaming them—and that is they‘re using them as the pawn in their game.  More of these parlor tricks that they have up their sleeves.  And the people who are put on the front lines to defend their country are the ones being used by the Republicans as a pawn in their political games.

And if you think about it, Rachel, it‘s funny to think about that they claim they want to offer amendments on the health care, they want to debate health care.  Great.  Let‘s sew up and be done with the defense bill and put the health care bill and let‘s what their plan is—which they have yet to show us and let‘s get on with the show.

MADDOW:  In terms of the timing, Democrats obviously have your work cut out for you over the next few days.  There‘s really no margin for error that I can see.  As far as you can tell, are all 60 senators in the caucus going to be united to break that Republican filibuster early Sunday morning?

BEGICH:  I‘m feeling more confident.  And, you know, I think what they‘re doing is starting to back fire.  I mean, you saw with Russ Feingold, who is, as you know, is not for additional troops in Afghanistan, does not believe we should put more troops, but he put that aside because he is so unified with the caucus that it‘s time to move forward.

And I think, you know, you never know as you can tell with the news accounts every minute around here things change.  But I‘m feeling the Democrats are becoming more unified to do the right thing for our military, our defense of this country, but also the right thing to move health care forward.

And so, I‘m feeling better.  And like you said, there‘s going to be a test, come early Monday morning as the first test.  And I hope we‘re all together.  But when Russ Feingold told us in caucus that he was ready to put aside for this moment, this important moment for our country, his concern about the increased troops to vote as a bloc of 60, I think that was a brave statement on his part and something that the caucus appreciated and did what we need to do, move forward.

But the fact that they‘re using our soldiers who are fighting right now, putting their lives on the line as pawns in their game is outrageous.  I cannot—you know, like I said, I didn‘t come to Washington, D.C., to play these games.  I came here to do the business of this country.

The freshmen, a large group, as you know.  That‘s what we came from many different walks of life to come here, deal with health care, deal with this economy, get things back on track.  And the Republicans just have no interest in that.

MADDOW:  Democratic Senator Mark Begich of Alaska—thank you for your time tonight and good luck with what I‘m sure is going to be a very busy snowed-in weekend.

BEGICH:  There you go.  I‘ll bring my snow shovel and I‘ll be looking forward to it.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Senator Begich.  I appreciate it.

Of course, everybody will be watching to see what the effect of snow is on Senator Ben Nelson.  Senator Nelson leaving a meeting with Senator Reid today, saying that he still had come to no deal with Senator Reid in terms of coming up with language on abortion that Senator Nelson would be comfortable with and would make him agree to not continue to threaten to filibuster health reform along with Republicans.  We will be keeping an eye on that.  That news is breaking quite late tonight.

All right.  Both President Obama and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe went to Copenhagen for the climate change summit.  One of them was able to help broker an agreement with other nations on climate change.  The other one‘s middle name is mountain.

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell joins us with the details of two very, very different trips to Denmark—next.

And if you like politics, news from the White House and talking about drinking, I have essential and exclusive reporting tonight just for you.  That is coming up.

Stay with us.


MADDOW:  There was a huge press scrum outside of President Obama‘s bilateral meeting with the Chinese premier in Copenhagen today.  While Chinese journalists managed to get in and film the event, Chinese officials decided they were not going to let the American press in.  That‘s when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs came to the rescue.



ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Hold on, hold on.  I got to get my American guys in because everybody else got in.



GIBBS:  Those guys didn‘t get in.  Come on.



GIBBS:  My guys get in just like your guys got in.  This is a joint meeting.  My guys get in or we‘re leaving the meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The American press is here already.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I did not get in.

GIBBS:  This guy didn‘t get in.  Come on.


MADDOW:  Come on.  Robert Gibbs ready to pull the president out of a vital climate change meeting because the American press pool cameraman was getting dissed and held back at the door.  That little bit of impromptu badass-ery in fact allowed American cameras to get a few shots out of Copenhagen.

I don‘t mean to be weird but, thanks, man.  We‘ll look at what the president got out of Copenhagen when we come back.


MADDOW:  This was a very, very, very, very bad week for Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.  Step on a rake bad, cringe bad, so bad that the only thing that could have made it worse is if lots of people hadn‘t noticed how bad it was.  But here we are.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had been promising for months and threatening for months that he would attend the U.N. Global Warming Conference in Copenhagen to lead a truth squad, what he called a “truth squad” of global warming deniers, to try to undermine the international negotiations there of the president of the United States.

Now, as it turned out, Senator Inhofe‘s truth squad was just him, a few of his aides and one staffer.  Instead of submarining America‘s official agenda at the conference with a series of talks with influential leaders or a high profile speech or something, Senator Inhofe spent all of three early morning hours on the ground in Denmark.  He could not get any meetings with any representatives of any of the 192 nations represented at the conference, including our own, and he did not give a speech.

However, according to “Politico,” quote, “Inhofe‘s aides eventually rustled up a group of reporters from the top of the flight of stairs in the conference media center.”  And then it got really embarrassing, as Senator Inhofe addressed the group, he said the global warming hoax started at the United Nations and was spread because it was believed by the Hollywood elite.

A reporter from the German paper, “Der Spiegel,” then told the senator, quote, “That‘s ridiculous.  You‘re ridiculous.”

Senator Inhofe apparently ignored the remark and after he left, quote, “Some reporters were still a bit confused about what had happened and who he was.  “His name is Inhofe,” a German journalist told a Japanese reporter, “but I don‘t know if it‘s one or two f‘s.”

Just the—just the one.

Having executed a textbook example of white hot fail in his effort to embarrass President Obama abroad, Senator Inhofe got another kick to the gluteal region late this afternoon, by President Obama, very symmetrical.  Against apparently long odds after a frustrating week of possibility fading, the president pulled off some fairly acrobatic diplomatic maneuvers and emerged with an agreement, albeit a nonbinding agreement with China, India, Brazil, and other nations on climate change.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Today we‘ve made meaningful and unprecedented—made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough here in Copenhagen.  For the first time in history, all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change.


MADDOW:  Joining us now is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

Andrea, thanks very much for coming on the show tonight.  It‘s good to have you here.


MADDOW:  I know that you have some pretty extraordinary reporting about what actually happened today in Copenhagen when President Obama tried to get a climate change deal.  How did it all happen?

MITCHELL:  Well, it‘s the craziest thing I‘ve ever read, a tick tock given by senior officials on Air Force One as it is now flying back to Washington.  The president left before anything was signed, sealed, or delivered, citing the snowstorm.  Aides said they wanted to get him back to Washington.

But you know what‘s happening on the Hill this weekend.  It is the health care showdown.  So, you know what he needs to be doing.

But that said, he tried to get a second meeting with China‘s Premier Wen and it is really, as one aide described it, the 800-pound panda in the room is China when it comes to getting anything done on climate change.  And Wen was not available and then he went to a meeting, the president did.  And there was an underling, a junior Chinese aide with all these other heads of state and the president said, you know, basically, “I‘m out of here, let‘s get a meeting with Premier Wen.”

Well, when they called—and this does sound like an old, you know, “Laurel and Hardy” routine.  They were told that Wen was already leaving, that the Chinese officials were at the airport, that, in fact, the Indian prime minister was already at the airport, Prime Minister Singh, and they finally could talk themselves into a meeting with Premier Wen at 7:00 their time in Copenhagen.

The president gets there, and that was the fracas you saw, because the pool was supposed to be going in, they thought, for a meeting between China and the United States.  Instead, he found all these guys that were supposedly at the airport already—Brazil, South Africa and India in the room.  They were caucusing against the United States.

So, there you go.  He didn‘t get what he wanted, but they accused him of barging into a meeting.  And he came out with something.  Better than nothing, but clearly a very disappointed Barack Obama coming back, because, Rachel, it‘s not binding.  They didn‘t get the goals.  There is no transparency.  There‘s no commitment that they will do anything except announce what they have achieved.

And if China announcing what they have achieved is good enough for the developing countries, the poorer countries, that would be very surprising indeed.

MADDOW:  In terms of the sort of diplomatic acrobatics today, isn‘t it sort of a big deal if India and Brazil and South Africa and, I guess, maybe, China, lied to the United States about where their negotiators were?


MADDOW:  They said they were gone when they were there and in fact talking behind our back?

MITCHELL:  Exactly.  I mean, it‘s a real dissing of the United States.  It‘s very disrespectful.  It shows that this relationship with China is certainly not as cozy, as close—all of this reaching out and all of these bilateral meetings have not produced the kind of trust on an issue this big, an issue of such economic importance to these individual countries.  But an issue of such global importance—I mean, you can‘t overstate the importance to the world.

But they blinked.  They backed off.  And Barack Obama at least forced them to confront the fact that they had to make some kind of agreement before they left.  But it is—it‘s a lot less than meets the eye.

MADDOW:  Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent

it‘s a pleasure to have you on this show, especially with this bizarre news that I wouldn‘t necessarily believe if you were not reporting it.  But you make me believe it.  Thanks, Andrea.


MITCHELL:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” airs weekdays at 1:00 Eastern right here on MSNBC.

OK.  The new Republican Party, the new post-Bush, post-McCain Republican Party has decided to enlarge their tent by inviting the even further right-wing back into the fold.  That story is next and my promise of vital news about booze and the White House still stands.  Your weekend will be better if you will stay tuned for it.


MADDOW:  Two months from today, conservatives will descend on a Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., for the conservative political event of the season.  It‘s the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC.

For those of you keeping track at home, CPAC is kind of a big deal and not just for conservatives but for the Republican Party as a whole.  It was at CPAC where Ronald Reagan delivered his famous speech where he misquoted John Winthrop as calling for a shining city upon a hill.  Winthrop never said “shining.”

Post-Reagan, Dick Cheney is a frequent and favorite CPAC speaker.  At last year‘s CPAC, attendees heard speeches from all four Republican presidential candidates who were still in the race at that time.  And this year, of course, will be remembered for the long, long, angry bouncy Rush Limbaugh CPAC speech.  For next year‘s CPAC, one of the sponsors of the conference will be the John Birch society.  We can count on pretty much all the leading lights of American conservatism speaking at an even co-sponsored by the John Birch Society.  Have you ever heard of the John Birch Society? 


ROBERT WELCH, FOUNDER, JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY:  On the plane of action, until the communists can be stopped from completing their subjugation of the whole world, there will be no opportunity for us to move forward at all towards our permanent goals. 

We have undertaken, therefore, to play a leading role in slowing down, stopping and eventually routing the communist conspiracy. 


MADDOW:  The communist conspiracy.  That‘s John Birch Society founder Robert Welch.  A communist conspiracy that they want to rout in their fevered imaginings included President Dwight Eisenhower.  According to the John Birch Society at the time, Ike was quote, “a dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.” 

The John Birch Society also contended that fluoride being added to drinking water was a communist mind control plot and they contended that the secret conspiracy to destroy America encompassed everything from that darn fluoride to the League of Women Voters and the Civil Rights Act. 

The John Birch Society was, in fact, so opposed to civil rights that they responded to the Supreme Court‘s Brown versus Board of Education decision to desegregate schools with billboards calling for the impeachment of the Supreme Court‘s chief justice. 

The John Birch Society campaigned way back against the United Nations as again, part of the big communist conspiracy.  They‘re still actually keeping the anti-U.N. campaign going. 

Also, on the current John Birch Society agenda, opposing “Invictus.”  Yes, the new movie about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 South African rugby team.  They‘re opposing that because, quote, “Mandela is nothing more than a communist-terrorist thug.” 

So imagine, that the right wing is like a rug, right?  And on the far edge of that rug is fringe.  Now, imagine that that fringe also has fringe.  The fringe on the fringe of the right wing of the American conservative movement - that‘s the John Birch Society.

As far back as the 1960s, the John Birch Society was more or less officially banished from the mainstream conservative movement.  In 1965, a coordinating committee of the Republican Party passed an official statement, calling on Republicans to reject membership in the John Birch Society, calling it a radical or extremist group. 

On of the ways that William Buckley achieved his lifelong prominence in the conservative movement was writing what Buckley himself described as a 5,000-word excoriation of John Birch Society founder, Robert Welch. 

Mr. Buckley wrote, quote, “How can the John Birch Society be an effective political instrument while it is led by a man whose views on current affairs are, at so many critical points, so far removed from common sense?”

That was how the mainstream conservative movement cut off the fringe way back in the 1960s.  But now, it‘s almost impossible to find the rug for all the fringe.  The mainstream movement is starting to look like this.  News today that Michael Steele, the official head of the Republican Party, will be holding a joint anti-health reform press conference on Monday with the unofficial head of the tea party movement, former House Majority leader, Dick Armey. 

So, all in one week, the Republican Party makes a big point of openly embracing its tea party fringe.  and the erstwhile mainstream conservative gathering known as CPAC announces it is being sponsored by long-exiled John Birch Society, brought back from 40 years of pariah status to a new starring role. 

Joining us now the Thomas Frank, “Wall Street Journal” columnist and author of the book, “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.”  Thomas, thanks very much for coming on the show.  


MADDOW:  And I have to do the awkward thing of asking you to hold on just a moment because the people at home can hear you right now.  I can see you right now, but I can‘t hear because our audio is broken.  So we‘re going to take a quick break and come right back - we promise, Frank - while I either quit or buy a new piece of equipment.  We‘ll be right back. 


MADDOW:  Joining us now is Thomas Frank.  He‘s a “Wall Street Journal” columnist.  He‘s author of the book, “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.”  He‘s going to talk with us about the John Birch Society being named as sponsor of the CPAC conference this year in Washington.  Thomas, thanks very much for joining us. 

FRANK:  Hello, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  I can hear you now.  This is much better.  So how‘s the John Birch Society been an outcast in conservative circles for so long just because it is very far right?  Or is there something about what it‘s like, more than just the fact that it‘s really, really conservative? 

FRANK:  You know, I don‘t think you can just say it‘s because they‘ve gone so far to the right.  You know, it‘s also because they said things like Dwight Eisenhower, who was, after all, a Republican president, was communist. 

That goes a long way to make the Republican Party want to excommunicate you.  

MADDOW:  Well, is it - the thing that seemed always sort of funny about the John Birch Society, I guess, less funny than scary because they always seemed like - more funny than scary? 

FRANK:  Oh, it‘s funny, Rachel.  It‘s funny. 

MADDOW:  I‘m sure they ruined people‘s lives as being sort of fueling McCarthyism.  And I‘m sure they‘ve had some really bad impact on American politics.  But they‘re so conspiratorial.  I mean, these are the new world order black helicopter folks, aren‘t they? 

That‘s exactly right.  And that‘s what their sort of gift is to the mainstream conservative movement.  I mean, we always talk about the Birch Society as the fringe of the fringe, as you were saying earlier. 

But you have to remember that they also have - they gave the conservative movement something very important which is conspiracy theory.  Conspiracy theory is utterly central to the conservative understanding of the world.  I don‘t know if you ever heard this phrase before, “the liberal elite.” 

You were referring earlier to Sen. Inhofe talking about the U.N.  and Hollywood liberals.  And you know, that‘s a big part of it right there.  But then, you add in the news media, I suppose, people like me, you know, and various things like this.  And you have a full-blown conspiracy theory that the right believes in as a kind of - this is an article of faith for them. 

And this is descended from the Birch Society.  You know, they have the fantastically conspiratorial view of communism where communism wasn‘t just the Soviet Union.  Communists were all around us.  I mean, like every other person was a communist.  And they were all keeping quiet about it was the amazing thing, you know.  

Well, and they also thought that the government of the Soviet Union and the government of United States were being run by the same secret people, that there was invisible government above them both that we needed to be ferreting out.  Not only in government, but among our neighbors and among every element of power and that sort of witch-hunting, conspiratorial attitude about the world. 

What I‘m worried is that John Birch Society being brought back into a group like CPAC means that the right is, once again, embracing the conspiracists among them.

FRANK:  Well, look.  I don‘t know if you - there‘s this guy on a different cable news channel, let say.  He‘s called Glenn Beck.  He‘s very popular these days and he talks about conspiracy more or less every night all the time. 

You know, he doesn‘t ever spell it out exactly, but there‘s always things are going on behind the scenes.  The wires are being pulled.  The puppets are being made to dance.  And this is how the world works according to the way, you know, he sees things. 

And this is - he has sort of an extreme way of putting it.  And like in the 1960s, a lot of responsible conservatives have tried to excommunicate him from the movement.  It‘s not working this time around.  But it‘s just a slightly more reasonable version of what the Birch Society was doing 30 years ago. 

MADDOW:  “Wall Street Journal” columnist, Thomas Frank - I knew there was going to be something to this when Glenn Beck put a spokesman for the Birch Society on his show, even when he was back on “Headline News” back in 2007.  It was one of those things I just bookmarked in my mind like, I think this is eventually going to hurt.  But we‘ll have to see what happens at CPAC this year. 

Thomas Frank, thanks very for joining us.  I really appreciate it.  

FRANK:  Sure thing. 

MADDOW:  So Chuck Norris writes a super loony op-ed about how the birth of Jesus is analogous to health reform, how the story of Christmas means that we should kill health reform, in fact. 

And what happens to Chuck Norris as a result?  He becomes a leader against health reform.  Amazing kookandry(ph).  More of it coming right up.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  And Chuck Norris shall lead them.  Last night, Kent Jones brought to our attention a puzzling new theme in the right-wing attack on health reform.  It‘s a holiday-themed argument, really, raised by action star, Chuck Norris. 


KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Conservative enforcer Chuck Norris gave Obama‘s health reform plan a muscular smackdown, quote, “As we near the eve of another Christmas, I wonder - what would have happened if Mother Mary had been covered by Obama-care?” 

“What if that young poor and uninsured teenage woman had been provided the federal funds (via Obama-care) and facilities (via Planned Parenthood, et cetera) to avoid the ridicule, ostracizing, persecution and possible stoning because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy?”


MADDOW:  Chuck Norris arguing in his column this week that health reform, Herod-care, if you will, would have killed the baby Jesus.  Merry Christmas. 

If that argument seemed a little too out there to you, then you are underestimating the rhetorical plank that health reform opponents are willing to walk.  It turns out they are adopting Chuck Norris‘ framing and they‘re building it out around the lone Democratic holdout on health reform, Sen. Ben Nelson.

Here‘s Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, using the Chuck Norris Herod-care theme at this week‘s prayer-cast against health reform. 


TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  Isn‘t it a little ironic, here at Christmas time, where we celebrate the birth of a baby in a manger, that we are actually talking about how this bill will go.  It depends upon the unborn babies. 


MADDOW:  So Chuck Norris comes up with Herod-care on Tuesday.  On Wednesday, Tony Perkins develops the Christmas theme.  And by today, Steve Doocy and Peter Johnson on “Fox & Friends” turn Sen. Nelson‘s anti-abortion crusade against health reform into a full-fledged Christmas morality play. 


STEVE DOOCY, CO-HOST, “FOX & FRIENDS”:  Could it be because he understands the true meaning of Christmas? 

PETER JOHNSON, CO-HOST, “FOX & FRIENDS”:  What you have is an interesting, almost-Christmas pageant.  Sen. Ben Nelson, conservative Democrat from Nebraska, who‘s got a lot of experience in the insurance industry and was a very successful governor in that state.  He‘s saying implicitly the true meaning of Christmas is that you don‘t destroy babies.  


MADDOW:  Ho, ho, ho, no.  No. 


MADDOW:  A lesson until Joe Lieberman changes his mind again.  The one thing standing in the way of health reform even getting to a vote is Ben Nelson, the senior senator from Nebraska. 

Right now, Ben Nelson is in the Senate majority leader‘s office, still negotiating.  After a similar meeting ended an hour ago, Nelson repeated to reporters that there is no deal, no way to get his vote to end the Republican filibuster. 

Earlier today, he told reporters why he still isn‘t ready to abandon his promise to filibuster reform, saying quote, “There is always a lot of room which you have to have between the bid and the ask, and we‘re seeing if we can close the gap.” 

With all due respect, Sen. Nelson hasn‘t even closed the gap with himself on health reform.  Last month, he told “The Hill” newspaper that so long the public option was dead, he would be fine with the bill‘s abortion language.  But now that the public option is out, he‘s problem with the abortion language still hasn‘t gone away. 

You know, when someone can no longer rationally explain why they‘re acting the way they are, sometimes the only way to make sense of what they‘re doing is to stop taking their incoherent word for it and start independently investigating who they are.  And at this show, that means TMI. 


All right, Kent.  TMI, Ben Nelson.  What have we got?  

JONES:  Well, the state Sen. Nelson is from is deep red, just like a stop sign. 

MADDOW:  Very good. 

JONES:  Yes. 


(voice-over):  The fate of health reform for an entire generation rests in the hands of Earl Benjamin “Ben” Nelson, born 68 years ago in McCook, Nebraska - population, 8,000.  Nebraska, a state that hasn‘t voted Democratic for president since 1964.  Remember that, you‘ll need it later. 

After deciding against the life in the ministry to go to law school, young Ben Nelson became a rising executive in the insurance industry, eventually serving as director of the Nebraska Department of Insurance and as CEO of the Central National Insurance Group. 

Just the man you want to decide the fate of the insurance industry?  Nelson then entered politics and was elected governor of Nebraska for two terms and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000 as a Democrat. 

But remember, Nebraska.  Can‘t stress that enough.  Sen. Nelson quickly became known as a legislator who was always reaching across the aisle to his Republican colleagues.  Always. 

For instance, Nelson played a key role in passing Bush‘s 2001 tax cut and was the only Democratic senator to vote against federal funding for stem-cell research.  Again, Nebraska. 

The last “National Journal” congressional vote rating placed nelson to the right of five Senate Republicans.  President Bush even bestowed on Nelson his highest honor, a nickname.  He would be called “The Benator.” 

Originally Bush nicknamed him “Nelly” but Nelson jokingly complained that he would prefer something a little tougher.  “The Benator” was reelected in 2006 with the endorsement of such fiery liberal organizations as the Nebraska Right to Life, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association. 

Nonetheless, Nelson was a staunch supporter of Barack Obama‘s candidacy, so much so that “Time” magazine described Nelson as Obama‘s ambassador to the right. 

SEN. BEN NELSON (D-NE):  I just want to make sure I have your attention.  


JONES:  The senator was his usual bipartisan self when he came on this show to talk about a compromise on the stimulus plan.  

NELSON:  Without the intervention, without the three Republican votes, they would get zero, because this bill was going nowhere with 58 votes with the Democrats.  That‘s not sufficient to pass anything.  I think you can do the math. 

JONES:  You heard the man - 58 votes is not enough to pass anything.  One other telling fact, Nelson is an avid hunter and has won both the domestic grand slam and international world slam for wild turkey hunting. 

And he has been on safari in Africa.  Remember that as the health reform drama winds up.  He has experience killing things.  Don‘t call him Nelly. 


MADDOW:  Thank you very much, Kent.  Appreciate that. 

JONES:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith‘s take on one of his favorite stories of the year, Tiger Woods.  Plus, next on this show, exclusive reporting on very important political booze news.  That‘s next. 


MADDOW:  Tonight‘s “Cocktail Moment” is actually about cocktails, which makes for a nice change.  Very early on in the first year of this Obama administration, this White House started hosting cocktail parties often on Wednesdays, often with big bipartisan congressional guest lists. 

The social secretary Desiree Rogers said at the time, quote, “We don‘t always get everything accomplished over a meeting table.  Many times, it‘s over cocktails.  It‘s over dinner.”

Amen.  You know, the only beef I ever had with the White House over its cocktail-plomacy initiative was that they never released any information about what sort of cocktails we were talking about here. 

I, even back in February, made an on-air plea for cocktail list links. 


(on camera):  President and Mrs. Obama have hosted another cocktail party at the White House totally on a school night.  The open question, though, for me, what kind of cocktails are we talking about at this cocktail party? 

Is this just an open bar?  Is it just a catering bar?  Is there a house drink?  Are there theme nights?  Our extensive research efforts on this subject have thus far been stymied.  But you know, these are taxpayer-funded spirits and, frankly, I want some oversight. 

If you have any information about what drinks the Obamas are serving at their White House cocktail parties, please E-mail the show,  


That was from February of this year.  We even had producers call up members of Congress who we knew had gone to White House cocktail parties to find out what drinks were served at those parties but no one would tell us. 

Well, now, it‘s 10 months later.  I am still obsessed with finding out what cocktails are being served at the Obama White House.  And I finally have something to report. 

At one of the White House Christmas parties on Tuesday night of this week, bartender and sommelier Derek Brown donated services making cocktails at the White House.  Derek was “Washington City Paper‘s” bartender of the year for 2009. 

And here is my personal blurry low resolution, no-flash picture of Derek Brown and Adam Bernbach from the bar Proof in D.C. making actual classic American cocktails at their cocktail station at the White House on Tuesday. 

There were other bars that were just open bars, including offering some incredible eggnog.  But at this cocktail bar, Derek and Adam served three great drinks.  And they even showed off the ingredients they were using.  You can see there.  They put the bottles they were using for the different drinks out on the bar.  And they chose great stuff. 

Want to know what they were?  All right.  First, the Emerson, a classic pre-prohibition cocktail using Old Tom gin, which is a slightly sweetened old school kind of gin that hasn‘t been drunk widely for probably two generations but it‘s being revived now. 

So Old Tom gin, Sweet Vermouth, lime juice and Maraschino, which has nothing to do with maraschino cherries.  It‘s a bittersweet liqueur that old Italian ladies pour on their fruit salad.  It‘s awesome.  Actually, that whole drink was awesome.  That was my favorite drink, the Emerson. 

They also served the Stone Fence, a classical colonial-era cocktail that Derek put his own little spin on.  The base is Apple Jack, which was George Washington‘s favorite spirit.  It‘s kind of like apple brandy - actually more like an apple whiskey.  It‘s made in New Jersey by a company called Laird‘s. 

They then had a nice fresh apple cider and Derek‘s special touch to the Stone Fence, some Fee Brothers aromatic bitters and some mint.  Also, totally delicious. 

And finally, last drink, the Robert Frost cocktail.  Yes, Robert Frost - “Two roads diverged in the yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both.”  Yes.  This is the drink not taken by me.  I did not want to overdo it.  But my girlfriend Susan had a Robert Frost cocktail and said it was great. 

This is an original.  Derek invented this.  It‘s not a classic.  It‘s got sherry, which is better in cocktails than you think it is, white port - I didn‘t even know there was white port - bourbon, a little sugar and orange bitters. 

So there you have it.  An actual “Cocktail Moment” of actual White House cocktails.  It only took me 10 months to get it, and I had to report it myself because no one would leak this to me. 

But cheers to the White House staff for paying tribute to the great American-only art of bartending.  We invented that, you know.  Cheers to Derek Brown for getting that gig and for donating his services.  And cheers to my date, to Susan, for having the presence of mind to tell me to take a picture instead of just hopping up and down and hooting with excitement when I saw that the White House bartenders were at work with a big bottle of Apple Jack. 

OK.  Any hate mail you want to send me for taking about booze on TV, send it as always to  Enjoy your weekend.  And remember, martinis do not contain vodka.  Have a good night. 



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