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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, February 8th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Charles Ogletree, David Weigel, Andrea Mitchell, Kent Jones.

HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Was anything crossed out either inside your lapel or on your hand, or was it all first draft stuff?

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  It says, this jacket belongs to Ed Schultz.  That‘s been crossed out.  That‘s about all I got.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

And thanks to you at home for watching.  Sarah Palin and her left hand did get some justifiable headlines at the Tea party convention.  But it was the race-baiting that preceded her which may be the most important thing that happened there.

Professor Charles Ogletree from Harvard will join us in a moment.

We will also review the curious case of why the original modern tea partier, Congressman Ron Paul, is taking heat from the tea partier-come-latelys.

We‘ll witness the hard pushback against President Obama‘s critics on terrorism.  We‘ll witness Michael Steele‘s definition of a lot of money.  And we‘ll witness the true adventures of Kent Jones in New Orleans for the Super Bowl.

It is all coming up.

But I want you to know first, that this is what it was like.  You would head down to the courthouse to register to vote, if you dared.  In order to register, you‘d face an exam.  It was sometimes called a literacy test, but it wasn‘t testing to determine necessarily if you could read or write.  If you were black, the test was designed purely to afford a legalistic veneer of justification for denying you your constitutional right to vote.

The questions weren‘t about ABCs.  They were—they were questions like this one, from Alabama‘s literacy test in 1965.  If a person charged with treason denies his guilt, how many persons must testify against him before he can be convicted?  Do you consider yourself qualified to vote in this country?  Can you answer that question?

You want to hear it again?  If a person is charged with treason—if a person charged with treason denies his guilt, how many persons must testify against him before he can be convicted?

Or how about this one from the same test: In what year did the Congress gain the right to prohibit the migration of persons to the states?  Do you know the answer to that one?

Again, these are from Alabama‘s literacy test in 1965.  It was applied selectively, of course, to black voters, to keep them from registering.

If you lived in Georgia in 1958, you would have faced questions like this one: Who is the solicitor general of the state judicial circuit in which you live and who is the judge of such circuit?  If such circuit has more than one judge, name them all.

How did you do on that one?  Or how about this one: What does the Constitution of Georgia provide regarding the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus?

If you wanted to vote in Georgia in 1958, those are the questions you would have to answer.  But, of course, not everyone would face those questions.  The board of registrars had the sole authority to determine who got asked which literacy test questions and whose answers to those questions rendered them ineligible to vote.

The idea was that black voters weren‘t being denied the right to vote based on race.  That would be illegal.  No, those voters just couldn‘t pass this literacy test.

This isn‘t the plot of some Kagzo (ph) Klansman gothic short story.  This isn‘t a theoretical for first-year law students.  This isn‘t some State Department report on some tin pot dictatorship halfway around the world that we can‘t pronounce.

This is American history.  This is really, really recent American history—as in this lifetime for a lot of people American history.

And the opening night speech at the national tea party convention this weekend proposed bringing the literacy test for voting back.  And that proposal got a warm round of applause.


FMR. REP. TOM TANCREDO ®, COLORADO:  Mostly because I think we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country.


TANCREDO:  . people who could even spell the word “vote” or say it in English.


TANCREDO:  . put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. 

His name is Barack Hussein Obama.


MADDOW:  The whiplash wakeup point here is not that somebody with a record like Tom Tancredo‘s would suggest something like this.  He‘s made a living out of this shtick for sometime.  What‘s important here is that a suggestion like that would be greeted with cheers from an American crowd.  Hey, let‘s go back to the ways we used to keep black people from voting in this country.


TANCREDO:  Mostly because I think we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country.



MADDOW:  Bravo.  Tom Tancredo, what an idea.

The crowd cheering the proposed return to literacy tests for voting.  The day after Tom Tancredo‘s speech, one of the convention‘s organizers was asked his response to this proposal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you think the message is when you‘re saying Obama voters cannot pass a basic, civics literacy test?

JUDSON PHILLIPS, TEA PARTY CONVENTION ORGANIZER:  Well, you know, Tom Tancredo gave a fantastic speech last night.  I think he‘s an amazing politician.


MADDOW:  Amazing yes.  The tea party convention crowd that cheered the proposed return to literacy tests—the literacy tests that were used for 70 years to keep black Americans from voting, also hosted Sarah Palin as the event‘s keynote speaker.


SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  The Republican Party would be really smart to start trying to absorb as much of the tea party movement as possible because this is the future of our country, the tea party movement is the future of politics.


MADDOW:  The future.

On September 12th, 1895, “The New York Times” reported on the state of South Carolina‘s attempts to suppress the black vote.  The article was titled “Negroes Must Be Barred.  White Supremacy Demanded by the South Carolina Convention.”

Among the things South Carolina was considering to preserve white supremacy, to prevent black people from voting, was something they called the Mississippi plan, a plan which, quote, “requires an educational qualification, consisting of the ability to read or understand any section of the Constitution of the state, such ability to be determined by the registration commissioners.”

“The New York Times” explained at the time—again, this is 1895 -- that the result would wholly abolish the Negro majority and any immediate fear of it.”  And, of course, that‘s exactly what happened.

Literacy tests were how African-Americans were kept from voting in this country for some 70 years.  This isn‘t ancient history.  The Alabama test I quoted from before?  That‘s from 1965.  These tests were one of the main targets of the Voting Rights Act pushed by President Lyndon Johnson that same year.


LYNDON JOHNSON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  The harsh fact is that in many places in this country, men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.  Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right.  He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law.  And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write.  Well, the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin.


MADDOW:  President Johnson later signed into law a bill that he hoped would prevent what he called the systemic and ingenious discrimination of literacy tests for voting.

There are African Americans who are members of Congress today who were not—during their lifetime—allowed to vote because of literacy tests for voting.  And now, the tea party movement is applauding a proposal to bring literacy tests for voting back, and they are shocked and horrified to be called racist for doing so.

Joining us now is Harvard law professor, Charles Ogletree.  He‘s director of Harvard University‘s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.

Mr. Ogletree, thank you so much for joining us on the show tonight.

CHARLES OGLETREE, HARVARD UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR:  Thank you, Rachel.  Happy to be with you and happy New Year.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

Let me ask you first if I have fairly characterized the use of literacy tests in America as a tool for denying people the right to vote.

OGLETREE:  You‘ve only under stated it.  I mean, you talk about all types of poll taxes and literacy tests, my pastor, Reverend LeRoy Attles, had to tell the poll watcher how many marbles were in a jar, hundreds of marbles, and he had to get the number right.  And all of these questions were designed to keep blacks from voting.

But what Tancredo said, Rachel, is really remarkable.  Most of the people who voted for Barack Obama were white.  And if you talk about literacy tests, are you saying that those people did not have the right to exercise one person, one vote?  And I think it‘s part of thinking of using the buzz words, literacy test, that implies blacks, because blacks have been denied that right.

And I think Tom Tancredo needs to read the Constitution.  He needs to think about what he means because there are a lot of black, white, and brown citizens all over America who have worked very hard to earn the right to vote and to tell them that they‘re not capable of making a right decision, he‘s wrong.

They lost the election in 2008.  Get over it.  It‘s time to live in 2010.

MADDOW:  On that issue of the legitimacy of President Obama‘s election, about his—the questions about his eligibility, for example.  I was thinking about this today with reading all the reporting about how much the whole birtherism/birth certificate issue won‘t go away for this president either.  And I wonder if the idea is that it‘s not possible for Barack Obama to be president unless something‘s gone horribly wrong with the system that checks credentials and that OKs people for voting and for high office.

Is that inflected by race?

OGLETREE:  It is.  And the reality is that President Obama‘s done a remarkable job coming into a presidency with two wars and with the economy in the tank, and he‘s trying to overcome that with a lot of great plans and great ideas like the stimulus package and even bailing out Wall Street, which kept us from going into the Great Depression and trying to get health care.

And the reality is that there are people who still don‘t want him to be president because he‘s doing things they don‘t like.  And so, race becomes a dividing issue.  But he‘s not going to let race become a burden or barrier to him accomplishing his goals as president.

What‘s important about all of this, Rachel, I think, is that the majority of Americans, black and white, see that this president is trying to do a good job.  They‘re not going to play the race-baiting.  They‘re not going to—and Sarah Palin on Saturday, I heard her talk about, “We don‘t want a professor of law who talks about the Constitution and rights.  We want the commander in chief.

What‘s the difference?  Isn‘t the law meaningful?  Doesn‘t it mean something?  Doesn‘t the Constitution mean something?

I think we need to go back to a 101 constitutional law test or civics test for folks who are going to talk about that, for everybody to understand that we are a society who believes in equal justice under the law, one person, one vote.  And if you get more than, more votes than your opponent, you win.  It‘s over.  Get over it and let‘s move forward.

MADDOW:  So, you think we could have a civics test for pundits and paid political speakers but not for voters?

OGLETREE:  I think it‘s a little late for Tancredo.  I think the voters have already told him that he‘s not going to be in office again, and I think he helped the Republican Party in some sense by letting people see if that‘s the extreme of what people are talking about.  Most Democrats, most Republicans are moderates, they‘re in the center.  And Tancredo is not going to get our vote.

My sense—there are two points, Rachel.  One, ignore him or overwhelm him with more speech that‘s rational, that‘s sensible, that has something to do with the Constitution, with laws, with common sense—and all of that was left out of his comments this past weekend.

MADDOW:  I will tell you that my—I think people could tell on the show on Friday when I first talked about this and I spent the weekend reading up on the history of the means by which people were denied the right to vote in this country and I got angry and angry about it.  I‘m still mad about it now.  And I don‘t do my best work when I‘m mad, but I criticized the proposal by Mr. Tancredo on Friday and the crowd response to his speech as racist.  And that is not an epithet that I use very often or it‘s not something I mean in an all-purpose way.  I mean it in a very specific way.

People react to that allegation like you‘ve thrown a bomb, like there‘s no way to constructively consider whether a statement or proposal is really racist.  Are we less able to talk about race and racism than we used to be, or have we always been this hamstrung about it?

OGLETREE:  I think we can talk about it more than we ever before, because we have a president who happens to be black.  And so—it‘s an open dialogue and I‘m glad we‘re having it, because I think ultimately, people will run out of things to say about Barack Obama about race.

The question is: does he have good judgment?  Is he moving the country forward?  Is he dealing with the issue of the economy?  Is he trying to bring the soldiers home from these wars?  Is he trying to get people jobs?

And then race becomes irrelevant.  And I think that is the real key.  Not whether or not we can talk about it, but whether or not we can agree to disagree on certain things, but continue to have the dialogue as well.  Even thoughtful Democrats and thoughtful progressive people, Chris Matthews, saying he forgot Barack Obama was black, and Senator Harry Reid saying that he didn‘t speak the Negro dialect—we need to do a lot of sort race 101 across the political spectrum because it is the most controversial issue.

I‘m teaching a class here now at the University of Miami Law School with over 40 students from all over the world, and they understand that we‘re not in a post-racial America.  We‘re in a very consciously-race America and we‘re going to learn how to make it a better place in the 21st century.

MADDOW:  Tom Tancredo keeping us all in 101, as far as I‘m concerned at this point.


MADDOW:  Professor Charles Ogletree, the director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard and an eminent scholar of these and other matters—it‘s a real pleasure to have you on the show.  It‘s an honor to have you here, sir.  Thank you.

OGLETREE:  Always my pleasure.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

If there‘s one candidate you would think would get the tea party seal of approval, t would be the guy who was tea partying before tea partying was cool—arch big government hater Ron Paul.  Turns out, though, even Ron Paul has now got primary challengers getting tea-partier-than-thou on him.  That is next.


MADDOW:  Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele recently told the political Arkansas—political audience in Arkansas, quote, “Trust me, after taxes, $1 million is not a lot of money.”  You know, if the Republican Party ever decides to fire Michael Steele because he keeps saying stuff like, that the Democratic Party should hire Michael Steele to keep saying stuff like that.  Even as a former Republican Party chairman, the man would be political gold.

More Steele trap genius—coming up.



CROWD:  Ron Paul!  Ron Paul!  Ron Paul!


MADDOW:  Supporters of Congressman Ron Paul back in December, 2007, celebrating the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party with rallies across the nation and an online money bomb that raised millions of dollars for Ron Paul‘s presidential bid in 2008.

Congressman Ron Paul‘s candidacy was arguably the spiritual godfather of what‘s now become the tea party movement.  The current figurehead of the movement arguably is Sarah Palin.  She‘s endorsed Ron Paul‘s son, Rand, who was open-minded enough to make his Senate campaign announcement several months ago on this very show.  Rand Paul, like his dad, is philosophically a libertarian, but is running for office as a Republican.

Weirdly, Congressman Ron Paul, himself, is now under attack from the very movement that he seemingly inspired.  He‘s getting primaried in his district in Texas by not one, not two, but three Republican challengers, all of whom have associated themselves with the tea party movement by attending or organizing tea party rallies.  They are each apparently hoping that the anti-incumbent fervor of the tea party movement will sweep Ron Paul out of office.

Yes, Ron Paul—the conservative candidate who, in 2008, was able to draw more than 10,000 supporters away from the Republican national convention with his libertarian message to attend his own shadow convention in Minneapolis.  He‘s now getting challenged by the supposedly libertarian-leaning conservatives that his presidential candidacy inspired.  If they‘re not cool with Ron Paul, who are they cool with?

Joining us now is David Weigel, the senior reporter for “The Washington Independent.”  He reported on this weekend‘s tea party convention in Nashville.

David, it‘s very nice to see you.  Thanks for being here.



MADDOW:  So let me just ask you that last question.  I mean, if they‘re not cool with Ron Paul, who are they cool with?  I would have expected it to be kind of a nice fit between the tea party movement and Mr.  Paul.

WEIGEL:  Well, no, he‘s never been a really good fit with these types of conservative activists because of the war issue.  I kind of got misty-eyed looking at those old tea party videos.  I was at one in 2007 in Georgetown where a Ron Paul activist put things like Federal Reserve and unsound money on boxes and then jumped and smashed the boxes after they threw them on the floor.  So, they really did invent all this stuff.

But the tea party movement is more one of—like conservative McCain, conservative Palin voters who are conservative on everything, really, that is mainstream of the Republican Party.  They‘re more like Jim DeMint than they are like Ron Paul.

MADDOW:  Well, you know, one of the most fun things in all of American politics for the past year has been trying to figure out the tea party movement, all this inchoate anger and energy in this movement, trying to figure out what it really means in political terms.  And they do articulate their grievances as if they are libertarian grievances.

But from your reporting, you‘re seeing that really, what they‘re asking for is not libertarian policies?

WEIGEL:  On economic policy, I think they‘ve curbed a little bit from him.  But it‘s revealing, whenever you hear that the tea party movement is completely independent and completely one of, you know, inchoate populist anger that leaves out—they‘re really pushing on an open door when it comes to the Republican Party.  There is very little they say that the Republican Party disagrees with in the mainstream.

Tom Tancredo you played before, he was at the convention after he gave that speech and gave a little pep talk to the room on immigration policy and said, hey.  You know, you guys did this really well before, back in 2006, you were melting the phones and you were stopping the Congress from passing immigration reform.

Now, Ron Paul also happens to be against immigration amnesty, but those libertarian ideas that might be popular at the Cato Institute, they‘re not really popular with tea party activists.  They‘re much more hard core conservatives who are really comfortable in the Republican Party.

MADDOW:  I feel where I‘m—where I‘m getting to.


MADDOW:  And I am fired up about the Tom Tancredo call for the return to literacy tests thing, not so much that he would do it because he does stuff like that all the time, but that people would cheer for it.  And I guess I see the choose Ron Paul versus choose Sarah Palin test as kind of a litmus test for the politics of the tea party movement.  That combined with cheering Tancredo on this, I think, very racist appeal makes me feel the modern tea party movement is an outgrowth of the sort of angry people we saw frustrated during the McCain/Palin campaign, saying un-politically correct things at rallies.  Not an outgrowth of the people who had done tea parties before.

MADDOW:  Well, Ron Paul is not saying all of that stuff.  But his movement was always, his movement, his presidential campaign—forget his associations—was always much more positive and much more about these, this basket of ideas that libertarians could implement that would fix the country.  They want to—when he talked about getting back to the Constitution, getting back from the founders, he was talking about, you know, getting American bases shut down, pulling out of foreign wars, abolishing Social Security—things like that.

The Palin version of tea party conservativism is a little bit less specific.  It‘s a lot more slogany.  It has—you know, I guess you could write the talking points on your hand if you wanted to.  And it‘s not so much about these well-thought out historical solutions, but there‘s a general idea of the Constitution and it just so happens to fit in with things that the Republican Party right now is very much into.

So, yes.  There‘s less—there are less difficult choices there.

MADDOW:  Dave Weigel is a senior reporter for “The Washington Independent.”  Dave, thanks for your reporting on this continually, and thanks for your time.  I really appreciate it.

WEIGEL:  Thank you so much.  I appreciate it.

MADDOW:  As I said, Rand Paul has been a guest on this show in the past.  Ron Paul, a number of times as well.  We‘re hoping to have Congressman Ron Paul on sometime soon to respond to the fact that he‘s getting more primary challengers now from the tea party movement than he‘s had any time recently in Congress from anyone.

All right.  Conservative critics say President Obama is coddling terror suspects by reading them their rights.  Those critics are thereby blowing their own right to remain silent—that‘s next.


MADDOW:  Twice in the last week or so, the top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell has unflatteringly compared FBI agents interrogating the Christmas Day bomber to CNN‘s Larry King.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  I mean, Larry King would have a more thorough investigation of one of his witnesses than the Christmas bomber had by the Justice Department.  He was given a 50-minute interrogation, probably Larry King has interrogated people longer and better than that.


MADDOW:  Casting no aspersions whatsoever on Mr. King, he always seemed like a nice man who‘s very good at his job, but what does Mitch McConnell have against the FBI?  Has he got some specific beef with the FBI that he‘s going to take up in policy and legislation?  Or is he just going to keep trashing FBI agents on television for political effect?

This is the kind of thing that politicians usually end up having to apologize for.  So far, despite making the same crack twice in a five-day span, there‘s been no apology yet.  I would warn you to set a Google alert in anticipation, but now that an ally of President Obama‘s has said publicly that Mitch McConnell should apologize to the FBI, I think we can be pretty sure that Mr. McConnell will not apologize.


JOHN PODESTA, FMR. CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF:  Maybe if all those politicians stopped attacking the FBI—Mitch McConnell likened the FBI to Larry King interview—maybe if they‘d stop with the politics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Now, that‘s cruel.

PODESTA:  . they would—well, no.  I think he owes the FBI an apology.


MADDOW:  Former Clinton chief-of-staff, John Podesta, speaking there.  He co-chaired the Obama-Biden transition team.  And he‘s one of many now pushing the GOP in public for getting so much factually wrong in the mad rush to politicize the Christmas Day bombing to try to hurt the president. 


JOHN BRENNAN, COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER:  But those FBI agents and others acted appropriately.  And quite frankly, I‘m tiring of politicians using national security issues such as terrorism as a political football. 

They are going out there.  They are unknowing of the facts and they‘re making charges and allegations that are not anchored in reality.  On Christmas night, I called a number of senior members of Congress.  I spoke to Senators McConnell and Bond.  I spoke to Representatives Boehner and Hoekstra. 

I explained to them that he was in FBI custody, that Mr.

Abdulmutallab was, in fact, talking, that he was cooperating at that point.  They knew that an FBI custody means that there is a process you follow as far as Mirandizing and presenting him in front after magistrate. 

None of those individuals raised any concerns with me at that point.  They didn‘t say is he going into military custody?  Is he going to be Mirandized? 


MADDOW:  That was White House counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan speaking on “Meet the Press.”  Sen. Kit Bond incredibly has since responded by saying that he didn‘t understand that a person in FBI custody would naturally, and as a matter of course, be read their rights. 

Sen. Bond, I should note here, is actually a United States senator.  The former counterterrorism adviser to President Bush and President Clinton before him, Richard Clarke, also attacking the GOP now for not grasping even the basic facts of how terrorism arrests and prosecutions work but still trying to use them to score political points. 

Mr. Clarke writing in the “New York Daily News,” quote, “Recent months have seen the party out of power picking fights over the conduct of our efforts against al-Qaeda, often with total disregard for the facts.  It‘s been hard to escape the conclusion that the goal of these critics is to discredit the president‘s handling of terrorism for political advantage whether or not the administration is actually doing a good job.” 

“The GOP talking point machine, repeated by Fox television commentators and others, does not bother to learn the facts about terrorism before they leap to attacking the party in power‘s handling of the issue.  They are wrong on the facts and wrong morally to attempt to make political gain on the damage inflicted by terrorism.” 

So says the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton counterterrorism adviser, Richard Clarke.  Unless there be any doubt that the administration realizes that on this issue of terrorism, it has caught its Republican critics in the act of making stuff up and attacking their own policies.  The president himself is going there.  Here he was at a pre-Super Bowl interview on CBS. 


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  We‘re not handling any of these cases any different than the Bush administration handled them all through 9/11.  They prosecuted 190 folks in these Article Three courts, got convictions, and those folks are in maximum security prisons right now.  And there have been no escapes.  And it is a virtue of our system that we should be proud of.  Some of the same critics of our approach have been employing this policy for years. 


MADDOW:  Joining us now is NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.  Andrea, thank you so much for coming back on the show tonight and braving the snow to do so. 


No problem. 

MADDOW:  Does it just feel like the administration and its allies are firing back hard against these attacks about the Christmas Day bomber?  Or is this really a concerted effort?  Am I connecting the appropriate dots here? 

MITCHELL:  Well, I think what‘s going on is that right after the Massachusetts Senate defeat for the Democrats, Republicans realized they had a really good issue.  The number one issue that Scott Brown mentioned in Massachusetts was terror.  It was terror, taxes and then health care. 

And I think they realized that they‘ve got something going here and the administration has almost played into their hands with a series of steps that were not really well-explained.  And I think that is part of the problem. 

Part of the problem is it was Christmas.  People were given a two-minute briefing and in kind of a parallel world to the largely inadequate Bush administration briefings that we know about to members of Congress, Democratic members of Congress back then. 

I think they didn‘t want to tell very much nor did they want to go into a whole lot of detail nor was anyone really eagerly looking for information at that time partly because, let‘s face it, they were not on secure lines.  Everyone was out of pocket. 

So this was a series of steps, accidents waiting to happen, where nobody was in a position where they could go to a secure room.  Nobody was in Washington.  So part of it is accidental, coincidental.  Part of it is deliberate because the Republicans now smell blood. 

And the Democrats - certainly, this White House has not been very good at explaining.  You have this very unusual situation on “Meet the Press” where John Brennan, a career intelligence official - we don‘t know what political stripe he has, if he has any. 

He actually went after Republicans on the Hill, people who might someday have to be confirming him if he were not in the White House and had a confirmable nomination.  And you don‘t normally see this.  This is a career guy who has worked in Democratic and Republican administrations at the CIA and other places. 

And that was pretty unusual.  Michael Isikoff and I were talking earlier about this today - a very unusual step for them to take.  They feel that they have been maligned, misunderstood, and are being criticized for exactly what the Bush administration did. 

MADDOW:  You seemed last week, on your show here on MSNBC - we played the clip of your interaction with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine talking about this issue and you seemed somewhat to sort of flabbergast her when you pointed out the procedures the Obama administration followed now are the same that the Bush administration used in lots of other terrorism cases. 

I wonder if that sort of fact-based confrontation is pushing Republicans to consciously position themselves as to the right of Bush and Cheney on terrorism now.

MITCHELL:  Well, what they are arguing is that they should have been briefed, number one, that this interrogation was not handled properly.  And in fact, they were given a little bit of a window there because Dennis Blair, the head of the director of national intelligence initially criticized the FBI for the way they handled it and then backed off that criticism. 

So there were a series of confusing signals from the administration, itself, indicating that there had been some mistakes made in this case.  What they are now saying, the administration, is that there was 50 minutes of questioning. 

Then, they took him for medical care and it was then that he clammed up and eventually had to be given his rights because he had been arrested here in the United States. 

There‘s plenty of evidence - Jane Mayer, our colleague and friend, documents it brilliantly in “The New Yorker” this week, plenty of evidence that there was a better track record with these civilian cases than with military commissions for people arrested during all of the Bush years.  So there‘s no question that they have gotten very good information. 

And I think the other frustration for the administration is they have not gotten out there.  Just how cleverly they flew to Nigeria after first blowing it when the father came in and went to the embassy and tried to talk about his son.  And clearly, the agent on duty, the embassy officials probably all the way up to the ambassador did not pick up on those signals. 

So he should not have been on the fly list.  He should have been stopped.  He should - his visa and access should have been checked way earlier.  Those mistakes have been acknowledged. 

But then, they went to Nigeria, got the family involved, flew the family to Detroit, and persuaded him to start talking and started getting very good actionable intelligence, they tell us. 

And so they‘re kind of angry that they‘re not getting credit for that.  One other thing, Rachel.  I think this has been a perfect storm for the administration because they really did not properly handle the 9/11 terror trial proposal for New York City. 

They didn‘t notify the mayor, the police chief properly.  They didn‘t work with the families.  They didn‘t lay the groundwork for that for bringing Khalid Sheik Muhammad to New York City. 

And that is giving the Republicans and other critics ammunition because it‘s two things being merged together in people‘s minds to help people like Sarah Palin accuse the president of being soft on terror. 

MADDOW:  Andrea Mitchell, NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, thanks very much again for joining us tonight.  Appreciate it, Andrea. 

MITCHELL:  You bet. 

MADDOW:  You can watch Andrea Mitchell every day on MSNBC at 1:00 p.m.  Eastern.  OK.  Still ahead, Michael Steele shares his concept of wealth which is every bit as Michael Steele as all of his other ideas.  It‘s beautiful.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  The latest Republican solution for the budget crunch?  Weaning.  And the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW does New Orleans.  Exclusive video of pure joy, straight ahead. 

But first a couple holy mackerel stories in today‘s news, beginning with, what happens if health reform doesn‘t pass?  First, of course, a whole lot of Democrats who have jobs in politics lose those jobs. 

Also, the American economy keels over and dies.  A nonpartisan accounting agency, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services was tasked with crunching the numbers for what we spend on health care. 

What they came up with is a kick in the teeth.  Last year, health care spending grew more than it ever has since the government started keeping track of such things 50 years ago.  It grew by $134 billion. 

And that‘s the way things have been going since 1960.  Up, up, and up, most dramatically now.  In 1960 health care spending was a grand total of about five percent of our GDP.  By 1970, it was up to about seven percent.  By 1980, nine percent of all the dollars we spent went to health care.  By 1990, it was up to 12 percent.  By 2000, almost 14 percent.  And by last year, our health care spending constituted more than 17 percent of our entire economic output as Americans. 

We now spend $1 out of every $6 in our entire economy on health care.  In 10 years, it‘s projected to be $1 in $5, not $1 in $6.  One of every $5 we spend in our whole economy will be spent just on our own health care. 

And that‘s with not even covering everyone.  Other industrialized countries cover everyone and have actual systems which control costs.  The U.K., for example, while not a perfect system, is a full nationalized health system that covers everyone.  And for that they spend seven percent of their GDP. 

We have no system, no way to control costs, and our health spending is 17 percent of our economy and growing.  That‘s why reforming health care, having an actual American health care system with cost controls, is a fiscally responsible thing to do.  Or I think we could all agree it‘s at least fiscally insane not to do it. 

Case in point?  One California insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross, notified individual policyholders last week that their premiums would be going up by as much as 39 percent this year.  That‘s on top of an increase of premiums last year of as much as 68 percent. 

Unlike home and car insurance, health insurance companies legally can jack up their rates whenever they want for as much as they want.  But a rate increase this outrageous has attracted an investigation from the California insurance commissioner. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has also sent a letter to Anthem Blue Cross asking them to justify the hikes.  The company says it will respond once it receives the secretary‘s letter. 

Our calls to the company today were not returned.  Perhaps they anticipated our planned questions about the timing of the rate hike.  Anthem Blue Cross announced the second consecutive double-digit rate hike right after announcing an eight-fold increase in profit last quarter. 

We eagerly await whatever conceivable explanation they can come up with for this.  We also eagerly await health reform.


MADDOW:  106 million people watch the Super Bowl on TV.  Kent Jones watched it on TV in a bar in New Orleans with a camera on the crowd.  It was an experience he describes as historically insane.  Stay tuned for that.


MADDOW:  In a face-to-face recent appearance with former Congressman Harold Ford, the Republican Party‘s chairman, Michael Steele, was attacking President Obama‘s decision to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the top two percent of earners. 

Mr. Steele then said this, quote, “Trust me, after taxes, a million dollars is not a lot of money.”  The 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year will be interested to learn that from the Republican Party chairman. 

Of further interest to those people will be the Republican new/old proposal for social security.  The ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, is now re-proposing President Bush‘s 2005 proposal to privatize social security, which would, I‘ve got to tell you, be a great idea if the stock market always went up. 

Does the stock market always go up?  Meanwhile, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann this weekend offered this idea about social security.  She said, quote, “Basically, what we have to do is wean everybody else off, and wean everybody off because we have to take those unfunded net liabilities off our bank sheet.  We can‘t do it.  So we just have to be straight with people.” 

Will there be wean panels to decide who starves in poverty and who survives?  Democrats have now had the bright idea of forcing Republicans to actually vote on these Republican proposals.  Pass popcorn, hide grandma. 

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York.  Congressman, thanks for coming back on the show. 

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-NY):  Thank you.  Is this what they meant about “wean?”  You get Weiner proposals on that? 

MADDOW:  When you were teased on the schoolyard for your last name, this was it.  I feel like I‘m having a flashback to the way we first met, which was you forcing Republicans to take an awkward vote on killing Medicare.  Is this the same kind of politics? 

WEINER:  Yes.  But this is to the nth degree.  You remember now Mr.  Ryan‘s proposals represent the Republican budget proposals.  This is the way they propose to solve the challenges that we face. 

And to their credit, at least they‘re coming out from where they‘ve been hiding.  They‘re coming out and saying, “We‘re against social security as we know it.  We want to privatize it.  We‘re against Medicare as we know it.  We want to give people vouchers so a third of those vouchers will go to health insurance company profits rather than going into health care.” 

So I think they should have to answer.  And I think the president did a very smart thing by taking these things seriously.  Now, I think that they make no sense and I think most people that get these benefits are going to say that they don‘t, but they represent the Republican mainstream thinking. 

This is not a fringe movement.  This is what their budget committee ranking member is saying he wants to do. 

MADDOW:  It seems to me like the political maneuver here is, hey, listen - whatever you think about how the president is doing under President Obama and Democratic majorities, that‘s one thing.  But this isn‘t just a referendum on that. 

It has to be a choice between Democrats and what they‘re offering and what the Republicans are offering.  That leaves it to Democrats to really sell the idea of these Republican proposals, though.

WEINER:  Well, remember what we did.  We went through a period of eight years where arguably a lot of these decisions were not getting made.  We were funding things without paying for them. 

Then, we went into a campaign where the president said to his credit and we Democrats said, “We‘re going to start treating this like adults.  We‘re going to make tough decisions.”  A lot of them are unpopular. 

Now, at least, we‘re not just going to be boxing with ourselves against the ideal.  We‘re going to be talking about other people‘s proposals.  And I think the Republicans are going to have to decide.

I can‘t wait to see if the Republicans vote for these Republican proposals because I can‘t imagine that there‘s a majority of them or a large number of them that believes in the notion that if we invested in the social security trust fund in the stock market we‘d be a lot better off. 

MADDOW:  Right, especially given what we‘ve been through.  Congressman Ryan says that he‘s willing to lose his job over his ideas.  He sees this as a position of political bravery. 

Is there a libertarian, no-government streak in the Republican Party that is ascendant enough that they might actually get a lot of votes for this?

WEINER:  Well, let‘s remember the history.  Republicans never liked social security and they have been trying to do this type of thing for a while.  The same is true of Medicare.  There‘s something implicit in this whole conversation about the fear of government-run health care that logically extended means you don‘t like Medicare. 

But what they can‘t get away with any longer is criticizing Democrats for attacking Medicare when we‘re trying to save it or say that they‘re the more responsible protectors of interest of taxpayers when they want to invest large amounts of our trust fund in the stock market.  It‘s just that they can‘t get away with it anymore. 

MADDOW:  One last question on a totally different matter.  Congressman John Murtha passed away at the age of 77 today.  I know that you knew him fairly well.  Do you have any reflections on his passing? 

WEINER:  A remarkable man who - if you think about recent Americans‘ civic life - had a remarkable influence.  He was a hawk, someone who is the defense appropriations chairman who came out relatively early on and said the Iraq War was a mistake and it wasn‘t working. 

He automatically overnight changed the debate.  But beyond that, he was someone from a different era who was just a genuinely nice, decent man.  It‘s hard to find anyone in Congress who didn‘t love and admire him.  And I know that I‘m in that camp, and I‘m going to miss him very much. 

MADDOW:  Congressman Anthony Weiner, thanks for coming in. 

WEINER:  Thanks, nice to see you again. 

MADDOW:  It‘s good to see you.  OK.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith talks to Harry Scherrer about the importance of the Saints‘ win for New Orleans. 

Next on this show, Kent Jones was in New Orleans for both the game and the massive party that ensued afterwards that still ringing in Kent‘s head now.  What he saw when we come back.


MADDOW:  We did something uncharacteristic on this show.  On Friday night, we went all the way to New Orleans because of the Super Bowl.  As it turned out, Super Bowl was the most watched show in television history, bigger even than the series finale of “M.A.S.H.”

An estimated 106.5 million people tuned in last night to watch the Saints beat the Colts.  But not all 106.5 million people had the same experience.  Our own Kent Jones made the life-affirming choice to stay in New Orleans after our show there Friday night and watch with the “who dat” nation.  Kent, you win. 

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  You said the words “historically insane” earlier?  It was.  It so was - I was in this incredibly cool packed bar in the French quarter called One-Eyed Jack when the Saints finally went ahead.  The place went off.  Unbelievable.  Forty years of frustration gone. 

And then, they started cranking AC/DC‘s “It‘s a Long Way to the Top If You Wanna to Rock ‘n Roll,” which I did clearly.  And people were dancing and screaming “who dat” and crying.  And that was just me.  Unbelievable. 

Then, everybody flooded out on the street and we squeezed our way

into Bourbon St.  More screaming, high-fiving strangers - who dat, who dat

music absolutely going everywhere.  Total mayhem for a long way in the distance. 

But I did get to actually talk to some really happy who-dats

afterwards.  Really -


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve been here since ‘84.  I‘ve been born and raised here.  This means everything. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is incredible.  The Saints are over.  It‘s

not your daddy‘s Saints.  Super Bowl champs -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This whole town has been behind this team. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s better than Mardi Gras.  This is the Saints‘ Mardi Gras. 

JONES (on camera):  when are you going back to work, like maybe - I don‘t know - March? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  I‘ll see you in April. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We call this the scream umbrella.  So are you ready?  One, two, three. 



MADDOW:  All the more amazing that this happened during Mardi Gras, right?

JONES:  Yes, yes.  That‘s like the regularly scheduled craziness.  So they had that, too, like this, right?  The incredible floats and people are throwing beads.  And there‘s like hooded riders and the incredible costumes that they have. 

And there I am trying to get beads because I need beads.  That‘s something I need.  Throw me plastic stuff.  And then there was a dog Mardi Gras that I went to.  Lots of Saints outfit.  The Krewe of Barkus which, I think, is pretty tremendous. 

And then, here‘s what happened.  I got slobbered on.  Oh, oh!  Don‘t slobber.  So obviously, a wonderful, great time.  There was actually a dog there called Poo Brees(ph) ...

MADDOW:  Very nice -

JONES:  ... for all you Drew Brees fans.  Poo Brees(ph)

MADDOW:  I mean, New Orleans knows how to party anyway. 


JONES:  New Orleans knows absolutely everything.  They‘re having so

much fun with it.  My favorite guy was this guy.  And he called himself - 

MADDOW:  Breesus -

JONES:  Breesus Christ - and he was blessing everyone. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  Spectacular.  Get your voice back for tomorrow maybe? 

JONES:  I will. 

MADDOW:  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.



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