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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, April 5th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Ken Ward, Jr., Sen. John Rockefeller, Tony Oppegard, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Chris Hayes

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you for that.

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


Indeed, we begin with breaking news tonight out of Montcoal, West Virginia, about 30 miles south of Charleston, which is the capital city of West Virginia, there has been an explosion.  It was this afternoon at the Upper Big Branch South mine.  It has left seven miners dead.  At least another 19 miners are unaccounted.  One injured miner is reportedly in intensive care tonight.

And the Charleston Area Medical Center says it is preparing for more patients.  Rescue efforts reportedly in full effect this hour as family members gather for news at the nearby Whitesville Elementary School.

Now, this mine is operated by Performance Coal Company.  Performance Coal Company is a subsidiary of a larger company that‘s called Massey Energy.  Massey is actually the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia.  Five rescue teams from both Massey and Consol Energy are on the scene, as well as from the West Virginia Office of Miners‘ Health, Safety and Training.

Now, an engineering consultant the “Associated Press” tonight that the Upper Big Branch South mine has extra oxygen stashed on escape routes underground.  They also reportedly have air-tight refuge chambers that are supposed to be able to keep trapped miners alive for up to four days if they are underground and can‘t get out.

Joining us now by phone is Ken Ward, Jr.  Ken Ward, Jr. is a reporter with the “Charleston Gazette.”

Mr. Ward, thank you very much for your time tonight.

KEN WARD, JR., REPORTER, CHARLESTON GAZETTE (via telephone):  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  What can you tell us about the latest on the rescue efforts right now?

WARD:  Well, we can‘t tell you very much at all about the rescue efforts because we‘re not getting that sort of information out of the Department of Labor out of state of West Virginia.

We know that there are nine rescue teams.  These are highly-trained, very well-equipped special teams that would be able to go underground and search, try to find any survivors.  We know that they are on-site, but we haven‘t been told whether any of them have actually entered the mine and gone underground.  That would require, before they would do that, some reasonable assurance that they—the conditions in the mine, the gas levels, the ventilation was such that they weren‘t expecting a follow-up blast of some sort.

But, you know, time is everything in these situations.  And we‘re not hearing much confirmed information about whether or not the rescue teams have actually entered the mine or are actively searching for these—the other 19 workers yet.

MADDOW:  Do you have any further information on what may have caused this explosion, how large the explosion was, and if they‘re able to identify the actual—whether there‘s any further risk of additional explosions now?

WARD:  We don‘t know much of anything at all about what would have caused it.  It would have been either a methane gas explosion or a coal dust explosion, we don‘t have enough information to say which, or it could have been a combination of the two.

We do know that it was apparently a fairly sizeable explosion.  My colleague Kathryn Gregory is on the scene down there in Montcoal.  Witnesses have described to her smoke billowing out of the mine and there was a fire immediately afterward and those sorts of things.  So, it apparently was a fairly substantial explosion.

MADDOW:  Is there anything else that you can tell us just in terms of context for our viewers trying to imagine the scene?  Again, we‘re still trying to get cameras on scene.  We‘re trying to get there.  It‘s in a hard to get to area.

Is there anything else that you can tell us just to describe that setting, or this environment, how large an operation this is and how hard it is to get to?

WARD:  Well, this is a very large underground mine, though, you know, it‘s not something if you drove past it, you won‘t necessarily know that, because it‘s all underground.  This is a quite a different sort of operation than the Sago Mine that folks may remember from four years ago.  You know, unfortunately, these sorts of things play out periodically here in the coal fields.  And, you know, the families are rushed to a church or a school and kind of sit there and wait to find out what‘s become of their loved ones.

And, you know, we had Sago and Aracoma disasters in 2006 and the Kentucky Darby disaster in 2006, and Crandall Canyon in 2007.

And the mining industry and Congress would have led us to believe that they improved the safety of the industry such that these things wouldn‘t happen again.  But here we are in 2010, and we have 19 families that don‘t know if their loved ones are coming home, and we‘ll have seven family that are just experiencing the worst sort of horror that they could.

MADDOW:  Ken Ward, Jr. with “Charleston Gazette” in Charleston, West Virginia, giving us the latest and also just the brutal context of this disaster.  Mr. Ward, thank you for your reporting.  I appreciate your time.

WARD:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Also joining us now by phone is the Democratic senator from the state of West Virginia, Jay Rockefeller.

Senator Rockefeller, thank you very much for giving us your time tonight.  Appreciate it.

SEN. JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA (via telephone):  Thank you.

MADDOW:  What are you hearing about the accident so far and the rescue efforts?  Can you add anything to what we know thus far?

ROCKEFELLER:  Probably not a great deal.  The—and I think that‘s important.  I think it‘s incredibly important we get these highly emotional, highly traumatized, highly professionally complex and very mysterious, what are the circumstances, what caused it, lots of smoke, lots of traffic, everything clogged, nobody able to move anywhere—it‘s very important not to say more than you actually know.

If people tell me there are seven people dead, and that‘s what they

have, or that there‘s 21 or 28, depending upon who says it, who are still -

that being 49 still waiting to see what happens to them, that makes me worry very deeply.  Primarily because it is underground, and when I‘ve been underground in situations like that, or after that, it‘s—it‘s a really, really scary situation.  You don‘t know where you are.


The dust that Ken Ward was just talking about, the smoke that he was just talking about, disorients people.  There are chambers—and I don‘t know whether Massey Coal has them or not, but they‘re required to—for oxygen breathing so that miners can go.  At every single step or cut in the mine, they can go into one of those oxygen mine and put that on, and it carries them for a long period of time.

There are also wire ropes, because people can‘t see, it‘s pitch-black.  And smoke, and panic, and chaos, that they can hold on to that wire and just follow the wire, and it will eventually lead them out of the mine or at least to where the elevator will come down and pick them up.

But it‘s—I think it‘s wrong at this point to speculate on more than we actually know.  And I think what we have to concentrate on—I‘m going down tomorrow morning—and I think what you have to concentrate on is: one, that it is a horrible time to be in the family or the circle of friends of a miner, either dead or in danger or in general.  Secondly, in that you have to—that‘s where you have to put your main work, when you go down there, is just into being with them, usually in churches, with preachers.  It‘s very emotional, very powerful, very awful—and finally, very Appalachian.

And the second part is the professionalism of the rescue mine teams.  People have no idea, these people train all the time.  They have state competitions.  They have county competitions.  They have intercompany competitions—constantly training to be able to go in and rescue people.

But they have to know what the problem is.  They have to—they have to be able to see to get in.  They have to be able to get down into the mine.  Maybe the man—the vehicle in which you get into the mine has been burned.  Or maybe the shaft on the way down is not operating.

So, we‘re working right now in a world of mystery, and tremendous human tragedy.  Hopefully, things will begin to sort themselves out.  But I think the grave mistake now is to try to speculate on what might be.  What we know is bad enough.  And if it‘s what we hear, this would be the worst disaster since Farmington in the early ‘70s.  As Ken Ward said, this is something that is in the sadness of all the glory of West Virginia characteristics, fighting and climbing hills all the time, this is—this is the tragic part.

MADDOW:  Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, thank you so much for joining us tonight.  The whole country is pulling for those West Virginians and that mine tonight, and for their families.  Thank you, sir.

ROCKEFELLER:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Today‘s tragedy in West Virginia comes just hours after the complicated nature of mining disaster rescue made front page news around the world.  It was in northern China today that 115 miners were rescued after being trapped underground for more than a week.  Those miners had accidentally breached an old mine shaft that was filled with water.

The miners survived their ordeal underground by eating sawdust and tree bark, and by drinking the floodwaters.  Some used their belts to suspend themselves from the mine shaft wall trying to avoid accidentally falling into the water and drowning while they were asleep.

Rescue workers spent eight days drilling holes and pumping water out of the mine.  They then used rubber rafts to pull the first survivors out of that mine last night.  Thirty-eight miners are said to be still trapped in that mine in northern China right now.

Rescue efforts continue tonight, as here in America, in West Virginia, we face our own underground mine disaster and rescue effort again, as Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia just told us, one, that although we do not know for sure, could be the worst disaster in mining since the early 1970s.


Joining us now is Tony Oppegard.  He‘s a former prosecutor of mine safety violations and former federal mine official in the Clinton administration.

Mr. Oppegard joins us by phone now on short notice.

Mr. Oppegard, thanks very much for your time.


Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  We were told this was an explosion.  We don‘t know if it may have been a methane gas explosion, a coal dust explosion.  What particular challenges would that pose for rescuers?  What does that mean to the rescue effort?

OPPEGARD:  Well, the first thing is to ensure that the rescue team members are going to be safe in performing their job.  I mean, it‘s—they‘re thrust into a chaotic situation and one that‘s highly volatile and dangerous.  So, they are risking their lives just going underground.  And you want to make sure that you take all steps necessary to protect their safety.

Back in 1976, in eastern Kentucky, in Letcher County, we had the Scotia Mine explosion on March 9th and there were 15 miners killed.  And as the rescue workers were attempting to recover their bodies two days later, on March 11th, there was another explosion and 11 mine rescue workers and federal mine inspectors were killed.  So, it‘s a double disaster.

And you want to make sure—that‘s why mine rescue work is very

difficult.  There‘s not another ignition source, for instance, that you

have a bunch of rescue workers underground who are killed.  That being said



MADDOW:  Mr. Oppegard—sorry, go ahead.

OPPEGARD:  That being said, the families obviously want those rescue workers to get in as soon as they can and get to where the miners are located.

MADDOW:  How do the rescue teams determine where the trapped miners are?  Is there a technology they have to avail themselves of that helps them zero-in on the greatest chance for preserving life?

OPPEGARD:  Rachel, there is technology.  I don‘t know if it‘s available for this particular mine.  There are some mines in Kentucky, I know, that use a tracking device for each individual miner.  It‘s like a mini-GPS system where the mine can tell you on a computer screen that such-and-such miner is located at number four head drive, or, you know, at this conveyor belt.  They know where they are, they can track them throughout their working shift.

Whether that‘s available in this mine, I don‘t know.  And I also don‘t know, maybe some of your other guests have told you, whether or not there are rescue chambers, or refuge chambers available in the mine.  If they are in place, the company would know precisely where they are for each shift, and they could—they have to be located within 1,000 feet of the shift, of the face, under federal law.

So, hopefully, they would be able to say, if some of these workers survived the explosion, they‘re in the refuge chamber and here‘s where it‘s located, which obviously would make the mine rescue teams work a whole lot easier.

MADDOW:  Tony Oppegard is a former federal mine safety official from the Clinton administration, an expert in these matters—thank you very much for your time tonight, sir.  Appreciate it.

OPPEGARD:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  We will, of course, continue to monitor these rescue efforts that are underway at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia.

Again, as we know—what we know now is that seven workers are thought to have been killed; at least 19 miners are thought to be trapped underground right now.  We‘re told by an engineering consultant who spoke to the “Associated Press” tonight that there are air-tight refuge chambers in this mine.  That‘s what we‘re hearing from the “Associated Press.”  I can confirm that from the perspective of MSNBC right now.  But that is what we‘re told by the “A.P.”

We, of course, will bring you any updates as they become available.  This is an ongoing breaking story.  The nation‘s thoughts and prayers with those families in West Virginia right now.

OK.  Still ahead, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is due to join us live here in studio.  Her name was just floated as a potential Supreme Court nominee.

Much more to come this hour.  Please do stay with us.


MADDOW:  On “The Interview,” we will talk unprecedented filibusters and the Supreme Court with Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.  She‘s here live in studio.  Please do stay with us.


MADDOW:  Congress is not in session right now.  But one of Washington‘s favorite things to fight about, a Supreme Court vacancy, appears to be on the horizon.  And as such, Republicans are itching to make it as big a political fight as they possibly can this election year.

Of course, nothing‘s happened yet.  There‘s not a nominee or even a vacancy yet.  But clearly, Republicans want their next big fight to be about the Supreme Court.

Here‘s the context of them wanting that.  In the House, when you vote on something, all you need is half of the House plus one.  You need a simple majority.  That‘s all you need to pass legislation in the House.

In the Senate, the rules are the same.  You can get things passed with a simple majority, 51 votes.  Except in the Senate, if you‘re in the minority, you can also invoke a special procedural rule that used to not be used very often, which says, for this particular item, you need more than 51 votes.  You need 60 votes.  You need a supermajority in order to get something done.

In the Constitution, there‘s only a couple things that are considered important enough to require a supermajority—things like ratifying treaties and changing the Constitution and impeachment.  But in the Senate they have decided that Senate rules let them require a supermajority whenever the minority feels like forcing the issue.

And it used to be really rare.  In the ‘50s, it was never used more than twice in any two-year session of Congress.  In the ‘60s, it was never used more than seven times in any two-year period.

But, look how it‘s been used over the course of—oh, just say for a random period, my lifetime, starting in 1973.  As you can see there‘s a gentle upward drift in the number of times this rule was used, making it so that a supermajority was needed to get things done in the Senate.

This sort of gentle drift up, right?  But then, 2006 happened.  And in 2006, Democrats won a majority in the Senate.  With that in mind, watch what happens with this infrequently-used rule.  Watch what happens starting in 2007 when Republicans suddenly found themselves in the minority.  Boink!

The filibuster had never been used this way before.  It had never been used so frequently before the Republicans found themselves in the minority after the 2006 midterm elections.  And ever since then, ever since 2007, Republicans have been acting a-historically.  They have changed the Senate into something it has never been before.

In making it so that a simple majority doesn‘t actually rule anymore, they have done something unprecedented.  It‘s something civics geeks have been hyperventilating about for three years, trying to get the country to realize how important and unprecedented this change is for our democracy.

But now, for this expected upcoming vacancy on the Supreme Court, Republicans are thinking of doing something really, really, really unprecedented.  They‘re talking about taking their own party‘s unprecedented action to a whole new level.

The only time a Supreme Court nominee has been filibustered successfully in this country was in 1968.  President Lyndon Johnson wanted to elevate Abe Fortas from being an associate justice to being chief justice.

Now, when LBJ nominated Mr. Fortas to be chief justice, Mr. Fortas was already in political trouble for being too close to the president, for advising him on policy matters, for example, for writing his State of the Union address one year, for accepting thousands of dollars in outside payments on top of his Supreme Court salary as well.  So, Mr. Fortas‘ nomination was filibustered successfully.  He was not allowed to rise to chief justice.

In the following year, he actually became the first-ever Supreme Court justice to resign under threat of impeachment after news got out that he had secretly taken $20,000 retainer from a Wall Street financier who wound up in prison.

That story—that remarkable anomaly from the otherwise totally stay boring history of the Supreme Court is the only Supreme Court nominee to have ever been successfully filibustered, the guy who was about to be impeached for taking side money.

And now, Republicans are saying, straight out of the gate, that they very well may filibuster again this year.

So, the entire history of Supreme Court filibusters in our nation, they say, will be Abe Fortas and then President Obama‘s nominee this year.  And—I mean, I suppose it is understandable, I mean, given how extreme the nominee is who President Obama has—I‘m sorry, what?  Oh, he hasn‘t.

I‘m sorry.  President Obama hasn‘t actually picked anyone yet.  I‘m sorry, sorry.

Actually, there‘s not even a vacancy yet.  Oh.  Never mind, though.  Republicans are letting it be known that they may filibuster this nominee who doesn‘t exist.  Republicans are prepared to go to unprecedented lengths to stop this nominee who doesn‘t exist for filling a vacancy that doesn‘t exist.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  Are you willing to pledge right now that the GOP will not filibuster whoever the president nominates?

SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  It will all depend on what kind of a person it is.  I think the president will nominate a qualified person.  I hope, however, he does not nominate an overly ideological person.  That will be the test.


MADDOW:  Here‘s the thing: the justice who might retire is John Paul Stevens.  He‘s a liberal.  Barack Obama is, therefore, very likely to replace him with a liberal so that the balance of the court won‘t change.  And frankly, it may be a little unreasonable to expect a Democratic president to replace a liberal Supreme Court justice, with, say, a conservative who would move the court dramatically to the right.

But who here is willing to bet that being a liberal is going to be enough to meet Jon Kyl‘s definition of someone who is so overly ideological that they must be filibustered?

Joining us now, someone whose name has been floated as a potential nominee for the seat, I‘m dying to know how seriously she‘s taking that—

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA:  Well, hello, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks for coming in.

KLOBUCHAR:  As you see, I‘m wearing the wrong color to be on the Supreme Court.

MADDOW:  Well, your microphone is black.

KLOBUCHAR:  Yes, that‘s correct.

MADDOW:  It‘s very slimming.

KLOBUCHAR:  And also, there are all those old speeches of mine that you would find.  Remember the Sotomayor “wise Latina”?


KLOBUCHAR:  Where I called myself a wise Slovenian.  So, this is over before it even started.

MADDOW:  I don‘t know, if you really got this Slovenian people behind you in America—



MADDOW:  -- a political bloc.

KLOBUCHAR:  It‘s a small but mighty country.  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  Is it flattering to be mentioned?  Is it just awkward?  Is it both?

KLOBUCHAR:  No.  It is.  But I love my job now.  And as you know, as you pointed out with the Senate, there‘s a lot of work to be done there.


KLOBUCHAR:  And I think we need people that are willing to push the envelope to get things done, to work across the aisle and get things done.  And I think that we‘ve started to.  I remember the last time I was on, you referred to the Senate—do you remember this?

MADDOW:  As a dysfunction junction.

KLOBUCHAR:  As a dysfunction junction.

MADDOW:  That‘s right.

KLOBUCHAR:  But I will say the train has left the station now.

Well, we passed health care reform.  We passed the jobs bill.  We passed the extenders.  We now have more to do on that.  We got the FAA reauthorization, aviation, travel promotion.  We‘re moving.

And part of that, and I think part of the answer to the filibuster, as much as I‘d like to see reform and hope we do it, but it‘s calling people out.  When they slow down the process, when Jim Bunning gives his finger not just to the media but to every employed worker in this country, we call them out.  We‘ve started being more aggressive about calling people out when they‘re doing these things.

And if you want to lead to true bipartisanship, I think you have to be honest with the American people about what‘s happening.

MADDOW:  But the Bunning story is, I think, a telling one because it is true that Democrats and some Republicans even called him out when he blocked unemployment benefits for all those people in the country.  Now, Republicans are blocking unemployment benefits again, and Republicans in leadership positions are saying things like, we‘re all Jim Bunning now.  So, we should have stood with Jim Bunning the first time around.  We‘re all going to do that now.

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, at their own peril.  And that‘s what I think—when you look at Supreme Court justice nominee and whoever it‘s going to be, the point of this is that the American people want us to keep working on jobs, financial regulation, to move forward on homegrown energy.  And they do it at their own peril if they want to devote the summer to blocking a nominee.

And when you look at, say, Sotomayor, who they claimed was—they called her all kinds of names, 95 percent of the time, she voted with a Republican nominee when she was on a three-judge panel.  And most scholars that looked at her record said she was basically a moderate, that she wasn‘t extreme.

And so, I actually believe in reality here, that some of the names that have been put forth that the president could nominate, who clearly would be Democratic nominees.  But when you look, say, at Lindsey Graham, what he said at Sotomayor, remember that speech.  It was pretty courageous.

He said, “Look, I wouldn‘t have picked her, but my job is to look at who‘s qualified.  Do they have the qualifications, and I‘m proud to vote for her.”  And I‘ll never forget that moment.  That‘s what I‘m hopeful will happen here as well.

MADDOW:  Senator, I think it‘s not an accident that it was Senator Jon Kyl this weekend who floated the idea of again, filibustering a nonexistent nominee for a vacancy that doesn‘t exist, because he‘s already outraged by the prospect of this nonexistent person.  But Senator Jon Kyl made those same comment within a week of the election in 2008.  At that point, he was already talking about filibustering a Supreme Court nominee.


MADDOW:  They‘re—on the other side of the aisle, they see some political advantage to mounting a filibuster campaign here, as historic as it would be.

KLOBUCHAR:  They do.  But in the end, on the Sotomayor case, as you know, they backed down.  There were a lot of people within their own party who had different feelings about her.  They didn‘t want to piss off every Hispanic voter in the country.

They knew that she had some qualities.  It didn‘t mean they all voted for her, but they sure—you know, they asked her tough questions and then the hearing got done, and she got confirmed.  And I‘m hopeful that will happen as well in this case.

MADDOW:  Optimism.



MADDOW:  But I can feel it.  I can feel it in the room.


MADDOW:  When I look at that graph that I showed in the intro here of the filibuster—over time, it looks like a half pipe, it makes me think, hey, this needs to be fixed.  Hey, this is a problem, it‘s being abused.  Does it make you feel that way too?


MADDOW:  Does it make people in the Senate generally—


KLOBUCHAR:  Especially some of the newer senators that have come in, that aren‘t just, you know, steeped in the tradition of this wonderful filibuster, we see it as a problem.  A lot of us have managed organizations and we like to move forward and get things done.  So, there are a lot of efforts to reform.

I will point out the last person successful in reform was Walter Mondale from Minnesota.  It was 67 votes and he got it down to 60.

So, a number of us are saying, well, can we get it down some more?  Can we still allow for this debate?  Can we allow for people to stand on the floor and push the filibuster so they have to own what they‘re doing?

If they want to filibuster unemployment benefits for people who are out of work for no fault of their own because Wall Street messed up, are they going to take to the floor and do that day after day after day?  That‘s another reform that we‘d love to see.

MADDOW:  And you‘d support that?


MADDOW:  Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota—thank you very much for joining us tonight.  And I—I think you could talk them into pink robes.

KLOBUCHAR:  Yes, that would be a very touch.

MADDOW:  It looks really good on everybody.

KLOBUCHAR:  Especially on Scalia.

MADDOW:  I was going to say, especially on Alito.  But you‘re totally right.  It‘s Scalia.

KLOBUCHAR:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Senator:  Appreciate it.

All right.  Last week could not have gone more poorly for the Republican National Committee.  It started with a fake lesbian bondage club scandal and that was actually the highlight.  The headlines are still getting worse even today and party chairman, Michael Steele, has chosen to defend himself on live TV—which is always risky.  “The Nation‘s” Chris Hayes joins us next.



MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  I‘m not a Washington insider even though I grew up here in D.C.  My view on politics is much more grassroots-oriented.  It‘s not old-boy network-oriented.  So, I tend to, you know, come at it a little bit stronger, a little bit more streetwise, if you will.  That‘s rubbed some feathers the wrong way. 


MADDOW:  Republican Chairman Michael Steele this morning trying to rub some feathers back the right way to move on from last week‘s very bad headlines right before he got hit with today‘s very bad headlines. 

Last week, A week ago today, it was the conservative Web site, “Daily Caller” that broke the story that Republican Party spent nearly $2,000 of its donors‘ money at a bondage-themed sex show - sex show nightclub in West Hollywood. 

The money was spent there on RNC business, and then reimbursed out of RNC funds.  After the article came out last week, Mr. Steele said the funds would be un-reimbursed and that a young female staffer would be fired. 

Then, we found out that the daughter of Steele‘s Republican national co-chair was paid $13,000 of Republican donor‘s money to be a speechwriter.  Then we found out that among the RNC‘s list of expenditures were office supplies they said they bought at a liquor store and meals that they say they bought at a fancy clothing boutique, Henri Bendel, and a fly fishing tackle shop.  Night crawlers. 

Many of these stories that make the Republican Party and Michael Steele look very, very bad did first appear in conservative publications and they‘re full of quotes from anonymous Republican insiders. 

So, in other words, if Michael Steele is getting pushed here, if there‘s a campaign afoot to leak damaging stuff to make him look bad, it seems to be coming from within the Republican Party. 

Now, if you‘re looking for further signs of division among top tier Republicans, consider also that a group of former Republican Party officials last week announced that they were forming an alternative to the RNC. 

They publicly called on Republican donors to give funds to them instead of to the party and Michael Steele.  Then, Sarah Palin tried to distance herself from the RNC as well, demanding very publicly that they take her name off of an RNC fundraising appeal. 

All that happened in just one week.  One long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long week.  And now starts week two.  To add to last week‘s litany, consider also the news that one of the biggest fundraisers in the whole Republican Party, Former Ambassador Sam Fox, has resigned from his post at the RNC. 

According to, once again, anonymous Republican sources, quoted in “Politico,” Mr. Fox was, quote, “deeply troubled by the pattern of self-inflicted wounds and the missteps at the RNC under Chairman Steele.” 

Also today, the chief-of-staff of the Republican National Committee resigned.  His name is Ken McKay.  The new chief-of-staff of the RNC will be the man who ran Michael Steele‘s unsuccessful Senate campaign in Maryland in 2006. 

If that is supposed to inspire confidence, consider that after that campaign was over, and Mr. Steele lost by more than 10 points, his campaign finance chairman told the feds that Steele‘s campaign gave $37,000 in campaign funds to a company that was run by Michael Steele‘s sister. 

The Steele campaign finance chairman said that to the feds right before he was sentenced to nine years in federal prison for a multimillion dollar fraud that was unrelated to the campaign. 

But wait, there‘s more.  In addition to elevating his old campaign chairman, Michael Steele has also brought on board at the RNC a new special assistant for finance - is the title.  A special assistant for finance.  At a time when it might really behoove the RNC to be hiring people with spotless reputations, as fiscally responsible stewards of its money, who does the RNC pick for its new special assistant for finance? 

They picked a man who was just recently fined thousands of dollars for using donor funds to pay for his own personal expenses.  As “The Washington Post” reports, new RNC fundraiser Neil Alpert was ordered in 2007 to repay more than $37,000 that he was found to have spent improperly while he chaired a political action committee in D.C. 

Mr. Alpert denied the allegations, but “Politics Daily” reports today that he did pay a $4,000 fine that was levied against him by the D.C.  office of campaign finance.  Again, we‘re still trying to find out if he ever repaid the money he was found to have misappropriated, money that was supposed to go to inner city kids for things like rehabbing rundown playing fields. 

We think he paid the fine, but we can‘t figure out if he repaid the tens of thousands of donors‘ money that was supposed to go to the inner city kids that the D.C. finance folks say he misappropriated. 

We will let you know what we hear from him if the RNC ever, ever calls us back.  All in all, though, week two is not turning out to be an improvement on last week in terms of headlines for Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee. 

Joining us now is Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” with whom I think I‘m going to disagree tonight.  Hi, Chris.


MADDOW:  Woohoo.  All right.  Let‘s fight.  Ready? 

HAYES:  Yes. 

MADDOW:  I think there‘s no way that Michael Steele survives this.  I think he has to resign.  You think he won‘t?

HAYES:  Right.  I think he won‘t.  Well, let me say this is not an endorsement of his performance at the RNC which, as you‘ve laid out quite aptly, is not very good. 

Here‘s the reason that I think he won‘t.  One is that of the things I‘ve learned in Washington - it‘s the Donald Rumsfeld rule, which is that, after Abu Ghraib, there‘s all this pressure and this mounting pressure. People start speculating if they‘re going to resign. 

If you just refuse to do it, eventually it goes away.  I think Michael Steele understands that because I think he‘s enough of a loose cannon. 

The other thing that‘s fascinating about this, that it‘s actually very similar to some of the dynamics of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Howard Dean.  There‘s two constituents here - constituencies here.  There‘s the constituency of the donors who are clearly infuriated.  But they‘re not the ones who actually institutionally control his fate. 

The people who control his fate are the members of the Republican National Committee that are made up of the county chairs, the ones that elected him.  And to get rid of him, you‘d have to get two-thirds of those people to vote him out. 

I think Michael Steele understands that basically, he‘s bullet proof.  And I think, actually, from the sort of first person perspective of Michael Steele, if he‘s smart, he‘ll just hang on. 

MADDOW:  But doesn‘t it matter who‘s pushing?  I mean, even with just the Rumsfeld example, in that case, you get, you know, moon bats like me and you get, you know, retired military officers and those people calling for him to step down. 

And then he just gets to stand firm and look conservative and have people line up behind him. 

HAYES:  Right. 

MADDOW:  In that case it seems very clear that the people who are both pushing and pulling Michael Steele are in the upper echelons of the Republican National Committee which both need the people who he needs in order to keep doing his job well, because he needs money from them. 

But there are also people in the position of offering him the next job that he gets to go to so he gets to sort of have a glide landing here. 

HAYES:  That‘s exactly - I think, actually, you put your finger on the crucial issue.  How much does Michael Steele care about his next gig?  Because if doesn‘t care - he understands that he kind of has these people over a barrel because firing him in a really messy way in which he says, “I was forced out,” makes things really ugly for the Republicans. 

If he realizes he has them over a barrel and he doesn‘t care about his next gig, then he‘s bullet proof.  If he‘s worried that he‘s not going to be able work in the town again, I think you‘re right.  Then, they can ease him out. 

But right now, whatever influence they have over Michael Steele, it is exactly about his next gig.  It‘s not about him as head of the RNC.  Because those - however many people there are that are talking smack about him to the papers, they‘re not the ones that ultimately are going to be able to control his fate. 

MADDOW:  I think they get him to resign by offering him something sweet and I think it happens soon, because seven months from the election is better than two months from the election, is better than keeping him there as a huge distraction through the election. 

But most of all, I‘m looking forward to continuing to disagree with you about it and having a civil disagreement with you on the air. 

HAYES:  That‘s right.  I won‘t be shouting. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Chris.  Appreciate it. 

HAYES:  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Chris Hayes is Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine. 

All right.  So my next cockamamie theory is that someone is impersonating John McCain.  He looks like John McCain.  He sounds like John McCain.  But he doesn‘t believe any of the things John McCain used to say he believed in.  And he doesn‘t like the word “maverick.”  It‘s maybe even worse than an imposter.  It‘s a fake imposter, which is a really awesome double unreliability for a narrator or a character if you think about it, right?  A fake imposter?  That‘s next. 


MADDOW:  The epic story of Sen. John McCain‘s long career in politics was supposed to be punctuated with an exclamation point - President John McCain!  Barring that, elder statesman and party leader John McCain.  Lion of the Senate, John McCain. 

Instead, it‘s starting to look like the story will end with no punctuation at all, just smaller and smaller font size until nobody can read it anymore.  Over the weekend, Mr. McCain abandoned the one thing that has marked his 27-year run on Capitol Hill, his well-sold and widely bought brand.

He gave this quote to “Newsweek,” “I never considered myself a maverick.  I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities.” 

Sen. John McCain never considered himself a maverick.  It‘s hard to square with a lot of videotape starring Sen. John McCain. 


ANNOUNCER:  He‘s the original maverick.  One is ready to lead. 


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘ve been called a maverick.  The American people know me very well.  I‘ve got that is independent and a maverick of the Senate, and I‘m happy to say that I‘ve got a partner that‘s a good maverick along with me now.  What do you expect with two mavericks? 

ANNOUNCER:  The original mavericks.  Real change. 

MCCAIN:  I‘m John McCain and I approve this message. 


MADDOW:  John McCain now says he hasn‘t considered himself a maverick except repeatedly over and over and over again when he‘s called himself a maverick in speeches and in town halls and in debates and in campaign ads. 

And it should be noted in the subtitle of his own autobiography, “Worth Fighting For.”  The subtitle is, “The Education of an American Maverick and Heroes Who Inspired Him.” 

It‘s the rare politician who will try to disavow the title of his own autobiography.  But John McCain is up to the task. 


MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith asks Congressman Alan Grayson about the doctor in his district asking Obama supporters to get their medical treatment elsewhere. 

Next on this show, the big breaking point policy news and the story that is going to dominate the next week and a half in politics.  It is just breaking tonight.  Please stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Still ahead, baseball season has begun.  And although it‘s been only one day plus one great game last night, we may have already seen the best play you will see all year and a bold statement but I am feeling good about this one. 

Ten seconds of straight up unbelievable awesomeness plus some replays of the awesomeness.  It‘s incredible.  That‘s coming up. 

But first, a couple of other stories today that merit some very serious consideration today.  For the first time, U.S. and NATO officials admit that a February raid by U.S. Special Operations troops in Afghanistan went very, very wrong. 

In a major blow to U.S. efforts to reduce U.S. casualties in Afghanistan, three Afghan women and two men were killed on February 12th in a nighttime raid in southeastern Afghanistan. 

The Special Forces showed up looking for Taliban insurgents.  One of the men killed that night was reportedly carrying an AK-47.  The U.S.  officer opened fire killing him and the three women who were gathered around him.  Two of them were pregnant.  The third was a teenager. 

Right after the attack, when reports of the deaths surfaced, Gen.  Stanley McChrystal‘s office claimed that the women had been tied up, gagged and killed hours before the raid, the implication being that they were victims of perhaps honor killings that preceded the raid all together. 

But now, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces is admitting responsibility.  They have, quote, “concluded that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men.  The force went to the compound based on the liable information in search of the Taliban insurgents.  We now understand that the men killed were only trying to protect their families.” 

And now, for the very horrible twist.  The “Times of London” is reporting that not only did U.S. Special Operations Forces kill these women but they may have also tried to cover up that fact. 

The “Times” reports, quote, “U.S. Special Forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims‘ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened.” 

And NATO officials are denying any cover-up even as they admit responsibility for the deaths.  And finding out what really happened that night after the shooting is going to be very difficult.  The victims have already been buried.  Repairs have been made to the building that was damaged by gunfire. 

We will be keeping our ear to the news ground on this one.  I doubt very much this is the last that we will hear of this. 

Also, some late news this evening from the “New York Times” that President Obama will unilaterally revise and, quoting the “Times,” substantially narrow - substantially narrow the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons.” 

The salient points of the president‘s new policy - the U.S. will renounce the development of any nuclear weapons, a decision that overrules the initial position of the Defense Secretary Bob Gates. 

Also, the U.S. will, for the first time, commit not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states if those states are in compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty.  Even if those states launch attacks against us, biological or chemical or cyber attacks against the U.S. 

White House officials tell the “Times” that the new strategy does leave open the option of reconsidering the possibility of nuclear retaliation against biological attacks depending on the level of devastation, depending on what‘s made possible by the ongoing development of bio-weapons. 

President Obama also telling the “Times” that he would carve out exceptions for - I‘m quoting the president here - “outliers like Iran and North Korea, countries that have violated or renounced nonproliferation agreements.” 

Now, the strategy that‘s going to be announced is known as the Nuclear Posture Review.  It‘s going to be formally announced tomorrow.  That will begin an intensive nine-day effort that‘s focused on nukes around the world and focused on reminding Americans that foreign policy and national security are about more than just wars. 

The president will travel to Prague to sign a new nuclear weapons treaty with Russia.  That will happen on Thursday.  And then on Monday of next week, he‘ll convene a summit in D.C. with representatives of 47 countries.  That‘s almost unheard of to have that many countries convening at the request of the U.S. president.  That meeting on Monday is about keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. 

Cracking down on loose nukes was President Obama‘s pet issue as a senator.  And it is among his first and boldest foreign policy initiatives that was not forced on him by the previous administration.  I imagine that we will have much more to report on this tomorrow and for the next nine days as President Obama attempts to implement his very personal vision of foreign policy.  Very important, very exciting and potentially very controversial news on this subject to come.  Please stay with us.


MADDOW:  Not counting last night‘s glorious come-from-behind victory of the Boston Red Sox over the New York Yankees, today was opening day in major league baseball, a day every year when men, women and children all over the country fake illness in order to make it out to the ballpark. 

Yes, the Mets played in New York and, yes, Alana(ph) we noticed you weren‘t here.  Now, I personally didn‘t think today‘s opening day games would be able to top last night‘s action at Fenway Park, if every Sunday night could be so awesome. 

However, I may have been wrong about the insurmountability of the Red Sox awesomeness because what happened today in a game between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox may go down as play of the year in baseball, the play of the year on day one. 

Did you see this today?  And no, we‘re not a baseball show.  We couldn‘t help it.  Fifth inning of that game, Mark Buehrle is pitching for the White Sox.  Lou Marson for the Indians.  And watch what happens.  Watch this. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPORTSCASTER:  Two, two game.  The foot of Buehrle through the legs. 


Got him!  That‘s why he‘s gold, baby. 


MADDOW:  Did you see that?  Did you see that?  In order to fully appreciate this circus-like incredibleness of this play by Mark Buehrle, you have to watch it again in slow-mo.  First of all, the ball deflects off of Buehrle‘s leg.  Watch. 

At Buehrle‘s leg - then he runs over to the first baseline, grabs the ball with his glove, flips it from his glove between his legs to the first baseman who catches it with his bare hand.  Whoop.  And he‘s out. 

Are you kidding me?  It is tough to crown something the play of the year when there are roughly 2,418 more regular season games to be played.  But good luck topping that one.  I don‘t even like the White Sox.  Do you believe that? 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow night.  Until then, hang out with us on our new blog, “”  We do all sorts of things we can‘t do online.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Have a great night. 



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