Guest Host: Bill Wolff
Guests: Eugene Robinson, Thomas D‘Agostino
BILL WOLFF, GUEST HOST: Well, hi, everybody. I am Bill Wolff, the executive producer of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, filling in for the most part for Rachel, who‘s got a rare night off, sort of.
Whatever does that guy I don‘t recognize mean—well, I mean that Rachel will actually be here on TV in just a while with some brand-new exclusive reporting. I‘m not kidding, not fake cable news exclusive—exclusive reporting on a big and important story. It‘s a story Rachel has really led on. And we are extremely excited to bring it to you tonight.
But, we begin with our final installment of what has probably been our best animation of at least the last few weeks. Hit it!
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, OHIO: Hell no, you can‘t!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLFF: It‘s the lame duck watch, everybody. Tonight is our final show of the year. And I must say it is with great sadness and some trepidation that I report to you tonight nothing less than an existential threat to the future of the lame duck itself. And if there‘s no lame duck, there‘s no awesome animation, there‘s a lot at stake.
On the heels of what has been deemed one of the most productive lame duck sessions of Congress ever, congressional Republicans who wound up on the losing end of a number of big legislative accomplishments over the last month are now gearing up to kill the lame duck forever.
Republican Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins of the great state of Kansas is now leading the charge. Ms. Jenkins, announcing via Twitter, where Lincoln surely would have posted 140-character Gettysburg address if he could have, that when the new Congress convenes next month, quote, “I will reintroduce the End of the Lame Duck Act to prevent power grabs as we‘ve seen at the end of this session.” The End the Lame Duck Act.
Under this legislation, Congress would be forced to adjourn for the year on Election Day, the first Tuesday of November. After Election Day, Congress would not meet. Congress would not debate. And Congress would not pass any laws unless, quote, “a national emergency warrants it.”
So, even though you‘ve elected your House member to serve two full years, they would actually serve for one year and 10 months, and may take the last two months off? What is this, show business?
After a historic lame duck session in which President Obama and the Democrats in Congress, I should say, passed the tax cuts bill, a nukes treaty bill with Russia, a 9/11 first responders bill and the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” after Republicans failed to prevent all those things from happening, they would now like to end the mechanism by which they happened in the first place—thank you very much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER ®, TENNESSEE: We have a lame duck session where the majority seems to be insisting on an encore where there were boos for the concert. And they‘re bringing in every single issue they can think of.
SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: We‘re trying to run out the clock. They should not be able to pass this kind of legislation in a lame duck Congress.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: We‘re setting a precedent of lame duck that I think is unhealthy for the future of this country.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
WOLFF: And therefore, let‘s end the lame duck altogether. Now, those particular Republican senators haven‘t advocated for that yet. But when a bill to end the lame duck was introduced in the House earlier this year, 22 Republicans got on board.
The idea here is that somehow Democrats have abused the lame duck session, that they‘ve used it to pass consequential legislation. And by God, that‘s never happened before. Now, is the dear regular inhabitant of this chair might say, bullpuckey.
In 1970, the lame duck Congress passed, among other things, a giant Housing bill and major amendments to a little something called the Clean Air Act. In 1980, the lame duck House passed over 100 laws, including a superfund bill to cleanup chemical contamination sites. The 1994 lame duck Congress passed the single most ambitious international trade agreement in U.S. history. In 2002, which you may remember, the lame duck Congress created an entire new department of the federal government, the Department of Homeland security.
And then, of course, there was the lame duck Congress of 1998.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
ANNOUNCER: This is an NBC News special report, “The Impeachment Vote.” Here is Tom Brokaw.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Good afternoon, everyone. Mark the day, it is Saturday, December 19th, 1998, a day that will live forever in American history books in bold print.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: William Jefferson Clinton is now the first elected president to be impeached by the House, the second president in all of history. He says he will stay on the job while his fate is already lying before the U.S. Senate in the form of two approved articles of impeachment agreed to here today.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
WOLFF: That happened. In December of 1998, during a Republican-led lame duck session of Congress, the president of the United States was impeached. Now, no matter what you think of that decision, it was a big and consequential thing. And Republicans used the lame duck Congress to get it done. Big stuff happens during lame duck sessions.
Which is why we do something called lame duck watch, with an awesome animation—so we can track those things.
Now, Congresswoman Jenkins of Kansas says she wants to end the lame duck in order to prevent, quote, “power grabs” by the one party—and in this case, she means the Democrats. It should be noted however that most of the supposed power-grabbing during this recent lame duck session was bipartisan power-grabbing. Thirty-seven Senate Republicans voted for the tax cuts bill; 13 voted for the START Treaty; not one Senate Republican voted against the 9/11 first responders bill; and eight voted to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” This was not a power grab by Democrats. This was called legislating.
And that was perhaps the problem for congressional Republicans who are not too fond of the practice of legislating.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: If you want my real opinion?
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Yes.
BACHMANN: The lame duck is awful. And in my opinion, it‘s also unconstitutional. The 20th amendment that was passed back in, what, 1933 was meant to eliminate all future lame duck sessions. The Congress didn‘t want to see happen what‘s happening now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLFF: Ladies and gentlemen, this may be the first time this statement has ever been uttered on this show. But Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is correct. In 1933, Congress did it aim to end the lame duck session of Congress. However, Ms. Bachmann is leaving out one very important detail.
Here‘s how many filibusters were mounted back in 1933, two. A whopping two filibusters during the entire 72nd Congress. Now, here‘s how many were mounted by Republicans during this session of Congress—ding, ding, ding -- 136, ladies and gentlemen.
The reason that it seems like Democrats are trying to jam through all this big important stuff during the last two months of the year is because it is impossible to get anything done during the rest of this year. And all of this unfinished business gets back-loaded to the end of the year. It gets left for the lame duck Congress where it eventually passes under the threat of “you can‘t go home until we get some stuff done.”
Now, if you are someone who would like to see Congress do stuff, if you are someone who would like to see your paid, elected representative get something done and not just fight with the other side, then the lame duck session is for you. For you, the lame duck session is not the problem. It is the solution.
Joining us now: the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post” and MSNBC contributor, he is Mr. Eugene Robinson.
Gene, bless you for being here. How are you?
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I‘m fine, Bill. Good to see you.
WOLFF: Now, in your view, your unbiased view—how lame is the End the Lame Duck Act?
ROBINSON: Well, it is tremendously—perhaps titanically lame I‘d say. It‘s ridiculous. First of all, to save the animation alone, it‘s worth keeping the lame duck session, right?
WOLFF: Thank you. You know what? We appreciate that. You won the Pulitzer and you‘re saying it—it has weight, Gene. It has weight.
ROBINSON: Look, the animation must be saved. Second, as you pointed out, all this business that got done during the lame duck, had to get done during the lame duck because it couldn‘t get done before. In fact, they had to pass some kind of tax bill or everybody‘s taxes would have gone up.
“Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” was hanging up there. And the Republicans didn‘t want to play ball on that. It‘s—you know, what was it, 136 filibusters.
WOLFF: It‘s unbelievable.
ROBINSON: It‘s just—it‘s phenomenal. That is the real change in the way Congress has been doing business. And one thing that Michele Bachmann didn‘t mention—it is true that the intent of the 20th Amendment was, you know, to bring up Inauguration Day and the convening day of the new Congress in a way that would make lame duck congresses impossible.
But subsequently—I mean, it didn‘t have that effect. It didn‘t happen. Air travel was invented and Congress could get back here. And so, they convened.
But in all the intervening years, Congress and presidents have found lame duck sessions are extremely useful and sometimes necessary. And therefore, it is not convenient for a country of this size and complexity in the modern era to have Congress out of session for that long. It just doesn‘t work.
WOLFF: It does seem clear that if there were to be reform in Senate procedure—I‘m sorry, in congressional procedure in terms of government efficacy, filibuster reform would seem to be more important, more essential than lame duck reform.
What chance do you give of this anti-lame duck thing in Congress lasting? I mean, the Republicans are going to be in power the next lame duck session, at least in the House. Do you think they‘ll follow through or is this just grandstandery out of Kansas?
ROBINSON: I think it‘s mostly grandstandery. I don‘t think it‘s going to get—I don‘t think it‘s going to get through, number one. I think it may make some headway in the House. But in the Senate, it‘s not going to be enthusiastic about this. The Senate likes to do business the way the Senate likes to do business. And it cuts off options for senators and they don‘t want to cut off options. So, they‘re not going want to do this.
WOLFF: Now, you are a Pulitzer Prize-winning observer, student of the ins and outs of Washington. You observed this amazing lame duck session, in particular the last couple of weeks of it. Do you think this foretells something different for the next two years, or do you think the sort of spirit of productivity, the efficacy of the United States or the federal government ends right now? Did you learn—did we learn anything about what‘s going to happen? Or did we just see something happen that‘s now over?
ROBINSON: I think we learned a lot about the Senate. I think we learned that there‘s a difference between the Mitch McConnell establishment Republican faction and the kind of Jim DeMint/Tea Party Republican faction.
ROBINSON: And this sort of moderate group that seems to have remembered that it‘s a moderate group. And that can attract new members on an ad-hoc basis. So, I think the Senate is going to be kind of interesting, more interesting than it‘s been the last couple of years.
The big question is the House. And we didn‘t learn much about what the Republican House is going to be like. But from what we do know, John Boehner is going to have a real organizational and management problem on his hands with his Tea Party caucus. And that opposed to the necessity of doing business that the country needs to do, like raising the debt ceiling, for example.
What‘s going to happen when that comes up? And, frankly, I can‘t tell you what‘s going to happen.
WOLFF: Yes, 2011 -- I found 2010 to be unexpectedly interesting. I mean, who knew the midterm would be like that? 2011, I think, promises to be—I don‘t know if it would be good, bad or otherwise, but I think it will be interesting.
Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of “Washington Post,” contributor—not only do you enlighten and inform us, sir, you class this place up. You class it up, Gene. We appreciate it. Happy New Year. Thanks for being here.
ROBINSON: Happy New Year to you. I‘ll see you next year.
WOLFF: OK. Now, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has had a rough month, ladies and gentlemen. But the man has a heart—with an asterisk maybe, but it‘s a heart all the same. So, stick around to find out about that.
And later, the Rachel Maddow returns to this show with an exclusive report. It‘s news I guarantee you have not heard and I guarantee you will want to. Please stand by.
WOLFF: Maybe it‘s the time of the season. Maybe it‘s the coming of a new day in Congress. But coming up: a genuine, heartfelt, snark-free TRMS defense of Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia. On what grounds, you ask. Think Orly Taitz.
Please stand by.
WOLFF: Never let it be said on this show that Haley Barbour lacks a heart or any other vital organs or essential body parts like, say, a mouth and feet to put there on occasion. If Mississippi‘s Republican governor does not sorely, dearly, truly want to run for president in 2012, he certainly loves his national profile as high out there as he can get it. So, you end up seeing him on TV a lot talking about this and then talking about that and, of course, talking about the other thing.
Unfortunately, for Mr. Barbour‘s political ambitions, you also sometimes get to hear what he‘s actually saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI: The people that led the change of parties in the South, just as I mentioned earlier, was my generation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
BARBOUR: My generation who went to integrated schools or—I went to integrated college. I never thought twice about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLFF: Now, that was Governor Barbour at the end of summer, saying he never thought twice about going to an integrated college—a college which Rachel Maddow reported might have had two African-Americans out on of 5,000 students when Mr. Barbour enrolled.
So, to recap, Mr. Barbour is the governor of a former Confederate slave-holding state, Mississippi. The University of Mississippi was integrated in 1962, an event that sparked riots on campus and required the presence of U.S. Marshals and federal troops. It was only a couple of few more years before Haley Barbour would enroll at Ole Miss.
So, if you‘re Haley Barbour‘s political team, you do not want him on video talking about his super white, “never thought twice about it” integrated college and you do not want him in magazines either saying stuff like this right before Christmas. Quote, “You heard of the Citizens Councils. Up north, they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from, it was an organization of town leaders,” end quote.
If you‘re Haley Barbour‘s political handlers, you don‘t want him saying that kind of thing, especially not when the historical record shows that the Citizens Council that Mr. Barbour praised drove activists for integration out of town. And the more recent record shows Mr. Barbour at a fundraiser for a modern day segregation academy, a virtually all-white school in his state in this decade.
So, Haley Barbour, high-profile Republican, potential presidential hopeful, has got a little trouble with the past and to the present. But he does have a heart—really he does. And this week, he revealed that heart while also—we‘re ready to tell you—sticking his foot in his mouth again.
First, the part about Mr. Barbour‘s heart. What you see on the screen now are images of Jamie and Gladys Scott. They‘re sisters and they‘re convicts—which you can probably tell from their clothes and mug shots. Jamie and Gladys Scott have been on Haley Barbour‘s mind a lot lately with the NAACP and other folks calling for their release.
The Scott sisters have been in prison since 1994, serving double life sentences for armed robbery. It was an armed robbery in which the total take may have been only $11 and no one was hurt.
The other defendants testified against Jamie and Gladys Scott and they got relatively little time while the Scott sisters, who had no prior convictions, left their four small children and went away to children, quite possibly for the rest of their lives.
Now, during her time behind bars, Jamie Scott developed kidney failure. She‘s been on dialysis. She needs a transplant.
Her sister Gladys has offered to give her one of her kidneys. She even put that offer in writing in the application for her parole. And Governor Barbour took them up on it.
Mr. Barbour announcing yesterday that he was suspending their double life sentences with a catch. Quote, “Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott‘s medical condition creates a substantial cost for the state of Mississippi.” Now, the catch, quote, “Gladys Scott‘s release is conditioned on her donating one of her kidneys to her sister, a procedure which should be scheduled with urgency.”
So, on the one hand, Haley Barbour has done the humane, decent thing. He‘s letting these women whose freedom he agrees they have earned out of prison. Bravo!
On the other hand, so they can only get to be free if they agree to an organ donation that they want to him anyway? Huh?
Now, in a subsequent interview, Mr. Barbour said Medicare can now start picking up the tab for Jamie Scott‘s care instead of the state of Mississippi. And this evening, “The Jackson Clarion Ledger” reports the governor has asked for a review of all prisoners who are on dialysis in hopes that they too might be ready for release. So, there‘s that.
Now, to recap again, Haley Barbour has a heart—asterisk—for the foot and the mouth. We‘ll be right back.
WOLFF: No matter what happens with the lame duck, we‘ll always have that animation, “Debunktion Junction,” what is my function?
True or false time. America‘s favorite birther queen/lawyer/realtor/dentist Orly Taitz is friends with incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
That one is actually true. But that pause meant technically by the modern definition. You see, last summer, Dr. Taitz Esquire friended Congressman Cantor on Facebook, and he accepted her request, which means he has only himself to blame for what follows. I mean, the woman is all about documentary evidence. And there it is on the Interwebs.
Orly Taitz can legitimately count herself among the friends of the second-most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives. There she is right above Orrin Hatch.
Congressman Cantor has taken great pains to deny his Facebook friendship with Dr. Taitz Esquire. And I trust him entirely.
I get it completely, because did you ever get like an instant message on Facebook from somebody you don‘t actually know whose friend request you accepted, one that starts like, “Hey, how‘s it going?” Or “You‘re up early.” And then what are you supposed to say? Because you can‘t say, “I‘m sorry, I don‘t know who you are.” So you ignore them and you feel kind of bad.
Then you have to stop posting on Facebook for like an hour so they won‘t realize you‘re ignoring them. And then you‘re like, I need to unfriend that person but I don‘t want to do it right now because they‘ll notice. And then you‘ll forget.
And then a week later, they instant-message you again. Oh, Facebook, you evil muse. Damn you, Mark Zuckerberg!
Now, as I‘ve said, this all went down between Orly Taitz and Congressman Cantor last summer. But Orly Taitz is nothing if not publicity savvy. And so, this week, she posted a picture on Facebook of herself and her new best Republican friend forever, with the caption: “With incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor”—which because she is a friend with photo-tagging privileges also shows up on Eric Cantor‘s Facebook page. The shame!
And she put the picture in a folder titled, December 27th, 2010, which kind of makes it looks like they were at some sort of holiday shindig together.
And that pique the interest of both “The Washington Post” and Salon.com. Although it turns out that the picture was actually taken back in September.
Now, I‘m no conspiracy theorist, mainly. I mean, the short form certification of live birth is plenty good enough for me. But just think about this for a second. Could Dr. Orly Taitz Esquire have put a fake recent date on a semi-old picture in order to gin up interest from the news media during a slow news week?
And I fell for it. Curse you, Orly Taitz. Curse you.
We‘ll be right you back.
RACHEL MADDOW, TRMS HOST: We have THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW exclusive for you right now. Here‘s the thing that you already know. Just before Congress adjourned for Christmas, the Senate ratified the new nukes treaty with Russia.
That, of course, is a central priority for President Obama, nuclear safety, making sure the future does not have an unintended mushroom cloud in it. It‘s sort of his signature issue. It is among the things he most worked on as a senator and that he most wants to do as president.
When the president gave his big speech on nukes three months after inauguration, a speech before that huge open air crowd in Prague back in April 2009, in that speech, he not only promised he would get that treaty with Russia done, he also promised this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, today, I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In his first term, in four years, the U.S. will lock up all vulnerable nuclear material around the world. Aiming high - that‘s what‘s on the public record. You may you already know those things.
But here‘s something no one has known about until now because no one has been able to report this but us. Working in deep secrecy over Christmas time, under high security conditions, we have just completed an airlift of more than 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium out of Ukraine.
On a secret mission, we have just moved enough weapons grade material to make, I think, two nuclear bombs, to move it from somewhere unsafe to a locked-down secured facility. This mission is complete.
Any information about the mission has been deeply embargoed until the mission was complete, because this is potentially the most dangerous thing in the whole world, and fixing it is one of the most important things in the whole world.
Joining us now is Thomas D‘ Agostino. He is the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Mr. D‘ Agostino, congratulations on this mission. Thanks for making time.
THOMAS D‘AGOSTINO, HEAD OF THE NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY
ADMINISTRATION: It‘s great to be here. I really appreciate it.
MADDOW: Why is a country like Ukraine willing or even eager to try to get own uranium off their hands, to help us help them lock it up?
D‘ AGOSTINO: Because in Ukraine, they recognize they‘re part of the international community. They recognize how dangerous this material is. And their interest is not about possession. They want to be part of the international community.
They‘ve made statements at the Nuclear Security Summit earlier this year that they want to get rid of the majority of this material this. And they are following through on these commitments.
MADDOW: They see it as - they don‘t want it on their territory because they see it as a security risk to themselves? Because they don‘t want the responsibility of handling it because that‘s expensive? What‘s their calculation about this?
D‘ AGOSTINO: Well, their calculation is being part of the international community. It is a recognition that this is dangerous material. We are protecting the material. We‘ve done security upgrades in Ukraine to protect the material that‘s there.
But as part of the overall commitment on national security and nuclear security, there is general recognition that the fewer places where this stuff is at, the better off the world is.
D‘ AGOSTINO: This is a global problem. It‘s not a Ukraine problem or Russia problem or U.S. problem. It‘s a global problem. And that‘s why the president brought together these 46 countries in recognizing that we do want to secure this material, all vulnerable material in four years. That‘s a hard job.
But the Ukraine piece was - that we just completed essentially, over the holidays, as you mentioned is just a tremendous accomplishment. And it‘s a demonstration of the commitment by the President Yanukovych and President Obama working together with Russia that we can do things together, you know, despite all of the problems around the world.
MADDOW: Help me understand the threat that this material poses. This is highly enriched uranium. It‘s considered to be weapons-grade material.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Right.
MADDOW: Nothing else would have to be done to this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in order to be able to use it in a weapon.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Yes.
MADDOW: What is the risk if it fell into the wrong hands?
D‘ AGOSTINO: Well, the risk is fairly significant. As you mentioned, we‘ve got 100 pounds, 50 kilograms, of this material that we‘re bringing back. It‘s a recognition that you can make two nuclear weapons with this material.
It doesn‘t require a lot of technology or know-how to make a nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, the word is out there from an information standpoint. So the key in the nuclear security business is material. It‘s all you about material. It‘s just like in real estate. It‘s location, location, location.
For nuclear security, it‘s material, material, material. You‘ve got to get your hands on the material, have less of it of it, protect it, have it in fewer locations, get rid of it. That‘s our plan.
MADDOW: Where is most of it? When you talk of whom - the president used a very specific term, “vulnerable nuclear material.” Where most of the nuclear material that‘s considered not secure, that‘s vulnerable to exploitation, stealing it, some sort of threat?
D‘ AGOSTINO: We have a plan that really gets material out of 35 countries, where the majority of the material is around the world.
D‘ AGOSTINO: We‘ve done with 19 countries right now. We have 16 more to go. So this part of this four-year effort is to work our way through, step by step, year by year, shipment by shipment, all of this material.
Bring it back to both the United States where it came from, and Russia, where it came from. So back in the ‘60s, in the Atoms for Peace program and the recognition to do more nuclear research was needed, material was sent out in the form of highly-enriched uranium. We now recognize that we need to really repatriate that material, bring it back, return it to its place of origin, protect it.
MADDOW: So 19 countries down, 16 to go.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Nineteen down, 16 to go. It is - we‘re over halfway. We still have a lot more work to do. And with the support, the increased budgets that we have in this area that the president is proposing, specifically to lock this stuff down, we think we‘re going to get this job done. That‘s our plan.
MADDOW: You think you‘re on track to do it completely within four years?
D‘ AGOSTINO: We‘re on track. It is not just the National Security Administration. It requires a whole government, the State Department, the Department of Defense. We work with other countries.
Just this shipment that we completed with the Ukraine involved over four countries working together, 35 different organizations. So it‘s a logistical challenge - different languages, different cultures, different laws. You know, you can just imagine. You just layer these things on. We‘re talking about governments here.
D‘ AGOSTINO: And we‘re talking about material moving out of a country. This is, you know - there‘s national pride involved in some cases. And so getting this job done this year, this amount of material just since April, when the commitment was first made, I think is just a remarkable achievement.
MADDOW: Yes. But when you think about - the thing that amazes me, and maybe this is just because I‘ve read too many spy novels and this is the way I think about things. But it‘s not only all of those countries and all of those languages and all of those different incentives and all of that logistical concern.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Right.
MADDOW: It‘s that it all has to be done in secret.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Absolutely. Yes.
MADDOW: If you believe the heist movie, view of the world, right, then it is stuff that bad guys want. It‘s most vulnerable to those bad guys when it is in transit. That‘s always the way it works in the plot of those movies.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Absolutely.
MADDOW: Is that true in real life?
D‘ AGOSTINO: The same in real life? Absolutely the same in real life. And that‘s why we are very quiet about these operations.
You know, when they‘re going to happen, they usually happen under the cover of night, how many people are involved. We limit people in each of these different organizations and pulling all of this together.
I can assure - I‘ve been on a couple of operations when they happen at night. You see the country, wherever it‘s taking place, they marshal together their security forces. Roads are usually closed and radios are turned off, and it happens very quickly.
So it‘s - what is remarkable to see from my standpoint is how there‘s a general recognition around the world this is the right thing to do. This is not about Democrats or Republicans or this country versus that country. This is about people thinking about their future. It‘s a marvelous program.
MADDOW: One specific logistical detail about this, and I know this is
different depending on the exact type of fuel that you are moving, whether
it‘s irradiated, how much shielding it needs -
D‘ AGOSTINO: Sure.
MADDOW: And how dangerous it is, what are these tasks that you put the material into to move it?
D‘ AGOSTINO: Certainly. Usually - there‘s usually two containers, one within the other container, welded or bolted on different pieces. For example, the Ukraine operation, which we just completed, these casks were over a quarter of a metric ton, very heavy, 250 kilograms.
The casks down in our operation in Kazakhstan, as you know, were many metric tons. These were huge casks. And fresh material, with highly enriched uranium that hasn‘t been irradiated, you don‘t need as much shielding because you don‘t have those radioactive decay products.
MADDOW: So you can have these casks -
D‘ AGOSTINO: Yes.
MADDOW: That are roughly the same structure, but anywhere from a quarter metric ton to many metric tons.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Right.
MADDOW: And depending on the size that they need to be in order to be safe, that restricts how you can move them.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Right.
MADDOW: Because you can‘t put something the size of a house on a helicopter.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Right. Exactly. So in this case, for the Ukraine operation, we move these via airplane, the aircraft, Russian aircraft, Russian casks that we commissioned, we contracted for this operations to make sure this transportation was available.
For spent fuel, typically, it‘s much heavier because of the radioactivity involved. It has to go by rail or by truck. When you go by truck from one country to the next, usually, you‘re crossing borders and you‘re getting into - well, I don‘t want that stuff driving down my road.
So we‘ve done things like - do you remember that movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”? Of course, we‘ve done these types of things where we have trucks going to rail, going to ship, going back to a train. And it‘s an operation that gets planned all the way around.
Our recent - Serbia had 13 kilograms returned. It was one of
those types of operations. So -
MADDOW: And throughout, you need to make the balance between having adequate security to repel any effort by bad guys to get their hands on this stuff while it‘s on transit.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Right.
MADDOW: And also keeping a low enough profile so nobody thinks, “Hey, what‘s all the security guys doing over there? That must be valuable.”
D‘ AGOSTINO: Yes, that‘s right. We do want to keep - you know, there‘s - what we call it in the business is operational security, OPSEC for short. The footprint, the kind of image you project is a big deal.
And so people show up. They‘re wearing dark clothes and they have - you know, they‘re very important. They‘ve got this secret police in various countries. This is all voluntary work, of course, that happens.
But pulling this off is a huge challenge and doing it under the quiet of the operation. So as I said, this is a wonderful opportunity to highlight - you know, here we are, the last week of the year. We have, obviously, the Christmas holidays.
Think about how difficult it is to pull together an international
organization like the IEA to send their inspectors over - the United States
send our team over there and the Russians to send their team over there, the United Kingdom, which helped in this operation as well, pull their team over, all during a period of time with a huge snowstorm and traffic problems at the airports, which had an impact on our operation. So you have to be dynamic and be able to respond to changes.
MADDOW: Yes. Is there really a finite amount of this stuff that can be locked up? Or are we always making more of it?
D‘ AGOSTINO: There is a finite amount of material out there. And what we want to do is shift from a highly-enriched uranium environment where we have highly-enriched uranium around the world and turn it into low-enriched uranium, because it isn‘t the same problem at all with low-enriched uranium.
MADDOW: So you can convert the reactors that are now using highly-enriched uranium, which is very dangerous, into low-enriched uranium reactors that still provide power but aren‘t as dangerous.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Absolutely. Most of the highly-enriched uranium reactors are not power reactors, but they‘re actually reactors for research.
D‘ AGOSTINO: But at the same time, you‘ve got it exactly right. You want to go from highly-enriched to low-enriched uranium. The LEU does not give you the same problems that highly-enriched uranium has. And that‘s our plan to get this forward.
MADDOW: I am - I think the reason that you‘re willing to come talk to me about this is because I‘m the only person that I know of who doesn‘t work in the field who is - I‘m really obsessed with the prospect of nuclear smuggling, black market nuclear material, terrorists causing a radioactive explosion, if not a nuclear explosion itself.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Right. Sure.
MADDOW: You know, and there you are, in charge of that not happening. And you are the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. You are the Undersecretary for Nuclear Security in our government.
But - forgive me for saying this, but you‘re sort of the undersecretary for saving the world, if you worry, like I do, that this is the way the world ends.
D‘ AGOSTINO: We do worry.
MADDOW: I mean, you seem like a relatively relaxed guy. Do you feel like you have enough resources? Do you have enough support to do what you are trying to do?
D‘ AGOSTINO: Yes. We have wonderful resources. The answer is yes. We have enough resources. It‘s not just our agency. What we, of course - what we provide is the technical capability.
The United States has invested over the last 60 years a tremendous amount of resources into nuclear issues, whether they‘re warheads, nonproliferation, power production.
And we have a wonderful infrastructure that‘s part of my organization of laboratories and plants, of experts, you know, 30,000 scientists and engineers that know this stuff like the back of their hand. You can‘t do it without technical know-how.
And the president has recognized that. He‘s made a significant investment in my organization alone. I think our budget has gone up 10 percent from FY 10 to - from fiscal year 10 to fiscal year 11. That‘s a huge increase given the fiscal conditions that we‘re currently under.
D‘ AGOSTINO: And these are commitments of resources, not just for one year, but over time, because one of my worries - I do worry, as you say, about one of these things going off.
But my other worry is actually the people that work in our organization not feeling that their mission area is important. And so your interest in this area is absolutely vital to making people understand and communicating that to the American people in general so that people in Congress know about it, and the White House has been fantastic.
MADDOW: Is there any political resistance to what you do, any real political resistance? Or is it just a matter of getting it technocratically together to do it?
D‘ AGOSTINO: I think there is no - to my knowledge on the specifics, the general plan, there‘s no political resistance.
MADDOW: Good, because I will kill them.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Well, my sense is there will always be - and this is the good thing about government, one of the many good things about the government. This is a good government job to have. I‘m just blessed to be here.
But one of the - there will always be people questioning, “Well, should you be putting more into this part of your program on detecting illicit transfer? Should you be putting more into securing material?”
We benefit from the input from a variety of sources. Ultimately, the decision gets made in my organization. I work with the secretary of energy very closely on this because this is a technical job.
It‘s a job - should our next dollar be towards looking for that radiation detector that can really find the stuff? Or should it be to build one more fence around a certain facility? Or should be it to repatriate the material back to Russia or the United States? Those are where - there‘s where the differences come in. But big picture-wise, there is no difference on this. This is just great stuff.
MADDOW: That‘s good news. That‘s very good news. Thomas D‘ Agostino
D‘ AGOSTINO: I‘ll let you know.
MADDOW: Yes, seriously. I‘ll give you my cell phone number, OK? You probably already have it. Thomas D‘ Agostino is the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the man responsible for a mission that just locked down more than 100 pounds of previously un-secure weapons-grade uranium in Ukraine, which is a Christmas gift to the nation and to the world.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Thanks.
MADDOW: Mr. D‘ Agostino, thank you very much for joining us. And don‘t ever, ever mess up anything, OK?
D‘ AGOSTINO: OK. I‘ll remember that.
MADDOW: Thank you so much.
D‘ AGOSTINO: Thank you. I really appreciate it.
BILL WOLFF, PRODUCER: Ladies and gentlemen, if you didn‘t know, Rachel Maddow is incredible. And I‘ll tell you what - except for people in the audience, the only person who can‘t wait to have you back more is me. I can‘t wait.
Anyway, you might have heard right here that Delaware‘s Christine O‘Donnell is under investigation for campaign fraud. Coming up, you will hear her speak of it. This is the best valedictory for 2010 you are likely to hear. Stand by.
WOLFF: With all they have to worry about, the shadow totalitarian left-wing conspiracy is most concerned with the Republican Senate candidate who lost the un-losable race by a country mile. She is Christine O‘Donnell. Hear her speak, next.
WOLFF: When you think of a thug, what comes to mind? Guys like Tony Montana from “Scar Face” or Nino Brown from “New Jack City” or maybe a big burly enforcer dude like Luca Brasi in “The Godfather.” You get the picture? Got the picture of a thug in your head?
You know who Christine O‘Donnell seems to be insinuating as a thug? This guy - George Soros, the famous uber-rich guy who gives to liberal causes. That‘s the thug life, yo.
That‘s what the former Republican Senate candidate from Delaware said as she appeared on no fewer than five TV news morning shows this morning. The “you‘re not really saying what I think you‘re saying” thuggery she alleges is that Mr. Soros has funded a nonpartisan political watchdog group whose complaint is reportedly the basis of a federal criminal investigation into whether Ms. O‘Donnell used campaign donations for personal expenses like rent.
The thing is, months ago, Ms. O‘Donnell told a local paper that she had, indeed, used campaign donations for personal expenses, like rent. But don‘t let that little bit of possibly incriminating ambiguity yesterday get in the way of a talking point today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTINE O‘DONNELL (R-DE), FORMER REPUBLICAN SENATE CANDIDATE: You have to look at this whole thug politic tactic for what it is. It is obviously politically motivated. It‘s obviously politically motivated.
I find it awfully suspicious that if there is an investigation that the AP was tipped off. The AP has been tipped off and I find it very suspicious that the AP was tipped off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any evidence to suggest that the vice president made a phone call perhaps and got this FBI investigation started?
O‘DONNELL: No, no, no. Not necessarily the vice president. Melanie Sloan, the woman from CREW who‘s leading this charge, is a former Biden staffer who‘s to the left of most leftists - former Biden staffer. A former Biden staffer. George Soros funded former Biden staffer.
And CREW is a left wing George Soros-funded group. Trumped up charges by the left wing George Soros-funded CREW organization.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you say that your house was used in part as a campaign headquarters so therefore it justified being used as rent?
O‘DONNELL: No, no. Let me set the record straight on this. Now,
this whole thing about rent. We rent a townhouse that we used for the
campaign headquarters -
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But weren‘t you living in that townhouse, Christine?
O‘DONNELL: No. I was using that - here‘s where the miscommunication comes in. Because my home was vandalized and eggs thrown at my house, I pay the campaign - I pay the campaign money to use the townhouse as my legal residency, not the campaign pays me.
That‘s where the whole rent thing has been taken out of context in an effort to discredit my political credibility and to stop a movement in its tracks. Keep in mind that we upset the Delaware political establishment and we beat their so-called untouchable incumbent. There‘s a vendetta.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLFF: So that is 2010, everybody, at least as far as the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is concerned. It was an interesting year for sure. Everybody here really truly wishes all of you a better 2011 - more good news, more jobs, better health, more real reason for optimism.
And just a word, quickly, about our staff. To produce material worthy of our audience, worthy of you, takes an insane amount of hard work by a lot of gifted and devoted people.
Rachel Maddow, our producers, our technical crews, our makeup artists, the folks out here every night in the studio are the best team I‘ve ever been on and I‘ve been on teams since I was six years old.
Every one of us is grateful every night that you‘ll tune in or log on to see our work. We really appreciate it. So from all of us, thank you very kindly and have a happy new year, everybody.
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