'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Guests: Thomas Clouse, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Eugene Robinson


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  The only man in America who doesn‘t play “Angry Birds,” just wait until I get to your office tomorrow.

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  Well, as you saw, I was played with by “Angry Birds.” That counts in a way.

MADDOW:  Fair enough.  Absolutely.  I will get you addicted to it in 30 seconds, though, I swear.

OLBERMANN:  Again—again, another promise like this.  OK.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

Thanks to you at home for staying with us tonight as well.


I am in Washington tonight, because earlier this afternoon, I did sit down to talk with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, former speak of the House.  We talked about Republicans trying to repeal health reform and a whole lot more.  That is coming up tonight.

But we actually have to begin tonight‘s show with some breaking news out of Washington state.  From a city of Spokane, the FBI revealing today that an abandoned backpack discovered yesterday along the intended route of Spokane‘s annual Martin Luther King Day parade, the FBI is saying today that that backpack was not just a suspicious package.  It was the real deal.  The FBI saying that that backpack contained, quote, “a potentially deadly destructive device,” likely capable of inflicting multiple casualties.

Now, importantly, this device did not detonate at the Spokane, Washington, MLK Day parade.  The convention center workers who found the backpack—these three people saw it and recognized that wire sticking out of the unattended backpack might be a bad thing, those three city workers saw the backpack, they thought it was suspicious, and they told police about it.  Thank God they did.

When the police saw what it was, they notified the bomb squad.  The bomb squad moved in.  The parade, which was due to pass right by this device, was rerouted away from the area.  Shops in the area were evacuated.  Then the bomb squad sent in a robot.  And in their terms, they successfully disrupted the device.

In addition to describing the device as, quote, “very lethal” and capable of inflicting multiple casualties, Frank Harrill, the FBI agent in charge of the bureau‘s Spokane office, made it very clear to the local newspaper in Spokane just how seriously the bureau is taking the threat, telling the paper, quote, “Clearly, the timing and placement of a device with the Martin Luther King parade is not coincidental.  We are doing everything humanly possible to identify the individuals or individual who constructed and placed this device.”

Again, the FBI and special agent in charge comment to “The Spokesman-Review.”  To that—to that end, in terms of the FBI serious—the seriousness to which the FBI is treating this, the FBI Terrorism Task Force is now offering a $20,000 reward for information about this case.  They are also asking members of the public to come forward if for any reason someone took video or photos where this device was found yesterday morning when it was found there.

About the specter of a domestic terrorism attempt in this case, the FBI special agent Harrill said this, quote, “I think the link to the Martin Luther King celebration and march is inescapable,” Mr. Harrill said.  “At that point it follows directly in the realm and fear of domestic terrorism.  Clearly, there was some political or social agenda here.”

Again, those were the terms from the FBI.  It falls directly in the realm and fear of domestic terrorism.  Some very scary terms being used here by the FBI to describe what happened, what was found and what the bomb squad disrupted.  Again, at a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Washington.

This story is not yet making national news, but if what really happened in Spokane is what the FBI is implying it might be, 10 days after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, if what really happened in Spokane is as bad as the FBI says it may be, this story has enormous implications, not just for Spokane and for the Pacific Northwest, but for the entire country.

Joining us now on the phone is Thomas Clouse, who has been covering this story for the Spokane “Spokesman Review.”

Mr. Clouse, thank you very much for your time today.  I really appreciate it.

THOMAS CLOUSE, SPOKESMAN REVIEW (via telephone):  You bet.  It‘s my pleasure.

MADDOW:  From your reporting, how seriously is the FBI taking this?

CLOUSE:  Well, you can so see the seriousness just in how they react. 

Very rarely does the FBI come out and give us so much information so fast.  And in this case, they had photos.  They had information and had all kinds of stuff that we don‘t usually get from the FBI.

MADDOW:  The FBI‘s statement about this said the device was lethal. 

It had the potential to inflict multiple casualties.

Have you learned anything more about what type of device was in this backpack?

CLOUSE:  They won‘t go into specifics.  So, although we did get new information today from a security briefing, from some sources who didn‘t want to be named but they were willing to give us the information, that the bomb did have a remote device to detonate, such as a keyless entry remote for a vehicle or a garage door opener.  And the bomb apparently did have its own shrapnel which could have caused significant injuries to anyone near the blast.

MADDOW:  That sounds like a relatively sophisticated device, the indications again from these sources that are the basis of your reporting are that this was not—this does not say just a pipe bomb with a fuse.  This was a more complicated device?

CLOUSE:  Correct.  And the investigators were also concerned about the placement of the backpack, which was on a metal bench with a brick wall behind it, meaning that anything—it would have directed the blast toward the marchers in the street.

MADDOW:  Is there any sense of how large an explosion this might have caused?  How many casualties it could have been capable of causing if it had detonated as it seems to have been designed to do?

CLOUSE:  We‘ve gotten some conflicting reports.  But nobody was willing to say—I mean, you know, we have the whole range from a small device to taking down a building.  So, you know, we haven‘t been able to place how big a device this was, but it was—you know, it can fit in a backpack.  The question, then, how big a blast could you get?  But obviously the FBI is concerned.

MADDOW:  Are any law enforcement sources giving any indication of leads on whom might have put the backpack there, what might have motivated this if they understand anything about that yet?

CLOUSE:  Well, Frank Harrill told me that they‘ve done interviews, but they don‘t have a specific suspect that they‘re willing to say at this point.  They did say that there is no public safety threat currently.

MADDOW:  I do recall another explosive device in downtown Spokane.  Am I right to remember that it was in Spokane with an explosive device of some kind that was found near a federal courthouse in the city last year?

CLOUSE:  Yes, in March.  I think it was March 23rd, a device was found outside the federal courthouse, which coincidentally is across the street from our office.

But in that case, they did not release the information for several days.  They never issued photographs of the device.  They did not come out with the same level of concern that they did with this device.

MADDOW:  Is there any indication that you have now, either positive or negative indication, that law enforcement sources think there‘s any connection between what appears to be this attempted bombing at the MLK Day parade yesterday and any previous incident?

CLOUSE:  Well, publicly they are saying, no.  In fact, Harrill said that they have no linkage to any other incident at this time.  But it is definitely something they look at.  The FBI doesn‘t do anything without looking at its path.

MADDOW:  Thomas Clouse, one last question for you.  Has there been significant community response to this in Spokane?  Is this—I know you have been reporting for it for the—reporting on it for the “Spokesman Review,” is the community starting to become aware that this happened, has there been community response thus far?  I‘m thinking especially in light of what happened in Tucson.

CLOUSE:  Absolutely.  It‘s just now beginning to sink in.  You know, we get a suspected explosive device alerts a lot.  And almost the time they came out to be a bag with somebody‘s dirty laundry in it.

But in this case, once it was learned it was a bomb, folks are starting to reflect and look at it and obviously, it is starting to sink in.

MADDOW:  Thomas Clouse, a reporter for the “Spokesman Review,” doing some very good, detailed, aggressive early reporting on this story.  Mr.  Clouse, thanks for helping us make this nationally known.  Thanks for your joining us tonight.

CLOUSE:  You bet, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Again, this device found at the outskirts or near the parade route of an MLK Day parade yesterday in Spokane, Washington.  Not a bomb threat.  Not a suspicious package, but the FBI reporting a potentially lethal device, the real deal.  We‘ll be staying on this story.

Tomorrow here in Washington, D.C., the John Boehner-led House will vote to repeal health reform.  The previous speaker of the House had some very pointed thoughts about that in an interview with me today.


MADDOW:  Do you think that members of Congress who are voting to repeal health reform should be called on to also reject their own government-provided health insurance if that‘s something they are so against on principle?



MADDOW:  Yes.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is my guest tonight for “The Interview.”  Please stay with us.



PELOSI:  If we had not passed health care reform, we would have lost more seats for being ineffective and our members are very proud of the votes that they took.  They are very proud of the votes they took on health care.


MADDOW:  Nancy Pelosi, one, Beltway common wisdom, zero.

She is no longer speaker of the House, she is leader of the Democrats in their new minority status in the House.  And, frankly, she is fired up.  My interview with Nancy Pelosi as confident and intense as I have ever seen her, next.



REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  And just a little word on this whole “government takeover” thing.  I mean, I love you guys and I know you‘re caught up in the rhetoric of the campaign.  This is—this is tax breaks that are going to citizens to buy—wait for it—private insurance policy policies.  Where‘s the government takeover on that?

And you‘d think small businesses benefit when they don‘t provide health insurance and then people go to hospital emergency rooms to get their care?  Who do you think pays that bill?  The bill fairy?  Your taxpayers.  Your taxpayers in your states.

Now, what‘s your solution?  Well, they don‘t have a solution.  We know what they‘re against.  They are against health reform.  We don‘t know what they are for.  Welcome to the Republican majority.


MADDOW:  You know, this is not how repealing health reform was supposed to go for Republicans this week.  Republicans campaigned on repealing health reform.  They bragged on repealing health reform.  They scheduled it as the first blockbuster thing they wanted to do in the House after taking over in the House.  And now, it has finally started.

Within the last hour actually, the House wrapped up its first day of debate on repealing health reform.  And I‘m telling you, Democrats could not be more delighted with this.

From Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner invoking the “bill fairy” to explain Republican financial ideas on health care, to Eric Cantor, the second ranking Republican in the House having to explain to reporters today that, no, the Republicans don‘t intend to chase down every senior citizen in the country to have them pay back the $250 checks for prescription drugs they already received as part of health care reform.

The idea of repealing health reform in the House was supposed to work to Republicans‘ political advantage.  It appears to be misfiring.

Yesterday, we highlighted a new poll out from “The Associated Press” showing that a vitriolic opposition to health reform was fading.  Not even a majority of Republicans in this poll supported the Republicans‘ repeal effort.

Today, another poll, this one with worse news for the Republicans.  This poll from ABC News and “The Washington Post” revealing that the great American uprising Republicans were so excited to tap into, this uprising to fully repeal health reform, it is the view of only 18 percent of the country -- 18 percent.  Eighteen percent of Americans say they support what the Republicans are doing this week trying to repeal all of health reform.

The appetite for repealing health reform that Republicans stoked during the election but thought they could count on to make this a political plus for them, that appetite appears to have faded away.

On the other side of the political aisle, sometimes it seems like Democrats couldn‘t stop fighting with each other long enough last year to articulate why they were passing health reform when they were passing it.  But now, then Republicans are trying to take it away, Democrats are unified on this issue like never before.  Democrats are organized and on-message in selling the virtues of health reform as it goes into effect.

For example, House Democrats held a hearing ahead of the repeal debate today showcasing real Americans with real health problems who‘ve really been helped by the elements of health reform that have already gone into effect.  They heard testimony like this.


ED BURKE, SEVERE HEMOPHILIAC:  When elected officials are voting to repeal patients rights legislation, they are in reality forcing Americans like myself, a working, tax-paying citizen, back to a world where health insurance coverage is constantly an issue and life-saving care is often out of reach.  I stand here today or sit here today in front of my representatives and ask them not to play politics with our lives.


MADDOW:  Today, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report saying that nearly 130 million Americans under the age of 65 have pre-existing conditions—that would be flagged by insurance companies making it tough or impossible to get coverage.  Once health reform is fully implemented, not one of those 129 million Americans could be denied coverage based on that preexisting condition.

Today, Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he released an analysis of what repealing health reform would do to every individual congressional district in the country.

So, for example, Eric Cantor, repeal of health reform in your district would take health insurance away from as many as 334,000 people in your district who have pre-existing conditions.  It would eliminate health care tax credits for up to $16,400 small businesses in your district.  How do you like repeal now?

Those statistics are customized for every congressional district in the country now—thanks to House Democrats.  Even the richest, most powerful, most insidious special interest groups that sided with Republicans against certain aspects of health reform in the first place, the lobby group America‘s Health Insurance Plans, even they are not joining in the Republicans repeal effort this week.  Politico.com reporting that the pharmaceutical industry is staying out of this all together and even the health insurance lobbyists is not supporting Republicans on repeal.

The politics on this are falling apart for Republicans.  And in light of recent events unrelated to health reform, there was already some awkwardness around the Republicans using the phrase “job killing” in the title of their repeal legislation.  But today, the “Associated Press” turned insult to injury when they checked the actual claim that health reform is job-killing.  The “A.P.” found that claim to be more than just awkward, they found it to be wrong.  The “A.P.” analysis pointing out that Republican cites the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office as the source of their claim that health reform would cost over $600,000 jobs.

Is it true that the CBO said that about health reform?  No, it is not true.  And the “A.P.‘s” helpfully, directly worded quote, “the budget office never produced that number.”

How many of you know someone who works at a job they wouldn‘t otherwise work at because that job offers some health benefits?  I do.

How many of you know someone who has even, say, a second job, a job that maybe totally sucks but they‘re in that job because it offers health benefits?  If you are not in that situation yourself, you probably know somebody who is in that situation.

What the CBO found when looking at the effect of health reform was that, yes, some people might choose of their own accord to not have the jobs that suck that they only have because they used them to get health insurance.  Some people might choose not to have those jobs and instead have different jobs if because of health reform they could get health insurance through other means.  That was the source of the Republicans claim that health reform will be job-killing.

Republicans turned that CBO observation into the Job-Killing Health Reform Act.  Despite the fact that‘s totally not what the CBO said, utterly wrong, no, missed it.  Uh-huh, no, sir, no, ma‘am.  Republicans did not just get fact-checked on this today, they got coffee up the nose, oh, my God, I can‘t believe they did that, ha-ha, fact-checked.  You not only shouldn‘t call it job-killing, you really can‘t call it that.

Everybody knew when the Democrats lost the House in the last election that they were going to have to defend the policy achievements of the last Congress from Republicans who wanted to do away with these policies.

What was not clear until now and what Nancy Pelosi made crystal-clear to me today in my interview with her on Capitol Hill is that Democrats not only think they‘ll be successful in depending their policy achievements, but Democrats seem to be delighted with how politics are working out here as well.


MADDOW:  Leader Pelosi, thank you so much for the time.  I really appreciate it.

PELOSI:  My pleasure.  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The debate on the Republican proposal to repeal health reform is much anticipated.  It is beginning.  A lot of congressional Democrats I have talked to about this have described this effort as a second opportunity for Democrats to convince the country that health reform is a good idea.  Do you see it that way?

PELOSI:  Well, I think it‘s a continuation of the effort to do so.  What is most convincing of all, though, is having the bill come into effect and people seeing what it means in their lives and what we are seeing now is those provisions that have become law, removing discrimination on the basis of pre-existing condition, especially important to children and to women, allowing a young person to stay on his or her parents‘ policy until he‘s 26 years old, lifting the lifetime limit—all of those kinds of things having prevented care and not have a co-pay, for example.  As people understand what this means to their health and their economic security because of reducing costs, I think will—people will have a more favorable view of it.  But yes, this bill will afford us that opportunity.

MADDOW:  We are—we are seeing some signs of change and some deliberate effort by health reform proponents to achieve change.  The Republicans support for repeal is dropping.

Among the other side on this issue, though, there is a significant chunk of the public who would like to see not only health reform not repealed but health reform expanded.  Of course, under your leadership, the House did pass a public option.  And many people have talked about health reform that did pass as a potential steppingstone for doing more on the issue.

Do you see it—if it doesn‘t get repeal, it‘s something that could be built on?

PELOSI:  Well, let me say this.  I think the point you make is a very good one because when people say that they are opposed to the bill, some of it is because it doesn‘t do enough.  And that‘s never put into the calculation.  So, you are opposed to it, so you are opposed to any health care initiative.  No, some people thought it should be more, many of our friends.

And I think that this is not ideology, this bill, it‘s a problem-solver.  And it is a better way to solve the problem, which includes the quality of care and lowers the cost to individuals and to the federal government and to business.  Then we are open to those.

As you know, the public option would save an additional $100 billion.  It didn‘t make the cut.  It didn‘t have enough support to survive the House and the Senate and the rest.  But what is in the bill achieves many of the same purposes of that.

So, I don‘t want to—I want people to understand opportunities that are there for individuals to have access to quality affordable health care.

MADDOW:  If Republicans in the House try to sabotage implementation of health reform by gutting its funding, do you have a strategy to try to protect it from that?

PELOSI:  Well, we‘ve been working with the president on this because that is a way they could try to do it.  But, again, getting back to your earlier point, it is a way to take this message to the public as they are sabotaging your ability to not—to be discriminated—to end discrimination on the basis of pre-existing condition or for your child to stay on your policy.  In other words, you have to take what it means to people in their lives.

We had hearing today in the Capitol, where people came, and seven people came in and talk about what it meant to them.  A mother of twins, who when they were 4 years old, these twin girls were both diagnosed with cancer.  They are 11 now.  She told us the story of all that and how this bill is making a difference right away for them and it has been in effect before, how the family wouldn‘t have had to declare bankruptcy.

Those kinds of stories about health and economic wellbeing are what we have to drive home to the American people as the Republicans try to sabotage the bill.

MADDOW:  And you have to drive that home in a way more effectively than during the debate?  Is this—the effort to sort of take a second stab at selling the virtues of the bill to the public, is—does that reflect a failure to have done that effectively during the initial debate?

PELOSI:  Well, to tell you the truth, the House Democrats saved this health care reform bill.  And so, I am proud of my colleagues.  In the month of August every year, a half a year ago, we had hundreds and hundreds of town meetings and public events talk promoting what was in the health care bill.  Without that, I think the bill would have been gone.

Our members have advanced it, we passed it, we had to wait for the Senate a long time to do a bill because of the obstructional part of the Republicans in the Senate.  But now, this is now.  We are going forward.

Whatever success the other side may have had in misrepresenting what was in the bill, we have to have more success in conveying what actually is in the bill, and how it solves problems for America‘s working families, how it gives leverage to them away from the insurance companies but to the patients.

MADDOW:  In terms of the way the Republicans have tried to parlay their opposition to health reform into political capital for themselves, not only in the past election, I think but they were hoping they could do that in the second half of the president‘s term—do you think that members of Congress who are voting to repeal health reform should be called on to also reject their own government provided health insurance if that is something they are so against on principle?

PELOSI:  Yes.  But let me go back to your opening premise.  I don‘t think this election was about health care reform.  This election was about 9 ½ percent unemployment and in some places worse than that.  It‘s hard to talk about health reform if people don‘t have jobs.  Jobs, jobs, jobs—that‘s what our priority is, to create jobs.

There are certain obstructions in the Senate to our job, initiatives that we had again as we go forward, it‘s job creation.  And we wish our Republicans success in any job initiatives, creating initiatives and they have.

But that‘s what the election was about.  If we had not passed health care reform, we may have lost more seats from being ineffective and our members are very proud of the votes that they took.  They are very proud of the votes they took on health care.


MADDOW:  Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi today also made a connection in this interview between health reform and response to the shootings in Tucson.  Listen to this.


MADDOW:  You‘re saying, the effort to repeal health reform would be a step backwards on mental health on this country.

PELOSI:  Absolutely, positively.


MADDOW:  That‘s next.  Please stay with us.



MADDOW:  In terms of grounds on which Republicans and Democrats - a ground on which Republicans and Democrats may be able to come together, even in the House, even in what is a deeply partisan time, after Tucson, is it politically feasible to reform any of the nation‘s laws or policies that touch on guns?  And not is it a good idea, but do you think it is politically feasible to do anything about guns? 

PELOSI:  One initiative that I think deserves some attention is the magazine - why would somebody be able to have a magazine that has 30 cartridges that has the capacity to shoot 30 times?  And does that put our law enforcement at a disadvantage? 

I think we have to look into that.  I don‘t think we can do very much beyond that.  But I do think what Carolyn - Congressman McCarthy, in her own grief - the Long Island Railroad killer killed her husband and wounded her son very seriously.

And she is very pragmatic about this, about what can be done.  And so it is worth a look.  I think it is important to hear from law enforcement on this and to see why (UNINTELLIGIBLE) need a 30-cartridge magazine.  Let‘s have that debate in a respectful way. 

MADDOW:  When you were speaker, did you ever consider bringing up portions of the expired assault weapons ban, either as in a consolidated bill, bringing up the ban as a whole or bringing up specific elements of it including that extended capacity cartridge issue when Democrats were in control? 

PELOSI:  I think the expanded cartridge issue is one that‘s riper now.  And I think that when people saw that capacity - I spoke to Patricia Maisch, the woman who snatched - God bless her.  How courageous she was.  And it is interesting to hear in that moment she was courageous. 

MADDOW:  And recognized what he was doing -


PELOSI:  And how many people‘s lives she saved.  She really was a hero because she went right into the fray.  And it would have made it different.  It would have made a difference if he was able to put that in. 

So we really have to balance all of this out.  I know people are concerned about their Second Amendment rights.  Is it infringement on that if you can do 10 shots rather than 30 shots?  And what does it mean to law enforcement? 

So I think that when you ask about any piece of it before, I think, at this time, there might be some opportunity to talk about that.  We‘ll see, but it is very hard.  I‘ll be honest with you, it is very hard. 

And it is - we just don‘t have the votes. 

MADDOW:  Will it be a political failure if nothing changes in response to what has absolutely gripped the nation in this tragedy? 

PELOSI:  Well, here‘s what I think.  Every time we talk about it and we talk about guns and say it could get in the hands of somebody who is unstable.  We talk about vitriolic language, which could fall in the mind of somebody who‘s mentally unstable. 

Let‘s do something about mental health in our country.  That, to me - and that‘s one of the things that this health care bill is so important, because it has parity.  We passed a mental health party bill. 

Patrick Kennedy, when he was here - the Paul Wellstone Bill.  We are very proud of that.  We made a part of that - we incorporated it into the health care reform bill.  And that‘s really important. 

And I think strengthening that and implementing that really gets to part of the frightening part of guns in the wrong hands, ideas falling on the wrong minds.  Let‘s get to the problem which is the mental health issue in our country. 

It is stunning and obviously - probably it was - I think, we don‘t know because they have to do the investigation.  But it apparently had something to do with what happened in Tucson.  And I think that captures many of the categories of concerns that we have. 

MADDOW:  To be clear, though, you are saying the effort to repeal health reform would be a step backwards on mental health? 

PELOSI:  Absolutely, positively.  It really is.  And that‘s - that‘s very serious to say to a business, if you get health care insurance for your workers, you must give mental health care as well for them and for their families. 

It is very, very important.  They will not be discriminated against because of the mental health challenges they may have and the medications they may need.  So that - if I had to do one thing as a result of what happened in Tucson, it would be to address the mental health challenges that we have in our country. 


MADDOW:  The Democratic leader expressing guarded, guarded, guarded hopes that some policy might conceivably be made about extended ammunition clips after the Tucson shooting, but expressing downright insistence that mental health issues be part of the political response to Tucson. 

She was also pretty insistent with me when I asked her this question, which is sometimes an awkward question for liberals. 


(on camera)  Are you worried that with these - this new crew of senior advisers and staffers coming into the administration in positions like this that the White House will become less liberal, less progressive in its outlook? 


Nancy Pelosi‘s very firm response to that question when we come back.



MADDOW:  Are you at all concerned that the vice president‘s new chief-of-staff, Bruce Reed, is from the Democratic Leadership Council, the president‘s chief-of-staff is on the board of another centrist group, Third Way?

Are you worried that with these - this new crew of senior advisers and staffers coming into the administration in positions like this, that the White House will become less liberal, less progressive in its outlook? 

PELOSI:  I think the White House has always been fairly balanced in how it goes - I mean, this White House, if that‘s we are talking about.  I‘m not concerned about that. 

I have confidence in President Obama and the Vice President Biden

and in the people they trust to get the job done for them.  But understand

you ran an awful list of things that are accomplished that would never have happened without Barack Obama‘s as president and Joe Biden as vice president.

So they have delivered only solutions wherever they are from; in other words, from the right, from the left, from the middle.  We hope to influence those decisions in a way that is progressive in that it meets the needs of all of the American people. 

But, no, I‘m not worried about that.  Again, I‘m very proud of the president and the vice president. 


MADDOW:  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking with me at the Capitol here in Washington earlier today.  Leader Pelosi used very kind terms.  She said, “fairly balanced.”  She has a very kind term for what liberals and progressives have also - have often instead called President Obama‘s centrism. 

The question of whether or not President Obama is more of a liberal or more of a centrist is an issue that gives liberals shpilkes that causes liberals a chance to fight with each other. 

I can assure you that my fellow liberals are writing unkind things about me right now on Twitter for having used the dread centrist epithet anywhere near President Obama‘s name. 

You can tell the “I hate Rachel” liberal tweets apart from the “I hate Rachel” conservative tweets because the liberal ones conservatives don‘t usually call me a man.  Hello.  Hello.  Hello.  Hello.  It is always funny every time. 

Part of what fueled debate on the left about the president‘s liberalness is his new chief-of-staff who started work last week. 

The new chief, Bill Daley, served in the CLINTON administration as the Commerce Secretary.  He was the go-to guy on passing North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA.  On health reform, Mr. Daley said, President Obama, quote, “miscalculated.” 

In 2009, he wrote an opinion piece for “The Washington Post” advocating a more centrist moderate, code word for conservative Democratic Party. 

Mr. Daley sat on the board of the conservative Democratic group, Third Way.  Until joining the White House payroll, Mr. Daley had that job in addition to his senior post at J.P. Morgan Chase. 

And for visceral good measure, note this ecstatic opinion piece from Karl Rove applauding Mr. Daley‘s appointment as presidential chief-of-staff. 

Over at the vice presidential offices, the new chief-of-staff there is Bruce Reed.  Mr. Reed is a very different guy from Bill Daley, but he does fit into the same part of the Democratic political spectrum, the rather conservative part. 

Mr. Reed served as CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, which has long been a mother ship for Democratic politicians and policies that seemed like Republican politicians and policies until you read the fine print. 

So the president‘s new chief-of-staff and the vice president‘s new chief-of-staff both cut from that same rather conservative cloth.  The argument against liberals worrying about that is that chiefs-of-staff don‘t make policy. 

There‘s no reason to think them being hired means the president or the vice president themselves will now pursue conservative goals.  That‘s been the argument.  Then, this happened today. 

On the rabid, foaming, “I can‘t believe this is in this real newspaper,” super-right-wing editorial page of the “Wall Street Journal,” President Obama announced today that he‘s ordering federal agencies to review all regulations and rules and to, quote, remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.” 

If this sounds familiar, if you are having deja news, it is because blaming regulations for a bad economy is staple in the Republican Party political pantry. 

Conservative Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, for example, sent a letter to lots of corporations right after the elections, asking them what regulations they would like to see axed, “Hi, I‘m Darrell Issa.  I‘m from the government and I‘m here to help.”

Getting rid of outdated, vestigial regulations is, of course, not a bad idea.  But Democrats giving credence in presidential legitimacy to a Republican hobnob, to their totally symbolic, misleading, politically convenient fallacy about what‘s really broken in our system, maybe that‘s a bad idea. 

Joining us now is Pulitzer Prize-winning “Washington Post” columnist and MSNBC political analyst, Eugene Robinson, who is always very polite on Twitter and everywhere else.  Hi, Gene. 


Hi.  How are you doing?

MADDOW:  I‘m great.  Is the president doing the Republicans a sort of political and rhetorical work here?  Is he making their case for them? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I don‘t think so.  It depends on the details, but here‘s the scenario.  Darrell Issa sends out this letter to the corporations saying, you know, “Send me all your complaints and we‘ll get rid of all these nasty regulations that you don‘t like.” 

Clearly, this is a vehicle, maybe not a freight train, because it can be stopped probably.  But this is a vehicle moving down the tracks on which, at the very least, Republicans hope to make political hay. 

So I interpreted the op-ed and the president‘s initiative as a way of getting out in front of this process rather than being dragged along. 

If you get out in front, you get to define what we mean by regulations, what we mean by outdated regulations, what we mean about regulations that might have a depressive impact on economic activity. 

There could be such a thing.  There probably is such a thing

somewhere in - among all the federal regulations.  But it is also an

opportunity to - and I would hope the president would take the opportunity

to explain why regulations create jobs. 

MADDOW:  That‘s a good point though because if the Republicans are going to sort of scuffer(ph) regulations across the board in a way that may be bad for the country, I see your point about getting out ahead of that and trying to sort of steer where they are going with it. 

But if concede all the political territory to them that, yes, regulations sure are killing the economy, you do miss the opportunity to make a Democratic case for what government is for. 

ROBINSON:  Right.  You have to draw that distinction.  And you have to point - now, do I seriously doubt President Obama‘s commitment to the concept of regulation?  I don‘t. 

You know, he passed financial regulatory reform.  Now, we can argue about whether it went far enough or if he did enough to change the culture of Wall Street.  Did it tip the scales back enough in favor of the consumer as opposed to the investment bank? 

Nonetheless, I think it was a very significant piece of legislation, and it was regulation.  And those being regulated are not fond of being regulated. 

So I don‘t - I hope that you can see some sort of wholesale change philosophy here.  I don‘t see that, but I do anticipate and I expect and hope we see that the next step, that pivot in which he says - you know, these regulations over here, these really are outdated.

This is from 1942.  And it is really not relevant.  You know, it is about the radio spectrum and we are talking about the Internet now. 

MADDOW:  These food safety regulations -

ROBINSON:  Right.  These food safety regulations.  You know, these

regulations not only - not only keep corporations from doing bad things to

you, but, in fact, create economic activity.  You know, these food

regulations lowered a number of people who are out on any given day -

MADDOW:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  With food poisoning and can‘t work. 

MADDOW:  But Gene, your faith in the president‘s underlying ideological commitment to that‘s what government is for, is that at all undercut by his staffing decisions.  Bruce Reed, Bill Daley and these others who seem - that seem to look, at least on the surface, like a move toward the Senate.

ROBINSON:  No, it is not, Rachel.  But let‘s back up for a second.  The president‘s ideology - he‘s not the most progressive guy I‘ve ever met, all right?  I wouldn‘t call him a centrist.  I would say he would certainly consider himself a progressive. 

But he takes moderate kind of stances on some issues.  He‘s always said he‘s opposed to gay marriage, although he may be changing towards something, who knows?  He has escalated the war in Afghanistan.  You know, and I corralled with him on these issues and some others.  And I know you have, too. 

But you know, it is always good to listen to what he says, and this is what he has said all along.  So I don‘t think it should be a surprise that he‘s not kind of a, you know, card-carrying, tick the box every progressive position guy.  That‘s not him, and that‘s not what we are going to have. 

The chief-of-staff positions, I think, are management positions, essentially.  And I don‘t read anything into that.  I don‘t think any chief-of-staff is going to change Barack Obama‘s political philosophy.  I know no chief-of-staff is going to change Joe Biden‘s political philosophy.  They are their own guys. 

MADDOW:  Very, very smart people keep making that argument to me.  And someday it will start to sink in with me.  But they keep saying it (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the “Washington Post,” MSNBC political analyst, my friend, Gene Robinson, thank you so much.  It‘s great to see you in person.

ROBINSON:  Great to see you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Earlier today, Sergeant Shriver, an aide and brother in law of President Kennedy and the founder of the Peace Corps, he died at the age of 95. 

Coming up next on “THE LAST WORD,” Lawrence O‘Donnell will talk to friends and family about Mr. Shriver‘s really quite remarkable American life. 

On this show, some of the nation‘s brand-new governors are having a tough time starting being governors.  The agony of gubernatorial training wheels in public, coming up. 


MADDOW:  Two more Senate seats will be extra up-for-grabs in the next election because the incumbent senator will not be running. 

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said today he will not run for a reelection to a fifth term.  Mr. Lieberman was, of course, primaried out of the Democratic nomination for his own seat in 2006 by Ned Lamont in 2006.  But Mr. Lieberman won that year as a third party candidate. 

Connecticut‘s Democratic Secretary of State is already a declared candidate for that Senate seat now.  North Dakota‘s Democratic Senator Kent Conrad will also not seek reelection, which will probably be good news for Republicans. 

North Dakota went for John McCain in the ‘08 election by nearly nine points.  In its most recent Senate election in November, the Republican John Hoeven won that Senate seat by a margin of 76-22.  We will be right back.


MADDOW:  When the Republicans took over in the House and then accidentally faked the swearing in of two of their members and then accidentally and not accidentally left out some parts of the Constitution when any read it out loud and when they broke their own promises about holding hearings on every bill and having amendments on every bill and all these other rules they had proclaimed, they broke those rules on the very first bills they themselves introduced. 

When Republicans leapt out of the starting gate in this new Congress and then tripped themselves and fell down, it was “TalkingPointsMemo.com” that won the succinct punditry award when they ran the headline, quote, “First day with the new gavel?” 

Today, we honor “Talking Points Memo‘s” achievement in succinct punditry with this, “First day with the new statehouse?” 

Yesterday, we highlighted what we thought would be this week‘s worst weird behavior by a brand-new governor when we noted that tea party favorite Paul LePage of Maine had decided to honor Martin Luther King Jr.  holiday this year by telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER:  And what‘s your response to them saying this was more than one instance, but rather a pattern. 

GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R-ME):   Tell them to kiss my butt. 


MADDOW:  The great Stephen Colbert cannot be one-upped on this story. 


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  I applaud Gov. LePage.  Before Dr. King came along, could anyone have imagined a white politician openly inviting a black person to kiss him?  And without pants?  That‘s progress. 


MADDOW:  Portland‘s Fox Channel 13 and the blog, “Think Progress” report that among hundreds of anti-Paul LePage protesters on MLK Day yesterday in Portland, a speaker from the main council of churches denounced the mayor‘s “kiss my butt” comment by saying, “We should turn the other cheek.” 

But Gov. Paul LePage of Maine is not the only governor having a hard time in the few first days with the new statehouse.  He‘s not even having the hardest time. 

Fresh off appointing a 22-person cabinet in his administration that is 100 percent white, all 22 of them, newly-elected Ohio Governor John Kasich decided to cool the embers fueled by that rather astonishing decision by issuing his own state commemoration of the MLK holiday. 

Gov. Kasich‘s resolution designates that MLK Jr. Day in Ohio will be on March 17th, as in St. Patrick‘s Day, not January 17th like the rest of America celebrated it this year. 

Not to be further outdone, the new governor of Alabama, Republican Robert Bentley, went to the Montgomery church where Martin Luther King Jr. was once pastor to celebrate MLK Day. 

There, the governor said this, quote, “Now, I will have to say that if we don‘t have the same daddy, we‘re not brothers and sisters.  So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus as their savior, I‘m telling you, you‘re not my brother and your not my sister.” 

And if you‘re someone who is not a Christian, you have now been served notice by Alabama‘s new governor, again, first day at the new statehouse, that Alabama is not for you.  Happy civil rights commemoration, everybody.  Please leave the state. 

Now it‘s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell.  Good evening, Lawrence.



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