Guests: Richard Engel, Michael Steele
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Hey, Lawrence. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
At 12:30 this afternoon, the three most powerful Republicans in the county walked into the White House. Not to set up an elaborate joke, although it kind of sounded like it, I said it there. This actually happened 12:30 this afternoon, the three most powerful Republicans in the country, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy they walked into the White House. They headed straight for the private dining room and they met for about an hour with President Obama.
Here is a sign of just how much things can change in Washington over the course of a few months. If this meeting had happened, say, right after the midterm elections, who do you think would have the upper hand? President Obama had just been handed an electoral drubbing at the hands of Republicans, a “shellacking” in his words. Republicans were feeling very, very mandate-y about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that compromising?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let me be clear: I am not going to compromise on my principle not am I going to compromise the will of the American people.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: First and foremost, we‘re not going to be willing to work with him on the expansive liberal agenda he‘s been about.
REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA: There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare. There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes. And if I hadn‘t been clear enough yet, let me say it again: No compromise.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: No compromise. We are here to show the Democrats who‘s boss.
At that time—it was essentially the morning after the midterm elections—President Obama was arguably at the lowest point of his presidency. Republicans are very much on the rise. The Beltway press was full of think pieces about how Mr. Obama would have to bend to the will of the Republican Party going forward.
If today‘s meeting had taken place instead of today, had taken place on November 3rd, we may have expected Republican leadership to walk into that meeting with an agenda that said, we crushed you and here are our demands.
But today is not November 3rd. And today, what happened as Republicans came out of that meeting, and they sounded like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BOEHNER: It was a very good lunch and we were able to find enough common ground, I think, to show the American people that we‘re willing to work on their behalf and willing to do it together.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY ®, CALIFORNIA: We looked at places that we could work together on.
CANTOR: We did have a fairly robust conversation about the need for all of us to work together.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: What happened to all of those “no compromise” guys from a couple months ago?
Those “no compromise” guys just shellacked themselves over on Capitol Hill. The Republicans in charge of the House have this week metaphorically punched themselves in the face so hard they hurt not just their face but also their hands.
But remember where this started. Day one of the new majority, House Republicans staged a reading of the Constitution on the house floor. Remember this? They read the Constitution on the House floor, except for the parts they did not like and parts of it that were on the pages that were stuck together in the three-ring binder they were reading it from.
That same day, Republicans had to clean up their own self-inflicted constitutional crisis when two of their own members had to be re-sworn in because they missed the official swearing in. It turns out you can‘t become a member of Congress by raising your hand in front of a television, even though two of them tried.
When the brand new majority made big promises to do everything through committees and with an open amendment process and all these other open rules, they didn‘t just break those promises once they got into legislative session, they broke those promises with the very first bills they introduced.
Then there was the promise they would cut $100 billion from the budget this year. What they actually proposed is $68 billion short of that.
Then we got the dueling State of the Union responses from two different Republican members of Congress.
Then we had the big message issue. No matter what Eric Cantor tweets about all of House Republican efforts being focused on jobs, jobs, jobs—
Republicans instead have three different radical anti-abortion bills that they are moving on now, two of which they have already had hearings on.
And as their congressional leadership keeps trying to get somebody to believe they‘re focusing on jobs like they keep saying, the highest profile members of the House keep going out and giving speeches like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: Some would have us focus our energy on jobs and spending. But as you attest today by your presence, you know we must not remain silent when great moral battles are being waged. Let‘s start by denying all federal funding for abortion at home and abroad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Which is great, if you‘re Mike Pence and want to be president of “anti-abortistan.”
But if you are Majority Leader Eric Cantor and your job is to get the American people to believe that all the Republicans in Washington care about are jobs, jobs, jobs, all efforts are centered around jobs, then Mike Pence and all these anti-abortion bills that your party is moving on, they are something other than great.
And if the messaging here were not bad enough already, consider this -
one of the three big anti-abortion bills that Republicans are pushing right now gets at the issue of how to ban abortion, how to make abortion less available by—raising taxes. Republicans would raise taxes on your health insurance policy, if your health insurance policy covers abortion. So, it‘s a tax hike. Maybe you guys can run on that in 2012.
This isn‘t just Republicans veering off-message, this is Republicans lying and wait for the message, pouncing on it, beating it up and stealing its lunch money.
As you know, one of the earliest decisions of Republican-controlled Congress is that they would take a week off for every two weeks they went to work. This happens to be one of the weeks that they are working. It‘s a short week, they didn‘t work on Monday.
But for the four days that they are working this week, Republicans scheduled exactly five things to do in the House—just five things:
Rename a federal courthouse.
There‘s a South American trade deal they wanted to extend.
There‘s something that‘s a U.S. out of the U.N., don‘t pay money that the U.N. is expecting from us bill that they wanted to pass. It‘s an idea they got from a Web site they set up.
They also wanted to reauthorize certain provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire.
And then they wanted to pass a resolution to remind committees of their responsibility to review regulations. That‘s the only one they actually wanted to debate this week. Ten hours of debate on whether or not they should pass a resolution to remind committees what committees do.
This is not exactly heavy lifting. Republicans have a 49-seat majority in the House, and this is what they wanted to do with it this week. And so far, even with an agenda that looks like this, this is—this is the legislative equivalent of a human having a to-do list that says, “Wake up,” and then says, go back to sleep. Even with a legislative agenda that ambitious, they have failed really badly.
They did get the courthouse renamed, but everything else—no. That trade bill, they pulled it from the floor yesterday when it became clear Republicans didn‘t have the votes to pass it. The U.S. out of the U.N. bill, brought to the floor for vote, and then soundly defeated.
The Patriot Act bill, brought to the floor for vote last night, and then also—soundly defeated. They brought to the floor under special rules where it didn‘t have to go through committee, it didn‘t get a full debate, and no amendments were allowed to be added to it. All things the Republicans went crazy criticizing Democrats for and that they said they wouldn‘t do. And even after doing it that way, it still lost. Not by a vote or two, but by 13 votes. Who‘s in charge of the counting?
It should also be noted this was not some organized Tea Party revolt against the Republican Party. Most of the Tea Party Caucus members voted for passing the Patriot Act, including their headliners, like Michele Bachmann and Allen West.
The dissenters that apparently completely blindsided the Republican leadership on this vote were rank-and-file, run-of-the-mill Republicans—the people whose votes you‘re supposed to be able to count in your sleep.
Then to add injury to insult, after they lost that vote, after they lost three votes in 24 hours, votes that they themselves scheduled, there has been the added spectacle of four freshmen Republicans, like a congressman named Todd Rokita of Indiana, going to the press to explain that they were totally in the dark about what it is they‘ve been doing in Congress this week. Mr. Rokita told Politico.com today that he, quote, “didn‘t know anything about the Patriot Act vote until today.” Nevertheless, Mr. Rokita voted for it, only later admitting, quote, “in a free society, you have to be very careful as to taking away the civil liberties of the American people.”
Well, thanks to the Republican leadership, Mr. Rokita says he didn‘t know anything about the Patriot Act vote until the day of the vote, and then he voted for it, and then he‘s telling the press that he didn‘t know anything about it when he cast the vote on it, even though he understands that civil liberties are a big deal. Was that a mistake? Should I not have done that?
This guy is a freshman. This is the kind of thing, Mr. Rokita, that your leadership is supposed to protect you from.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER: We‘ve been a majority for four weeks. We‘re going to have -
we‘re not going to be perfect every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Republicans, right now, are not just off-message. They are at war with themselves. They appear to be functionally leaderless. They appear to have no idea how to do the basic day to day work of running one of the branches of government. We should have had some idea when they messed up swearing themselves in.
It‘s almost like they were given the job before they were ready for it. It‘s almost like they‘re still in the rebuilding stage, still in the figuring themselves out phase. But now, they‘re unexpectedly in charge, and because they‘re not altogether together yet, it‘s really not working out.
You know, there was somebody—there was a wise Republican sage who saw this coming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Do you think you can take over the House?
You think Republicans—
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Not this year. And, Sean, I would say honestly—
HANNITY: You don‘t think so?
STEELE: Well, I don‘t know yet, because all the candidates, we still have some vacancies that need to get filled. But the question we need to ask ourselves is: if we do that, are we ready?
HANNITY: Are you?
STEELE: Are we—are we ready?
HANNITY: I‘ll ask the question. Do you think they‘re ready?
STEELE: I don‘t know, and that‘s what I‘m assessing and evaluating right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us right now is master prognosticator, former RNC chairman, Michael Steele.
Mr. Steele, I hope you don‘t mind, but I‘m very happy to have you back on the show.
STEELE; I am very happy to be back with you, Rachel. It‘s good to see you. But I have a question. Anti-abortistan? Where the hell is that?
MADDOW: Anti-abortistan is going to elect Mike Pence king.
STEELE: I had to lay that one down because I need to look that one up.
MADDOW: Technically, they‘re trying to adopt Kansas, but Kansas—
STEELE: Is that what it is?
STEELE: OK, I‘m with you. Good to be back.
MADDOW: Thank you very much. It‘s nice to have you back.
Let me ask you. You got—of course, you got heat for everything you did as chairman. You got heat for that comment in January because you‘re supposed to say, oh, yes, we‘ll definitely win. But I‘m more interested in the fact that you said the real question is: are we ready.
What did you mean when you raise that question?
STEELE: Exactly what we are seeing right now, the idea of running for office and the idea of engaging in a campaign, as you know and you commented on in the past, and looking at a candidate now and a congressman. Governing is a very different tool—set of tools to use, and certainly, the leadership, many of whom have been in this position before.
So, there is already built in sort of a mechanism to help you get off the ground running and getting started. And that‘s what I meant. Are you ready to really step up, because you know what your opponents are all about, you know the Democrats have largely controlled the United States Congress for most of the past 50 or so years. And so, there‘s this ability on their side to sort of keep the thing going, even if they fall to the minority position.
The question for Republicans now, as we‘ve seen this week, is: are you ready to step up? Are we ready for prime time? And that‘s what the people want to know. And that‘s what the leadership is going to have to express. It was not a good week for vote counting, not a good week for messaging, and the day is only Wednesday.
MADDOW: Well, the thing is, though, I mean, when you look back at the times when Republicans have been in control in recent decades, you look back at Denny Hastert, you look back at Newt Gingrich, you look at other Republican leaders, you didn‘t see full functional procedural collapse the way that we are seeing under John Boehner and Eric Cantor. And I just wonder—I mean, the way the party structures work, who teaches these guys how to do it.
Is there somebody that should have mentored them to tell them how to count votes themselves?
STEELE: Is there a class?
STEELE: Well, you know, there‘s not a class, per se, but there is sort of the group coming together, the leadership and caucus coming together to say, OK, this is the agenda, this is where we‘re going next—and then fanning out, making sure all the various pieces of the puzzle are in place to further the agenda.
I agree with John Boehner. I don‘t think that we need to read too much into what we have seen so far this week. If this were late summer, early fall, and this type of thing were happening, yes, then I think there would be legitimate alarm bells going off all over this town.
So, I‘m willing to give the leadership, as I know the American people are, and I‘m sure you are, too, Rachel, a little bit of a wiggle room to get their sea legs underneath them and to layout the agenda, now that the president has made clear. As I said to you a couple weeks ago, the bell rings with the State of the Union speech, and I think we‘re now beginning to see as a result of today‘s meeting, you know, what the next steps will be like.
MADDOW: I think you‘re right about people being willing to sort of let them get their sea legs a little bit, but—I mean, we‘re—it‘s not like we‘re in the pregame. You know what I mean?
STEELE: Will, Rachel, will you give me a half a sea leg? I mean, come on.
MADDOW: All right. Fair enough. I mean, if they haven‘t gotten it together by the third quarter, then we will start to worry about it. That‘s right.
STEELE: Yes, exactly.
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you, though—
MADDOW: -- in terms of what is worth paying attention here on—paying attention to—on the Patriot Act vote. A lot of people dismissed that and said, oh, this is some sort of Tea Party uprising.
MADDOW: It really wasn‘t when you look at those, you know, more than two dozen Republicans who voted “no” on this, they‘re backbenchers, and there were a few freshmen and a few Tea Partiers, but it was real—it was a real wide swathe of Republicans who voted that way. Do you think there‘s a substantive rift in the party on civil liberties issues?
STEELE: No, I don‘t. I think that the party is really at its core and its moorings, libertarian in nature. And there‘s legitimate concern about any legislation, any act of Congress that will infringe upon your rights and my rights as granted to us by the Constitution. I think that those 26 members of the House on the Republican side who expressed that concern, given the way the bill came to the table, given the nature of the debate so far on the Patriot Act, that they wanted to make it very clear that we‘re not ready yet to go down this road unless we have exhausted and have come to some consensus and appreciation of what, in fact, the impact is going to be with respect to the various provisions that are under review.
The other thing to keep in mind is you can‘t just go out and just, you know, hyperventilate over the Patriot Act as many of my friends on the left like to do, just because—show me where those rights are being infringed, show me who has been harmed by this act since it has been in place. That, again, establishes the baseline of the debate that the Congress needs to hear.
So, just hyperventilating about the Patriot Act being a bad thing isn‘t enough, given the fact that we are, you know, in a war on terror, that we have instability as witnessed in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. So, that there‘s a lot more to this than what some people like to say for the talking points.
MADDOW: I don‘t—I don‘t think it is hyperventilating though. I mean, you look at the three provisions that were due to expire here. One of them is the libraries thing. The government has the right to go see what books you are checking out of the library, to review your library records. You don‘t have to breathe heavy in order to be a little bit freaked out by that if you are coming from the civil libertarian perspective.
And it really—I mean, that‘s the interesting thing to me. Is there a civil libertarian wing in the Republican Party? There‘s a lot of talk about it.
STEELE: Yes, there is.
MADDOW: But the big intrusive government on national security issue stuff is the Bush-Cheney Republican Party. That‘s where this came from, and the left has been complaining about it. I want to know if there are people on the right who—
MADDOW: -- are going to actually have some power in the party who are complaining about it, too.
STEELE: Yes, I would say that there are. And I think you saw the first, you know, stages of that, of power being asserted, if you will, on the vote that was taken yesterday.
Clearly, there‘s a lot more work that needs to be done in caucus. Those members probably along with a few others, you mention the Congressman Rokita who said, hey, I didn‘t even know this was happening until today. Clearly, there‘s a lot of—a lot more homework and due diligence that‘s got to be done there before we tackle what is, I think, the preeminent piece of legislation that the Congress will have to work with. Even in some respects a little bit more important than the health care bill because it does so fundamentally touch as you noted just in the example on the—you know, with the library instance on everything we do, how we live our lives day-in and day-out.
And, you know, the health care debate is about costs and inclusion in terms of getting health insurance and all of that, but this is so fundamental to how we define ourselves as Americans and whether or not we‘re willing to give up some of those civil liberties in order to protect ourselves, I think, will be an important debate.
MADDOW: We are—we are reaching common ground. It‘s happening right here, America.
Michael Steele, will you sit there for just one more second to see if we can keep creating magic.
STEELE: You got it.
MADDOW: All right.
We‘ll be right back with Michael Steele. Stay with us.
MADDOW: More with Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, a man who I tried to bribe today with liquor to get him to come to New York to be with me live in the studio, and he proved unbribeable. He‘s that—he‘s that much of a man! Coming up.
MADDOW: The Republican Party figuring out what it stands for, how it works and who speaks for them is the most interesting thing in American politics in the age of Obama. I‘m sorry, White House. There is one issue, however, on which I think Republicans are widely assumed to be of one mind, and I think they are no longer of one mind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. DICK LUGAR ®, INDIANA: As some moment, it appears as if we are trying to remake the economic, political, and security culture of Afghanistan. We should know by now that such grand ambitions are beyond our resources and powers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot continue to spend the billions and arguably trillions of dollars of hardworking—dollars of hardworking men and women in this country in a venture that has no objective, no end game, and no approximate connection to the wellbeing of our destination.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let the Afghans pay the price, let them do their fighting. Putting American boys in their place is contrary to our national interest and will not lead to success.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not 10 more years of going down a road that has no end to it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has never been anything conservative about these wars. This is world government at its worst. We have never had any wars in the past with so much waste, fraud and abuse, and so many billions ripped from the taxpayers by Pentagon contractors. Fiscal conservatives should be the ones most terrified by all this spending.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: OK. I don‘t know what that last guy means by world government. He might be a party of one on that issue, but he does have plenty of company in his own party in terms of his skepticism of the Afghanistan war.
I asked Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi just a few weeks ago if Republicans this year would try to split liberal Democrats off from the White House on the issue of the war in Afghanistan, whether the war would be used essentially as a partisan issue—Republicans with the White House for the war and Democrats in Congress against the war.
Nancy Pelosi surprised me with her answer on this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: How do you see the issue of the Afghanistan war playing out this year?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I really don‘t see it as a political issue or a partisan issue. I don‘t see it as something that would be divisive. I think both sides of the aisle, people have their views about the length of time we should stay there, the commitment of troops.
MADDOW: Do you think we‘re capable of having a robust, sound debate on that without it being party line, without it being partisan?
PELOSI: I think so. I mean, I certainly hope so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Pivoting now. To get former chair of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele in further trouble, my first—my first question is: is Nancy Pelosi right, that Afghanistan is not necessarily a partisan issue, this is something where there‘s split in both parties?
STEELE: I think she is right. And I think you have seen more and more voices rise up, however, to express the concern that I got in trouble for expressing in my tenure as chairman that the administration needs to put forth the plan, the strategy, what is the end game here. And I think that that is beneath the surface for a lot of folks, you know, on the left and the right. And I think to the extent that whether it‘s the White House or leadership in Congress can more clearly articulate what that is—the fewer voices you will here rise in opposition about the cost and the contractors and all the other things.
I think the salient point, though, or the take away for me is that, you know, I think Egypt is teaching us a valuable lesson yet again. Very much as Iran tried to teach us in 1979 -- that the United States role in sort of setting up these democracies and turning on the switch and having them go is very, very limited. And I think that to the extent we support our friends and we support most importantly the aspiration of the people, that is really the strength of the democracy that has made us a strong nation and a strong people—that people admire and want to have for themselves.
I think this whole approach of going in, trying to fine tune and tinker at the edges pouring billions of dollars into a country like Afghanistan without a clear sense of purpose, end game and strategy, the administration is going to falter on that point, and the leadership had better be careful not to be part of that process.
MADDOW: You know, I think about the response to—the response in your own party to your critical comments about the Afghanistan war last year that everybody piling on to you for that, I think about that, but then I look at the polling among conservatives. Afghanistan study group last month polled on this issue—two-thirds of self identified conservatives said we should reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan or leave all together.
MADDOW: Sixty-six percent said that. And even among people who are conservatives who identified as Tea Party conservatives, it was almost the exact same number.
MADDOW: It just makes me wonder if Republican voters could really handle Republican politicians turning against the war.
STEELE: Well, I think—I think they can to the extent—and it‘s not a question of turning against the war. I mean, when you put it in those terms, Rachel, that‘s what gets people, you know, next kind of curled up. I think that when you put it in the context of how people see this, tell me what your plan is.
My son, my daughter, my uncle, my dad, my mom is fighting over there. Their lives are at stake, and I understand the thing about defending my freedoms here at home, but they‘re in a foreign land and I don‘t see or feel the strategy that will bring them home to me. It‘s not enough to say on this date they‘re out of there. What happens between now and then? And I think that is the frustration you heard expressed by members of the Republican Party and the house, conservative or not, and certainly voters around the country as they look at this.
Now, all of this as you noted in the past sits sort of off the shelf a little bit because jobs and the economy and things closer to home are taking precedent. But people haven‘t taken their eye off that ball, I believe. And it will play a role down the road.
MADDOW: I think that the president and the administration and actually the previous administration before them, Obama better than Bush, but both of them, have articulated pretty well what the strategy is, what it is they‘re trying to do, why troops are there, what the goal is. I think that even when people are persuaded that maybe the strategy makes some sense, that a lot of people feel like hmm, 10 years, we‘re sort of over it no matter the strategy is. We would be better having the people home, particularly given the toll that it‘s taken on the military.
And I guess my real question, though, is whether or not that policy preference, even among conservative people, can be born in Washington by Republican elected officials, whether the party can stand it?
STEELE: Well, I don‘t know if it will be born by the Republican elected officials in Washington because the leadership is pretty much lockstep with the administration on the administration‘s Afghan policy or Afghanistan policy. But I think what you will see and hear is more of those voices coming from the hinterlands, from places away from Washington who are paying attention and do have something to say because it is about their father, their mother, their brother, their sister, who‘s over there fighting and dying to defend freedom—however that is defined by us or by the Afghani people.
So, I think there‘s a lot more that‘s going to get played out here. The Egyptian part of this equation, the whole Middle East part of this equation is ever-evolving, and I think you‘re going to see and hear people express a little bit closer to home exactly what are we doing and what is that end date again, what does it mean, and what happens between now and then?
MADDOW: And if that does end up being a nonpartisan discussion, I will eat my hat and I will enjoy it.
STEELE: I want to be a part of that when that happens. I want to see that up close and personal.
MADDOW: All right. I‘ll make sure the hat is delicious.
Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and all around good sport—thank you so much, sir. I really appreciate it.
STEELE: Great to be with you.
MADDOW: All right. We‘ve got a “Moment of Geek.” We‘ve got a member of Congress resigning unexpectedly today, and we‘ve got Richard Engel live from Cairo—all coming up.
MADDOW: It is turning out that the most fascinating place to watch the Republican Party‘s big government, small government values crisis play out right now may be the Great State of Wyoming.
I say that in large part because of these two conservative Republican lawmakers, Representatives Sue Wallis and Lisa Shepperson.
When a fellow Republican proposed an anti-abortion measure in their state, that would have forced doctors, among other things, to provide women with some scientifically dubious information about fetal pain, Ms. Wallis and Ms. Shepperson, again, Republicans, gave that bill a small C conservative push back in a big way.
They helped defeat the bill with an articulate, forceful, conservative, “keep the government out of my doctor‘s appointment” argument, hence, the no trespassing theme here.
We heard some of those Republican arguments on the show last night. And frankly, we have had a huge positive response to that segment and to those Republican representatives‘ Republican arguments.
Well, today, a second version of that same anti-abortion bill, this time without the scientifically shady fetal pain stuff, went out for final passage in the statehouse. It was one of the few Democrats in the legislature who gave the last speech against the bill this time.
But for her final words on the subject, she quoted her colleague from across the aisle. She quoted Republican Representative Lisa Shepperson. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
STATE REP. MARY THRONE (D-WY): The women of Wyoming do not need the 60 of us here to tell them what they need to know when they go see their doctor.
I think it was said best by the good lady, the good gentle rancher, mother-to-be from the middle of the state who‘s not with us today.
And I asked her permission this morning, and I just wanted to quote her from what she said the last time we had this discussion, “My point is simple. What we have works. When I go to the doctor, it is the most private thing you can imagine. I want myself, I want my husband, and I want my doctor there. I don‘t want any government.”
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: We aired the audio last night of her conservative argument about keeping the government out of the doctor‘s office. We did not know. We didn‘t know until now that Rep. Shepperson was also a mother-to-be. We learned that today. Congratulations, Ma‘am.
A second version of the anti-abortion bill that Representatives Wallis and Shepperson argued against on conservative grounds - it did end up passing today. But passed with significant changes, including exceptions when a woman‘s life or health is at risk, or when the pregnancy is the result of sexual assault or incest, and the worse of the first bill‘s anti-scientific red tape nonsense was left out of the new one all together.
Rep. Sue Wallis told us today, quote, “With the amendment, we still don‘t like it, but we can stand it. In practical, pragmatic real-world terms, it‘s going to change nothing. If you‘re a woman who needs an abortion, you call up. You make an appointment, and all of the things that happen already will happen.”
After these two brave, small government, conservative Republican Wyoming took their shot at this thing in the State House, the next step for it is in the State Senate. Republicans there hold a 26 to four majority. Republicans 26, Democrats, four.
Now, we get to see if there is an actual small government, leave-me-alone libertarian-minded conservative among them.
MADDOW: So this is Egypt and this is Cairo, Egypt‘s capital city. Yesterday‘s crowds in Tahrir Square were described as the biggest since the protests began, which is amazing, being day 15 of the protests.
Today, this is what happened to the Egyptian uprising all over the country of Egypt. Watch. From El-Kharga, in Southern Egypt, nearly 400 miles south of Cairo, where as many as five protesters were killed and 100 were injured, to the city of Aziat(ph), where 8,000 protestors reportedly blocked the main highway and railroad to Cairo.
To the Suez Canal where hundreds of workers went on strike in the town of Suez, joining tens of thousands of other union laborers on strike across the country. To Port Said, where a miniature version of Cairo‘s Tahrir Square sprung up and protesters looted the government headquarters and set the looted contents on fire.
The country‘s second largest city, Alexandria, was brought essentially to a standstill today by the sheer volume of protesters. The revolution in Egypt is still growing, still spreading, and the government is freaking out.
President Mubarak‘s newly-appointed vice president is now threatening rather creepily that if the situation in Egypt is not resolved, we will see, in his words, “the dark bats of the night emerging to terrorize the people.”
OK. In a speech to editors of state and independent newspapers, he also warned a coup could be coming, maybe by the protesters, maybe by part of the state, maybe by the military, maybe by the country‘s intelligence agency which, until five minutes ago, he was in charge of.
Protesters are interpreting most recent comments as a threat to impose martial law or some other means of defeating them by force.
Joining us now from Cairo is NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, who has been reporting all day on the nationwide character of the uprising now. Richard, thanks again for staying up late to talk to us.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It‘s a pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: Tell me how surprised you are by the spread of the protest today in Egypt and by their character.
ENGEL: What I was most surprised about today was how they changed. They spread to a different sector. They spread to the workforce. And what we saw was labor strikes starting in many, many sectors, dozens of places.
We counted just at least 14 different sectors - textiles, oil and gas, the healthcare sector, journalists in cities all over the country. And Egypt doesn‘t have that much to survive on. It is a poor country.
But it does have big industry, and if industry stops, then, it doesn‘t seem like this country can really continue to stand on its feet. Egypt can‘t stand to have its labor force stop working. And we‘re seeing that starting today and more strikes are planned for tomorrow.
MADDOW: Richard, is there anything to understand about the sort of tactical sustainability or strength of the two sides in this conflict from the violence that was used against protesters in some of these protests outside of Cairo today?
ENGEL: The government has been able to tolerate protests if they‘re in Tahrir Square, if they‘re relatively peaceful. It doesn‘t like them, but it can‘t tolerate them going into other cities.
It can‘t tolerate them going by key sectors of society, particularly Suez. Suez is one of the things that make this country run. If you look at Egypt, it is North Africa. It is surrounded by a lot of desert, and particularly the east and the west and then it‘s got Sudan to the south.
What makes Egypt survive? It has oil and gas. It has tourism. It has industry, and it has the Suez Canal. Tourism is already gone. Oil and gas and industry are now threatened, and that doesn‘t leave very much else. And then if you have the Suez Canal, you have all the pillars of this country‘s economy potentially under threat.
It seems very difficult for this country to sustain itself if these protests continue and continue to expand outside of Cairo to these key sectors of society.
MADDOW: Richard, when we heard Omar Suleiman threaten that the dark bats of night would come to terrorize the people, is that the sort of thing that makes more sense in translation than it does in English?
ENGEL: It is attempt at poetry. He‘s talking about the forces of evil, the forces of darkness, the darkness of the human soul, that if there is chaos, chaos leads to mob rule. No one likes mob rule.
Egyptians have had a stable society for thousands of years with periods of terrible unrest, of course, like everybody else. But generally, it is a society that prizes stability, and he‘s appealing to Egyptians, “You don‘t want to lose that.”
MADDOW: When he said that - or when we learned today that protesters are planning a Friday of martyrs - Friday, of course, is not only a traditional day for protests, but a day that the protests have been getting larger than on other days.
What does that terminology mean to you? What do you think we should expect for Friday?
ENGEL: Well, I think that each day has been dedicated to a different part of the protest. The whole week has been called the week of resilience, the week of steadfastness. The first day was sort of dedicated to martyrs. Then it was sort of dedicated to Christian and Muslim unity. And we saw some joint prayers, but those were also dedicated to the martyrs.
But what we are seeing with absolute clarity is that Friday is going to be a very, very big day. Already, I‘ve been receiving tonight as many people have SMS text messages with addresses where people should go.
And this is the first time in quite a while we‘re seeing the protesters, once again, calling on specific places to organize. Tahrir Square has been the de facto home address as the government cut off cell phones.
People just said, well, if we can‘t communicate, we will meet in Tahrir and see what happens. Then you saw the spontaneous protests, labor protests breaking out. I think they could be a real game-changer, these labor protests, by the way, spreading to other cities.
Tomorrow, we‘re supposed to see buses, potentially railways as well, that could tie up the city. But now, we‘re seeing the protesters say, “You know what? We‘re going to organize like in the beginning. We‘re going to send out messages. We‘re going to use Facebook and Twitter again. And we‘re going to tell people what time, what place.” If the protests have been big so far, they could be much bigger by Friday.
MADDOW: Richard, on day 16, just, I mean, bottom line, do you feel like you have any sense of how this ends?
ENGEL: It seems very unlikely that the government can keep this up much longer. Something has to give. The key functions of the society have to continue, otherwise the state fails.
If the state can‘t provide basic law and order and basic stability and basic economic prosperity to its people, then it seems like the state has failed. The government continues to say, “Give us time. We are working out all these constitutional issues. We need to have an orderly transition of power.”
That orderly transition of power is not happening. The government keeps saying President Mubarak‘s presence is a stabilizing factor. He needs to stay here to oversee this orderly transition, which by the way has been the United States line up until right now, that Mubarak kind of needs to stay in order to oversee this orderly transition.
But it is becoming increasingly clear that his presence is not making the transition orderly, so I think that has to give. You can either see the military step in and say that there‘s a coup and they need to have some snap elections, perhaps appointing a judge or some respected figure of the Supreme Court.
Or you‘re going to see the state move in, in a different way to sideline Mubarak. So I think this has to give some way. We may have passed the point where the state can order a crackdown. What are they really going to do? Are they going to send in the army?
The army said it‘s not going in. Are they going to send in the police force? The police force has pretty much faded away. Are they going to send in hired thugs? Well, they tried that and it backfired on them.
So in order to break up a crowd of potentially a million people or more, the government‘s options are increasingly limited here.
MADDOW: Incredible. We could not have seen it ending this way. We could not have seen it ending at this pace. We could not have foreseen that we‘d be talking about this next Friday as the biggest day on the horizon.
NBC News chief correspondent, Richard Engel, you‘re brilliant at explaining this stuff. Thanks for joining us, Richard.
ENGEL: It‘s my pleasure.
MADDOW: Thanks. So Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is married to a woman Ginni Thomas. Ginni Thomas is an out-and-out political activist who has done her part and then some to oppose health reform.
Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York has a few thoughts about whether or not Justice Thomas should be allowed to rule as a Supreme Court justice on the health reform case anyway, despite what his wife has done to affect that case.
He will share them on “THE ED SHOW” right after us. We, on the other hand, will be right back.
MADDOW: In tonight‘s “Moment of Geek,” we address the nation-rending controversy of exactly when humans first played flutes in space. This ends here, people.
MADDOW: A story broke on the Web site “Gawker.com” this morning that included this picture. Apparently, that is a congressman, and the picture reportedly involves Craigslist, so the rest of the story will not be hard for you to follow.
The man with the admirable muscle tone here is reportedly Congressman Christopher Lee of New York‘s 26th District. His alleged Craigslist activity is nothing that would shock you.
It was essentially dating or trying to date, or at least sending a woman on Craigslist a picture of himself from what we can assume is what he thinks is the hunkiest possible angle.
This was accompanied with a description of himself as a divorced lobbyist. Mr. Lee, in fact, is neither divorced nor a lobbyist, but rather a married congressman.
None of this alone is news. Cheating on your spouse is not a political offense unless you‘ve achieved political office on the basis of your purported family values or by denigrating other people‘s family values.
Congressman Lee has not done that, at least not that we know of. The reason then that this is news today is because after the story broke online, and after his spoken first sort of denied this was a real story, late today, Congressman Lee released a statement, quote, “I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents.”
“I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.” Then, Christopher Lee resigned. He said he did not want this scandal to be a distraction from the challenges facing his district.
In completely unrelated news tonight, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada is right now holding a re-election fundraiser.
MADDOW: What you‘re looking at here is the crew of the International Space Station. You can tell they are in space and not some random messy lab because of the unorthodox hairdo of the woman on the right.
The man in the middle there is the current commander of the space station, Scott Kelly. If he looks familiar, it‘s because he is the twin brother of astronaut Mark Kelly who is married to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
The reason this is our “Moment of Geek” tonight is this. Flutes in space. This flute in space is being played by Astronaut Cady Coleman. Contrary to some uninformed reporting about this today, I need to tell you this is not the first flute in space.
NASA astronaut Ellen Ochoa played the flute aboard the space shuttle, “Discovery,” in 1993. Even that wasn‘t the first woodwind in space, though. Astronaut Ron McNair played the sax aboard the shuttle “Challenger” nine years before that.
In any case, Cady Coleman has a doctorate in polymer science and engineering. She‘s also an avid flutist - flautist - flutist - I don‘t know.
Given the opportunity to bring anything into space with her, she brought not one, not two, not three, but four flutes, including one lent to her by Jethro Tull flutist - flautist - Ian Anderson.
A Jethro Tull flute is in space right now. So one, being in zero gravity does not mean you can‘t play a woodwind. You do apparently bump into stuff more while you do it, because your arms are occupied.
But a lack of gravity has no effect on your ability to make music by blowing into a thing. Two, Scott Kelly is not miking(ph) the wrong end of the flute here. We know this because for reference, we looked at Jethro Tull circa 1976, their concert videos, so that‘s settled.
But we learned one other thing here, which is, I think the most - see, there you have it. I learned one other thing which I think is the most important, which is this - whenever you see astronauts doing press conferences or any other sort of official anything, on camera, from space, we now know what they really would rather be doing.
We now know what they do the minute they are no longer required to be on camera. We know this, because they let the camera run over a little bit at the end of the flutes-in-space press conference. So we saw what they did the second they thought they weren‘t on camera anymore. This is my favorite thing I saw all day. Please watch. Watch. Watch. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CADY COLEMAN, ASTRONAUT: All right. Thank you so much. We appreciate your time. Yes, applause from here, too.
SCOTT KELLY, ASTRONAUT: You‘re very welcome. Thanks for joining us today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Station (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This is Houston. That concludes the event. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, National Public Radio on KHOU TV station. We‘re now assuming operational audio communication.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yes! What did you do that to if you could? They are just like us. Astronauts are just like us, except better.
That does it for us tonight. Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”
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