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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Guests: Michael Steele, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Terry O‘Neill

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thanks.

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


Former Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele will be here this hour.  Yay!  As well as the president for the National Organization for Women; as well as a piece of videotape we got in today in which a governor does his job by setting a whole bunch of stuff on fire in front of a cheering crowd.  It is a civics lesson with way better visuals than civic lessons usually have.  That strange and awesome tape is coming up a little bit later on.

But we begin tonight with a transformation.  In 1995, a conservative think tank called the Cato Institute started something called the Project on Social Security Privatization.  It was 1995, and conservatives really wanted to get rid of Social Security by privatizing it.  So, during the Clinton administration, this think tank formed an institute to come up with a way to do that.

When George W. Bush then became president, after Clinton, the conservatives‘ hopes for abolishing Social Security got pinned to the new Republican president.  But part of realizing that the president was really going to run with their idea, that they might actually realize their dream, also meant giving in to the Republican spin doctoring of their message, of their idea—the Republican rebranding of it.

And so, what had been the Project on Social Security Privatization prior to the Bush administration became the Project on Social Security Choice.  They changed its name to Social Security Choice.  See, social and choice.  It almost sounds liberal, right?

No matter the name change, the idea was still the same.  The idea was still to privatize Social Security.  And when Mr. Bush decided to run with that after he got re-elected in 2004, what he was doing was described as, and commonly understood as, trying to privatize Social Security.  And that is an idea that the country really hated.

When that became way too clear to them, the branding guys on the right got President Bush and all of the Republicans to get much more disciplined in the way they talked about what they were trying to do.  They said they couldn‘t talk about privatization.  They even had to stop talking about private accounts.

Remember when they had been talking about private accounts and then it became personal accounts?  Don‘t say private.  Say personal.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I believe that younger workers ought to be able to set aside some of their own payroll taxes in what‘s called a personal retirement account.

His or her payroll taxes into a personal retirement account.

I think it‘s important to gradually phase in the idea of personal accounts.

A personal retirement account that will earn a better rate of return than the current Social Security trust earns.


MADDOW:  If you say your prayers and keep your fingers crossed.

Don‘t say privatized.  Say personal.  That was what the branding guys said, right?

Privatization of something as beloved as Social Security was so abhorrent to people, it polled so badly, that they really had to turn the spin doctoring up to stun on this one.  That old Project on Social Security Privatization from which Bush got his policy template, they not only changed its name to drop the “privatization” part of it, they also tried to go back in time to expunge any evidence if their old name.  They changed the minutes and the names from their old conferences and meetings after the fact to drop the privatization thing.

But it didn‘t work.  Everybody still knew that Bush was trying to privatize Social Security.  And the America hated the idea and he did not get away with it.

What President Bush and the Republicans tried with Social Security, though, Republicans now are trying with Medicare.  They are trying to get rid of it through privatization.

What I mean by that is this: the whole point of Medicare is that it‘s a guarantee.  You don‘t have to be in the private insurance market.  Instead, you are in a public thing called Medicare.  That is for everyone. 

Privatizing it is killing it.

That was the subject of some of the most blunt rhetoric in President Obama‘s big speech yesterday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher.  And if that voucher isn‘t worth enough to buy the insurance that‘s available in the open marketplace, well, tough luck—you‘re on your own.  Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.


MADDOW:  It ends it.  It privatizes it.  It trades it in for discount coupons instead.


OBAMA:  I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry.


MADDOW:  My feeling about this Medicare proposal from the House Republicans is that they realize they are already failing with this one, and they have called up the spin doctors to try to save it already.  The first thing they did was try to stop people from talking about their coupon program or their voucher program.  And instead, they tried to get people to describe it as a premium support system.

It sounds like what you want printed on the label of your undergarment if you have to wear something silky.  The Republican premium support system brought to you by Spanx.

Nobody is calling it a premium support system, really.  People are calling it coupons and vouchers.  People are still calling it privatization.

But the Republicans are not giving up the rebranding effort.  And this is the most amazing thing of all.  Watch what Speaker John Boehner says he wants us to call it now.  Watch this.  This is great.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Speaker Boehner, are you getting concerns from

your members about the Ryan plan to privatize Medicare?  And if so, are you



REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  There‘s no privatizing—there‘s no privatizing Medicare.  We‘re transforming Medicare so that it will be there for the future.


MADDOW:  We‘re not privatizing it.  We‘re transforming it—because we are “Transformers.”


MADDOW:  I know that went on way too long, and for a punch line, it really sort of hurt to have a random still of Obama re-approaching a podium at the front of it.  But I have to tell you, I spent most of my afternoon totally embedded in old “Transformers” videos like I used to watch after school.  I haven‘t been in this good of mood at the start of a show in a really long time.

But that‘s the message from Boehner this week.  They do not want to privatize Social Security.  They want to personalize it.  They are not giving out coupons issue; it‘s a girdle, right?  It‘s support.

And do they want to privatize Medicare?  No.  They don‘t want to privatize Medicare.  They don‘t want you to say privatize.  They want you to know they‘re going to transform it.  So, it can fight the Decepticons.

And believe me, you might fall for this, you know?  Here now to tell me that I have it all wrong is Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

I exasperate way more frequently than I should be allowed to do.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  Brought to you—brought to you by Spanx?  What?

MADDOW:  The premium support system.  Tell me—tell me that they really think people are going to call it a premium support system and not a voucher.

STEELE:  No, they‘re not.  And that‘s like, you know, this—the engagement we have in Libya.  What did they call it?  Some type of mechanized mechanical effect on the ground.

MADDOW:  Kinetic something.

STEELE:  Kinetic, yes.  Kinetic, yes.  That Washington speak.

And, look, you‘re right to point it out.  And I think appropriately so.

But I think the substance of what the speaker, but more importantly Paul Ryan, bringing to the table is the national debate about three programs among many that require our attention, because they are in trouble.  They do cost the country a great burden, though they provide very, very important services.

So, I think that the debate is what we really need to focus on, as this thing moves forward, as we get past the 2011 budget, moving into the 2012 budget, to look at Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and other programs that right now are more of a drain than they are creating the kind of stability that I think the American people want and I think you would want, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Well, on that, though, in terms of the politics here—I mean, moving into, as you say, the 2012 budget, and 2012, which is a presidential election cycle.

STEELE:  Right.

MADDOW:  Do you think that Republicans have settled on Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, privatizing Medicare—is that going to be their issue?  I mean, they ran against health reform was their big issue last year.  Is this it for the next year?

STEELE:  Well, I think so.  I think to a certain degree, yes, it is.  I think that they‘re I think they‘re going to want to engage appropriately on this—on this subject.  You know, this third rail politics mindset only allows us to kick the can further down the road to whistle past the graveyard and all those wonderful sayings and not deal with the substance of the problem.

And, I think, you know, if Paul Ryan and the leadership are prepared to say, look, we‘re going to stake the elections on this, we‘re going to stake the country‘s future on getting this problem solved now, I think it‘s worth the effort and I think it certainly worth the debate if people will come to the table with a degree of intelligence and seriousness to deal with it.

You can‘t do what the president did yesterday and basically give a 45-minute prelude political speech, touch briefly on the subject at heart, and then get back into the campaign mode.  That‘s not what the people I think of the country want right now.

Lay out the agenda.  Put the two plans or the three plans up against each other.  And decide what‘s going to work best for the American people.

MADDOW:  See, I was.  I felt the opposite way.  I felt that I was surprised to get as much policy as we did from the president.  I thought that he was going to be campaign, campaign, campaign.  But—I mean, on this issue of what the Republicans want to run on, and if they are settling on the Paul Ryan budget is going to be their big issue—like when he said, listen, their plan for dealing with health care costs is that seniors should pay more of them.

STEELE:  And what is this—

MADDOW:  My plan for dealing with health care costs was health care reform.  And so, when you repeal it, you‘re repealing the only federal effort we‘ve ever had at bringing health cost down.  I didn‘t expect that much policy detail.  I thought he kind of nailed Ryan on that.

STEELE:  That wasn‘t policy.  That was falling back on a bad plan that everyone doesn‘t like.

MADDOW:  Well, what is the Republican plan on controlling costs?  It‘s to make old people pay for them.

STEELE:  No.  It‘s not to make old people pay for it.  It‘s to grandfather the people currently in the system, whether you‘re talking about Social Security or whatever.

MADDOW:  And the next old people?

STEELE:  And then the next generation, as people start to move into the system, you‘ve got to do something, Rachel.  You have to be able to address this.  I mean, you‘re spending 12 percent, 14 percent, up to 18 percent of your salary every two weeks into these government programs that you know you‘re not going to get a fat dime out of at the end of it.  And then when you get into the bureaucracy of Medicare and Medicaid, you‘re driving up the costs.

Yes, the insurance—you made a very good point.  The insurance companies is something you got to watch and make sure that that is as appropriately checked.  But at the end of the day, the government can be just as bad as that bad old insurance company you‘re talking about, if the burdens are so great that businesses can‘t afford it, individuals can‘t afford it, and the country is suffering under the weight of those programs.

So, you‘ve got to look at them.  Now, how we look at them and what conclusions we come to—ah, therein lies the rub.  And that‘s where the philosophical debate between the left and the right of this country, Republicans, conservatives, you know, Democrats, red and blue, have to come to some consensus on what makes sense for the long-term prosperity of these programs and the health of our nation.

MADDOW:  I‘ve got to ask you, though, what‘s the Republican plan to control health costs?

STEELE:  Well, I think—I think that part of their plan has been to talk about looking at the market forces that can help drive down those costs.  The system that we had in place had things that did work and things that didn‘t work.  You didn‘t need to upend the entire system and remake the entire system to create an avenue for portability.  To create -- 

MADDOW:  Wait, wait, wait.


MADDOW:  Costs were going up like 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent, 25 percent every year.  There was nothing in the old system before health reform that was controlling health costs.  And in Paul Ryan‘s plan, there‘s literally no plan, there‘s no proposal at all for controlling health costs.  He makes no—I‘m not saying he doesn‘t make bad proposals.  He makes no proposals on that—which is why I think it doesn‘t seem like a serious idea.

STEELE:  But that‘s a separate from—that‘s a budgetary piece. 

That‘s not the health care piece.

The Republicans tried to put those health care mechanisms in place to control costs during the health care debate that were resoundingly rejected by the Democrats.  So then we were stuck with this behemoth of government intrusion on the health care market where they don‘t belong, I believe, as opposed to going in and cutting in those areas that would allow you to create the kind of marketplace that you want for portability and to keep your kids insured and alike.  You don‘t need to re-jigger the entire system.

MADDOW:  I think that rejiggering the entire system enough to privatize Medicare is the kind of rejiggering that I am delighted to hear you say Republicans are going to run on this year.

STEELE:  I did not say -- 

MADDOW:  From your lips to God‘s ears.

STEELE:  I‘m not saying they are absolutely going to run on it.  I said it‘s going to be part of the debate, as it should be.

I mean, why do we want to continue to run away from it?  Because you‘re not solving the problem.  You‘re pushing the debt further down the road.  You‘ve got to address this issue now.  Everything has got to be on the table.

The president is not clear about putting everything on the table.  Even the Ryan plan falls short in that regard, because it doesn‘t really put defense spending on the table.  You need to do that, if you‘re going to take this effort seriously.

MADDOW:  Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican Party—I think you are wrong on every single count except defense spending.

STEELE:  Of course.

MADDOW:  And I so enjoy talking to you about it anyway.  Thank you, sir.  I appreciate it.

STEELE:  Take care.

MADDOW:  Republican governor of Wisconsin went to Washington today. 

It went very poorly.  That‘s next.


MADDOW:  When last we checked in with the official Republican Party Web site, something a little bit strange was happening.  You‘d try to go to the home page, but you would instead be automatically redirected to their big “We love Scott Walker” page.  You would try to type in, and instead up would pop

The whole National Republican Party online was essentially repurposed as the “We Believe in Scott Walker” party.  Scott Walker, of course, the Republican governor of Wisconsin whose union-stripping bill caused this sort of backlash in his home state.  It also woke up the Democratic base from coast-to-coast.  And apparently, for a hot second, it seemed like a good cause for other Republicans to take up, too.  They have since apparently had second thoughts about that.

If you go to the Republican Party Web site right now, it does not repopulate to anything having to do with Scott Walker anymore.  Maybe they had to move on from that pro-Scott Walker stuff because they had other important stuff to post, like trying to get people mad at President Obama about basketball, about his March Madness bracket.  Sure, it‘s mid-April now.  But still, the outrageous—the tyranny or whatever.

Also, you can update your RNC subscriptions.  That‘s their major feature.  Timely.

National Republicans may have gotten over their pledges to stand with Scott Walker, but Governor Walker‘s own dreams of becoming a national figure in Republican politics are clearly still alive.  Mr. Walker ascended Capitol Hill today for what I‘m sure in his mind was due to be a triumphant victory lap about what he has done to—done in the great state of Wisconsin.  But if he thought he was there to collect his laurels and be greeted as a national hero, it really did not go that way.


REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA:  When you campaigned for governor, did you campaign on the issue of collective bargaining being a problem with respect to Wisconsin‘s budget?

GOV. SCOTT WALKER ®, WISCONSIN:  I talked about wages and benefits overall, even ran campaign ads on it.  But I didn‘t specify exactly what form.  I talked about the broad spectrum.  That was issue that was a part of the campaign.

CONNOLLY:  Explicitly?

WALKER:  Again, I didn‘t run an ad saying I‘m going to do exactly those, but I talked about the full range.  I talked about it in a couple of debates.

CONNOLLY:  Governor Walker, I‘m asking a very specific question.  Did you explicitly single out—

WALKER:  No.  No.


MADDOW:  No.  That‘s sort of how it went for Governor Scott Walker today.  This was not greeted as a liberator day for him.

Check this next—well, I want you to check out this next bit.  They told me I had to run a little disclaimer before we ran this, but here it comes.


ANNOUNCER:  Due to mature subject matter, viewer discretion is advised.

CONNOLLY:  You‘ve got a famous phone call from somebody pretending to be David (EXPLETIVE DELETED) or Koch or however one pronounces it.  And he said, “Well, I‘ll tell you what, Scott, once you crush these bastards, I‘ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.”  You responded to that by saying, “All right, that would be outstanding.”  What did you mean by that?  And what did you think he meant?

WALKER:  At that point, I was down on the call, I had two other people waiting for me and I was trying to get off the call and get on to the next issue.

REP. BRUCE BRALEY (D), IOWA:  You ran campaign ads on the principle of good government, and I thought that‘s what we were here to talk about today.  In fact, you ran a campaign ad called “Real Leadership.”  You also ran an ad called “Make It Right.”

Well, this is your chance to make it right.  Are you ready to apologize to the people of Wisconsin for hiring the 27-year-old son of one of your major campaign donors who‘s a lobbyist?  Are you ready to make an apology today to the people of Wisconsin?  That doesn‘t sound like good government to me.

WALKER:  I‘m going to answer your question about the 27-year-old.

BRALEY:  I‘d be interested in your answer, because that‘s the question the people of Wisconsin want to hear today.

WALKER:  Well, I‘m glad you‘re interested on the people of Wisconsin.

BRALEY:  I am.

WALKER:  Because that person was seven levels below me.  When that position was—when that hiring was brought to my attention, I had my staff go back and have that person taken out of that position.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  Your proposal would require unions to hold annual votes to continue representing their own members.  Can you please explain to me and members of this committee how much money this provision saves for your state budget?

WALKER:  We gave workers the right to choose, which is a fundamental American right, the right to choose whether or not they want to be a part of a union and whether or not they want up to $1,000 taken -- 

KUCINICH:  Would you answer the question?  How much money does it save, Governor?  Just answer the question.

WALKER:  It doesn‘t save any.

KUCINICH:  OK.  That‘s right.

WALKER:  In the same way that if you—


KUCINICH:  That‘s the point.  It obviously has no affect whatsoever—

I‘m going to (INAUDIBLE) my time—it obviously had no affect whatsoever on the state budget.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  Governor Walker refused to meet with union leaders, and he declared publicly that he would not negotiate with them.  In my opinion, it is shameful to play politics with American workers and their families.  We should be helping these workers, not attacking them, because they are the engine and the author of the American recovery.


MADDOW:  Joining us now is Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Congressman Cummings, thank you very much for your time tonight, sir.

CUMMINGS:  Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Is Governor Walker is a good national symbol for the whole country for the difference between the two political parties right now, the different ways Democrats and Republicans are approaching public policy right now?

CUMMINGS:  Clearly, he is, Rachel.  But I might add, though, that 10 Republican governors that disagree with the way that he has gone about the business of trying to dismantle unions.

But clearly, we have seen it in our committee.  It seems like almost every week, there is some hearing attacking our public employees and attacking unions.  And so—and it came out very clearly today.  And basically when he got there, I think they thought that he was going to be placed on a throne, and as you could see, the Democrats wanted to make sure that the public knew exactly what he stood for, and that he‘s destroying unions.  Even after the union representatives that agreed to all of the financial demands that he had made, he still came back and did some things that almost crippled the unions there at Wisconsin.

MADDOW:  You are the ranking Democrat on this committee that hosted Governor Walker today, and I know that you chose for your main witness the Vermont governor, Democrat P Shumlin, to testify alongside Mr. Walker.  Why did you invite Mr. Shumlin to be there today?

CUMMINGS:  Because Governor Shumlin came in, and he explained that he believed that collective bargaining was a right.  And he talked about how important it was that people have the opportunity to bargain with regard to their wages and their working conditions.  And he said that, you know, he tries to—the one thing that came through very clearly, Rachel, today was this was a man who showed respect for the unions.

And the unions came to the table.  They said we are Americans, too.  We know our country.  Our state is going through difficulties, and we don‘t mind cutting our benefits.  We don‘t mind contributing a little bit more to our health care.

And he came out with a very good deal.  But he did not collect one—he did not eliminate one single right with regard to the unions.  And that says a lot.  And by the way, he was facing—that is Governor Shumlin was facing a much higher deficit than Governor Walker of Wisconsin.

MADDOW:  Mr. Cummings, I wanted to ask you about what happened tonight in Congress about the budget deal that was hammered out last Friday.  The night that that budget deal was hammered out, on Friday night, Republican staffers in the House told reporters that they knew they would have some Republican members not voting for the bill, but they said they were going to work hard to try to keep the number of deflections below 30.

Tonight, when the vote finally happened, they actually lost 59 Republicans who voted against Speaker Boehner on this matter.  The bill could not have passed without Democratic votes today.  Do you have any insight for us into what that means going forward—if Speaker Boehner is really not speaking for enough House Republicans to pass things on their own without Democratic support?

CUMMINGS:  I think it says a lot.  What it says, Rachel, is that there are a group of Tea Party folks who have come to the Congress and who are far, far to the right.  And I think almost anything that Mr. Boehner—

Speaker Boehner does, if it‘s not—if they can‘t have every single thing they want, such as a $61 billion in cuts, they are going to—and they can‘t have every single thing, they are going to vote against it.  And so, Speaker Boehner is in I think a world of trouble.

And see, the thing that a lot of people don‘t understand, Rachel, is a lot of these young—these Tea Partiers that come in, when they are telling me is that they are afraid that when time comes for their primaries, people even more conservative than them are going to run against them.  So, you know, I think Boehner is in a tough, tough spot.  And I am not—I‘m not one of those Democrats that‘s anxious to help him.

MADDOW:  I hear you, sir.  Congressman Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, thanks for your time and for your insight tonight, sir.  I appreciate it.

CUMMINGS:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  OK.  Still ahead: the single best way I have ever seen to veto something.  We have it on tape.  I will explain what I mean in just a second.


MADDOW:  On July 2nd, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  For that one momentous historic signature, Mr.  Johnson reportedly used 75 different ink pens -- 75 pens, one signature.

On May 23rd of last year, President Obama used 22 pens to sign his

name to turn the health reform bill into the health reform law.  See that -

22 pins to spell B-A-R-A-C-K-O-B-A-M-A—two ink pins per letter.  And he can‘t just do it all caps and make it easy.  It has to be his signature

22 different moves to make one signature.


And seriously, looking at it, could you really tell if you didn‘t know?  They must teach this in presidential orientation class, first day on the job.

When American presidents sign legislation that they think is a big bleeping deal, they use lots of pens to do it and then give those pens away as a “thank yous” to supporters of the legislation.

It is an oddity, a genuine quirk about the written expression of our leader‘s power.  It‘s kind of awesome, I‘ve always though.

But with all due respect, that is not nearly awesome as the written expression of one American governor‘s power this week.  His written expression literally burns, smoke rises when he is done.  And we‘ve just got in the video of it today.  It is very strange.  It‘s kind of awesome.

That is coming up.


MADDOW:  Over my lifetime, since 1973, we have had 12 new Supreme Court justices.  And through all 12 of their confirmation hearings in the Senate, we have had precisely one argument about what all of those Supreme Court appointments would mean.  Every single time we have talked about any personnel change on the Supreme Court since Roe versus Wade.  Every nomination was described as the determining factor in whether or not Roe v.  Wade would be overturned or if it would survive.

The constitutional right to have an abortion in this country was established by Roe in 1973.  It has not been overturned yet.

But when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was confirmed by the Senate on January 31st, 2006, that long predicted assertion that the nomination of this one conservative justice could be the end of abortion rights, when Samuel Alito was confirmed, that perennial high volume, all caps, worry/warning started to come true.

When Samuel Alito joined the Supreme Court, in effect replacing Sandra Day O‘Connor, the constitutional right to have an abortion started to disappear, and I mean that in one very specific way.  At the end of this legislative year, in the States, abortion rights could be over in a way that Roe versus Wade was supposed to protect against in this much of the country.

This is a map of states where restrictions on abortion that are in all likelihood illegal under Roe versus Wade have been at least introduced in the state legislature.  In these states, those laws have either passed one or both Houses of the legislature or been signed into law by the governor.  This specific legislation was first passed in Nebraska.

After Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered, the Nebraska legislature soon thereafter passed a bill intended to drive out of business the second most well-known abortion provider in the country, Dr.  LeRoy Carhart.  More than just trying to make it impossible for Dr. Carhart to provide abortions in Nebraska, though, this bill was designed really to end all abortion rights nationwide.

With Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court, the National Right to Life committee helped to draft the Nebraska legislation so that one state would have as its state law a restriction on abortion that is exactly the kind of thing that is banned by Roe versus Wade.  So, they set up on purpose a specific kind of conflict between the state and the federal law.

Federal law on Roe versus Wade says you cannot restrict abortion in this way.  The Nebraska bill is designed to break that federal law.  Why do that?  So that people who want to protect abortion rights will challenge that law, it will go to federal court.  They think because of the way they wrote it, it will go all the way to the Supreme Court and then serve as at vehicle for the Supreme Court, including the new probably anti-abortion majority—thank you, Sam Alito—to overturn Roe versus Wade once and for all.

After Nebraska passed their bill last year, it was expected that pro-choice challenge to that bill would happen.  So far, it has not.  Abortion rights advocates can read the terrain the same way that anti-abortion folks can.  They know exactly where that legal challenge would end up as well.

But meanwhile, this year, state legislatures have turned deep red all across the country.  And more anti-abortion legislation has moved than in any other time since Roe versus Wade.  The right to get an abortion is more restricted this year by Republican-led state legislatures than it ever has been since women have the right in this country.  Fourteen other states have introduced some version of the Nebraska law, bills that ban abortion after 20 or 22 weeks, ban it outright.

Is that legal?  Is that constitutional?  Under everybody‘s reading of Roe—no, it is not.  Are those state laws being struck down as unconstitutional?  No.

The constitutional protections of Roe versus Wade are supposed to stop laws like this from happening.  But by necessity, as a means of vying to protect Roe from being overturned altogether, the pro-choice movement has apparently so far made the calculated decision to let it slide.

A bill in Ohio this session would restrict abortion not to 20 or 22 weeks, but to as early as five or six weeks, which basically means that as soon as you realize you have missed your first period, your abortion is illegal.

Potential Republican presidential candidates have already started to endorse that bill in Ohio.  And it‘s not just Ohio.  Lawmakers in six other states introduced bills this session that would ban most or even just all abortions.  That is supposed to be unconstitutional under Roe versus Wade.

But if nobody will sue over those laws, because looking up at that Supreme Court, they know what‘s going to happen if they do, then quietly, and with no real national debate, Roe versus Wade has already been effectively overturned.

I understand how this has happened.  I do not understand how this ends.

Joining us now for the interview is Terry O‘Neill.  She‘s president of the National Organization for Women.

Ms. O‘Neill, thanks very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

TERRY O‘NEILL, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN:  Thank you so much for having me.

MADDOW:  Let‘s just call it—for simplicity sake—the Nebraska bill, even though now it‘s been proposed in 14 other states.  Does the Nebraska bill seem like at a basic level Roe versus Wade is supposed to stop states from passing laws like that?

O‘NEILL:  Absolutely.  Roe versus Wade establishes that it is a woman‘s fundamental, constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy if she wants to.  And after Roe versus Wade was really substantially changed actually in Southeastern Planned Parenthood versus Casey, in that case that Sandra Day O‘Connor authored, still the dividing line was viability.  And under Casey, a state cannot outlaw abortion pre-viability.  It just can‘t do it.

Post-viability, the state can outlaw abortion, but under Casey, the state would still have to provide exemptions for such things as to protect the woman‘s health or her life or in other circumstances.

So, when the Nebraska bill, which outlaws abortion at 20 weeks, clearly pre-viability, that is a law that I think is clearly intended to set up a challenge to Roe versus Wade at the Supreme Court level.  It‘s totally unconstitutional.

MADDOW:  We‘ve also got this five or six-week bill in Ohio.  We‘ve got other—six other states trying to ban it in various ways, some of the states just to ban it outright altogether.

So far, none of those measures have passed yet.  They very easily could, looking at the makeup of those legislatures.

Looking at bills like that that you don‘t even need as much of an explanation that you just gave to say they would be unconstitutional, they are just prima facie unconstitutional given Roe, do we have to understand that the only way to call upon the protections of Roe versus Wade is to bring lawsuits that challenge state laws that violate it?

O‘NEILL:  You know, I—the problem with bringing a lawsuit in federal court to challenge these—to challenge these state laws is exactly what you said.  We are afraid that the Supreme Court actually might take the opportunity to overturn Roe versus Wade.  This is a court that is led by John Roberts, a man who frankly misled the United States Senate during his confirmation hearings.  He talked about how he thought that being a Supreme Court justice would mean that he needs to be an umpire, just calling the balls and strike, you know, not putting his thumb on the scale.

And then under Roberts‘ leadership, the Supreme Court reached out in the Citizens United case to actually address an issue that had not been presented to the court.  And in Citizens United, they reach out, take an issue that was not presented to the court, and they open the floodgates for corporations to basically buy elections.

So, this is a court that is extremely activist when it wants to be.  And I am really afraid that under Roberts‘ leadership and with Samuel Alito on the court, we could have a 5-4 decision either overturning Roe versus Wade or so gutting it that it might as well be overturned.

MADDOW:  And I—in trying to figure out what‘s happening with just tidal wave of anti-abortion legislation in the states, so much of it that just seems plainly unconstitutional, plainly against what Roe v. Wade is supposed to protect against, I have been trying to figure out where this ends.  If that fear that you‘re describing that any federal court challenge will result in Roe v.  Wade being overturned, then let‘s say Ohio passes this bill that bans abortion after five weeks.

Does it just—is it just—does it just become law?  Is it left to stand?  Is there any way to see how this ends other than that?

O‘NEILL:  Well, you know, if it‘s not challenged, then, yeah, the law does stand.  Unless you can take it to court and get a preliminary injunction or an injunction against the enforcement of it—yes, the law would stand.

And here‘s the thing—this hostility to women‘s abortion rights doesn‘t stop with abortion.  What we‘re seeing across the board really is hostility to women‘s reproductive health care rights.  We just had a fight in which the extremists in the House of Representatives and in Congress tried to cut off funding, all funding, for family planning clinics that serve more than 5 million women and men every year, right?  These are family planning clinics that don‘t provide abortions, that provide contraception, pap tests, mammograms, STD testing and treatment, HIV/AIDS testing.

What‘s happening is that as abortion—as anti-abortion laws gain more and more traction, we‘re also seeing attacks on all of the other aspects of women‘s reproductive health.  And frankly, defunding the family planning clinics is a public health nightmare in the making.  But we‘re seeing these attacks across the reproductive health rights.

MADDOW:  Terry O‘Neill, president of the National Organization for Women—thank you.  I sort of feel like I‘ve been screaming into the wind on this a little bit because I don‘t feel like it‘s getting a lot of national attention.  But you‘ve really helped me to understand it better.  Thanks for your time.

O‘NEILL:  Thank you so much.

MADDOW:  We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  A display of gutsy leadership like we saw from one governor today is rare.  In this case, specifically, it‘s medium rare.  That‘s ahead.


MADDOW:  I‘m happy to say that “The Associated Press” today ran a long enterprising piece on oil drilling.

Quote, “With everything big oil and the government have learned in the year since the BP oil disaster, could it happen again?  Absolutely, according to an ‘Associated Press‘ examination.”  The, quote, “experts” saying that there is no evidence that oil companies could deal with another major spill, and that the government, quote, “is taking the oil companies word for it that they can handle a spill.

One direct quote from the EPA about how the government is handing out permits now, quote, “This is the same kind of deference to claimed oil company expertise that led directly to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.”  Wow.

It is great to see “The A.P.” asking these hard questions about drilling in the Gulf right now.  Is drilling really more safe than it was when the Deepwater Horizon blew up and caused the BP disaster last year?  Aren‘t those new government findings about blowout preventers are pretty worrying?  If they don‘t really work and that‘s the same safety technology that‘s on this new newly-approved rigs.

On this show, we have been asking those same questioning and following them up for a few weeks now, including my flat-out terrifying interview with the official at the Department of the Interior in charge of handing out the new permits.  He confirmed in that interview that the new standard for how fast companies need to be able to contain a blown-out well is 17 days.  Seventeen days of this is OK.  But thereafter, the government would appreciate you please getting your act together.

He also confirmed that the government does think its standards on blowout preventers are too lax.  They are going to tighten them up.  But before they do that, they‘re going to keep giving out permits for drilling rigs that only met the only lax standards.

The tougher standards for the equipment that failed in the BP disaster, those tougher standards are coming but drilling starts again in the meantime.

So, given what we found so far in our reporting on this, I really am happy “The A.P.” ran their own big long story on this today, seriously, no snark.  I am hoping this is going to goose more big time print coverage of drilling safety after the BP disaster—particularly with the anniversary of the rig explosion coming up next week.

In the meantime, while we hope for what I think really will be more and broader coverage of this issue, I want to submit one more detail for your consideration from today‘s news.

The overarching issue with the government giving up permits for drilling, the government regulating offshore drilling is that the companies claim to be almost unregulatable, right?  They implicitly and explicitly assert that, really, they just know more how to do this than anyone else.  They are the experts.  They‘ve got the advanced technical capacity to pull off this engineering miracle that is deep water drilling.  And if they can‘t just be left alone to do it, they at least please just need deference, some leeway, some recognition they know what they are doing.  That‘s the industry‘s attitude.

And, sometimes, frankly, the government adopts that attitude, too, and goes along deferentially because the drilling companies are the experts.  They know what they‘re doing.

Really big offshore oil rigs, the ones that are capable of drilling in thousands of feet of water, sometimes, they have attached to them what the industry calls a floatel, like a hotel but floating.  Sometimes they can house hundreds of workers.

One floatel for these big offshore rigs just sunk in the Gulf of Mexico.  It listed heavily, tipped over, and partially sunk.  Six hundred and thirty-eight workers evacuated safely, thankfully.  Now, they‘re just trying to keep all the diesel and jet fuel that‘s stored on board the floatel from leaking into the Gulf.

That‘s not even the rig, itself.  That is just the dorm thingy for the people who work on the rig.  Pemex is the company that‘s operating the rig.  They‘re working on salvaging it.  Now I‘m sure they‘ll do great.

And remember they‘re the experts—and it‘s just the Gulf of Mexico. 

Come on.  Who cares?  Cut them some slack.

I should also note that the Interior Department—the Interior Department agency that gives out drilling permits, they have just announced their 10th post-BP new drilling permit.  They announced at the same time that for future permits, no more press releases.  They‘re still going to give out permits from hereon out.

They‘re just going to stop announcing it, when they do it.  I wonder why.


MADDOW:  The November elections gave Republicans control of the Montana House this past November.  Republicans already controlled the Senate in Montana but this past November they got ahold of both chambers for the first time in a long while.

How did Montana Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer respond to this?  He ordered a cattle brand that says V-E-T-O, veto.  He paid 100 bucks to register his brand with the state.  It is registered a s an ornamental brand, which means you‘re not supposed to use it on real animals, which is fine with Governor Brian Schweitzer because what he intended to use that brand on was a record number of bills passed by the Republicans in his state legislature.

Watch this right here.  The black and white dog you will see running here is his Border Collie, Jag.  There‘s another dog in the scene, too, who‘s a stranger to me.  I don‘t know.

But the governor put the bills he wanted to veto on a plank in front of the state capitol.  He stuck them through with a hot brand.  That, of course, set the paper on fire.  When the ashes blew away, you could see the veto brand burned into the wooden plaque with the bill number on it.  Look at that, V-E-T-O.

He had three of the brands actually.  The big, bold brand, a yearling, medium-sized brand, and a calf brand for what he called frivolous bills.


GOV. BRIAN SCHWEITZER (D), MONTANA:  In fact, this frivolous bill

doesn‘t say anything.  So, that means that—we‘re bring that one up here

Senate bill 114, since it‘s just a frivolous bill, is going to get a calf brand.




MADDOW:  How much does this dude love his job?

He also veto branded a bill that would gut energy efficiency for housing.  Watch this one.


SCHWEITZER:  Either that‘s somebody that‘s not very good with energy, or it‘s somebody that ain‘t very good with numbers.  Either way, it‘s a yearling bill and it‘s going to get a yearling brand.



MADDOW:  I could watch this all day.  This is so much better than politics has a right to be.  He goes on and on like this.  There was also a bill for cyanide leaching at mines, which is something that Montana voters had voted twice to ban.  Watch.


SCHWEITZER:  Let me ask you a question.  Is that bold brand, is that hot?  Red hot?  Let‘s get a little hotter.  How about if I—it will heat up a little bit—if I have a little bit of encouragement?



SCHWEITZER:  This one‘s for clean water.


MADDOW:  Republican passed bills to make it harder to register to vote, to stop election day registration, to overturn the medical marijuana law that 62 percent of Montanans voted for, to block the state from setting up an exchange for health reform, to give the state eminent domain to seize federal land, to impose restrictions on what local schools could do about sex ed—all these hard right Republican bills Brian Schweitzer vetoed them all.  He says he will veto anything that‘s frivolous, unconstitutional, or in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people of Montana.

After he finished making a show with the whole branding thing, the governor went into his office and got a regular old pen and put the N-O to 16 more bills he did not see fit to set aflame.

Is he grandstanding with the whole branding thing?  Of course he is. 

Is it working?  You betcha.

Now, it is time for “THE ED SHOW.”  Good night.



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