Guests: Matt Miller, Eric Lipton
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you. Have a great weekend.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, “THE LAST WORD” HOST: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home as well for staying with us for this next hour.
We begin with some brand-new and unexpected developments in the strange unraveling of the Senator John Ensign sex scandal. We just learned yesterday about Senator Ensign‘s plan to resign from the Senate effective May 3rd.
Why May 3rd? Why after holding on for almost two years after his sex scandal became public, after saying just a few weeks ago that he‘d stay on until the end of his term, why did Senator Ensign suddenly announce that he will quit on some random Tuesday about two weeks from now?
We do have an answer for that now. Stand by. “The New York Times” reporter who figured out that out and reported on that today will explain. He‘ll join us here in just a moment.
But for the context here, Senator Ensign‘s affair was with one of his staffers, a staffer who is married to one of his top Senate aides. When this affair was discovered, Senator Ensign cut both staffers loose. The staffer he was having an affair with and the staffer she was married to. And the senator‘s parents then cut the family a $96,000 check—a check Ensign‘s lawyer made sure to say was a gift from the family because if it was considered severance pay, there is the possibility that that would be considered illegal.
But the husband staffer, the man whose wife Senator Ensign had been shtooping, he ultimately publicly contradicted that assertion. He said that the payment was severance. At various points over the course of Senator Ensign‘s scandal, investigations have been started by the FBI, by the Justice Department, by the Senate Ethics Committee. Through all of it, Senator Ensign just stuck through it, hanging out in the Senate, maintaining his innocence-ish.
After the man whose wife Senator Ensign was shtooping was indicted last month on charges that he illegally lobbied Senator Ensign, the senator announced that he would not seek re-election. He took pains to emphasize at that announcement that he wasn‘t resigning. He would not run again, but he wanted to be very clear: he was not resigning.
Why wasn‘t he resigning?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA: I didn‘t break any ethics rules. I didn‘t break any of the laws. I didn‘t do any of those things. So, resigning would be admitting guilt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Resigning would also be what Senator Ensign did today. He says it‘s effective May 3rd. May 3rd, the Tuesday after next, which is a weird specific date to pick for your resignation, May 3rd, unless you were forced to testify under oath about that $96,000 check on May 4th—and that is the bombshell from “The New York Times.”
Quote, “Senator Ensign‘s resignation letter allows him to leave office just one day before he was going to have to answer questions under oath about whether a $96,000 payment to the family of his former lover was illegal, designed to keep the affair from becoming public, that‘s according to people familiar with an investigation of Mr. Ensign‘s activities.”
The Senate Ethics Committee released its own statement last night which brought our newsroom to a standstill when read aloud by somebody who shall remain nameless but whose initials are me. Quote, “The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for 24 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion. Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision.”
Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision by resigning. Does that mean they were on the verge of kicking him out of the Senate?
Joining us now is Eric Lipton of “The New York Times.” He reported these developments today.
Mr. Lipton, thank you for helping us understand this. I appreciate your time.
ERIC LIPTON, NEW YORK TIMES: Good evening.
MADDOW: First of all, in terms of the details here, I had thought by quitting, Senator Ensign would be escaping the ethics committee investigation because they only have jurisdiction over senators. So, if he‘s not one, that would, sort of, be over.
How is it that they can say they will be completing the work in a timely fashion now?
LIPTON: Well, the Senate Ethics Committee loses its capacity to discipline him once he resigns. But it still can continue its investigation and it still could make a public statement that details its findings and then, you know, any allegations of wrongdoing. It also still has the power, as far as it understands, to make a referable if it finds ground to the Department of Justice, to recommend perhaps even a criminal investigation of wrongdoing that it may have documented through the subpoenas and interviews that it‘s done.
MADDOW: So—I mean, it has been remarkable, sort of in the big picture that the only person to have gotten in trouble here is the husband of the woman who Senator Ensign slept with. But in terms of that potential referral, you‘re saying that the ethics committee, their evidence could spark potential criminal liability for the senator, even if he is out of the Senate?
LIPTON: It‘s possible, if they were to make a decision, to make a referable. If they found evidence that they though misrepresented a crime, they have the option of making a referable providing the documentation that they‘ve collected and letting the Justice Department decide whether or not it wants to pursue a case.
MADDOW: Your reporting was sharp and to the point about the timing of Mr. Ensign‘s planned departure from the Senate. He says he will leave on May 3rd. He was due to testify on May 4th.
Could the ethics committee make his testify before May 3rd? Could they move that up?
LIPTON: No, I don‘t think that‘s all possible. Actually, the chairman—the chairwoman and the vice chairman of the ethics committee are actually in China right now as part of a congressional delegation that‘s—Barbara Boxer is the chairwoman. So, they‘re not even in the United States. The Senate is out of session until May 2nd, I think.
So, you know, and those kinds of things you have to have agreements from the various parties as to when the presentation would occur. So, you know, it was scheduled. I have three sources that told me it was scheduled for May 4th.
It was not an accident that he scheduled—he timed the actual departure from the Senate to be May 3rd.
MADDOW: In terms of the universe of types of investigations that the Senate Ethics Committee does, how big an investigation was this and what do you know about what specifically they were looking at in terms of the senator?
LIPTON: This is a pretty—you know, this is a comprehensive, you know, deeply digging the ethics committee has done since the 1990s when they investigations of sexual misconduct by Senator Packwood who ultimately resigned after they, in fact, recommended that he‘d be expelled from the Senate. So, this is the most far-reaching of a sitting senator since then.
And I as understand, there‘s two things that they have really been focusing on. One is the question as to whether or not that $96,000 payment was, in fact, a severance payment and therefore represented an illegal campaign contribution by his parents to the Hamptons. And if, in fact, it was severance, which seems like, you know, who cares if it was severance or if it was a gift—but, you know, if, in fact it was severance, there‘s a possibility that sworn statements that were made to the federal—the FEC, the Federal Election Committee, when it did its investigation, that there might be some inconsistencies. That‘s one issue that‘s outstanding.
The second issue is to whether or not when Doug Hampton, who was his former administrative assistant, after he found out about the affair, these are two former best friends, you know, fellow, you know, religious partners and they raised their kids together, once he found out the senator was having an affair with his wife, there was a mutual decision that he could no longer remain as the administrative assistant to the senator working in the Washington office, that he was going to leave.
And Doug Hampton, in interviews that we did in 2009 told us that there was then a plan that was set that he would leave the office and that the senator would help him get a job and he was going to work as a lobbyist. And the senator told him that he could then go back to the senator‘s office and get his help to help his client that the senator helped him, you know, get. And that was an airline from Las Vegas and also an electric utility.
So, in fact, Doug Hampton went and did that. He showed us his emails which show that he emailed the senator‘s office to ask for the senator‘s help for his clients. And those e-mails which he gave to us in 2009 were the basis and part for the criminal charges that were filed against him in March, that said that he violated a law that prohibits him from contacting the Senate for a full year after he left the office.
The question the ethics committee has been examining is to whether or not Senator Ensign conspired essentially with Hampton to allow him to lobby his office during that one year period. Now, no senator has been even charged for such a move. It would be—you know, it‘s a question as to whether or not someone, in fact, could be charged with because the burden was on Hampton to not to break the revolving door restrictions. So, that‘s the other thing they were looking at.
MADDOW: “New York Times” reporter Eric Lipton—thank you for reporting on this. Thanks for helping us understand that. I really appreciate it.
MADDOW: One thing to keep in mind here is that, you know, the ethics committee has bipartisan leadership. At this point, from Mr. Lipton‘s reporting and others, there does not seem to be evidence of a split between Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Ethics Committee on this. This does not seem to be a partisan thing. This seems to be a “John Ensign‘s got to go” thing.
All right. Remember all those wild town hall meetings couple of years ago with all the outraged citizens yelling at their elected officials? Good TV, right? Well, those things are back, but different this time.
That‘s coming up.
MADDOW: This is the Katherine Ferguson Academy. It‘s a public school in Detroit Michigan. You may notice a couple things right away about the students at Katherine Ferguson Academy in this footage and the rest of it that we‘ve got. They‘re all girls, for one thing.
And if you look closely, you may notice that some of them appear to be pregnant. Also, they are farming. Yes, they are. They are picking apples and growing lettuce and raising animals in Detroit, in Detroit, in inner city Detroit. This is not some extracurricular activity thing. This is part of what they do at the Katherine Ferguson high school.
The school is named after Katherine Ferguson, who is born a slave. Her mother was sold and taken away from her when Katherine Ferguson was 8 years old. When she was 16, somebody bought her out of slavery for $200. She then spent the rest of her life mothering lost kids and providing religious instructions.
She reportedly founded the first Sunday school ever in New York. Though, she herself remained illiterate all of her life. The school named in her honor in Detroit welcomes specifically pregnant girls or girls who have kids. It exists for them. It is one of the only places like it in the country.
Your life isn‘t over because you got pregnant. There is still school for you. There is a daycare on sight to take care of your kids while you go to class. There‘s an expectation that you will get accepted to college if you stick it out and graduate from here.
There‘s parenting classes and support alongside the rest of your course work. But your course work, it‘s for real. Katherine Ferguson Academy was named a breakthrough high school by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want everybody to have the same opportunity that I have. I got out of here. I want you to do the same. I got two kids. You can make it with one, two, how many you got? You‘re going to make it happen. Mrs. Andrews will make it happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: She says Mrs. Andrews will make it happen. Mrs. Andrews is the school principal, Mrs. Asenath Andrews.
Looking around at the resources available to her school and her students, this principal decided to take advantage of one thing that Detroit came to have, even as the inner city of Detroit hollowed out over this last decades. Detroit, frankly, has some space. Detroit has room to work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASENATH ANDREWS, PRINCIPAL: We have a garden. We have a big garden. They call it the farm because of these animals and stuff. I need to figure out how kids can make above $20,000 a year minimum, farming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Taking what resources they‘ve got and doing with them what they can.
One of the requirements for graduation in Katherine Ferguson is you must get accepted to a college. Principal Andrews and her staff will hunt down a college for you to go to and money for you to go there, if you graduate. I do not want to pretend that this is in any way an easy thing. But if you come as a junior or senior, and again, you come here because you have become a very young mother or you‘re about to—from this school, Principal Andrews says you have a 90 percent chance of graduating.
We spent time on this show this week telling you about another hard luck place in the great state of Michigan, Benton Harbor, where this month, to the outrage of many of the people in Benton Harbor, a state-appointed emergency overseer just took over the city. The mayor in the entire city commission was stripped of their powers.
There‘s one man sent from the state in unilateral control of that city now. The city‘s elected officials are not running the city, not anymore.
Emergency managers are not a new idea in Michigan. They‘ve been around for a long time. The Detroit public schools have been run by an emergency manager since the last governor was in charge, a Democrat, Jennifer Granholm.
But last month, the new Republican governor, Rick Snyder, signed a new emergency manager law which you could call emergency manager on steroids. Or if you really don‘t like it, you could call it financial martial law. This new bill contains more than a dozen new triggers for getting put under emergency rule. And it gives an emergency overseer in a town or in a school district, it gives us overseer astounding amounts of new power.
The Detroit schools manager told the “The Detroit News” he had been frustrated under the old manager law. Detroit was still allowed to have an elected school board and those locally elected officials did not always want what he wanted, which he found frustrating. The new law passed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, though, would do away with that complication. And that new power has the Detroit schools emergency overseer guy licking his chops and I‘m not begin hyperbolic.
Listen to how he described it to “The Detroit News. He said, “I do drool when I think of the pace of change we could achieve under the new law.”
Power tastes great, more thrilling. I do drool.
But the fact is that this guy used to feel throttled by the people who the people of Detroit elected to make decisions about schools and their city. Now, under the new law, whoever you elect locally is totally irrelevant.
Before the new law went into effect, the school‘s emergency managers said he wanted to close Katherine Ferguson Academy. It was slated for closure last year as part of Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb‘s plan to downsize the school system. But protest from students and community members kept it open. The manager wanted to shut down the city‘s special school for girls who were pregnant or who had kids. But protests, again, from students and community members kept it open.
Now, with expanded unilateral power, all teachers in the Detroit schools just got layoff notices from this person. And the girls at the Katherine Ferguson Academy just found out that their school has been put on this list. Look, closures or charters with a big asterisk on it.
The asterisk means, quote, “Proposals will be requested to operate these schools as charters. If an acceptable proposal is not submitted for a school, then it will be closed during the summer of 2011.”
What that means in simple terms is that Katherine Ferguson High School is on the block. The emergency overseer has made a unilateral decision about Katherine Ferguson Academy. If a private company will take over Katherine Ferguson Academy and keep it open, then maybe it can stay open in some form, whatever the company wants to do with it. If not, it‘s gone, this summer.
When he tried to do it before, the emergency manager tried to close it down this before, it was local protest that stopped them. Now, with that being emergency overseer being given unlimited power to do what he wants no matte what Detroit says—well.
When the students got the news, they decided to protest. This video we showed a moment ago where these girls were talking about how much they love their school, how much they love Katherine Ferguson, you can see they are painting something there. What they are painting is protest signs. The video is from a sit-in at the school during spring break week last week.
The girls got the news about what was going to happen to Katherine Ferguson Academy. They went to their school, they gathered inside. They made a collective decision to say this is our place and we‘re staying.
And then, of course, this is what happened next.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: This school in an American city. The police turned on the sirens of their police cars to drown out the girls‘ voices while they were getting handicapped and arrested, for refusing to leave their school. At least one teacher was arrested alongside them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The attitude of the teachers was really plain. It was, we can find a job somewhere else, but these young women, they can‘t replace the school if we don‘t stand and fight for them and their futures. Then they don‘t stand a chance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The news now from Michigan is not about whether Katherine Ferguson Academy stays open or it closes, or about what happens to Benton Harbor and the lake front park there that we‘ve been talking act and its privatization into a really, really expensive golf course. It‘s not even whether there are political forces in America that want to drop the idea of public school and to turn schools into business opportunities instead, or to turn public parks into golf courses. Those political forces exist. They have existed for a long time. That is not new.
What is new here is that this state has decided that local elections, locally elected officials are a problem that has to be done away with, that democracy is in the way of fixing problems in the United States now, of making things more efficient, particularly in poor places. Not that democracy is the way we fix problems but that democracy is the problem and it therefore needs to be sidestepped for efficiency sake, for our own good. Governor knows best.
This week, a columnist with the “Kalamazoo Gazette” wrote a thoughtful and smart column that frankly was critical of me, critical of us for our coverage of the take over of Benton Harbor. The columnist‘s name is Julie Mack. And she wrote in response to our coverage, quote, “What‘s worse for Benton Harbor: a financial manager with dictatorial powers or an utterly dysfunctional city government?”
Hmm, dictator or dysfunction? Dictator or dysfunction? Only two options? Really?
The point here, what makes Benton Harbor a national story and Katherine Ferguson Academy a national story is that the whole idea of choice for them anymore is purely hypothetical. The state has chosen for them. And that they‘ve got is, frankly, that aforementioned dictator. Their hope—their one hope is the dictator is benevolent.
Is that how we think problems should get solved in America now?
That is why Michigan is ground zero for American politics right now, at Benton Harbor and at Katherine Ferguson.
We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Here is my nomination for press release of the day. Ready?
“The Central Intelligence Agency‘s practice of shredding and burning classified papers—often referred to in movies and books as ‘burn after reading‘ -- is known as several ways the CIA reduces energy, reduces its impact on the environment and lowers costs through sustainability efforts. Exhaust from the agency‘s on-site incinerator generates steam to heat water at CIA headquarters. In addition to saving fuel, that process reduces the amount of waste which would otherwise be destined by landfills by nearly 1,000 tons per year.”
Have you ever felt more liberal in your whole life about the CIA shredding and burning a thousand tons of documents every year? No, you have not. Winner, winner, organic farm race, chicken dinner.
This is the best Earth Day press release ever. The CIA heating the water in its headquarters by shredding and burning stuff that you have to burn after reading. Wow!
The CIA this week also provided us with our single best feature of the week, unrelated to Earth Day. It was about how to write in invisible ink. That information derived from newly classified secret documents from World War I. The U.S. government this week declassified the oldest documents it still considered to be classified and it turns us they thought us stuff that made for a really fun afternoon at THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff bullpen.
Further information to report about what we were able to do with World War I-style spy technology. Also a cocktail related to that. That‘s all ahead at the end of the show.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: This week, as President Obama visited Facebook-istan in northern California, he got one of those questions that presidents probably dread getting. What‘s your biggest regret so far, sir? If you could do something differently, looking back on everything in your first term, what would it be?
The president got a question like that at Facebook and here‘s what he said in response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Health care, obviously, was a huge battle. It was so complicated that at a certain point, people started say, ah, this is typical Washington bickering. I have asked myself sometimes, is there a way we could have gotten it done more quickly and in a way the American people wouldn‘t have been so frustrated by.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Health reform and its frustrations. Remember, in the summer of 2009, cable news was wall-to-wall with health care and its frustrations. Cable news was wall-to-wall, stuff like this, every single day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this live? This is live. Things are getting physical at the Arlen Specter town hall. Let‘s take a quick listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your people told me I could. I called your office and I was told I could have the mic to speak. One day, God is going to stand before you and he‘s going to judge you and the rest of your damn cronies up on the Hill. And then, you will get your just desserts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Somewhere in 2009, cable news could not get enough of screaming town hall meetings for Democratic members of Congress and the Senate would return to their districts and then they get berated by conservatives screaming at them over the health reform bill and how god would judge them for it. Cable networks would cut out of their regularly scheduled segments to go to these things live.
Hey, there‘s Arlen Specter. Watch him get screamed at. Or hey, there‘s John Dingell. Watch him getting screamed at. Hey, there‘s Tom Perriello, watch him getting heckled.
Cable news was absolutely transfixed by this screamy, scream, screaminess (ph) of the town hall events in the summer of 2009.
Less prominently featured in that coverage was the fact that at least some of the stuff was ginned up and organized by corporate-funded front groups allied with the Republican Party. But, wait, wait, I know, those were real people. Yes, those are real people, but there were also big vinyl-wrapped buses shouldered by corporate-funded conservative groups driving across the country, organizing for these events, directing people to specific town halls, even providing specific talking points.
Look, talking points for town hall attendees and instructing them on how to disrupt these town halls. Quote, “You need to rock the boat early in the representative‘s presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out. The goal is to rattle him.”
Well, now, a year and a half later, the same sort of thing is happening, minus the talking points and the vinyl-wrapped buses. This time with Congress on recess, town hall events across the country, are, again, lighting up with anger and frustration. But this time, it is about the official Republican Party budget plan.
The Paul Ryan budget plan that cuts taxes for the richest Americans
back to what they were in the 1930s. It drastically cuts taxes for
corporations. It gives billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies
those poor, orphaned hard-luck oil companies.
And it also incidentally ends Medicare. It repeals Medicare. It turns Medicare instead into a coupon system. It makes senior citizens buy private health insurance.
That Republican budget plan it turns out is really unpopular. That has been made clear in lots of different polling that‘s been done over the last few weeks, the poll numbers here about Medicare.
What‘s different this week, though, is that Republicans who just voted for the “kill Medicare, cut taxes for the rich” plan, last week, Republicans who voted for the Republican budget last week—now, it‘s the Republicans who have to go back to their districts and defend what they did. And that has turned out to be a mighty challenge—starting with the man who authored the Republican budget.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN: The question is what‘s the best way to do this? Is it to—is it to redistribute?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tax the rich!
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: There‘s nothing wrong with taxing the top because it does not trickle down.
RYAN: We do tax the top.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That‘s right. Before somebody in the audience starts going Paul, Paul, Paul—I love it. That was Republican Congressman Paul Ryan getting heckled by his own constituents as he tried to defend more tax cuts for the richest people in the country. Mr. Ryan is not alone in terms of how constituents feel about him on this subject.
Here‘s just a sampling of the reception that Republican congressmen are getting back home after they tried to defend voting for this plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you not vote for Paul Ryan‘s bill?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I did vote for Paul Ryan‘s bill.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, that is to abolish Medicare and give people some money. It will not be the Medicare that we know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You asked me if I voted to abolish Medicare.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you did vote to abolish Medicare. That‘s what it is. That‘s what his vote is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Ryan budget proposes to turn Medicare into a voucher.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it doesn‘t.
UNIDENTIFIDD MALE: That‘s my understanding. If we do nothing, we are in trouble. Why we have to raise taxes on the rich and raise taxes on corporations. They have never been richer in the history of our country than they are now and you guys just cut their taxes again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People won‘t cover seniors for this lousy $15,000 that is going to be offered under this plan. You did not run on this. There are ways to pay for it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s wrong to do this.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: That was Patrick Meehan, Sean Duffy and Lou Barletta, all Republican congressmen. All getting the business back home from their constituents for voting for that Paul Ryan budget.
Then there‘s freshman Republican Robert Dold of Illinois. Quoting from his hometown newspaper, “Dold couldn‘t even get to the end of the presentation before audience members begin peppering him with questions about the Ryan budget. It began with audience members telling Dold that they don‘t believe chopping 10 percentage points off the highest corporate tax rate will create jobs.”
Listen to this. “A handful of people in the audience identified themselves as business owners and accountants who said their effective corporate income tax rate is already lower than the lowest rates proposed in the Ryan plan. They pointed to companies such as G.E.”—hi, boss—
“that pay almost no taxes despite billions in profits as evidence.”
Then there‘s Republican Congressman Charlie Bass of New Hampshire. Quoting from “Time” magazine, “Congressman Charlie Bass knew he was in for a rough night. The first question out of the gate during his Wednesday town hall in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, was about his vote for Paul Ryan‘s budget. And then the second and the third and the fourth, fifth and sixth questions.”
This stuff is happening all across the country and Republicans voted for the Paul Ryan thing and now they have to go home and defend that vote. You would not know this was happening all across the country if you just read the press or watched most cable TV right now. It‘s only thanks actually to liberal Web sites like Think Progress and Daily Kos, and thanks to reporters like Jason Lincoln at Huffington Post, which used to be liberal, but who knows anymore?
These are the folks who have been doggedly chronicling these events. Those are the only reason that this stuff is getting out there at all right now. There are not network news crews going out to cover these town hall events like they did back in 2009. The Beltway could not get enough of it back then. But it is happening again right now, the same thing. And because it‘s not angry conservatives, it‘s angry everyone else, the Beltway press could not care a less.
Substantively, the overall effect of the Paul Ryan Republican budget over the next 10 years would be to add $6 trillion more to the national debt. Add, to make the debt $6 trillion worse. That‘s what happens when you cut rich people‘s taxes back to what they were in the ‘30s.
And while Republicans just lard all of that onto the deficit and the debt, they are simultaneous saying they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling. So, they are very happy to raise the debt, but they‘re not all interested in raising the thing that allows us to take on more debt.
In metaphor land, that would be steering your car directly at a brick wall while going very fast and refusing to turn the wheel. In the Beltway, what this is called is courage.
Of the comprehensive budget plans released in Congress so far this year, the one that actually does the most about the deficit, that balances the budget 20 years earlier than Paul Ryan even tries to, that budget would let the Bush tax cuts expire. It would raise taxes on the very richest people in the country. It would cut defense spending which after all has doubled in the past year and was—sorry, in the past decade and was already the biggest thing in the discretionary budget. It would end those subsidies for the little orphan oil companies, and on health care costs, which is still the budget eating dragon in America, what we would get is a public option.
How does that sound compared to cutting taxes for the rich and dismantling Medicare thing?
What I just described, that is actually the most fiscally responsible comprehensive budget out there in Washington. If you care about the deficit, this seems to be the one that does it. This is the budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus which is—if you haven‘t heard about this, which is why the Beltway press does—which is why you haven‘t heard about it. It‘s sort of an embarrassing thing to admit. You‘re not supposed to say it and people get mad at me and write letters from Washington, from within the business every time I say it. But I‘m just going to say it.
The Beltway press does not cover liberals. When the Beltway press covers liberals, it‘s not as even—it‘s not only not political science, it‘s not even sociology. When the Beltway press covers liberals, it‘s anthropology. They might as well be putting tags on our ears and watching us in a mating season.
The Beltway right now says that the deficit negotiations in Washington have to be between President Obama and the debt-exploding, super unpopular Paul Ryan plan.
Why it shouldn‘t be between President Obama and the progressives? If this really is about fixing the deficit, why on earth is the most fiscally responsible, comprehensive budget plan that‘s been submitted, that‘s been introduced, that‘s out there for discussion, why is it not even on the table?
Joining us now is Matt Miller, online columnist for “The Washington Post.” He‘s a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and he‘s an MSNBC contributor. Mr. Miller served as a senior adviser in the White House Office of Management and Budget from 1993 to 1995 under President Bill Clinton.
Mr. Miller, thanks for being here.
MATT MILLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Glad to be here.
MADDOW: So, the progressive budget is a very populist plan. The individual stuff in it like raising the taxes on the richest, getting rid of the oil subsidies, those things poll very well. They are very popular.
Could the deficit really be brought down that quickly with policies—with the policies that are in this plan?
MILLER: Yes. I mean, what was smart about the Progressive Caucus is they actually went to the right of the current debate on fiscal responsibility and said, we don‘t have to wait, you know, 25 years like Paul Ryan does, or Barack Obama, which sort of never shows balance. But we can balance the budget in 10 years and we can do it in ways that are progressive and here‘s a road map that shows you how.
So, I think it‘s such a surprise to the conventional wisdom that the normal Beltway media has had trouble processing what to do with it.
MADDOW: I made a joke that I meant about the Beltway sort of being incapable of covering liberals. Liberals are covered almost like foreign news if not—if not, as I said, anthropology.
Do you think that it is a broader disinclination of the Beltway press to cover liberal ideas and liberal politics that explains ignoring this, or is this the sort of thing that‘s been introduced by the sorts of people that just aren‘t ever taken seriously on fiscal matters no matter what it is they say about them?
MILLER: It‘s a little bit of both, Rachel, because the basic—the basic mode of coverage, I think, is that, you know, the sort of establishment press act as stenographers to power. And you have the mainstream Democratic position obviously represented by the president and you have the opposition represented by Paul Ryan. And that sort of defines what the boundaries of debate are going to be because the media faithfully reflects those two poles of debate.
So, if you‘re are coming from outside those poles, or in this case, you know, what‘s interesting about the Progressive Caucus is they are more fiscally conservative than the current debate but they‘re more socially liberal in terms of investments they make in education, in infrastructure and jobs and they‘re more progressive in terms of what they‘re doing on upper income earners in the tax code. The Beltway, because they‘re not the official spokesman of the party like the president is, they tend to get ignored. And so, they have to be a little bit more creative publicity-wise to get attention for their ideas.
MADDOW: I will say that we get lobbied all the time and stuff to cover. And you would think that a show like mine would get lobbied all the time to cover all the liberal things. The sum total of lobbying that we‘ve had on the progressive—uncovering the progressive budget has been liberal wonks tweeting about it. It‘s sort of been—that‘s sort of been it. So, I hear you about the publicity.
Matt, in your latest column, you said—you played with the idea that what you should write for the column just over and over again is: “The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit.”
You sort of play with the idea of just typing that over and over and over again for your entire column in order to make it sink in. Why is it that the fiscal conservatism of the Paul Ryan plan really isn‘t being quantified, it‘s taken for what they say it is rather than what it really is?
MILLER: I mean, that‘s the sort of big question right now in Washington and the—I had in mind the great scene from the movie, “The Shining” where Jack—where the wife comes across Jack Nicholson‘s manuscript that says all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, you know, for thousands of pages. That‘s what I felt like doing with the Paul Ryan and the debt.
I think the answer is that the—part of it is the stenography that we talked. The other part of it is the kind of fear of numbers. And I think there‘s a lot of folks in at least—on some of the beats for the major papers that are reluctant to look at Paul Ryan‘s own plan, because the numbers I used are from the plan that he issued.
And if you just look at some of the key things, you realize that the image that he‘s been able to craft for himself is, quote-unquote, “fiscally conservative” is totally at odds with the actual plan which runs up more debt in the next 10 years that sort of proposes that at any 10-year period in American history.
Now, it should be said that Barack Obama‘s plan is even worse. Ryan would add $6 trillion in the next decade and the news this week was that Obama‘s latest version of his plan would add probably $7 trillion. Neither is adequate and that‘s what makes proposals like the Progressive Caucus interesting because they say let‘s balance the budget faster but let‘s do it by making choices within that that are more progressive.
MADDOW: You served in the Clinton administration in the ‘90s. You know a lot about the relationship between economic policy and winning politics. In terms of this particular battle right now, what do you think of Democrats prospects for turning their economic policy into good political outcomes? Do you think that they are aiming at doing that?
MILLER: I think there‘s no question that the speech Obama gave the other day contrasting what his approach is going to be with the Republican approach represented by Paul Ryan is going to be a winner. That‘s what you‘re seeing in all these town halls already because you‘ve got—when you‘re able to contrast, you know, the Republicans want to cut Medicare or change Medicare in order to cut taxes for the wealthy, I think that‘s very powerful as a matter of politics.
The thing that people should realize and the progressives should realize though is the debate isn‘t the right debate. Obama can win on those politics. And I think if that‘s what the contours of debate sounds like going into 2012, he will. But there‘s a big difference between Obama winning on that message and actually having solutions that are equal to the problems that the country faces.
Obama doesn‘t do enough not only on the debt, but on reorienting enough of federal spending away from the elderly, which is where all the growth is on the budget. Even Paul Ryan is increasing Social Security and Medicare by something like 75 percent over the 10 years. The entire federal budget today goes for consumption on the elderly, on health care and pensions. And there‘s less and less left for education, to recruit a new generation of teachers to our toughest schools where we‘re going to need to raise pay substantially to get better talent to the classrooms, for infrastructure and the other things that the Progressive Caucus is fighting for.
And Obama‘s—so Obama‘s message may win for 2012, but that doesn‘t mean it‘s not going to get us where we need to go.
MADDOW: Matt Miller, columnist for “The Washington Post,” senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and MSNBC contributor—Matt, thanks very much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
MILLER: Glad to be with you.
MADDOW: Attention trainees of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW spy school. Have we publicly admitted to this spy school? Oh, we have not. Your Friday night tutorial on invisible ink and cocktail mixing will commence shortly. Flashy spy formal wear and theme music are probably not included. But no promises.
MADDOW: Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty, he of brawny book cover and weird intimidating action movie with authoritarian age campaign ad fame, Tim Pawlenty has just hired this man to be on his steering committee in New Hampshire. This man is a former Nashua, New Hampshire alderman. He‘s also a convicted felon who is currently on probation after serving six months in prison in Massachusetts for his third drunk driving offense.
In the specific way, that New Hampshire alderman on the Tim Pawlenty steering committee is not alone. Mr. Pawlenty‘s campaign has a thing for this specific type of criminal offense. Mr. Pawlenty‘s exploratory committee overall for the presidency is run by this guy who was also cited for drunk driving in Georgia in 2006.
And those aren‘t even the most famous Pawlenty alcohol-related staff decisions so far this year. Mr. Pawlenty‘s campaign in Iowa also this year employed this man who in Iowa got seriously, seriously drunk. He mistook another house for his friend‘s house. He tried to break into that house, thereby scaring the bejesus out of a 15-year-old girl inside the house who called the police.
While the police were on their way he vomited on the family‘s lawn. Then the police showed up and then they brought him downtown and then they took this lovely picture of him.
So, the Tim Pawlenty campaign is getting slightly let boring. But probably not in the way that Mr. Pawlenty wants. Who is doing your vetting, Gov?
MADDOW: In just a few moments, I will reveal the secret message THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff wrote with invisible ink for you—or maybe for me. I can‘t tell. It‘s invisible. Patience, spy trainees. Your cool equanimity will be rewarded with a Tim Pawlenty-style cocktail. Maddow, out.
MADDOW: Happy Friday.
On Tuesday, we brought you something that should have been a “Moment of Geek” probably but it wasn‘t. It was however one of the most awesome things we have ever seen on this program.
Documents newly declassified by the CIA, the oldest documents that had still been classified by our government. They‘d been classified since World War I before there even was a CIA. They were declassified this week and it turns out they were about secret writing, how to write stuff, make it disappear, and then make it mysteriously appear again.
Frankly, the whole staff here at the show has been very distracted by invisible ink all week long since then. Mysterious blank-looking notes at the coffee machine and everything.
But one invisible ink detail that has been driving me a little crazy came from one of these CIA documents from World War I about how to detect invisible ink and it was specifically about how to detect ink written with the juice of lemons, onions, leek, cabbage, or artichoke.
What I could not figure out is how you get juice from an artichoke. I mean, seriously, how do you juice an artichoke?
Earlier today, our awesome staff jumped into action. Senior producer Cory Gnazzo boiled artichokes in his kitchen this morning. Our staff is that dedicated. Vanessa Silverton-Peel brought in a juicer from home. And this afternoon, producer Julia Nutter and Cory turned the pile of boiled delicious artichokes into a teenie, teenie, tiny little bit of juice.
And then, our staff used it in a Q-tip to write me a message which they have kept from me all day.
I will now, according to CIA instructions use a hot iron to reveal the message that no one on the staff wanted to say to my face.
This is what you‘re supposed to do. Hot iron. And apparently, you can iron paper without it scorching. It looks like it‘s in two parts. Can you see that?
We—we don‘t—we don‘t want to cover—we don‘t want to cover the
OK, “We don‘t want to cover the” is the first part. Can you guys see that? Can you see it on TV?
We don‘t want to cover the—ha, ha, ha. We don‘t want to cover the royal wedding. Well played, TRMS staff. Well played, in artichoke juice.
All right. Spy theme arts and crafts time is over. This is so awesome.
For artichokes, my contribution to this because the staff did this, artichoke juice made me think about a liquor called Cynar which is made with artichoke juice, I guess. I don‘t know. It‘s an Italian aperitif, but it‘s the way that I make my special gin and tonics with way more lime than you would think.
Pieces of lime, is that the Cynar ad that we have there? More lime, gin, tonic. Whoops. And then the magic ingredient Cynar which is a little intense on its own but works very well in the gin and tonic floated on the top about an ounce like this.
If you add orange bitters and a different garnish, it‘s a tonica ofrezco (ph), which is a Dale DeGroff drink. But I do it like this with an orange twist. And I guess we‘re going to call it the invisible ink, maybe. Has that been taken already?
Have a good weekend.
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