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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Evan Kohlmann, Ezra Klein, Tova Andrea Wang


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thank you.

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


We begin with some breaking news.  In the last few minutes, al Qaeda has just released a new audio recording of what it claims is Osama bin Laden.  The first recording to be released since bin Laden‘s death in Pakistan.  We had heard that al Qaeda might be releasing a posthumous recording from bin Laden.  They say that this is it.

“Reuters” translation describes bin Laden in the recording praising the recent popular uprisings in the Arab world.  Also, they describe him as expressing joy at the victory of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

The release of this tape, of course, comes on the eve of President Obama‘s expected big speech tomorrow.  Mr. Obama expected to address the “Arab Spring”—just like the al Qaeda tape addresses this evening.

Senior administration officials revealing tonight that the president‘s speech at the State Department tomorrow will include comments both on the recent political change and the Arab world, but also on America‘s role in the Middle East now—U.S. efforts to promote human rights and to promote Democratic reform and also to promote economic development in the region.

Joining us now is NBC News terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann.

Evan, thanks for being here and helping us understand the importance of this new tape.


MADDOW:  Have you been able to suss out enough of this tape to know whether you think it‘s authentic, whether you have a general sense of what bin Laden‘s point is in this tape?

KOHLMANN:  It‘s 100 percent authentic.  The way it came out is through the electronic couriers that always release messages from bin Laden, from al-Zawahiri.  It comes with the official logo of the al Qaeda‘s media agency, as-Sahab.

There‘s no doubt whatsoever.  This is authentic.  This is real.  This is bin Laden.  This is his last message.

It‘s interesting the message itself is only 12 minutes long.  So, it‘s relatively short.  He does address the issues of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

But you have to wonder, you know, time is ticking.  It‘s been several months since those revolutions came and went.  Why is it that bin Laden is choosing now?  Why did he choose now to come up with this audio recording?

Clearly, this was in the works before bin Laden was kills.  They were planning on releasing this anyway.  You kind of wonder: is bin Laden trying to jump on the bandwagon here a little bit late.

MADDOW:  In terms of what we know about how long it takes them and the means by which they distribute these things, is this the sort of thing you expect bin Laden would have already known was going out at the time he was killed?

KOHLMANN:  They had planned to release this.  The question is when they were going to release this.

And here comes the interesting point, is that if you look at this recording—the way it was packaged, forensically, the last touches on this were put in within the last 24 hours.  That means these folks were just preparing to release this very recently, which means they probably were aware of the fact that President Obama is planning this major speech coming tomorrow.  Perhaps the idea was to try to preempt that with a final message from bin Laden instead.

MADDOW:  Now, there‘s no indication that this is an “open this is the event of my death” kind of message from bin Laden?

KOHLMANN:  No, no.  Definitely not.  No.


Is there anything—do we expect that there might be something else like that?  Do we expect that this is the last thing we will hear in terms of a recording we have not yet heard from bin Laden?

KOHLMANN:  Yes, I think this is the last recording we‘ll see.  There‘s a possibility of a written will.  But what we‘re really all waiting for right now is the declaration of succession.  Who is going to be the next al Qaeda leader?

There‘s been a lot of speculation in the media about a guy named Saif al-Adel.  Saif al-Adel is an al Qaeda old hand.  He was in a Shura council of founding member in charge of al Qaeda‘s security, someone who had direct contact with the 9/11 hijackers.

At the same time, there‘s absolutely no reason whatsoever to think that Saif al-Adel is going to be the next leader of al Qaeda.


KOHLMANN:  Everyone within the organization, everyone supporting the organization is saying Ayman al-Zawahiri.  They are even referring to al Qaeda, Zun (ph) Ayman, in other words, the army of Ayman, the soldiers of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

As far as al Qaeda‘s constituency is concerned, there‘s no doubt about who the new leader is.  And from what we understand, there are meetings taking place right now in Afghanistan and Pakistan amongst al Qaeda leaders to kind of cement that decision.

So, again, a lot of speculation about Saif al-Adel.  He is a senior al Qaeda leader.  There‘s no doubt he‘s important.  But all indications right now are pointing in the other direction, saying it‘s going to be Zawahiri.  Saif al-Adel is a lieutenant of al-Zawahiri.  It would be very strange for someone who is below ranks to take a senior position over Zawahiri, even despite whatever weaknesses he may have.

MADDOW:  So, all of the speculation about him, all of the reporting in the last 48 hours or so about al-Adel, do you think it‘s just misinformed?  Or is al Qaeda putting out that word either as misinformation or to indicate that he‘s take something sort of caretaker role before Zawahiri moves in?

KOHLMANN:  I think it‘s speculation.  But there‘s a reason for that.  The reason is because Al Qaeda is taking its good old time about deciding who the next leader of al Qaeda is.  Maybe the decision has already been made.  And I think the decision has already been made.

But al Qaeda is not exactly being quick about informing the public about it.  So it‘s feeding the speculation to the point where even al Qaeda supporters are saying, is it possible this is true?

The reality, though, is I think is everyone who knows this and really understands this, there‘s only one person who is really the obvious successor here and that‘s Ayman al-Zawahiri.  If it is anyone else than Ayman al-Zawahiri, then al Qaeda has to explain why did they appoint a deputy commander to begin with?  Zawahiri has been the deputy commander now -- for going on 10 years.  He‘s been identified as such in al Qaeda communiques, in their videos, in his speeches.

What did that mean then?

So, I just don‘t think al Qaeda can walk back that.  And I think you are going to see Zawahiri be appointed a successor within the coming days if not weeks.

MADDOW:  Is there anything substantively different between the remarks that Zawahiri made in the past about the “Arab Spring” and what is in this new bin Laden tape?

KOHLMANN:  No, no.

MADDOW:  Same line.

KOHLMANN:  What are you going to say?  I mean, what I can they possibly say?  They have no role in this.

MADDOW:  They are trying to ally themselves with something they see as successful?

KOHLMANN:  Yes, of course.  They wish.  I mean, that‘s the point, is that they have nothing to do with this.  They didn‘t from the beginning and they don‘t know.

If you talk to people in Libya, there were attempts by al Qaeda types to get involved in Libya.  They were turned away.  The Libyan rebels said we don‘t want anything to do with you.

The Egyptians said the same thing.

So, I think the reality is al Qaeda is trying to jump on the bandwagon now.  It really is too little, too late.  They are not part of this.

The only way they can try to do this is latch on in places like Yemen where things are really desperate.  I think even there, it‘s a long shot.

MADDOW:  Evan, one last question about this.  Again, we‘re reacting to news tonight that the new Osama bin Laden recording has been released by al Qaeda.

Are you surprised with what we know U.S. forces were able to take out of the bin Laden compound?  Are you surprised that it has not resulted in some other high-profile U.S. or allied strike against al Qaeda?  And that they are still able to get messages from bin Laden out even after we got this supposed mother lode of information that was going to help take them apart even further?

KOHLMANN:  I think the appropriate words are just “wait.”  There is word right now there are individuals within al Qaeda, within other groups that are in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are under tremendous amount of pressure.  We‘ll have to see what ends up shaking out of this.

But we‘re talking about people who are very high ranking on the list of most wanted among both the U.S. and Pakistan and other governments.  So, we‘ll have to see what shakes out, but I think all indications are that, yes, there are senior leaders of these organizations, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani organization and al Qaeda that are under tremendous amount of pressure right now.  Whether it has to do directly with the raid is not clear, but it sure is suspicious timing.

MADDOW:  Hearing you say that fills me with a lot more anticipation than hearing anybody else saying that, knowing how much I know you know about these things.

Evan Kohlmann, NBC News terrorism analyst—thank you for your time. 

I really appreciate it, Evan.

KOHLMANN:  Thank you very much.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

If we learn more about this recording over the course of this hour, of course, we will let you know.  But, again, summarizing tonight‘s breaking news: there is a new 12-minute long audio recording from Osama bin Laden that has been released by al Qaeda.  This is the first thing, obviously, that has been released by al Qaeda about bin Laden since bin Laden‘s death.

Speaking with NBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann tonight—he says that he expects this to be the last thing we ever hear from Osama bin Laden.

All right.  We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  To help reduce the deficit, the government could: (a), end taxpayer subsidies to large oil companies who are making enormous record profits this year or, (b), they could sell all the gold from Fort Knox.  Guess which of these two options conservatives think is impossible?  That‘s next.


MADDOW:  As a general rule, when you put things in charts, they are much easier to understand.  I mean, something like a six-step plan to anything is sort of a lot of steps to keep in mind all at once.  But when you see those six steps visually, it can totally make sense.

For example, six steps to reduce the deficit.

Step one: reinstate the ‘01 income tax brackets for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  OK.

Step two: plant an inside man on the U.S. mint police to relay vulnerable late-night shift changes and lay the initial diversionary explosive.  The inside man and the late-night shift change—genius.

Next step, number three: shift Medicare purchases from name brand to generic pharmaceuticals.

Step four: cut the black and yellow wires behind electrical panel E-41 in boiler room two without touching the decoy red wire, which will trip the master alarm if severed.  See, this is important.  You want to cut the black and the yellow wires, not the red wire.  Very important.

Step five: reduce nondefense discretionary spending by $770 billion by 2023.

And step six: get in and out of the vault within exactly 11 minutes and 14 seconds, no longer.

That‘s the official Obama administration deficit reduction plan as put on a chart by the satirical newspaper “The Onion.”

That handy chart included in an article noting that President Obama‘s

deficit reduction plan includes spending cuts, robbing Fort Knox and tax

reform, “saying the nation must face the grave realities of its mounting

debt, President Obama unveiled a deficit reduction plan Wednesday that

included pulling off a daring robbery of the heavily fortified Fort Knox

bullion depository.  ‘It‘s time to stop kicking the can down the road to

future generations,‘ Mr. Obama added.  ‘We must empty that vault and ensure

our country‘s full economic recovery.‘

‘Reining in the runaway growth of entitlement programs and the defense

budget will not be easy,‘ Obama said.  ‘And neither will silently ferrying

5,000 tons of gold bullion through a network of ventilation ducts, but just

trust me on this.  I‘ve got the blueprints and I think I‘ve found a way out

through the drainage pipe.‘”

Robbing Fort Knox to pay down the deficit.

“The Onion” is very good at what it does.  What “The Onion” does is be funny.  “The Onion” is funny.  It is satire.  It is not real news—which is important to point out on days like this.


RANDI KAYE, CNN:  Some have questioned whether this is the time for the government to start selling its holdings of gold at Fort Knox, as well as other assets.  Should the U.S. liquidate assets to pay off debt?


MADDOW:  CNN is not supposed to be funny.  CNN is not supposed to be satire.  But, yes, that is the same story that ran in “The Onion” three weeks ago.

CNN has not done anything wrong here.  It‘s not like they‘ve been duped by something that was supposed to be satire—like I have in the past.  It‘s just that actual mainstream conservatives have now caught up with the satire that has been making fun of them.

The “let‘s liquidate Fort Knox‘s gold in order to deal with the debt” thing is now being proposed apparently in all seriousness by influential conservatives in the Beltway.  Talking about the Fort Knox gold, quote, “It‘s just sort of sitting there,” said Ron Utt, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.  “Given the high price it is now and the tremendous debt problem we now have, by all means, sell at the peak.”

“Why not?” asks Chris Edwards, director of the Tax Policy Studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.  “I think it shows the government is getting serious about reforming itself.”

When asked about b the idea of selling off the contents of Fort Knox, a senior administration official responded by saying, quote, “Selling off the gold is just one level of crazy away from selling Mt. Rushmore.”

Now that you mention it, Mt. Rushmore might be a good idea.  How much do you think we could get for it?

Yesterday, a Republican member of Congress, an actual Republican member of actual Congress from Florida named Dennis Ross, he suggested that what we really ought to be selling in order to show our serious balance the debt is we ought to be selling Utah.  Mr. Ross telling “Reuters,” quote, “The federal government owns 70 percent of Utah, for example.  If you need cash, let‘s start liquidating.”

Sell Utah.  Sell off the Fort Knox gold.  Everything must have go.

We‘re not kidding.  Conservatives and some Republicans have whipped themselves into such a frenzy over the deficit and the debt that they are advising the equivalent of trying to hack out your own kidney to sell on the black market because you have credit card debt.

But that‘s kind of the Republican mindset right now.  They are willing to do anything to cut the deficit, right?  Except that on the same day, a Republican congressman proposed selling Utah, on that same day, Republicans in the Senate turned down the chance to cut $21 billion off the debt by trimming subsidies for oil companies.

This should kind of be a no-brainer.  Seventy-four percent of the American public is against taxpayer subsidies for the oil companies.  And a whole ton of Republican senators are already on record as wanting to get rid of them.  So their vote to keep them now creates a flip-flop problem for them.


SEN. DAN COATS ®, INDIANA:  Look, I said everything is on the table. 

And that includes ethanol.  That includes all subsidies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oil and gas subsidies?

COATS:  On the table.

SEN. MARK KIRK ®, ILLINOIS:  I have voted to wipe out many of the oil company subsidies.  They are doing just fine on their own.

SEN. JOHN THUNE ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  If, in fact, they are making such enormous profits, then perhaps they don‘t need the support and the tax incentives that are given to them by the American taxpayer, by the United States Congress.


MADDOW:  Smart arguments.  But Senator John Thune, Senator Mark Kirk and Senator Dan Coats, not only did you vote to keep taxpayer subsidies for oil companies yesterday, which 74 percent of the country is against, you have also now flip-flopped on the issue.  So, congratulations.

Same goes for you, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Chuck Grassley, for you, Senator Orrin Hatch, my friend, Senator Richard Lugar as well and, yes, Senator Lisa Murkowski.  All on the record opposing taxpayer subsidies for oil companies before they voted yesterday to defend them.

This is a political disaster for Republicans.

Forget explaining taxpayer subsidies for the most profitable industry in the whole world when you say that everything else has to get cut.  Forget explaining that to the general public.  How do you explain to conservatives?  How do you explain to your own party‘s base who are fired up enough to want to rob For Knox?  How do you explain to them that this $21 billion in debt, this $21 billion in debt you like, you want to keep given the chance to drop it—you‘d rather keep it.  How your going to explain this vote to anyone?

And you are going to have to keep explaining it.  This was one procedural vote in the Senate yesterday afternoon to keep these oil subsidies.  But there are going to be others.  Democrats say they‘ll include repealing the subsidies and any deal on the debt ceiling, for example.

Republicans are going to be forced to vote on taxpayer subsidies for the oil companies over and over and over again.

How are you Republican senators going to explain it?  Really?

Imagine for a minute that you are a Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.  Here‘s the Massachusetts congressional delegation: 10 Democrats of the 10 Democrats, of the 10 congressional seats in the House.  And then Democrat John Kerry in the Senate and then, boink, Scott Brown, lonely read island sticking out like a big sore red thumb in a very blue state.

Scott Brown, you‘re going to be almost at the top of the ticket on a ballot next year.  The only thing higher than you on the ticket, the only thing above you on the ballot will be the president Barack Obama race.

If you are a senator like Scott Brown right now, you have got to be freaking out over the distance between what the Republican Party expects of its members right now and what those votes the party is demanding mean back home.

Remember when Republican Senator Jon Kyl said 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions but it‘s actually 3 percent, and then his staff covered it up by saying, that 90 percent statement was not intended to be a factual statement.  Scott Brown just pulled a not intended to be a factual statement on the Paul Ryan kill Medicare plan.  On Friday, Scott Brown said in a speech, quote, “The leaders will bring forward Paul Ryan‘s budget, and I will vote for it.”  That was on Friday.

Now, Senator Brown‘s aides say what—that when he said “I will vote for it,” he didn‘t mean “I will vote for it.”  He was using the Ryan budget, they say, as an illustration.  When he said “I will vote for it,” he was not saying how he would actually vote on the bill.

That‘s the kind of pretzel Republican politicians are having to turn themselves into right now—in order to meet the demands of their party and the demands of political reality, which is that you cannot possibly run for re-election as the Republican senator who wants to kill Medicare in any state, let alone Massachusetts, but, really in any state.  I mean. you can try.

You can also fly for a second by doing this.  Don‘t do it from anything tall, though.

Scott Brown has tied himself in these pretzely knots over killing Medicare.  And he has now voted with almost the entire Republican Caucus in the Senate to make the national debt $21 billion worse than it would otherwise be in order to keep paying taxpayer subsidies the most profitable industry the earth has ever known—in a political environment where people are so freaked out about the debt and the deficit that conservatives want to sell Utah and burgle Fort Knox.

You‘ve only got 11 minutes and 14 seconds exactly.  Go, go, go.

Joining us now is Ezra Klein, columnist for “The Washington Post” and “Newsweek,” also an MSNBC contributor.

Ezra, it‘s great to have you here.  Thanks for joining us.


MADDOW:  So, would liquidating federal buildings and selling off parts of Utah and burgling the gold at Fort Knox—would be it substantively helpful for bringing down the deficit?

KLEIN:  I think it‘s thinking a little small, though, don‘t you?  It‘s what about Utah brought to you by Walmart?  Look at all this federal property that we have that people can sponsor.

Look, you can certainly bring down the deficit somewhat by selling off everything the federal government owns.  Somebody brought it up to me as sort of the end of the game of monopoly where you begin knocking down hotels and mortgaging everything.  It just doesn‘t get you very far.  And it‘s not a very good idea.

The way you want to bring down the deficit is in a way that will actually work to bring down the deficit in the long run and be good policy.  You don‘t want to do it in a fire sale.

MADDOW:  The “let‘s sell Utah, let‘s burgle Fort Knox” thing, I think, is useful if only because it dramatizes at least the level of rhetorical seriousness on the right.  I mean, this is Cato.  This is the Heritage Foundation.  This is a sitting Republican member of Congress who are saying stuff like this.

You have written recently about how important the Bush tax cuts are as a driver of the current deficits.  Is there anybody on the Republican side who is being as serious in their actual fiscal conservativism as these guys are in their rhetoric?  Is there anybody who is consenting to roll those tax cuts back for the sake of the deficit?

KLEIN:  To my knowledge, there is not one elected Republican in the House or the Senate who is saying that we should not extend the Bush tax cuts, all of them, permanently—or even that we should just not extend the Bush tax cuts for upper income earners.

And it‘s just worth going back through the numbers here real quick.  If you look at every peace of policy we‘ve enacted since 2001, since when we were looking at surpluses, when George W. Bush was elected, the single piece of policy that has done the most to turn us from surplus to deficit were the tax cuts.  There was much more than a trillion dollars.

And what‘s really even more remarkable about them is to get them off of the books because they go up to like $4 trillion in the next 10 years.  It gets even bigger.  To get them off the books you‘d have to do nothing.

And in the Senate, and in the House, nothing is easier to do than nothing—nothing can‘t be filibustered.  Nothing is hard to vote down.  They could just do nothing and that would be a big step towards repairing the deficit.

But that step, according to them is not even on the table.  So, I‘m not saying Republicans have to lead with tax cuts.  That‘s not the argument.  That‘s not what they want.  It‘s not what they think is best and that‘s fair enough.

But if you believe the deficit to be an overriding priority, you have to be willing to put the single policy that did the most to bring us down to deficits, repealing it on to the table or letting it expire on to the table.  And if not, and you are joking around with selling off Fort Knox and selling off Utah and liquidating whatever federal buildings we have, that may all be fine.

But if you aren‘t talking about the big drivers here, you‘re not being serious about it.

MADDOW:  One way they claim policy seriousness is they tend to form gangs.  They take small groups of senators and they isolate them from the public spotlight and say, we want you guys to negotiate in secret, in private without the glare of the spotlight on you.  We want you to give each other bipartisan cover and you guys come up with something that people who are acting in public would be too cowardly to do.

One of these gangs right now, is, of course, the gang of six in the Senate which Tom Coburn appears to have blown up by leaving this week.

Do you think that there‘s any great loss for the—for significant seriousness in the U.S. Senate on economic policy to have the gang of six go away?  Are they showing any promise?

KLEIN:  They were working hard.  I‘m not going to take that away from them.  And I thought it was very brave that Tom Coburn was going toe to toe with Grover Norquist on taxes.  It was something very promising about that.  Something very promising until the day Tom Coburn dropped out of it.

The Senate has had a lot of these gangs in the last couple of years. 

There was the original gang of six.  There was Wyden/Bennett process.  There was Lindsey Graham/Joe Lieberman/John Kerry effort to get a climate bill.

And what they all have in common is failure.  The gang of five now is not done yet, so maybe they‘ll pull it out.

But what doesn‘t seem to work is pretending that simply by getting in a room and saying you‘re going to be willing to overcome the forces of inertia and polarization in the Senate, you can actually either do it yourself or get other people to do it.  What tends to happen is you get a lot of good press for a while and then you eventually realize nobody outside the walls of that room is (a), going to go for your deal but, (b), let you live in you go for your deal.  And then you yourself or a couple of the people in there begin turning against the deal as Chuck Grassley did with the gang of six during health care reform, and as Tom Coburn did now.

This might be how we would like the Senate to work that a couple of brave senators can get together and, you know, sort of Mr. Smith goes to Washington it, but it doesn‘t appear to be how the Senate works.  We appear to sort of just go through the normal leadership channels when we need to actually get things done.

MADDOW:  Ezra Klein, columnist for “The Washington P” and “Newsweek” and MSNBC contributor—thank you for your time and not being too output by the wiry prop thing that I did about the burglary.  Thank you.


KLEIN:  Thank you, Rachel.  No problem.

MADDOW:  For most politicians, saying that John McCain—John McCain

doesn‘t understand torture, that would be the epic career failure to end all epic career failures.  But when you are Rick Santorum, it turns out that‘s just Tuesday.  The unexpected new development in the amazing Rick Santorum/John McCain story of this week.  That is coming up next.



MADDOW:  Quick follow-up on the lead story from last night‘s show.  In the wake of some Republicans‘ efforts to try to keep President Obama from getting political benefit from killing Osama bin Laden, in the wake of some Republicans‘ efforts to credit George W. Bush for getting bin laden instead of the current president, Republican Senator John McCain last week took to “The Washington Post” editorial page and to the Senate floor to rebut claims made by those in his own party that torture was somehow responsible for getting bin Laden.

It wasn‘t.  The head of the CIA says it wasn‘t.  And the head of the CIA is in a position to know.

But in trying to keep the “America loves torture” argument alive on the right, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has now told a conservative radio host this week that John McCain is wrong, despite the evidence.  Rick Santorum says John McCain does not know what he‘s been talking about because John McCain just doesn‘t understand torture.

According to Mr. Santorum, quote, “He doesn‘t understand how enhanced interrogation works.  I mean you break somebody and after they are broken, they become cooperative.”

John McCain doesn‘t understand torture.  Not like Rick Santorum does. 

That‘s what Rick Santorum said.

Senator McCain, of course, needless to say, endured torture at the hands of his interrogators during five years at a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  Rick Santorum—no, nothing like that.

Senator McCain‘s daughter Meghan tweeted about this helpfully, quote, “Rick Santorum telling my father doesn‘t—saying my father doesn‘t know about torture is like carrot top telling LeBron James he doesn‘t know about basketball.”

Rick Santorum astonishingly has still not apologized for his comments.  I know because I have been Googling the word Santorum all day and now I‘m fired.

Rick Santorum did tell CNN it is outrageous and unfortunate that anyone even thinks he should apologize for this.

I do not usually say things like “must” or even “should” on this show.  But in this case, clearly Rick Santorum must apologize.  It is unimaginable that he will not apologize for this.  Until that happens, though, we will bide our time waiting for the apology by enjoying the pitch perfect response from Senator McCain‘s staffers and friends and family.

In addition to their daughter‘s tweet about carrot top and LeBron James, Senator McCain‘s wife Cindy tweeted simply, “Really?  Imagine presidential candidate Santorum saying my husband Senator John McCain doesn‘t understand torture.  Really?”

When Greg Sargent at “The Washington Post” wrote to McCain‘s Senate office to get a response to Mr. Santorum, Senator McCain‘s spokesman Brooke Buchanan wrote back this one-word response, “Who?”

Senator McCain‘s longtime staffer Mark Salter laid it out perhaps the most plainly on his Facebook page.  Mr. Salter wrote, quote, “For pure blind stupidity, nobody beats Santorum.  In my 20 years working in the Senate, I never met a dumber member, which he reminded me of today.”

Do you remember what Lawrence Wilkerson said about the neocon guy Doug Feith?  He said, “Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man.”  General Tommy Franks called the same guy, quote, “The dumbest F‘ing guy on the planet,” except he didn‘t say f‘ing.

Doug Feith was the guy who came up with all the alternative intel on Iraq and 9/11 that said whatever the administration wanted it to say to justify that war.  Doug Feith still says everything he cooked up to justify the Iraq war was fine, no need to apologize.

And because of that, Doug Feith will always be the guy Tommy Franks called the dumbest f‘ing guy on the planet.  He will always be the guy of whom Lawrence Wilkerson said seldom have I met a dumber man.

And until Rick Santorum apologizes to Senator John McCain for saying that John McCain doesn‘t understand torture as well as Rick Santorum does, until Rick Santorum apologizes for that, Rick Santorum will always be the guy who inspired a Republican Senate staffer to say, “In my 20 years working in the Senate, I have never met a dumber member.  For pure blind stupidity, no one beats Santorum.”

On the bright side, if Rick Santorum does become widely known as the single stupidest senator to have served in the United States Senate in 20 years, that would actually be an upgrade from his top search engine results if you Google the name Santorum right now.


MADDOW:  As I mentioned with Ezra Klein earlier in the show, until last night, there was a gang of six working on ideas to reduce the deficit in Washington.  Now, it is a gang not of six, but a gang of five, because Senator tom Coburn of Oklahoma quit.

As “The Washington Post” put it, the group had appeared to be tantalizingly close to an agreement but then Senator Coburn started bringing up new issues at every meeting or demanding old ones be reconsidered.  For example, Coburn began pressing for sharper cuts to Social Security that had previously been agreed to.  And during a three-hour session late Monday, Coburn demanded deep and immediate cuts to Medicare that went beyond anything previously proposed.

In “The Washington post” telling Greg Sargent‘s “Plum Line Blog,” quote, , “the senators got into a heated argument on Monday night after Coburn demanded an additional $130 billion in Medicare cuts.”

Quoting an aide familiar with the talks, “Coburn came in on Monday and

said, ‘I want to $130 billion.‘  The conversation was heated.  There was

yelling.  Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said, ‘I am not doing this.  That

destroys Medicare.  That goes even further than Paul Ryan.  We are not

doing it.‘”

So, Tom Coburn quit.  Senator Coburn afterward telling reporters that, “We can‘t get there,” describing the talks as at an impasse.  His office telling reporters that Senator Coburn has numerous concerns.

All of which, I have to say, we found very exciting today.  Not because of the substance of what Senator Coburn and his office are complaining about now—but, frankly, because they are talking about anything at all.  That is exciting because all day long, all week long, we have been trying to get any sort of confirmation or denial or any comment whatsoever from Senator Coburn about whether he was one of the reluctant witnesses in the John Ensign investigation who had to be granted immunity in exchange for him testifying to the Justice Department and ethics committee.  About Senator Coburn‘s own role in covering up John Ensign‘s affair in negotiating a financial payout to Senator Ensign‘s mistress, in facilitating the illegal lobbying career John Ensign arranged for the mistress‘ husband as part of the cover-up and payoff.

As “The Hill” newspaper editorialized this week, “The ethics panel obtained immunity orders for certain witnesses.  Was Senator Tom Coburn one of them?  Senator Coburn,” “The Hill” says, “should break his silence this week and comment on the ethics committee‘s report.”

We agree.  We have been calling all day long, all week long to try to get him to explain.  So far—nothing.  We can‘t even get a “no comment” from them anymore.  We will keep trying.


MADDOW:  This time last week, Newt Gingrich launched his campaign for the Republican nomination for president.  Then, on Sunday, Newt Gingrich metaphorically blew that campaign up when on “Meet the Press” he called the Republican Paul Ryan kill Medicare budget, quote, “right wing social engineering, imposing radical change.”  Mr. Gingrich has since put out a video taking back that statement.  He also apologized to Paul Ryan personally.  He‘s also denounced the whole kerfuffle as a liberal media plot.

Now, Mr. Gingrich has said that no one is allowed to quote what he said on “Meet the Press.”


NEWT GINGRICH ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So let me say on the record, any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.


MADDOW:  When you say on the record, what do you mean by that, sir? 

The mind-bending-ish like, I didn‘t say that thing, I said weirdness of Mr.  Gingrich‘s failure on this issue I think is exceed only by “The Best New Thing in the World Tonight.”

A campaign staffer who was caught up in this big Gingrich mess did something so awesome about it today that on a day when the sun never came out and the water cooler finally broke and the Mexican food delivery was late and stale and bill ran out of nicorette and the meeting went late and there were child care issues and everybody on the whole staff was super grumpy all day long, on this day, a campaign staffer tied to the Newt Gingrich story made our whole newsroom really happy for like an hour this afternoon.  And, therefore, that thing is “The Best New Thing in the World Today.”  It‘s coming up right at the end of the show.


MADDOW:  This is one of the people who is in the running in last night‘s election for the Republican Party chairmanship of Dallas County in Texas.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s an elephant in the room, a weak elephant.  Do you know what I mean?  In the November 2010 elections, Dallas County bucked a national trend where Republicans won races around the country.  The Dallas County Republicans lost every race, every single one.

The problem is not necessarily a person.  It‘s a mindset—a mindset that says we always have to do everything the way we always have.  It‘s an establishment mindset.  And that mindset has got to stop.


MADDOW:  Spoiler alert to this campaign video.  That person, Debbie Jordados (ph) did not win last night‘s race to run the Republican Party in Dallas County.  She lost the vote 140 to 95 despite the baby elephant being washed by too much water too fast, despite the non sequitur cut-ins from metropolis.

This video was not enough to put its maker over the top, as county chair for the Republican Party in Dallas.

But thanks to the “Dallas Observer‘ and the “Huffington Post,” putting this video up online today, this little peek into how Republicans lobby each other, in to how internal Republican politics are getting conducted in places like Texas, it does shed some useful light on one Republican issue that is otherwise kind of a mystery to interested observers.  Watch.

We did not—this is a little more from that video.  We did not edit this.  The weird jump cuts make it look like we internally edited this.  We did not.  This is just how it is.  Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We must fearlessly confront one of Dallas County‘s most pressing problems, voter fraud.  Without fair and honest elections, liberty is just a word.  As astronomers know, the super massive black hole is the most destructive force in the universe.  It literally sucks in and destroys everything within its reach.  We don‘t want Dallas County to become the super massive blue hole because we all know what that looks like.


MADDOW:  Don‘t we all know what that looks like?  Voter fraud turns places like Dallas into super massive blue holes.

On the strength of arguments like that, the legislature in Texas has just passed and Governor Rick Perry is expected to sign a bill to make it way harder to vote in Texas, because of the threat of voter fraud, because the massive blue hole thing must be stopped.

But it‘s happening everywhere that Republicans control state legislatures.  In New Hampshire, where a Republican Wisconsin-style union stripping effort may be driving a little bit of a lack back, a state assembly special election in a strongly Republican district went to the Democratic candidate, but voters at one precinct were warned that they need to show photo ID in order to vote.  Voters do not need to do that in New Hampshire, but it was a nice reminder that New Hampshire Republicans in the state legislature are trying to change that to force photo ID.

And in Wisconsin itself where a major recall effort is under way after Governor Scott Walker and Republicans wildly unpopular union-stripping adventure, Republicans there, too, are scurrying to pass one of the most restrictive voting laws in the entire country.  It would be a radical change for Wisconsin.  It would also be an expensive change.

Wisconsin‘s voter restriction bill estimated to have multimillion-dollar start-up costs for the state and additional multimillion-dollar implementation costs every year thereafter.

In a state where budget concerns are supposedly what‘s driving all kinds of public policy radicalism, Wisconsin has never considered before, what justifies huge new state expenditures to make it harder to vote?  What could be that scary?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The super massive blue hole because we all know what that looks like.


MADDOW:  Joining us is Tova Andrea Wang, senior democracy fellow at Demos.  She‘s an expert on election reform.

Tova, thanks very much for your time.  Appreciate it.

TOVA ANDREA WANG, DEMOS:  No problem.  Good to be here, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Is the blue hole of doom here the risk that too many Democratic leaning voters will find it too easy to vote?  Do these have a clear partisan intention as far as you are concerned?

WANG:  Oh, absolutely.  You know, what we‘re seeing right now across the country is really unprecedented in several generations.  We are seeing these types of voter ID laws being introduced, processed and passed in a number of states.  It‘s going to pass in Wisconsin, probably this week and be signed by Governor Walker.  As you said in Texas, in Tennessee.  Nikki Haley passed a bill—signed the bill today with the backdrop of the Black Eyed Peas in the backdrop playing, celebratory kind of atmosphere.

The Republicans know and now that they are dominating the state legislatures, they have been able to take certain actions that will disenfranchise people of color, low-income people, young people, who they believe are more likely to vote for Democrats in 2012.

MADDOW:  Are there widespread credible reports of voter fraud that would be fixed by these types of new voting restrictions and that are serious enough to balance out a number of people who probably won‘t be able to votes but of these laws?

WANG:  Well, that‘s just it.  The right does a great job of conflating all the different types of possible voter fraud that could go on, whether it‘s absentee fraud or problems with the registration system.  The only type of fraud that an ID would address would be impersonation at the polls, which virtually never happens.

At the same time, we also know in each of the states we‘re talking about, in the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of people don‘t have the kind of identification that they want to require people show in order to vote.  And it‘s disproportionately again people of color, low-income people, the elderly and young people, who they just don‘t seem to want to have voting.

MADDOW:  Democrats do not seem to be nearly as motivated on this legislatively as Republicans are.  Whenever I ask Democratic elected officials they‘ll say they are.  But in terms of what‘s evidence in their actions, there really is no legislative counterattack by Democrats.  In the absence of that, are there ways to mitigate the depressive effect that these new restrictions are likely to have on voting, especially because we‘re heading into a presidential election year and they are disproportionately likely to affect Democratic voter leaning groups?

WANG:  Well, I mean, in the states where it‘s still in play, we‘re certainly trying to mitigate the worst effects.  I mean, in places like Wisconsin and Texas where they are about to be signed, they‘re not allowing for student ID even to be one of the acceptable IDs, even if it‘s from a public university.  We‘ve been working hard to at least mitigate that kind of bad addition to the bills.

But clearly these are going to pass.  Clearly, the Department of Justice is going to have a role to play in this in some states, and there will be lawsuits for sure.  And then at a certain point, we‘re going to have to launch a campaign in this country, in these states, to make sure that each and every one of our citizens has the kind of ID that they need in order to vote so that people‘s voting rights are not violated and we have a fair election.

MADDOW:  Tova Andrea Wang, election reform expert and senior democracy fellow at Demos—thank you very much for your insight tonight.  Really appreciate it.

WANG:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Do you need to buy a gift for the hard-core birther in your life?  How about a coffee mug that shows President Obama‘s long form birth certificate, “Made in the USA” and proceeds benefit the Obama campaign.  Ed Schultz talks about the Obama White House‘s piece of political judo that is this mug.  That is right after this show.

Coming up here, first, though, “The Best New Thing in the World Today” which comes surprisingly from the campaign of a candidate for president.  It is joy and amazement from a very unexpected source.  That is coming up right after this.


MADDOW:  OK.  I am so looking forward to this.  “The Best New Thing in the World Today” comes from Newt Gingrich‘s presidential campaign.

When asked by the “Huffington Post” to respond to the drubbing Mr.

Gingrich has taken in the media, in his campaign‘s first week, Mr.  Gingrich‘s press secretary Rick Tyler wrote something incredible.  He wrote something that is not the kind of thing that usually turns up in U.S.  politics.  I‘m not sure it‘s the kind of thing that turns up in any country‘s politics.

It‘s more like an ancient ode, an epic or something just way more florid and ambitious than you ever come across in transactional daily life.  It is amazing.  It is also narratively a little bit hard to follow.

So, our great online producer Will Femia (ph) PhotoShop-illustrated parts of it to try to show what exactly Mr. Gingrich‘s campaign is saying.  I‘m not going to edit this at all to be fair.  This is in it‘s entirety. 

This is so great.  Are you ready?

The literati sent out their mignons to do their bidding.  Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world.  The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness.  They fired timidly at first, and then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment‘s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods.

Now, they‘re left exposed by their bylines and handles.  But surely, they had killed him off.  This is the way it always worked.  A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught.

But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won‘t be intimated by the politically elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.

Ladies and gentlemen, “The Best New Thing in the World Today” courtesy of illustrations by our producer will and courtesy of Rick Tyler, the press secretary for what truly is no ordinary presidential campaign.

Well played, sir.

Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”  Have a good night.



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