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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Guests: Michael Isikoff, Chris Hayes, Gail Collins

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

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


Right after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in Pakistan on May 1st, in the 72 hours that followed that mission, there was an immediate flurry of sometimes contradictory, often vaguely sourced supposed details about how that raid went down.  Once those details were exposed as sometimes contradictory and often vaguely sourced, the open spigot of bin Laden raid details was essentially turned off.  The White House shut down in terms of providing any new details about the raid.  No more step by step accounts of what‘s happened.

And that‘s sort of how it‘s been until now.  Now, two weeks after the self-imposed cone of silence period, we are starting to get a first round of fresh reporting about the raid for the first time in a couple of weeks.

Some of the details that are being provided today by unnamed officials who spoke to the “Associated Press,” some of these details, if they‘re true, they materially change what had been our previous understanding of how the mission unfolded.

The “Associated Press” reporting in rather remarkable detail about the exact confrontation between the Navy SEALs and Osama bin Laden personally.  According to these officials, it was three Navy SEALs who reached the top floor of the bin Laden compound.  And then they immediately spotted bin Laden himself at the end of a hallway.

When bin Laden saw them, saw the SEALs, he quickly ducked into his bedroom.  Those three SEALs then chased bin Laden into the bedroom.  They found him there, but they also found two women standing in front of him.  One of the SEALs grabbed the two women and shoved them away from bin Laden.  One of the other two SEALs in the room then opened fire and killed bin Laden, shooting him once in the chest and once in the head.

As they were clearing the room, the SEALs then reportedly found two weapons: an AK-47 and a Russian-made Makarov pistol.  They were reportedly sitting on a shelf next the door the SEALs had gone through in order to get into that bedroom.

There‘s also been some confusion about the code word that was used in the mission, “Geronimo.”  According to some early reports, Geronimo had been the code name for bin Laden himself.  According to other reports, Geronimo was the signal, the code word for the overall mission itself.

Well, according to this new report out today, it was neither.  The “A.P.” reporting today that Geronimo was not bin Laden‘s code name, but rather a representation of the letter G.  Each step of the mission was labeled alphabetically.  And Geronimo meant that the raiders reached step G, which was the killing or capture of bin Laden.

One of the things that has happened domestically since Osama bin Laden was killed is that there‘s an effort on the political right in this country to try to blunt any political benefit that President Obama might get from the death of bin Laden—by instead trying to transfer credit for bin Laden‘s death retroactively to George W. Bush, specifically to achieve maximum political leverage, the effort to credit Bush administration policies that were ended by Barack Obama, to credit those policies specifically for laying the path that led to that compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was killed.

This effort on the right has been led by elected Republicans, particularly by Congressman Peter King of New York who has been proclaiming since essentially the first minute we knew anything about this raid that the form of torture known as waterboarding, specifically, brought us to Osama bin Laden.  It is a charge that has been echoed enthusiastically by many conservative figures in the media.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS:  Without enhanced interrogation, without rendition, without black sites, this day would not have been possible.  If we want more successful days like this, we must argue that the Obama policies were wrong and the Bush policies were right.


MADDOW:  We must argue, the Obama are wrong and the Bush policies were right.  That should blunt any political impact this might have for President Obama?

Former Bush administration attorney general, Michael Mukasey, has been banging this particular drum alongside FOX News personalities like Mr.  Hannity.  Mr. Mukasey asserts in “The Wall Street Journal” that there was a quote waterboarding trail to bin Laden.

In fact, there was not.  Whatever Mr. Mukasey or any FOX News personality or any former Bush administration officials other than Mr.  Mukasey might have conjured what he is asserting about the waterboarding trail to bin Laden is not true.  And we know that‘s not true from people who are actually, unlike him, in a position to know.

The director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, confirming in a letter that was obtained by Greg Sargent at “The Washington Post” that torture did not lead directly to the killing of Osama bin Laden.  Mr. Panetta telling Senator John McCain in this letter, quote, “We first learned about the facilitator/courier‘s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002.  It‘s also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier.”

Senator John McCain, again the recipient of this letter from the CIA, Senator John McCain who was himself tortured, who had information extracted by him by torture when he was held for 5 ½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Senator John McCain has taken it upon himself to debunk right-wing claims about torture leading to Osama bin Laden‘s death.

Senator McCain giving an impassioned 20-minute speech on the Senate floor attempting to correct the record.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Many advocates of this techniques have asserted their use on terrorists in our custody, particularly Khalid Sheik Mohammed, revealed the trail to bin Laden.  That is false.  It was not torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.  I hope former Attorney General Mukasey will correct his misstatement.


MADDOW:  For anybody interested in dealing with fact when it comes to this debate, this as a factual matter is sort of settled.  The question of whether torture, specifically waterboarding, was the thing that led to Osama bin Laden‘s death, it‘s one of those things Donald Rumsfeld used to call a “known known.”

Whatever hypothetical debate you want to have about torture, about whether you like President Bush or President Obama better and their approach to prisoners and the law and interrogation, this is not a hypothetical.  This is a knowable and known thing.

Torture didn‘t lead to bin Laden.

But with Republican presidential candidates starting to jockey for position desperate to press any advantage over President Obama, the fact that the “torture led to bin Laden” FOX News hypothesis has been debunked, unquestionably debunked, is not stopping the assertion on the right for political gain.

And that today has made something amazing happen.  That has led one Republican presidential contender, a former Republican senator, to do something that he—I have to believe—I have to believe he must regret.  It is not possible that he does not regret this.  It is not possible that he will not apologize for having done this.

As a “Princess Bride” fan, I use this world with reservation, but it is inconceivable to me that this particular Republican presidential candidate will not take this back.  Did you hear about what Rick Santorum has done?

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, speaking to conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt said this of John McCain‘s views on torture as they relate to Osama bin Laden.  Quote, “He doesn‘t understand how enhanced interrogation works.  I mean, you break somebody, and after they‘re broken, they become cooperative.  And that‘s when we got this information.  And one thing led to another and led to another and that‘s how we ended up with bin Laden.”

A: not true.  B: what?

Quoting again from this interview, Hugh Hewitt says, “Your former colleague John McCain said, ‘Look, there‘s no record, there‘s no evidence here that these methods actually led to the capturing or the killing of bin Laden.  Do you think he‘s got an argument?”

Rick Santorum, “I don‘t.  He doesn‘t understand how enhanced interrogation works.”

Rick Santorum says John McCain does not understand torture the way that Rick Santorum does.

We called Rick Santorum‘s campaign tonight mostly because I felt dumb, like I missed something.  Clearly, the apology must have been posted somewhere and I just couldn‘t find it.  I mean, granted it is hard to Google anything about Rick Santorum—particularly from your work come computer.

But we called Rick Santorum‘s campaign fully expecting to be directed to what must have been his apology for saying that John McCain doesn‘t understand torture the way he does—the way Rick Santorum does.  We called his campaign fully expecting it to be faxed right over.  We have not heard back from Mr. Santorum‘s campaign.  But as far as we can tell, there has of yet been no apology.

Again, for Rick Santorum saying that John McCain doesn‘t understand torture.  Rick Santorum has not apologized for that—which I think is impossible.

Joining us now is Michael Isikoff, NBC‘s national investigative correspondent and a person who is much more level-headed about everything than I am and therefore, I‘m happy to talk to him.

Mike, thanks for joining us.


MADDOW:  I do not know if Rick Santorum makes apologies.  So who knows what happens to him here.  But if torture is going to be back as a point of debate in presidential politics, how do you match Rick Santorum‘s argument about breaking someone with torture to what we know about the facts here?

ISIKOFF:  Well, look, Santorum‘s argument is sort of the secondary argument that‘s been made by defenders of waterboarding trying to use the bin Laden facts for political advantage here.  The original contention in the first few days after the raid made by others was that the first information about the courier that led to bin Laden came from Khalid Sheik Mohammed after he was waterboarded.

Now, that—the U.S. intelligence community can‘t have been more explicit about is wrong.  In fact, what happened is they got the information about the courier from others.  And then when they confronted Khalid Sheik Mohammed after he was waterboarded 183 times in March of 2003, he provided false information.  He misled the CIA.

He told them that this courier was retired.  That he was insignificant.  That he was in a different city than where he actually was.

And all that sort of led the CIA down the wrong path.

Now, it‘s almost become a sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” argument.  In the initial contention is he provided—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided truthful information that led to the identification of the courier.  Now, after it‘s clear that he provided false information, the defenders of waterboarding are saying—well, the false information allowed the CIA to compare that with information from other sources and that led them on the trail to the courier.

So, it really doesn‘t matter what the waterboarding produced.  The argument is we waterboarded and ergo and seven years later, eight years later, we found bin Laden, ergo, there must be a connection.  In fact what Panetta and others are saying is, there really is a very small connection between the two events.

MADDOW:  In terms of the new details on the bin Laden raid after a couple of weeks of nothing particularly from the White House on this, how much of a grain of salt are you taking these new details with, given how much contradictory information we‘ve got about things like a number of commandos?  The exact details of the raid.

ISIKOFF:  Yes.  I think we‘re going to be getting lots more details and the story‘s going to evolve and change.  It‘s already changed so many times in just the last two weeks.  I mean, look at the events of 9/11 and it took a 9/11 Commission before we got something like a settled story—and that was, you know, three years after the event.

So, we haven‘t heard from the Navy SEALs directly.  We haven‘t heard from the people who were there.  We‘re getting filtered accounts through multiple secondary sources.  You know, I‘m going to reserve judgment until we can talk to the people who are actually there, if we ever get that chance.

MADDOW:  Michael Isikoff, NBC national investigative correspondent—thanks very much for your time, Mike.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  So do you remember the movie “War Games.”  Matthew Broderick almost starts a nuclear war by playing a computer game.  Remember that movie?  The big, ominous final lesson from “War Games” was the only winning move is not to play.  Remember that?


MADDOW:  It turns out that was 1983‘s best metaphor for how Republican politicians should answer when they‘re asked about the Paul Ryan/kill Medicare thing this year.  That story‘s ahead.


MADDOW:  At a book signing in Minneapolis tonight, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was not, I repeat not hit in the face with a pie.  He was hit in the face with confetti with glitter by a protester who reportedly said “Stop the hate before the glitter attack.”  Physically, we‘re told that everyone‘s fine.  Albeit more glittery than before.

That‘s all we know so far.  We will let you know if we figure out more.


MADDOW:  John Ensign‘s former chief of staff, a man who had worked with him for nearly 15 years, a man who, according to the Senate Ethics Committee report that was out last week, was a loyal chief of staff who felt he was helping take the heat off his boss when Senator Ensign asked him to handle an awkward, new lobbying job for the husband of the woman the senator was sleeping with.  The chief of staff who knew the illegal lobbying of the husband was wrong but who told investigators he felt he was in way over his head.  Chief of staff who testified about his boss only immunity from prosecution himself, that John Ensign chief of staff who had to quit his job with Senator Ensign when the scandal first came to light in 2009, that chief of staff has just lost his new job with R&R Partners, a Nevada communications and lobbying firm—thanks to the ethics investigation into his old boss.

According to “The Las Vegas Review-Journal,” quote, “A source familiar with his departure from R&R Partners says Mr. Lopez and company principals discussed the report after it was released and agreed to part ways.”

John Ensign‘s former chief of staff is just the latest casualty of the John Ensign sex scandal, which also looms like a cloud now over one still sitting senator—one still sitting senator who‘s refusing all comment on the scandal at present.

What‘s going on with this now is this: on Thursday the special counsel investigating the John Ensign sex scandal released her report for the Senate Ethics Committee.

The day after, on Friday, Senator Tom Coburn told reporters that despite his starring role in that report, he would not be commenting on it at all.

That night, Friday night, the group that filed the complaint that sparked the investigation in the first place, raised the prospect on this show that Senator Tom Coburn cooperated with Ensign investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Over the weekend, Senator Coburn kept up the no comment policy even to reporter from his home state newspapers in Oklahoma.

Then, yesterday, we asked Senator Coburn‘s office directly: did the senator get immunity from prosecution when Mr. Coburn cooperated with the Ensign investigators?  Again from Coburn‘s office: no comment.

Now, today, “The Hill” newspaper in Washington is asking the same thing in an editorial that was published today.  Quote, “According to the report, five witnesses invoked their Fifth Amendment rights and the ethics panel later obtained immunity orders for certain witnesses.  Was Senator Coburn one of them?”

Good question.  Really good question.

We asked Senator Coburn‘s office the same thing again today.  Repeatedly, we got no response at all.  Not even a “no comment” as of today.

We are pursuing some leads on this story.  We will have more on tomorrow‘s show.  I promise.

We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  If we had a parliamentary system of government, one of the main skills American politicians would develop is the ability to make coalitions—temporary coalitions of convenience in order to form majorities, in order to get control of parliament.  If we had any sort of system in which minor parties like Green Parties or independent parties or anything like that were nationally sustainable, then American politicians would develop the skill to guarantee the loyalty of their single-issue voters enough to keep those smaller parties relevant in national politics.

You cultivate different skills depending on the system in which you operate and which sorts of skills are rewarded.  But we don‘t have a parliamentary system, or minor party system.  What we have is a major party duopoly.  You‘ve got a lot of independent voters, but no strong independent parties.  We‘ve got two major parties.  And they mostly pick their candidates by primary elections or some variation of that process like Iowa caucuses.

What that system does to American politicians, what this system grows in American politicians, what it demands of American politicians is one specific, strange and kind of depressing political skill.  It is the skill to move your own party, your own primary voters, your own most dedicated party activists, to make them happy enough to pick you when it is just your own party picking candidates among themselves in the primaries.

But then, you need to be able to turn around in the general election and be of appeal to everyone.  The more each party rewards and cultivates vicious attacks on the other side as the way to become popular and get picked in your own party, the more difficult it is to win your primary and then follow it up by marketing yourself to the whole country.  And it‘s many, many independent voters.

So, this is a very strange and specific and depressing skill.  Our system requires a form of political nimbleness.  The parties can help or hurt their own politicians with the level of difficulty they establish here.  The more rabid and radical you have to be in order to win a primary in your party, in order to get picked by your party, the worse off your party‘s candidates are going to do in general elections, trying to appeal to people who aren‘t like these guys, right?  The people who make the early inside-the-party decisions.

In the current race for the presidency, the Democrats already know that their candidate is going to be President Barack Obama.  The fight is on the Republican side in.  And in the Republican primary season, the Republican activists, the people who make inside-the-party decisions, the people who lead political opinion on the Republican side from the conservative media, they have chosen their litmus test for this year—the thing that you have to do if you want to be taken seriously as a Republican candidate.

As NBC News‘s “First Read” put it this morning, quote, “If you criticize Paul Ryan‘s budget plan and, more importantly, its Medicare overhaul, then you are not concerned a mainstream conservative Republican.  Paul Ryan‘s budget plan has become the ultimate conservative litmus test.”

Who‘s happiest about this development?  The folks in charge of the Obama re-elect.

Newt Gingrich has been this week all but thrown out of the Republican Party.  Let alone the list of credible presidential contenders, after he criticized the Paul Ryan/kill Medicare plan this weekend on “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Gingrich now says he was the victim of a gotcha question and that the liberal media is attacking him and taking his words out of context.

If it were the liberal media criticizing Mr. Gingrich, that would probably be good for his chances in the Republican primary.  But, in fact, the criticism of him is coming from the right and it is an avalanche.

“The Wall Street Journal” editorial page saying quote, “This episode reveals Mr. Gingrich‘s weakness as a candidate and especially as a potential president—to wit, his odd combination of partisan, divisive and poll-driven policy timidity.”  Ouch.

The conservative “National Review Online” says Mr. Gingrich‘s remarks on “Meet the Press” leaves some people wonder which party‘s nomination he is running for.

Also, there was the conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh reaction.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I am not going to justify this.  I am not going to explain this is—the attack on Paul Ryan, the support for an individual mandate in health care?  Folks, don‘t ask me to explain this.  There is no explanation.


MADDOW:  The reaction—sorry—the reaction from conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer was even worse, I think, than Mr. Limbaugh for Mr. Gingrich.


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST:  He‘s down.  He didn‘t have a big chance from the beginning, but now it‘s over.  Calling the Republican plan which all but four Republican members of the House have now endorsed and will be running on, calling it radical and right wing social engineering is deadly.


MADDOW:  Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri had this to say about Mr. Gingrich today to ABC News.


SEN. ROY BLUNT ®, MISSIOURI:  I didn‘t understand the radical, right wing social engineering comment.  And I suspect he wishes he hadn‘t described it that way.


MADDOW:  Beyond even that, former Congresswoman Dick Armey and a handful of House Republicans all voiced their displeasure with Mr. Gingrich via “Politico” today.  Mr. Armey saying that the “Meet the Press” episode, quote, “fits Mr. Gingrich‘s track record of being confused and conflicted on health care policy.”

Congressman James Lankford of Oklahoma saying, quote, “Typically, you‘ll find people in the presidential campaign running against current president of another party rather than his own party.”

Congressman John Campbell of California is saying, quote, “I was not thrilled with those remarks.”

Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma saying, quote, “I‘m not inclined to support somebody that makes our job harder rather than easier personally.”

South Carolina‘s Republican Governor Nikki Haley also telling CNN today, quote, “When you have a conservative fighting for real change, the last thing we need is a presidential candidate cutting them off at the knees.”

House Majority Eric Cantor saying today that Newt Gingrich is guilty of tremendous misspeak.

And Paul Ryan himself has weighed in with this.


REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN:  With allies like that, who needs the left?


MADDOW:  This is not the left.  This is not the liberal media.  This is the political right and the Republican Party rising up as one against Newt Gingrich with venom.  Mr. Gingrich doing his best to try to walk this back semi-changing his position yesterday, sort of changing it back today, but at the same time asserting how deep he feels his personal friendship is with Paul Ryan.  It kind of seems like it is over for Newt Gingrich.

Newt Gingrich is like the head on the pike at the gates of the city at this point.  If you do not endorse the kill Medicare/Paul Ryan plan, the right is not going to let you be a credible candidate for president.  The only seat of federal power the Republicans have right now are the Republicans controlling the House.

Do they really think they‘re going to beat Barack Obama in their re-election campaign?  Do they really think a Republican has a chance to beat Obama?

I don‘t think they think they really have that chance.  But they‘re not going to let somebody even try to beat Obama for the White House by trashing the House Republicans, not when that‘s all they have.  So, the right and the Republican Party are insisting on this price.  In order to be a real candidate, you‘ve got to endorse the Paul Ryan/kill Medicare thing, which is a classic catch-22 for Republican candidates, because if you do endorse the Paul Ryan/kill Medicare thing, voters will likely have something to say about that.

There‘s a special election going on right now in New York state, New York 26.  FEC filings today show that the National Republican Congressional Committee has already spent more than 400 grand on that special election.  In a district that‘s so red, they shouldn‘t have to spend a single dollar.  Karl Rove‘s PAC say it‘s going to spend 600 grand, where again, they should not have to spend a dollar.  This is a red district.

Even with all that spending, why is New York 26 race being described by “The Rothenberg Political Report” as a tossup/leans Democratic.  A district that red leaning Democratic with that much Republican spending on it?  Leading Democratic, why is it even in play?

It‘s in play because of catch-22, because the Republican candidate said she would vote for the Paul Ryan/kill Medicare plan.  You have to say that or the right and the Republican Party won‘t really let you run.  They won‘t let you be taken seriously.  But when you say that, even in a district that voted for George W. Bush twice and then for John McCain, Republican candidates start losing their voters and fast.

With one week left in that campaign, the Republicans are facing some devastating ads again tying their candidate to the Paul Ryan/kill Medicare plan.


NARRATOR:  While Corwin‘s plan would essentially end Medicare, it increases the debt by giving tax breaks to big oil and millionaires.


MADDOW:  Republican candidate in New York 26 is being hit with ads like that.  Her and her party‘s best and only rejoinder, their closing argument in the last week of the campaign has been to run their own Republican ads that say, “No, no, the Democrat wants to kill Medicare, too.”

Whether they will convince anybody of that is an interesting and open question.  But it shows that even Republicans, even the National Republican Campaign Committee, even the House campaign committee for the Republican Party knows that the most potent political attack in America today is to say you want to kill Medicare.

You agree with Paul Ryan.  You signed up for the official Republican plan that we‘re holding everybody to.  Seeing their own candidate being blown away by that attack in what ought to have been a super red district, the only thing Republicans can think to do in response now is say I‘m rubber you‘re glue, say it by yourself.

Paul Ryan announced today that he will not run for the U.S. Senate seat that has just opened up in his home state of Wisconsin.  He said he just does not want to be junior senator.  He‘s enjoying the influence he has right now in the House too much.  And it‘s true.

It would be hard to overstate Paul Ryan‘s impact on national politics right now.  If you do not endorse the Paul Ryan Medicare plan, the right will not even let you run in a major race.

But if you do endorse his plan, the country will not let you win.

In a parliamentary system, something going on like this in a minor party somewhere might make mathematical sense, some sort of a coalition strategy.  But in our system, our little duopoly, all this is, is great news for Democrats.

Joining us now is Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine and MSNBC contributor.

Chris, good to see you.  Thanks for being here.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Good to see you, too.

MADDOW:  Is there anybody of consequence standing up for Newt Gingrich here?  Is there a chance he survives this?  Could he end up winning the nomination by any stretch of the nomination?

HAYES:  Well, I would say that the Krauthammer‘s comment on this since it‘s fairly apt in so far as—I don‘t think he had much of a chance to begin with.  I mean, Gingrich has—you know, he hasn‘t held office in over a decade.  The last time we elected someone from the House who was actually in the House to be president of the United States was over a century ago.  I want to say.

So, you know, this was always a slim run from the beginning.  I think that this hurts him tremendously because right now on top of what you‘ve described, I think quite perfectly about this kind of catch-22, there‘s a kind of temporal aspect to it as well, which is the earlier you are, the more the pull of the most extreme right is.  And that‘s because that‘s where the organizers are and that‘s where the money is in the early primary states.

So, it actually will—it will ease up a little bit as time goes on.  But it‘s the hardest now and the pull is the most intense now and it‘s when the kind of real Tea Party folks within the coalition of the Republican Party have maximal power and leverage.

MADDOW:  So, did you just explain why so many of the supposedly serious Republican presidential candidates are delaying their announcements?

HAYES:  Of course, yes.  Yes.

MADDOW:  OK.  I mean, the thing you want to do is just bide your time, because, ultimately, I think it‘s plausible to say there‘s going to become some point where there‘s going to be a very fire-breathing conservative who‘s going to have a lot of attention and be doing very well.  And there‘s going to be a collective freak out amongst the Republican establishment that that person is not electable.  And that‘s the time when you can kind of edge out a little bit and walk the plank and say, well, maybe we shouldn‘t get rid of Medicare, you know?

There‘s a lot of seniors out there.  A lot of seniors in Iowa, for instance, and New Hampshire who will be voting.  And I think it‘s possible that someone‘s going to try to sort of circle that square at that point, aka Mitt Romney.

Right now, though, the strategy, as they all have done, is just keep your mouth shut because you will get pummeled as we‘ve seen from Newt Gingrich if you come out and say that.

MADDOW:  We went through, in researching the segment today, went through all of the statements that have made by all of the Republican contenders on the kill Medicare thing, the Paul Ryan thing.  And all of their statements other than Newt Gingrich saying it goes too far and he wouldn‘t support it.  All of the other statements are things like that Paul Ryan, what a guy!

HAYES:  Exactly.  They‘re totally whizzing (ph).

And I also think what you saw in the vitriolic response of House Republicans was a bit of sort of frustration and envy like this jerk who didn‘t have to take this horrible vote to I‘m saddled with is going to turn on and nail for me for it, like how dare you.  I had to take this.  And remember, there are of the 240 Republicans, 61 in Obama districts, 31 House freshmen, Republican freshmen are in districts that Obama won in 2008.  They are vulnerable as we are seeing in New York 26.

This is the kind of thing that makes them vulnerable.  They are extremely uneasy and probably behind closed doors not so happy about how this is shaking out.

MADDOW:  Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine, MSNBC contributor, it‘s always great to have you here, my friend.  Thanks a lot.

HAYES:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, “The Best New Thing in the World Today” is coming up at the end of the show tonight, it involves one of our staffers on this show and a congressional staffer for a really conservative Republican member of Congress.  It involves a whole lot of complete ironic joy.  It‘s the happy, clapping kind of crying.  That‘s tonight‘s “Best New Thing of the World” coming up right at tend of the show.

We will be right back.


MADDOW:  Politicians who do not demagogue about family values are as entitled as anybody is to privacy upon transgressing in their personal lives.  Politicians who do demagogue, who accrue power and influence on the basis of their claims to superior family values, they‘re frankly just asking for scrutiny when they fall from the state of purported grace that they‘ve been marketing about themselves all along.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the glass houses and the perils of stones throwing with my guest “New York Times” columnist Gail Collins.  That‘s just ahead.


MADDOW:  Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the worst family values hypocrite in politics.  Not by a long shot.  He is competing with some serious ringers for that title.  Even just out of the past couple of years.

There‘s the hooker guy, of course, recently re-elected Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter who ran campaign ads touting his marriage and his child-rearing skills, running for office on the basis of his own superior family values.  Mr. Vitter demanded that President Bill Clinton resign because of his extramarital affair.  That was before Mr. Vitter was forced to admit to his own extramarital excursions.

Senator Vitter did not volunteer this information willingly.  He had no choice after his name turned up on the phone list of the D.C madame.

Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign also called on President Clinton to resign because of the president‘s affair.  Along with Vitter, Mr. Ensign also campaigned to amend the U.S. Constitution to keep gay people from marrying because of the moral superiority of his kind of marriage.  While living at a house listed as a church for tax purposes run by secretive religious group known as The Family, Mr. Ensign carried on his own extramarital affair with one of his staffers.  She was his wife‘s best friend and she was married to his best friend, who also worked for him.

The new report on that scandal from the ethics committee said the woman Mr. Ensign was sleeping with was not herself all that interested in having an affair with John Ensign.  But she had the misfortune of being nearly 100 percent financially dependent on the senator and so very sad story.

I could go on and on here.  Shall I?

Newt Gingrich led the impeachment of President Clinton while at the same time cheating on his own wife.

Former South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford and his campaign ads about his Christian family values, he was not hiking that Appalachian Trail so much as he was attending to his own mistress in Argentina.

So, no, Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the worst family values hypocrite our country has to offer.  Not even close.  His barely in contention.

The news today that Mr. Schwarzenegger fathered a child 10 years ago with a woman who worked for him and his family, who still worked for him and his family until earlier this year, that is very sad news for his family who did not know about all of this until now.  That‘s mostly what it is, sad news for his family.

But the Schwarzenegger news today is more than just sad and private.  It is also newsworthy.  The degree to which it is newsworthy and not just gossip about Mr. Schwarzenegger‘s family life is determined exactly by the size of Mr. Schwarzenegger‘s political hypocrisy here, by the extent to which he used private lives and family values, his own and other people‘s, as political fodder.

In an interview with in 2001 when he was testing the waters for his eventual leap into politics, Mr. Schwarzenegger was asked what he thought was the most pressing problem in America‘s inner cities.

His answer, those minorities and their problem with having kids outside of marriage, quote, “a lot of minorities have such a problem with the single parent situation.  The number of single parents in the U.S. has quadrupled since the 1960s and there‘s been an increase in violence and school shootings.  All that stuff has increased largely because of a lack of parenting.  When I am at home, Maria and I drive the kids to school together.  We pick them up together.  We take them to dancing, soccer, horseback riding lessons.  It takes a lot of effort.

I think the situation with single parenting in minority groups is disastrous.  To me, family has always been the basic foundation of everything.  Single parenting is a danger and that‘s what we have to avoid.”  So vote for me.

That interview was a little more than 10 years ago.  According to Mr.  Schwarzenegger‘s own statement, this affair that has just been exposed began more than a decade ago, which means that it‘s possible that Mr.  Schwarzenegger knew he was having a child with someone else‘s wife while he was telling reporters that the real problem with America was those awful single mothers.  They were the problem.

None of us know and it is none of our business to know why someone messes up like Mr. Schwarzenegger has done with his family.  None of us can say why a particular person in a particular marriage chooses to build their particular glass house.

By why throw the stone?

Today, at least two of the presidential Republican candidates one of them, Newt Gingrich, made the rounds at the Minnesota Family Council today.  It‘s the kind of group and political appearance dedicated to keeping people‘s private lives and family values front and center in Republican politics for this election, too, to make sure conservative politicians, Republican politicians, keep throwing stones, despite the glass houses stretching as far as the eye can see in Republican politics, with new ones being built all the time.

Joining us now is Gail Collins “New York Times” columnist and author of “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.”

Gail, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

GAIL COLLINS, NEW YORK TIMES:  Thank you.  Why do you never invite me on when it‘s monetary policy?

MADDOW:  OK.  The Fed.  Do you think they should sell the Fort Knox gold?  I don‘t want to talk about Schwarzenegger and the love child and the household servant.

But we‘re sort of being confronted with the glass houses and throwing stones problem.  I understand why people have glass houses.  People fail.  But why is throwing stones still part of, a main stream part of Republican politics?

COLLINS:  Well, because there are people, a lot of people in the country who not only have very strong, you know, family values, but believe that somehow you can legislate them into other people‘s families and they‘re very powerful within the party.  So, the poor Republican candidates, I must say do get kind of stuck on this one because they toe this very rigid line about personal behavior when like most human beings, they‘re failing to live up to it.

But I think it‘s kind of educational for the country as a whole to be following these things.  It‘s better for people to know that many of the people who have these theories about how you can legislate other people‘s morality are not actually doing it in their own private lives—not behaving in the way they say they should.

MADDOW:  But as an American, though, I want—I want politicians to be held in higher esteem than they are, in that I want public service to be a more attractive candidate—more attractive candidate for a life choice to people who have strong ethics and who are ambitious about what they want to do in life.  And while it is good to guess that every time somebody signs on as a cosponsor to an anti-gay marriage amendment, they are probably sleeping with somebody who works for them.

While it is funny, it—and true it breeds such cynicism about what they‘re doing and I don‘t know how—I don‘t know why the incentives don‘t lead toward less moralizing in Republican politics.

COLLINS:  Because the heart wants what it wants.  But the thing is, the voters are very practical about this stuff.  I have very seldom seen and I am pathetically a real expert on these issues, a politician who gets punished by the voters for behaving badly in private.  I mean, you have to be really out there.  You have to be John Edwards, you know, to be punished for this kind of stuff.

The problem is that that the politicians don‘t trust voters with this kind of thing.  They don‘t trust them to actually judge them on performance, which is what they usually do.  I mean, look at Bill Clinton.  Look how well Bill Clinton did.  Look how much everybody loves Bill Clinton now after—I mean, they don‘t care as long as the performance is right.

I mean, people are much more bitter at Arnold Schwarzenegger for having screwed up the entire California economy than they are because of this.

But I still, Rachel, why it took 10 years to bring this subject up.  We had a guy running for governor, the Republican candidate in New York, who had exactly the same thing.  It took him 10 years to tell his wife that there was a love child there.  I mean, if there‘s three there‘s trend.

MADDOW:  You‘re looking for the trifecta?

COLLINS:  Yes, yes.

MADDOW:  You know, Carl Paladino is the guest on “THE ED SCHULTZ” show tonight right after this.

COLLINS:  Oh, my gosh.

MADDOW:  So, we could maybe hang around and try to—no—we probably shouldn‘t.  That would be wrong.

COLLINS:  That would be wrong.

MADDOW:  Let me just ask you about this.  Are there Republican politicians, modern conservative politicians who have tried to buck the moralizing thing, who have tried to say, you know what?  We ought to really shut up about the family values thing since all of our houses are made of glass and we can see through them because they are all so cracked?

COLLINS:  Not in that way.  That would be a good way.  I mean, Mitch Daniels did make that sort of much commented upon remark when he was talking to the conservative gathering in Washington about how really we should be looking at the deficit and not worrying about all this other stuff.  But then he went right back home and signed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and to require that women be told all these totally inaccurate things before they get an abortion.

So, John McCain used to be very kind of, you know, non-enthusiastic about this stuff, about three campaigns ago.  I remember him being asked about whether he‘d never allowed his daughter to have an abortion the first time he ran for president.  He was very troubled by it.  I mean, he did not come back with the obvious answer.  But that was three campaigns ago and you see him now.  This is a totally different guy.

MADDOW:  Gail Collins, “New York Times” columnist, author of “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present”—thank you for being here.  Next time, the feds.

All right.  Up next: “The Best New Thing in the World Today” now with extra happy crying and clapping.

We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  “The Best New Thing in the World Today” involves the love of space.  Not space as in elbow room, but space as in the final frontier, because one of our producers on this show, Tricia McKinney (ph), she loves space so much she entered a NASA contest.  She did it on her own.  We did not ask her to do it.  She is just really into this stuff.

She ended up winning the contest.  She was selected via Twitter to be one of 150 NASA enthusiasts who were invited to witness yesterday‘s space shuttle launch live, in person, and as close as you are allowed to get to it.  They called it the NASA tweet up.

This was one of the last space shuttle launches ever.  This one piloted by Mark Kelly, the husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  And here, “The Best New Thing in the World Today” is our beloved Tricia McKinney with the most emotionally meaningful reporting you are ever likely to see anywhere on this overwhelming awesomeness that is manned space flight to a person who feels really strongly about it.

Watch this.


MADDOW:  And the sweetest, most bipartisan revelation of the day, the person you can see on the left of Tricia, her NASA tweet up buddy, is a Republican congressional staffer, someone who works for a very conservative Republican member of Congress.

Giant, incredible rocket ships have a way of rendering politics meaningless, just as proximity to thunderous, scientific glory is a really good cure for cynicism, world weariness, or being jaded about what human beings can accomplish.  So awesome.  “The Best New Thing in the World Today.”

Thanks for being with us.  Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”  Have a great night.



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