Guests: Karen Finney, Jeff Liszt, Rep. Peter Welch
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: I think you‘re just great. So, it‘s been nice to have you here.
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thank you. That is a great compliment.
I appreciate that. Have a wonderful show.
MADDOW: We‘ll do.
All right. Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Happy Friday. We‘re very happy that you‘re here.
Have you ever bought Listerine? Have you ever bought ChapStick? Have you ever bought Robitussin?
If so, then, congratulations, you may have helped pay to hide John Edwards‘ secret baby. Not on purpose, of course, and no fault of the people who I‘m sure are very nice folks over there at Listerine. But the heir to the Listerine and ChapStick and Robitussin fortune is listed as person C in the John Edwards‘ indictment today -- 100-year-old Rachel Bunny Mellon, zillionaire—zillionaire and huge fan of John Edwards.
Remember when John Edwards was running for president in the last election, it was around this time in the last election cycle, spring 2007, and Senator Edwards was attacked for having expensive haircuts. Remember this whole scandal? A rival campaign tipped reporters to the fact that Mr. Edwards had had two $400 haircuts charged to his campaign as campaign expenses. That‘s the kind of story in an election year like Sarah Palin‘s designer outfits or George H.W. Bush not knowing what a bar code scanner was at a grocery store, or Barack Obama being bad at bowling.
The John Edwards haircut story in 2007 was the kind of story that really splits the world in two. You‘re the kind of person who loves stories like that or that‘s the kind of story that makes you want to give up American politics forever and like, move to a small hard to spell landlocked country where you can become a librarian and avoid this sort of thing.
But in the spring of 2007 when John Edwards was being gleefully skewered by the people who love these stories, day after day after day, for having expense haircuts during the campaign, the haircut story, the focus on the haircut story made Bunny Mellon write this note to John Edwards‘ closest and most loyal aide.
She wrote, quote, “The timing of your telephone call on Friday was witchy.” Remember she is 100 years old now. She was a very impressive 96 years old when she wrote this.
“The timing of your telephone call on Friday was witchy. I was sitting alone in a grim mood—furious that the press attacked Senator Edwards on the price of a haircut, but it inspired me. From now on, all haircuts, et cetera, that are necessary and important to his campaign, please send the bills to me. It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions.”
And, thus, Bunny Mellon, heir to the Listerine fortune even before the Mellon Bank fortune, close friend of Jackie Kennedy, a woman who helped design the Rose Garden at the White House and who has hosted Queen Elizabeth herself at the Mellon home in Virginia, thus according to today‘s indictment did Bunny Mellon, 100 years old, angered by the press coverage of John Edwards‘ hairdo end up probably secretly financing the living expenses, medical expenses and cost of hiding from public view John Edwards‘ mistress and their child.
The indictment describing seven checks, each one increasing in value from $10,000 up to $200,000 paid by Bunny Mellon through a deliberately circuitous route to pay for the upkeep of Mr. Edwards‘ mistress and child. The checks had things written on the memo line like antique Charleston table or bookcase—supposedly to make it look like the checks were actually for buying furniture.
The tell-all book on the John Edwards‘ scandal says in fact Bunny Mellon‘s checks were laundered through a North Carolina interior direct rater—thus explaining the furniture references.
Whether or not the checks were intended for haircuts and haircut-like things on the campaign, whether or not they were knowingly intended to hide John Edwards‘ mistress and secret child while he kept his presidential campaign going, the mistress and secret child is where the indictment says this money ended up. Nearly three-quarters of a million from Bunny Mellon, another $200,000 from the Edwards‘ campaign finance chief, a man who has since died. All of that money nearly $1 million allegedly spent flying John Edwards‘ mistress and their child around the country on chartered jets, hiding them from public view in some kind of nice hotels, paying for their upkeep and their care.
In October 2007, the supermarket tabloid “National Enquirer” broke the story that John Edwards had an affair. And John Edwards denied that story. By December, by two months later, Mr. Edwards had convinced his top aide to say that the child born of the affair was his not John Edwards‘. So, this is one of the weirdest parts in all of this.
While the finance chairman‘s checks were allegedly flying the mistress and the child around the country on chartered jets and putting them in hotels, right? Those checks were not just paying to fly around and hide the mistress and the child, they were also allegedly paying to fly around his top aide who had falsely said the child was his. The aide was also flying around with them in pseudo-hiding—him and his wife and his three kids and John Edwards‘ mistress and John Edwards‘ secret child all hiding out as the world‘s unhappiest and strangest not family while John Edwards campaigned for president—at the same time—in part on the strength of his apparently wonderful marriage to his inspiring and popular wife Elizabeth who was fighting the terminal breast cancer which ultimately killed her late last year.
Even before today‘s criminal indictment, John Edwards‘ affair was newsworthy. Not because a powerful politician was caught catting around on his wife and there‘s supposedly a sex tape and all the rest of it, but because while he was catting around, he campaigned on the strength of his marriage.
That is what makes politicians‘ affairs newsworthy. You‘ve got to be the guy who is having an affair who said Bill Clinton should resign because of his affair, or you‘ve got to be the other guy who said Bill Clinton should resign because of his affair, except you were the guy who was sleeping with hookers, or you‘ve got to be the guy who ran the campaign ads about your marriage and Christian family values who is sneaking of to Argentina for your extramarital affair. Building your career by proclaiming the superiority of your own sexual morality over other people‘s because you‘re qualified to judge—that‘s what makes a politician‘s sexual misbehavior news and not just gossip.
But in John Edwards‘ case, it is not just that the carefully honed, well soled political image of John Edwards as a faithful husband made him a hypocrite. In the case of John Edwards, his campaigning for president on the basis of his supposedly awesome family values makes him not only a hypocrite, but also in this case, allegedly, a criminal.
Look at this. Look at the first page of the indictment. This is from the U.S. district court in North Carolina today. Quote, “A centerpiece of Edwards‘ candidacy was his public image as a devoted family man. The communications strategy developed by Edwards‘ campaign stressed the importance of publicizing, among other things, that Edwards‘ family comes first.” Further into the indictment, quote, “Edwards knew that the public revelation of the afar and from pregnancy would destroy his candidacy.”
This is the important point here this is the big theory of his whole prosecution. This is why this is being pursued as a criminal case by the Justice Department. John Edwards‘ campaign was built on the John and Elizabeth story. A campaign could not survive the senator‘s hypocrisy on that being exposed.
And so, the indictment alleges the campaign spent money to keep the exposure of his hypocrisy from happening. The campaign spent money from campaign donors to protect the family comes first fiction—just assuredly as they spent money on campaign mailers and phone banks and buses. That‘s the allegation.
The laws that governed how campaigns run in this country are not all that strictly enforced. But they are nonetheless laws. There are limits on who can give and how much and clear rules for reporting those contributions and where you can spend them. The grand jury today said John Edwards followed those rules for his more usual expenses but not for the ones having to do with covering up his hypocrisy as a husband. That the payments from Mr. Edwards‘ wealthy benefactors were not just “here, let me pay you for your mistress‘ plane fare personal gifts,” but rather, “here, let me help make you president” campaign contributions.
If the prosecution proves it, then this is more than hypocrisy, this is a crime. And it‘s a crime that could earn him up to 30 years in prison?
John Edwards today told reporters that he has done wrong. That he takes responsibility for that. He regrets the harm that he has done. But he says he never, ever thought he was breaking the law. He says, in fact, he did not break the law and he‘s going to fight this all the way.
Joining us now MSNBC political analyst, Karen Finney. Karen served as communications director for Elizabeth Edwards during the ‘04 campaign when John Edwards was the vice presidential nominee for the Democratic Party alongside John Kerry.
Karen Finney, thanks so much for joining us. It‘s nice to have you here.
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
It‘s an honor.
MADDOW: Well, first, let me ask you, first, if the way I described the case jives with your understanding of it. Do you think that is the basics of the claim that he‘s up against?
FINNEY: Yes, absolutely. I think the claim is did he use political money for personal purposes? And I think part of the reason this is so important is, if you buy the argument that Greg Craig and Senator Edwards are making it could open a campaign loophole, right, because they‘re saying, no, no, it was personal. Or we didn‘t know it was breaking the law.
So, I think that—Rachel, the other thing about this is there‘s—you know, there‘s the legal explanation as we know the sort of technical, legal explanation what the definition of is is. And then there‘s really the sort of emotional, moral, court of public opinion. And, you know, even if it didn‘t break the law, it just doesn‘t feel right. I‘ve got to say.
MADDOW: Well, in terms of his defense—I mean, he obviously can no longer deny the affair, he can no longer deny fathering the child outside his marriage. And he can‘t deny lying about those things over and over and over again. But he is denying that financing the cover up was a criminal act.
And I think you‘re right, that that‘s the uncomfortable part here. How do you think that he and his legal team—how do you think they are doing so far in making the case for splitting off his bad behavior from his criminal behavior?
FINNEY: You know, I think they‘re actually doing a great job. You saw Greg Craig making comments, going into the courthouse today and, then, obviously, Senator Edwards after the fact. And Greg Craig, you know, he did a very good job summarizing the case and, you know, a couple of the key legal points.
And, again, there‘s the difference about what‘s legal and sort of what kind of—what passes the smell test. Greg Craig‘s point was that this is the first time this has ever been prosecuted. So, they‘re trying to kind of make this point about precedent as, you know, this is a completely unusual use or definition of the law.
You know, we‘ll have to see whether or not that matches up, but that was his justification kind of going into the courthouse. Again, made it seem like their case is strong and the prosecution‘s case is weak. I mean, that‘s kind of their message.
MADDOW: The part of the government in charge of enforcing election laws on a day-to-day basis is, of course, the Federal Election Commission. And that part of the government is now so lame—forgive the term—that its own commissioners keep saying they long for the days when the FEC was just toothless because nowadays they‘re even less than toothless.
But here today, we‘ve got the Justice Department with this, I think aggressive and sort of intentionally humiliating indictment references to the haircut and all of the rest of it. Do you think that reading into the tone of this and the decision to prosecute it this way—do you think they are trying to start a message at the start of this election cycle?
FINNEY: I think it‘s certainly possible. I mean, you know, considering what we saw in the last election cycle 2010 with after the decision of Citizens United, we know that it is like the wild, wild west out there, and people are looking for whatever kind of loophole they can find.
So, from the perspective of the federal government and the Justice Department, if they believe that this case could set a precedent that could open up the door for others to say, well, wait a second, my big donor, they didn‘t give me that money, you know, for my campaign, it was for personal use. I think that‘s what they‘re concerned about.
Again, it will be interesting to see whether or not their case is strong enough. But I think they are trying to send a message because I think there‘s a lot of anxiety out there about, you know, all kinds of things we don‘t even know about that are already being planned by the various outside groups.
MADDOW: In terms of your—your closeness to the various people involved here. The afar obviously came after the ‘04 campaign. The indictment says it started in 2006. But when this all started to come out, I know you were—that was when you were directors of communication at the DNC, wasn‘t it?
MADDOW: What was—what was the reaction in the Democratic Party? Was this widely known before the “Enquirer” broke the story? How do people react?
FINNEY: You know, it‘s interesting. There were rumors for some period of time. And, you know, Rachel, I mean, politics is politics, right? You hear a rumor like that, and, you‘re like, where there‘s smoke, is there fire? But none of the mainstream media outlets were willing to pursue the story.
So, it was kind of, figured that it‘s just the “The National Enquirer,” it‘s not, you know, it‘s not anything that we really have to worry about. Obviously, once “The National Inquirer” got the story on the record, the irony is to be honest, most of the mainstream reporters that I talked to were grumbling about the fact, they‘re like—oh my God, now this means every time “The Enquirer” has something, we‘re going to have to take them seriously and actually check it out. That was more of the reaction.
MADDOW: Which is making “The National Enquirer” reporters right now go, aha, we got sued for decades now when we report stuff, we know of what we speak.
Karen Finney, MSNBC political analyst, former communications director for Elizabeth Edwards—Karen, it‘s helpful to have you here tonight. I really appreciate it.
FINNEY: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: The world‘s first demonstration of videotape took place in 1951, ushering in the era of television sounds and images preserved forever, which is neat. But, yet, politicians still try to pretend videotape never happened, that they can unsay the thing they said that is already been documented for all time.
And that is where we come in. We have play back capacity which we will show off—next.
MADDOW: Today was a big day for politicians demanding that they stop being quoted verbatim and in context. We will refuse their demands, next.
MADDOW: If you are a politician, a politician who ends up speaking into an open mike or into a TV camera and you end up saying something stupid or saying something that you later come to regret, or saying something that is just unpopular, when other people hear it coming out of your mouth, you as a politician have a few different options at your disposal.
A, you can apologize. I am sorry, I said that stupid thing.
B, you can take it back. I don‘t actually hold that really unpopular position. I‘m not sure what got into me.
C, you can act like nothing happened and just hope nobody noticed.
There‘s a lot of different options you can choose from as a politician if you have said something you wish you hadn‘t said.
But there‘s one thing you cannot do in this day and age. And by this day and age, I mean, since the ‘50s. You cannot pretend like you never said that thing that everybody heard you say. Not if there was a recording device nearby. You can‘t un-ring the bell. You cannot retroactively remove your dumb statement or your unpopular position from the record once it‘s on the record.
I mean, you can try, but everybody will end up laughing at you. For example, Newt Gingrich. When asked about the super unpopular Paul Ryan kill Medicare plan first, said this on NBC‘s “Meet the Press.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don‘t think right wing social engineering is anymore desirable than left wing social engineering. I don‘t think imposing radical change from the right or left is a very good way for free society to operate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Radical change, right wing social engineering, tigers, bears, oh my.
Within a matter of about 48 hours, Mr. Gingrich had completely reversed that position and said that he was actually for the Paul Ryan kill Medicare budget that he had previously derided as radical, right wing social engineering.
The reversal itself was not necessarily the thing that earned Newt Gingrich the laugh track. What earned him the laugh track was when he said this --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: Let me say, on the record, any ad which quotes which I said on Sunday is a falsehood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hold on. Once more with feelings. Play it again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Gingrich goes on a show called—the show is called “On the Record.” And he says on “On the Record” that he wants to go on the record to say that the thing he said on the record shall no longer be on the record. And if f anybody says it is, it‘s a lie. Perfect.
Come on. You cannot undo what you said. It‘s on the record actually.
Here‘s an example of somebody pulling this off a little more gracefully. This is Republican Congressman Joe Heck of Nevada. Here‘s Congressman Heck talking to his constituents recently about Social Security.
He‘s seen here describing Social Security as essentially a scam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOE HECK ®, NEVADA: When they first conceived Social Security, they didn‘t they were going to be paying benefits for 13, 15 years. That‘s one of the reasons why this pyramid scheme isn‘t working.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That part in the transcript says groans from audience.
Social Security is a pyramid scheme, so says Joe Heck.
A few hours after that tape came to light, Congressman Heck put out a statement saying he misspoke. He did not try to pretend he didn‘t say it. He did not try to pretend it was taken out of context. He just took it back, possessed by demons. Somebody else was in his head. He knows. But he says he doesn‘t really think Social Security is a pyramid scheme of all.
Republican Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky was confronted with the same sort of public outcry. This week, he decided to try something different. First, here‘s the hornet‘s nest that Rand Paul stepped in.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL ®, KENTUCKY: If someone is attended speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that‘s really an offense we should be going after. They should be deported or put in prison.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Deported or put in prison.
According to Rand Paul, if you attend a bad speech that the government doesn‘t like, you should be put in jail or deported, which is a rather un-libertarian take on the whole freedom of speech, freedom of assembly thing.
When the inevitable stories were published about how Rand Paul is supposed libertarian wants to put you in the clink for going to a speech he doesn‘t like, here is how Rand Paul decided to respond to his self-made controversy.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PAUL: The people who on the Internet are taking that out of context are obviously people who are politically my enemies. So, they‘re going to do anything to try to promote that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Taking me out of context and then he went on immediately to make the same case, attend a bad speech, go to prison, in this follow up radio interview.
So, totally different context, same argument that weirded (ph) everyone out in the first place.
Then there‘s Republican presidential Tim Pawlenty, who got dangerously close to Newt Gingrich territory this week after he gave this answer to a reporter‘s question in Iowa.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REPORTER: You‘re pro-life, if your position on abortion prevails, what should the penalty be for a woman who has an abortion or a doctor who performs one?
TIM PAWLENTY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don‘t have a specific penalty that we have proposed for that, but I know there‘s been efforts in the past to outline criminal sanctions. I don‘t think we want to make it a criminal sanction.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: We don‘t want to make it a criminal sanction.
A short time later, Mr. Pawlenty staff contacted that same newspaper to say actually he does want to make abortion subject to criminal sanctions. In other words, that first statement you got on tape is not what Tim Pawlenty believes even though you have him on tape saying that‘s what he believes.
Tim Pawlenty is not saying anybody quoting him is by definition lying like Newt Gingrich tried to pull off. But this is getting close.
In terms of options politicians have though for trying to unsay things they have said, the full belly flop option this week goes to the Republican Party‘s House campaign committee. This is incredible.
Last night on the show, we played an ad that is being run against Republican Congressman Charlie Bass of New Hampshire. Charlie Bass, like most House Republicans, voted for the Paul Ryan kill Medicare budget. This ad calls him out on it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I didn‘t have Medicare, doctors billions could wipe me out. And put a burden on my five kids. When Congressman Charlie Bass voted to end Medicare, that was an attack on New Hampshire families just like mine.
My father worked with Charlie and respected him. I voted for him five times. But Charlie Bass has changed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today, apparently, embarrassed by how that ad sounds, the National Republican Party wrote a letter to a TV station that‘s running that ad in southern New Hampshire. They demanded that the ad be taken down.
Republican Party calling the ad, quote, “a malicious attempt to mislead voters by spreading false information.”
Here‘s the thing, just because you don‘t like how your position sounds when it is described out loud does not mean you get to prevent people from describing it. The Republican Party wrote that letter to Comcast Boston, which is the TV station running that ad in New Hampshire. Comcast is the parent company of this network, I should say.
They told us tonight, quote, “We are continuing to run the ad.”
Republicans are not taking back their vote for the Paul Ryan kill Medicare thing a la Joe Heck. They‘re not denying that they cast that vote for the Paul Ryan Medicare thing a la Newt Gingrich. They‘re not trying to make a vague, esoteric case that their vote for the Paul Ryan kill Medicare thing was taken out of context a la Rand Paul.
They‘re claiming that their vote for the Paul Ryan kill Medicare thing should not please not be described as a vote for the Paul Ryan Medicare thing because that sounds bad.
Medicare is a single-payer government health insurance program that old people get instead of having to buy private insurance. The Paul Ryan plan says you don‘t get that anymore, you get a coupon. Go buy private insurance with your coupon, grandma. You can still call your coupon Medicare, you can call it Timmy, you can call it peas and carrots. You can call it whatever you want. It doesn‘t matter what you call it.
If you vote to do something like that, you are voting to kill Medicare. If we as a country get what you voted for, what is Medicare right now? It goes away. All but four Republican members of the House, including Charlie Bass, and all but five Republican senators this spring cast votes to kill Medicare.
Doesn‘t that sound bad? Doesn‘t mean it‘s not true. And it is probably the most potent political advantage Democrats have had over Republicans since the issue of the Iraq war.
Joining us now to talk about whether Democrats understand this political advantage, as well as Republicans seem to be coming to, is Jeff Liszt. He‘s a pollster for the Democratic polling firm Anzalone Liszt which earlier this week released their findings on voters‘ feelings about Medicare, Medicaid and health reform.
Mr. Liszt, it‘s nice to have you here. Thanks for coming in.
JEFF LISZT, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Thanks having me.
MADDOW: What are your poll results showing about popularity of the Paul Ryan plan, but also the president‘s health reform law?
LISZT: Well, we found a few things. We just got at of the field for Know Your Care and the Herndon Alliance, polling nationally on health care issues.
And some of things we found are things that you would expect. Voters don‘t want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Only 40 percent do. Even fewer of them want to defund the Affordable Care Act as a way of killing it and support for the Ryan plan is very low, at only 38 percent when you talk about the changes to Medicare.
What‘s good news I think for Democrats in those numbers is that some of that is starting to penetrate. And Democratic advantages are starting to come back on health care, on Medicare. The president has seven to eight-point advantage over Republicans in Congress over those issues. Democrats in Congress have a six to seven-point advantage on health care and Medicare.
And both the president and Democrats in Congress have a 15-point advantage on fighting for the middle class and obviously health care and Medicare are important to that.
So, clearly, some of this with the Ryan budget is starting to penetrate with the public and those advantages I think on health care and Medicare are important to Democrats and we‘re gaining some of that middle class branding that they lost in 2010.
MADDOW: One of the things that Republicans are really trying to finesse—I mean, in part they‘re just trying to get the ad taken off the air. Stop accusing of us this thing we have done.
But they‘re also trying to target their message narrowly so that people are clear that they‘re only going to kill Medicare for people who are 54. Age 54 or younger right now. The people who are 55 and up right now are not gong to be affected by their plan, not because they protect them in any way, just because their plan starts late.
Would that make a difference if people did understand that?
LISZT: It didn‘t in your polling in. In our wording, we specified that Medicare wouldn‘t change for people who are 55 and older and it was only people who are younger that would get a voucher and have to buy their own private insurance.
And you still had very low numbers, even among seniors where you had upwards of 60 percent opposed, even though we were very clear in specifying it wouldn‘t affect people over 55.
But I think the reason Republicans are tripping all over themselves right now is that they‘re just starting to realize how deep the rabbit hole goes on this. And it‘s not just Medicare, it‘s Medicaid and four out of five seniors in nursing homes.
I mean, it‘s the fact that, you know, if you got a man-cave downstairs, all of a sudden, you‘re going to have mother or your mother-in-law living there and it‘s away.
MADDOW: They have to get out of the nursing home because of the Medicaid cuts.
LISZT: Yes, exactly.
MADDOW: So, it‘s to protect—when you‘re a pollster, do you call like to protect the man cave effect? Do you have something creepy like that?
LISZT: It‘s brand new. We‘re still trying to brand it.
MADDOW: On the issue of the Republicans‘ options here. You describe t as the rabbit hole being deeper than they knew. Is there a way for Republicans to sort of turn the upside down here? Is there a way in which their votes for the Paul Ryan thing could end up not being politically bad for them? Is there way for them to tweak the messaging or something else? Or do they really just have to hope that people forget it?
LISZT: Well, I think it‘s unlike that they can turn it upside down because they‘re really caught between a rock and the Tea Party. I mean, they‘ve got to answer to the Michael Savage base of the party.
And the problem that they‘ve got is that a lot of the voters in the middle who helped put Republicans in power in 2010 did so in part because the Republicans were running to the left of Democrats on Medicare. They were attacking, you know, the ACA‘s efforts to cut waste, fraud and abuse and insurance company handouts. And the Republicans were saying that was an attempt to cut Medicare. And they were painting themselves in 2010 as the protectors of Medicare.
So, a lot of the people who voted for them, including a lot of conservative Republicans didn‘t expect them to turn right around and try to kill Medicare right out of the gate.
So, I think that, you know, that‘s problematic for them in the middle. But at the same time, they can‘t back down because they‘ve got the Tea Party.
MADDOW: All of it. Yes, it‘s amazing stuff.
Jeff Liszt, Democratic pollster for the firm Anzalone Liszt—am I saying that right, Anzalone?
LISZT: Anzalone. I was practicing all day. Let‘s do the whole thing over again.
All right. Oh, shoot. We‘re live.
Jeff, thank you very much for being here. It‘s really nice to see you.
MADDOW: All right. “The Best New Thing in the World Today” is coming up at the end of the show. And I have been laughing really hard all day while trying to say the word Anzalone.
So, I‘m hoping I can make it through it. This is what I can tell you about it. It‘s from China. It is not a bummer. It‘s the opposite of a bummer actually. If this is something that makes you happy and if you are a human, then it‘s settled this is something that makes you happy.
“The Best New Thing in the World Today” is very funny. It involves Tigger in China in is strangest way possible. Small story, brilliant. Very end of the show. It‘s coming up.
MADDOW: OK. You ready? Here‘s exhibit A. Oh. You look so unsteady on your feet. Oh. That‘s exhibit—that‘s exhibit A.
All right. Here‘s exhibit—wait—OK, yes, here‘s exhibit B. Oh.
OK. That‘s exhibit B.
So you saw exhibit A there. Saw exhibit B there. Exhibit C is coming up.
MADDOW: Friday night quiz. Name a member of Congress in the House of Representatives that is neither many the majority party nor is in the minority party‘s leadership and is not your member of Congress. Anybody coming to mind?
Exactly. For members of Congress who want to be known nationally, who want to be known outside their own districts, it is not easy. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan is an exception to this general rule of unanimity in the House right now. He is in the majority, I know, but he‘s also really, really famous right now. His budget proposal to kill Medicare has become the litmus test in his party, from Congress on up to 2012 presidential primary contenders.
Another exception, another member of Congress everybody knows, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio. Yes, Mr. Kucinich has run for president a couple of times and maybe that‘s part of it.
But I think mostly Dennis Kucinich is famous because he‘s a purist. And his purity has made for a fascinating if rather lonely congressional record in recent years. From 2001 to 2002, Congressman Kucinich sponsored 22 bills. Zero were enacted.
In the next session, 25 sponsored. Zero enacted.
Then the 26 sponsored, zero enacted.
Then again, the next session, 25 bills sponsored, one enacted in.
And the last full session of Congress ‘09 to 2010, 15 pieces of legislation sponsored, two enacted.
Those two pieces of legislation Mr. Kucinich sponsored, the two that were eventually enacted, they posthumously granted a man honorary citizenship and named a post office building in Cleveland.
The point here is not about Dennis Kucinich‘s legislative effectiveness, a lot in Congress never get stuff enacted frankly. The point is Dennis Kucinich really, really, really keeps trying. And he keeps trying not on frivolous stuff but on often very important and irrefutably core liberal issues.
Congressman Kucinich is famous for introduce things even if no one is with him on it if he thinks they are important. He goes for it alone. And for that, a lot of people on the left really love him and look to him for leadership.
He is the guy who for the last 10 years has introduced a bill every session, for example, establishing a Department of Peace. He is a guy who keeps introducing the bill to help more kids to preschool. He is the guy who proposes federally financing political campaigns and setting up an organization to encourage corporations to be environmentally and socially responsible.
He‘s also the guy who during the Bush administration introduced a resolution to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Needless to say, none of those things were enacted into law, which is why it was so—this week to see this headline at Politico.com. “GOP Fears Kucinich Resolution.” This is Politico.com. This is not “The Nation.” GOP fears Kucinich resolution.
The resolution in question would “direct the president to remove the U.S. armed forces from Libya by no later than the date that is 15 days after the date of the adoption.” Out of Libya in 15 days.
Republicans scrambled to make sure at the very last minute that Dennis Kucinich‘s Libya resolution did not go to a vote? Why were they so afraid of it? Why were they so frantic? Why did they take dramatic and last minute action to head off this Dennis Kucinich resolution? What could this resolution do to them?
Apparently, it could pass.
“The Washington Post” described it as turning out to have much broader support than expected. And by broader, they mean Republican. The Republican leadership freaked out about the Kucinich resolution. Put it off for two days.
They did eventually put it off until today. It was voted on today and it got a lot of support, 87 Republicans voted for Dennis Kucinich‘s get out of Libya resolution. The resolution probably would have gotten more support and it may have passed if John Boehner, the speaker of the House, had not introduced a competing resolution specifically designed to comfort Republicans who are really against what we‘re doing in Libya in order to siphon the votes away from what Kucinich was proposing.
Before the House recess today, Speaker John Boehner‘s the alternative Libya resolution did pass, demanding information from the White House about the Libya resolution, if not saying that forces have to come home now.
This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened recently. Yesterday, a different Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman tried to cut off funding for the Libya mission. That only lost by five votes.
On the war in Afghanistan, another bill last week would have demanded a faster draw down of American troops there. That got significant Republican support. It only lost by 11 votes.
Nancy Pelosi told me in January that arguing in Congress about war this year would be an unexpectedly nonpartisan thing. She told me it was going to be a much more robust debate and much more nonpartisan debate than anybody was expecting.
I did not believe her at the time. She was right.
Joining us now from outside a general store in Norwich, Vermont, is Democratic Congressman Peter Welch, who made a date with me earlier this week to come back and talk about this.
Congressman Welch, thanks very much for coming back on the show.
REP. PETER WELCH (D), VERMONT: It‘s good to be here.
MADDOW: You sponsored an amendment last week to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan with a Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz from Utah. How do a Vermont Democrat and a Utah Republican end up on something together like that?
WELCH: You know, here‘s the good news, I think that there is a growing sentiment that we‘re spending too much on the military, too much on these activities abroad, that nation-building in Afghanistan really doesn‘t make sense. It doesn‘t make us more secure.
And Republicans and Democrats are telling me that their voters are fed up. They are because they have skepticism about how does it make sense to spend $2 billion a week in Afghanistan. And how does it make sense to be spending money there when we‘re having incredible bug challenges here?
You saw, Rachel, a carry over today where you literally had John Boehner and Dennis Kucinich more or less on the same page saying two things. One, if we are going to use military action, that requires the Congress to approve it. Not just a unilateral action by a president. In number two, that there‘s skepticism about this rush to war.
MADDOW: In terms of that issue specifically of congress‘s role in war time about a constraint, about Congress not being just a constraint on presidential power, but Congress having the power to declare war, which is quietly spelled out in the Constitution—that this is something that Republicans have been less than activist about over this past decade since 9/11.
Do you think the fact that we‘ve got a Democratic president now is bringing out that side of Republican politics more so than we would be seeing if it was a Republican?
WELCH: I do. I think that‘s relevant. But the fundamental principle here is that Article I of the Constitution says that if American troops are going to be committed, if we‘re going to go to war, then Congress has to approve that yes or no.
And, of course, the War Powers Act gives some latitude to the president. But within 60 days any president Republican or Democrat must come to Congress.
And what I sense in the vote today in the Kucinich amendment and the Boehner amendment, was the unity of interest among Democrats and Republicans to assert congressional power. And what‘s good about that is that when we in the House of Representatives are accountable to the people who sent us there and they‘re concerned about the Constitution, they‘re concerned about their taxpayer dollars, then—and they‘re concerned about the loves of their sons and daughters who are going to be sent to war, the fact that the Congress has to act is a real break as it‘s supposed to be under the Constitution on a rush to military action.
MADDOW: Do you think that there is a big distance between House Democrats who I know you met with President Obama this week and the White House in terms of what the end of the Afghanistan war is going to look like? I know that I have read that this issue was raised with the president in your meeting this week. How far do you see is the distance between host house Democrats and where President Obama is on the issue?
WELCH: It‘s not clear. I think what the president said to us in the meeting was that there is going to be the drawdown. He had committed to that. He did not give us any indication of how quick it was going to be.
What we argued and Jim McGovern argued quite eloquently. It was his amendment that nearly passed, was that with these 204 votes in the House, with Republicans and Democrats being so strong about ending nation-building, that we hoped would be wind to his back because it‘s a clear indication that there is strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives for the president to really accelerate that withdrawal from Afghanistan.
MADDOW: So few issues right now that are really big, really important, really substantive issues facing the country on which you can quite legitimately say there is bipartisan discussion and robust debate with without regard to party constraints. And to have that happening on the wars, I have to say is, for me, just as a civics dork is very heartening and for your part in that Congressman Welch, you‘re willing to be bipartisan on this—thank you for doing it.
WELCH: Well, the only way we‘re going to get from here to there on these major issues is by trying to find ways we can do it together. The combination, the converge of interest, protecting the Constitution, protecting taxpayer dollars, and, of course, most importantly of all, protecting the lives of young Americans willing to put on the uniform, that‘s a place where I hope we can find more common ground and give more support to the president to accelerate that withdrawal.
MADDOW: Democratic Congressman Peter Welch live out from outside a picturesque, cut general store in Norwich, Vermont—thank you so much for joining us tonight, sir. I really appreciate it.
WELCH: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. If telling the story after adults dressed up as Tigger and getting hit with tranquilizer darts is wrong, I don‘t want to be right. “Best New Thing in the World Today” is just ahead. Provided I can hold us together well enough to tell the story.
MADDOW: About a year ago you may recall us reporting on the debut of the worst magazine in the world. It‘s called “Inspire,” available only online. “Inspire” bills itself as the first English language magazine of al Qaeda.
That first edition, summer, 2010, or summer 1431 in the Islamic calendar, had some problems as a downloadable computer file it was all buggy. You could get a table of contents but not all the pages that the table referred to. Some of the pages downloaded as gibberish instead of text.
Those kinds of problems with the first issue of al Qaeda‘s magazine we knew about. The bugginess, the garbled code.
But this week, we learned brand new and really excellent details behind one of those garbled computer gibberish code problems the al Qaeda magazine was having. One of the articles in the magazine was titled “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” Remember that? Not kidding.
The article said it was by the AQ chef and contained rudimentary bomb-making instructions involving timers and matchsticks and stuff. It turns out if that sounded like a good idea to someone, if some English speaking would-be al Qaeda recruit had said make a bomb in the kitchen of my mom, mark me down for yes—if that person had clicked through in an effort to find the AQ chef‘s instructions for bomb-making in one‘s mother‘s kitchen, what they‘d have found instead was some garbled code for a page pointing to -- ta-da! The best cupcakes in America from the Ellen DeGeneres TV show. The top pick.
As you can see here is the mojito mini cupcake from main street cupcakes in Hudson, Ohio.
How did the list of Ellen DeGeneres‘s favorite cupcakes come to replace the AQ chef‘s bomb making instructions? Two words for you: operation cupcake.
According to “The Washington Post,” hackers working for the British intelligence agency MI-6 replaced the real bomb recipe with the cupcake list on purpose in order to frustrate al Qaeda‘s publishing arm. And yes, they really did apparently call their cyber attack officially “operation cupcake.” The sabotage took place a year ago. We are just finding out about it now.
The good folks at Wired.com‘s “Danger Room” blog point out that a corrected, no cupcake first issue of “Inspire” eventually came out. No cupcake recipes, back to real bombs. Since then, al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula‘s production arm has been able to put out four issues without similar disruptions—but there is I think un-guilty pleasure to be had in even the possibility that some al Qaeda wannabe somewhere in the English-speaking world set out to make a bomb in the kitchen of his mom and found himself frustrated by step one which is—mixing the lime rind into the butter cream.
MADDOW: “The Best New Thing in the world today, defies words, frankly. But I will try. What we have here is a dude in a Tigger costume being fake hunted at a Chinese zoo.
Photos published this week by Chinese media sent to us by a blog called muckrack.com—supposedly these are pictures of a drill at the Chung Du (ph) Zoo in Sichuan Province, a drill designed to give police hands on experience in capturing real escaped tigers. Not the sort of thing you want to practice for the first time. So, hence, therefore, the Tigger costumes—people dressed up like Tigger at a zoo being hunted by Chinese police being shot with tranquilizers, fake tranquilizers, we hope, then being carried off by zookeepers all while—look at this—a real tiger looks on.
So, that happened. Apparently this happens. This sort of thing happens in zoo world.
This is video from earlier this year at a zoo in Japan. This get up more Hello Kitty than Tigger but the same idea. I have no idea if chasing and subduing a person in a fuzzy mascot suit helps with the challenge of corralling an actual escaped tiger. I have no idea.
But I can say for certain that grown adult people chasing fake kitties around like their life depended on it is definitely “The Best New Thing in the world Today.”
And now, kitties in prison. Just kidding. I have no idea who is in prison on “LOCKUP” tonight, but whoever they are—here they come.
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