Guests: Bob Herbert, Rep. Raul Grijalva
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Chris. Have an excellent time to Bill Maher. I‘m looking forward to seeing you there.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I am, too. Thanks a lot.
Thanks to you at home as well for joining us this hour.
Bob Herbert is going to be here joining us in studio in just a few moments. We‘ve also got Congressman Raul Grijalva here this hour to talk about the Democrats and their negotiating position in the big debt ceiling fight in Washington—whether or not the White House really just put Social Security and Medicare on the table for cuts.
That is all ahead over the course of the hour.
But we start tonight with a dramatic development in a life or death issue. It is literally about life and death. About the power of the government to kill people it is holding prisoner. But it‘s also about presidential politics, and who will be the Republican Party‘s nominee for president this year.
There are two unquestionable truisms in coverage of Republican presidential politics right now. One is that the prohibitive favorite to get the Republican Party‘s nomination, the front-runner so far out in front it is almost impossible to imagine anyone catching him is Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney seen here at the Romney fundraiser today in London, England, of all places. Mr. Romney leads in all scientific national polls at this point, in all Iowa polls, in all New Hampshire polls, and in fundraising.
Mitt Romney is the front-runner and he is front running alone. That is truism number one.
Truism number two is that the influence of the super conservative Tea Party wing of the Republican Party cannot be overstated in the nomination process this year. The combination of grassroots, purist, conservative anger and the unlimited corporate money that is financing the Tea Party‘s efforts makes the Tea Party faction a gatekeeper to the Republican nomination for 2012 if not a king maker.
So, two truisms: number one, Romney‘s going to win. Number two: no one wins without the Tea Party on their side.
The problem is that those two facile, Beltway common wisdom axioms about Republican politics right now cannot co-exist. To the extent that the Tea Party faction is organized around Republican presidential politics at all right now, they are organized to nominate anyone but Mitt Romney.
If you go to StopRomney.org—StopRomney.org does not go to some liberal group, some Democratic group trying to get a head start on opposing the likely Republican nominee this year. StopRomney.org goes to the Facebook page of a right-wing Tea Party PAC associated with Tea Party candidates like Joe Miller from Alaska.
The big-money corporate-funded Tea Party group FreedomWorks says it will not only organize against Mitt Romney being the Republican Party‘s nominee, they say they plan to spend significant cash to ensure that Mitt Romney is not nominated.
The Tea Party movement is not monolithic. But if, by and large, Mitt
Romney is unacceptable to them as the Republican nominee for president this
year, and they have veto power in the Republican nomination process, then
Mitt Romney is not going to be the nominee. No matter how far in front he
looks right now. I mean, either the Beltway is vastly overstating the
influence and importance of the Tea Party in Republican politics, possible
or it‘s not going to be Mitt Romney.
If it doesn‘t going to be Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney next year, who else could be the Republican nominee? Polling second behind Mitt Romney in the latest Iowa and New Hampshire and national polls is this person, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who frankly—I have to say it and I don‘t mean it as an insult, I mean it as a true observation—
Ms. Bachmann has been a fringe person in Congress for years now. Her career has been the kind where nobody batted an eye when she proposed amending the United States Constitution to stop our country from adopting the yen as our currency instead of the dollar because she thought that was a threat.
Michele Bachmann has tried to argue that the census is unconstitutional. Want to see where the census is in the Constitution? It‘s right there. They didn‘t have highlighters then. But if they had, that‘s the part.
Michele Bachmann is the kind of member of Congress who warns about secret concentration camps being set up by government.
Michele Bachmann has been, frankly, the most telegenic of the Louie Gohmert/Steve King/Phil Gingrey late night AM radio conspiracy theory fringe of the Republican Party in Congress. But the party did make the decision to put her on the intelligence committee. And some FOX News Channel hosts fell in love with her.
And now, she appears at least to be a contender. She has left from not-ready-for-primetime punch line territory to tied with the front-runner in Iowa in the last “Des Moines Register” poll.
In some ways, though, the viability of Bachmann as a candidate looks a bit like the continuation of the dynamic we saw last year when the Republican Party establishment was really unable to play the traditional vetting role that the parties usually play, and so, we got Christine O‘Donnell, “I am not a witch,” as the party candidate in Delaware, we go the aforementioned Joe Miller as the Republican nominee for Senate in Alaska , his supporters marching in the streets carrying assault rifles. We even got Sharron Angle in Nevada complete with threats that her supporters would try to get their way with guns if they did not succeed in electing her against Harry Reid.
Candidates like those did get chosen by the Republican Party last year, but they could not win an election, even in a jackpot Republican year like 2010 was.
Before they were picked as Senate candidates, though, at least Joe Miller and Sharron Angle and Christine O‘Donnell—at least they were unknowns. They were all but totally anonymous to the general public in their states before these elections in which they failed so disastrously. So part of the excuse for the Republican Party picking them as nominees may have been there was really no broad warning of how awful and radical these guys would be as candidates.
If that Republican dynamic from last year is still in effect, and is affecting Republican presidential politics this year, that would explain things if the party were on course to nominate somebody who‘s a real unknown, somebody like a Herman Cain or somebody like my personal Republican muse this year, Thaddeus McCotter.
It would not, however, that dynamic could not explain or predict a Michele Bachmann nomination, because Michele Bachmann is a lot of things but Michele Bachmann is not unknown. Michele Bachmann is famous.
For years now, unlike a Christine O‘Donnell or a Joe Miller, Michele Bachmann has been all over national TV. And not just all over FOX. She‘s been all over MSNBC. She‘s all over CNN. She‘s even made it as far as “Meet the Press “on NBC on Sunday morning.
Her record is totally in line with the off-the-charts craziness of a Sharron Angle or a Christine O‘Donnell. But Michele Bachmann‘s craziness has been in public. It has been on TV.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I may not always get my words right. But I know that my heart is right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Michele Bachmann is amazing as a political figure. But it is not likely that Michele Bachmann actually will be the Republican nominee for president.
Who might it be? She‘s pulling second right now. But if it cannot be her, and I do not think it can be her, if it‘s not going to be Mitt Romney and it‘s not going to be her, who else actually has a shot?
The only person polling regularly now in double digits who is not Michele Bachmann or Mitt Romney is this man, the governor of Texas, Rick Perry. He is not officially in the race, but he campaigns as if he is. And, frankly, for him right now all systems point to go.
Today in Texas and in Washington, the White House and Rick Perry had a political fight to the death. In a dramatic down-to-the-wire final hour fight at the Supreme Court over whether or not Rick Perry‘s Texas would be allowed to kill a foreign citizen who the state of Texas was holding prisoner. The man is a citizen of a foreign country, who was convicted of a murder in Texas. He was never allowed any assistance from his home country.
If you as an American are in a foreign country, and you are picked up and arrested, charged with a serious crime, the U.S. government has the right to intervene on your behalf, to try to help you out. You don‘t get immunity if you have done something wrong, of course, but you at least get help from the United States, because you are a United States citizen.
That‘s not only a principle that all Americans implicitly count on if we think about leaving the country, it‘s also law. Our country signs something called the Vienna Convention says we expect to be able to help Americans arrested in foreign countries. And we will let foreign citizens arrested here get help from their government, too.
It is an international treaty. We are signed on it. Congress ratified it. It is law.
But not in Texas—not in Rick Perry‘s Texas. In 2005, the George W. Bush administration ordered states that they needed to comply with this law. Texas under Rick Perry said no.
The U.S. Supreme Court then weighed in and said the only way to force the state like Texas to follow this law here would be for Congress to take action. And so, with a foreign citizen on death row in Texas, the Obama administration took the very rare step of the federal government wading into a state criminal case—not over the issue of whether or not the prisoner was innocent or guilty, but over whether or not Texas could kill him, without ever letting him get help from his home government.
John Bellinger, a lawyer who served the State Department in the George W. Bush administration, arguing in this case, quote, “It should be obvious to anyone, including officials in Texas, that if Americans, including Texans, are arrested and detained in some other country and the United States complains that they have not been given their consular notice, it will be pointed out to us that the United States does not comply with our own international obligations on this. It cuts the legs out from under the State Department,” he said. “To make arguments on behalf of Americans who are detained abroad.”
The White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, all weighed in and asked the Supreme Court to intervene, to delay the execution in Texas here for a few months until Congress could have the chance to act on legislation pending that would make Texas follow the law here.
But one hour before the prisoner in Texas was scheduled to be killed, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court declined to postpone the execution. It was a 5-4 decision. Governor Rick Perry also could have granted a stay here, a 30-day stay.
As of this morning, he said he was undecided on the matter. In the end, he too declined to step in.
Texas killed Humberto Leal, the man in question in this case, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time tonight.
The politics of killing prisoners in America have played a role in presidential politics in the past. During then-Governor George W. Bush‘s campaign in 2000 and in then-Governor Bill Clinton‘s campaign before that, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
KATIE COURIC, TV ANCHOR: One of the issues that has dogged Governor Bush throughout the campaign is the number of executions in his state, Texas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight‘s executions are even more controversial because a lawyer for one of the condemned men says his client is mentally retarded.
This has happened before. In 1992, then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton refused to stop the execution of a man so mentally impaired that he did not even know he was about to be executed.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Both Governors Clinton and Bush as presidential candidates had to face questions about whether they did their due diligence on executions that happened in their states. So, too, did Alberto Gonzales, when George W. Bush nominated him for the country‘s attorney general. Mr. Gonzales wrote the execution briefings—emphasis on brief—for the first 60or so of George W. Bush‘s 152 approved Texas executions.
But this year, this all emerges today, at the Supreme Court and in Texas, not just in the heat of presidential politics, but in the midst of a huge political and practical and moral mess over lethal injection in a number of states all around the country.
Bob Herbert joins us on that, next.
MADDOW: Tonight in Texas, the potential Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry declined to intervene to stop an execution, an execution that the State Department, the White House, and four members of the United States Supreme Court said should be stopped. The man who was killed was a citizen of a foreign country whose government was not allowed to help him, because of a threat that Americans traveling abroad will also now start being denied the assistance of our government if we‘re arrested.
This was a state criminal matter that quite literally became a federal case. Even the George W. Bush administration had said that Texas should not do this.
But Texas Governor Rick Perry went ahead with it. The man was killed tonight, despite the fact that Governor Perry could have stopped it. And that, combined with Mr. Perry‘s evident presidential aspirations, puts this issue right back in the fray of national politics—at a time when the death penalty is quite frankly already in chaos.
State‘s ability to kill their prisoners is more in chaos and in jeopardy than it has ever been during the course of my lifetime. The primary way that states kill prisoners is lethal injection. In fact, this year, that‘s the only way states have killed prisoners. Lethal injection drugs vary slightly from state to state, but almost all of them used to use a combination of a drug made by an Illinois company called Hospira.
Until a couple of years ago, Hospira made its lethal injection drug here in the U.S. But when it moved its manufacturing operations to Italy in 2009, Hospira stopped making the lethal injection drug. The drug was a teeny-tiny part of Hospira‘s overall business, and the company decided that making it was no longer worth their time or trouble.
It became trouble to make it once they moved to Italy because you know what Italians hate? Italians really hate the death penalty. Hospira‘s decision to stop manufacturing this drug created a sudden shortage of the lethal injection drug for the 34 states that still kill their prisoners.
And the problem was that the drug goes bad. It spoils. You need to constantly refresh your stock. But without new manufacturing, new stock was not readily available.
Then countries like Germany asked their pharmaceutical industries to not sell that same drug to us because we use it to kill people here. The U.K. decided the same thing. Some other drug manufacturers in other countries, one in India and another in Denmark, also started refusing on their own to sell lethal injection drugs to America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The maker of a drug that Ohio plans to start using for lethal injections is asking that state, along with Oklahoma, to halt the practice. Oklahoma has already started using the sedative. It‘s called Pentobarbital, to execute three inmates because there is a shortage of the drug they previously used. But the drug maker, Lundbeck Incorporated, says that the drug was not intended to be used for lethal injections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: With the primary supplier of lethal injection drugs no longer manufacturing them and nobody else stepping up to do so, or at least to ship them to the U.S. once they had, states and prison systems all across the country sort of panicked, at least 13 of them reported current or anticipated shortages of the thing they use to kill their prisoners.
The executions continued through this last winter and spring, but not without headlines warning of an accidental and unanticipated end to the death penalty in America because we no longer have the means to kill people by our chosen methods.
The situation got so absurd that at one point in the fall before Britain banned the export, the BBC ran a headline that made you ask, what country is this? What century is this? That line was this.
“Lethal injection drug sold from U.K. driving school. An unlicensed company was selling lethal injection drugs out of a driving school in West London to Corrections Departments in the United States of America. At least one state, Arizona, reportedly killed a prisoner using drugs imported from the driving school.
The federal government responded by seizing the illegally imported lethal injection drugs in at least three states.
Clearly, the old drug was getting harder and harder to buy and hold onto without it being confiscated by the feds, so a number of states decided to stop using it altogether, stop trying to use it altogether. They decided to switch to a new kind of lethal injection drug, one that is used all the time, only not on humans. It‘s what veterinarians use to euthanize animals. Ohio was the first to use it to kill a prisoner in March. A week later, Texas made the switch.
And now, one of the companies that makes that drug is advising American states it should not be used for lethal injections either.
It is chaos. It is chaos on one of the most morbid issues in modern American politics, and now, it is chaos on that issue with presidential politics mixed in, too.
Joining us now is a former “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert. He is a distinguished senior fellow at Demos and a contributor to policyshop.net.
Bob, it‘s great to see you. Thanks for being here.
BOB HERBERT, DEMOS: You, too, Rach. How are you?
MADDOW: I‘m all right.
HERBERT: Fired up as usual.
MADDOW: As usual. You know, I‘m—I have always been fascinated by death penalty politics—in part because it is a mix of the practical and the profound.
Do you think that we are capable of absorbing a profound political issue like this into presidential politics, or do you think this gets glossed over?
HERBERT: I think it‘s going to get glossed over. You know, I‘ve been watching it for so many years. I have written a lot about the death penalty.
And it‘s really bizarre. It almost doesn‘t matter what the individual politicians really think about the death penalty. We have such a macho culture, and such a violent culture that no politician is willing to take a chance on being perceived as soft on crime.
Now, Rick Perry, I‘m convinced, you know, is very much pro-death penalty. So, his decisions seem to be in line with his own personal philosophy.
MADDOW: He has killed enough people, too, to justify that as governor, yes.
HERBERT: Right. But many other politicians that I have covered are in their hearts or in their minds opposed—have been opposed to the death penalty, but would never come out against it.
I remember that the death penalty used to be an issue in New York City mayoral races, and the mayor had nothing to do with death penalty cases.
MADDOW: I keep expecting there to be a big resurgence, the sort of tough on crime politics. And we‘ve seen, frankly, FOX News Channel, particularly in their daytime hours, sort of trying to hype the issue of urban crime with racial overtones.
MADDOW: It‘s been happening over the last few months, but it doesn‘t seem to get much traction. When you talk about tough on crime politics in the Republican Party, for me that resonates as an issue from the ‘90s—but I feel like I‘m not seeing it now.
HERBERT: You know, you‘re not seeing it on the national level, but you still have tough on crime policies on the local level. I mean, you have the district attorneys, you have governors. Look how many governors are standing up and making a big deal out of the fact that they are in favor of the death penalty, and we have this chaos that you are describing with the lethal injection drugs.
And the governors are out there saying, you know, no, no, no, I don‘t care what they do about the drugs, we‘re going to figure out how to kill these prisoners anyway, you know? They feel it‘s a political winner and they‘re just going for it.
MADDOW: The issue of Cameron Todd Willingham, which is something that you have written about, I know, in that—“The New Yorker” in particular has published a transient investigation of, that‘s a case in Texas in which the man who was executed, there seems to be quite a lot of evidence that he may have been actually innocent of the crime of which he was convicted.
HERBERT: I‘m absolutely convinced he was innocent.
MADDOW: And a lot of people who have looked into it are, the evidence against him has obvious flaws that are obvious even to a layman.
Rick Perry not only approved that execution but sort of interjected as governor to make sure that the execution would go ahead. He replaced a person who was overseeing an investigation into that case with a loyalist who green lit it. If Rick Perry is going to be a contender, do you think that could be an issue for him from the left?
HERBERT: I don‘t think so, because I frankly don‘t think the left is going to push candidates on the death penalty issue. I think they should.
And I think one of the important aspects of this story that gets overlooked, and which the left should be pushing as well, is the importance of Supreme Court appointments.
So, the right has understood for decades how important this has been, and they have been working in the trenches to gain control of the federal courts for the longest time. The left has tended to gloss over this issue. And now, we‘re getting all these 5-4 decisions, and here, once again, in a life and death situation, you have a 5-4 decision on the Supreme Court, split right down along ideological lines.
MADDOW: One other aspect of sort of I guess presidential politics, maybe just national politicking, that factored into this decision was the whole idea of whether or not America needs to pay any attention to international norms and indeed our international obligations.
It is law, because we are signatories to the Vienna Convention, that we provide consular access to people arrested and charged with serious crimes in this country. In Texas, the way that, for example, Governor Perry‘s spokesperson deflected criticism today was saying, Texas isn‘t bound by foreigners. Texas isn‘t bound by foreign law.
Is the Obama administration in a position—presidential politics or aren‘t—to be asserting of the value of America having a part in the international community right now?
HERBERT: Well, the Obama administration should be asserting it. By the way, Texas sometimes seems to be a state with foreign law whenever I take a look at it.
But if the United States keeps giving the back of its hand to international norms, we‘re going to—we‘re going to pay a price. We‘re already perceived in many parts of the world as a barbaric nation, you know, because of our military incursions, our military posture—because of this death penalty issue, which resonates so strongly in other places, much more strongly than it does among ordinary Americans.
And, you know, and then people aren‘t talking about it anymore, but all the problems that we had with torture and with detainees and that sort of thing. And I think that it has taken a toll, and it‘s going to continue to take a toll. And we really need to be paying much attention to the way the rest of the world perceives us.
MADDOW: Can I ask you one last question about you?
MADDOW: How is your life since leaving “The New York Times”?
HERBERT: I‘m loving it, you know? After more than four decades on those deadlines, day after day, week after week, you know, it‘s really great. Working as hard as ever, but you don‘t have those constant deadlines.
MADDOW: I have to say, I miss reading you every time your column would come out, I missed that. But I can tell that you‘re happy with what you‘re doing now. So, it‘s great to see you and it‘s good to see in this such great health. Thank you, Robert.
HERBERT: Great. Thanks so much, Rachel.
MADDOW: Appreciate it.
Bob Herbert is now a distinguished senior fellow at Demos. He‘s also contributor to policyshop.net.
OK. Still ahead, Congressman Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus on the negotiations going on right now between Democrats and Republicans over the ceiling and whether or not the White House really is floating the prospect of Democrats supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
We will be right back.
MADDOW: Here is a list of adjectives that is not at all random. Are you ready? Big, bright yellow, slippery, violent, very fast, part of an apparent gang, and now wanted by police in Ohio.
Those all describe one thing. It is a description that we found in one totally unexpected place today. Naturally, it will be the “Best New Thing in the World Today.” The first “Best New Thing” we have ever called from a police blotter. “Best New Thing in the World Today,” coming up right at the end of the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All I‘m saying is the story today way overwrote a fact that has been true since January, which is that the president is willing to and interested in talking about ways to strengthen Social Security in the long-term, and then separately, but in a related way, because of the nature of the story, we have also not put any bars on the door to, you know, that disallows issues that people want to bring into the room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If that bit from the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney sounds a little vague and noncommittal and kind of floaty, it might be because Jay Carney is describing something vague, noncommittal, and a little floaty.
The White House this week is sending up what is known in politics as a trial balloon, a proposal you sort of put out there for the purpose of judging reaction to it. You‘re not committing anything, you‘re floating a possibility.
President Obama has been meeting with Republicans this week trying to work out a deal on the federal deficit and the overall debt ceiling, and the president arguably is now signaling that he might be able to cutting Medicare and Social Security—might be, maybe, open to cuts for two of America‘s most popular and successful government programs.
Anybody want to react to that? Yes, please. Democrats on Capitol Hill saying they will not vote for any debt ceiling deal that includes cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
(BEGIN VDIEO CLIP)
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Congressional Democrats are not going to support something that seeks to balance the budget on the backs of Social Security beneficiaries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Congressman Chris Van Hollen there. Also, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi saying no way, no how, no cuts for Medicare and Social Security.
Groups like the National Nurses Union, National Nurses United, saying they will not endorse anyone who cuts Social Security. AARP, the formidable older person‘s lobby, is telling the White House that they should keep their hands off Social Security. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee asking left-leaning Democratic voters to foreswear working for President Obama‘s re-election if he cuts Social Security or Medicare.
The White House knew they would get this kind of vociferous reaction. I‘m guessing that they both knew it and they probably even welcome it, because giving the one-finger salute to their most die-hard supporters and their values, stiffing the Democratic base, is frankly a time-honored way for moderate Democratic politicians to demonstrate seriousness in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And everybody acknowledged that there‘s going to be pain involved politically on all sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, boy. Pain for everyone.
This really is a central part of how Democrats operate.
Now, in contrast to how Republicans kowtow and sign pledges to, even the rather extreme elements of their base—Democrats like to roil and aggravate and alienate theirs. It is sometimes called “punching the hippy.”
And, look, nobody likes to have their string pulled to say exactly what they are expected to say. We‘ll cut your favorite programs. Not our favorite programs, how dare you cut our favorite programs? See, I‘m brave enough to cut their favorite programs. Watch how they squeal, right?
Nobody likes having their string pulled like that. But it‘s not just that President Obama has stepped on their reflexive automatic protests nerve here. Angry liberals have real reason to be angry.
Transactionally, the White House offering to cut Social Security and Medicare is a waste. Politically, it‘s a waste. Substantively, it is a waste.
There‘s nothing more fundamental to Democratic politics than Social Security and Medicare. Going back to FDR and the New Deal, Democrats founded Social Security and Medicare.
Republicans fought them from the beginning. Republicans have long tried to get rid of those programs. And Democrats have protected them.
Support for people who work for a living—that‘s the closest thing there is to a defined reason for the Democratic Party‘s existence going back to the days of our great grandparents. It‘s the clearest reason that we have two parties in this country.
If there‘s any single other aspect of American life that is as central to the meaning of the Democratic Party, it‘s support for union rights.
Republicans win elections by harnessing the power of corporations. Democrats win by mobilizing unions. Democrats didn‘t used to be embarrassed by this.
And we have seen this year that Republican governors and legislatures have been able to chip away at union rights and unions themselves. So, when a Democratic president in that context comes forward with as grave a concession as trading cuts to Medicare and Social Security for some revenue increases, he‘d better be getting something in return—something more than a flat no.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: I can tell you one thing—that we are united as Republicans to say now is not the time to raise taxes. I have talked with the speaker. He is not for increasing taxes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If this is a real offer from President Obama, and not just a test, President Obama is offering up a significant slice of the Democratic soul here. And he still can‘t get a deal from the Republicans.
Nate Silver writing today in his blog at “The New York Times,” “FiveThiryEight,” that Republicans‘ rejection of and compromise is natural right now, the incentives lines up for them not to compromise or give at all. The enthusiasm of Republican voters is to not solve the debt ceiling problem.
You can see this playing out openly in Republican politics right now at the national level. Michele Bachmann, running for the Republican nomination, running second to Mitt Romney, she released her first campaign ad today.
The campaign ad ends like this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Because I‘d rather have America default on its debt and set off a global economic meltdown. Smile, everyone.
So, transactionally, in terms of what the Democrats might get for a give away this profound, Democrats appear to be getting nothing in return for this. Politically, in pure political terms, the Democrat‘s most potent asset right now is that Republicans this spring, in the House and the Senate, voted overwhelmingly for the Paul Ryan to kill Medicare, while Democrats voted unanimously to defend it.
This stark vote, this stark contrast between Democrats and Republicans was potent enough to turn a blood-red congressional district in Upstate New York, to turn that district blue in a special election a month after that House vote.
Congressman Steve Israel and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are in charge of helping Democrats win back the House next year. When they are asked about how they are planning to do that, they say they‘ve got a three-part strategy. And the three-part strategy is this: Medicare, Medicare, and Medicare.
The Republicans voting to kill Medicare and Democrats standing unambiguously to defend it in 2011 is the Democrats‘ strongest political asset. If they now move to hurt Medicare, too—they will throw that asset away.
So, transactionally, no. Politically, no. Substantively, offering to cut Medicare and Social Security also, frankly, no, it is a waste. Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. What? No, it‘s true. It does not contribute to the deficit.
Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, Social Security trustee, explains it as well as anyone. He says, “Until last year, Social Security took in more payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits. It lent the surpluses to the rest of the government. Now that Social Security has started to pay out more than it takes in, Social Security can simply collect what the rest of the government owes it. This will keep it fully solvent for the next 26 years.”
You know how you pay your Social Security taxes out of your paycheck?
Right. You‘re paying for it. It is not a handout. This is not welfare.
The program is not broke, and it is not broken. It did not cause the deficits, and you ought not to raid it for the purpose of fixing the deficit.
Likewise, Medicare gets a bad rap for being too expensive, right? It‘s true that Medicare spending is going up. Yellow bar on the left shows Medicare spending per patient is up over the past decade by 4.6 percent.
Compare it, though, to what‘s happening in the private sector. Costs growing nearly twice as fast. Medicare is a bargain for this country. It‘s the best example we‘ve got of holding down out of control health care spending.
The private sector is a disaster compared with Medicare. Our out of control health care costs would be that much worse if Medicare was gone. Medicare and Social Security are successes—they are among the most successful programs in American history. They work for the people getting them and they work for the country. That is why they are so popular.
That‘s why the extent to which Democrats are seen as the party who brought you Social Security and Medicare and who will not let Republicans kill those things even though they want to is a thumbs up or thumbs down determinant of the Democrat Party‘s future.
The White House has floated a trial balloon now about letting the Republicans have their way with Medicare and Social Security at long last. That trial balloon is officially popping.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He and other members of the caucus sent a letter to President Obama today opposing any cuts to entitlement programs.
Congressman Grijalva, thanks very much for being with us tonight.
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D), ARIZONA: Thank you very much, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the premise of my introduction there. There is some ambiguity here in the White House‘s position. Do you think the president really is putting Social Security and Medicare cuts on the table?
GRIJALVA: Well, there‘s a pattern in that we have reached a tipping point. We saw it with Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of the timetable. When are we getting out. We saw it in the compromises on the Bush tax cuts.
We‘ve seen this pattern in which Democrats are put in the position to having to be the adults in the conversation, and trying to hold things together, and now, we‘re back at that point.
So, if you give—if you look at that pattern of concession and then compromise to the middle, and the Democrats having to bear the burden politically for those decisions, it might be a trial balloon, but there is a pattern that indicates that Social Security and Medicare are on the table. And that is why we reacted the way we did.
This shouldn‘t be on the table. We have reached a no mas point here, that Democrats should never support this. We have to be solid and independent, regardless of what those negotiations with the administration produce.
MADDOW: In terms of what you described there as bearing the political burden here, that is one of the strategic questions that I have. And this may be clearer to you from Washington than I can see it from here.
But it seems to me like Republicans are really on defense right now about supporting tax breaks for oil companies and tax breaks for corporate jets and tax breaks for millionaires. Those are all very, very unpopular policies. And it seemed like that the White House was pressing advantage on those issues quite effectively.
So, why, at this moment, will there come this great moment of compromise?
GRIJALVA: I think the American people felt good to see our president fighting. They felt good about pointing out the contradictions that we have been pointing out. And I don‘t think it‘s any time to stop.
This whole cynical strategy that the Republicans have of never really compromising, holding hostage, creating this default crisis, and then we have to respond to it. I think it‘s—you know, they need to be called out. They need to be pushed back.
I think politically, they are in a very weak position. And this is not a time to sit back and to concede or to compromise to the lowest common denominator. This is an opportunity we have as Democrats, especially with controlling the White House and the Senate, to push back.
And many of us worry that that pushback is not happening. On the contrary, we are again hearing the murmurs that we‘re going to make a change. So, it‘s going to be a 5-1 ratio. Five cuts and one revenue generation. That is not a trade.
And that‘s why we need to say very earnestly to the administration, we will not vote for your deal. That‘s been the point of this whole discussion. And it‘s been the point of us asserting our independence.
Our political future as a party is at stake. And, quite honestly, our values as a nation are at stake. And we have to take this very seriously. This is not a little nuanced discussion about politics and a compromise.
This is a fundamental—fundamental question about what this nation is. And we have to take it very seriously, because it is the fight of our lives.
MADDOW: Arizona congressman, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, Raul Grijalva, taking a hard line with the White House and with Republicans on the issue of entitlement cuts—thank you so much.
GRIJALVA: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We hope you‘ll stay in touch with us about this. Thanks.
GRIJALVA: We‘ll do.
MADDOW: One of Rupert Murdoch‘s classy with a K tabloids finds itself
is in a middle of a huge and rather disgusting phone-hacking scandal. Ed
Schultz has the particulars on that, right after the show. You will not
want to miss that
And here, “Best New Thing in the World”—giant, fast, unexpectedly yellow thing on the lam in Ohio. Our first-ever “Best New Things in the World” from a police blotter. That‘s coming up.
MADDOW: The answer to the question of when will this program finally talk about gorillas on skateboards? The answer is soon. Very soon. Clearly, it is “The Best New Thing in the World Today.” Clearly.
MADDOW: During the Major League Baseball season of 1925, the starting first baseman for the New York Yankees was a man who had one of the greatest names in baseball history, Wally Pipp. Wally Pipp had played 10 straight seasons as the Yankees firs baseman. But one day in June, of that season, for reason still debated to this day, Wally Pipp was taken out of the Yankees line-up.
A man who was called on to fill in for Wally Pipp that day was a young, relative unknown player at the time named Lou Gehrig. Unfortunately for Wally Pipp, Lou Gehrig went on to play every single game for the Yankees for the next 14 years. He never missed one game.
The Caesar salad was supposedly invented by accident when the chef at Cardini‘s Restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, ran out of what he was supposed to cook.
Harrison Ford, the actor, only ended up becoming Indiana Jones because one of the actors they wanted for the role, Nick Nolte, read the script but then turned it down.
These things happened, in sports, in arts, in food, in life, the understudy, the replacement unexpectedly walk into the limelight.
There‘s also an understudy factor in the story of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the worst environmental catastrophe in a generation. The oil rig that started the drilling at the BP‘s ill-fated well in the Gulf of Mexico was not the Deepwater Horizon. The first rig that started drilling that well ended up running into trouble about a month into the job. It had to be moved away for repairs and only then was BP forced to bring in a replacement.
The replacement rig they brought in was the Deepwater Horizon. The Deepwater Horizon drilled for about two months before it catastrophically blew up, killing 11 people and starting 86 days of disastrous oil flow into the fragile waters of the American Gulf Coast.
The Deepwater Horizon was a replacement rig. The rig that was originally slated to be there, the rig that was supposed to be the one drilling that Macondo well was called the Transocean Marianas.
Whatever became of the Transocean Marianas? Right now, it is sinking off the coast of Africa.
The Transocean Marianas rig was preparing to move from its location off the coast of Ghana when the crew onboard discovered it was taking on water at an alarming rate, 108 workers onboard were evacuated immediately. Just a skeleton crew was left behind to try to save the enormous rig.
Transocean officials say tonight that the Marianas rig has been stabilized and they‘re working on towing it to a location where they can inspect the damage.
After the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico last year, “The New York Times” obtained internal Transocean documents about safety concerns inside the company.
One of the things they found was that on this particular rig, 61 percent of the workers on board the Marianas expressed fears of reprisals if they reported problems with the rig -- 61 percent. It is not clear yet if any of the crew of the Transocean Marianas noticed anything wrong in the days and weeks leading up to this current accident.
But consider the sequence here. The Marianas right starts drilling BP‘s well in the Gulf. It then has to stop because of mechanical problems. It‘s then replaced by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which explodes fatally.
And now, the Marianas rig, back in action, nearly sinks in the Atlantic Ocean.
These are just two rigs out of the dozens that regularly drill off of U.S. waters. It is in that context that House Republicans have just proposed gutting the annual budget of the government agency responsible for overseeing these rigs. Seriously.
House Republicans have just received the annual budget for the Interior Department and that budget slashes by 32 percent the agency that regulates offshore drilling.
In addition to taking an ax to drilling oversight, House Republicans are also rejecting a White House proposal to have the companies that run the rigs and platforms pay $65 million toward the cost of inspecting them. The idea here was to have the oil industry, the most profitable legal industry on earth, pay for these inspections rather than the rather broke U.S. taxpayers paying for them. House Republicans said no. They said the oil industry should not pay, we should.
For perspective, this rig that was just sinking off the coast of Africa, when it‘s running it makes $450,000 per day for Transocean when it‘s running, when it‘s not sinking in the ocean, when it doesn‘t run into the same fate as the rig that was its understudy in the Gulf of Mexico.
MADDOW: OK. “Best New Thing in the World Today” comes to us from the police blotter in Strongsville, Ohio.
Quote, “A bizarre assault call confirmed two things. Bananas do not like gorillas or the Verizon Wireless network. Just before 3:00 p.m., June 29th, officers arrived at The Wireless Center at 14150 Pearl Road, because the business‘s advertising mascot, a gorilla, was attacked by a banana. Store management told police that an individual dressed as a banana tackled the business‘s mascot. Banana-wearing perpetrator then fled on foot southbound on Pearl Road with four males. According to the store manager, the gorilla was not injured, just embarrassed. Police were unable to locate the banana.”
In other words—stay with me, now—the banana split!
MADDOW: When we went looking to see if we could find anything at all about this story, we discovered a whole world out there of people with banana and gorilla costumes giving each other the business.
In this video, banana and gorilla, both singular, appear to be getting along just fine, at least initially. Same with the gorilla and multiple bananas marching on here, more or less.
But things do always seem to end up getting calamitous, things start getting heated here when a gorilla on a skateboard chases a banana on a bicycle through a supermarket parking lot.
And in this cafeteria altercation, it is safe to say the gorilla wins.
No idea if the Strongsville police blotter incident is related to the banana versus gorilla phenomenon we accidentally just discovered online. But regardless, banana versus gorilla—I didn‘t know—“The Best New Thing in the World.”
That does it for us tonight. Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.” Have a great night.
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