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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Mike Isikoff, Sam Stein


THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel. And congratulations on your book -- I`m
hearing great news, number one "New York Times" best seller.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Ed. We just heard, it`s the second
week at number one, which just blows my mind. It`s really nice of you to
say. Thanks, man.

SCHULTZ: Congratulations. You bet.

MADDOW: Thanks a lot.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

This is one of those days where there`s simultaneously a lot going on
in the news of politics, but there`s also a lot going on in the news about
just news. Now, we have not covered the twists and turns of the Trayvon
Martin shooting case in Sanford, Florida, as closely as have many of the
other shows on this network.

But today is the day when whether or not you have been following this
story closely, today is the day that this story became without a doubt,
inarguably the most important thing you need to be up on in order to
understand what`s going on in our country right now. Today is the day when
the central fact of this story, the fact that made it a cause of national
outrage, changed.

A young unarmed man, a teenager, being shot and killed, will always
be the cause of grief and of outrage. But what has made the Trayvon Martin
case a cause for national outrage is that the shooting and killing of an
unarmed teenager was not being treated by local authorities as a crime. A
teenager was killed. There was an admitted and identified shooter, but the
shooter was let go and the shooting was not being treated as a crime.

That has been the central fact making this one crime in Florida, this
one apparent crime, this one shooting in Florida, a national cause. And
that central fact at the center of that case changed today. And it never
would have changed if it were not for the outrage, the tang, the protests,
the emotion that has surrounded this case.

And so whether or not -- again, you have been paying attention to
this story every day -- today is the day to really understand it.

On Sunday, February 26th, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford,
Florida, a man named George Zimmerman called local police. He said there
had been recent break-ins in the area. He asked police to respond to a
person he had seen who he said was a suspicious-looking person.

He described this suspicious person as a black male, probably in his
late teens, wearing a dark hoodie. The man who the 911 caller was so
suspicious of was, in fact, a young black man. He was a very young man.
He was 17 years old.

He was not armed and it turned out he had every reason to be exactly
where he was. His father`s girlfriend had a home in that gated community
and young Trayvon Martin was walking back to that home from a convenience
store with a bag of candy and an iced tea and nothing else suspicious on
his person.

What happened next is key. What is not in dispute is that George
Zimmerman, that neighborhood watch volunteer, shot and killed Trayvon
Martin shortly after his phone call to 911.

Mr. Zimmerman told police that after confronting the teenager, he had
turned around and was walking back to his vehicle when Trayvon Martin, he
says, approached him from behind. Mr. Zimmerman told police the two of
them exchanged words and that Trayvon Martin punched him to the ground and
started beating him up. Mr. Zimmerman told police that he then shot
Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

Again, that is George Zimmerman`s account of what happened.
Obviously, there is no account from Trayvon Martin, because he did not
survive this confrontation.

The Sanford, Florida, police did respond to the scene. They did not
arrest George Zimmerman. But they did take him to the police station,
where they interviewed him before releasing him.

The police investigated the case. Mr. Zimmerman admitted to the
shooting. Sanford police elected not to formally arrest and pursue charges
against him. They elected to treat this shooting as not a crime.

The Sanford police chief said publicly that there was no probable
cause to arrest Mr. Zimmerman. Quote, "Zimmerman provided a statement
claiming he acted in self-defense, which at the time was supported by
physical evidence and testimony. By Florida statute, law enforcement was
prohibited from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they
had at the time." That was the statement from the police chief,
specifically citing the statute number for Florida`s so-called "Stand Your
Ground" gun law.

The "Stand Your Ground" law, which was passed in Florida in 2005,
allows people who feel threatened to use deadly force, even if they don`t
first try to retreat from a confrontation. So, if you feel scared and you
have a choice of running away or of killing the person you are scared of,
go ahead and kill `em.

George Zimmerman told police that he felt threatened, that he was
acting in self-defense when he shot Trayvon Martin. And that`s the key
point why this is a national story, why it is such a flash point, why it
has been upsetting to so many people. Not just that the shooting happened,
but the shooting happened and the person who admits to being the shooter in
this case went free.

The fact that this shooting was not treated as a crime in the state
of Florida, that is the aspect of this case that galvanized the protests,
which started locally but that quickly went national. Why did George
Zimmerman say he felt threatened by a kid he followed who was just walking
down the street, minding his own business?

In not charging George Zimmerman, were the local police complicit in
an idea that a young African-American man walking down the street is an
implicitly threatening thing? Were they implicitly condoning the idea that
violence against any young black man is, therefore, always understandable -
- it`s always excusable?

As the protests swelled, the police chief of Sanford, Florida,
announced that he was temporarily stepping down from his post. Also, the
prosecutor who handles cases in Sanford recused himself from the case. He
had decided that a grand jury should look into whether or not there should
be charges in this case, but he recused himself before that could happen.

After that recusal, a special prosecutor was appointed to look into
the case, because the first prosecutor was recused. This special
prosecutor announced earlier this week that she`d decided she would not put
the question of whether or not there should be charges in this case to a
grand jury. She would not be having a grand jury decide that. Instead,
she would decide it herself.

And today, this case blew wide open when we got her decision.


ANGELA COREY, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Today, we filed an information
charging George Zimmerman with murder in the second degree. I will confirm
that Mr. Zimmerman is, indeed, in custody.

REPORTER: Can you tell us where?

COREY: I will not tell you where. That`s for his safety as well as
everyone else`s safety.

He will be taken, when it`s appropriate, for the appropriate
appearance in front of a judge.


MADDOW: That was Florida state`s attorney Angela Corey, announcing
today that she has filed second-degree murder charges against George
Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting. This is the first time that
charges have been brought in this case or that anybody has been taken into
custody in this case. This is the point that all of the protests were
leading up to.

As the special prosecutor in the case, Ms. Corey`s investigation
could have resulted in anything from no charges at all to misdemeanor or
felony battery to second-degree murder. She could not have brought first-
degree murder charges in this case without a grand jury. Ms. Corey said
today that she had, in fact, tried to prepare Trayvon Martin`s parents for
the possibility that she would not be able to bring any charges in the


COREY: We did not promise them anything. In fact, we specifically
talked about if criminal charges do not come out of this, what can we help
you do to make sure your son`s death is not in vain?


MADDOW: In announcing second-degree murder charges against George
Zimmerman today, Ms. Corey was also specifically asked by reporters about
how the state`s "Stand Your Ground" law might affect the prosecution in
this case.


COREY: If "Stand Your Ground" becomes an issue, we fight it, if we
believe it`s the right thing to do. So if it becomes an issue in this
case, we will fight that affirmative defense. My prosecutors and a lot of
them are here, and I`m so proud of them. They have worked tirelessly,
running this office while we`ve been working on this case. They fight
these "Stand Your Ground" motions. Mr. Moody (ph) just finished a four-day
full "Stand Your Ground" motion on another case.

We fight hard. Some of them we`ve won and we`ve had to appeal them
or the offense has appealed and we`ve won it on appeal. Some we`ve fought
hard and the judge ruled against us.

That`s happened to prosecutors all over the state. It is the law of
the state of Florida and it will be applied.


MADDOW: So on the day that this case of such grave national concern
blew wide open, questions remain. Including about what happens next in
this case, and about whether Florida`s "Stand Your Ground" law will keep
implicitly circumscribing the range of justice available to those seeking
justice in the case, and whether or not the "Stand Your Ground" law will
change or the politics of those types of laws will change, because of all
the national attention and upset on this case.

Joining us now is NBC News national investigative correspondent,
Michael Isikoff.

Michael, thank you very much for being here. Appreciate your time

to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Mike, what happens next in this case? Just in terms of the
expected]y procedures, we know that George Zimmermann is already in
custody. What is the next step for him?

ISIKOFF: There`ll be an initial court appearance tomorrow, where he
will be advised of his rights, and advised of the charges against him. His
lawyer will almost certainly seek bond or a bond hearing. But what`s
interesting about what would happen today, the charges, the second-degree
murder charge, that`s not a bondable offense in Seminole County. So he
would not normally have an opportunity to post bond tomorrow.

The -- his lawyer will have to seek a bond hearing and my
understanding is then he`ll have 21 days, the prosecutors will have 21 days
to have that bond hearing, and that would be the first time that we might
get any further information about the nature of the evidence. It may not
be much, because the issues there are risk of flight, danger to the

But right now, we got very little -- we`ve got no information about
what underlay -- what the evidence is in this case, what led Angela Corey
to choose second-degree murder, and that will be the first opportunity --
the bond hearing may be the first opportunity where the prosecutors have to
speak and tell us a bit more than they told us today.

MADDOW: So, legally, in terms of understanding what changed between
the initial decision not to bring charges in this case and the decision
today, we still don`t have any further detail about a different
interpretation of the "Stand Your Ground" idea, whether or not there is
further evidence that has come to the light that would affect even the same
legal analysis that determined there shouldn`t be charges in this case in
the first place.

You`re saying that we sort of have to wait until tomorrow to see if
this was just a different type of prosecutorial discretion or whether
something new has come to light?

ISIKOFF: Exactly. And I`m not sure we`re going to learn anything
much more tomorrow. I mean, I`ve got to tell you, Rachel, that a lot of
lawyers w ho were following this case, whom I`ve talked to today, were
surprised by this decision. I think most people expected that there would
be charges brought against George Zimmerman, but I don`t think many
expected it was going to be second-degree murder.

And you`re right, what changed from the state of the evidence, which
was pretty murky as it was initially laid out in that police report and
today, we don`t know. We know Zimmerman claimed self-defense. We know the
initial police report did say he had a bloody nose and blood on the back of
his head. We don`t know of any clear eyewitnesses who saw in real time
what happened. It was dark. It was a rainy night.

Yet, clearly, Angela Corey found evidence to contradict the initial
decision. What that was, we don`t know.

MADDOW: Michael, one last question for you. We learned today that
with Florida`s open government laws, there`s a real possibility that the
trial here, the ultimate trial could be televised.

Do we know further about whether or not there is any discretion about
that? Obviously, that would have big implications in terms of the
continued political and real emotional attention to this case, nationwide.

ISIKOFF: Well, Florida and trials do tend to get televised.
Remember Casey Anthony. But I think the amount of tension on this case is
enormous. It`s got great political implications. "Stand Your Ground" laws
around the country -- I think, the decision today just as the initial
decision not to charge George Zimmerman inflamed a lot of people, got a lot
of people angry.

I think this decision of second-degree murder is going to inflame a
lot of people on the other side. We have the National Rifle Association,
which gave us "Stand Your Ground", having its national convention in St.
Louis this week. Mitt Romney is scheduled to speak on Friday.

I think the combination here is only going to escalate and make this
a much bigger political issue than any of us expected a couple of weeks

MADDOW: I think you`re right. You think we`ve been transfixed by it
thus far, I think that is set to increase now.

Michael Isikoff, NBC News national investigative correspondent --
Michael, thank you very much for your time tonight.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right, supposedly, supposedly there are about 2,000
members of the Communist Party USA. It turns out that a huge proportion of
that membership is made up of members of Congress. It`s true. I heard
that somewhere. That`s next.


MADDOW: Fifteen days before the 2008 presidential election, with
just two weeks to go until election day in `08, the McCain/Palin campaign,
at that point, behind in the polls, unveiled a new line of attack against
Barack Obama.


a small business or from a small business owner or from a hard-working
family and then redistributing that money according to a politician`s
priorities, there are hints of socialism in there.


MADDOW: "Hints of socialism in there." Hints of socialism. If you
remember the end of the 2008 presidential campaign at all, you may remember
that sometimes sort of rabid crowds at the McCain/Palin rallies, yelling
all sorts of stuff about Barack Obama. That he was a terrorist. Or that
he was a Muslim!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m mad! I`m really mad! And what`s going to
surprise you, it`s not the economy. It`s a socialist taking over our

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Who is the real Barack Obama!


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do not believe in -- I can`t trust Obama.

MCCAIN: I got --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have read about him, and he`s not -- he`s not -
- he`s an Arab.


MADDOW: An Arab. That sort of thing was starting to happen at
McCain/Palin rallies, kind of a lot in the end days of that campaign.

But two weeks before Election Day, it wasn`t just the voices in the
crowd, it was the Republican Party`s vice presidential nominee, in public,
on camera, calling Barack Obama a socialist hinter, right?

At the time this was happening, we theorized on this show about what
exactly was going on on the Republican side of politics. And in an act of
characteristic liberal hubris, we christened a sort of new law of political


MADDOW: I hereby submit that the longer it`s clear that liberals or
Democrats are going to win an election, the longer it`s clear that liberals
or Democrats are winning an argument, the more likely it becomes that
someone is going to get called a commie, socialist, Bolshevik, commie
pinko, comrade, five-year planner!


MADDOW: Ever since that night in October 2008, that rule has kind of
held. I mean, any time liberals or Democrats are on the win siding of an
argument, it is only a matter of time before somebody gets called a commie.

Las March, during the height of the Scott Walker union-busting thing
up in Wisconsin, most of the public polling showed that the people were --
in policy terms, with the Democrats on that issue. They were with keeping
union rights and not getting rid of them.

And so right on cue --


SAM WURZELBACHER, "JOE THE PLUMBER": Yesterday I saw signs, "Unions
for America." So I walked up to them and I said, what America do you want
to be for? Do you want to be for the socialist America? The socialists
have kind of come into Madison and --

CROWD: Oh, yes!

WURZELBACHER: It`s a fact that we have card-carrying socialists and
card-carrying communists in Madison, around the state --


MADDOW: Card-carrying communists!

I`m telling you, this new law of political science, it holds. And so
it was, today down in Florida, that video surfaced of this particular
communist manifesto making its return to American politics today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What percentage of the American legislature do
you think are card-carrying Marxists or international socialists?

REP. ALLEN WEST (D), FLORIDA: No, it`s a good question. I believe
there`s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members of
the communist party.


MADDOW: Ahhh! Gasps from the crowd.

I want a special shout-out to our subtitler for the restraint in not
actually writing down, "gasps."

All right. That was Republican Congressman Allen West of Florida
being very, very specific about exactly how many communists there are in
the United States Congress. As you heard him say there, "I believe there`s
about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members of the
communist party." That`s how he put it.

Congressman West wasn`t just talking about any old 78 to 81 members
of the Democrat Party, he was talking about a very specific group of them.
His spokesperson put out a statement after that, not to apologize for it or
to walk it back, but rather to tell everybody exactly who Congressman West
was talking about.

Quote, "The congressman was referring to the 76 members of the
Congressional Progressive Caucus. The communist party has publicly
referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies."

So, Allen West doesn`t have a secret scrawled out list of 76
Democrats in Congress who are commies. It is specifically the
Congressional Progressive Caucus.

This right here is the Congressional Progressive Caucus Web site.
What kind of things do these guys do? These accused communists?

Well, the thing that the Congressional Progressive Caucus is in the
news for these days is the thing you see front and center right there on
their Web site right now, CPC, Congressional Progressive Caucus, announces

Right around the time that the House Republican Paul Ryan budget came
out, the Congressional Progressive Caucus came out with its own budget.
And while the Paul Ryan budget, the House Republican budget, which
essentially mirrors the really, really unpopular Ryan budget from last year
-- while the Ryan budget, the House Republican budget is generally seen as
more of a liability than an asset for Republicans running for higher office
this year, because a lot of its ideas are particularly unpopular,
particularly those around Medicare, the Progressive Caucus budget is made
up of policies that poll really, really well -- that are very popular when
you go out and ask real-life humans about them.

The progressive budget, for example, calls for ending the Bush tax
cuts for the wealthiest Americans. It calls for letting those tax cuts
expire at the end of the year. That idea is wildly popular when you ask
Americans about it -- 68 percent of Americans say they are for letting the
Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire. Only 29 percent of
Americans say they are opposed to that.

The progressive budget also calls for ending taxpayer subsidies for
the oil and gas companies. Again, a whopping majority of Americans say yes
to that, 74 percent. That`s a great idea! Let`s do it -- 74 percent say

In order to deal with our giant deficit, the progressive budget calls
for a temporary surcharge on net worth over $10 million. That sort of idea
is more popular than a cold drink on a hot day. The proportion of
Americans who say they would be in favor of that policy, 81 percent.

But the whopping majority of Americans who actually like that idea,
that 81 percent actually wants to go even further than what the progressive
caucus says. They want to see a surtax not on income over $10 million,
they want to see a surtax on income over $1 million.

So the American public wildly more progressive than even the
Congressional Progressive Caucus on that issue. The progressive budget
also calls for something that President Obama has been out campaigning for
over the last few days, the adoption of the so-called Buffett Rule. You`ve
heard about this, right? Closing the loophole that allows the superrich in
this country to pay essentially a mini-tax rate, if they make their
zillions through things like finance and private equity. It`s a special
mini-tax rate just for people who work in finance.

When you ask Americans about that, 65 percent say they support the
idea of the Buffett Rule -- a huge majority supports the Buffett Rule. And
that`s the Progressive Caucus budget. All of these ideas that enjoy really
incredible, almost unfathomably high support among the American people when
you ask them about these ideas.

And so, therefore, right on cue --


WEST: I believe there`s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat party
that are members of the communist party. They actually don`t hide. It`s
called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


MADDOW: Commies, pinkies, comrades, five-year planners -- you appear
to winning this argument, communists!

The principle at work here is that the longer it is clear that
liberals or Democrats are going to win an argument, the more likely it is
somebody is going to get called a communist.

For their part, the actual communists, the actual Communist Party USA
came out today and responded to Congressman Allen West. One of the vice
chairs of the Communist Party USA telling NBC News today, quote, "We think
it`s ridiculous. There are no members of congress in the communist party.
That`s just not true. We support public parks and I assume Congressman
West does too. That doesn`t mean he`s a communist."

But Allen West, in probably the least-shocking development in this
entire story, is not backing down. Congressman West writing on his
Facebook page tonight, quote, "You can call them socialists, Marxists,
communist or whatever you want. If you are skeptical, just start watching
House special order speeches on CSPAN regularly."

So, Allen West is directing folks to watch CSPAN in order to spot the
rampant communism in the United States Congress! And CSPAN, if you think
about it, is kind of a collectivist venture, kind of nonprofit-ish, set up
and designed to benefit everybody in society. It`s kind of a little pink

Oh, my God, I think that Allen West might be -- oh my --


MADDOW: Still ahead, we have been covering weird and sometimes sort
of unbelievable political news out of Michigan for a while now. I will
admit, it`s becoming a little bit of a pet obsession of mine.

But even in my most obsessive moments about Michigan, I never thought
I would be lucky enough that the issue of font size would become the most
important thing in a state`s politics. Font size? Yes. That`s coming up.


MADDOW: OK. This is not going well. This is not going well.

Here`s the initial problem that they have been trying to solve. This
is the support for Barack Obama among women compared to support for Mitt
Romney among women. That is a really big divide. That`s really bad for
the Republicans.

Now, this was the gender divide if the last presidential election,
which, of course, the Republicans lost and lost badly. Can we put up the -
- actually, those `08 numbers side by side with the current Romney numbers,
to see what the new problem is here, just so you can see it in context.
Right. OK, see?

Mitt Romney is not just in bad shape with women voters, he is in even
worse shape with women voters than the last Republicans were, and the last
Republicans lost the election really badly. The problem with women voters
is the problem the Republicans have been trying to fix. And here was how
they tried to fix it first.


REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: If the Democrats said we had a war on
caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that
the Democrats had a war on caterpillars, we`d have a problem with
caterpillars. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is it`s a fiction.


MADDOW: The chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, trying
to fix the war on women idea by saying the war on women, that`s the same as
a war on caterpillars.

And of course, it`s always hilarious to compare women to

But as an analogy, it did miss the key point that people would only
say that Republicans were waging a war on caterpillars if Republicans had
spent the last year or so pursuing legislation all over the country
blocking caterpillar`s access to moth reception, repealing equal pay laws
for caterpillars, focusing on some caterpillar version of abortion rights
to the exclusion of all other priorities -- even though they said they were
going to focus on caterpillar jobs, jobs, jobs. That part was missing from
the analogy.

So, that was sort of strike one, the war on caterpillars thing.

Then the spokesman for the Republican Party took another swing at it.
He decided that rather than taking issue with the word "women," rather than
taking issue with word "three" in the phrase "war on women," he would take
issue with word one.

He said it was outrageous to use the word "war" in this context. He
said it was borderline unpatriotic to use the word war in this context.
That turned out to also be a problem, because he is the spokesman for the
Republican Party, and now has been accused President Obama of waging war on
everything from religion to coal.

So, suddenly you`re offended by the use of the word "war" as a
political metaphor, huh? Yes, strike two.

Then, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, took his own
swing at it on a Kentucky radio show.


manufactured issue. There is no issue. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and
Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe from
Maine, I think, would be the first to say -- and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska
-- we don`t see any evidence of this.


MADDOW: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska would say you don`t see any
evidence of this. The problem for Senator McConnell here is that the
Republican women he says agree with him on this issue do not agree with him
on this issue.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: This is not only discussion in
congress, but you`ve got presidential wannabes that are talking about
whether or not contraception is good, bad, indifferent, wrong. Women
feeling that the party that I have chosen to affiliate myself, the
Republican Party, is ignoring their concerns, is causing them to feel like
the rights that they believe were settled a long time ago are now being
threatened, possibly eroded.

It makes no sense to go down this road. It makes no sense to attack

And if you don`t view this as an attack on women, then you need the
to go home and you need to talk to your wives. You need to go talk to your
daughters. Ask them if they feel that this is an attack.


MADDOW: Yes, so saying that Senator Lisa Murkowski, who you just
heard talking there, saying that she has debunked this idea that
Republicans are attacking women`s rights, saying that about her, that was
strike three.

And strike three would usually mean your out, but it turns out
they`re still up there swinging away. And they have to. And today, the
people who Republicans have to be hoping are best at this stepped up to the
plate to swing at it themselves.

The Romney campaign itself took a swing at this today, organizing a
conference call on women`s issues. Now, specifically, they called this
conference call to try to apply their one big political trick to this war
on women problem that the Republicans know they`ve got.

Their one political trick that they use for everything is the "I`m
rubber, you`re glue" trick. So, like, Mitt Romney has a political
liability in that he has signed on to the house Republican Paul Ryan budget
to kill Medicare. So he accuses President Obama of wanting to kill

Mr. Romney told a reporter that he`s going to keep secret his plans
for which government departments he wants to eliminate entirely. He says
he`s going to keep those plans secret until after he is elected. And then
he immediately gives a speech accusing President Obama of having plans that
he is keeping secret until after the election.

It`s "I`m rubber, you`re glue." Whatever I`m being accused of, I`m
going to say is your problem, then hopefully nobody will be able to tell
that I`m really the guy who`s in trouble on this.

Mr. Romney, for example, has two post-graduate degrees from Harvard
University. So he`s now accusing President Obama of, of course --


think is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps.


MADDOW: Says the guy with two Harvard degrees! Amazing.

It`s "I`m rubber, you`re glue." This is kind of their only trick.
They do this on everything.

And so, naturally, the Romney campaign today decided to say that it
is President Obama who has a war on women problem. They convened a
conference call today. They called the -- they asked the press to be
there. They started it.

They convened a conference call today to try this "I`m rubber, you`re
glue" trick on their big war on women problem.

And they totally blew it. It was strike four. It was worse than the
war on caterpillars. Did you hear how they screwed this up today? Did

That`s next.


MADDOW: OK. Here`s the scene. The Mitt Romney campaign, the day
after Rick Santorum drops out, clears the way for him. So basically it is
day one of the general election, and the Mitt Romney campaign gets to work
on their biggest electoral problem, which is that Mitt Romney is about as
popular with women voters as freezer burn and seeing the check engine light
come on.

The Romney campaign convenes a conference call on women`s issues
about how great a Mitt Romney presidency would be for American women,
compared to how horrible Barack Obama has been for American women. They
convene this call and then this happens.


OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Sam Stein with
"Huffington Post." Please go ahead.

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Yes, does Governor Romney support the
Lilly Ledbetter Act?

ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Sam, we`ll get back to you on that.


MADDOW: "We`ll get back you on that"? They don`t have an answer for

That was the first piece of legislation that Barack Obama signed as
president, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He brags about it all the
time, right? It gives women access to the courts to sue if they are paid
less than men for doing the same work.

The Romney campaign holds a press event about policy effecting women
and they have not thought of an answer on that one?

Eventually the campaign did figure out something to say on this
issue. They said that Mr. Romney would not repeal that law if he becomes
president. They didn`t say if he actually supports it, though, or if he
would have signed that law if it had come to his desk.

And that is a touchy subject, after all. Republicans overwhelmingly
voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Bill when it was in Congress.
And this whole thing became an even touchier subject today when the Romney
campaign tried to damage control this thing this afternoon by rolling out
two Republican members of Congress to stand up for Mr. Romney, to back up
Mitt Romney`s bona fides on supporting women getting equal pay for their

The problem is that both of those members of Congress that the Romney
campaign rolled out today voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Bill
for equal pay for equal work, when it really did come up before them, when
they really were in Congress.

Eventually the Romney campaign presumably will figure out how to get
this issue right. But for day one of the general election campaign, this
was a really, really bad start.

Joining us now is Sam Stein, political editor and reporter for the
"Huffington Post," who had an unexpectedly starring role in the Romney
campaign`s face plant today.

Sam, thanks for being with us.

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Thank you for the dramatic buildup,

MADDOW: Did you -- it didn`t sound like a gotcha question, was it?


MADDOW: Is there anything about the context that should have -- that
would explain why that was such a hard question for them to answer?

STEIN: Not that I know of. I didn`t think of it as a sort of great
reportorial feat on my part. I just really wanted to know how they felt
about this legislation.

The former governor had actually taken a position on the Lilly
Ledbetter Act when it was being debated and when it was passed. And I
figured, well, if he endorses the act, then he`s explicitly acknowledging
that President Obama has done something for women positive. And if he
opposes the act, then he`s got further questions to answer. And so, that`s
why I posed the question.

MADDOW: When the campaign ultimately did answer it, what they said
is that he wouldn`t repeal it and that he supports the basic concept of
equal pay for equal work. Given the way they talked about women`s issues
today, given the overall context of how the campaign is treating this issue
right now, I feel like I can`t -- I don`t know if that means that Mitt
Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Act, if he would have signed it as
president if he disagrees with the majority of Republican members of
Congress who voted against it, including the people he put out to vouch for
him on the subject today.

Do you feel like you understand what his position is on this though?

STEIN: No. And I think part of it is because he wants to take a
position that`s very vague. And, you know, like I said before, if he said
he would have signed that law as president, then he`s explicitly stating
that President Obama did something productive for women. So, that`s a
tough bind, because he`s in this moment in his campaign where he has to
argue that it`s President Obama who`s been bad for women.

But by saying that he doesn`t want to repeal the law, he`s also not
giving himself some wiggle room as well.

So trotting out two women surrogates who voted against the law is
probably not the best way to do it. And I should add that as soon as he
did say he wouldn`t repeal the law, he did take a little bit of incoming
fire from conservatives, who think of this as a great gift to trial
lawyers. And so, you know, this sort of underscoring the very difficult
pivot that Mitt Romney would have. We just didn`t expect it to happen on
day one.

MADDOW: In terms of that last point you made there, about
conservatives being upset with the vagueness of Mr. Romney`s position from
the right, as if the Lilly Ledbetter Act is some sort of scandal -- I mean,
there is this broader question of whether or not conservatives and
Republicans think they have an issue with -- or understand why it is that
they have an issue with women voters. The idea that they`re against equal
pay for equal work hasn`t actually been seen as part of the reason why
they`ve got a problem with women voters.

Is that now going to become an issue? Are they going to come out
strongly now against Ledbetter and pressure Romney on this?

STEIN: I mean, if they -- I don`t think so, because it seems to
illogical for them to do something like that, especially when all the
polling data is really not in their favor. What the Romney campaign has
tried to do this past week is turn the discussion away from issues like
equal pay, contraception, abortion, and more towards the economic issues.
So prior to my question on the conference call, they started talking about
all the economic policies that this president has pursued that have been
bad for them.

But when pressed on that, they had trouble with that as well. I
mean, the two things that they cited were the stimulus and Dodd/Frank,
which is regulatory reform. None of which are explicitly about women or
men, they`re just about economic reforms.

So they`re really grasping for legislative straws here, but I don`t
think that they`ll go back to the Lilly Ledbetter Act. They just don`t see
how that would make political sense.

MADDOW: That said, now the follow-up question for Mitt Romney is, as
his allies like Republican Governor Scott Walker, repeal the state-level
versions of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, when they repeal that at the state
level, does Mr. Romney agree with those decisions? This is going to be fun
to keep following.

Sam Stein, political editor and reporter for the "Huffington Post" --
Sam, thanks a lot for being here. I appreciate it.

STEIN: Thanks, Rachel. Appreciate it.

MADDOW: Thanks.

All right. Our next story is the totally unexpected emergence of
font size -- font size as a point of major political conflict. This is
such a weird with story. It`s coming up next.


MADDOW: The great state of Michigan is minting news these days.
This week, for instance, there`s a new drive to recall the state`s
Republican governor, Rick Snyder. The language on the petition got
approved on Monday so people can now start signing those petitions if they
want Governor Snyder recalled from office.

This is try number two against Governor Rick Snyder, putting
officials in Michigan up for recall is really kind of a hard thing to do.
It`s a very high threshold you got to cross.

Also this week, Governor Snyder is getting ready to appoint yet
another emergency manager. This time to bypass the officials elected
locally and instead just unilaterally take over a school board in Muskegon
Heights, which is right there on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

So, now the state will takeover and appoint an single, unelected,
overseer with the power to do just about anything -- from cancelling union
contracts, to cancelling any other kind of contract, to stripping power
from the elected school board, to maybe dissolving the whole district if he
or she wants to. They got to do whatever they want, because this is how
Michigan rolls now.

In Michigan now, democracy is not a way we solve problems. Democracy
is a problem itself that has to be got around.

The Republicans are in full control of the state of Michigan since
the 2010 elections and their expanded emergency manager law is not about
democracy, not at all.

But do you want to see something in Michigan that is about democracy?
These boxes contain a couple of a hundred thousand signatures that were
gathered to try to overturn that radical emergency manager law. Just as
some people are trying to put Governor Rick Snyder on the recall, even
though that is really hard to do in Michigan, organizers are also trying to
put the emergency manager law on the ballot on November as well. They want
to put it up for a citizens repeal.

On the last day of February, they caravanned to the state capital to
Lansing and they delivered 50 boxes of signed petitions to the board of
state canvassers. The petitions included roughly 60,000 more signatures
than they need to get this thing on the ballot. The board of state
canvassers has been counting and verifying the signatures ever since and it
looks now like the canvassers are close to finishing up.

Now, here`s the really interesting part. In Michigan, you are
allowed to try to block a petition drive. You can make a formal legal
challenge saying that the petition itself is flawed somehow and so whatever
that petition wants done shouldn`t be allowed to go forward.

This board of state canvassers is the board that makes decisions on
challenges like that. They set a deadline for challenging this petition
again the emergency manager law. A deadline of this past Monday, April 9th
at 5:00 p.m.

And get this, at 4:08 p.m., with 52 minutes to go before the
deadline, a challenge to that petition against the emergency manager law
indeed came in. A group calling itself Citizens for fiscal responsibility
filed this brief against the petition, against the emergency manager law.
They say no matter how many names are on that petition, the emergency
manager law can not be put on the ballot for a recall. And why do they say
that is? What is the problem with the petition that they put at the top of
their list?

Quote, "The font size of the heading is significantly smaller than is
required by Michigan election law." Seriously? Really?

Seriously, really. The font size of the heading is too small.

As someone commented on our blog this week, if they really are
citizens for fiscal responsibility, you might think they`d like a smaller
font because they would save money on ink and paper.

For the record, the people who circulated the petition told us that
they stand by their work. They say that the folks who printed the petition
have assured them that the font is the right legal size. But not according
to this group`s Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.

Their spokesman, Bob LaBrant told reporters, quote, "They`ve gone
through all of the time and expense only to blow it with the wrong font

See, you better not take this democracy thing too far. It takes lots
of times and it`s got lots of rules and you might blow it.

Continuing from the "Detroit News," Mr. LaBrant is senior counsel at
a The Sterling Corporation, a Lansing-based firm that works on Republican-
based causes.

And, in fact, if you look at Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility`s
filing papers with the state, you`ll see that the address is the exact same
thing are the exact same address and phone number as the Sterling
Corporation, this Republican political consulting firm.

According to its own filings with the state, Citizens for Fiscal
Responsibility lives inside this Republican firm -- same street address,
same suite, you call the citizens number and they answer the phone,
Sterling Corporation. It`s the same thing, right?

I don`t know how big the Sterling Corporation is exactly. On their
Web site, they list seven people, including their counsel people, the one
who is fussing about the font size, the one who says the board of state
canvassers should throw out this entire petition drive to recall the
emergency law.

Above his name, Sterling lists three partners in the firm. One of
them, Jeff Timmer, happens to be the former executive director of the
Michigan Republican Party. And, hey, look what else is in his bio. Look
at this. His name is Jeff Timmer and he also serves on the Michigan Board
of State Canvassers -- that same board that`s now going to be deciding
whether the font is too small to overturn the emergency manager law, which
his colleague is asking for.

So this guy is like the pitcher and he`s also the umpire at the same
time. You`ve got Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility challenging the
positions from inside a Republican consulting firm and getting represented
by the senior counsel for that Republican firm while one of the firm`s
partners serves on the board that is going to impartially decide whether
Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility gets to stop this act of democracy in
Michigan because the font on the petition is a hair too small.

On it is Website, Sterling Corporation talks itself up this way. It
says, quote, "Sterling blends aggressive campaign-oriented tactics, unique
understanding of voter attitudes, and influential decisions, political
leaders, donor and opinion leaders to produce big victories." Big

We have called and written to Jeff Timmer who, of course, is a both a
Republican strategist and government decision maker now. We have asked him
about the apparent conflict in this case between these two roles. We have
asked him whether he will recuse himself in this decision. We have not
heard back from him yet.

The Republican Michigan secretary of state says it is Mr. Timmer`s
call alone as to whether he does have a conflict of interest here. He gets
to decide.

Earlier this week, I said that the news in Michigan keeps getting
more interesting and more fraught all the time. I did not expect to be
reporting on Michigan so soon with a new story this confounding about
Michigan politics.

But I have to ask and I will keep asking, what`s going on in
Michigan? And why is it what`s going on in Michigan bigger national news,
given what a freaking mess it seems to be?

That does for us tonight. Now it`s time for THE LAST WORD with
Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a great night.


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