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updated 3/3/2010 10:25:26 AM ET 2010-03-03T15:25:26

Guest: Chris Hayes, Michael Bennet, Michael Hastings

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thanks very much.

And thanks to you at home for joining us after a day of crazy Jim

Bunning drama in the United States Senate, White House preparations for the

beginning of the end-game in health reform tomorrow, a titanic pile of

money dropped on the more liberal candidate in the race for Senator Blanche

Lincoln‘s Arkansas Senate seat.

We will get to all that over the course of this next hour.

Plus, and there are many, many, many dogs on this show this hour—

many actual dogs, it‘s not a metaphor.

It‘s all coming up.

But we begin tonight with breaking news out of Washington, the

dramatic end to a day‘s long stand-off in the United States Senate—a

stand-off between senators hoping to extend unemployment benefits to

hundreds of thousands of Americans and one lone Republican senator standing

in their way.  Tonight, Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky who

turned himself into a one-man roadblock has finally caved.  Mr. Bunning

agreed to lift his solo objection to a benefit‘s bill that the Senate has

been attempting to pass for days now.

Senator Bunning‘s five-day objection forced thousands of federal

workers to go without pay and put on ice hundreds of thousands of Americans

who are getting unemployment benefits.  Senator Bunning‘s decision to

finally relent to allow that bill to go forward when an amendment of his

was allowed to be voted on, that amendment was defeated.  This ends a

strange chapter for what has been a strange career for Senator Bunning.

It is not possible to report accurately on what‘s been a very bizarre

turn of events in the Senate without also explaining that Senator Bunning

has a story of bizarre behavior.  Behavior that‘s not just politically

strong-willed, that‘s not just him having extreme opinions on issues, but

rather, we mean literally strange behavior, to the point where even his

hometown newspaper has at times questioned his mental fitness, saying,

quote, “Is his increasing belligerence an indication of something worse? 

Has he drifted into territory that indicates a serious health concern?”

That was from 2004, when Jim Bunning faced a tough reelection battle

in Kentucky.  It was a race that tightened late, due in part to Mr. 

Bunning‘s increasing erratic behavior.  For example, during that campaign,

Senator Bunning‘s security detail became a campaign issue.

Salon.com reported at the time, quote, “The former Major League

Baseball star now travels the Bluegrass state with a special police escort

at taxpayer expense.  His explanation?  Al Qaeda maybe out to get him.”

When questioned by a local TV station, Senator Bunning reportedly

warned, quote, “There may be strangers among us.”

During that same campaign, Senator Bunning refused to debate his

opponent unless certain ground rules were agreed to.  Among the ground

rules: The debate could not be aired live.  It had to be held in the

afternoon, not in the evening.  No audience was allowed to attend.  And his

opponent was barred from using clips of the debate in his campaign ads.

After settling all of those rules—setting all of those rules, Mr. 

Bunning then randomly skipped town and took part in the debate via

satellite from RNC headquarters in Washington where to some, it appeared he

at times was reading off a teleprompter.

At another point during the campaign, Senator Bunning went after his

opponent in that race by saying that the man looked like one of Saddam

Hussein‘s sons.  Senator Bunning had to apologize for that ultimately.

A 2004 re-election effort may have been the height of Jim Bunning‘s

kookiness, but it was not the end of it.  Last February, Jim Bunning was

again forced to apologize after predicting the death of Supreme Court

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Senator Bunning told a group of Kentucky Republicans, quote, “Ruth

Bader Ginsburg has cancer.  Bad cancer.  The kind you don‘t get better

from.  Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest

that anybody would live.”

Mr. Bunning‘s subsequent written apology, it should be noted,

misspelled Justice Ginsburg‘s name twice.

During this latest controversy, Senator Bunning angrily swore at other

senators on the floor of the Senate when he was asked to drop his objection

to the unemployment bill.  He yelled out tough—thing that sounds like

snit.  Yesterday, Senator Bunning unloaded on a group of reporters when

they tried to question him as he was getting into an elevator.

I don‘t bring this stuff out of prurient interest in his mental

health.  I think it‘s germane to understanding Jim Bunning‘s odd behavior

this week.  Senator Bunning has, in the past, behaved oddly.  It‘s just a

fact.  It‘s the record.

Now, he maintains that, this instance, of what he‘s done this week in

the Senate, is not just another instance of bizarre behavior, he says

rather that he is standing on principle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM BUNNING ®, KENTUCKY:  We cannot keep adding to the debt. 

It‘s over $14 trillion and going up fast.  If we can‘t find $10 billion to

pay for something that we all support, we will never pay for anything on

the floor of this U.S. Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Mr. Bunning claims that he is standing on principle right

now.  That he won‘t support anything that wasn‘t paid for, that he won‘t

support anything that would add to the national debt.

Except for all of the things that Jim Bunning has voted for in just the last few years, that have heaped billions of dollars on to the national debt that he didn‘t bat an eye about voting for, like for example, the 2008 war supplemental bill that he voted for, which wasn‘t paid for, and which - like this legislation—extended unemployment benefits for out-of-work

Americans.

Or the 2003 extension of unemployment benefits that weren‘t paid for,

but which Senator Bunning voted for anyway.  Mr. Bunning was actually quite

proud of that vote.  He put out this press release the next day that said,

“Bunning Touts Extended Benefits for Kentucky‘s Unemployed.”  Senator

Bunning apparently had no concerns then that the benefits he had just voted

for weren‘t paid for.

In 2001, Senator Bunning voted for the first round of Bush tax cuts

that weren‘t paid for.  Two years later, he voted for a second round of

Bush tax cuts that weren‘t paid for.  That same year, he voted for the

Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit that, you guess it, wasn‘t paid

for.

And if Senator Bunning is truly concerned about the Senate paying for

things that they passed, if he really is standing on a principle that‘s

actually his principle here, then you would think he would have voted in

favor of the Senate adopting PAYGO rules, pay as you go rules, earlier this

year.  Those are rules that state that everything has to be paid for.  But

alas, Mr. Bunning voted no on that, too.

This was not a matter of principle here.  Or if it was, it‘s a brand

new principle that Jim Bunning had never met before this week.  The

supposed principle of Jim Bunning that you have to pay for everything that

you vote for is not something that has governed his behavior in the past. 

It does not explain what he has just done.

But whatever he‘s just done, and whatever explains it, it has brought

out some politically embarrassing truths about what some of his colleagues

believe about people who have fallen on hard times in this bad economy. 

Republican Senator Jon Kyl, for example, has distinguished himself this

week by defending Jim Bunning‘s decision to block unemployment benefits on

the substance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  If anything, continuing to pay people

unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You know, those lousy unemployed people lazing around, loving

being unemployment.  Jim Bunning, you‘re a hero for cutting them off them

without any rational explanation whatsoever.

The Jim Bunning stand-off in the United States Senate has ended now. 

But it has been an important reminder about not only where Jim Bunning‘s

coming from, but who‘s standing right there with him, too.

Joining us now is Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation.”

Chris, thanks again for joining us.  Appreciate your time.

CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION:  Yes.  Of course, Rachel, good to be here.

MADDOW:  Can we tell why Senator Bunning decided to cave on this

tonight?

HAYES:  Well, basically, what happened was that Harry Reid leaked to

the “Roll Call” earlier today that they were going to basically go through

and make him filibuster, actually filibuster.

Now, this is something people always want Democrats to make

Republicans do.  And what made this different was that it looked like

Bunning was basically on his own.  He might have had DeMint, but he would

have had to talk the whole time, and the moment that he got up to leave the

chamber, if someone didn‘t stand in for him, they would have been able to

get unanimous consent.

So, basically, the Democratic leadership called his bluff is the short

answer.

MADDOW:  Well, what do you think the impact of this is going to be? 

Obviously, now that they have beaten him tonight, that this is over now

tonight, what‘s the immediate impact is to people who have not been getting

their unemployment extension will get them, the furloughs will presumably

be over—

HAYES:  Right.

MADDOW:  -- the construction projects will start back up again, all of

the other people who were really financially hurt by this will hopefully be

made whole in terms of their finances.

But politically, what‘s going to be the impact of this?  Does this get

chalked up as Senate gridlock or is this get chalked up as, you know,

“Whoa, Jim Bunning‘s a weird guy”?

HAYES:  Well, both of those.  I mean, what—people on the Internet

today have been documenting assiduously that all the ways that the press

has reported on this is Senate gridlock.  Which, of course, exculpates him,

Jim Bunning, and also the Republican Party from what they did, which is

essential make sure that people didn‘t get their unemployment checks.

But the entire incident should stand at this like reductio ad absurdum

of the procedural mashgiah of the United States Senate because, look, Jim

Bunning‘s amendment just failed, 53 to 43.  I mean, if we had majority rule

in this body, Jim Bunning could have said, hey, I want this amendment to

pay for it out of stimulus funds, which in my personal opinion is a

terrible idea, but maybe he could have gotten that passed.

But of course, because we have the filibuster, he said, well, my

amendment isn‘t going to pass because it can‘t get 60 votes, I‘m going to

hold everything up.  It‘s no way to run a legislative body.

So, this kind of mini-crisis should be an object lesson in just what‘s

wrong with the U.S. Senate and the Tarantino that dominates it.

MADDOW:  Thank you for using the Tarantino in a sentence.  God bless

you.

On the issue of the Senate being the problem rather than just being

the Senate being the venue in which problems are discussed—

HAYES:  Right.

MADDOW:  -- the president tomorrow is going to be talking about health

reform.  And presumably he‘s going to be talking a little bit about health

policy.  But mostly, what he‘s going to be talking about, what people are

excited to be hearing about is how health reform is going to get through

the broken U.S. Senate.

Do you expect that this Bunning incident is going to be one of the

exhibits that the president uses to talk about how things are broken?

HAYES:  Well, it should be.  I mean, for all the reasons I‘ve just

said—for some reason, they‘re extremely reticent about calling anyone

out.  They always kind of have this big hand-waving about obstacles or, you

know, procedural impediments or something.  So, I‘d be very, very surprised

if the president actually made explicit reference to this.

But I think he should, because it really does show just how broken

things are.  If one abstinent, somewhat batty senator can stop people from

getting their unemployment checks, just think about how hard it is just to

pass health care legislation.  And I think that‘s part of the argument,

right?  That if Jim Bunning can do this to something entirely none

controversial, then there‘s no way to actually get this through unless we

just get an up or down vote.

MADDOW:  Chris, Jon Kyl‘s comments seem important to me here—

HAYES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  -- because it‘s not—Jon Kyl weighed in not just by saying,

as Jeff Sessions and John Cornyn did, that they think Jim Bunning is a

brave guy.  He actually weighed in on the substance and said that, you

know, unemployment benefits are a bad idea because they‘re a disincentive

for people working, which strikes me as, you know, telling somebody that

it‘s going to rain because they‘re all wet.

HAYES:  Right.

MADDOW:  Isn‘t that sort of setting up a narrative for 2010 for

Democrats?  I mean, there‘s the hypocrisy stuff, but also, Republicans want

to get rid of unemployment.  They want to get rid of COBRA.  They want to

get rid of Medicare.

HAYES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  They want to get rid of Social Security.  Is that going to be

the narrative for Democrats?

HAYES:  I really, really hope so.  Democrats are smart enough.

I mean, look, you have Rand Paul, who is the Republican candidate and

the tea party hero, and son of Ron Paul, holding a rally outside Jim

Bunning‘s office today with his supporters basically saying, “Go Jim

Bunning.”

You have key party leaders being quoted in the paper today, saying,

“Yes, this is what we stand for.  This is what the tea party movement

that‘s taking over the Republican Party stands for.”  They don‘t want you

to get unemployment insurance.  They think it‘s a bad thing.  They think

it‘s some state‘s encroachment.

And the fact of the matter is, that is a view that is wildly outside

the mainstream of America, and its incumbent upon Democrats and

progressives to make that connection to people.  This is what this people

believe.  This is what this movement that‘s powering the Republican Party

believes, and it‘s really, really out there.

MADDOW:  Yes.  It‘s not just random anger.  They actually have an

agenda.

HAYES:  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  And if you vote for that agenda, this is what you‘re going to

get.  Yes.

HAYES:  That‘s right.

MADDOW:  Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation,” using both

exculpates and mashgiah before you use the Tarantino in the Senate, three

stars.  Thank you, Chris.

HAYES:  Sure.  Thank you.

MADDOW:  All right.  On most days, Jim Bunning‘s antics in the Senate

would place him squarely atop the senatorial shame podium.  But Senator

Bunning actually got some stiff competition today from his colleague, Orrin

Hatch, whose opinion piece, op-ed, in “The Washington Post” about how to

pass health reform is so deeply misleading and hypocritical, I demand a

runoff for the gold medal of legislative nonsense today.  Steam will

actually come out of my ears about this in just a moment.

And speaking of health care reform, the movement in Congress toward a

public option, which don‘t forget passed the House and got traded away in

the Senate—public option may be back because of a leader who is

responsible for moving this forward, and his name is Colorado Senator

Michael Bennet.  He‘s put this back on the agenda in a big way, he joins us

for “The Interview” tonight.

Please do stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Today is Texas‘ Independence Day.  One hundred and seventy-

four years ago on this day, Texas signed its own declaration of

independence from Mexico.  Nine years later, Texas joined the United

States.

Today is also primary day in Texas.  Polls closed at 9:00 Eastern

Time.  As of right now, the most surprising challenge to Governor Rick “If

at First You Don‘t Secede” Perry came not from the more moderate relatively

senator, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, but rather from the

right, from pseudo-9/11 truther who keeps a gun in her glove compartment

tea party favorite Debra Medina.

Here‘s what the results look like as of now.  With a whopping 2

percent of the vote counted, Governor Perry is leading with 53 percent,

Senator Hutchison has 31 percent and Debra Medina has 17 percent.  It‘s

still early.  As we say, 2 percent.

But if no one wins by a clear majority, 50 percent or higher, there

will be a runoff election on April 13th.  The winner of that Republican

race will face Democrat Bill White in November.  “The Associated Press” is

declaring that Bill White has defeated his primary challenger today.

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Health reform is going to pass.  It‘s going to pass.  It

passed the House already before Christmas.  It passed the Senate on

Christmas Eve with 60 votes.

The next step is to bridge the differences between the two bills so

the president can get something on his desk to sign.  In order to do that,

two things will happen.  First, the House will pass the Senate version of

the bill, and then there will be a small package of tweaks to that bill

that will be passed by the Democrats under majority rules.

All appearances are, it‘s going to happen.  There are things the

Republicans can do to yell and scream about it.  There are ways they can

try to slow it down.  There are epithets they can scream it and the crowds

to be whipped into bloodthirsty fear about it, but it‘s going to happen.

All that‘s left is to procedurally see is it through.  And, of course,

to pop the popcorn and watch the people opposed to health reform lose their

minds—over the fact that this is one that they have lost.

For example, Senator Charles Grassley, the Republican point person in

the Senate on health reform, has now started denouncing his own proposal

for a mandate that people buy insurance.  It‘s Charles Grassley‘s own idea

which he‘s now denouncing as unconstitutional.  Senator Grassley is taking

a brave stance against himself.

And there‘s Senator Lamar Alexander.  The Senate Republicans have been

trying to elevate into a prominent position on health reform since maybe

Senator Grassley needs some help.  Lamar Alexander is now denouncing the

use of reconciliation to get around the fact that Republicans are

filibustering health reform.  He‘s denouncing it as a political kamikaze

mission.  A mission, it should be noted, that Senator Alexander himself has

flown many, many times when he voted for things under reconciliation rules. 

It‘s amazing actually that he‘s still around to be so hypocritical after

flying all those kamikaze missions.

Then there‘s Senator John McCain, who‘s proposing now to change Senate

rules so that no one could use reconciliation rules to get around a

filibuster, when they‘re voting on something that involves entitlement

programs, like Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security.  John McCain‘s own

record of voting yes on those types of votes that he now wants to ban is

apparently not holding the senator back from taking this strong stance

against his own behavior.

Lamar Alexander, Chuck Grassley, John McCain—these are not newbies. 

These are senators who have been around the block.  These are guys who book

themselves on a Sunday talk shows instead of the other way around, because

they‘re such respected respectable members of the political establishment. 

I thought these were the people who we‘re supposed to take seriously, and

yet they‘re just trying to get away with really, really, really blatant

hypocrisy on this subject.

I don‘t get it.  But they think that they‘re so respected, they‘re so

mainstream, that no one‘s going to fact check them?  They‘re above that or

something?

Take another example.  Take Senator Orrin Hatch.  Senator Orrin Hatch

of Utah has just published an op-ed in “The Washington Post” that has so

many blatant, outright, laugh-out-loud falsehoods in it that it made me

wonder if maybe there‘s a deal or something where if you‘re a United States

senator, if you‘re a United States senator who‘s been in office for 33

years like Orrin Hatch has, you just don‘t get fact-checked any more in

“The Washington Post.”  They just agree to let you print whatever you want. 

Is that the rule?

Because if that isn‘t the rule, how else do you explain this?  This

Orrin Hatch from “The Washington Post”: “The use of reconciliation to jam

through this legislation against the will of the American people would be

unprecedented in scope.  And the havoc wrought would threaten our system of

checks and balances, corrode the legislative process, degrade our system of

government, and damage the prospects of bipartisanship.”

Doesn‘t it sound horrible, this reconciliation thing?  Senator Orrin

Hatch sure makes it sound awful.  Senator Orrin Hatch who voted for a

reconciliation bill in 1989, and in 1995, and in 1996, and in 1997, and

again, a second time in 1997, and again in 1999 and in 2000, and in 2001

and in 2003 and in 2005, and again in 2005, and then in 2007.

Now, he says that doing what he‘s done all those times would wreak

havoc.  Orrin Hatch then goes on to admit that yes, “Both parties have used

the process,” he says, “but only when the bills in question stuck close to

dealing with the budget.  In instances in which other substantive

legislation was included, the legislation had significant bipartisan

support.”

That is a total, utter, complete, 100 percent unambiguous lie.  It is

a lie.  It is an L-I-E.  And I do not mean the Long Island Expressway.  It

is not the truth.  I—maybe I‘m naive, I find it hard to believe they can

get away with stuff like this.

In 2003, Republicans used reconciliation to get the Bush tax cuts

passed, the tax cuts that exploded the deficit.  They did not get

significant bipartisan support for that.  They passed it with 50 votes. 

Dick Cheney had to come in as vice president and president of the Senate to

break that tie to give them 51.

Two years later, another reconciliation vote, this time, on Medicaid. 

Republicans were only able to get that one passed using reconciliation,

too, because they only got 52 votes for that one—significant bipartisan

support.

When Orrin Hatch says, hey, we never use reconciliation for big

substantive bills when the vote was going to be close, and when he says

that would be unprecedented, he is not telling the truth.  It is a lie.

Health reform passed the Senate by 60 votes.  It passed the House by a

majority.  And now, Democrats are going to pass the last fixes to align the

two bills using reconciliation.

Republicans used reconciliation a lot, for major legislation.  They

did it all the time, and they‘re now lying about that record.  Orrin Hatch,

in particular, has been there voting with them while they did it, just

about every single time.  And now, Orrin Hatch is lying about that in “The

Washington Post.”  And “The Washington Post” is just printing the lying. 

Who knows, maybe they‘ll run a correction.

But meanwhile, Chuck Grassley, Lamar Alexander, John McCain, Orrin

Hatch—all these guys are taking brave, brave stands in public against

their own positions, against their own voting records, against their own

purported beliefs.

It‘s one thing to not want health reform, to not want the other party

and president from the other party to get a legislative win.  You don‘t

want them to be seen as addressing the problems of the country with a

policy that might really help people.  It‘s one thing to try to stop it. 

It is another thing entirely to expect us to suspend disbelief while you

pretend you‘re doing this for principled reasons.

At this point, you‘re a guy on a loud speaker scolding us to keep our

voices down.  You‘re the speed-eating hotdog kid telling us to go vegan. 

You‘re a family values, chastity-lecturing lecher.  You‘re a hypocrite. 

You‘re not making serious arguments and you do not believe what you‘re

saying.  It‘s disproven by your record.

In the case of Orrin Hatch, you are flat-out lying about the history

of the tactic that Democrats are going to use to pass health reform.  And

that is—that—doing that, lying about what‘s been done, lying about

the record, lying about this tactic is not actually a substitute for just

making an honest argument against health reform.

For “The Washington Post” to print something like this is bizarre. 

For these established, supposedly mainstream senators to try to get away

with this is an insult to everyone they‘re addressing and to the media in

particular.  And for us all to just let this slide and call it politics is

to surrender to cynicism profoundly.

Listen, health reform‘s going to pass.

Chuck Grassley, Lamar Alexander, John McCain, Orrin Hatch, you can‘t

stop it.  You can‘t stop health reform.  You tried, but you can‘t.  But you

can stop embarrassing yourselves with the blatant hypocrisy and the lying. 

Come on, get serious.

The country needs real debate.  The country needs real opposition. 

The country needs you, guys, to grow up here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  President Obama is tomorrow expected to make clear that he

wants Democrats to use budget reconciliation rules to get around the

Republican filibuster in order to pass health reform. 

That means it will take 50 votes, the majority, to pass the final

tweaks to the bill, not 60.  Today, in advance of that announcement, the

president made a point of publicly embracing a handful of Republican ideas

for health reform. 

In a letter to House and Senate leaders, the president

highlighted four specific GOP proposals he‘s interested in pursuing as part

of health reform, including Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn‘s idea of using

undercover agents - undercover agents - to investigate fraud and abuse by

health providers in federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  Spies -

he wants spies. 

Also, the president endorsed helping states come up with

different ways to resolve medical malpractice complaints, an idea that the

president says has been included in bills sponsored by five congressional

Republicans. 

But then, it‘s also considering increasing reimbursements to

doctors who treat Medicaid patients based on concerns raised by Sen. Chuck

Grassley of Iowa, as well as expanding health savings accounts as suggested

by Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. 

The response from the Republican leadership to the president

endorsing all of these ideas was roughly - they just essentially gave him a

raspberry.  It‘s called not taking yes for an answer. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell firing off a letter to the

president in which he demanded that Democrats scrap the health reform bills

that have passed both houses of Congress, even if they are changed to

include these Republican ideas that the president is endorsing. 

Sen. McConnell also, of course, denouncing the idea that

Democrats use budget reconciliation rules to pass reform with a simple

majority in order to get around the Republican filibuster. 

Meanwhile, not only does it seem clear that health reform is

going to be passed using those reconciliation rules.  It also seems

possible that what passes by reconciliation may include the public option,

the popular measure that passed the House but was traded away in return for

votes that never materialized in the Senate. 

The effort to put the public option back into the Senate bill has

followed a letter written last month calling for a simple majority vote for

the public option in the Senate.  The letter was initially made public with

just four signatures on it - those of Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado,

Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of

Ohio. 

The letter has been picking up support ever since.  The latest

cosigners are Mark Udall, Colorado‘s other senator, Bob Casey of

Pennsylvania, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Ted Kaufman of Delaware.  That brings

the grand total after just two weeks to 34. 

Thirty-four senators are now publicly calling for a return of the

public option by a means by which it really could be achieved.  Thirty-four

down, 16 to go.  The interview tonight is with the freshman senator who

wrote that letter about the public option.  Sen. Michael Bennet of

Colorado. 

Sen. Bennet, thank you very much for coming on the show. 

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO):  Thanks for having me, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  What was your goal when you decided to write this letter? 

Was the goal to get 50 senators to sign on?

BENNET:  I think that would be great and that is one of the goals. 

But the other thing was, it was happening at a time when I think there was

a view from some of the special interests in Washington that health care

was dead. 

That view being reflected, by the way, and notices to

policyholders in California and other places raising rates by 40 percent

and 25 and 30 percent.  But I just thought it was important to remind

people that we‘re not dead yet. 

MADDOW:  There‘s also a public option revival letter that‘s

circulating on the House side, that effort being led by Chellie Pingree and

Jared Polis who is also from Colorado.  How important was Jared Polis in

your decision to take charge of the effort in the Senate? 

BENNET:  Well, I think Jared is a great guy.  He called me and told me

he had done the letter.  It sounded like a great idea to me, and we started

circulating it. 

MADDOW:  In August of last year, Senator, you told the Colorado paper

“The Durango Herald” I think it was - that health reform shouldn‘t hinge

on the public option even though you said you supported it. 

I know you told “The Denver Post” that you didn‘t think the

public option could pass.  You told “The Durango Paper” that you didn‘t

want to use it to draw a line in the sand on health reform.  Do you feel

more strongly about it now than you did then? 

BENNET:  Well, I feel very strongly about it.  I felt strongly about

then, and I feel strongly about it now.  I don‘t think anybody has got a

monopoly on wisdom on any of this stuff. 

But I think the American people are looking for us.  And

certainly the people in Colorado are looking for us to stop playing these

ridiculous political games, and actually start to solve the problems that

they‘re facing every single day of their lives. 

One of the great ironies, Rachel, to me about this debate is that

the people that are defending the current system and saying that somehow

this is a Bolshevik takeover of our health care system are defending a

system that every day is throwing thousands of people off private

insurance. 

And they‘re ending up in one of two places.  If they‘re poor

enough, they‘re ending up on Medicaid, a public plan.  If they‘re not poor

enough, they‘re ending up in the emergency room, getting uncompensated care

that all of us that are taxpayers are paying for and policyholders are

paying for. 

They‘re the ones that are defending a government takeover of

health care.  It‘s just the most expensive, least intentional version

imaginable.  And I think we‘ve got to keep fighting it to tell a story on

behalf of the American people that says, you know, it‘s time to do

something different. 

MADDOW:  How does the public option fit into that, in terms of the big

picture of the - what you describe as the unwarranted criticism from the

right that this is some sort of Bolshevik takeover, the commitment on the

Democratic side to get something done.  Where does the public option fit

into that in terms of importance and in terms of the basics of what

government is trying to do here? 

BENNET:  I think it is important for two particular reasons.  One is

it injects competition into the system where, in too many parts of our

country, there is none. 

And then, there‘s the more practical reason, which is people are

saying to me - in my state, they‘re saying, “Michael, if you‘re going to

require us to have health insurance, then I‘d like to have the broadest

array of options to choose from for my family.  Let me decide what the

right thing for my family is.” 

As the father of three little girls, I certainly would like the

ability to make that decision myself.  And fortunately, I don‘t need to,

because I‘m on a public option, just like all the people sitting around the

table the other day at the White House.

But for our families, you know, if you‘re going to require them

to have insurance, they want to have all the choices.  So I think it is

very important.  I also think there are other components of health care

reform that are enormously important when it comes to costs and when it

comes to coverage. 

And if there‘s a combination of things that can help cover more

Americans, drive down our costs, increase our quality, I‘m all ears to

everybody‘s ideas.  But I think the public option is one of the best ideas

that we‘ve had so far. 

MADDOW:  Sen. Bennet, I should also ask you about something we‘ve just

learned about - it‘s just happened in the last few minutes.  The bill that

was held up by Sen. Bunning all week to dramatic and strange effect has

finally passed, overwhelmingly, 78 to 19.  What do you make of Sen. 

Bunning‘s actions here?  What happened? 

BENNET:  Well, that‘s a real nail biter, isn‘t it?  After a week

of holding up the work of the Senate, I can‘t explain what he was doing. 

It‘s not the first time, by the way, this has happened.  We had another

vote to extend unemployment insurance in the worst recession since the

Great Depression, 10 percent unemployment rate. 

And people on average have been unemployed longer than ever.  We

tried to extend unemployment insurance.  It could have taken an afternoon. 

Instead it took five weeks and the vote was something like 97 to zero or 98

to zero. 

And we‘ve been through another week like this, and all I can say

is that, you know, this place - I‘ve been here for a year, and it does feel

a lot like “Alice in Wonderland.”  It doesn‘t make any sense. 

MADDOW:  Sen. Bennet, I understand you‘re going to announce a wide

ranging plan for some Congressional reforms, including some filibuster

reforms.  You want a sneak preview of any of those for us? 

BENNET:  Well, I‘ll just give you a little bit of it.  I think, first

of all, that having things like the ability to do holds anonymously, where

senators don‘t even need to step up in front of the American people and

say, “I‘m the person that‘s holding up a nomination or a piece of

legislation” - I think we should get rid of that.

I think we should think very seriously about how to reduce the

thresholds that are required when it‘s clear that delay is the only thing

that‘s happening.  And I think, finally, that there‘s some interesting

ideas about how to try - try to create some bipartisan effort around here,

around the filibuster. 

So tomorrow, I‘ll be talking about that and some other reforms,

including trying to make sure that members of Congress are banned from ever

being lobbyists in Washington. 

MADDOW:  Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a Democrat of Colorado, we

look forward very much to that announcement tomorrow.  And I thank you for

joining us tonight.  I appreciate your time.

BENNET:  Thanks for having me, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  OK.  The 2010 elections, it turns out, are this weekend in

Iraq.  Remember Iraq?  My pal, “GQ” reporter Michael Hastings will join us

in just a few moments. 

And in the department of warmer, fuzzier, louder news, we have

the results of our “Does your dog bark at the ‘Law & Order‘ theme song?”

survey, coming up soon. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In some ways, it seems like the Democratic Party doesn‘t know

what hit it.  On last night‘s show, the chairman of the Democratic National

Committee, Tim Kaine, joined us and told us he had only just heard the news

that the lieutenant governor of Arkansas, Bill Halter, had announced a

primary challenge against one of the most conservative Democrats in the

Senate, Blanche Lincoln. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TIM KAINE (D-VA), CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  I

just learned within the last couple hours about the situation in Arkansas

and haven‘t really dug into that one very much. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Now, Mr. Kaine is a very busy man as the chairman of the

Democratic Party - lots of responsibilities.  And to be fair, we totally

did not book him to talk about the race in Arkansas.  There‘s no reason he

should have been super-familiar with Mr. Halter‘s announcement he would

primary Blanche Lincoln.

But thousands of liberals across the country were super-familiar

with Mr. Halter‘s announcement by the time that show aired and liberals

have already introduced the newly-minted candidate to their wallets in a

really big way.  “MoveOn.org” yesterday said they hope to raise $500,000

for Mr. Halter in a week. 

That goal was blown out of the water in less than a day.  So now,

they upped the ante.  Move On has doubled their fundraising goal for Mr. 

Halter to $1 million of which they‘ve raised $920,000 as of about an hour

ago. 

Act Blue has also continued to rake in the dough for Bill Halter,

about $160,000 so far.  The AFL-CIO has also flipped its support to Halter. 

Some of its unions have already pledged $3 million to his campaign. 

Why are progressives feeling so generous toward this Arkansas

lieutenant governor, or even on just health care?  It probably helps that

Halter supports Medicare for all, while Blanche Lincoln stood with

Republicans to filibuster even the public option. 

Bill Halter will be a guest on this show tomorrow.  As I said

last night, we have invited Sen. Lincoln to join us a number of times. 

She‘s never before said yes.  But today, we spoke to her spokesperson and

we are hoping to work out a date soon.  Yes.  We would like to have you,

Sen. Lincoln, really.  Please stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The dog world is represented by two separate yet equally

important groups - those that howl at the “Law & Order” theme song and

those that don‘t.  We asked for your howling dog videos.  We got your

howling dog videos, stick around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Today, the Twitter feed from NBC‘s chief foreign

correspondent Richard Engel made for some pretty good reading.  He writes,

“Iraq flew in from Amman.  They‘re using bigger planes now and no spiral

corkscrew landing.  A good sign.” 

This next one said, “Iraq just saw a parking lot on a U.S. base. 

I‘ve seen it before filled with American humvees.  Now, it‘s filled with

SUVs of security companies.” 

In just a moment, we‘ll be talking with reporter Michael Hastings

who is on his way to Iraq as well to cover this weekend‘s elections there. 

Michael‘s been in and out of Iraq a lot with - including hanging out with

Ahmed Chalabi. 

Beyond the headlines about the election, though, the big news

about Iraq today and about “Life During Wartime,” is that the contractor,

KBR, which used to be part of Halliburton just got themselves a new U.S. 

government contract for work in Iraq, a contract that could be worth as

much as $2.8 billion. 

You‘ll recall that KBR also had the contract to do electrical

work on living quarters for U.S. troops in Iraq.  Twenty-four-year-old

green beret staff Sergeant Ryan Mayseth was killed by electrocution while

taking a shower in living quarters maintained by KBR. 

Seventeen other deaths of U.S. service personnel by electrocution

were investigated concerning that KBR contract in Iraq. 

In fact, Sgt. Mayseth‘s hometown news outlets just Thursday

reported that KBR - that the company tied to his electrocution death, KBR,

would not be getting a $25 million bonus payment from the government. 

But then, get this.  The very next day, on Friday - forget that

little piddling $25 million penalty.  The very next day, KBR was told

they‘re getting a brand-new $2.8 billion deal.  I love the smell of

accountability in the morning. 

Joining us now is Michael Hastings.  He‘s covering the elections

this weekend in Iraq for “GQ.”  He‘s been in and out of Iraq a lot recently

and over the last few years.  His book “I Lost My Love in Baghdad” is just

now out in paperback.  Michael, it‘s good to see you.  Thanks for coming

in. 

               

MICHAEL HASTINGS, CONTRIBUTOR, “GQ” MAGAZINE:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  As you‘re heading back to Iraq - are you going back tomorrow? 

HASTINGS:  Tomorrow, yes. 

MADDOW:  Do you feel like these elections are the first time that Iraq

is back on the radar screen for a while now? 

HASTINGs:  Well, besides “The Hurt Locker,” basically.  But I think

it‘s significant now that - the debate about Iraq has moved from a policy

debate to how we‘re going to remember Iraq and what narrative and legacy

the United States leaves behind when they leave. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

HASTINGS:  I think even these elections are almost just a blip

compared to the news in Afghanistan.  So yes, I would definitely say that

Iraq has fallen off the radar and there‘s a collective desire that I think

we have as a country to put it behind us. 

MADDOW:  When you are in Iraq these days, what‘s the role?  What‘s the

function that you can perceive of the 110,000 U.S. troops that are still

there? 

HASTINGS:  They‘re very bored.  They‘re sitting around on bases

complaining about how bored they are for the most part.  They will probably

be busy these next couple of days obviously as they help the Iraqis prepare

for the election.  But essentially, they‘re waiting to go home as well. 

MADDOW:  In terms of the security challenges that still plague Iraq -

not just political challenges but, literally, the big bombings that keep

happening.  U.S. troops are not playing a role in security in terms of

preventing those things from happening. 

HASTINGS:  Exactly.  I mean, this is the issue right now with

security.  Why has Iraq fallen out of the headlines?  Because Americans

aren‘t getting killed.  Why aren‘t Americans getting killed?  They‘re not

the targets anymore.

MADDOW:  Yes. 

HASTINGS:  And they‘re also staying on their bases quite a bit.  So

the security challenges are all the attacks have been aimed at the Iraqi

government.  And these are significant attacks - massive car bombings,

Oklahoma City style bombings every couple of months in the capital city. 

There‘s been a rash of political assassinations, detentions,

politically-motivated detentions.  Kidnappings have increased recently as

well.  Members of the independent election committee have been kidnapped

and targeted for assassination as well. 

MADDOW:  One of the things that‘s happened that has made at least

inside the newspaper headlines here is that a number of candidates,

hundreds of candidates suddenly disqualified from running in these

elections this month.  What happened there?  Who done it? 

HASTINGS:  Well, the force behind the scenes there was Ahmed Chalabi,

the man who was the CIA Pentagon favorite who sold the weapons of mass

destruction information or passed off the weapons of mass destruction

information, the fake information. 

And essentially the Americans are saying Chalabi, under orders

from Iran, is trying to target secular candidates and Sunni candidates. 

And this is the most troubling sign for the future of Iraqi democracy

because American officials will say, “Look, maybe the war is a mistake but

Iraq is on this path toward a Democratic future.” 

I would be highly skeptical of that argument.  What we‘re seeing

now is the Shiite-dominated Islamist government in Baghdad consolidate its

power.  And they‘re doing this by any means necessary.  And one of the ways

they‘re doing this is to legally take out their political opponents. 

MADDOW:  You wrote “A True Slant” recently.  Iraq will have very

little resemblance of any of the imagined U.S. foreign policy goals that

Iraqis and Americans were asked to sacrifice their lives for.  Is that why,

because we‘re not - there‘s no western recognizable democracy taking shape

here? 

HASTINGS:  I think - you know, you could point to signs that there are

some recognizable sort of trappings of democracy.  But yes, I don‘t think -

I think what we‘re going to see this weekend and the argument I‘m making is

that this could be Iraq‘s last election, essentially sort of the final

Democratic gasp Iraq has, the final purple-fingered farewell salute before

falling back into its familiar pattern of authoritarianism. 

Here‘s a little anecdote.  I‘m sitting in the election commission

building speaking to an election official, an Iraqi election official.  And

this official tells me that “If Saddam Hussein was on the ballot today, I

would vote for Saddam Hussein.” 

Then she went on to say, “Ninety-nine percent of the people in

this office would vote for Saddam Hussein.”  And that, I think, gives a

picture of what sort of sentiment that Iraqis have about the future of

their country.  They actually want a dictator back. 

MADDOW:  Michael Hastings, contributor to “GQ” magazine, the author of

“I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story” which, again, is just out

in paperback and which I personally highly recommend.  Michael, thank you.

HASTINGS:  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  Good luck in Baghdad. 

HASTINGS:  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Congressman Anthony Weiner on the

way forward in health reform.  Next on this show, why dogs bark at the “Law

& Order” theme music - a very special update.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘ve spent more than a week now trying to answer a burning

question first posed by our friends at “BoingBoing.net.”  Why do some dogs

howl at the theme to “Law & Order?”

We asked for your help in solving this.  One of our viewers, a

musician, tells us that dogs imitate tones in their vocal range if you kind

of wa-wa bend the notes. 

Another said it has got to do with a beautifully complex idea

known as subjective tones and the missing fundamental effect.  We‘ll post

stuff about that at our Web page so you can try those yourself. 

But then there was evidence that you sent in from across America

of the many, many things that your dogs howl at.  We have done nothing else

in the office except watch these videos and eat cupcakes since you started

sending them in. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(DOGS HOWLING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is “The Colbert Report.” 

(DOG HOWLING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I do exactly the same thing.  If watching those dogs makes

you feel like you just need more, we‘ve got a page full of them online. 

You can watch them all day.  I do. 

That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow night. 

“COUNTDOWN” starts right now.  Have a good one.  Thanks for joining us. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY

BE UPDATED.

END   

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