The Rachel Maddow Show | March 06, 2013
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: I've never been more self-conscious about the way I talk and flap my hands around than hearing you talk to the body language expert. I feel like I can be a robot now.
MADDOW: I'm doing everything wrong. I'm showing my cards.
ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: We are very normal. I feel good about that tonight.
MADDOW: Yes, I've never tried to be normal before, but I'm going to try really hard to be normal and will fail immediately, I'm sure. Thank you, my friend. That was great.
SCHULTZ: Thank you, Rachel .
MADDOW: Thanks. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I have to hold still. We often end this show with something we called the best new thing in the world. But tonight's best new thing in the world deserves pride of place, I think, right here at the top of the show instead of at the end of the show , because something happened in American politics today that never happens. At least that never happens anymore, something dramatic and significant and full of meaning that used to happen in our politics, but that recently had been banished. Today, it came back. What you're looking at here, of course, is not an actual senator. This is the actor Jimmy Stewart in " Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ." In this part of the movie, he is talking himself to exhaustion on the Senate floor in order to block something from happening in the Senate . The United States Senate lets you do that. It is a rare and weird part of our system of government . In the legislature , aside from a few things that the Constitution says have to have a super majority , stuff like impeaching someone or kicking somebody out of Congress or ratifying a treaty, aside from those few reserved things in the Constitution , in our legislature , it's majority rules . But in the Senate , by tradition, by the rules of that body, one senator, or a minority of senators is vested with the power to stand up and block something from happening, even if the majority wants it to happen. It is a rare beast, or at least it ought to be a rare beast. A single senator or a minority of seniors effectively throwing themselves on the gears of democracy and saying, "I must be heard on this. You cannot go forward with this until I say my piece." And so a la " Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ", a single senator may take it upon himself or herself to effectively play the hero, right, to bring all business to a halt, to bring the spotlight upon himself or upon herself, to hold the floor , speaking about whatever it is that's so important that it is worth this effort until the effort expires by necessity, because the senator can physically go on no longer, or because a supermajority of senators says enough and ends it. It is a very dramatic thing, or at least it used to be a dramatic thing. In recent years, the Senate changed the rules so all it took to filibuster something now was to say you wanted to filibuster it. No need to take the Senate floor , no need to make your case, no need to turn on the spotlight, let alone shine it on yourself for a long time, you and your extraordinary concern. The filibuster when they changed the rules just became a quiet everyday part of Senate life. Since the Democrats have been in charge in the Senate , Republicans have used it to effectively make Democrats have to get a 60-vote supermajority for everything. It's become absolutely run-of- the-mill. But nobody has to take the floor and say why. Nobody has to expend any effort at all. It's permanently around. In other words, they killed Mr. Smith, or at least they kidnapped Mr. Smith. The only time he was seen in spirit in recent years was once in December 2010 when the iconoclastic, contrarian liberal Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont brought Mr. Smith back without warning. December 10th, 2010 , Senator Bernie Sanders took the floor of the Senate at 10:30 in the morning, and he talked for eight and a half straight hours. He talked on the collapse of the American middle class , the huge escalation of income inequality in our country , and the policies that either ignore those problems or that make them happen. Despite being eight and a half hours long, the Bernie Sanders pseudo- filibuster that date, December 2010 , was actually sort of a cogent beginning, middle, and end argument. When it was over, they were able to publish it as a book. They just put a new introduction on it and published his filibuster because it reads like a book. If you want to get a sense of the kind of impact that dramatic action by Bernie Sanders had, I want to show you a little piece of tape. This is just 20 seconds long. It's kind of a weird thing to show on cable news. But this is only 20 seconds. Just watch.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: There is a war going on in this country , and I'm not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan . I'm talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country against the working families of the United States of America , against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country .
MADDOW: That is an installation art piece, piece 1, by Nora Ligarano and Marshall Reese . The middle class is spelled out there as an ice sculpture, and you're watching a time laps video of it melting, with this musical soundtrack and also words from Senator Bernie Sanders ' filibuster. We've got a link to the full thing at our Web site today if you want to watch it. Senator Sanders , I should say, also has a link to it at his Web site as well. What he did that day when he took the floor for eight and a half straight hours and made a single eight and a half hour-long argument on a single point, it made an impact. I do not know if it changed the course of the country in terms of policy, but an elected official going back to the old rules and commandeering the floor of the United States Senate for hours to stand alone , Mr. Smith-style, and make his point, to throw himself on the gears, to hold things up as long as he holds up physically, this kind of thing is designed to make a point. And it does. And, of course, you can use this tactic that is unique to the United States Senate . You can use it to make good points. Or you can use it to make terrible points. The heroic one man against the world filibuster back in the day was, of course, a favored tool of the segregationist senators from the Deep South to slow down civil rights legislation and to try to look like heroes to the South for doing it. I mean, looking back at that as a cause is stomach-churning. But at least it was not some no fingerprints, no effort , anonymous tactic, like how this thing is used today. You actually had to stand out there and say your piece. With the exception of Bernie Sanders , we do not do it like that anymore. But then today, it happened again. At 11:47 a.m ., the Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul took the floor of the senate and announced that he would not be leaving the floor of the Senate any time soon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I yield the floor .
UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: The senator from Kentucky . SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY : I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan 's nomination for the CIA . I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm has sounded from coast-to-coast that our Constitution is important.
MADDOW: That started at 11:47 a.m . today, and it went on all day long. And it is still going on. But it is not happening via some secret behind the rules -- behind- the-scenes paper rules in which people said they were filibustering, but they weren't actually standing on the floor and talking and refusing to sit down. In this case, they were actually standing on the floor of the Senate and refusing to sit down. For short periods of time, Senator Paul engaged with other senators, or they sometimes took over for him for a while. Mike Lee of Utah , Jerry Moran , Marco Rubio , Ted Cruz , John Cornyn , Pat Toomey , Saxby Chambliss , the Democratic senator from Oregon , Ron Wyden . But it was Senator Paul who did the lion's share of the talking by himself . He argued today, he is still arguing now, that there should be more information disclosed about the government killing people with drones, and the rules under which that happens should be made more available to the Congress and to the American public. Now, what Senator Paul did today I have to say will never be publishable as a book. It was not the most coherent thing on two legs. And honestly, because it is Rand Paul , we barely got a half hour into him starting talking before he got to his gratuitous Hitler references.
PAUL: Hitler was elected democratically. They elected him out of this chaos. The point isn't that anybody in our country is Hitler . I'm not accusing anybody of being that evil. I think it's an overplayed and a misused analogy. But what I am saying is that in a democracy , you could some day elect someone who is very evil.
MADDOW: I'm not saying anybody is like Hitler . I'm just saying think of Hitler , think evil, and then close your eyes and think of people here in America . Yes. Rand Paul , wildly imperfect messenger for any message, really, but particularly for the nobility of the cause of talking a long time. But there is something important about the United States Congress finding its footing and wanting to assert its role, its oversight role in where and why and how our country wages war. The president is the commander-in-chief, absolutely, but it is the Congress in which the founders vested the questions of war and peace . And maybe those green shoots of responsibility only rose the way they did today because Republicans can only be inspired to oversee such matters when the president is of the opposing party, and they don't care when it's a Republican president -- I think that's the case. But, still, despite its craven partisanship and its frequent lapse into incoherence, and Rand Paul 's frequent and gratuitous Hitler references, because Rand Paul cannot help himself , Congress demanding to play its part in matters of war is in broad strokes the way Congress is supposed to work. It's the way our whole government is supposed to work. And moreover, when Congress does want to use the almost miraculously un-democratic power that is reserved specifically to the Senate , to block majority rule , to hold up the operation of the whole legislature because of one guy's concern, or because of a minority concern for which regular business and regular democracy must wait so that those concerns can be heard, when that happens, it is supposed to be a giant pain. It's supposed to be exhausting, and showboaty and selfish and ostentatious test and an ostentatious display of endurance, because this is not supposed to happen every day. This is supposed to be weird and rare and extraordinary circumstance in which it takes a supermajority vote, 60 votes before you can move on. Blocking or delaying a presidential nomination , or anything that is supposed to be subject to a majority vote in the legislature , blocking or delaying it until you can get 60 votes for it, that is a big hairy deal. The best new thing in the world today is that it was not done today like it was nothing, like it is done most days now. Today, it was made exactly as big and as hairy a deal as it is always supposed to be. Rand Paul started filibustering at 11:47 this morning Eastern Time . This is a live image of the Senate floor right now at 9:11 Eastern as I speak to you. That's Senator Mike Lee of Utah , continuing Rand Paul 's work right now. It is still going on. Joining us right now is Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon . He engaged Senator Paul in debate during today's filibuster. He is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence . Senator Wyden , thank you so much for being here tonight. SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON : Thanks for having me again.
MADDOW: So the talking filibuster is not much used anymore. We still have to show footage of fiction of " Mr. Smith Goes to Washington " in order to give people the idea. Did this debate about congressional oversight and transparency on drones, did it get better today by use of this tactic?
WYDEN: I think the American people certainly know more about the fundamental question, which is we have to strike a better balance, Rachel , between protecting our security and protecting our liberty. I've just come off a two-year effort , made seven separate requests to get the Obama administration to release these previously secret legal analyses which offer the justification for the drone strikes. And this debate is just beginning. And the reason I went to the floor today is, I thought it was an opportune time to try to show that there is a new effort by both progressives and conservatives to try to show that in our country , it's possible both to protect our liberties and at the same time ensure that we're vigilant against the very real threats that are out there.
MADDOW: It seems like the occasion of John Brennan 's nomination has brought about a bunch of stuff that we now know, or at least that you know as a senator that we were not able to know before. We saw, first, reported by NBC 's Michael Isikoff a summary of legal reasoning by the administration on killing Americans abroad with the drone program. We also then saw released to the Intelligence Committee a couple Office of Legal Counsel memos on the same subject. Then more memos on the same subject released to the Intelligence Committee . It seems like things are going in the direction that you want. But how much further do you think the administration should go in terms of making information available? And do you think should it be limited to these disclosures about killing Americans, or do you think it should be about killing anybody using this program?
WYDEN: First of all, I think there does need to be more information made available. I think it can be done consistent with national security about drones. And I am going to make a concerted effort to declassify more of that information in the days ahead. This debate, Rachel , is just beginning. The fact is the very nature of warfare is changing so dramatically, we have just begun the discussion, and certainly now, it's time to bring the public into this. The members of the Intelligence Committee have just gotten access to the documents. People have asked, am I satisfied with that? Of course not. I'm going to have additional follow-up questions, probably next week on some of the issues, and some of that will be public. Some of it will have to be classified. But this debate has really just begun.
MADDOW: I know that you engaged Senator Paul today in debate as he held the floor . I was careful to say it that way, because as far as I understand it, you are not participating in the filibuster of John Brennan 's nomination. You do believe he should get an up or down vote . You do not want it delayed. Is that accurate?
WYDEN: I already voted for Mr. Brennan in the Intelligence Committee . I have announced that I'm going to vote for him on the floor . There were parts of his nomination hearing that I was quite encouraged by. I liked the fact that he wanted to make clear that if mistakes were made with respect to drones, that ought to be made public. At the same time, I was concerned about the fact it was hard to get information from him about countries where lethal force was used. But we have made some progress. I think now we ought to be trying to build on it.
MADDOW: When -- I should say if and when John Brennan is confirmed for the CIA when he does get his full floor vote in the Senate , and it's expected that he will be confirm in order position, what do you think will be the next point of leverage? Or what do you think will be the next occasion for which to continue to press the administration for the kind of transparency that you want? Attorney General Eric Holder says we should expect to hear the president himself discuss these matters. Do you feel like the administration is in the mood to continue to disclose further information , or do they need to be pushed with a nomination like this on the line the way they have over the Brennan situation?
WYDEN: The president has told me, Rachel , personally, and I've talked to him twice on this, that he is committed to a more fulsome airing, let us say, about these kinds of issues. And I think that is so important. We have to protect what's called the operations and methods in the intelligence community . But the law itself should not be kept secret. And it's this fight against secret law that has been so important. It shouldn't have taken seven requests. That's how many I made, Rachel , over a two-year period to get this kind of information . Now, I will tell you just in the last few days, the letter from Mr. Brennan was quite forthright on the question of making sure that he didn't believe the CIA could use drones in the United States . The letter from Mr. Holder , while moving in the right direction, he in effect said he could only see using the military against what would amount to a foreign attack in the United States like Pearl Harbor . There still are some unanswered question there. That's what we're going to have to keep digging into. And I think you saw today those efforts will be bipartisan.
MADDOW: Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon , that distinction that you're making there, the difference between secret operations and secret law is one that for all these different ways of resistance I believe is really starting to sink in, and the way people talk that in a way that I think is mostly attribute to you, sir.
WYDEN: Thank you.
MADDOW: So thank you for advances our discourse on that and thanks for being here tonight.
WYDEN: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. One last thing: every time we cover the issue of killing people in this way, every time we cover counterterrorism and killing people with drones, we get rafts of hate mail on this show. I'm here to tell you I love your hate mail . I do. The whole show does. It's often very informative. But I want to make sure you send to it the right place. So it goes to
Rachel@MSNBC.com. We really do read your email. Hate mail and otherwise, and that e- mail address really does work, Rachel@MSNBC.com. So when you want to write to me to tell me to stop covering the story and call me names and question my motives for covering it, really, tell me more. I love to hear it.