tv All In With Chris Hayes MSNBC November 22, 2013 12:00am-1:01am PST
tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of that tragedy. at 7:00 p.m. eastern, we will begin our coverage of what it all meant to those who lived it and to those who must wonder what it was like and why it hit us so hard and so permanently. that's "hardball" for now. thanks for being with us. "all in with chris hayes" starts right now. good evening from new york. i'm chris hayes and it is a historic, momentous day in the history of u.s. political system. >> the threshold for cloture on nominations, not including those of the supreme court of the united states, is now a majority. >> today for the first time in nearly 40 years, the senate changed its rules on filibusters, after a series of dramatic clashes over the last few years and repeated threats by the majority leader that always dissipated at the last moment.
but today, senate majority leader harry reid and the democrats finally voted to eliminate the filibuster for executive nominees and judicial nominees other than the supreme court. majority leader reid, who had long-resisted employing this, the so-called nuclear option, explained on the senate floor today why such an extraordinary measure was necessary. >> the american people believe congress is broken. the american people believe the senate is broken. and i believe the american people are right. in the history of our country, some 230 plus years, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. half of them have occurred during the obama administration. it's time to change the senate before this institution becomes obsolete. is the senate working now? can anyone say the senate is working now? i don't think so. today, democrats and independents are saying, enough is enough.
>> enough is enough. republicans, rather predictively cried foul, and with their ability to filibuster at will taken away, senate minority leader mitch mcconnell was left to cry obama care and threatened, you just wait. >> basically, this is all the same debate. and rather than distract people from obama care, it only reinforces the narrative of a party that is willing to do and say just about anything to get its way. if you want to play games, set yet another precedent that you'll no doubt come to regret. and i say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you'll regret this and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think. >> president obama himself, a former senator and a dyed in the wool institutionalist, like his vice president joe biden, has been very reluctant to muck with the rules. and so today, he came before the country to explain why he was supporting such a bold move. >> my judicial nominees have
waited nearly 2 1/2 times longer to receive yes-or-no votes ton senate floor than those of president bush. and the ones who eventually do get a vote generally are confirmed with little if any dissent. so this isn't obstruction on substance, on qualifications, it's just to gum up the works. a few now refuse to treat that duty of advise and consent with the with respect that it deserves. it's no longer used in a responsible way to govern. it's rather used as a reckless and relentless tool to grind all business to a halt. >> both sides delighted in pointing out the other side's procedural hypocrisy. considering just eight years ago, that each party was on the opposite side. beginning with then senate majority leader, republican bill frist. >> we, 100 united states senators will decide the question at hand. should we allow a minority of senators to deny votes on judicial nominees that have the support of a majority of this
body? or should we restore the 214-year practice of voting up or down on all judicial nominees that come to this floor. >> mr. president, the right to an extended debate is never more important than when one party controls congress and the white house. in these cases, a filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government. >> today, senate majority leader reid used his vine account to point out senator mcconnell's frequent calls for up or down votes on judicial nominees. >> up or down vote should be given to presidential nominees. up or down vote. up or down vote. all we're looking for is an up or down vote. >> what is not clear is what this means for the future of the filibuster or for the senate going for or for the politics of president obama's second term. what is clear that as of now, we have entered a new era in the united states senate. joining me now, senator tom u udall, and it was you who said, we have to reform the filibuster, and you are in a
distinct minority, i think of the caucus at that point. did you ever think you would see this day? >> i thought we were going to see this day, because this was a victory for democracy and we've returned to the constitution, and i think it's very important that we do that, so that we can do the things we promised the american people we would do when we got elected. >> how did it come about? i mean, i know from talking to senator reid's staff, from talking to senator reid himself, from other reports, that majority leader reid was -- what he said back in 2005, he meant. which is to say, he really did believe the importance of the filibuster, the importance of senate traditions, the importance of a voice for the minority, particularly with lifetime appointments, he was convinced of that. and he now believes he was wrong then and right now. what happened? what was the arc of trajectory? >> i think we hit such a level of dysfunction, in august, they
were up against the wall, and put in nominees, and they said, we're going to go back to the extraordinary circumstances test. well, they didn't. two months later, we're there again and blocking nominees. there wasn't a compromise this time. and so i think it was very important that the leader, majority leader of the senate said, we've had enough of this. let's move forward with democracy. and this is -- as i said, a victim for democracy, and what it really means, it's about the things the we all care about, legislation, getting them on the floor, having good debate, and returning to the glory days of the senate. >> well, i may quibble with you a little bit about the glory days of the senate. the senate -- >> there were great glory days in the '60s and '70s, with great things they did. >> it's got a pockmarked record. i agree with you about this being an affirmative win for democracy. if that is the case, why do we
still have the filibuster for legislation? it doesn't seem to me that there's any rationale that there should be a super majority requirement for a bill to reform the health care system or, you know, food stamps, anything like that. when there's no longer a supermajority requirement to put someone on a district court bench. >> well, as you know, that was part of our package, and i think most of the senators that have been elected since 2006 and increasingly, the oldtime senators in our caucus realized we need to move to a talking filibuster. so we're out in the open, we're transparent. we know what's happening with these objections. and if you really want to slow down something and delay it, then you've got to come to the floor and take your desk and speak up, rather than hiding behind a silent or stale filibuster. >> what about this objection that's being raised by the other side, which i think has a little more bite to it than the objection on the filibuster was something amazing. the idea of essentially changing the rules in the middle of the
game. and that's a phrase that then senator barack obama used, back in 2005 during this fight, that if this can be done, if just in the middle of a regular week, the senate can call to order and say, you know what, we're changing the rules today, then, really, it is just a body that is governed by the whims of the moment. >> well, we need to have the restraint. i mean, as you know, senator merkley and senator harkin and others, we have called for changes in the rules at the beginning of a congress, and then looking at them for every congress. and so i think you shouldn't be doing this on a frequent basis, but we hit the wall. i mean, this was a level of dysfunction and a level of obstruction and delay. you know, the constitution says advise and consent. it doesn't say obstruction and delay. what we're really focusing on is making sure that we come back to democracy. that's what this is all about. >> back to democracy, senator tom udall, thank you for your time tonight. >> thank you.
>> joining me now, senator tim kaine, democrat from virginia. and senator, one of the reasons i wanted to speak to you this evening is that you have the good fortune of having not actually been in the united states senate during the last time this fight went down. and so, there is no tape of you, as far as i know, defending the filibuster, its nobility, its importance for the minorities to speak, so you are free of the charges of procedural hypocrisy. but those charges abound. the question is, was then-senator barack obama and harry reid, were they wrong in 2005 as a general matter about the use of the filibuster? >> well, you know, i wasn't here, so i don't know how it was being -- >> well, you can render a judgment. >> i can render a judgment, my judgment is, we needed to make this change. the way i pitched it, the senate rules were being used to nullify american law. this is what i have objected to in being here for ten months. when the republicans don't like something, but they can't muster the votes to kill a program or a project or an agency, they try
to defund it or they try to decapitate it by not putting in the head. so they don't like the beer, tobacco, and firearms because the nra is against it. for six years, we didn't have a head of that agency. they try to deny putting in a quorum of commissioners at the nrlb. and the d.c. circuit is a good example. it's not the president who says there's 11 judges, it's congress. but they were using this filibuster to block the president from filling the congressionally mandated slots. it's nullifying law. just like the shutdown in october was trying to nullify -- well, we don't like obama care, we'll shut the whole government down. you cannot let the senate rules be used to nullify the law. >> i think this is a crucially important distinction. there's two elements here in the obstruction. there's an empirical obstruction on the raw number of cloture motions that have gone up. we've seen that amazing statistic in the history of u.s. republic. half of all filibuster nominees have happened under president obama. >> absolutely. >> but there's also this key
point you're making here, which is that it's a difference in kind. the objection to, for instance, the consumer financial protection bureau, in which republicans said, we simply do not like the agency, ergo, we will confirm no one, we will filibuster everyone. that is a different kind of thing than what we've seen in the past. >> it absolutely is. and let me give you another one. mel watt, to be head of the fha, let me tell you what folks say around here. there are prominent donors on the republican side who believe that the federal government should not play a role in housing. so they blocked mel watt from being the head of the fha to appease those donors. even though they would never even introduce a bill to repeal the fha or repeal the federal housing, because the real estate industry and home builders would go berserk. so if they can't get what they want because they can't repeal a law, they can't beat it in court, they can't win at the ballot box to get enough people in congress to repeal a law, they will defund or decapitate or try to shut government down. the senate rules can't be used
to nullify american law. that's why what we did today was so very important. and you know, chris, it's going to have one other benefit. we waste so much time on the procedural maneuverings about appointments. by shortening that now, there will be more time to actually debate and consider the other most important job of congress, which is legislation. >> what i see here, and i'm glad you brought the shut down, is an evolving set of dispositions in the two parties. in which the republican party is increasingly viewing itself as a minority party that is embattled and has to come up with different means of sabotage and subterfuge in order to get its agenda passed or to politic the rising obama coalition. and the democratic party is increasingly confident. i think part of what happened in 2005 wasn't just that the parties were switched in a majority/minority status, it was that democrats weren't confident that they were going to be able to win national majorities. and they are now. and i'm not sure republicans are confident of the same. >> i think that's a good point,
i'll tell you, the confidence goes a little bit further on the democratic side. before we cast this vote, we all asked ourselves, would we be comfortable with this as a state of affairs if we were in the minority, with a republican president, and we all said yes. here's why. the election of a president carries with it a mandate to assemble a team. if there's a day that i'm in the minority and i see a presidential nominee from a republican president i don't like, i'll make my research. but if a majority of the colleagues in the senate, elected by the american people feel like that's somebody that should be in office, then that should be the net result, even if i happen to vote against it. i'm confident that the process will work, whether i'm in the majority or minority, whether republican is a democrat or republican, the president. i'm confident the process will work. >> senator tim kaine of the commonwealth of virginia, espousing the radical, radical notion of majority rule here. that is now on tape, sir. thank you.
coming up in a few minutes -- >> to get elected to the upper house, you have to be among this nation's most reasoned and revered [ bleep ] holes. the type that would keep voting year after year to continue what are known as the rules of the senate. >> you know that one friend who just won't let you get a word in edgewise? well, the u.s. senate has a friend like that. his name is phila-buster. >> and do you know who started the filibuster? our most hated, despised founding father. the deep, dark history of the institution that was mortally wounded today, coming up. i take prilosec otc each morning for my frequent heartburn. because you can't beat zero heartburn. woo hoo! [ male announcer ] prilosec otc is the number one doctor recommended
today, harry reid took the first step in asserting majority rule in the united states senate. and it has taken us more than 200 years to get to this day. >> i do really know what my constitutional rights are? do i really know what the constitution is? >> in the united states constitution, there are five specific instances where a senate supermajority is required to act. a two-thirds majority is required to impeach a president, ratify a treaty, expel a senator, overcome a veto, and amend the constitution. when it comes to the term "filibuster," an "all in" investigation has revealed that the word does not exist in the constitution. the invention of the filibuster comes to us from none other than the guy who murdered alexander hamilton. under vice president aaron burr, the senate changed an obscure
senate rules that ended up allowing for endless actual debate. now known as a talking filibuster. >> and i'll tell you one thing. the wild horses aren't going to drag me off this forum until those people have heard what i've got to say, even if it takes all winter. >> reporter: that tool was rarely used until 1917, when during world war i, a small group of republican anti-war senators killed a bill to arm merchant ships. president woodrow wilson wasn't having it. unilaterally arm the ships and push the senate to change the rules, so that a two-thirds majority could overcome a talking filibuster. thus creating cloture. the vote taken to overcome the filibuster. and the rules stayed that way until the post-watergate reform era. >> this is "nbc nightly news" with david brinkley in washington and john chancellor in new york. >> good evening. filibuster fever has broken out
in the united states senate. >> reporter: in 1975, democrat majority leader mike mansfield oversaw two changes. one, a change to the rules making it easier to defeat a filibuster by lowering the threshold to 60 votes. the other change made it easier to launch a filibuster, allowing senators simply to announce their intention to filibuster rather than actually delivering a speaking filibuster. thus, the procedural filibuster was born. and it was used around 20 times a year, throughout the carter and reagan administrations. but perhaps not surprisingly, its use spiked under bill clinton. >> they required us to get 60 votes. we didn't get it, we didn't get it twice, and so where i come from, that means we lost. >> reporter: by 2005, it was republicans who were threatening filibuster reform. >> we turn to the latest political battle braing on capitol hill. it's the fight over federal judges and the so-called nuclear option. >> reporter: back then, it was a senator mcconnell urging up or
down votes. >> let's get back to the way the senate operated for over 200 years, up or down votes on the president's nominee, no matter who the president is, no matter who's in control of the senate. >> reporter: back then, the two sides were able to avoid pushing the button. since then, republicans have embarked on an unprecedented obstruction campaign against the president's agenda, particularly against his executive and judicial nominees. you can see the obstruction ticked up under clinton and effectively doubled under obama. >> in the history of our country, some 230 plus years, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. half of them have occurred during the obama administration. >> after cycles of threats and gentleman's agreements with mitch mcconnell, republicans blocked all three of the president's most recent judicial nominations, daring reid to act. and today, he did. joining me now, alan throughman, who retired as the parliamentarian in the senate in
2011, and jim manley. he worked in the senate for 21 years. now senior director at qga public affairs. jim, you were at the senate majority leader's side during the big fight in 2005. was he wrong then or now? >> he sure as heck isn't wrong now. i want to applaud him for doing what he did. it was a tough decision for him to make, but i'm glad he finally did it. look, as you yourself pointed out, it's an apples and oranges comparison. what we've seen since 2005 is a filibuster on steroids. in your report, you talked about the growth in filibusters and nominations and judicial nominees, but what you didn't mention was the filibuster on steroids for every piece of legislation coming down the pike. now all but the routine, most routine piece of the legislation are subject to a filibuster. senator reid decided correctly that something had to give.
the current situation was untenable, and we needed a reset in the senate. >> i want to come back to you about how much things have changed and where we go from here. was alan, i want to ask, as the authority on the senate rules and procedures, how much did the united states senate change today? >> i believe the united states senate changed in the very fundamental way today. the senate has given its minorities a tremendous amount of deference. it has accorded its minorities privileges over the years. those privileges, i believe, over the years, have been consistent with the framers' design of the senate. and there are those who argue that these privileges were being abused. i will leave that determination to others. it did appear that the level of what the majority calls obstruction had reached new heights. i can't answer that. but the manner in which the senate went about changing its procedures, i think, is a fundamental alter ration of the senate's way of doing business.
>> is this -- is your fear that this is a one-way ratchet, alan? that basically we've now opened the floodgates. it seems to me, and i'm rooting for this eventuality, because i'm a believer in majority rule, that it won't be tenable to have this in-between situation for very long, which is to say, well, we only don't have a filibuster in these cases, that you're just going to get simple majority rule soon. >> i think reasonable people can disagree as to whether there was a need for a change in senate procedures and in senate rules. but i believe the manner in which this took place will, in fact, be a ratchet, that this will be a device that the majority can use whenever it's convenient to use it. and one can disagree with whether or not the substantiative ends to be achieved are worth it, but from a procedural standpoint, my fear going forward is this is a fundamental alter ration of the very delicate balance between majority and minority that the senate uniquely in our federal system has honored for 200
years. >> so you and i disagree on this, and partly, i think that's the places we're coming from. you're someone who has been immersed in and the kind of guardian of this procedure. i'm someone who basically cares about outcomes and i think -- no, i do. and i pretty much think that we're all procedural hypocrites at the end of the day, which is why it was so hilarious to watch fox news was making fun of liberals for flip-flopping and we're making fun of conservatives for flip-flopping. well, everyone's flip-flopping, because everyone's a procedural hypocrite, jim -- >> but not the senate parliamentarians. let's give credit where credit is due. >> but you're a special kind of fish, alan. let's be honest here. most people care about outcomes more than they care about procedure, which brings me to jim. the big kind of utilitarian argument against this is, oh, you democrats, you're going to reject this when you're in the minority, when the republicans just get rid of the filibuster for everything, and they get 51 votes to fully repeal obama care. do you worry about that? >> sure, i do. absolutely. as i mentioned before on your
show, another reason to be concerned is, let's pretend, you say grover norquist is writing tax policy for senate republicans under that scenario. next thing you know, you'll have a supermajority of 67 to raise revenue. so, yes -- >> that's an interesting -- that's a very interesting point. >> yeah, i'm worried about, senator reid is worried about it, as well as the caucus as a whole. but as your previous guests pointed out, they factor that into their internal deliberations and made it a calculated decision, like i said, that they needed to reset the current situation was untenable. and that they were prepared to take these relatively small steps to try and affect some change in the senate. >> alan, when you talk about the way that this was done, and i think this is crucial, because, you know, you're someone who i think that has authority to speak on this. something was revolutionized today in the u.s. senate. and it's kind of hard to see through all the procedural language. but the fact that, basically, the majority asserted a simple
majority control over the rules of the body in the middle of a session, that was a pretty remarkable thing to take place. >> well, it's important to understand that the senate doesn't operate so much by its rules and i have the rule book here, it's 69 pages long, as it operates by precedent and practice. and i also have the senate procedure, which is over 1,500 pages long. that's the book of precedent. the senate operates by press didn't. and what happened today was a precedent was established, but it was both a procedural precedent and an institutional precedent and you pundits can determine whether or not it was a political precedent. >> very important that that precedent happened today. something really changed today. we entered a new era. alan frumin, former senate parliamentarian and jim manley, former senate staffer, thank you both. okay, coming up next -- >> we also know that we have a job to do, and what we're hire to do is to run our states and do the job. we talk about the common sense solutions that we're bringing to the people of our state and the things that are getting done on their behalf.
and that's what our focus is going to continue to be. we have extraordinary records. >> is there anyone who loves chris christie more than chris christie? that was, of course, the new jersey governor, talking about jobs and extraordinary records today. you know what the unemployment rate is in the state of new jersey? the answer is coming up.
did you hear the amazing news today? chris christie got a new job. now, i know what you're thinking. didn't this guy just get a job a few weeks ago when he was re-elected to another term as governor of new jersey? well, yes, he did, but now he has a second job. christie's been elected chairman of the republican governor's association. he helps the rga kick off its annual meeting in arizona. and while the head of the rga gets to hobnob with other big gop governor, the big prize of being head of the rga is getting to increase your national profile as you help republicans win elections. ronald reagan was rga chair back in the late '60s when he was governor of california, and that worked out pretty well for him. the guy christie is seceding as chair is louisiana governor bob y jindal. they were both gunning for the chairmanship in 2014. and it was chris christie who worked behind the scenes to
trump jindal. an unnamed gop operative told cnn, it just kind of took people by surprise. bobby had paid his dues. was it a good move by christie's? absolutely, just rubbed some people the wrong way. and so the former future of republican politics, bobby jindal, passes the torch of current future of republican politics, chris christie, who doesn't mind speaking for everyone. >> everyone's excited that, you know, i'm going to take over the chairmanship and i'm getting great responses from donors and from my fellow governors. so i'm looking forward to it. going to be a great year. 36 races, going to be fun. >> everybody's excited. but while chris christie thinks everybody is excited about his new job, he seems to forget about the lack of jobs in his own state. while the nation sits at a 7.3% unemployment rate, new jersey is more than a point higher and every state that borders new jersey has an unemployment rate below 8%. today we learned that new jersey had the fourth highest increase in weekly unemployment claims. so while chris christie starts his second job, there are plenty
of people in the state who don't even a have one. but christie is not alone. congressional republicans seem to care about jobs only as press conference set decorations. ask them to outline a jobs plan, and you won't hear very much. so while chris christie and the republican party may be excited about their political agenda for 2014, they are ignoring the single biggest issue for working people, getting to full employment. joining me now are two economists, who just wrote a book about this, msnbc contributor, jared bernstein, former chief economist policy adviser to vice president biden, and baker, they have co-written, getting back to full employment, a better bargain for working people. are you amazed, jared bernstein, as someone who worked in the white house, who's a creature of washington in many ways, you've been around that town a while, are you amazed at the shocking disconnect between the urgency all of washington, both parties, particularly the republican
party, but both parties show towards the gap, the unemployment rate, the jobs deficit, the disconnect between the issue in the country and the response in washington? >> you know, i probably should be shocked, but i'm a little bit inured to it. it's been going on for such a long time. i think what you have to conclude is that there are far too many policy makers up here who really, a, don't think that much, about the problems that you just outlined. i mean, you've just shown, i think, pretty compelling evidence that the kind of rising star of the republican party really doesn't have much going on in terms of his economic record. i mean, when i think about chris christie economics, by the way, a, i can't really figure out what they are. and b, i know that when the chips are down, he comes running to washington for help. >> sounds like rand paul there. >> he actually has some keynesian credentials there. so think about that for a second. so, no, it doesn't surprise me, but it definitely disappoints me
in a very fundamental way. >> i'll do one better than disappoint, it enrages me. because it is the single most -- it's the single most important thing you could do right now for working people. and dean, i was joking to someone today that the title of this book is like, "why good things are better than bad things." it's -- >> if washington, that's news. >> it's strange you would have to make a sustained argument for, like, why is full employment good? can you explain why full employment is good and why we should be trying to get there. >> well, you get this bizarre sense here in washington, and i'm sure jared's been on panels like this too, that things are basically okay. of course, we'd like them better. i mean, no one -- i don't think we'd find anyone in the house and senate who personally might think it's the craziest right-wing republican who's going to say they think it's good that people don't have jobs. but for them, it just kind of, a, like a minor concern, and b, nothing we can do about it anyhow.
and you know, our point writing the book is, no, it is the major concern. it swamps everything else. there's a lot of important issues in washington. so i don't mean to dismiss many, many other things that are extremely important. but there's such a world of difference between, you know, we were talking about 4% unemployment. jared and i decided, that's number, we think, to shoot for for full employment. there's such a world of difference between when we're at 4% employment and where we are today, 7.3, 7.4. that mainly swamps everything. we thought it was important. let's try to drive that home and let's help. maybe we can get this on the agenda again. let's get people talking about it. >> and if you talk to conservatives, people say, well, sure, it would be nice. but all you can do is cut taxes and remove regulations and let the private sector do its thing, government can't actually create jobs. >> clearly, we reject that. in fact, there's over 20 million people working for the government, so let's just be real about that. but i think one of the points dean just made is very important in this regard.
there really is no playbook for job creation on the republican side. and these days, you really don't hear enough on the democratic side either. and one of the things we try to do in this book, i'd say more so than in earlier stuff we've written together, we have two chapters on the path back to full employment, with a number of very potent ideas that would help. what's important here, chris, is that it is now beginning to be understood by very prominent economists that left to its own devices, the private sector actually won't take us to full employment. it will do better than it's been doing, and i think that's going to happen as time goes on. but left to its own devices, i don't think we're going to have the quantity of jobs we need. >> in fact, there was a remarkable book written in the 1930s by a man by the name of keyens who figured this out. thank you.
coming up next on the show -- >> lee harvey oswald, the president's alleged assassin -- >> he's been shot. >> -- was dead. shot as he was escorted through a crush of police and reporters. he was handcuffed to dallas police detective, jim lavelle. >> i jerked back on him to throw him behind me. and instead of moving him, i just turned his body a little bit, so instead of hitting him dead center, it hit him about 3 inches to the left of the naval. >> you were trying to protect oswald. >> i was trying to pull him behind me, but i didn't have any leverage. >> reporter: there had been phone threats against oswald. >> when i told him i hoped if anybody shot him, they were as good a shot as he was, meaning, of course, that they would hit him and not me. he kind of laughed and said, oh, nobody's going to shoot at me. >> that was nbc's lester holt talking to former dallas police detective jim lavelle, who was one of the most iconic moments on television ever. the moment we first learned to experience national trauma collectively in front of our television sets, next.
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excuse me, chet. here is a flash from the associated press, dateline, dallas. two priests who were with president kennedy say he is dead of bullet wounds. there is no no further confirmation, but this is what we have on a flash basis from the associated press. two priests in dallas who were with president kennedy say he is dead of bullet wounds.
>> 50 years ago tomorrow, that was the report that millions of americans saw on their television screens, announcing the assassination of president john f. kennedy. it was a scarring moment for the nation and kicked off one of the most tumultuous periods in american history. >> i'm absolutely shocked, stunned. we have the same birthday. i'm just crazy about him. >> i don't know. i was -- i was in my place, you know, i work as a mail clerk in one of these music places, and someone asked me for a radio. and i thought they were joking. i mean it, i thought they were joking. i couldn't believe it. who would want to shoot the president? what did he do? he's been doing so much for the country. someone goes out and shoots him. >> the kennedy assassination was the first major national trauma we collectively witnessed through the medium of the tv. the beginning of the all-encompassing media era in which we now live.
a few day after the president's death, the nation witnesses what remains one of the most jarring moments in the history of live television. >> there is the person. >> there is lee oswald -- [ gunshot ] >> he's been shot! he's been shot. >> he's been shot! >> lee oswald has been shot! there's a man with a gun! it's absolute panic. absolute panic here in the basement of dallas police headquarters. >> we've all become used to the fog of confusion that descends on social media and cable news during chaotic violent, breaking news stories. but what distinguishes the kennedy assassination is that the confusion that reigned at that time, in those painful, jarring hours and days stillings 50 years later. joining me now, william van der hoover, former special assistant to attorney general robert kennedy in the jfk administration and jim laher. what was it like to try to sift through the information at the
time to report this story in the midst of the rupture, shot, trauma and confusion that must have reigned? >> chris, there's never been anything like it before, that i've ever heard of. certainly nothing that i ever experienced or nothing since. it was -- i spent many, many hours at the dallas police station, for instance, after all of this had happened, and the chaos in that police station was unlike anything. it was and the cross-collisions of feeling, disbelief, good god! they killed the president! oh, my god, it happened in dallas. oh, my god, who did it? oh, my god, i've got to find out because i'm a reporter or an fbi agent or a cop or all of that. and all of a sudden, we become swept with grief about it. and all of these things were happening, and i made some terrible mistakes.
people told me news, i picked up the phone and called the city -- i work for the afternoon newspaper in dallas, and i told them, for instance, an fbi agent had told me that one of the people killed in the assassination attempt was a secret service agent. and they went with it. they were about to go with it when somebody double checked and didn't go with it. but in today's world. >> and this is remarkable, because we get all of this tsk-tsking about kissed today and the social media and all the confusion that reigns. but it's a truism about human chaos and trauma that false information ripples out. it always does and it must have under the circumstances. i want to hear about how you heard about news, and what it was like inside the news after we take this one quick break.
flash apparently official, president kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. central standard time. 2:00 eastern standard time, some 38 minutes ago. >> we're back. i'm here with the ambassador william vanden heuvel and jim lehrer. and ambassador, you were special assistant to bobby kennedy. was there confusion inside the administration as well? >> not what you would call confusion. we were called back to the justice department. robert kennedy was having lunch at his home in virginia with bob morganthal when president hoover called him to tell him the president had been shot and later to tell him the president has been killed. a strange messenger of terrible news. and then we were with the attorney general. and bobby himself called is and said that the president had talked to him and had asked him to give him a copy of the oath, so that he could take it.
it's an interest thing, that that would have happened, because a lot of people would have had -- it's in the constitution. but robert kennedy gave him the oath and he relaid that to lyndon johnson. but it was an event that you would never forget. i was with adelaide stevens and others that night and everybody so stunned beyond belief. and suddenly lyndon johnson is on the phone and inviting you over to the white house and reading the transition. >> can i ask this question, i think, will betray my age a little bit, but i'm going to ask it anyway. if you poll people today, there's still tremendous confusion. the majority think that we don't know the full story, that it wasn't the lone gunman theory of oswald. what was the tenor at the time about how secure -- how sure people were about the chain of events. that it was lee harvey oswald, lone gunman who had shot the president of the united states, that he had been called by jack ruby four days later on national
television. was the sense at the time that we know just what happened? >> oh, no, certainly not, anything but that. the tenor was there's so much that we do not know. and ruby killing oswald just made it worse than it already was. and even though there this be a lot of forensics, they found the rifle, they found the bullet, they found this. all of that sort of stuff. but the fact is, and i was one of thousands of reporters who spent hours trying to prove that it was not one man, that it had to be -- because the natural inclination at the time, of everybody, one man could not have done -- >> so there was initial, just, people just blanched at the thought that this lone -- >> absolutely. that was in the automatic wind, didn't matter what your views were, didn't matter what facts you knew, it was just, no, no! the president of the united states could not have been killed by one guy by himself.
it had to be a conspiracy. >> i don't think you can overestimate the role of jackie kennedy in those days in holding the country together. her majesty, her command of the situation, her very stoic ability to plan the events as they came out, it was such a masterful presentation of a tragedy. and it was such a tragedy. i mean, it had the dimensions of a classic tragedy, the great young king in the sunlight of dallas and his beautiful queen at his side. his brother, the attorney general of the united states, his other brother in the senate, presiding over the senate at the moment the president was assassinated. and the father, the source of the family power, in hyannis port, rendered mute, dumb, by a stroke the year before, and compelled to watch the murder of his son without even being able to react. it was an event that no one would ever forget. >> but another part of the
problem in terms of the way people thought, was that if it was not one man acting alone, that meant there was a conspiracy of some kind. so who are we going to bomb? are we going to bomb havana? going to bomb moscow? what are we going to do? >> and the subhead, the a1, "the new york times" the next day, identifies oswald in the subhead, as affiliate with a pro-castro group. that phrase appears on page 1. and the fbi actually had kept tabs on mr. oswald, as had the cia. oswald had been in mexico, presumably spotted at the cuban embassy just a few weeks before all this happened. and in some ways, it is amazing that the country didn't go to war in the wake of it. >> and one of the reasons it didn't go to war is because they suddenly and very quickly, two things happened. they federalized the crime. the fbi took over the investigation, and the warren commission was established. and a lot of people saw that as part of a conspiracy.
in other words, to -- because nobody wanted world war iii. whatever it took, let's don't have world war iii. >> because if it were the case that you pulled on the thread long enough that it got you back to moscow, then you must, under the logic of the time -- >> absolutely. >> -- there would have been no out. >> well, the events that revealed, i mean, for example, oswald's attempted murder of general walker three months before. so, suddenly, you had somebody who was identified as a possible murderer. and you delved into the fact that oswald had been in moscow -- had been in russia -- >> yes, he essentially defected. but it's an amazing thing given the sort of history of anti-communism in that period of time that that part of the oswald story, because the fbi tamped that down so hard, is not the part that's been passed down through the years. and it's in some ways a testament to j. edgar hoover's ability to keep facts in the per view of j. edgar hoover that
that is no what we think about now. professor vanden move and jim lehrer, thank you. that is "all in" for this evening and the rachel maddow show starts right now. thanks the to you at home for joining us this hour, on an historic day in american politics. today really was a really, really, really big day. this is richard toronto. do not be distracted by his last name. he is not a mayor. he is not canadian. he has nothing to do with crack cocaine, nothing to do with canadian football, nothing to do with anything that looks anything like this. rather, richard toronto is a lawyer focused on intellectual property issues. he has had a very successful, very highfalutin legal career and he was nominated for a prestigious federal judgeship a couple of years ago, november 2011. he was nominated and then nothing.