The Rachel Maddow Show, 5/10/21 | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


Summary

“New York Times” cybersecurity reporter Nicole Perlroth, who has been covering the ransomware attack on Colonial Energy, is interviewed. Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon and the lead sponsor of the For the People Act legislation, is interviewed.

Transcript

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: To this day as we approach this leadership vote this week. Jane Mayer, as always, great reporting. Thank you so much for sharing it with us tonight. Glad you made that drive over there.

That is ALL IN on this Monday night.

“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend.

Thanks to you at home as well for joining us this hour.

It is a big day in terms to the response to the coronavirus epidemic in our country with the FDA for the first time approving the use of one of the three U.S.-approved COVID vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine, for use in kids as young as 12 years old. Now this is not a done deal yet. The Vaccine Safety and Efficacy Advisory Committee that advises the CDC on these matters, they are due to meet in the next couple of days to give their recommendation to the CDC as well.

But with the Food and Drug Administration already going on the record late today in advance of that CDC meeting, saying the clinical trial data on Pfizer makes it clear to them that kids 12 to 15 are fine the take the Pfizer vaccine, what it means bottom line is that American kids aged 12, 13, 14, 15 could end up being eligible to be vaccinated by the end of this week, which is fantastic news, in terms of the country being in terms of the country being able to just live more normally.

Vaccinated kids in schools, in sports, in summertime activities, families being able to be together in multigenerational ways without worrying that an unvaccinated kid might unknowingly have an unsymptomatic case of COVID and might infect grandma or grandpa to devastating effect or a relative who can`t be vaccinated for some reason. This should fix those worries for families with kids ages 12 and up.

But again, the CDC advisory meeting is going to happen in the next couple days. With the FDA saying today from their perspective, they`re ready to go. That means as soon as that CDC decision is in, vaccinations of 12, 13, 14, 15-year-olds could begin immediately when that happens, within just the next few days.

And again, this is just the Pfizer vaccine. We expect that Moderna`s clinical trial results for testing their vaccine on younger kids, those should come in the next few weeks. But this is just for Pfizer for now.

The dosing is the same as adults. You get the same sized dose as an adult does. The two doses are given three weeks apart just as they are for adults. The clinical trial data shows they are just as effective if not more so in kids age 12 and up compared to how it is in adults. The clinical trial data shows kids aged 12 to 15 have the same kind of side effects and the same prevalence of side effects basically as everybody else, which means some people feel nothing. Some people feel lousy. But even if you feel lousy, it goes away quickly.

The Biden administration has been moving in advance of this expected announcement to make sure that vaccines for kids aged 12 and up can roll out really quickly as soon as the approval is given. What exactly that`s going to mean, how exactly that`s going look in the real world, we may get to see that put into action by the end of this week. So this is a very, very big deal.

Today, an “Associated Press” poll says that President Biden has overall a 63 percent approval rating with the American people right now, which is very, very high, 63 percent approval. But look at his approval with the American people specifically on his handling of COVID, 71 percent approval, 71 percent of the country approves with how he is handling the COVID response.

Well, a fast, well-managed roll-out of the first vaccine approval for kids over aged 12 is going to be the next big part of that. So we shall see. It`s really big news. And it`s going to be big news all week as we close in on what is expected to be the official green light from the CDC over the next few days.

We`re also expecting a really busy week in Washington in terms of the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress starting to move their next big pieces of priority legislation. We`re going the talk with a key senator tonight, for example, who has sponsored the huge voting rights bill that Democrats are trying to get to President Biden`s desk for a signature.

This is the bill that has already passed the House. If it passes the Senate, President Biden says he will sign it. It would finally put a floor underneath voting rights in terms of preventing Republican-controlled states from rescinding voting rights the way they have been around the country.

Tomorrow`s going to be a day of major fireworks on that bill, the For the People Act. There are also heading into those fireworks tomorrow signs of a new strategy among the Democrats to try to get it over the finish line, to get it passed. So we`re going to have more on that coming up. Again, we`re going to be interviewing tonight a key senator who is the sponsor of that legislation in the Senate.

But we start tonight in Dallas, Texas. Dallas, Texas, April 2017. On the night of April 8th, 2017, we all learned all around the country that Dallas, Texas, has precisely 156 emergency warning sirens, that warn of approaching tornadoes. We all learned that, that night of April 8th, 2017, because that night, 18 minutes before midnight, all 156 of those tornado sirens started going off in Dallas all at the same time.

And the reason that was scarier than usual is because there weren`t any tornadoes. It was a calm night, clear weather, nothing on the horizon. But all 156 emergency sirens in Dallas all went off together. And they kept going off for more than an hour and a half. They went off for 95 straight minutes with no break.

Thousands and thousands and thousands of people in Dallas called 911. Some of them panicked, trying to figure out what was going on. On a night when there was no bad weather and the tornado sirens wouldn`t quit. Did this mean there was some other kind of attack happening?

The city of Dallas initially reported that it was some kind of malfunction in the emergency warning system. That turned out not to be true, not unless you use a really wide definition of the word “malfunction.” What had actually happened that night in April 2017 was the city`s emergency siren system had been hacked, hacked to make them all go off indefinitely all at once. And they couldn`t figure out how to undo it, at least not that night.

The only way they were able to get those tornado sirens to finally stop blaring the night of April 8th, 2017 was to basically unplug the entire system. Which did stop the sirens from going off that night, but is a problem in the long return if you want to be able to use your tornado sirens to use — you know, to give people a warning of impending tornadoes.

And in fact that arose as an issue two years later, March 2019, two suburbs just south of Dallas metro, towns called DeSoto, Texas, and Lancaster, Texas, they got hit with essentially the same kind of hacking attack. Tornado sirens in those two towns going off all at once in the middle of the night, 20 of them in Lancaster, 10 of them in DeSoto. They blared from 2:30 in the morning until 4:00 in the morning before those towns in Texas were able to pull the plug there too in order to get the sirens to stop going off.

Unlike the attack in Dallas proper two years earlier, though, when it happened two years later in 2019 in those two Texas towns, those towns actually were at tornado risk within a day of the attack while the system was still unplugged and shut down. Those two towns, Lancaster and DeSoto, Texas, got hit with severe thunderstorms the following day, and they were worried they were going to be in the path of tornados while their tornado warning siren system was shut down because it had been hacked the day before. Luckily nothing turned into a tornado, but that was a close call.

In between those two attacks in March 2018, the city of Atlanta, Georgia got hit by hackers too. This is what “The New York Times” at the time called one telephone most sustained and consequential cyber attacks ever mounted against a major American city. But in that Atlanta attack in the spring of 2018, there was a twist, that hackers broke into the computer networks maintained by the city of Atlanta. They effectively shut down almost all of the municipal networks the city maintained.

But the hackers in that attack weren`t just messing with people like the hackers had been apparently in Texas, in 2017 and again in 2019. When the hackers broke into Atlanta`s networks and essentially took control of all of them and stopped Atlanta from being able to use any system from people paying their parking tickets to people applying to jobs to police filing their reports for arrests and stuff, when they were shut down in that attack in Atlanta in 2018, what those hackers wanted was not just to mess with people, they wanted money.

Last week, one of the shocking stories in the news and in U.S. politics, a real surprise, was the announcement by Democratic Party rising star Keisha Lance Bottoms, the very charismatic, very talented mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, her announcement late last week that she wouldn`t seek reelection.

Keisha Lance Bottoms was vetted as a presidential running mate for President Biden. She was reportedly offered a cabinet position in the Biden administration. She didn`t end up in either of those gigs. She said instead she would stay on in Atlanta to run for another term as mayor.

But then in a prize, she announced at the end of last week she is not going to that either. She is only going to do that through the end of this term and she will not stand for reelection. And the video that she released that day explaining her resignation included a prominent section on that cyber attack that the city of Atlanta suffered early in her term. And what a huge problem that was resignation included a prominent section on that cyber attack that the city of Atlanta suffered early in her term. And what a huge problem that was and how she dealt with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GA: Just three months into my term, we were hit with the largest cyber attack in municipal government history, taking our systems offline for months in exchange for a ransom that we would not pay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: A ransom that we would not pay. In fact, the city of Atlanta did not pay that ransom, and their systems were down for months, sending the city back to pen and paper, non-computerized files and reports and processes for months. But they didn`t pay. It was later confirmed by the U.S. Justice Department that Atlanta would not pay the ransom that the hackers demanded. They confirmed that.

The Justice Department confirmed that when they later announced federal criminal charges against two men, two young Iranian men who were charged with running that cyber attack for ransom scheme that shut down Atlanta for all of that time. In fact, it was a pair of indictments, both in federal court in Georgia and also in the federal court in New Jersey.

Two federal indictments charging that Iranian hacking crew withholding up the city of Atlanta and also Newark, New Jersey, and the port of San Diego, and the Colorado Department of Transportation, and the University of Calgary in Canada, and the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles and smaller hospitals and health care companies in Nebraska, Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina, Illinois. This huge list of entities large and small all hit by this group called the Samsam ransomware group.

They were charged in those two federal indictments at the end of 2018. They`re now wanted on serious charges in this country. But since Iran does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, those hackers are unlikely to ever see the inside of a U.S. federal courtroom.

Over the years, we have covered the massive ransomware attack by North Korean hackers in 2017, hitting more than 70 countries, crippling computer networks and entities as diverse as the British National Health Service, the Russian Interior Ministry, FedEx here in the United States. In October and November of last year, you might remember this.

As the coronavirus pandemic was dragging the country through a very, very dark time as we were hitting new records at the time in October and November in terms of the number of new COVID cases in this country and our hospitals were struggling, a whole bunch of hospitals got hit with a ransom wear attack as well. Hospitals from Vermont to Oregon to Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, all got hit with ransomware as well in a particularly evil attack at a particularly vulnerable time, the computerized systems and networks in those hospitals all locked up while their cyber attackers demanded payment to unlock them, all in the middle of some of the darkest days of the COVID epidemic.

Well, now we`ve got another one. This time it is the largest ever ransomware cyber attack on oil infrastructure in the United States. There have been other attacks on pipelines, on a natural gas compression facility and a few other pieces of energy infrastructure in the United States that the U.S. government has told the public about, but this is a big one, and it is ongoing.

We learn about it for the first time very late on Friday. The operator of the Colonial Pipeline announced that it was shutting down that pipeline to try to secure it because an active cyber attack was under way. The Colonial Pipeline carries 45 percent of the fuel used on the east coast.

It runs from the Gulf Coast up to New Jersey. It`s the largest fuel pipeline in the country. It runs gasoline and jet fuel and diesel. This thing has now been shut down since Friday. The company says it hopes to be back up and running by the end of this week, but this is the largest fuel pipeline in America, and we`re basically looking at a week-long shutdown because of a cyber attack.

Now, the FBI today put out an overt statement naming the ransomware group that is being blamed for the attack. They also put out a flash alert telling other entities how to figure out if they may have been targeted with this same type of approach, how to protect themselves if they think they have been.

But while the Colonial Pipeline is still shut tonight, there is a whole bunch of questions here that are sort of hanging open like tornado sirens left with their on buttons stuck. First of all, the ransomware appears to have targeted the corporate computer networks for the pipeline operator. The attackers are reported to have stolen about 100 gigabytes of data from the operator of the pipeline. They have reportedly threatened that unless their ransom gets paid, the company won`t get that stolen data back, and/or some of that stolen data may be posted online.

We don`t know what that data is. Presumably it was chosen because it`s perceived to be of particular value to the company, both for the company to get back, but to also not have it out there in the public domain. But again, we don`t know what it is.

We also don`t know how much of a ransom was demanded of the pipeline operator by the people who attacked it. We also don`t know if the pipeline operator has paid the ransom that was demand of them. It kind of seems like they might have.

The White House today was asked repeatedly if the company had paid the ransom. The deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity wouldn`t say, wouldn`t answer that question as to whether or not the company had paid, which lots of people in the press at least read as a tacit admission that yeah, the company probably did pay the ransom.

Again, that`s speculation. We don`t know. The White House won`t say one way or another. Neither will the company.

Whether or not they paid the ransom, though, it`s also not clear if the hackers penetrated more than the corporate network. And this is the part that at least gives me as a layman looking in on this stuff, it gives me the heebie-jeebies. They were able to get into the corporate network of the entity that controls this pipeline. They were able to reportedly steal data and shut stuff down and make their demands that the company wouldn`t be able to get that data back, wouldn`t be able to keep that data private, wouldn`t be able to get control of their systems again unless they paid their money.

Well, did they go beyond just infiltrating, penetrating and compromising the corporate network of the entity that runs the pipeline? Did they also gain control of the pipeline? Did they also gain access to the control systems for this 5,000 plus mile pipeline itself which goes all the way from the Gulf Coast through habited America all the way up to New Jersey? Did the hackers gain control of the pipeline so they themselves could shut it down if they wanted to? Or worse, sabotage it in some dangerous way if they wanted to? Also not clear at this point.

And who are they any way? Why are they doing this? Obviously they want money. What else do we need to know about them?

The FBI has attributed the attack to an entity called DarkSide, which is thought to operate in Russia or Eastern Europe. “New York Times” reporter Nicole Perlroth who wrote an excellent book on these kinds of attacks and more earlier this year, a book with the unforgettable title “This is How They Tell Me the World Ends,” Nicole Perlroth noted today that this DarkSide group uses a specific tool in its attacks that gives us some hints as to if not their loyalties or who they feel allegiance to.

They use a tool in their attacks that identifies the default language that is used on the computers that they`re attacking. Now the reason they do this, the reason they want to know the default language for the computers they`re targeting is because apparently they want to screen out any computers that are using as their default language any of these languages in Russia and in the former Soviet bloc, which is a hallmark of hacking groups that are operating with the tacit approval of the Russian government. They go through a whole screen of are they, you know — are these computers having their default language set to Russian or Ukrainian or to any of these other languages from the former Soviet bloc.

In other words, don`t attack a Russian or Russian allied interests. But otherwise, knock yourself out, right? If they`re trying specifically to not hit any entities, any computers that have a default language in the former Soviet space, well, why would they want to make allowances to save computers like that from their attacks?

There has been a lot of focus today on whether this attack, this successful attack that has shut down the biggest fuel pipeline in the unit, there has been a lot of focus on whether this is an attack by another country, whether this is some other country attacking critical infrastructure in the United States.

Nicole Perlroth and other expert journalists in field have basically been trying to teach us for years now that the distinction there is a little bit fuzzy. As she writes in her book, quote, Putin laid down only two rules for Russia`s hackers. First, no hacking inside the motherland. And second, when the Kremlin calls in favor, you do whatever it asks. Otherwise, hackers had full autonomy, and oh how Putin loved them.

So this DarkSide group, again, the FBI is attributing this attack to them, saying that they operate in Russia and/or Eastern Europe. The question as to whether or not they are an entity that is affiliated with a nation state, hmm, it`s a little fuzzy. But Russia has pretty explicitly been a sort of sanctuary, a safe zone for criminal hacking groups pretty explicitly pretty explicitly been a sort of sanctuary, a safe zone for criminal hacking groups to operate for a long time now.

The Russian state essentially allows them to operate on their own terms and do things without any fear of prosecution from the Russian government, unless and until it serves the Russian government`s interests. More often what the Russian government has done is allow groups like that to operate to get very good at what they do, and then have them do favors for the Russian state whenever the Kremlin needs them.

This DarkSide group is a little bit of a weird duck, though. They literally announced themselves. They announced their existence in a press release that they posted online in August, which is a little bit of a weird thing for a criminal group to do. They have declared themselves to be operating under a sort of hacker code of conduct in which they say they won`t target entities like hospitals or nonprofits. They also say they won`t target governments.

Well, if in fact it`s them, they may have hoped to avoid targeting the U.S. government while they targeted this huge fuel pipeline in the United States, but this is a critical enough large enough piece of U.S. infrastructure that boy howdy do they have the U.S. government`s attention now. Emergency meetings all weekend long at the White House, multiple agencies briefing the public today, FBI alerts and statements of blame about the attack today, the U.S. president speaking out on this issue and talking about who will be blamed and how this will be handled.

It seems like whether or not they were explicitly trying to target a government entity here, they have got a handful of U.S. government response to deal with now as this ongoing attack stretches into its fourth day.

Joining us now is “New York Times” cybersecurity reporter Nicole Perlroth who has been covering the ransomware attack on Colonial Energy and has covered many before this.

Nicole, it`s really nice to see you tonight. Thank you so much for making time.

NICOLE PERLROTH, CYBERSECURITY REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks, Rachel. Thanks for the great setup. You laid it out pretty clearly there.

MADDOW: Oh, well, I wanted to ask you if I`ve missed anything either important in terms of context or anything new. I know you`ve been covering this right through to tonight, you and your colleagues at “The Times.”

PERLROTH: So we`re just learning more about the group that`s responsible. We think that they`re an offshoot of this other Russian group called REvil that has been around for a while, that`s actually the group that was responsible for hacking a company called Quanta Inc., which is a main supplier of Apple products. So in addition to holding up Quanta, they threatened to release designs for all the latest Apple products. And in that case, they`re making a ransom demand of something like $50 million, which is one of the highest ransom demands I`ve ever heard.

So we think that DarkSide, the group responsible pour this pipeline hack is an offshoot of that group. And they are a little quirky. They claim they won`t hack hospitals, et cetera. And it looks like they might have not even intended to hack a company that would have had such strong down-stream effects like Colonial Pipeline. They put out a statement today saying we don`t like to get involved in geopolitics.

And so we`re trying to understand what to make of this. And I think really what we`re seeing as a group that is trying to separate itself as much as possible from Russia, perhaps because they`re scared of some kind of retaliation like the kind you saw the Pentagon Cyber Command pull off ahead of the election in 2020 when they were afraid that a ransomware group would hold critical election systems hostage.

And there too they wouldn`t necessarily know if it was Russia proper that was doing that or whether it was a cyber criminal that could maintain some sort of plausible deniability from Vladimir Putin.

But in any event, U.S. Cyber Command took them off line. I think we saw today was the group really coming out and trying to separate itself from Russia and Russian operations and Russia as a safety vent for so many cyber criminals and ransomware groups we`re seeing these days.

MADDOW: The deputy national security adviser today, Anne Neuberger, described this as ransomware as a service, which to me was a familiar idea because of your book, but it seemed to me to potentially add another layer of plausible deniability in terms of attribution for this attack.

Does that mean that essentially the FBI and the U.S. government can identify the tools that are being used here and who may have developed those tools or indeed sold those tools, but the person wielding them to carry out this attack might still be yet another bad actor, a different party?

PERLROTH: No, it`s a critical observation. They are ransomware as a service operator. They will lease out their access to victims` networks to other ransomware groups that then use their access to hold these systems hostage, and they`ll take a cut. In their statement today, they almost seemed to say this wasn`t us, this was someone we had leased our service too, because they said in the future, we`ll moderate who we`re leasing these systems to more clearly. Didn`t say in those words, but that was essentially the message.

But I think what we saw and what you described just now with the Biden administration really coming out in full force on this is a good thing. I think in the background what we`re seeing is an administration that wants to take Russia on as a safe haven for cyber crime and ransomware and possibly more.

You know, we understand that Russia as a safe haven for cyber criminals. They don`t travel to countries anymore where they could possibly be extradited to the United States. Russia will never extradite them. It really is one of the world`s biggest safety events for this activity.

So even if this is not nation state-backed, it is nation state-enabled. And we`ve gotten to a point where sanctioning and indicting cyber criminals is not enough. So these days, officials are talking about things like restricting travel visas for Russian citizens or any citizens in countries that provide safe harbor for ransomware criminals, because the problem has just become so crazy.

I mean, just in the last two weeks, we saw the Washington Police Department held up with ransomware. A few weeks ago, Honeywell was held up with ransomware. We saw this at Apple supplier held up with ransomware. And these ransomware groups are now spilling out stolen data online, which makes backups — we tell victims back up your data so that if you`re hit with ransomware, you`ll be okay.

Well, when criminals are now saying we`re also going to dump your data online, backups don`t really mitigate against that. We`re facing an innovative and very clever adversary, and there so many of them. There are about 30 ransomware groups out there that are hacking American companies not just to hold their data hostage, but to leak it out online.

MADDOW: Yeah, and in this case too, bring about the shutdown of the largest fuel pipeline in the country for an attack that seems like at minimum is going to take that down for at least a week. Nicole Perlroth, cyber security report for “The New York Times,” author of the new book “This is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyber Weapons Arms Race” — Nicole, thank you as always for your clarity and tolerance for walking us through some of this more complicated stuff. It`s great to have you here.

PERLROTH: Thank you so much. Last time we spoke it was over the water treatment facility hacks. So hopefully the next time we speak things will have improved a little bit. But I don`t have much hope for that.

MADDOW: Yeah, exactly. I don`t. Things aren`t trending in a good direction in terms of the content of these conversations. But thank you, Nicole.

All right. We`ve got much more news ahead tonight. Do stay with us. I appreciate it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Two-point-one million ballots in three weeks` time. That was the plan. When Arizona Republicans ordered an audit of the presidential election results, they planned to get it all done in three weeks. They rented a fancy auditorium. They got color coded t-shirts for all the ballot counters.

Over the course of these three weeks, they said they would look at every single ballot cast for president in the most populous county in Arizona. All 2.1 million of those votes they would look at those ballots so carefully using such magic technology, they would find the widespread voter fraud that they`re sure must somehow exist even though nobody else can see it.

Well, we are now in the third and supposed to be final week of the election audit in Arizona. They`re still searching for the phantom fraud, but at the end of this week, Friday of this week, they have to pack up their ballot counting tables, they have to pack up their fraud detecting magic light boxes and their colored t-shirts because Friday, the end of this week, they need to give the event space back.

That same auditorium is booked for high school graduations, which is a problem because in the 2 1/2 weeks they have already spent on this wild goose chase, this so-called audit has only gone through fewer than 300,000 ballots out of more than 2 million cast, which means it`s not going to be done by Friday. But they have to leave.

Last week one of the Arizona Republicans overseeing this clown show admitted that there might be a little tiny problem with time here. He said by his estimate, the hand recount of the ballots wouldn`t be done this week. Maybe it would go until July.

“The New York Times” reports that at the rate they`re currently going, the recount of all 2.1 million ballots will likely not wrap up actually until some time in August. Whether it is July or August or Halloween, presumably they`ll eventually reach the bottom of the pile. The make-believe audit of the election results in Arizona will eventually end, maybe.

But what`s becoming clear is that the Arizona election audit was not the main event here. Perhaps it was a rehearsal for what Republicans are going to try to do all over the country so they can keep alive this fantasy that somehow election fraud is what explains why Donald Trump appeared to have lost his bid for reelection in 2020.

Look in Georgia. Just like Arizona, Biden won the state of Georgia in the November election. But again, just like Arizona, Donald Trump and his Republican allies said their election in Georgia was a sham and riddled with fraud. Now Trump — former Trump adviser Peter Navarro says once the recount in Arizona is done and dusted, they`re going drag the whole audit operation to Georgia next.

Navarro telling the pro-Trump news outlet OAN that the scale of the so- called voter fraud in Georgia is much larger than in Arizona. So he says this is where the audit scheme should be run next.

On top of those plans, Donald Trump himself last week ginned up a new conspiracy theory about the results in Michigan, saying that 150,000 votes for Joe Biden were, quote, miraculously dropped into the state of Michigan the morning after the election.

He`s calling for the Michigan state senate, the Republican-controlled Michigan state Senate to do a review of the election results in Michigan that`s just like the one that`s going on in Arizona. He has now gone on to make a similar allegation for Wisconsin, because why not? While we`re doing all the recounting, might as well throw Wisconsin in the mix as well.

What`s going on in Arizona right now is not like the Republican Party getting their election fraud jitters out of their system. They just need to satisfy themselves that they`ve looked at everything and gone through every nefarious possibility, but they`ll move on from this.

They`re not trying to move on from this. This is not a one-off thing they`re going to do and then move on to other stuff. This is what they`re going to do now. The Arizona thing is the first one, but they`re going to do this traveling audit circus dragged around from one state to the next to try to keep this thing going.

They`re going put partisans and conspiracy theorists in charge of faux official seeming audits and recounts and other processes, holding them up into the fake fraud detecting lights working around high school graduations, right? They`re going to keep doing this over and over and over again until how long can they keep it going?

This is their new plan for what the Republican Party is doing around the country. Keep a watchful eye on this space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: If you`re one of the leaders of the two parties in the United States Senate, you have a lot on your plate, right? You set priorities. You talk to the public a lot.

You settle disputes and controversies among your members. You stand up for what your father is going to do and what they`re going to move on and what they`re going to object to in the Senate, whether you`re the majority leader because your party is in the majority or the minority party, if you`re the leader in the Senate, you are very, very busy and it`s a very high profile role.

One thing you don`t have to do, though, if you have one of those jobs is you don`t have to be on any committees. The top Democrat and the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, they do a lot, but they typically don`t give themselves a committee assignment. They don`t sit on any of the committees that actually do the work of legislation in the Senate.

So usually if you see Chuck Schumer or Mitch McConnell talking in the Senate, you see them standing, standing in the well of the senate, giving speeches, because that`s the only place in the Senate where they have to show up to do their jobs.

That`s why this year in March, it was visually and procedurally very unusual to see both Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell sitting down, both seated around the table at a proceeding of the Senate Rules Committee. Both Schumer and McConnell showed up to that committee in person that day to argue with each other over the merits of the Democrats` big voting rights bill, the for the people act. That usually doesn`t happen. You don`t usually see the leaders telephone two party parties in committee. It`s going to happen tomorrow, also on the voting rights bill.

Tomorrow, the rules committee is going to discuss that big voting rights bill, the For the People Act. Once again, both Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are going to sort of break the rules — not really, but they`re not really on any committee, including that one. But nevertheless, they`re going to big foot that committee and show up there inperson themselves to do some of the arguing.

Now the reason this is so important is that this is the Democrats` big plan for trying to beat back all of the voter suppression bills that are being rammed through Republican-controlled states all over the country, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Iowa, state after state after state. Tomorrow is going to be a real food fight over that and what`s in that bill.

But is that bill going to pass? It does right now seem like there is something interesting going on strategically with that bill. Tomorrow, Democrats say they plan to introduce several amendments to the bill. And again, remember, it`s their own bill. They`re going to introduce several amendments that are aimed at creating broader support for the bill with an eye toward eventually getting it passed and getting it to President Biden`s desk.

Now, Mitch McConnell has said there won`t essentially be any Republican votes for anything the Biden administration supports. What does Democratic strategy look like in the face of that? And what is the path toward getting this voting rights bill done?

Joining us now is Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon. He is the lead sponsor of the For the People Act, which is Senate Bill 1.

Senator Merkley, it`s really nice to see you. Thank you so much for making time.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): It`s great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: I think that our audience and the American people pretty broadly understand why this is such a big priority for you and for the Democrats right now, particularly when we look at what`s happening in Republican- controlled states around the country, the big lie on the Republican side that it was somehow election fraud that explained why President Trump lost his reelection bid. This crackdown on voting rights is like nothing we`ve seen in a generation.

The question, though, is whether or not you have a plan to get to it President Biden`s desk. Do you?

MERKLEY: Absolutely, Rachel. And by the way, what you`re describing in Arizona, that madness, there is method to that madness. It is designed to keep the voter fraud argument going both to change the laws in the states and to stop this bill in the Senate.

So what is our plan? Our plan is pretty simple. It`s based on the fact that Republican voters and Democratic voters across the country support these core principles. So we`ve been reaching out to local election officials and to secretary of states of both parties to say how do we make this work in your state? And they`ve given us a lot of on-the-ground advice. So we`ve been making adjustments on early voting and the timelines for implementing key provisions and making the ballot tracking software be done federally rather than locally.

And so we`re working with those Republicans across the country to say this makes sense. We want to stop gerrymandering, which corrupts the vision of equal representation. We want to stop billionaires from buying elections, and we want to defend the freedom and right of every citizen to be able to vote.

And so, it`s based — this strategy is based on let`s defend these core principles of our constitution that resonate deeply with Democrats and with Republicans across this country.

MADDOW: I think that you`re exactly right that the Arizona shenanigans with this recount is designed to keep alive among Republicans this idea that there is something wrong with the security of the vote and that the most important thing should be that we should make it harder for people to vote because somehow too many people are voting and we have to be suspicious of it. Their deliberate slowness in Arizona, their effort to spread that kind of a road show to Georgia, Michigan, even New Hampshire, any other place they can spread it to I think is designed to keep that narrative alive.

I struggled covering this in the news with whether or not to keep talking about what they`re doing because I feel like to a certain extent, we`re helping them promote that idea just by covering what they`re doing.

On the other hand, I feel like they`ve been effective at persuading Republican voters that there was something wrong with the election and the security of the ballot must be sort of cranked down on in a way that impedes voting rights. How do you balance those two considerations?

MERKLEY: Well, they have been really, really effective, and partly because of what Trump referred to as the Trump media. You know, that media glow that surrounds so many of his supporters. So all they`re hearing night and day is the republic version of the world.

But at the same time, those same Republicans support the principles of this bill. And I think for us to not talk about it is to — is to fail to do justice to how important this is to the future of our country because the reason the Republican establishment in the Senate is opposing this is because that their power stems from a corrupted voting process, from the gerrymandering, from the dark money, from the voter suppression, and they want to maintain it, even though their citizens, out there across America say they want us to restore and protect the right to vote.

And so if we don`t talk about it, we fail to convey what a tremendously perilous moment this is because if we fail to protect the election process, then we have failed to defend the core foundation for the vision of government of by and for the people. And it means that the Republican goals, whether it`s packing the courts with federalist corporate members or its tax for the richest Americans, those things get done by the simplest majority because Republicans change the rules while the things that we`re fighting for ordinary families on health care, housing, education, good paying jobs and equality act and environmental protection, those things we fail on because they will keep the people from being able to vote who are fighting for those fundamental goals.

So, are we going to veer out completely away from this vision that our nation was founded on or as Lincoln summarized, of, by and for the people, and just be a corrupted republic that works for the powerful? Whether or not we pass this bill is a huge pivot point for the direction of America.

MADDOW: Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, lead sponsor of the For the People Act, which is going to have a big high profile day tomorrow when it is marked up in the Senate — sir, thank you for your time tonight. Keep us apprised. I know this is a —

MERKLEY: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: — this is an important step in this fight, but it`s a long fight.

Thanks, Senator.

MERKLEY: Thanks.

MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much more to come here tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Today is one of those days when the news gods have smiled upon us or at least they have provided us with a good teachable moment, specifically for your angry, loud, scared uncle who watches Fox News all day and therefore taught himself the phrase cancel culture, repeating it frequently, in order to indicate that he knows it`s a really bad thing, even though he doesn`t really know what it is.

The most famous race in horse racing is, of course, the Kentucky Derby, happened the beginning this month. Yesterday, a news broke that the winner of the Kentucky Derby this year, the horse failed a drug test after the race. The horse may lose its title. The trainer may be disqualified. It is a big deal in the horseracing world.

Now, the trainer denies the horse was given any substances the horse wasn`t supposed to have. But the horse did test positive for a substance it`s not allowed to have. And that has consequences.

We all know how that`s supposed to go, right? You get caught doping, you get disqualified. It`s a pretty black and white thing.

But here, a gift from the news gods, this was that horse`s trainer on the Fox News Channel this morning when he was asked if he plans to run this same horse in the next big important race that`s coming up this weekend. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB BAFFERT, HORSE TRAINER: Well, I haven`t heard anything officially. They haven`t told me anything. I know when Churchill Downs came out with that statement, that was pretty harsh. And I think they had a just — you know, with all the noise going on, you know, we live in a different world now. This America is different. And it was like a cancel culture kind of a thing, so they`re reviewing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: This America is different. It was a cancel culture kind of thing.

Your Fox News watching uncle may think that cancellation only happens to good people who say the inappropriate thing in front of social justice warriors who are out to get them anyway. But what happened to the horse is kind of the whole idea of cancellation without any problematic cultural overtones.

We don`t know if the horse cheated for sure until we get the results of another test, but assuming the test results are the same as the first, the trainer apparently cheated. He got caught and there might be consequences. Do bad thing, get canceled for it.

The more you look into it, the better the metaphor gets. For example, this trainer is a big deal. He already won six other Kentucky Derbies before this one. He had a horse disqualified in a different race last year for testing positive for the exact same substance they found in the Kentucky Derby winner this year. In fact, this trainer`s horses have failed 30 drug tests over the past four decades, five of which are in the last year or so.

And, yet, this horse that just won the Kentucky Derby and then tested positive afterwards may still be able to run in the next big race this weekend, which is kind of spot on for the whole idea of cancel culture and it making sense. Someone powerful does something against the rules over and over again, gets caught and then gets repercussions for it, minimum repercussions for it. That`s the whole idea of what you should get canceled for.

Cancel culture in the Kentucky Derby, I feel like your uncle might end up for confused than when he started here, but Fox News is going to have to contend with what they have wrought by spreading this phrase for all things they don`t like.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: That is going to do it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.

Good evening, Lawrence.



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