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MADDOW: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Senator Specter, thank you so much for coming on the show. It"s nice to have you.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Glad to be with you, Rachel.
Thanks for the invitation.
MADDOW: Events like this today, either by virtue of their size, or their timing or their tone--do they ever have an effect on legislation?
SPECTER: Not much. They are citizens. They have a right to assemble. They have a right to petition their government. And I believe we should listen respectfully, consider their views and then make our own judgments.
MADDOW: I know that you just came from a meeting at the White House with President Obama, talking about the status of health reform right now.
What can you tell us about its overall--its overall prospects? And I guess most of those prospects are to be divined within the Democratic Caucus right now.
SPECTER: I believe the chances are good, we will get a bill. It takes all 60 to agree. There are many, many different points of view, and you have to respect other views. But I think that it will be a good bill.
MADDOW: Senator Lieberman will be on board at the end of the day or not?
SPECTER: That"s my--that"s my judgment that he--that he will. He has expressed himself and the final product may well reflect concessions to him. But he"s a senator, and he votes his conscience.
MADDOW: Big picture here, and one of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you today is because it does seem sort of remarkable that at this point, with this health care bill, we"re not talking about Republicans at all? We"re almost guaranteed virtually 100 percent Republican opposition to this legislation like there has been to almost every other piece of legislation that has passed this year. You left the Republican Party this past year, saying that you didn"t want your political future to be decided by Republican primary voters.
What do you think of the direction of the party since you left?
SPECTER: Well, Rachel, I left because the Republicans wouldn"t talk to Democrats on the stimulus. And it seemed to me that we were heading to 1929 depression if we didn"t pass it. And I think it"s going to work out in the long run. We aren"t sure yet.
But one thing we are sure about, and that is if we hadn"t passed the stimulus, we would have been in a depression. The economists are pretty well-aligned. My state got $16 billion, kept schoolteachers at work, paid Medicaid, kept firemen, kept police at work.
Now, we find the same situation has arisen with health care. And we are supposed to govern. That is what we are supposed to do.
And I would welcome any of the Republicans to come forward with ideas, and let"s consider them. And let"s debate them, and let"s make a judgment.
But let"s not say filibuster, filibuster, filibuster. That"s all we"ve had. It is obstructionism.
We had a caucus last evening and a lot of long speeches, and when my turn came, I said, "I have two sentences." Sentence number one is: the bill is better than what we have now. The second sentence was: let"s not let the obstructionists stop us from governing. And that"s why I came over to add the 60th vote so that we could move ahead on the important problems facing America.
MADDOW: Sometimes the Democrats talk about having 60 votes in a way that feels more theoretical than actual, because Senator Lieberman--sometimes Senator Nelson, some of the other more conservative senators don"t seem to have any, I guess--don"t seem to have any loyalty to the party on procedural votes. There"s no sense that even if they want to oppose legislation they should stick with their party against a Republican filibuster.
Do you think there ought to be a party loyalty on procedural votes?
SPECTER: Well, I think there should be. When you talk about procedural votes, there are nuances of that. If--sometimes a procedural vote may be--may be determinative. But it is not theoretical that you have 60 votes, you have 60 people who are willing to come together, sit down and talk and try to have a consensus. And those votes are real.
MADDOW: Of course, if those 60 senators, though, only voted to not filibuster, then health reform could pass with 50 votes. And nobody is talking about health reform passing with 50 votes.
SPECTER: Well, you cannot get much of health reform with 50 votes when you are talking, what is, about reconciliation.
MADDOW: Well, no, it would be if nobody filibustered. If no Democrat agreed to filibuster, the Republicans couldn"t stop the Democrats from passing everything on 51 votes. You wouldn"t have to use reconciliation.
If Senator Nelson and Senator Lieberman only agreed to go along on procedural votes, then we wouldn"t have to be worried about the filibuster or reconciliation. But they can"t seem to get that unity even just to bring debate to a close.
SPECTER: Well, the factor is that sometimes the filibuster is the determinative vote.
SPECTER: And that"s what some senators feel. My view is: we ought to go ahead.
MADDOW: Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, it"s your first time on this show. I appreciate you making the time for us today.
SPECTER: (INAUDIBLE) Rachel, I enjoyed being here.
MADDOW: Thank you. Nice to see you.
SPECTER: Thank you.
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