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Interview with Representative Diana DeGette

By Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow Show - February 2, 2012

Guests: E.J. Dionne, Spencer Ackerman, Diana DeGette

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you.

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: It is big. Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you.

Thanks to you at home for joining this hour.

Something really funny happened at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington today. It happened while Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was introducing his wife. Did you see this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I have the honor and privilege of introducing my wife, Mrs. Mary Sessions, a partner for 42 years who enabled me --

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Why is everybody laughing? Why is Mrs. Sessions laughing uncomfortably? Didn`t get the math wrong on how long they have been married? What is going -- OK, to the pool report transcript.

This is what was happening in the room when Senator Sessions introduced his wife. When he said my wife Mary, when he said that, the jumbo screen in the room cut to this image. This guy, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn and his beard, sitting right next to him. That funny thing happened, right? At the National Prayer Breakfast today -- it was as if just for a moment, just in the minds of the audience there was a funny moment like, maybe Jeff Sessions and Tom Coburn are married. Ha!

Even without moments like that, though, the National Prayer Breakfast is a little bit creepy.

Do you remember C Street? The C Street house in Washington run by the secretive religious group called The Fellowship or The Family? Subsidized rent on a Capitol Hill mansion for conservative lawmakers, which sort of gives them sketchy tax status. They used to call this grand house on Capitol Hill where the lawmakers lived a church for tax purposes. That has been investigated in the past couple of years since C Street has been involved in a bunch of sex scandals and has gotten more attention.

The Fellowship and C Street also makes some fairly radical theological contentions. You may remember from our earlier reporting on them, they, for example, have cited Hitler and Lenin and Mao as leadership models for the powerful politicos they choose for their secret group.

They also have ties to some of the worst dictators around the world. And as we have covered extensively on this show, they are tied to some very radical policy positions including the infamous "kill the gays" bill in Uganda.

So that`s who organizes the National Prayer Breakfast and always has. And that has always been a creepy thing about the National Prayer Breakfast. And it remains a creepy thing about it.

But presidents for decades now always go to these things and always speak at them. And so, President Obama today, like his predecessors, spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. The first lady was there with him. As was Vice President Biden and a pantheon of powerful senators. This is a real Washington establishment event.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s a chance to step back for a moment, for us to come together as brothers and sisters and seek God`s face together. At a time when it is easy to lose ourselves in the rush, and clamor of our own lives or get caught up in the noise and rancor that too often passes as politics today, these moments of prayer slow us down. They humble us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: President Obama went on to talk about the poor in America. He went on to say his proposal to increase taxes on the richest people in this country is consistent with Jesus` teachings. He said, quote, "For me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus` teaching that for unto whom much is given, much shall be required."

Disgraced religious right organizer Ralph Reed, late of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, Ralph Reed responded to the president`s speech today by saying it strained credulity and President Obama would dare talk about responsibility to the poor in the context of his religious faith. Ralph Reed told "The Washington Post" he found that contention "theologically threadbare".

"Talking Points Memo" today highlighted CNN`s takeaway from the president`s speech at the prayer breakfast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK PRESTON, CNN: And here you have President Obama just moments ago talking to the prayer breakfast. A takeaway from that sound bite, Kyra, two things that really stood out: one, he emphasized that he is a Christian. There is still doubt out there amongst Americans, among some Americans, that he is not Christian and he emphasized that in that speech.

He also married faith and public policy together, and he said that people need to take care of each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That`s CNN`s takeaway from the speech? The president is the same religion he has been the entire time he`s been in public life. That`s the news today.

I don`t even really mean to ding CNN here. I mean, to a certain extent they are right, that some people will see the fact that President Obama is still a Christian as news. And that isn`t even just about this particular president and the right wing craziness about whether he secretly is foreign and maybe secretly Muslim.

Beyond that, in U.S. politics, there is a resistance to the idea that a Democrat could be a religious person. Meanwhile, conservatives are assumed to be religious, and it is assumed that religion informs their policies. Republican politicians happily encourage this perception. Republican presidential candidates this year have been accusing the Obama administration of being anti-religion, accusing President Obama of waging, in fact, a war on religion.

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