updated 1/18/2006 10:50:04 AM ET 2006-01-18T15:50:04

Guests: Trent Lott, Larry Diamond, Ann Beeson, Al Sharpton, Ron Christie

CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  Hillary Clinton says Republicans are guilty of running the Congress like a plantation.  Do you believe it?  Does she?  Is she willing to say the same thing to the country she said up in Harlem?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL. Senator Hillary Clinton slammed Republicans Monday in a Martin Luther King Day speech in Harlem. 

In response to a question, Senator Clinton called the Bush administration, quote, one of the worst in U.S. history and compared the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to a plantation.  More on this in a bit. 

Now to Senator Trent Lott who today announced he will run for re-election after a lot of speculation that he might retire.  The question now is will he get back into the Republican leadership.  Senator Lott, thank you for coming here on your big day.

Are you going to get back into the leadership ranks at some point?

SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI:  You know, Chris, got to take these things one step at a time.  I‘ve been in Congress 33 years, and so when you‘re running for another term, you need to take a little time to think it through.  But in the meantime, my state just got devastated, as you know, last year by Hurricane Katrina.

We do need a lot of help.  A lot of people have helped us, but there is still work to do.  I just felt like I needed to use the experience people have given me to try to help the state.  Also, there are a lot of things in Washington I care an awful lot about Chris.

MATTHEWS:  How do you keep the American people‘s attention on something like the damage from Katrina?

LOTT:  It‘s hard, but I must say that a lot of people have realized the problems we‘ve had and have come down there.  And a lot of the media.  You‘ve talked about it, Chris.  Joe Scarborough on MSNBC has really focused on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Robin Roberts with ABC‘s Good Morning America show, Shepherd Smith, a lot of people have talked about the fact.  Don‘t forget what happened down here, both in Louisiana but also the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

You know, we got the brunt of the hurricane itself.  So much of the damage in the New Orleans area came after the Hurricane when the levees broke.  It‘s hard to keep people focused and that‘s part of our job, to make sure that the federal government and people that have been helping us are aware that this job is not done.  We‘ve got a lot of work to do.

MATTHEWS:  Rate FEMA.

LOTT:  I‘d give FEMA a very low grade, Chris.  They‘ve been a big disappointment in the immediate aftermath and, quite frankly, right up until this day.  There are good people with FEMA, and I think the current acting head of FEMA, Mr. Paulison, is a good man.  I think we made a mistake in Congress when we put it into the bib bureaucracy of Homeland Security.

I still don‘t think they use common sense.  They are still very slow in how they are administering the programs, the debris cleanup, the temporary housing.  It‘s been a big disappointment. 

That‘s one of the reasons, Chris, why I feel like I want to stay.  I want to help make sure that we get the money we need from the federal government and that we use it properly.  And that also, I‘ll work on these federal agencies to get them to use common sense for heaven‘s sake.

We couldn‘t have made it without volunteers and faith-based groups, people who just came to our aid when we needed it most.

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of common sense, Hillary Clinton, what do you make of...she stepped in it the other day.  Went up to Harlem and went to a Black church and started talking about you Republicans running a plantation in the House of Representatives.  Do you think she‘s going to end up having to apologize for that?

LOTT:   Well, when she speaks to the Senate, she uses very moderate terms and very low modulation and is very good.  When she goes to events like this one and starts hollering and using this sort of—just, vicious kind of language, I think it really is a—you know, it doesn‘t help the discourse and I think it hurts her. 

She may wind up having to apologize but I—you know, I know, Chris, from experience, that words do have meaning.  And if you overstep the line, you know, you wind up having to apologize for it.

MATTHEWS:  Is this a problem area --  I remember Gary Hart having this problem in a different regard.  He was talking to a gay group out in California and he said, “I‘d sure rather be here than back with some solid waste dump in New Jersey.” 

Now I‘m sure there was a lot of giggles about that because it was an aesthetic kind of line.  But he was playing to a crowd he thought was very aesthetic and would like what he had to say.  But there again, you get caught pandering to a group in front of you and ignoring the bigger—the fact that everything‘s wired today.  Isn‘t that the problem you and everybody else gets into?

LOTT:  When I had my press conference in Pascagoula today, I mean, I wasn‘t just speaking to my neighbors and my constituents in Mississippi—

I mean, it was being carried by some of the national problems.  So you need to be careful what you say. 

We‘ve all fallen into that trap, Chris, where you go before some group that you really shouldn‘t, or you‘re not quite sure who they are or you use some inflammatory language that appeals to that group.  And you know, you‘ve just got to learn not to do that.  We all have to learn to not to do that, Republican and Democrat alike.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Hillary should apologize?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Southerners to white Southerners.  I mean, plantation has a particular meaning.  I mean, it has a history.  We know what a plantation is, we‘ve all seen “Gone with the Wind.”  You live in part of the country, you know what a plantation used to look like.  It‘s about slavery, it‘s about whipping people, it‘s about the old Antebellum South.  She‘s saying that‘s the way the United States Congress is run under Denny Hastert, the House of Reps.

LOTT:  You know, Chris, that‘s the kind of partisan rhetoric that has gotten us into the type of atmosphere we have in Washington now.  And both houses and in both parties.  I think the American people are tired of that.  I don‘t know if I‘m not going to call on her to apologize, I‘m frankly a little bit disappointed in her.  I think she can do better than that. 

But that‘s the kind of discourse that we—it‘s an election year, I acknowledge it.  But if we‘re ever going to go get into a more cooperative, little less real partisan mode, we have to all be a little more careful.

MATTHEWS:  Well, everybody‘s whipping up their own people.  I mean, Ray Nagin down in Louisiana is talking about chocolate, keeping his city chocolate.  I grew up in—you were in Washington when that was sort of an endearing term.  In D.C., you‘d have bumper stickers, “Chocolate City.”  Before we had all the racial division of the late ‘60s, it was considered sort of neat.

And then of course with all of the division, we all get very sensitive.  But now Ray Nagin‘s out there throwing the word out and now he‘s saying it doesn‘t mean black, it means a mixture of white and black, which is complete B.S.  He meant it was black and—is that fair enough for a guy who‘s a black mayor of a black city to say, “I want to keep this city black?”  Is that racist, or what is that?  What do you call that?

LOTT:  Well, I don‘t know.  Again, I would suggest that he didn‘t choose his words well in that speech.  I mean, he even talked about how God‘s punishing America for mistakes we‘ve made.  And you ought to go back and read the Bible where it specifically says that God‘s not going to punish the people like that.  I don‘t know where he was coming from.  I know that mayor, I‘ve met with him.  He‘s got a tough job and I wish him well. 

But one of the things that he and I and all of us had to learn, that there‘s no issue that‘s more sensitive now and hurts people‘s feelings and raises (INAUDIBLE) quicker than these—than racial issues.  And we need to all learn to be more careful.  I have had my learning that I‘ve had to go through.  And I think we need to all be careful about that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the leadership of the Senate right now.  Do you think that Bill Frist has done a good job since you gave up the leadership?

LOTT:  Well, obviously I‘d be coming in that from a prejudiced position.

MATTHEWS:  Well that‘s what I want to hear.  I want to hear your prejudice position.  I don‘t want some objective good government thing.

LOTT:  There are some people down here who say—some people down here say we like you better not as a leader because you are freer to speak your mind the way you really see fit.

But the way, I always responded to that, he‘s got the toughest political job in Washington.  It‘s tougher than president.  When a president makes a decision, government moves, except for FEMA.  And, you know, when the speaker makes a decision, he‘s got a House Rules Committee to enforce the decision. 

The leader in the Senate of both parties has to lead by the power of persuasion.  There are very few carrots and no sticks. 

And so I‘m hesitant to be critical of him or Harry Reid, for that matter, either, because they both have a very tough job.

I would do some things differently, and I‘ve said so occasionally.  But I want him to succeed.  We got a year left in his term.  And in this term, we‘ve got a lot of work we need to do for the American people.  And if he will allow me, I‘m going to do anything I can to help him, because I want us to get the people‘s agenda done.

We can‘t do it without strong leadership at the top and without cooperation between the leaders of both parties in the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  Do you accept the fact that Mitch McConnell is in line to replace Bill Frist, when Frist retires—he‘s quitting at the end of next year?

LOTT:  Whips have not always succeeded to the leader‘s position.

The whip position is a distinctive position and I really think that, you know, you really ought to seek that position for its own value.

But he is in the—what is now considered to be the assistant majority leader position.  He‘s already been working gathering votes.  And so, you know, I think most people presume that he is in a position to move up.

MATTHEWS:  And you wouldn‘t challenge him?

LOTT:  You know, Mitch is a personal friend and we‘ve worked in—together.  We‘ve helped each other.  I‘m not inclined to challenge him.

But, you know, who knows what the situation will be a year from now or three years from now...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Rick Santorum is in a tough re-election race.  You might have that open if that doesn‘t turn out for Rick.

LOTT:  Well, you know, right now, that‘s in the hands of the good Lord.  We‘ll see what happens.

I want to be involved.  I want to be helpful.  And I want to do that wherever I can be, in or out of the leadership.

But I‘m going to be around and I hope to make it a positive influence.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ll check with Ray Nagin as to what it‘s in the mind of the good Lord right now.  He‘s apparently an expert on that right now.

We‘ll be right back with Senator Trent Lott.

And later on this show, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the NSA -

that‘s the National Security Agency—over domestic spying.

And Hillary Clinton, as I said before, compares the Republican House of Representatives to a plantation.  The Reverend Al Sharpton is going to be here to talk about that and he‘ll be here to explain what he thinks she meant.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Mississippi Senator Trent Lott.

Thank you, Senator Lott, for being on today.

You‘ve announced you‘re going to seek re-election.  Are you optimistic you can win another seat?  This would be your fourth term.

LOTT:  That‘s correct.

And I‘ve served eight terms in the House, so, you know, I‘ve got a lot of good friends to support around the state.

But it‘s like every election—you got to ask for people‘s votes, you got to ask for their help, and I‘m prepared to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Where are you living now?

LOTT:  You know, our house in Pascagoula was blown and/or washed away, and we didn‘t even have a slab left because it was 10 feet up off the ground, so it‘s just a bare space on earth now.

But we have a row house there on Capitol Hill and we did have a small place outside of Jackson that we did acquire three years ago so we could be closer to our daughter and her husband and two grandchildren.

So we—unlike a lot of our neighbors in Pascagoula, we had a place where we could go and have a roof over our head.  We didn‘t have any power for a week and it took me a couple of weeks to get that place cleaned up.  But at least we did have a place here in the central part of the state, and that‘s where we spent Christmas—the first time in my wife‘s life and the first time in our married life, 41 years, we spent away from Pascagoula, Mississippi at Christmas.  It was bittersweet.

But the people down there, Chris—again, one thing I want to say, I‘ve been proud of the people in south Mississippi, along the Gulf Coast.  They‘ve got a very resilient spirit.  They‘re determined to rebuild and rebuild better.  They‘re working together.  They‘re pulling together. 

And I think everybody that has been there and has seen them, has been impressed with the determination and the ability to smile into a, you know, huge adversity.

MATTHEWS:  Can you get your house rebuilt?  Are you going to get—you‘re insured and all that?  Or how does it stand?

(CROSSTALK)

LOTT:  Well, I did have flood insurance and I have collected flood insurance.  But it‘s not enough to pay for the cost of our losses, of course. 

And I had a household policy that covered wind, but I‘ve been told so far by my insurance company that I didn‘t have any wind damage that‘s not credible or believable. 

So on our behalf, on a personal basis, but on behalf of a lot of other people—probably 100,000 people situated similarly to us—I am aggressively pursuing, you know, some additional recovery so we can afford to build a house.

But we will rebuild.  It‘s a beautiful spot on Earth.  But we‘ll rebuild it smaller, cheaper.  It‘ll be more of a beach-type cabin, and we won‘t have any antiques in it and we won‘t have any mementos or pictures that we‘re not willing to lose.

MATTHEWS:  You know, a lot of—you must have a feeling about this Abramoff crap that‘s going on now, because you, like a lot of other people, have made sacrifices to stay in public life.  You‘re doing it again, obviously.  You could go off and make a ton of money and you‘ve chosen public service again. 

What‘s your reaction to seeing all these headlines about people like Abramoff in these sort of—what looks bribery cases, in fact?

LOTT:  It‘s very disheartening, Chris, because I want the people to look at their elected officials in Congress and throughout the country and feel good about what we‘re trying to do.  We‘re honorable men and women and we do adhere to, you know, a set of principles and ethics.  And I—it undermines, I think, the confidence. 

You get a bad apple like this who violated the law, by the way.  Obviously he was involved in fraud and all kind of misconduct and, you know, cheating one side—working both sides of the aisle.  There are laws against that. 

And so that—but we‘ll have to go through it.  I do think there‘s some things we need to do to tighten up on lobby reform and maybe even look at some of the ethics rules.  I hope we don‘t just go crazy and wind up taking away people‘s right to petition their government.

But it‘s not a happy thing.  In fact, I‘ve been thinking for you—about writing in those book, Chris, about the leaders that I have seen in Congress that have shown real leadership and courage.  Men, women, Democrats, Republicans, House and Senate. 

And why do I want to do that?  Because there are a lot of little stories that haven‘t been told that I witnessed that need to be told so that people that know that a Charlie Rangel or a John McCain or a Ted Stevens or a Phil Gramm have done some things extraordinary in their legislative careers.

MATTHEWS:  We need to hear that story too.  Thank you very much, senator Trent Lott announcing for reelecion today.  Last night, HARDBALL interviewed former army interrogator Tony Lagouranis on the issue of torture and he made this comment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY LAGOURANIS, FMR. ARMY INTERROGATOR:  Part of the problem in what we‘re doing in Iraq is we‘ve given the power to abuse detainees and torture people to everyone, to every infantry private, to every specialist interrogator, to anyone, and that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Anybody who picks up somebody can do what they want to them. 

LAGOURANIS:  They‘re—not legally they‘re not supposed to be doing that, but it‘s tacitly we allow and that‘s what‘s happening.  We can‘t behave like that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Army didn‘t like what Lagouranis said on HARDBALL.  Quote, “Regarding HARDBALL‘s interview of Mr. Lagouranis last night, the U.S. Army has never given authority to any Soldier throughout this war to abuse or torture detainees.  In fact, that authority simply cannot be given.  Ordering abuse, overlooking subordinates abusing detainees or any type of torture is not, nor has it ever been part of the Army‘s values.  The Army has and will continue to live by the laws and policy directives prohibiting mistreatment of detainees and will investigate allegations of abuse.

“We encourage Mr. Lagouranis to provide the Army any new information so that it may be investigated thoroughly.  Over 500 investigations have examined allegations of detainee mistreatment.  Allegations against more than 251 military members have been addressed in courts-martial, non-judicial punishment and other adverse administrative actions.  Very Respectfully, John Boyce, Army Public Affairs.”

Well, the Marines also, in their case, reissued an earlier statement, that disputed the allegations that Marines serving in Iraq last year routinely beat detainees.  You can find that full statement from the Marines on hardball.MSNBC.com. 

You‘re watching it.  HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Bush administration continues to take heat over the NSA‘s domestic spying program.  The ACLU has now filed a lawsuit against the NSA on behalf of scholars, journalists, defense lawyers and political activists in an effort to put an end to government eavesdropping without a court order. 

Ann Beeson is the lead attorney in the ACLU‘s lawsuit, and Larry Diamond is one of the plaintiffs who says he believes he was spied on.  He‘s a senior adviser with the Hoover Institution.  He previously served as an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. 

Larry, I want to go to you first.  What evidence do you have that you were spied upon by the NSA? 

LARRY DIAMOND, SR. FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTE:  We don‘t have hard evidence, Chris, because we don‘t know the NSA doesn‘t disclose...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, why are you a plaintiff then if you don‘t know what you‘re talking about? 

DIAMOND:  Because as the suit makes clear, we have reasonable grounds based on what‘s been revealed to draw the inference that the type of communications we‘ve had are being intercepted by the NSA. 

MATTHEWS:  Give us a generic sense of what you have done in terms of your communications and why you believe that, that was intercepted. 

DIAMOND:  I had a student who worked for me as a research this summer.  He went to Egypt before the presidential election.  He interviewed a wide range of political opposition figures.  We corresponded about the interviews he was having and the type of work he was doing so that I could supervise his research.  He was in touch with people who probably fell within the net of this thing. 

MATTHEWS:  “Probably fell,” what do you mean probably?  Help me out here.  I‘m trying to find out how solid your complaint is. 

Do you—what is it about the communication you had with your student, which I can understand why you might want to keep it secret or private, why do you believe that was within the purview of what you know to be the intercepts by the NSA? 

DIAMOND:  Because if he was talking to political opposition figures, including Islamist opposition figures, or people who were talking to people who were talking to people that the NSA—because this moves in layers and layers of discovery and surveillance, then it falls under the net. 

It‘s an ever expanding net.  It isn‘t targeted on just a few people.  And that‘s one of the problems with it, is that anybody could eventually be entrapped by it and feel that they can‘t talk freely and confidentially about research, about human rights violations, about policies that they‘re concerned about, about individual criminal defense matters, because the United States government and eventually even their own government might be listening in. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk with the lead attorney in the case. 

Ann, thank you for joining us. 

What do you have to establish in order to win this suit?  Do you have to establish that his student, for example, as a clear example, was intercepted, his communications with his sources, with his academic work over there? 

ANN BEESON, ACLU ATTORNEY:  No, we don‘t. 

In fact, the beauty of this lawsuit is that the president and the National Security Agency have proven most of the case for us. 

The president is not denying that it‘s spying on Americans without a warrant, without court approval, and is not denying that the NSA is spying on Americans without probable cause.  And so that‘s the issue here. 

This case is about whether or not the president can violate the law.  And both the Supreme Court and Congress have made it very clear that we live in a democracy, and the president—even the president is not above the law...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let‘s imagine that the president tried to obey the law.  Let‘s imagine another president, if you will, if it‘s easier for you.  Suppose a good president who wants to obey the law, he or she should do what to avoid breaking the law in this regard? 

BEESON:  Go to court first before wiretapping American citizens. 

MATTHEWS:  Can they get a court order which would allow them to do the kind of data mining that they‘re doing? 

BEESON:  On the data mining question, we think that they should have to get a court order as well, and we think that‘s clear under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is the law Congress passed to overcome the abuses, the wiretapping abuses of the ‘60s and ‘70s.  That‘s the law that the president and the NSA violated in this case. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe—I missed that point. 

Are you saying that a president who wants to do data mining, listening for phrases like—there might be security problems, like somebody all of a sudden is talking in Arabic and you hear the phrase “Lincoln Tunnel” or you hear the phrase “Empire State Building” or “Sears Tower” or something like that, and you go, “Oh my God, they‘re talking about a plot here,” are you—is it your position of the ACLU that the president shouldn‘t be able to go out and mine for those kind of phrases without having a court order that names names? 

BEESON:  Absolutely not. 

It shouldn‘t be able—the president and the NSA should not be able to sift through the content of Americans‘ e-mails and phone calls without first getting a warrant. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But suppose they don‘t know the names of the people,

they‘re just looking for the—for phrases being used.  They don‘t want to

in other words, they‘re not tracking suspects or people involved in militant Islamism here in the United States who are in contact with al Qaeda people that they know about, but they‘re looking for people talking about security targets, terrorism targets.

Now, how would you go about doing that if you were president? 

BEESON:  Well, what you‘ve just described sounds to me like a classic fishing expedition.  And the reason that we have a Fourth Amendment in our Constitution is to prevent precisely that kind of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re saying the president—forget about court orders, you believe the president shouldn‘t be engaging in that kind of—what you call fishing expeditions? 

BEESON:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  How does he then make use of our electronic capability to catch people who are doing us harm or planning to do us harm?  How does he go about doing the job? 

BEESON:  By using names and phone numbers of people that they already have reason to believe and can show to a court are a terrorist or criminal suspect. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, this is going to be a big debate in this country. 

Thank you very much for coming on, Larry Diamond and Ann Beeson of the

ACLU. 

Up next, more on Senator Hillary Clinton‘s characterization of House Republicans, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin‘s call for the rebuilding of what he calls “a chocolate New Orleans.” 

Reverend Al Sharpton will be here to talk about that.  Obviously the topics are race and politics.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET WRAP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. Race is a sensitive issue.  Duh. 

African-Americans supported Democrats by huge margins in the last election.  Republicans though are trying to make inroads against a backdrop of that what we saw in this whole question of Katrina last year. 

I want to talk about what we hear today with Democrats clearly on the offensive in this race issue.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  It was just six months ago when Hurricane Katrina blasted the Gulf Coast, exposed the government‘s ineptitude and ripped open questions about race. 

Monday, on the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, two politicians prominent to the African-American community, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin made remarks that have raised eyebrows across the political spectrum. 

Senator Clinton spoke in an African-American church in Harlem and likened the House Republican leadership to slave owners. 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK:  When you look at the way The House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I‘m talking about. 

SHUSTER:  The largely Democratic audience applauded Senator Clinton. 

Republicans were quick to slam her for shameless self-promotion. 

Quote, “On a day when Americans are focused on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Hillary Clinton is focused on the legacy of Hillary Clinton.” 

Since entering the Senate five years ago, Clinton has steadily positioned herself to the political center on issues of national security, foreign policy and even flag burning, where she recently co-authored a measure to make it illegal.  But yesterday‘s remarks suggest that when it comes to appealing to a traditional Democratic base that could play a crucial role in the 2008 presidential primaries, Senator Clinton is unafraid of stirring passion its in her state. 

In addition to her comments about House Republicans, senator Clinton also trashed the Bush White House. 

CLINTON:  I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country. 

SHUSTER:  Ironically, the senator‘s husband has actively helped the Bush administration on its largest domestic problem, the recovery of the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.  But as president, Bill Clinton also knew the value of playing to an audience and firing up the African-American vote. 

That may help explain the comments yesterday by the mayor of New Orleans. 

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS:  And I don‘t care what people are saying uptown or wherever they are.  This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.   

SHUSTER:  Before Katrina, two-thirds of the New Orleans population was African-American, but the flood waters devastated African-American neighborhoods and the recovery in these areas, such as The Ninth Ward, have been much slower than in mostly white areas, including The French Quarter and uptown. 

Nagin insisted that his remarks were not divisive. 

NAGIN:  How do you make chocolate?  You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk and it becomes a delicious drink.  That‘s the chocolate I‘m talking about.

SHUSTER:  Nagin‘s comments, like Senator Clinton‘s, suggested some Democrats are focused on igniting the party‘s traditional base of African-American support.  When that fire is lit, it often comes at the expense of Republicans. 

Late last year, President Bush defended his record with the African-American community and lashed out at those critical of him over Hurricane Katrina. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You can call me anything you want, but do not call me a racist. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  The spotlight though is not on President Bush, but on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton who was laying the groundwork for a 2008 presidential race.  And if her fiery remarks this week were the first shots in a national political campaign, the question is, can Senator Clinton appeal to both the center and the left at the same time. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  For more on the comments made by Senator Clinton on Martin Luther King Day, we turn to Reverend Al Sharpton and to Ron Christie, he‘s a former special assistant to President Bush and author of a book called “Black in the White House: Life Inside George Bush‘s West Wing.”  Reverend Sharpton, you were there. 

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  I hosted the event. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you happy with her remarks? 

SHARPTON:  Not only was I happy, let me straighten something out.  She did not make the comments at a Harlem church, she made it at our organization, National Action Network has a policy forum. 

One the people on the panel, a legendary performer and radio personality, James Mkume (ph) challenged her very vehemently about how the Democratic Party had let blacks down and were not getting things through in Washington.  She said these are the reasons.  It operates like a plantation, you can‘t get things through. 

She was responding to a question.  I might add, Republican Mayor Bloomberg appeared there yesterday, Republican candidate for Attorney General, Jeanine Pirro.  So they‘re acting as if she broke in some ceremony at a church and made it political.  It was a political forum. 

MATTHEWS:  What did she mean? 

SHARPTON:  She said...

MATTHEWS:  What did plantation mean? 

SHARPTON:  She said, like at a plantation, you cannot—you cannot get through your views and what you‘re trying to achieve. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re kidding me, Reverend? 

SHARPTON:  Kidding what? 

MATTHEWS:  A plantation is where people are whipped, there‘s slaves. 

The problem is not freedom of speech.  It‘s a problem of slavery. 

SHARPTON:  I‘ve not heard anybody that attacked her today say no, the Congress works in a way you can get opposition. 

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re saying the...

SHARPTON:  You‘re trying to play games with the word and trying to act like she was not responding to the question. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she would have used that word in a Jewish group, an Italian American group ...

SHARPTON:  She used that word in ‘04 in a CNN interview.  Same word, plantation. 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

When she said, you know what I‘m talking about, what‘s that supposed to mean? 

SHARPTON:  Is it inflammatory for Christie to write a book called “Black in The White House?” Is that inflammatory?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re getting inflamed.  I‘m asking a simple question.  Do you think if she were to use the word plantation with a white group? 

SHARPTON:  She used it on CNN and it wasn‘t a black group so I absolutely think she would have. 

MATTHEWS:  You think she would have said you know what I‘m talking about? 

SHARPTON:  I don‘t know if she would have said that.  She was answering the questions. 

RON CHRISTIE, FMR. BUSH ADVISER:  She was pandering, that‘s all she was doing.  Look Chris, Senator Clinton should do one of two things, either she should apologize for those inflammatory remarks or she should resign from the United States Senate. 

SHARPTON:  Apologize to who?

CHRISTIE:  Hang on, I didn‘t interrupt you, Reverend Al.  It is despicable for a member of the United States Senate to use such language.  I am a direct descendant of slaves, a plantation is where slaves were beaten, where they were raped, where they were owned by other human beings. 

If a Republican senator had gone into an African-American church, and said the same thing before a Black audience, if they were Republican, all of the usual suspects would have been out there saying that person was racially insensitive they should have resigned, etc. 

It‘s a double standard and I don‘t understand how any Democrat, how any American, can condone that type of language and behavior in the political discourse on a day when we‘re here to celebrate, Reverend Martin Luther King‘s birthday, a man of peace, a man of non-violence.  It‘s despicable.

SHARPTON:  May I respond?  First of all, there were 2,000 Blacks there, so if we were going to be offended, they would have been offended.  Secondly, I don‘t remember the RNC supporting us even having the holiday of Martin Luther King.  It amazes me how the Republican party, who by and large oppose the holiday, starts telling us how to celebrate the holiday.

I mean, when did you get a clue of where Martin Luther King stood?  Martin Luther King was about public policy, we had a public policy for—she answered a question.  I think it is more offensive for a party that by in large opposed the holiday to turn around and lecture us on how we ought to celebrate it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a question, Reverend.  And you‘re a great guest on this show, obviously I love having you on.  Suppose a white conservative were to say to a white Democrat, “You‘ve been running the blacks in the Democratic Party for years, using them to get votes and never electing any blacks to major national office.  And you‘re running the place like a plantation.”  Would you have taken offense at that?

SHARPTON:  I was at the...

MATTHEWS:  ... that phrase “plantation.”

SHARPTON:  When I was at the National Urban League in ‘04, and George Bush came out and lectured blacks on not being taken—for Democrats taking him for granted?  I was not offended.  He had the right to say it and no one denounced him for saying it.  If Hillary Clinton, in a response to a question on why Democrats were not getting things through, addresses the same way George Bush said, you can‘t have it both ways. 

George Bush has said blacks should not be taken for granted by the Democratic Party.  Is that inflammatory, Chris?

CHRISTIE:  But you can‘t have it both ways.

MATTHEWS:  I want to get this by you guys.  But I‘m thinking the word “plantation” is the key here.  It has a particular historic meaning, it‘s painful, it‘s hell, it‘s horrible.  We have fought --- 600,000 people died in that war, the Civil War.  It was a big issue and to refer to that, the use of a phrase of like that to describe the other political party is pretty...

SHARPTON:  This is the only black you could find who happened to come out of the Bush White House -- 98 percent of blacks are voting Democrat, 2,000 blacks yesterday cheered her.  You combed Washington and you can only find my brother Ron who comes out of the Bush White House that was offended.

CHRISTIE:  Now Al, you‘ve got to stop this.

SHARPTON:  So who‘s offended?  The people who were not victimized on the plantation?

CHRISTIE:  Stop the filibuster.  Let me just go back to several points you said.

SHARPTON:  Filibuster. 

CHRISTIE:  Yes, I didn‘t interrupt you.

SHARPTON:  That‘s also a very provocative word.  Did you want to know the history of “filibuster?”  Be careful of using words, Ron.

CHRISTIE:  You don‘t actually want to hear the truth here and you don‘t want to hear what I have to say.  You want to—I will speak the truth to you.  You said what do I know about Dr. Martin Luther King?

SHARPTON:  I said your party.

CHRISTIE:  Hey, I didn‘t interrupt me.  You‘re not going to interrupt me.  What I said to you was Dr. King was a man of non-violence and a man of peace.  He was the one who wanted to pave the way for the voting rights act, for the civil rights act, for people to have an equal opportunity.

Hang on a second, for a Democratic senator to come on and to make comments about how a plantation is being run and the House of Representatives is despicable.  And for anybody, of any color to say anything otherwise, I find offensive.  When instead, when you say that George Bush—wait a second. 

SHARPTON:  Then you would say then that Martin Luther King, who talked about a governor in Alabama, a Democrat, whose words, whose mouth was dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, was that Martin Luther King was against Martin Luther King-ism?  Martin Luther King was an activist and a freedom fighter who clearly nailed those that are wrong.  You can‘t make Martin Luther King this non-offensive guy.

CHRISTIE:  No, and what I‘m talking about is a speech that was given on Dr. Martin Luther King‘s birthday to celebrate all of his works by a white Democrat senator.  Where is the outrage, Reverend Al?  Where is the outrage?

SHARPTON:  I am outraged...

CHRISTIE:  ... I am outraged that...

MATTHEWS:  More with—gentlemen, let‘s go back.  We‘ll be right back.  We have more time for this, Ron Christie, thanks for joining us, Al Sharpton.  We‘ll be right back with with both of you.  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Reverend Al Sharpton from the National Action Network and former Bush adviser Ron Christie.  You made an interesting comment about him being sort of like an odd duck because he‘s a black Republican and you said we had to screen all over Washington to find somebody who represented that point of you.

Look at him, he‘s so stone-faced now.  What did I say wrong?  I‘m repeating you.  Reverend Al, is the Democratic Party going to continue to be the great, you know, party of the black America?  Is it going to be like that until we‘re dead?  I mean, is it always going to be that way?

SHARPTON:  rMD+IN_rMDNM_I think there‘s a lot wrong with the Democratic Party.  As you know, I‘ve said that throughout the campaign, 2004 when I ran.  But I think that just because there‘s a lot wrong there, the Republicans cannot expect some exodus when it doesn‘t represent our interest.

And I think that when you talk about everything from Social Security to the war in Iraq to Katrina, I think that‘s why Hillary Clinton hit a mark with a lot of us yesterday.  A lot of do feel these issues are not being pushed through the Congress.  It is like a plantation.

MATTHEWS:  Do you buy this Kanye West comment that was—a lot of people thought was over-the-top?  I did.  Where he said that George Bush doesn‘t care about black people.

SHARPTON:  I think a lot of people felt that way.  I think Kanye expressed...

MATTHEWS:  ... Do you?

SHARPTON:  I will put it this way.  I have no idea how he feels personally.  His actions make me feel he very much does not like him.  How do you sit there three days in Crawford, Texas, and act like you don‘t see a hurricane in New Orleans that‘s on every channel, but you saw weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that didn‘t exist?

CHRISTIE:  And see, I would say the president‘s actions actually speak louder than his words.  He came to Washington—I know you do.  He came to Washington, he wanted to change the course of discourse and he said that he wanted to fight that bigotry and expectations of our African-American students and that‘s why he pushed through the No Child Left Behind bill.

You take that one piece of legislation, Chris, the gap has gone to the lowest level now between African-American students in math and in English.  We need to make sure that our children have the civil right, which I think is one of the most important ones, which is a strong education.  We need to make sure our kids can go to the best schools possible.  You talked about Social Security reform.  African-Americans are getting killed in Social Security.

MATTHEWS:  Well why do only two percent of African-Americans tell pollsters they‘re Republicans now?  That‘s the lowest I can ever remember it.

CHRISTIE:  Because, Chris, I think a lot of people watch television, there‘s a lot of that Hollywood liberal leap that says, “Oh, the Republicans don‘t care about black folks.”  They don‘t look at what the Republican Party has actually done.

MATTHEWS:  Well wait a minute.  You‘re not saying blacks are taking their lead from Hollywood?

CHRISTIE:  No, I‘m saying blacks are taking their lead from what they hear on television, from people like the liberal media.

SHARPTON:  So you don‘t think the FOX channel works in our house? 

There‘s nothing on television but conservatives.

CHRISTIE:  What I‘m saying to you is when you hear when Chris said, comments like Kanye West, who says that Bush does not care about black people.  That‘s absurd. 

SHARPTON:  That‘s one line in television.

CHRISTIE:  No, that is not one line.

SHARPTON:  You‘ve got stations, nine, 24 hours a day, beaming the Bush message we don‘t like!

CHRISTIE:  All we need to do is go back to what Senator Clinton said yesterday about a plantation and she says, you know what I mean.  Yes, I know what she means.  She‘s playing the race card, that‘s wrong.  What the Democrats need to do is get an agenda.  What card—what card the Democrats need to do, Al, is they need to get a platform. 

SHARPTON:  What card, Ron?

CHRISTIE:  They need to get a message. 

SHARPTON:  What card is the Republican chairman playing when he takes Don King around the country, recruiting blacks for the Republican party?  Is he a so-called black leader in your book?

CHRISTIE:  No.  What...

SHARPTON:  Your recruiter?  What card are you playing there? 

CHRISTIE:  Now, see, this is exactly what I‘m talking about. 

SHARPTON:  I‘m asking a question.

SHARPTON:  Speak the truth!

CHRISTIE:  The truth of the matter is...

SHARPTON:  Don‘t filibuster.

CHRISTIE:  The truth of matter is that Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican party, has done more to go to different communities to speak of a different message, which is the Republican party is in favor of, education, the Republican party is in favor of tax reform, the Republican party stands for making meaningful progress for all Americans, and African-Americans in particular. 

MATTHEWS:  We got to talk about broader issues the next time besides the latest misquotes, or quotes, by people.  But thank you, Reverend. 

SHARPTON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  It was great to have you back, by the way.

SHARPTON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Ron Christie, great to have you.  I will read this book.

CHRISTIE:  Good.

MATTHEWS:  I will read this, even though it calls him a so-called black leader. 

Anyway, this is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Stephen Hayes is senior writer for “The Weekly Standard” and Norah O‘Donnell is, of course, MSNBC chief Washington correspondent. 

OK, let‘s listen to Hillary Clinton one more time from Martin Luther King Day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I‘m talking about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Stephen Hayes, damage assessment? 

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  I don‘t think this hurts her that much.  It will be interesting to see how much of an outcry there was.  But as Reverend Sharpton pointed out, you know, she did get applause from the audience. 

I don‘t think that this hurts her politically too much.  I think it was an unfortunate thing to say.  I mean, certainly, it‘s not something I would say.  And I think Ron Christie was right about the double standards.  Absolutely true that if a Republican senator had said this, especially in front of a crowd—a largely white crowd...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why did the audience mind it?  Because she was trashing white southerners, basically, for people who had plantations.

Norah, Hillary Clinton‘s office put out a statement basically in the name of the press secretary, not in her name.  And that really didn‘t directly deal with the language she used.  Do you think she‘s going to hang fire on this and move on or do you think she‘s going to be forced to further comment on this? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  I spoke with several people in Senator Clinton‘s camp today and they said she will not walk away from this, that they don‘t think that there‘s going be any backlash.  That was she was describing the situation as it was and that she‘s used the word before. 

And they also said, listen, we don‘t think we‘re going to suffer politically from it, because they don‘t think that many Americans are going to stand up for how Republicans have been running the House of Representatives. 

And it is true that our polls have shown that people are very angry with how the Republicans in Congress have been governing themselves.  Nevertheless, , the use of the word plantation is charged.  I think she‘s going to have to do some clean-up for that particular word, but long-term political damage, I agree with Stephen, I‘m not sure it‘s there. 

MATTHEWS:  So you both agree she will not go back and revisit the scene of the crime here and have...

O‘DONNELL:  Her people say she‘s not going to. 

MATTHEWS:  ... further words on this?

O‘DONNELL:  Her folks say she‘s not going to.

HAYES:  And I think Norah‘s right.  I mean, the people she‘s talking to are right.  It‘s not likely to hurt her politically too much.  And if you look back, the Democrats have a history of this kind of rhetoric. 

Remember Al Gore, one of his favorite lines—he did this again and again and again—talked about Republicans sitting behind a duck blind and taking shots at blacks, basically.  Terribly offensive language, and he repeated it.  He didn‘t say it once, he said it again and again and again.  And nobody really called him on it.  So I think that‘s it‘s unlikely that she‘ll be called too hard to apologize for this.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s what I think might happen, just guessing.  Check me on this, Norah.  We know that to win the presidential election, not to just go through all this sturm und drung and enjoy the campaign—but to actually win a presidential election, a Democrat has to probably be a southerner—and she‘s not quite as southerner, although she lived down there for many years. 

And that‘s the only way we know you can win, but you can also win by winning southern states, because like Jack Kennedy, you appeal to the South.  She‘s going to have to win maybe states like Virginia, West Virginia, perhaps Louisiana, perhaps Arkansas.  Doesn‘t she have to worry about what she‘s saying here, by calling Republicans plantation owners?  Doesn‘t she have to worry about that lingo in the South?

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s a good point, Chris.  And any politician has to worry about what they‘re saying, certainly when they‘re running for president.  And the challenge for Senator Clinton, if she moves forward—she doesn‘t really face a challenger in her Senate race, so she‘s going to have lots of money if she wants to run for president—is choosing her words and working on tone.  And certainly, it has to be more than criticism. 

Listen, the Democrats are looking for a backbone.  They want leadership, somebody to criticize this president, something that will stick.  But at the same time, as has always been the problem for the party, is offering an alternative, a reasonable alternative.  And if Senator Clinton wants to be the leader of the Democratic party, she‘s also got to offer that forward. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—let me talk about this.  Things are all about timing, Norah, you know this, in politics.  The same day she made this statement about the Republicans running the House of Representatives like a plantation, Ray Nagin, who‘s African-American from Louisiana, the mayor of New Orleans, referring to the fact he wants to keep the city chocolate. 

Now, we live in this country.  We know race is a big issue.  But that was a term back in—I said this earlier in the program—that was never considered a derogatory term.  We used to have bumper stickers here in Washington, “Chocolate City.”  It was proud of the fact that it was largely African-American city.  It was people themselves who used—the community who said that.

But to use the term now in a kind of—in this frontline issue of whether we‘re going to return a lot of poor people back to those low lying areas of New Orleans, is this a problem for this guy?  He apologized for it today. 

HAYES:  Well, I thought actually what the biggest problem for Ray Nagin was his explanation, and I saw it earlier.

MATTHEWS:  What, explaining what chocolate is?

HAYES:  Saying it was really I meant chocolate and you mix it with white milk and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Norah, back in my day, we called that a black-and-white milkshake.  But we didn‘t call it—we didn‘t use it in a racial sense.  But you know, anyways, I can—is this—I‘m just suggesting maybe—Norah, you‘re resisting this, maybe you‘re right, I‘m wrong.  Is this going to help entangle her and keep this story going, the fact that both these statements were made in the same day? 

O‘DONNELL:  Chris, I asked the same question of Senator Clinton‘s people.  I said you may think her comment was, you know, innocuous and that she said it before, but in the context of also Mayor Nagin‘s comments, certainly it‘s a bigger story altogether.  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know to speak to sort of Mayor Nagin‘s comments, but for Senator Clinton, she certainly will try and move on from this.  And the bigger story is going to be about the other politics here in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  And I think the big thing is, don‘t say something really controversial on a boring day.  Anyway, thank you Stephen Hayes, thank you Norah O‘Donnell. 

Join us again tomorrow, it‘s 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

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