updated 3/8/2006 11:42:49 AM ET 2006-03-08T16:42:49

Guests: Charlie Cook, John Murtha, Kim Gandy, Tony Perkins, James Lee Witt

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  This week, Republicans circle the wagons.  Hillary is coming.  Who can take her on, who can save the Republican White House?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight we‘re here to talk about the big boys, a president in distress, George W.  Bush in distress.  The front-runners, McCain and Hillary, the fast moving dark horse, Giuliani. 

Republicans face a tsunami of midterm elections losses this fall, as well as an historic ‘08 presidential race coming up.  President Bush faces the lowest polls of his presidency, bogged down by Iraq, wasted by Katrina.  The president finds himself in a brutal fight now with his own party over the Dubai port deal.  Could Republicans lose their most important edge, national security. 

Will they hide from the president and run from his policies now?  Are there any reasons for Republicans to get out to the polls this November.  And in 2008, will Republicans be asking themselves one simple question, who do we have to beat Hillary?  Big questions, big personalities and a big show tonight. 

In just a moment, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum, and later the president‘s most fierce war critic, U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha.  But we start with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today, President Bush celebrated Women‘s History Month and charmed his White House audience. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  A lot of strong women have influenced my life.  Beginning with my mother. 

SHUSTER:  But outside the White House, polls show the president‘s unfavorability rating is the highest since he took office.  According to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, 54 percent have an unfavorable view of the president.  And when respondent‘s were asked if the president was honest and trustworthy, the polls found that only 44 percent said yes and 55 percent said no. 

Some of the swipes at the president are coming from his supporters.  The National Review, a leading conservative magazine, reports that several Republicans are describing the administration‘s handling of the Dubai ports deal as arrogant. 

When the president found out about the port transaction and then heard about objections from Republican leaders in Congress, the president told reporters on Air Force One that any congressional effort to derail the deal would result in his first ever presidential veto. 

That night, David Gergen told HARDBALL—

DAVID GERGEN, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  Why did he box himself in?  He left himself no options and by taking a stand in favor of this without consulting Congress and understanding the political realities, boxed himself in.  It‘s a lose-lose for him now.

SHUSTER:  The president finds himself in a bind that other second term presidents have had to contend with before.  Most recently, President Clinton and most famously, Richard Nixon. 

In Clinton‘s case, both Republicans and Democrats widely criticized his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. 

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D) CONNECTICUT: Such behavior is not just inappropriate.  It is immoral. 

SHUSTER:  In Richard Nixon‘s case, it was a member of his own party who asked the crucial question about Watergate. 

SEN. HOWARD BAKER, ® TENNESSEE:  The central question at this point is simply put—what did the president know and when did he know it? 

SHUSTER:  President Clinton survived his troubles and stayed in office with an approval rating that never dipped below 55 percent.  Nixon, however, was forced to resign. 

RICHARD M. NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Therefore I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. 

SHUSTER:  For President Bush, the immediate question is not whether he will hold on to his office, but whether his party will hold on to power in the midterm congressional elections, and the challenge is that there are several issues that seem to be hurting the president.  The violence and uncertainty continues in Iraq.  Polls show Americans are growing more frustrated, not less, with the administration‘s handling of hurricane Katrina, and the rebellion against the president is still simmering over the Dubai port deal. 

(on camera):  While the president tries to fix his administration‘s current problems, members of Congress have focused on their potential problems this fall and that disconnect is why officials here at the White House are so nervous and why Republicans across Washington are convinced that unless the president‘s numbers begin to improve, the rift in the party will get worse. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL at the White House. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  You know, every time I see that picture of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in that rope line, I get a little more closer look and I notice, nobody is watching, he reaches around behind her neck and gives her a little grab there, a little hello.  We‘re not supposed to see that. 

Here for a full damage report on President Bush are MSNBC‘s political analysts Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum.  Let me go to Pat on this one.  What‘s weighing the president down more in the polling that we‘re getting and we‘re getting it relentlessly that he‘s down below 40. 

Is it the war or the incompetence at home in terms of Katrina, the ports deal, the other problems? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think Iraq is the first and foremost thing, but there‘s no doubt the economy, while it‘s going very well for the top 20 percent, is not helping the president and I think the perception of bumbling and stumbling post-Katrina has really hurt him.  And the ports thing, Chris, the problem with it has gone right at the Republicans really strong suit, which is national security.

For a period there, the Democrats were supported ahead of the Republicans on national security, that is horrible news for the GOP. 

MATTHEWS:  You say it‘s Iraq, economy, and incompetence in that order. 

BUCHANAN:  Incompetence, in that order. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Bob and your sense of those three.  I forgot to mention the economy and it is a question.  What do you think of those three, where would you put that order?  Problems for the president.  Is it Iraq, the economy, problems with bureaucratic handling of our problems at home? 

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s all across the board. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you put as number one? 

SHRUM:  I don‘t know that you can put anything number one.  I think it‘s a combination of two things.  It‘s a combination of neo-con ideology, which has left us bogged down in the war in Iraq, and Katrina level incompetence, which has now left the president stuck waist deep in the Dubai ports deal.

There doesn‘t seem to be any sense of where he goes from here.  He just holds on to the same old policies.  He goes to India and Pakistan, presidents always go on foreign trips when they‘re in trouble and he gives away the store on nuclear proliferation in India, creates new tension with Pakistan and has an explosion in India today of violence. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the question of honesty and that‘s a tough one.  I remember seeing an old movie about that one, once you lose the trust of the American people, forget it, you never get it back.  Is that true, Pat?  Once you go down in the honesty department, is it possible to reclaim it? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes in this sense.  Reagan was hurt, his honesty, integrity, sincerity, when they found out he sold weapons to the Ayatollah and for six months, and even in the White House, we were shattered by this news.  Eventually he won it back after six months.

MATTHEWS:  Did you ever think of resigning? 

BUCHANAN:  No, not over though.  I thought of resigning under Nixon for a different issue and it didn‘t have to do with Watergate, but never over that.  That was why did you do this thing, it was a stupid thing to have done and now we have a real problem and so you have to defend the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Well that‘s a question.  Bob, once you lose the trust of anyone, it‘s hard to get it back, isn‘t it? 

SHRUM:  It‘s very hard for him and the way Ronald Reagan got it back was, and remember, he had won this massive overwhelming reelection victory, after winning a pretty good victory in 1980, so he had more political capital to draw on.  When he got in trouble, in the middle of that Iran-Contra thing, he finally went in front of the country and said look I did it, it was a mistake, I don‘t remember it exactly, but I‘m completely convinced I did it.  I‘m sorry for it and by the way I‘m changing the White House staff, and changing the way we do business.  I don‘t think we‘re going to see that from this president. 

MATTHEWS:  It also was a problem with that.  I like to get into that same sort of anthem, second term, second rate staff, because you get the deputies instead of the previous principals.  But it wasn‘t the deputies that got us into the war in Iraq, that advised the president it was smart for the United States to take our army into the country of Iraq and try to run the country with all the three groups fighting each other. 

Let me ask you this, isn‘t that the problem right now?  What Bob said, the ideology that was alien to the president when he came to office, he discovered it when he got in the White House and bought it, that we should go into Iraq? 

BUCHANAN:  You‘re exactly right.  I mean, 9/11, the president seems to

first he did Afghanistan, then he bought if to the whole thing, the democracy agenda, launching the war on Iraq, and the four people who are key here, Rumsfeld, Rice, the president and Cheney are all there. 

Now, Shrum is right about the neocons, although some of them have quietly moved on, but the president has become—it‘s the zeal of the convert.  He is still with the program, he‘s still with democracy, he gave a speech in India, I think where he mentioned it 16 times.  So he still—

MATTHEWS:  Let me not let one guy off the hook here, that‘s Cheney, Bob.  I talked to someone last night who knows better about this than anybody off the record who told me the first thing Cheney wanted when he got the vice-presidency, during the transition of 2000, what he wanted was not a briefing on the world, all he wanted to know about, where do we stand in Iraq? 

He was keyed on that decision from day one, long before 9/11, and it certainly looks like these guys weren‘t surprised by the decision to go to Iraq.  They had it in their mind ahead of time. 

SHRUM:  I think Cheney was dissatisfied in 1991, when the first President Bush, at the advice of Colin Powell, wisely made the decision not to go on and capture Baghdad and occupy that country.  I think 9/11, the almost instant answer of Rumsfeld and Cheney was we have to do something about Iraq and they then had the president do something, or the president himself did something, that was a disaster.  He told us there were weapons of mass destruction when there weren‘t.

Since then, time after time after time, he‘s been caught shading the truth or not telling the truth. 

BUCHANAN:  Rumsfeld was for an invasion of Iraq in 98 and in the PNAC  letter they sent to Bill Clinton.  Invade Iraq and we will back you up.  Kristol and the whole gang.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Those ideologues are sort of out of power right now.  Let me ask you about political here.  History tells us that the people vote with their vote.  They only get one vote this coming November.  It doesn‘t say Bush on it.  It says Democrat and Republican.

If they didn‘t like Nixon, they didn‘t like Nixon/Ford.  In ‘74, they voted straight Democrat, screw you guys, same thing in ‘94.  They were tired of Hillary Clinton‘s, you know, “I‘m going to run the country mentality with a big health care plan.”  They voted straight Republican.

Bob, the history of this country as it comes down to a big lever.  It isn‘t sophisticated, it isn‘t nuanced.  If you don‘t like the way things are going, you vote for the other party.  Do you think that‘s going to happen? 

I just saw a number here that‘s staggering, a 14-point generic advantage for the Democrats.  In other words, 53-to-39, people are going to vote Democrat, it ain‘t because the Democrats are showing any shine shoes and a smile right now, it‘s because the Republicans look in trouble.

SHRUM:  Well and it wasn‘t the Republicans in ‘94 because the contract on America...

MATTHEWS:  No, it was Hillary.

SHRUM:  ... which they only issued at the end.  It was a protest vote, and look, what‘s going to happen here is Bush is not going to be a lightning rod that deflects the heat.  He‘s going to be a transmission belt and it‘s going to go straight to Republicans in vulnerable seats and Congress and in the Senate, all over the country.

BUCHANAN:  Let me enter a dissent here. I agree with you, 1994 was...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking at history.

BUCHANAN:  ... 1994, the Republicans didn‘t lose a contested seat for Senate, Congress, or governorship, had nothing to do with the contract with America.

However, what Bush has going for him, I agree with you—first, he‘s a great campaigner.  Secondly, the Republicans are flushed with cash.  Third, the Democrats have no agenda.  And fourth, a lot of these seats now have been gerrymandered in there so tight that I don‘t think you can dynamite the Republicans out of a seats.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we can get the president will go out there and campaign like mad, right before the holidays.  He did a good job, he stopped his decline. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s got guts.

MATTHEWS:  But he didn‘t build up his strength.

BUCHANAN:  No, but he‘s got guts.

MATTHEWS:  Does he have the strength to—does he have the moxie to go out there and campaign?

BUCHANAN:  He had the moxie to put himself on the line.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s he going to campaign for?

BUCHANAN:  In 2002, 2004, this guy is a fighter.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s he going to campaign for besides his personal character? 

BUCHANAN:  They‘re going after the Democrats, they will undercut us, national security, everything goes down the tubes if you vote these guys. 

SHRUM:  Pat, Pat, Pat, a lot of Republicans are going to have the prudence not to invite him, just like a lot of them wouldn‘t have invited Nixon if he hadn‘t been thrown out in 1974.  He‘s poison.

BUCHANAN:  He may be poison, but he is an effective tough campaigner.

SHRUM:  Yes, but no one likes him.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a question.  Will Schwarzenegger bring Bush in to campaign for him?

SHRUM:  No. 

BUCHANAN:  No, I don‘t think he will.

MATTHEWS:  Will Santorum in Pennsylvania?

SHRUM:  No.

BUCHANAN:  He‘ll be on the other end of the state.

SHRUM:  Well except they have television, except Pat, they have television on both ends of the state.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re making my point.  I‘ll bet these guys have invitations ready to go if they need them.  We‘ll be right back with Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

Big Republican week, they‘re picking somebody to beat Hillary this week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with MSNBC political analysts Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum.  Let‘s turn to 2008 already.  Here‘s what the country thinks about Hillary Clinton and John McCain.  These numbers are interesting, 52 percent have a favorable view of Senator Clinton.  That‘s 52 percent, 46 percent have a high—that‘s very high, by the way, unfavorable view, but it‘s close.  She‘s ahead 52-46, favorable to unfavorable.  But among Republicans, only 19 percent have a favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton, no surprise there.

Let‘s go to John McCain.  This is fascinating, 59 percent of the country as a whole has a favorable view, just 22 percent do not.  But McCain has much broader appeal than Senator Clinton.  A majority of Democrats, 57 percent, also have a favorable opinion of McCain.  Look at those numbers, Republicans, Democrats, and everybody included.  Everybody has a positive view of John McCain. 

Pat Buchanan?  He‘s a remarkable figure.

BUCHANAN:  Well he‘ll kill Hillary.  The problem for Hillary is she‘s at 46 percent disapprove of her, dislike her, and that‘s after six years when nobody‘s been attacking her.  Good heavens, that‘s a base at which she starts.

MATTHEWS:  Why does she get to people?

BUCHANAN:  You know, I think it‘s the head-band liberalism.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but that was 30, 40 years ago.

BUCHANAN:  It‘s not.  But that‘s all that‘s in the people‘s mind in the talk radio, all you‘ve got to do...

MATTHEWS:  Where do you get these phrases, the head-band liberal?

BUCHANAN:  ... well you had your head band on, the Wellesley stuff and every time she gets tearing, that voice goes up.

MATTHEWS:  I think you really do see it that way.  Bob Shrum, this fellow really sees Hillary as somebody, you know, with war paint on, out on campus banging the...

SHRUM:  ... Pat loves to fight those old battles.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll never forget, she was on the impeachment of Richard Nixon committee.

SHRUM:  I was trying my very best to get him impeached.  But let me tell you something, if Pat thinks that for the last six years, Hillary Clinton hasn‘t been attacked, then he hasn‘t been living in the same world I have.

She‘s been attacked constantly and her numbers are actually a lot like the profile you would see of a presidential nominee, including a winning one, at the end of a race.  Now I think she has...

BUCHANAN:  ... exactly, at the end.  At the end, not the beginning.

SHRUM:  No, but people already have firm opinions about her, the 52 percent.

BUCHANAN:  The 46 percent are gone.

SHRUM:  But those 46 percent, those 46 percent were going to be gone anyway.

BUCHANAN:  Well those numbers, you got those numbers, Bob, you don‘t run.  If you got numbers like that in the negatives, you‘re in deep trouble once you start off, and when the talk radio and everybody goes to work on her, they‘ll go back up above 50, they‘ll never come.  If you can‘t beat Hillary, we deserve to lose the presidency.

SHRUM:  OK, when you‘re done filibustering, I don‘t think she‘ll go above 50 in disapproval.  I think she will reflect the deep split in this country between Republicans and Democrats and that‘s why I think she is where she is.  Now I think McCain‘s a very formidable candidate.

BUCHANAN:  I think McCain will slaughter her.  I mean, unless McCain is chopped up in the Republican primary or unless there‘s a third party candidate, McCain wins this thing.  I do not see how the country turns to Hillary Clinton against John McCain, but frankly, McCain is all out for war and Hillary is on the right side by then.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, you‘ve been with presidential candidates on presidential elections.  You know how hot it gets, how nasty it gets, where you get up every day and have to look at T.V. and blog sites trashing your very being.  I don‘t know if I could take it.  I don‘t know if you could take it.  Can Hillary take it?

SHRUM:  Oh, sure.

MATTHEWS:  Every day, personal attacks to her soul.

SHRUM:  Oh, I think she can certainly take it.  Look, McCain right now, his image is way out there ahead of the reality.  As Pat was about to say, he is even more bellicose on issues like Iraq and Iran, for example, than Bush is.  On a whole lot of issues like health care...

MATTHEWS:  But he doesn‘t sound bellicose.

SHRUM:  ... he‘s very—but that will be exposed during the campaign and the truth is you will have a very close race I believe for president in 2008.  Now I‘m not ...

BUCHANAN:  ... by the way, it‘s this, let me tell you.  It‘s this.  Some candidates run far better than their press clippings, Reagan is the great example, everybody trashed him, he‘s great.  Some run far worse.  When Rockefeller and Lindsay used to get the greatest press...

MATTHEWS:  Ted Kennedy.

BUCHANAN:  ... the polls were high, and then when they get out there, they start right downhill.  That is the problem...

MATTHEWS:  Why does the balloon get popped like it did for Ted Kennedy back in 1979.  He was dynamite with the press.  Two seconds after he announced, Roger Mudd had him in a hammer hold. 

BUCHANAN:  As a senator, they love what he‘s doing, but you want the White House, you‘ve got to really run an Iroquois gauntlet. 

SHRUM:  Two days before he announced, the Ayatollah seized the hostages and your guy, President Carter, who the country didn‘t want to vote for and Democrats didn‘t want to vote, said please vote for me as a way to send a message to the Ayatollah. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the press loves to build up candidates so they can barbecue them. 

BUCHANAN:  There‘s a lot of them too that are really balloons. 

MATTHEWS:  You guys have more stuff, you have more history you carry around with you and more relish for this battle than the two guys that will probably run against each other.  Thank you Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum.  Up next, can the Republicans find a star to knock off Hillary in ‘08?  And will voters down on President Bush vote for Democrats in this fall‘s elections?  You only get two choices, Democrat or Republicans. 

If you don‘t like the Republicans, are you going to vote Democrat? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Here to dig into the 2006 midterm elections coming up fairly soon in the 2008 presidential race which really begins this week in Memphis when the Republicans have the first cattle call and roll call, it‘s editor of The Cook Report, NBC News Analyst Charlie Cook. 

Let‘s look at some of the rough new numbers from the Washington Post-ABC poll that just came out.  On the war in Iraq, 40 percent, two out of the five support the president, 59 percent disapprove.  Three out of five don‘t like what he‘s doing over there.  On fighting terrorism, the president still has a margin of support, 52 percent against 46 percent who don‘t.  On ethics, president is way down on honesty, 40 percent approve of his honesty, 54 percent don‘t.  On handling Katrina, 36 percent, just about a third, like what he did down there, two thirds don‘t like what he did down there.

It goes on.  Is the president a big liability for the Republicans running for Congress?  When asked in the new CNN-USA Today Gallup poll weather they would vote for the Democratic or the Republican candidate in their district in the midterms, this is the number that jumps out at me, 53 percent now say they‘ll vote for the Democrats this fall, 39 percent for the Republican.  Charlie Cook, is that a tsunami? 

CHARLIE COOK, COOK POLITICAL REPORT:  That‘s a very big number, Chris.  Across the board, the numbers now are as bad or as worse than they were at this point for Democrats back in March of 1994. 

MATTHEWS:  So you could have the kind of win that Newt Gingrich had on the Democrats? 

COOK:  Well, yes, but there aren‘t as many seats if play this time as last time, so that a wave that resulted in 52 seat gain in 1994, could conceivably be 15, 20, 23, 24, something like that. 

MATTHEWS:  I will now ask you to do something which you don‘t like to do.  Read the future.  Is there anything that could happen now or in March, halfway through March could affect the reality of this election between now and November that could help the president? 

COOK:  Oh, sure.  You have any kind of international crisis.  I mean, a real crisis, instantaneously people rally around the flag, they rally around the president.  A major act of terrorism.  Now, after a week, a month, something like that, it could flip back the other way and backlash and second guessing, but instantaneously something like that, but also—

MATTHEWS:  A hot cup of coffee or a candy bar, gives you a moment—

COOK:  A rush. 

MATTHEWS:  And then it fades. 

COOK:  Then it could fade.  After 9/11 it took a long time to fade. 

After another act, maybe not so much. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president still has the fire in his belly in terms of partisan politics?  Do you think he really wants to get out there and hit the stump for six weeks or so this summer and fall and really go out there and say vote for Joey O‘Malley, vote for Jimmy and really care, really turn it on? 

COOK:  I think you‘ll see him go through the motions, but these guys they run out of gas in second terms, they just run out of energy.  And that is so common and I think you‘re going to see it.  Iraq is like a 100-pound weight on the guy‘s shoulders.  There are lots of things going on, but that‘s the big weight and that‘s just—it‘s just—

MATTHEWS:  Because it‘s relentlessly difficult news, because the casualties are in the paper, as someone said today on the radio, right on the top of the newspaper every day and it‘s almost like reality, and everything else sounds like politics. 

COOK:  Chris, I would not project things straight out from here.  We‘ve hit him on a low ebb.  After port security, and that one week in Iraq when things just looked absolutely horrible, it drove him down three or four points, where 40 in the ABC-Washington Post poll.  Other things had it 37, 38, something like that.  He‘s down. 

I think the fault level is probably about 41 or 42 percent for approval rating, 43 percent, and any kind of event is going to allow him to go a little higher or a little lower, but right now we‘ve hit a low point. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan mentioned something, he‘s a conservative obviously, but he said something that sounded pretty populist.  I think it may be the under story here.  When you pick up the big papers that are written by people who make a pretty good income, and edited by people who make more, it seems like everybody says the economy is doing pretty well, but I get a sense that the money is going to the top. 

COOK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And the people at the top because of the tax breaks they got under Bush and because the way the economy is geared right now, the working stiff out there making 30 or 40 a year is not getting a raise.  They‘re working as hard as ever, 50 hours, 60 hours a week.  They‘re not spending time with their family and they‘re wearing out and they‘re wearing out and they‘re not making any more money and prices still creep up and they‘re saying to themselves, this ain‘t doing it for me and I wonder if that isn‘t going to hurt. 

COOK:  That‘s why you saw on that poll you flashed on the screen a few minutes ago, job approval rating for the president on the economy in the 30s when GDP is going great guns.  Take Nike—

MATTHEWS:  So the overall economy is moving up but it‘s going to the benefit of the very top. 

COOK:  The industries that have benefited from productivity, from globalization, technology, but the average working stiff isn‘t doing so well.

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s why something like the ports deal really bugs people.  It‘s bad enough to be struggling every day home from work with no savings, but on top of that to be insulted by having the ports turned over to a foreign group, you say oh my God, now they‘re making a fool out of me. 

I think we have to talk more about the economy.  It‘s harder to do on television.  You got to have real people talk about it with us.  We should talk to them.  Anyway thank you, Charlie Cook. 

Up next the top critic of the Iraq war in Congress.  U.S. Pennsylvania Democrat Jack Murtha.  Later, will the South Dakota abortion bill force the Supreme Court to reverse the Roe vs. Wade decision.  Don‘t forget, this week, HARDBALL is on at 5:00, 7:00 and 11:00 tonight.  So watch us again tonight if you missed part of the show or want to see it again. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Congressman John Murtha has challenged the Pentagon on Iraq, saying Iraq is a civil war.  Congressman Murtha, thank you for joining us.

Mr. Murtha, the latest poll we just got in, “The Washington Post” poll talks about 80 percent, four out of five people—we used to hear this from, about dental reports, four out of five dentists.  Now four out of five doctors, or four out of five Americans are now saying that we‘re facing a civil war over there.  Do you believe the same?

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  I‘ve said this for over two or three weeks, it‘s been longer than that.  I have said it‘s a civil war.  Civil war is defined as having two groups from inside a country fighting with each other for supremacy.  That‘s exactly what we have.  And our troops are caught in between.  They‘re the targets of the insurgents.  We‘ve got a very small percentage of al Qaeda in the country.  These are Iraqis fighting each other and it‘s time for us to redeploy.

MATTHEWS:  You talked to the military men all the time, Mr. Murtha. 

What are they being told to do?  What is the rule of engagement over there?

MURTHA:  Chris, they agree with what I‘m saying.  I mean, they don‘t say this publicly.  All of them realize we cannot win this militarily.  They have said over a year ago, I said we couldn‘t win this militarily. 

What they‘re saying to me is we‘re stretching the military too thin.  The army is broken, and we couldn‘t deploy to a second front if we wanted to.  Recruitments are down.  The divorce rate for captains, or for officers two years ago in the army was up 70 percent.

Those are the kinds of things they‘re putting up with.  They‘ve been deployed three and four times and equipment is worn out.  So we‘ve got a lot of work to do, but we have an open-ended policy, that the president has just doesn‘t work.

We‘ve diverted ourselves from terrorism, this is the problem.  This is not terrorism in Iraq.  This is a civil war.  Terrorism is in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  One of the problems we have in Afghanistan, the poppies are 50 percent of the GDP and of course they‘re using that money to fuel terrorism, so we‘ve got to redivert ourselves, get our troops out of there and start fighting terrorism again.

MATTHEWS:  Well you say that we rediverted or we diverted our troop strength from Afghanistan, didn‘t catch bin Laden, moved into Iraq, are fighting a civil war, middle of a civil war now rather than fighting terrorism.

But you also mentioned a second front.  I think you‘re talking about a third front really, the possibility of us going into Iran.  Here is Vice President Cheney talking about Iran today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose meaningful consequences.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mr. Murtha, I don‘t believe Vice President Cheney engages in bluffs, so what‘s he talking about?

MURTHA:  Well, it‘s unfortunate that we‘ve heard so much rhetoric from the administration.  We‘ve heard this over and over and over again, and it does nothing but make it more difficult to solve the problems.

This is an international problem in Iran, we have to use international communications, international diplomacy, and when you make statements like that, you make it very difficult to solve it, diplomatically.

For instance, right now we couldn‘t deploy to Iraq or Iran.  Most people don‘t realize Iran is three times in geographical, bigger than Iraq, and 58 million people versus 26 million.  It‘s not possible.

Our military is stretched so thin, there‘s no way we could deploy to a second front and then sustain that front, so it‘s ridiculous to make it talk like, “Well, we could take all of the officers off the floor, could be a military option.”  There‘s no way we could do that.

Now our intelligence was so bad in Iraq, that I don‘t believe we had better intelligence in Iran.  And so if they‘re talking about using bombing strikes in Iran, you‘re going to have world support for that.  The public is against us going into Iran, therefore getting out of Iraq for heaven‘s sake.

So you know, the rhetoric—the biggest thing, Chris, the biggest argument I have with this administration, they‘ve been overly optimistic about what‘s happening in Iraq.  They keep saying things are going well.  The president said mission accomplished.  Since he said mission accomplished, we‘ve lost 2,000 people in Iraq.

We have 20,000 casualties in Iraq and they keep saying we don‘t need this many people, we‘re not going to redeploy.  The Iraqis had their election, let them take over.  We have to give them guidelines and a time line to say “OK, folks, this is your government, you‘ve got to fight for your democracy.  You want democracy, you‘ve got to fight for it.”

Every single person that we support, is defeated.  For instance, we supported the Defense Department, our big guy Chalabi, he got one percent of the vote.  Allawi, I said to Director Negroponte, how come he only got eight percent of the vote?  Well, he said, “He‘s a good guy.”  Well that‘s not the point.  We supported him and he only got eight percent of the vote.  So this is Iraqi problem, we‘ve got to let the Iraqis solve it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, I want to talk to you about Iran because you know something about this military situation, I expect a lot.  If we were to do a surgical strike on Iraq—or Iran, rather, and knocked out what we thought were their nuclear facilities and sent them back a couple of years, what would be the danger to America in that kind of approach?

MURTHA:  In the first place, Chris, I don‘t think it‘s necessary to even think about that in the near term.  They‘re not close to having nuclear capability, so what we need to do is stress diplomatic relations.  We need to work with Russia, we need to work with these other countries.

One of the problems we have is when we go off on our own, we get no support from anybody else.  You‘ll remember in the ‘91 war, President Bush not only got support from the international community, they paid for the war.  They paid the $60 billion and we‘re paying—we‘re going to spend $450 billion in this war by the end of this year, money that could be spent much better someplace else, and that doesn‘t even take care of the upgrading the military.

And the other thing that‘s happening, when the military gets stretched too thin, like it is, the problem is that they can‘t—we can‘t scare anybody.  In other words, when Cheney makes a threat like that, it falls on deaf ears because they know darn well we couldn‘t accept it.  But the big thing is, as much money as we spend on intelligence, we don‘t know where the targets are, we don‘t know exactly what we need to do.  So there‘s no use in even talking about the military strikes.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Democrats are going to line up against this war this fall in the election or not? 

MURTHA:  Well I think it depends on each individual. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the problem. 

MURTHA:  The same thing that you always said when you ran Tip O‘Neill‘s public relations.  Every district is separate, every district is different and every district depends on—we represent people and people are all different all over the country, so it‘s going to depend on how they feel in the different districts. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember it different.  I remember a common theme, but we‘ll move on from that.  Congressman John Murtha, thank you for joining us on HARDBALL.  Up next a sweeping ban on abortion in South Dakota.  Is this the beginning of the end of Roe v. Wade?  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  On Monday, South Dakota‘s Republican Governor Mike Rounds signed a bill into law that would ban nearly all abortions excepting cases where the woman‘s life is in danger.  The governor called it a direct frontal assault on the Supreme Court‘s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. 

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins praised the new abortion ban out in South Dakota.  Kim Gandy, President of the National Organization for Women, has vowed to fight against it.  Why are you against it, Kim?

KIM GANDY, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF WOMEN:  This isn‘t anything new. 

This has been a long-term plan that‘s been in place, and it‘s a coincidence

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s plan?

GANDY:  The Republicans, the Bush administration, the same folks who founded The Federalist Society, Sam Alito in his own writing. 

MATTHEWS:  What do they want to do? 

GANDY:  They wan to overturn Roe v. Wade, they want to outlaw abortion and contraception. 

MATTHEWS:  In each state.  So they want to throw it back to the states and have votes in each state.

GANDY:  No, I don‘t think they want to throw it back to the states.  Ultimately they want to ban it.  They want to make abortion unconstitutional so that it would not be available in any state. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean, get three quarters of the states to sign on to something like that? 

GANDY:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  That will never happen. 

GANDY:  I think it may well happen if it continues on the way it is.  It is no accident that this happened one month after Samuel Alito‘s confirmation to the Supreme Court. 

MATTHEWS:  You believe the slippery slope theory? 

GANDY:  Not a slippery slope.  It‘s a long-term plan.  As we‘ve seen from this administration, they—

MATTHEWS:  You want to do three quarters of the state agree by constitutional convention or amending process to outlaw abortion at the federal levels so no state has the option. 

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  No, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t believe in that? 

PERKINS:  No.  With all due respect, Kim is wrong on every point.  This is not a grand strategy.  What we have in South Dakota is we have a state that you have legislators that have enacted policy that is reflective of their constituents. 

South Dakota, one abortion clinic, no abortion doctors.  What you have

found is that those that have been teaming up with the courts to push

policies that are outside the American mainstream on marriage, abortion,

other issues, the courts have been weakened by being rebuffed or repudiated

by citizens so legislators are emboldened -

MATTHEWS:  It‘s one thing to outlaw abortion in your state, if you know there‘s a lot of states on the periphery of your state.  I‘m not pro-abortion, let me tell you, but do you think the people out there who want an abortion can go to another state and get one? 

PERKINS:  They can. 

MATTHEWS:  So that‘s an option they have even if this law passes.

PERKINS:  What we have here is we want the states to be able to set the policy for their state. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s more likely to change in the next three or four years with the new court, the two new members, Alito and Roberts.  Confirming the congressional action which outlawed partial birth abortion or change the basic Roe vs. Wade statute.

GANDY:  I think the first one is more likely.  There‘s no question in my mind—

MATTHEWS:  Roberts might vote for it? 

GANDY:  I think that both Roberts and Alito will vote for it and I think that Kennedy, who voted for it last time, is going to vote on that side.  But remember, that it wasn‘t too long ago, I was active in NOW when the Human Life Amendment was introduced into Congress to define human life at the moment of conception, which would have immediately upon passage outlawed abortion in all 50 states and all territories, not state by state. 

MATTHEWS:  What year was that supposed to be passed? 

GANDY:  1982 is when it was first introduced. 

MATTHEWS:  And that would have overruled Roe vs. Wade. 

GANDY:  It would have overruled Roe vs. Wade constitutionally. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the politics.  I know you‘re concerned about the moral issue but the political issue.  It seems to me that all these years since ‘73, the conservatives, the pro-life people have benefited from the fact that the courts have intervened and said you have the right to an abortion, so therefore a person could be voting Republican and not worry about abortion, because it‘s basically off the table. 

Bringing it back on the table, is that good for the Republican party and conservatives? 

PERKINS:  I think it‘s good for those policymakers who want to actually make policy. 

MATTHEWS:  President Bush an John McCain, two leaders of the Republican party keep saying it isn‘t the time to make changes in the law like that.  We have to have the country‘s heart ready for it.  It isn‘t right to outlaw it now. 

PERKINS:  We‘ve been preparing the hearts of the people for 33 years and we see now that the majority of Americans identify themselves as pro— life.  I think for the Republican party, it‘s time to fish or cut bait.  Do they want to use this as a political issue or do they want to advance life. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to hold them to that?

PERKINS:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  So if the members of the court don‘t uphold the PBA law, uphold the congressional action on PBA, you would hold them accountable? 

PERKINS:  The courts? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, if the courts don‘t do it. 

PERKINS:  Yes.  We will keep going back with Congress.  Congress has passed the PBA, it goes back to the court again. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you blame Bush for putting the wrong men in? 

PERKINS:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you? 

PERKINS:  I think that all we can tell from what the president has put on the court they will vote the right way. 

GANDY:  The question that‘s not being asked is what happens with birth control, what happens with contraception.  That‘s next on their agenda.

MATTHEWS:  We need more time on this.  Kim Gandy of NOW and Tony Perkins.  More HARDBALL after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is going to be fascinating.  Welcome back to

HARDBALL.

As questions continue to swirl over the Bush administration‘s screwed up response to Hurricane Katrina and whether we‘re better prepared for a major catastrophe today, former FEMA Director James Lee Witt has formed a national coalition, ProtectingAmerica.org.  It‘s designed to strengthen federal and state emergency response systems.  James Lee Witt, welcome, sir.  

JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘d like to ask this question.  I ask it in a tough way about 9/11.  If the same thing were happening today, the same weather conditions, the same—the same flooding, would we be better prepared to handle it? 

WITT:  I don‘t think so. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t? 

WITT:  I do not.  I think that putting FEMA under the Homeland Security was a mistake.  I think they need to pull FEMA out of there as an independent agency, staff it, fund it to the level it should be, so that they can work with state and local emergency management and public safety, and fix it.  

MATTHEWS:  You know, Dana Reeve just died today, the wife of Christopher Reeve.  And I was thinking back to that wonderful, you know, “Superman” movie where he reversed time and he turned the world around.  Remember the reversed time?

WITT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  If you could reverse time now, to before Katrina hit, before the floodwaters broke through the seawalls there along that waterway, what would you do? 

WITT:  Well, first of all, you know, we had set up a rapid response teams, 40 members on each team, three teams, that were predeployed into a state operations center that was on the ground, making sure that the resources was there, making sure that myself calling governors, mayors, and saying, look, three or four days before the storm ever hit, saying, have you done your mandatory evacuation, you need your hospitals, you need any help on those, you need any help on nursing homes?  Do you need any help, anything that we can do to help, make sure that people are out of harm‘s way, you tell us. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you have put people at the Superdome? 

WITT:  Well, we tried that.  Remember...

MATTHEWS:  It is below sea level.  Why would you put people there?

WITT:  And that‘s in ‘95 -- you know, we were having an exercise there on a Category 4 storm with a 14-foot storm surge.  Started raining, we had 30,000 houses flooded.  They moved people to the Superdome.  Guess what?  It was a mistake.  And Marc Morial was the mayor then.  And he said, we‘re going to take that out of our plans. 

MATTHEWS:  How did it get back in?  

WITT:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Who told Mayor Nagin that it was a good idea to get 90 percent of the people out of town but leave 50,000 stranded there?  

WITT:  I don‘t think he planned that.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Well, he moved the people into the domes if they didn‘t have (INAUDIBLE).

WITT:  That was a last-chance resort, you know, to protect those that just absolutely would not...

MATTHEWS:  Is it any harder to move people into that stadium, the Superdome, than it would to move them to the buses right there? 

WITT:  Well, you know, they should have had buses there to get people out of harm‘s way.  The governor asked for them. 

MATTHEWS:  But they were there. 

WITT:  I‘m talking about bigger buses.  I‘m talking about buses that could evacuate those people out.  And the buses never arrived.  I know she did ask for them before the storm hit. 

And I have not looked at the reports yet on the critique of the response, particularly from Louisiana yet, but I will be looking at those. 

MATTHEWS:  When you look at pictures of those stranded people, those faces which haunt this administration and the country, they haunt the country, do you have an image in your mind of how that could have been avoided? 

WITT:  Well, Chris, let me just say this...

MATTHEWS:  The ones at the Convention Center and at the Superdome? 

WITT:  Let me just say this.  When I was director of FEMA, one of the goals that we had, that no state, no local government would ever fail a response.  Because we wanted to make sure they were our partners, they were -- you know, we worked with them every day and we tried to make sure that that didn‘t happen.  People did not have to lose their lives, and that‘s the sad part of this. 

MATTHEWS:  Had you been in charge, would they?  Would they have? 

WITT:  I would have made every effort that they wouldn‘t have. 

MATTHEWS:  If you had to assign blame, would it be at the top, the president, Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Brown, who was on this program the other day, Governor Blanco or Mayor Nagin?  Where would you put it?

WITT:  I don‘t know, I think there‘s a little bit for all of it.  I think that there is mistakes made all the way around. 

I think that one of the biggest problems they had was the lack of experienced leaders in positions to make sure that people did not lose their lives. 

MATTHEWS:  Could the president, had he been on the ball, more on the ball, totally into this, like he is in the war against Iraq, would he have been able to crack the whip and get it done, or can‘t you do it from the top? 

WITT:  You can do it from the top.  But one of the things when I was director of FEMA, you know, I was cabinet level after 1996.  And one of the things that we did very early on, that we‘ve set that partnership up with DOD and all the federal agencies.  We had a federal team that was very supportive.  And you know, I didn‘t have to go to anyone to activate DOD.  I could do it myself as director of FEMA.  Of course, I had the authority to do it.  But if they didn‘t respond, then, of course, I‘d go to the White House chief of staff or the president, say, look, I need these people.  They‘re holding me up. 

MATTHEWS:  We only have a minute.  When you watch the president being briefed there on tape—and it‘s an amazing look inside how the White House works—and the president sitting in there, what looks like the Sit Room, getting the (INAUDIBLE) and saying, I‘m satisfied we‘re all prepared.  What does that tell you? 

WITT:  You know, I just saw that statement.  I don‘t—it sounded like he had been briefed up and was ready to respond. 

MATTHEWS:  And to be commander in chief. 

WITT:  Yes, to be commander in chief.  But I don‘t know what happened. 

MATTHEWS:  And he didn‘t ask any questions.  Did that surprise you? 

WITT:  Yes, it did.  You know, but I didn‘t know if he had asked them before that, you know, and had these answers.  So it‘s difficult to judge. 

MATTHEWS:  Bottom line, your best goal would be, if you could fix this again, it would be to have a FEMA director like yourself, the job you held, as a boss, who didn‘t have to go to any other—anybody above him to get approval to act.  He had to act like a commander in the field. 

WITT:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  And we don‘t have that now? 

WITT:  No.  And you know, when FEMA responded to 9/11, FEMA did a really good job.  You know why?  Because FEMA was still intact. 

MATTHEWS:  And putting it under Homeland Security and making it respond to a bureaucratic level above it was a big mistake? 

WITT:  And they took the preparedness training and exercise out of FEMA.  They took the fire administration out of FEMA, put it under Homeland Security.  They took positions out of FEMA.  And basically—and the leadership there did not have the experience. 

MATTHEWS:  Should a FEMA director be someone who‘s close enough to the president, like Bobby Kennedy was to Jack Kennedy, someone that they trust, the president trusts implicitly and lets them make field decisions, right? 

WITT:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  It shouldn‘t be somebody who has to be checked and be micromanaged? 

WITT:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s got to be an old buddy, somebody he trusts and knows he can believe in?  

WITT:  With experience. 

MATTHEWS:  With experience.  And we don‘t have that now. 

WITT:  Not today. 

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you take the job again? 

WITT:  Haven‘t been asked. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that‘s interesting.  Made some news here. 

James Lee Witt, one of the great public servants.  Thank you, sir. 

WITT:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t forget, HARDBALL is on all this week at 11:00 p.m.

Eastern tonight, and we‘ll be back tomorrow at 5:00, 7:00 and 11:00 again. 

We like being on at 11:00. 

And Friday, HARDBALL hits the first stop on the ‘08, believe it or not, campaign trail.  We‘ll be there first.  The nation‘s top Republican contenders gather to prove they‘ve got what it takes to be president, and also to beat Hillary, probably.  An exclusive television and online political event, first of the season, live from Memphis, Tennessee. 

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

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