updated 3/9/2006 12:23:20 PM ET 2006-03-09T17:23:20

Guest: Christopher Hitchens, Anne Kornblut, Michael Smerconish, Eugene

Robinson, J.D. Hayworth, Dan Lundgren

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, show time.  After days of Dubai on the radio, the ports issue heads to the House.  No more waffling, it's yea or nay on the hottest issue since 9/11.  Let's hear it from both sides.  Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

Bring it on.  Congressional Republicans push for a showdown with the president on the Dubai ports deal, with the Republican leadership agreeing to a vote next week that will kill the deal.  The president is standing by his threat to veto the bill, so will it be deal or no deal?  Looks like no deal.  We'll debate the issue that threatens to split the Republican Congress from the Republican president, in a moment.

Plus the Hillary power grab—Clinton supporters are ready to kick butt and take names, not trusting Howard Dean's DNC to rally the base and win back the White House. 

More on this later, but first, HARDBALL's David Shuster with this report on the politics of the port deal. 


DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As the president toured the Gulf Coast today, it became painfully apparent to his White House staff that after weeks of fighting for the Dubai ports deal, President Bush is headed towards a huge defeat.  In Washington today, House Republicans agreed to vote on a measure that will kill the deal and the vote will come as early as next week. 

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER:  We have a port deal and we'll continue to do our best judgment on how to protect the American people.  Thank you very much.

SHUSTER:  The Congressional move rejected the optimism at the White House, where just yesterday spokesman Scott McClellan thought Congress would wait for a 45-day review. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  There have been ongoing discussions, as you can imagine, between the company and Congressional leaders.  We've been involved in those discussions. 

SHUSTER:  And just last week, President Bush praised the ongoing 45-day review as an opportunity to convince Congress the deal should be approved. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If there was any doubt in my mind or people if my administration's mind that our ports would be less secure and the American people in danger, this deal wouldn't go forward. 

SHUSTER:  But the American people are still against letting an Arab country run U.S. ports.  The latest polls show that 70 percent oppose the Dubai transaction.  And Democrats have seized on the opportunity to outflank the president and his party on national security.  Tennessee Democrat Harold Ford, running for the U.S. Senate, is using the issue in a television ad. 


REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE:  President Bush wants to sell this port and five others to the United Arab Emirates, a country that had diplomatic ties with the Taliban, the home of two 9/11 hijackers, whose banks wired money to the terrorists. 

I'm running for the Senate because we shouldn't outsource our national security to anyone. 


SHUSTER:  And Democrats running for reelection in the House are slamming the president every day. 

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES (D), OHIO:  We cannot afford to outsource our homeland security and that's exactly what the Bush administration wants to do with the United Arab Emirates. 

SHUSTER:  The decision by the House Republican leadership to vote against the deal as early as next week sets up one of the biggest Republican Party clashes in a decade.  The president, who hasn't vetoed a single measure since taking office, has promised to veto any bill that would block of the port transaction, but some Republicans say they have the votes to override his veto. 

For the Republican Party, which has touted its unity during the Bush presidency, the fight over the port deal threatens to weaken the president's leadership at home and abroad, and Republican advisors have publicly urged the president to prevent this head-on collision. 

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  You can't let this deal go down, but you've got—more of the same is undesirable.  You have got to get with Hastert, you've got to get with Frist, you've got to get them confident, you've got to get them on board with something different.  There has got to be something new in the mix here.  More of the same won't work.

MATTHEWS:  I just don't see how you ...

SHUSTER:  But there is nothing new and the Dubai port deal remains the confrontation it was when the story first broke. 

(on camera):  Despite the backlash, polls still show President Bush has majority approval on fighting terrorism, but Democrats see blood in the water, an opportunity to stagger President Bush where he is the strongest and a chance to use the Republican in-fighting to shape the political battlefield heading into the fall elections. 

I'm David Shuster for HARDBALL, in Washington. 


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.

Now to our panel of political critics:  radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, “Vanity Fair's” Christopher Hitchens, the “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson, and Anne Kornblut of “The New York Times.”

Michael Smerconish, it looks like the House is going to vote this coming week.  What will it do to the president? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, WPHT TALK RADIO - PHILADELPHIA:  I think this is a great issue for everyone but the president.  I mean, the Republicans—they don't want a deal on this.  This the perfect opportunity to get some distance between themselves and the president, and it's a terrific opportunity for the Democrats to flex their beer muscles, so the only person ...

MATTHEWS:  What are beer muscles? 

SMERCONISH:  Beer muscles are muscles you really don't have, Chris.  You should know that from Philly.  So the only person who wants a deal is the president, and if the UAE are really his friend, they'll back off and they'll say you know what?  We don't want a piece of this deal. 

MATTHEWS:  Fat chance.  Christopher, where do you stand on this?  Do you think the House should vote or will vote to override the president?  It looks like they have got 290 votes up there.  They have enough votes to not only beat him, but beat him again. 

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”:  It makes me laugh for two reasons.  One is, anything must be better than the Homeland Security protection we've had up until now, the all-American one that left us under open skies on 9/11, from which no one has been purged, no one has been fired, no one has been asked to resign.  It remains an uninvestigated, corrupt and incompetent as the CIA, which is to say a lot.  I can't believe anything that could be worse. 

Second, does no one remember we used to reflag all the tankers in the Gulf at the time of the Iran-Iraq war?  If globalization means anything, it means that we've been doing this kind of business and this kind of exchange for a long time and we're going have to accept it as multinational. 


MATTHEWS:  So when we put our flags on our shipping, we were doing what?  What's the relevance?

HITCHENS:  If it matters—and so sad to see these brash (ph) chauvinists at the top of the show and xenophobes.  If it matters, this is not an Arab company.  It's not run by Arabs, all this paranoid horror show talk you get all the time. 

It's a multinational effort partly run by the United kingdom, partly

by others.  It's just—it's really using the most abject, lowest

propaganda for the cheapest purposes.  And as for national security, don't

·         I mean, don't start.  This is—none of the people making these asinine remarks know or care anything about national security. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why was the top guy who was quoted in the paper today from the Dubai Ports World an Arab?  You say it was a Brit who's part—it was a Brit company.

HITCHENS:  I don't say that if he's quoted from Dubai.  He may even be

·         gasp—an Arab. 

MATTHEWS:  All right.  Go ahead, Eugene. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST” COLUMNIST:  Well, you know, I don't think you can blame the Democrats for kind of piling on here.  I mean, it's an opportunity ...

HITCHENS:  Yes I can. 

ROBINSON:  ... to use—well, you use of the opportunities you have if you're in the condition that the Democratic Party is in right now. 

HITCHENS:  That's called opportunism, not to interrupt you, but that's called opportunism. 

ROBINSON:  But the charge is being led by the right wing Republicans in the House, who—you know, and without their votes, you know, anything the Democrats say goes nowhere.  I mean, so it's just an opportunity ...

HITCHENS:  As usual—yes, that's true. 

ROBINSON:  ... for the press to get to the right of Bush on a national security issue.  It's all politics, it's all theater, but I think for the Democrats, it's favorable theater. 


ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  What I find so amazing is, where has the White House been these last—what is it now—two, three weeks?  I mean, there is no evidence that they've changed a single mind. 

If anything, the resistance has only hardened, but I would say for the White House, there is one good piece of news, which is no one is talking about Jack Abramoff anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about this fact.  Michael, could it be that there is a deal here where the Congress covers its butt by voting to kill the deal?  The Senate never gets around to voting, both sides win.  The House members are able to posture against this deal.  The deal goes through. 

SMERCONISH:  I think not, because if I'm someone like Rick Santorum, in my home state with a very difficult reelection battle on his hands, I am chomping ...

HITCHENS:  I hope you're not.

SMERCONISH:  ... at the bit for the opportunity ...

MATTHEWS:  To get the vote.

SMERCONISH:  ... to distance myself from the president on an issue such as this.  And by the way, there's an important principle at stake here.  I don't think it's xenophobia.  I think it's street smarts.  We don't want the United Arab Emirates in any position of control with our ports.  I read the 9/11 Commission report. 

MATTHEWS:  So it is Arab? 

SMERCONISH:  It's absolutely Arab.  When it was the Brits, nobody cared. 

HITCHENS:  Well, I sure hope none of our tankers are calling at Dubai or anything like that.

SMERCONISH:  In February of 1999, Christopher ...

HITCHENS:  That would never do, would it?  American commerce better not be flowing through the Gulf anymore, had it?  I mean, the place is full of non-American people. 

SMERCONISH:  Respectfully ...

HITCHENS:  The Panama Canal even has non-Americans there. 


HITCHENS:  What is this nonsense?  When is it going to stop?


SMERCONISH:  They denied us our chance to kill bin Laden in February of '99 and we ought not to forget that. 

MATTHEWS:  How many countries on your list of no-nos, we don't do business with them? 

SMERCONISH:  How many are you prepared to name that are Arab?  I mean, I would like to have home ownership of our ports, but I'm not afraid to say what's on the minds of all Americans.  There's no need to speak in code.  Everybody who says well, we can't have foreign ownership, when the Brits were in control, nobody beefed. 

ROBINSON:  Now, where did this constituency come from though?  Why do you say all Americans would safe let's not have this Arab company ...


SMERCONISH:  Well, look at the poll data?  I mean, How else can you explain that 70 percent of the American people are saying, hey, we've had enough of this? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you can certainly say that Bush is hoisted on his own piccard (ph), in this case ...


ROBINSON:  ... I mean, you know, having built up essentially anti-Arab sentiment over the years. 

MATTHEWS:  So let's clarify this.


HITCHENS:  Excuse me, Eugene.  That's not fair.  The president has very carefully not appealed to anti-Arab sentiment, or anti-Muslim sentiment, which often people confuse at all.  In fact, if anything, he's bent too far the other way.  He even said Islam was a religion of peace at the Washington Mosque, for heaven's sake. 


MATTHEWS:  I'll tell you one thing the president has done.  He's used 9/11 against the Democrats in a partisan fashion.

Max Cleland lost a seat because he wanted to unionize Homeland Security.  The president is now being—they're dialing 911 against him.  They're saying we have can go to your right.  That's what the Democrats are all saying, Chuck Schumer, et cetera, right? 

HITCHENS:  And don't they look beautiful as they do it?  Don't you love it?  Aren't you thrilled? 

MATTHEWS:  It looks as ugly as the other side was doing it.  Both sides using a foreign policy question ... 


HITCHENS:  I would say uglier but also stupider, because this isn't really a national security question, this is a bogus one.  The ...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me put it to you.  Suppose the Dubai ports deal had gone through without any attention, people like Michael hadn't raised the issue, it hadn't come on our screen.

Two months from now, there had been a problem at one of the ports, an explosion in one of the containers.  Somebody had gone through one of the containers that had weaponry aboard?  Who would have been blamed?  The president, right?

HITCHENS:  These things usually begin with the punishment of the innocent and then eventually they...

MATTHEWS:  ... But wouldn't the president have been held accountable at that point for having allowed the Dubai deal to go through?

HITCHENS:  Somebody would have thought of that, sure.  There are some people who still say that the president and his family sheltered all the hijackers of 9/11 and got them out of the country on a private Saudi plane.

MATTHEWS:  You don't believe that, do you?

HITCHENS:  I know it's not true but I know a lot of street-smart people believe it.  And then I know we're supposed to pay attention to street-stupid people.  But I just don't buy it.

MATTHEWS:  Is Michael street-stupid?

HITCHENS:  This is the first time we've met.

MATTHEWS:  You're taking a measure of the man.

SMERCONISH:  I'm sitting too close to him, I think that's the problem.

MATTHEWS:  I think Michael is right about one thing although I'm not siding with you.  But a lot of people are saying cutely, we're against any government-owned company from doing business with us, like Peter King of New York, excuse me, would not have been complaining if this was a Dublin-based company.  That's fair enough, right, Anne?

KORNBLUT:  Absolutely.

ROBINSON:  Sizzling with provisionalism.

SMERCONISH:  I had Tom Kaine's (ph) son on my program today, he's running for the United States Senate in New Jersey.  And I started by saying, “Do we need to speak in code or are you willing to lay on the line your opposition and the basis for it?”  He spoke in code.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome to talk television because so many people sit here before the break or during the break and tell me one thing, we get on the air, and it's 180, politically correct always.

Anyway, coming up, is Hillary Clinton taking the Democratic Party under her control?  Plus, Republicans gear up for the first big showdown of the race for president down in Memphis.  It all starts now, you're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We're talking to Eugene Robinson, Anne Kornblut, Michael Smerconish and Christopher Hitchens.  Let's turn to this week's Democratic infighting.  Let's talk about this thing.  I want to get to the bottom line on this before we move on to the Republicans.

Michael Smerconish, it looks like the House is going to vote within the week.  They'll probably vote with a veto-proof number of up to 290 some votes against the president.  It looks like the Senate, thanks to Chuck Schumer, is also going to have a fairly imminent vote.  Where does this leave the president?  Is he better off letting them override him, lose this baby, or squeak a sustaining of the veto and end up with the ports in Arab hands, as you would put it?

SMERCONISH:  Best thing for him is to pick up the phone, call Dubai and ask them to back off.

MATTHEWS:  No, but of the two options I gave you.  Of the two options, win or lose, what's in the long-term interest of the president?  Win or lose?

SMERCONISH:  At this point, I think that he's got to stand his ground.

MATTHEWS:  No, but in the end, if he loses, is he better off ending—having the Congress override his veto or him sustaining, what's better for him?

SMERCONISH:  Better for him is to sustain his veto, that's what I would say.

MATTHEWS:  And have the Arabs—have the ports in Arab hands?

SMERCONISH:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Well that's—I don't know if I agree with that.  Christopher, what's better for Bush, the president?  To win on this or to lose on this and get it over with?

HITCHENS:  To show that he means business. 

MATTHEWS:  To win it?

HITCHENS:  To show that America is not and never has been an island, that possibly all our vessels and certainly cargo containers need to be looked at very carefully, wherever they are, haven't been so far by Americans.  And we accept the wager of globalization, otherwise you can always...

MATTHEWS:  ... We both agree, it's better for the president to win this thing and keep the ports in Arab hands?

ROBINSON:  It's definitely better for him to win because he saves face in the Arab world and U.S. relationship with Dubai, which is an important relationship.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Anne—let's go to political journalist a question—what would get the best press?  What will be read well in the world?

KORNBLUT:  Well no matter what happens, it's going to be a wonderful story, it has been so far.  I mean, I would say for him though, what's best, he's got to worry about November, the elections.  If he wins, there's still no telling what...

SMERCONISH:  ... But everyone gets distance by voting against him now, that's why this is the perfect, perfect vote.

MATTHEWS:  I think the Democrats have an issue in November if he wins on this.  If he sustains his veto with the help of Republicans, even though he's beaten in the majority vote in the House and the Senate—in other words, he's on a minority side of the vote, but he's still holding on, only because of a handful of Republicans, these Democrats will run against those guys like Mike DeWine and whoever sticks with the president and nails him, I think it's a partisan issue just like abortion.  It's always better to be on the offended side.

HITCHENS:  One day they'll be back in power and they'll have to look the Arab world in the face for what they said and what they did and don't think it will be forgotten.

MATTHEWS:  Let's talk about the Democrats.  Hillary Clinton has raised her head here.  According to “The Washington Post,” the Democratic insiders with Hillary Clinton aide Harold Ickes is at the helm.  They're out there, they don't apparently trust Howard Dean. 

They've put together the information they need to win this election, they're out there with data mining, just like we saw the NSA doing, digging up information, finding out who might like to vote Democrat, who is pro choice on whatever issue, anti-war, and put together enough information to find voters and win the election against whoever the Republicans run. 

Michael, what's Hillary up to? 

SMERCONISH:  Well I think I get this, because 20 years ago, I ran a street organization for Frank Rizzo when he was trying to come back as a Republican. 


SMERCONISH:  In this instance, you'd go out, Chris, and you'd have to identify the old-fashioned way by canvassing who your supporters were and then call them up on election day.  The world has totally changed, data is king, and everybody wants to harness that data.

MATTHEWS:  I thought the old-fashioned way in Philadelphia was to call up and make sure you're not voting so they can send in the guy who will vote.

SMERCONISH:  Then they'd pay off everybody.

MATTHEWS:  No, send in the guy who's going to cast your vote for you. 

But that's only done in small circumstances.

SMERCONISH:  It used to be the parties held all the power.  Then along comes television, if you had enough money, you could evade the parties and you could elected.  Now it's data.

MATTHEWS:  Bottom line, is Hillary going for control of the Democratic Party with this?

SMERCONISH:  I think Hillary understands the reality of how you get elected, with data.

MATTHEWS:  Anne, is this going to be the best polling operation in the country, where you find out who might vote, who doesn't own a gun or—on the various issues is somebody who might vote Democrat?  Hispanic voter who hasn't registered yet, that kind of thing?

KORNBLUT:  It's an incredible resource.  Look, the credit card companies already do this, they already target you this way.  This is just the political version of that.  It's actually, it's a modern Tammany Hall where all of the power comes back into the computer and they know everything about you, what music you listen to, how you vote, everything.

MATTHEWS:  Christopher.

HITCHENS:  I read this piece this morning and I thought, what's it reminding of?  And it suddenly hit me, it's Dick Morris again.  There was a time if you remember, when the Democratic Party, congressionally and elsewhere, thought it was running the party and in fact, Mr. Clinton and his wife, with a small cabal in the White House, arranged by Dick Morris were doing all the fundraising, all the polling, all the work.  For part of the time, Dick Morris was the president during the impeachment.

KORNBLUT:  I would say that's the fault of the RNC, though.  I mean, the Republican Party, the RNC, has a machine like this, already in existence.  It's why they won in 2004.

HITCHENS:  Well the Democrats have penis envy for that and had that for a long time.

MATTHEWS:  I'm talking about Hillary Clinton.  Is Hillary Clinton grabbing the party control?

ROBINSON:  Well I think she's trying to.  I mean, you know, she's in a position to make the attempt, and I think she's putting together a machine like the Republicans have.  You have to have the data, you have to analyze it and slice it and dice it and understand it.

In the final analysis, you have to make people want to vote for you, and I think the one vulnerability here is the idea that Hillary Clinton will kind of contort herself into any position that kind of maximizes her votes.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, they want to find out where people stand so she can stand there.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.

SMERCONISH:  But everybody already stands on Hillary.  In other words, there are no undecided voters relative to Hillary Clinton.  You're either for or you're against her.

MATTHEWS:  Here's what I think, Michael, and I've thought of one thing.  I think the people around Hillary know she's not popular with the country.  If she wins, she'll win with like 48 percent, a squeaker, because the other guy blew it.

They know it's going to come down to a few hundred thousand votes.  They're going to identify those key undecided voters and turn it on a very close election.  This particular vote by voting attempt and data mining is a recognition she won't win big, they have to squeak it. 

SMERCONISH:  Tom Delay yesterday in the four way primary in Texas did not go on television or radio and I think that's related because what it shows is that he analyzed exactly where his vote was, he went out and pulled it out to the ballot box. 

HITCHENS:  I respectfully disagree with you. 


HITCHENS:  I said respectful this time.  I'm one who is not decided about Mrs. Clinton.  I think she's exactly right about the war and I can't stand her any other way, but all the people in moveon.org think she's the only candidate, except on the main issue to them, so I think it's by no means true—

MATTHEWS:  Isn't it funny that the anti-war people—


SMERCONISH:  The president's numbers are tanking because of the war. 

McCain's are sky rocketing and he's the most hawkish. 

MATTHEWS:  Hillary is effectively a hawk and yet she still enjoys the Democratic base. 

SMERCONISH:  Comes down to personality. 

MATTHEWS:  Which one? 


MATTHEWS:  Up next, Republican candidates get set for a Memphis showdown.  Who has what it takes to win the first big straw vote.  It's coming up this weekend of 2008 presidential hopefuls.  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  This coming weekend, HARDBALL heads down to Memphis, Tennessee, for the first major showdown of Republican presidential wannabes.  Let's see where they stand right now.

In a recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, Rudy Giuliani leads the pack among Republicans with 33 percent.  He may or may not run, followed by John McCain at 28 percent.  George Allen takes a distant third, followed by Bill Frist, and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. 

You talked to a huge audience on the East Coast, Michael.  I've listened to you, all my family listens to you.  Who has the hot hand in this early going to replace the president? 

SMERCONISH:  I would say John McCain, despite his position relative to the war.  What I noticed and what do I do for a living?  I answer the phone and I hear what's on people's minds.  I think the pendulum is swinging, even among those conservatives in the Republican party.

MATTHEWS:  Away from the war?

SMERCONISH:  Away from what I call the Schiavo wing of the party.

MATTHEWS:  Values crowd. 

SMERCONISH:  Right.  It's not a cycle for Bill Frist and his cohorts, it's more for John McCain.  It's for Rudy Giuliani and McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is the best secular Republican that could win the presidency? 

SMERCONISH:  Smartest?  I'm not the guy to answer that question. 

MATTHEWS:  Who's the one who seems to have the closest connection to reality today? 

SMERCONISH:  I think Giuliani does and I believe that because of his view with regard to marriage, same-sex marriages and abortions, I think Rudy Giuliani is in the mainstream, even among Republicans on those social issues.

MATTHEWS:  He wins every—I think I saw one he did, I'm a poll nut, every time I pick up a poll, Rudy Giuliani wins among Republicans, not the press.  The press all goes for McCain.  And yet everybody says, oh, he's pro gay rights, pro abortion rights.  He can't win, but yet everybody keep voting for him. 

KORNBLUT:  Not only that, no one has even looked at all the business deals that Giuliani is doing now, overseas, working for the Mexican government. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that bad or good? 


MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute, I never heard this said before.  Are business deals bad? 

KORNBLUT:  They could be complicating. 

MATTHEWS:  Every time you go to the store and buy something, that's a business deal. 

KORNBLUT:  That's a good point. 

HITCHENS:  More dark-skinned infiltration of American capitalism. 

Where will it all end?

KORNBLUT:  My point, it is going to be about electability.  They are going to look at the party—

MATTHEWS:  That's a great question.  Do you think that Republicans will pick strategically, in other words, pick someone to beat Hillary, rather than pick somebody from their gut. 

KORNBLUT:  The way the Democrats did in 2004.  Didn't prove to be the best strategy, but it looks like they're going in that direction. 

ROBINSON:  I'm not sure that the Republicans are going to nominate Rudy Giuliani.  It would certainly be the first big city president we had in a long, long time. 

MATTHEWS:  I grew up in a big city.  I like big cities.  How come it's


ROBINSON:  And we're suspicious of you, those of us who grew up in small towns don't really trust you.

MATTHEWS:  It's always a country mouse.  It's never a city mouse. 

HITCHENS:  But the number of people who really come from these terrible hog waters, like you're unlucky self, is actually very few.  The number that come from the dumps are very few because they all leave as fast as they can.  That's why you're at The Washington Post. It's people wish they had one day come, or that they're proud of their grandparents, they didn't live there. 

MATTHEWS:  You come on my show and trash everybody that does live in a big city. 

SMERCONISH:  You put your finger on it.  The issue here is the Republicans when you head down South need to be determining who can win the general, not who can win the primary.  Remember what happened to McCain in, what was it, two cycles ago in South Carolina, we can't allow that to happen, because if one of the ideologues gets elected this time, there's no way they can win in the general.

MATTHEWS:  Are they vicious enough this time to do McCain what they did last time, go after him and his adopted kid from India? 

SMERCONISH:  I would hope not.  I hope we're pragmatic and that we're not playing hardball, no pun intended.

HITCHENS:  Or that he will be tough enough to stand up to it.  It would be for the second time.  I forget whose poem begins this way, it says once to every man and nation it comes the moment to decide, and everyone wants to know about candidates, what would they be like in a crisis.  With Rudy Giuliani, we already know, he's already been through this.  And everybody—presumably everyone working for the president, wish they were that good that week. 

MATTHEWS:  The president was very good in the early going. 

HITCHENS:  The president was terrible in the early going. 

MATTHEWS:  When he went to the rubble site he looked good.

HITCHENS:  Eventually.  Giuliani was already there.

ROBINSON:  You mentioned South Carolina.  I grew up in South Carolina and Giuliani does not kind of come off the—roll off the tongue melifluously in South Carolina.  I think there's a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  I think if they just call him Rudy difficult.  We'll be right back with Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, Anne Kornblutt of The New York Times, Michael Smerconish of WPHT and Christopher Hitchens of “Vanity Fair.”  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We're talking to “The New York Times'” Anne Kornblut, “The Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson, “Vanity Fair's” Christopher Hitchens and radio talk show host from Philly, Michael Smerconish.

I want to run through so we have concluding remarks here, I want to give you all a chance to size this up.  Two months from now, will the Dubai Ports World company be running all those ports or not?

SMERCONISH:  I say no.

MATTHEWS:  Will they be running them two months from now?

HITCHENS:  Should be, hope so.

MATTHEWS:  Will they?

HITCHENS:  Oh, will.  I think the president will use his veto.

MATTHEWS:  So they will?


ROBINSON:  Looks like no.

MATTHEWS:  Two to one, no.

KORNBLUT:  I mean, I intended to give this side, I'm going to take an I don't know, how's that?

MATTHEWS:  So two to one and a don't know.

Three, will Hillary Clinton be the front runner for the Democratic nomination a year from now?  Michael?

SMERCONISH:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Christopher?

HITCHENS:  Seems impossible to stop.  Who else they got?

ROBINSON:  I will use the I don't know this round.

KORNBLUT:  I mean, front runner—front runner just means front runner, doesn't mean winner. 

MATTHEWS:  Will she remain the front runner?

KORNBLUT:  She is now.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, this weekend the Republicans are meeting—and we're going to be covering this thing all weekend online and on the air and everything else.  Is there going to be a sense that Rudy is not there or is somebody else going to be a big winner?  Who's going to be the big winner this weekend?  The guy that's not there or someone else and who else is that other person?

SMERCONISH:  I think John McCain's the big winner.  I still maintain that absolutely, he's the front-runner.

MATTHEWS:  Christopher?

HITCHENS:  I think it's amazing Giuliani shows up that well that far south already.

MATTHEWS:  So many places, and they like him for fundraisers down there. 

HITCHENS:  Yes, why wouldn't they?MATTHEWS:  Eugene?

ROBINSON:  I think McCain is the big winner probably and Frist just looks like the big loser at the end of the week.

MATTHEWS:  You know your stuff, I think.

MATTHEWS:  Anne, what do you think?  Are you reporting this yet?

KORNBLUT:  I'm not going to be down there.  I think actually the Democrats will be the big winners, getting to watch all of this from afar and size up the competition.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let's talk about Iran which is the emerging issue for the country and the world perhaps.  They're developing some kind of a nuclear program, we don't know how far it's going, it's a point of national pride with them, among the seculars as well as the mullah-led people.  Christopher, what should we do about it, if anything?

HITCHENS:  Well we should think first of all, what we can't do, which is we can't bomb it.  If that's been war gamed, it doesn't work.  You could retard it, but you couldn't stop it, and you can't use Israel this time because they'd have to...

MATTHEWS:  ... Well we didn't use them last time, they did it on their own.

HITCHENS:  Well, let's say.  The idea they're a surrogate is around the place.  Can't do that, they'd have to (inaudible), can't occupy it, it's a country eight times, 10 times the size of...

MATTHEWS:  ... It would take a million troops.

HITCHENS:  Well, why not—which is my proposal of my most recent column, do a Nixon in China, say, “Look we have a lot of things to discuss, there's a big Iranian population in the United States.  There's a big Iranian diaspora.  We've frozen your assets, you've got our embassy, we have some common enemies, the Taliban, our common enemy, Iraqi Baathists, Slobodan Milosevic.  With the Shia in general, we have a common enemy with al Qaeda.  Surely we can do better than this perpetual standoff?

Now, it would look like a cave in at first if Bush landed his plane in Tehran, I think.  They would be claimed as one.

MATTHEWS:  Shouldn't he send Condi first?

HITCHENS:  Well maybe.  But down the read, yes, good idea, -- but down the road, no, maybe not, maybe make it presidential and make it public.  Say to the U.N., “This is how far we'll go, rather than have a confrontation.”


HITCHENS:  And of course we'll help you with peaceful nuclear power because it was the West that built their reactors in the first place.

MATTHEWS:  Would the people to the president's right on foreign policy, including some of his own people—real hawks, would they let him do this?  Cheney, for example, does he have to fire Cheney to do this?

HITCHENS:  The horse can sit back if they like and if the Iranians say “We're not interested, forget it, bring it on, we want a war,” well, we can certainly show we tried everything and within Iran, there's a huge potential support for better relations.

MATTHEWS:  Does everybody ascend here that the other options are really are not on the table, we can't occupy a country of that size with the troops we have available?

ROBINSON:  I agree.  I don't think—I actually...

MATTHEWS:  ... You think we can?

SMERCONISH:  I totally agree.  We're spread far too thin.

MATTHEWS:  Can we knock out, without—well, should we, is it a real feasible tactical thing to strike at their weaponry and potential weaponry?

SMERCONISH:  I say probably not and I want to make the point that to the extent that Christopher has articulated a good option here, it's because the president has built up strength and good will for what did he in Iraq.  The only reason he can pull a Nixon going to China is because he's perceived as the cowboy that you don't like.

MATTHEWS:  Ahmadinejad, would he respond positively?

HITCHENS:  No, but he's a puppet of...

MATTHEWS:  Of whom?

HITCHENS:  .... aging mullahs who are facing a young population that repeatedly shows it wants better relations with the West.

MATTHEWS:  But it would help us with those people.

HITCHENS:  And better trade and exchange and a full democracy.

MATTHEWS:  So the secular people of Iran, those millions of young people in their 20's and 30's who want to have a better life, who weren't religiously nutty, those people would like to see something like that?

HITCHENS:  Well and down the road, not that far, we might be negotiating with people they elect, so it's long run, but.


MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president would be secure in Iran today? 

I'm dead serious.

HITCHENS:  Oh sure.

MATTHEWS:  He wouldn't be killed? 


ROBINSON:  I actually think that's a good idea, but I can't see it happening.  I—George Bush would have to...

MATTHEWS:  ... You amaze me.

HITCHENS:  It can be publicly at least proposed, suggested, say “Look we're trying to try everything short of war.”

MATTHEWS:  Stuns me with his novelty and nerve.  Anyway, thank you Eugene Robinson, thank you Anne Kornblut, thank you for joining us.  Michael Smerconish, Philly, all the way, and Christopher Hitchens.

Up next, we'll debate the Dubai ports deal with two actually elected people, Republicans who serve in the Congress as party leaders split with the president over the issue.  And don't forget this week, HARDBALL is on at 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 tonight, Eastern.  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  House Republicans plan to crush White House hopes that the Dubai Ports World deal would survive after the next 45 days. 

The House is expected to vote on a measure next week that would totally kill the deal before the review now underway is even over.  Republican Dan Lundgren of California thinks that the review should move forward as planned.  Republican J.D. Hayworth of Arizona thinks there should be no foreign control of U.S. ports at all.  Mr. Hayworth is also the author of a new book called “Whatever It Takes.”   J.D. Hayworth, how are you going to vote next week? 

J.D. HAYWORTH, ® ARIZONA:  I am going to vote in favor of killing the deal.  My constituents have made it clear, indeed the American people have made it clear, when in doubt, cut it out. 

The American people have serious doubts about putting our port - our ports in the ownership of a state-owned company from the UAE, and so I will vote to kill that deal. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Lundgren, how will you vote next week? 

REP. DAN LUNDGREN, ® CALIFORNIA:  Well, if I would follow J.D.  Hayworth's proposition, it would sound like I was listening to Johnnie Cochran in the O.J. Simpson case.  It seems to me we ought to have our facts before we make our decision. 

The idea that we would act before the 45 day period is up is wrong and I think we ought to examine those facts.  I've had a chance to have the classified briefing before the House Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees, and I have not seen anything which would suggest that we have a threat by having this company involved. 

If we follow J.D. Hayworth, we'd have to totally change the way ports have operated for the past 20 or 30 years, in the United States.  And I don't see how that gets us any closer to a secure port situation. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, 70 percent of the American people don't like this deal.  What do you know that they don't know? 

LUNDGREN:  Well, first of all, it has been misstated that they would control the ports.  The ports are not controlled by these companies at all, these ports are controlled by the entities, which are public entities in the United States. 

Secondly, they are not in charge of security.  That security is the responsibility of the port authorities, under the direction of the Homeland Security Department, specifically the Coast Guard and specifically the Customs Service.  And lastly I would make this point.  It is not enough for us to secure our ports. 

It is far better for us to have a strategy which pushes our frontiers out, meaning that we start at the foreign ports.  We want to engage those companies involved in the foreign ports to cooperate with us, and Dubai and this company was one of the very first to do that with us in the entire world.

After 9/11, the president said to us, you're either with us or against us.  It doesn't make sense for us to say to somebody who was with us, it doesn't matter if you're with us, we're going to treat you as if you're against us.  How that helps us in getting any moderate voices in the Arab world to come to our side, I do not know. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Hayworth, are you with or against the president? 

HAYWORTH:  Oh, this is not personal between me and the president.  The fact is on this particular agreement, it is the wrong decision, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.  Now, Dan as a good attorney, told us part of the truth. 

Yes, the United States may have operational security controls, but when we're talking about a proprietary stake in something, that means due diligence, that means knowing everything about the ports, that means knowing weakness as well as strengths, and also with the records, there in Dubai and the cross-currents coming through that nation and the fact that not everyone there wishes us well, we would be foolhearty to put that information in the hands of a foreign entity. 

So this is not personal between members of the House and the president of the United States, this is an honest disagreement and we are going to weigh in accordingly. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you honestly say, Congressman, you would have opposed this deal that would have been with a German company or another European company rather than an Arab company? 

HAYWORTH:  You bet.  I was raising H-E- double hockey sticks about the Communist Chinese and their presence on the West Coast in those ports.  In the wake of 9/11, we need to reassess border security and port security. 

It has become abundantly clear that our borders both North and South and our ports of entry could easily turn into the next fronts on the war on terror and to think that somehow on the other side of the coin, that this absolutely destroys any type of constructive relationship with the UAE, I would simply point to Turkey, a nation that deprived our ability to bring in our ground troops with a change in government and we have not torn asunder our relationship with turkey. 

So it is more than just a one shot deal here.  There are other ways to cooperate, and I think the UAE, in its own interest, will reevaluate its role in this proposed agreement. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Lundgren, it's been raised by columnist David Brooks among others, that if we smash this deal, we're saying to the countries in the Arab part of the world, even if you want to do business with us, we're going to screw you in the end because we have a home front attitude about Arabs. 

LUNDGREN:  Well, I think that's absolutely true.  What J.D. has said is we ought to have our facts, know what's happening, do our due diligence, yet he wants to vote to cut of our effort to do that due diligence. 

I will repeat, this country are one of the first ones in the entire world that came to our side when we said we want to set up this system of extending our frontiers.  We are not going to be able to do this by ourselves.  If anybody thinks that we can, they're dead wrong and the way you get people to cooperate is you tell them, you're either with us or you're against us.  This is what we want you to do.

Since 9/11, they have done what we've asked them to do.  They have troops with us in Afghanistan.  They have assisted us in terms of intelligence.  They've been under the threat of al Qaeda.  As a matter of fact, this company operates the facilities at the port in Dubai, which has more visits by U.S. Navy ships than any other port in the world.  Do you think that we are allowing our sailors and our ships to be ported at a place that is run by a company that cannot be trusted? 

What we need to do in terms of our port security is adopt an overall port security strategy.  I've been working on that with Jane Harmon and Democrats and Republicans to come up with a true bill that will allow us to do that with all of the things we have to do.  But bashing Dubai may make us feel good.  It is not an intelligent way of preserving security at our ports. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, right or wrong, like it or not, as we're speaking here tonight, this evening in Washington, a few blocks from here in the United States Capitol, the House Appropriations Committee has voted 62-2 to attach an amendment to a bill coming up next week, Congressman Hayworth, which will do just what you want them to do, which is to kill this deal and I'm going to ask you, do you have the override numbers, do you have enough votes for a two-thirds override? 

HAYWORTH:  I'm not counting the votes right now.  I would expect that the votes would be there for an override.  I would hope the president would reconsider any notion of vetoing what the House and Senate could very well do next week.  But there's something else that's important here.

In the wake of 9/11, it is reasonable and rational to take a look at a variety of relationships and it is altogether proper for the American people to say, hold on a minute, we've got real reservations and, ultimately, we do not believe this to be in our national interest.  It is time for a reassessment.  It is time for American ports and American assets in American hands. 

And it is time to seriously understand, now out of xenophobia or Islamophobia, but out of genuine concerns that our borders and our ports can become a front in the war on terror.  It doesn't preclude cooperation, but to say that our new best friends are going to step forward in every arena here, no matter what, I think is somewhat naive. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we'll be right back with Congressman J.D. Hayworth and Congressman Dan Lungren to debate the ports deal, which is moving quickly to the House of Representative, and looks like it's moving faster in the Senate, thanks to Chuck Schumer. 

And check out hardblogger, new “tipsters, pixsters.”  We want to know if you've seen your politicians and politicos out and about.  Who did you see?  What were they doing?  What did they say?  Let us know.  Send us your picture, stories, whatever—video.  This is your forum for sharing color in a gray world of politics.  Just send your tips to msnbc.com. 


MATTHEWS:  We're back with Republican Congressman Dan Lungren of California, and Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth of Arizona.

Mr. Hayworth, we just got the word that Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano ordered more National Guardsmen posted at the Mexican border to help stop illegal immigrants and curb related crimes.  Your reaction, sir?

HAYWORTH:  Well, I went and looked at the executive order.  And, Chris, it really fails to live up to what the governor has promised rhetorically.  In fact, part of the reason for her announcement today was to earn glowing notices here from the East Coast press. 

She says she is sending the Guard but not to act as the Guard.  You don't send the National Guard down to change the oil in border patrol vehicles.  If the National Guard is going, the National Guard should be there in its primary responsibility.  She says she is not sending the Guard down to militarize the border. 

Well, gee, somebody ought to tell the Mexicans where you have the drug dealers and the Mexican military, and other narco-terrorists doing exactly that.  So again, with the dear governor, her situation is one that really applies to all of us in public office.  Don't listen so much to what she says.  Watch what she does. 

You heard a call back in September.  She said there was a state of emergency, yet she would not put the Guard on the border.  And then, perhaps with an advanced copy of my book, “Whatever It Takes,” she said she would put the Guard on the border her State of the State Message, yet she provided no plan. 

Our state legislature went back, appropriated millions of dollars to do exactly that, and then the governor played her old game of coming back here and blaming Washington, always looking for money when she has untold millions in grants from the Department of Homeland Security and could carry this out. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Lundgren, why is this the only area of American life where people at every level of politics don't seem to want to enforce the law on the books, don't seem to want to change the law?  If we have a border, why don't we enforce it?  If we have laws against illegal entry into the country, why don't we enforce them or just get rid of them if we're not going to enforce them? 

LUNGREN:  Well, first of all, as you know, I've been working on this for about 27 years, trying to get some sense out of our policy and make sure that it is enforced.  For a long period of time, it was localized in the Southwest.  Now it is a national problem, recognized as such.  I think we have the will to do something. 

The question is, what are the ways you can do it?  One is a virtual fence—in some cases a real fence, in some cases using technology to create that to drive people into those areas where they are more easily an apprehended, having the funds to make sure that we detain people before we let them—instead of letting them go, but also having an employer-sanctioned program that works.  The reason why it hasn't worked in the past, in my judgment, is we haven't had the will to do it. 

I think the will is there, but I'll say this, and I think this is an area that I disagree with J.D. on, although we used to agree on this, and that is a guest worker program where we control the number of people coming across this border for work in those areas of the country and for those types of work that we believe are necessary, will allow us to actually enforce employer sanctions.  So I happen to think that works with them.

MATTHEWS:  J.D., you have got a look on your face.  J.D., you have got the look on your face of a lot of people on this issue, which is I've heard it all before.  Nobody really wants to do anything. 

Isn't it a strange combination of business interests who own the golf courses and the hotels and the restaurants, and the LULI (ph) groups, the organized Hispanic groups, and the civil—not libertarians, civil liberties people, and the Democratic and Republican Party?  Nobody wants to take fight here. 

HAYWORTH:  The bottom line is this:  You've got traditional allies of mine on the right all yelling cheap labor.  You have got people on the left saying cheap votes.  And in the middle are most Americans saying wait a minute. 

You're handing us a bill in terms of healthcare and in term of education and other programs that is anything but cheap.  That is the dynamic.  And for what it's worth, my friend Dan Lungren, as he will admit in 1986, 20 years ago, was one of the leading proponents of the failed Simpson-Mazzoli Amnesty.  We should learn from this ...


LUNGREN:  Wait a second.  You want to start talking about books and so forth, that was the bill that Ronald Reagan signed. 

HAYWORTH:  Yes, and what did he say?  He said it enforced the law.

LUNGREN:  It was a balanced bill that allowed for legalization on one side and employer sanctions on the other.  I fully intended employer sanctions to be enforced. 

HAYWORTH:  You may have intended that.  That was not the result. 


MATTHEWS:  Congressman Lundgren, why doesn't the Republican Party that says it is against illegal immigration make it possible for an employer to know whether somebody is in the country legally or not? 


MATTHEWS:  I don't understand why you can't have an I.D. card that can't be tricked.  A person is really who they say they are.  Otherwise, you can never ...

LUNDGREN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... put a employer in jail. 

LUNDGREN:  I put that on the floor about 20 years ago and got defeated.  The American people, as reflected in their Congress, weren't ready for it.  They are now.  It is not a national I.D. card. 

It is an enhanced Social Security card, so you don't have carry it on your body and have to present it every time a cop stops you.  You have to show it at the time you're looking. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I don't mind a national I.D. card, because I can't get on an airplane or check into a hotel or anything else I have to do without an I.D. card that says I am who I am.  I don't get this problem.  This notion you can move in this country anonymously is ridiculous.

Anyway, thank you Congressman Dan Lungren, and Congressman J.D.


Join us again tomorrow at 5:00, 7:00 and 11:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it's time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams.



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