updated 5/18/2006 2:48:55 PM ET 2006-05-18T18:48:55

Guests: Tom Ridge, Chuck Todd, Jim Carney, Jack Murtha, Shelby Steele

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Shut out.  Americans now trust Democrats over Republicans on every issue, Iraq, terrorism, the economy, gas prices, immigration, the budget, education, health care.  Name the topic and the Bush party is losing.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Grim news now for Republicans, a half year away from the midterm elections.  A new “Washington Post” ABC News poll shows the country has lost so much confidence in the president‘s party, Americans now trust Democrats more on every issue measured in this survey. 

President Bush‘s approval numbers at an all-time low, 33 percent, down 5 percent in barely a month with 69 percent now saying the country is on the wrong track.  The war in Iraq appears to be the main issue driving down the president‘s poll numbers with 59 percent now thinking it was a mistake to invade Iraq.  More on this in a moment. 

And later we‘ll talk to U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, the president‘s most passionate war critic, who says there‘s a civil war going on in Iraq right now and our military is caught right in the middle of it. 

But first the war is taking a toll on the president‘s polls and also those of his parties.  HARDBALL‘S David Shuster has the latest. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)        

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  It‘s another sign of trouble for President Bush‘s remaining two years in office.  A new poll out today shows that voters now prefer Democrats over Republicans on every issue.  Even on fighting terrorism, Democrats now hold a five point lead, and when it comes to handling the war in Iraq, the Democrats‘s edge is up to 14 points. 

For several weeks, President Bush has been beating the drum for Iraq. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Since we last met, there has been—a unity government is now in the process of becoming formed.  The—I‘ve got great hopes about this unity government. 

SHUSTER:  But support for the war over the last month has fallen eight points, and Iraq is second only to the economy as the most important issue for voters heading into the November elections. 

Earlier this week, the president turned national attention to the problem of illegal immigration, announcing that 6,000 members of the National Guard will be deployed along the Mexican border. 

BUSH:  The guard will assist the border patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads and providing training. 

SHUSTER:  But the president‘s plan also calls for a temporary guest worker program and a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants. 

REP. TOM TANCREDO ®, COLORADO:  Terrible idea to actually legalize the people who are here illegally, horrible message. 

SHUSTER:  And the rift within the Republican Party on immigration reform has also taken a toll.  Voters trust Democrats on immigration by a margin of 14 percent.  The No. 1 concern for voters is the economy.  It‘s traditionally a GOP strong hold, but the poll shows Americans trust Democrats over Republicans on the economy 52 percent to 34 percent. 

And in the midst of an Enron trial and White House ties to oil companies, the Democrats lead on gas prices is even wider, 54 percent to 23 percent. 

CHARLIE COOK, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST:  When you ask people which party do you trust more to handle taxes, Democrats win 52 percent to 38 percent.  Wow.  When Democrats are favored on taxes, you know the apocalypse is coming. 

SHUSTER:  Republicans in Congress blame most of their misfortune on President Bush, and the president‘s top political adviser blames the poll numbers on the Iraq war. 

KARL ROVE, DEP. WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  The American people like this president.  His personal approval ratings are in the 60s.  Job approval is lower.  And what that says to me is that people like him, they respect him, he‘s somebody they feel a connection with, but they‘re just sour right now on the war.  And that‘s the way it‘s going to be. 

SHUSTER:  But all of the recent published polls suggest Karl Rove is wrong.  The president‘s personal approval rating does come in slightly higher than his job approval rating, but even those so-called likability ratings do not top 39 percent. 

(on-camera):  There is no disputing, however, that the Iraq war is having an impact on everything.  And with Republicans looking to the November midterm elections, President Bush may have a tougher time counting on loyalty from his own party.  Because as several GOP lawmakers have suggested recently, the poll numbers have become so bad on so many issues, it‘s now become every man for himself. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Six months ago, U.S. Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a retired Marine, came out strongly against the Bush administration in the war in Iraq, calling for troops to come home.  Today he spoke out again. 

I‘m joined right now by Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania. 

Mr. Murtha, let me ask you about this accusation that you have come out with today, that U.S. service people fighting in Iraq killed civilians in cold blood.  What evidence do you have on that now? 

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, “Time Magazine”—two days after I made my statement, a Marine was killed in Haditha, the northern part of Anbar Province, and they overreacted.  And I pointed this out today to show the tremendous stress on these troops.  Insiders have told me over and over again what had happened, they didn‘t tell me until the “Time Magazine” article came out.

But basically the “Time Magazine” article was inaccurate because it was much worse than the “Time Magazine” article showed.  They‘ve been doing an investigation now for three or four months.  This is unacceptable to me, but the big thing is the stress on these troops.  They send these troops back over and over again.  These troops are in combat every day.

And when Karl Rove says that they‘re sour on the war, how about disaffected, how about the suffering that they‘re going through?  This is not a souring.  The public is absolutely upset about this war.  Every place I go, they tell me it‘s outrageous the way they‘re handling this war.  They send them in with inadequate forces.  There‘s no weapons of mass destruction, and in the end, they send them in with inadequate equipment.

So this is absolutely outrageous, and then the troops, you know—I don‘t excuse them, but I understand why it happens, because the pressure is tremendous.  You remember a few years ago, we had four special forces people come back and kill their wives.  Now, this is the kind of pressure they‘re under.  They‘re under combat.  And these guys that have never been there, they don‘t understand what it‘s like. 

And when he says sour, that‘s ridiculous.  That‘s understating the problem.  They‘re trying to sanitize this war, and you can‘t sanitize it.  That‘s why I keep speaking out.  I feel so strongly that these troops—what they are going through. 

Chris, we have lost 370 people since I spoke out November 17.  And the oil production is still below pre-war lever.  Electricity is below pre-war level. They have -- 30 percent have potable water and there is 60 percent unemployment.  Now how can you measure progress? 

You know what Secretary Rumsfeld said when he went to Iraq?  He said well, you can see these television aerials.  They only have two and a half hours of electricity in Baghdad, so they might have television satellite dishes.  But they don‘t have any electricity, so it‘s not gotten better. 

Incidents have increased from 500 a month in November to over 1,000 a month, so, you know, it‘s just—a week, 500 a week to 1,000 a week.  So it‘s not getting better.  We would have been better off redeploying them.  They had no plan for success, Chris.  This is the thing that I‘m so disturbed about.  I see no plan.  They have a paper, you open it up and there‘s nothing in it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you Mr. Murtha to give us some details about that.  Draw us a picture of what happened in Haditha. 

MURTHA:  Well, I‘ll tell you exactly what happened.  One Marine was killed, and the Marines just said we‘re going to take care.  They don‘t know who the enemy is.  The pressure was too much on them, so they went into houses, and they actually killed civilians.  And, you know—

MATTHEWS:  Was this melee?  I mean, was this a case of—when you say cold blood, Congressman, a lot of people think you‘re basically saying you have got some civilians sitting in a room or out in a field and they‘re executed just on purpose...

MURTHA:  That‘s exactly what happened.

MATTHEWS:  ...not because the Marines are scared or anybody is scared or the soldiers are scared. 

MURTHA:  Let me tell you, this was not an action, this was not—at first they tried to say it is an IED.  There was no IED involved in this.  This was troops who went in—they were so stressed out, they went into houses and killed women and children, 24 people they killed.  Now, this is the kind of stuff—this is the kind of stress they‘re under. 

Listen, I don‘t excuse it, but I understand what‘s happening.  And the responsibility goes right to the top.  This is something that should not have happened.  It should have been investigated.  As I understand it, they have already relieved three commanding officers—three officers in this whole thing, but this needs—this is the kind of stuff that stress is going to cause these kind things.  That‘s why I‘m so upset about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, I just want to read something from the Marine Corps to make it official then you can continue. The Marine Corps told us today that they‘re not going to comment today because the investigation, as you say, is ongoing.  So they‘re investigating. 

Let‘s talk about the larger policy question, Congressman.  The country may be responding well to you personally when you go around, because they know where you stand.  But the country doesn‘t seem to be up in arms against this war.  Where are the demonstrators?  Where are the protests?  You fought in Vietnam.  You saw them back here.  If this country wants us out of Iraq, why doesn‘t it say so to the president? 

MURTHA:  Well, the people are saying this in the polls, but they don‘t have relatives in this war.  There‘s a very small segment of this population—of the American population involved in this war.  The families of the people who are over they are suffering, they‘re sacrificing.  And the people themselves, they‘re going back four and five times.  This is the reason we have incidents like it. 

Melee, the reason we had—Abu Ghraib, the reason we had Abu Ghraib is because the untrained people—and if you remember what I said in one of your shows, one of the soldiers from my district, he was kept by a court order from his family because he abused his family.  And he told the Army, and the still put in his position.

So we have untrained people, unsupervised people, and they are stretched too thin.  That is the point I am making.  It is a terrible tragedy, but the point is that after you keep putting them under that stress day after day, when they see their friends killed, they see there is tremendous pressure on them, they see combat conditions, people blown apart, they are going to crack.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Murtha, you are a very passionate advocate for taking a different direction in the war in Iraq, but your passion doesn‘t work with your party because 80 percent of the Democrats think it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq and you know it because a lot of them are probably in your district. 

Hillary Clinton stands out there as a defender of the war to this day, Chuck Schumer, the chairman of the Senate campaign committee, stands out there today as a defender of the war.  The big names in your party are still hedging on this war.  Well, they‘re opportunists perhaps, hoping that the same thing will had happen to them that happened to Bill Clinton when he played both sides of this issue back in 1990-1991.  How can you convince your party leadership, the probable nominee of your party, to oppose this war? 

MURTHA:  I‘ve been talking to a—a lot of the senators have called me and I told them there‘s only two positions:  President Bush‘s position, which is stay the course, which is not a position at all, it‘s open-ended and my position which is redeploy as quickly as possible.  The other position is, there‘s all kinds of other positions. 

MATTHEWS:  Hillary Clinton is with the president. 

MURTHA:  And there‘s a lot of members—I don‘t know why they‘re with the president—well I‘ll tell you why they say that, Chris.  They say there‘s big chaos when we leave.  There‘s chaos now.  It‘s gotten worse since November 17, it‘s gotten worse.  And the pressure that this incident shows you how much pressures there‘s on the troops and the families.  The presure is tremendous on these families when these guys go back, men and women go back time after time, so they‘ve got to come around.  They‘ve got to understand that they cannot continue to support this president, if they want to be elected president. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, we only have a couple seconds here, if a voter is watching right now and if they‘re against the war, they‘re very impressed want to go out and vote your position, but everybody watching right now, it‘s not going to happen, the country is split, but if three quarters of the country go out and do exactly what you you say, vote against this war, they vote for Demorats, this war is not going to end, is it?  Even if the Congress goes Democrat, because people like Hillary Clinton at the top are playing it safe. 

MURTHA:  Let me tell you something, Chris.  This war is going to end. 

MATTHEWS:  When are the Democrats going to seize the leadership of the Congress, win the votes, take over Congress and end the war?  Are they going to do it? 

MURTHA:  I‘ve said, Chris, over and over again, this is not a Democrat or Republican war.  When I go by the cemetery, it doesn‘t say Democrat or Republican.  It says American.  We have to convince Democrats and Republicans that this war has to end. 

MATTHEWS:  Right now it‘s Democrats and Republicans supporting the war at the top. 

MURTHA:  That‘s what they say publicly or don‘t say anything at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Hillary Clinton is secretly against the war but playing this position for politics?

MURTHA:  I will tell you this, they‘re going to come around because the American public is going to tell them and they‘re going to come around to my position, because it‘s the only plausible position. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you imagine standing up for the Democratic nominee for president next time around, if that person supports the war, can you imagine doing that? 

MURTHA:  No, that‘s not going to happen, Chris.  This thing is going to evolve where you‘re going to see this year the Republicans demanding that these troops be withdrawn.  The thing that worries me the most is they do it so slowly, it will jeopardize our troops.  We‘ve got to have—we‘ve got to have a scheduled withdrawal, just like we have to have a schedule around here.  You say you only a few minutes, we have to have schedules in order to get things done. 

Hell, we wouldn‘t be out of here at Christmas time if we didn‘t have a schedule and the same thing with Iraq.   Iraqis stopped the war whenever there‘s an election, Sistani and the clerics said no violence during this period of time.  They have to handle this themselves. 

MATTHEWS:  If Hillary Clinton were talking like you, we‘d have a more vibrant debate in this country, but as long as the leaders are playing it safe and not talking like you, not speaking for your party because I read the polls and they‘re with you. 

Thank you very much, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania.

Coming up, what‘s less secure these days, the U.S.-Mexican border or the Republican Party?  Boy, the numbers are bad.  We‘ll talk with former Homeland Security secretary and former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge.  What‘s up with the CIA leak probe?  Let‘s catch up with that one tonight.  you‘re watching hardball on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We just heard from Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha who reiterated his call for troop withdrawal from Iraq and who said that military sources have told him that U.S. Marines killed innocent Iraqi civilians in cold blood last November.  That issue is being investigated right now by the Marines, so we‘re not sure what happened there.  He accuses the marines of killing people in cold blood based on reports he‘s gotten to him. 

Of course we‘re going to hear the other side.  He may well be telling the truth, he may well have the facts.  Right now we turn to former Pennsylvania governor, Pennsylvania night tonight.  Tom Ridge is also a Vietnam veteran, a combat veteran.  He served as everyone knows as secretary of homeland security during President Bush‘s first term.  What rank were you?   

TOM RIDGE, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF:  Staff Sergeant, sir. 

MATTHEWS:  You are a staff sergeant and a Harvard grad.  How many sergeants went to Harvard?  Were you a staff sergeant before you went to Harvard or after?

RIDGE:  After my first year of law school I got drafted. 

MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t get a commission? 

RIDGE:  It was suggested, but I decided to do my thing and move on. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a classic.  Combat veteran from Vietnam, a Harvard college graduate, two term governor, relected overwhelmingly and you ended your political career.  What‘s the plan here?  I don‘t understand people like you. 

RIDGE:  To do talk shows with you. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  As a political expert, and more than a buff, why is your party sinking down into a hole it looks like it can‘t get out of now?  On every issue, The Washington Post/ABC poll found. 

As it was pointed out earlier tonight, it‘s incredible when—David Shuster did this, he had a little irony, not enough irony in his voice, can you imagine a country where the people trust the Democrats to cut taxes more than the Republicans? 

RIDGE:  It is rather remarkable, particularly when the poll comes out the day before the president cuts taxes again. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you explain it with the president just getting his tax cut extended, he‘s going to sign the bill, a lot of tax relief for people?  Why is your party down if the hole on the one issue, people automatically trust the Republicans on cutting taxes? 

RIDGE:  I can‘t explain it.  Particularly in light of the fact that there have ben a series of tax cuts, which today at least with the people that were polled, either were unaware or unimpressed.  Either way, it‘s not necessarily good news for the Republican party.  And I think one the chalenges they have between now and November, because the specter and the challenges asociated with the party in Iraq will remain.  That will be throughout.  People have made up their mind about that. 

What are the other issues that they can bring to the fore, and show an outcome, show a resolution. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me where the president can score. 

RIDGE:  Immigration.  Excuse me?

MATTHEWS:  He can cut down on illegal immigration, the president?  He can sign a bill, but can he do the job that people want done?  Stop the illegal immigration.

RIDGE:  I think in strong partnership with the congress of the United States taking a realistic approach that‘s tough on enforcement, that is smart in terms of legitimizing the ability of people to come across the border and work and very aggressive with our friends in Mexico to help us protect the integrity of our border and immigration system.

MATTHEWS:  I just, I don‘t understand the bill because he says legalize everybody who is here and legalize everybody who wants to come here.  That‘s just a papering over of a problem, isn‘t it?  How is he stopping them from coming here?

RIDGE:  Well the stopping, the enforcement piece is the tough piece and we have to be much tougher.  Look, since when I first served as secretary to the president, they‘ve nearly increased by a third the number of agents. 

I think by 2008, the budget process, they will double the number of agents, but they need more technology, they‘ll need more people.  Probably should put up more fences.  They need more detention cells and it would be very nice if our friends in Mexico would help us. 

MATTHEWS:  Why won‘t they?

RIDGE:  I think one the challenges, Chris, is that $15-to-20 billion a year, we estimate, is generated by these workers, and they send it back.  That‘s a huge dollar amount, that‘s a huge sum going to Mexico and if we can protect, if we can legitimatize the ability of these people to work, protect that...

MATTHEWS:  ... Why don‘t they thank us?

RIDGE:  You‘re going of to ask them.

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t the Mexican people thank us for creating all these jobs?  By the way, on the fence, I don‘t a position, but I saw a statistic today which was fascinating.  That in the area where they have a strong wall, the most Western part of the border, a drop of like half the crime rate in the United States came after that.  So whatever is going on, it seems to be a correlation between a strong wall and lower crime.

RIDGE:  I think there are very good reasons to use basic technology, a fence in certain areas where ingress and egress is very easy, more sophisticated equipment like the unmanned aerial vehicles, the UAVs.  I mean, if you‘re going to do that, if you‘re going to change your tactics, then you‘ve got to equip the border patrol with more helicopters and more detention cells and you‘ve got to give these men and women the tools with which they can fight immigration.

MATTHEWS:  The president is not doing that.  He‘s sending down the guard.

RIDGE:  The guard, as I understand, is to be temporary, about 6,000 people.  As they ramp up to a doubling...

MATTHEWS:  ... Just as long as they‘re negotiating this thing in Congress we have the guard going down there.  Do you really think it‘s a long-term solution?

RIDGE:  Well I think the long-term solution is much stronger enforcement, a realistic approach.  We‘re not going to send these folks backwards.

MATTHEWS:  No, no I‘m not talking about that.  I think most people would probably say they‘re our neighbors now, they live here, c‘est la vie.  But I think most people are concerned about one thing.  After all the papers are signed, after all the Republicans get together and clap hands together and have a big signing ceremony, everybody passes pens around, after all that is over with, we‘ll still have 12 million people here illegally and they‘ll still be coming across the fence every night we put a camera down there and nothing will have happened, except some people will be coming in with paper, the other people who don‘t get the paper will be coming in some other way.

RIDGE:  If your enforcement is strong enough and the tools are given to the people to enforce the laws and if the process of legitimatizing their presence here, not necessarily to become citizens, but give them in a global economy the opportunity to just come back and forth, I think this notion that everybody that comes into this country wants to be an American citizen, that may be just a little bit over the top. 

I‘ve been down to those detention cells, seen some of these young men and women down there.  They‘d like to come here and work and go back and forth across that border as Mexican citizens. 

So let‘s be smart, let‘s be aggressive, let‘s be tough and let‘s be realistic.  I think the president‘s program basically takes all those elements and puts them together.  Much stronger enforcement is necessary but at the end the day, we‘re going to have our friends in Mexico help us. 

If we‘re going to protect the ability their citizens to work, to earn an income, and send $20 billion back, they have to put some support on their side of the border to protect the integrity of our system and maintain the relationship that we have, because they are our friends.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think people back if Pennsylvania, regular Pennsylvania, where people aren‘t that rich, they‘re working class most of the state as you know, they‘re cloth coat Republicans or Democrats.  They‘re not rich Republicans or rich Democrats.

Do you think they like the idea of a lot of Hispanic people coming up here from Mexico, just simply that?  Do they like the changing cultural aspects of that?  Do they like the fact that maybe their towns are starting to change, the cultural aspect?  What do they get out of this by the way?  What does the average American get out of the fact—I know what big business gets out it, cheap people to make beds, cheap people that work for nothing to work for lawns.

I know why they—get to make money off of them.  The Chamber of Commerce, the big U.S. Chamber of Commerce makes money off cheap labor.  But why does an average guy who would like to get a job putting up a house, painting a house, sheet rocking a house, putting a roof up—why does he want other guys coming in the country working for less?  Why would he want that?

RIDGE:  I‘m not sure he wants it, but I think he‘s prepared to tolerate it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well why don‘t they stop it?

RIDGE:  I think he‘s prepared to tolerate it.  These people are filling jobs that have been available for a long time, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Really?

RIDGE:  Of course they have.  But I think what most Americans ...

MATTHEWS:  The jobs I‘m talking about.

RIDGE:  ... are concerned about—yes, absolutely.  You know, look, these back-breaking jobs in the farm country have been around for a long time. 

MATTHEWS:  I drive around in this town.

RIDGE:  If you want to lay asphalt in 100-degree weather out in Phoenix, you go ahead and do that.

MATTHEWS:  You live in Washington, I‘m going to tell you something.  You drive around town, everybody working on the road gangs are Hispanic and this city is overwhelmingly African-American and I just wonder why there aren‘t more jobs for Americans here.  I don‘t understand it.

We‘ll be right back, more with Governor Ridge.  And later, Republican poll problems just get worse, they just got worse today.  Can they get better?  Let‘s talk to an expert.  Let‘s see if he can stop the Republican slide all by himself.  Tom Ridge, you‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

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MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge, the former two-term governor and former congressman from Pennsylvania, former combat veteran in Vietnam and Harvard College graduate.  That‘s very impressive. 

Let‘s go to the hot stuff.  You were head of homeland security, the first one.  This General Hayden, everybody seems to like him, but he‘s going to have to defend all this NSA spying.  Can he?

RIDGE:  Oh, absolutely.  This is a man with an incredibly distinguished career, not only the technical side but the human intelligence side.  He‘s done a remarkable 30 years.  He believes in what he‘s doing, he‘s a man of great integrity, judgment, and I think he‘s going to get hit with the toughest questions and some of the toughest cross-examination we‘ve seen on the Hill in a long time.  I‘m quite confident he can handle it.

MATTHEWS:  Is he a good spy?

RIDGE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He gets it?

RIDGE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘d be comfortable with him?  You would feel safer with him in there?

RIDGE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  How do you defend this surveillance of electronic data transfers overseas, perhaps to al Qaeda, American phone listings being gobbled up by the government and the phone companies apparently getting paid for it.  Some are denying it now, but what do you make of that?  Did you know that was going on?

RIDGE:  Well first of all, the piece of the electronic surveillance with the al Qaeda, it‘s an intercept with a potential al Qaeda member or supportive member or an organization.

I think it‘s pretty clear that the commander-in-chief, since Washington has had the authority, I think that the challenge early on and then finally meeting it was to assure Americans through some kind of congressional oversight that the limited program was truly a limited program and initially as you recall the White House wasn‘t really interested in having that kind of interaction with the Congress.

But members up there, House and the Republicans, I talked to them both, they want to be partners in the war on terrorism.  If you‘re coming up with a new surveillance technique, we need to understand it and we need and have the responsibility for congressional oversight.

MATTHEWS:  But what‘s the limit, how far can you go?  Could the president be allowed to actually start listening to everybody‘s phone calls?  Because you say as commander-in-chief, it‘s implicit.  But how far is his implicit power go?

RIDGE:  Well it‘s a great question, Chris, and it‘s one the country‘s going to have to deal with.  What information—certainly you cannot have a private conversation between two Americans, in my interpretation of the fourth amendment, going on in the United States without a warrant.  Clearly, the interception of foreign intelligence, in this instance, one of the individuals is foreign source, Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, the Supreme Court opinions, FISA court opinions says the president can‘t do that.

MATTHEWS:  They had lousy phones back in those days, by the way. 

RIDGE:  Well, they do.  But interestingly enough, the technology leapt over FISA.  They didn‘t have this kind technology when they were thinking about electronic wiretaps. 

MATTHEWS:  So your basic position, what you reiterated is that the president still can‘t tap phones of Americans talking to Americans? 

RIDGE:  Cannot. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much Tom Ridge.  Thanks for coming on.

Up next, a new poll.  We‘ve been talking about it.  It shows the worst rating yet for the Republican person running for Congress this year.  Will the party‘s problems grow as we get closer to November?  It‘s only a half year off now.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

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MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The president‘s top adviser, the man called Bush‘s brain, awaits his fate in the CIA leak case.  We don‘t know where that‘s going.  It might happen, it might not.  Will a grand jury decide that he lied under oath? 

Plus, polls show Republicans in the U.S. Congress at a brand new low. 

Democrats lead now on every single issue being polled on. 

Here to dig into this turmoil is “Time Magazine‘s” Washington bureau chief Jay Carney and “The Hotline‘s” editor-in-chief Chuck Todd. 

Does this affect the outlook for the election, these numbers? 

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HOTLINE:  Absolutely.  But I think there‘s more to them than just assuming this is just all bad news for Republicans.  I mean, you know, the Democrat number isn‘t that great.  You know, right now it‘s sort of if they‘re being given a choice, they know they don‘t like the Republicans, and they‘re going ahead and picking Democrat.  But it‘s not overwhelming yet.  And when you ask them about congressional Democrats, they have a sour view on them too. 

We‘re starting to see evidence, I think, of an angry electorate out there...

MATTHEWS:  Against incumbents?

TODD:  ...against incumbents.  We just saw it yesterday in Pennsylvania, your home state.  They threw out a whole bunch of guys. 

MATTHEWS:  Well that‘s because they all jacked up their pay raise. 

TODD:  They did.

MATTHEWS:  They didn‘t like that.

TODD:  But the anger is sitting there.  You‘re just wondering, OK, that‘s Pennsylvania, is it going to spread? 

MATTHEWS:  Do people have the capacity to walk into a voting booth and vote for people they don‘t know rather than people whose names have been drilled into them by advertising for 10 or 20 years? 

JAY CARNEY, TIME WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Sure they do.  And I think that while you‘re absolutely right, the Democrats have nothing to crow about in these poll numbers.  I mean, you would much rather be a Democrat than a Republican at this time, and we forget about the 1994 wipe out of Democrats when the Republicans took control of both the House and the Senate. 

And at this far out from the 1994 election, people weren‘t telling pollsters that they liked what Republicans stood for.  You know, it was still—it was a vote against, it was disaffectionate against Clinton and disaffection against the Democrats.  And I think that is what we have got now.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s run the issues here.  Let‘s take a look at what Americans trust—who they trust to handle the top issues in the country. 

On Iraq, Democrats lead Republicans, 50 to 36.  That‘s a 14 point spread.  On immigration—there‘s a hot one—another 14 point spread for the Democrats.  On terrorism, Democrats lead 46 to 41, but that‘s where the president has generally been ahead, and now the Democrats are a bit ahead.  On health care, a third—well, that‘s no surprise.  Democrats are always better in a public mind on health care.  Thirty-three percent lead, however, in this case.  And big Democratic leads on gas prices and the economy.  That pretty much runs the board, doesn‘t it Chuck? 

TODD:  You look at that and you‘re like this thing is over.  And sometimes you look at these macro numbers, and you say it is over, this is 94.   

MATTHEWS:  It‘s also May. 

TODD:  And it‘s also May. 

And the thing is what is really could be both scary for Republicans and give them a little heart—I actually looked back in May 94, the Democrats weren‘t in this bad of shape as the Republicans are now.  The Democrats really hit rock bottom in October.  The timing, everything happened right when you would want it to happen if you were on the Republican side at that time. 

The question is are they hitting bottom early and are they going to get a chance to pull out?  It explains why the president did this immigration speech.  I mean, they‘re trying to do everything they can to start patching things up a little bit.  The problem is every time we all predict that oh, this is bottom—I mean, how many times have we talked about it on this show?  And bottom keeps going. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think I have to be bull-ish, because I think if you look at the polling and study it without too much sophistication, you see that every month that has passed since 9-11, this president has been lower, that his great strength was when he began the war on terror.  And it has declined.  It was also very high when he began the war in Iraq.  I went back and studied those numbers in “The New York Times” poll. 

But it seems like every—Americans just don‘t like long wars and who does? 

CARNEY:  And they don‘t like wars where the objective is not clear and the end game isn‘t clear.  And I think the problem the Republicans face is that people may have simply decided forever about President Bush and decided forever about Iraq.  Karl rove said earlier this week, that‘s what‘s souring everything for the president and his party right now, is Iraq. 

I mean, when you see him getting hammered on the economy and when the economy is strong, you know that there‘s something fundamentally wrong here.  I do think though despite these overwhelming numbers that structurally, despite the feeling in the public, it‘s highly unlikely that we get a wave of Democratic victories, the size of which we saw in 94. 

In fact, I would still if I went to Vegas today, we flew off, the three of us, I would put my money on significant Democrat pickups, but not taking back the House.  And, you know, there are a lot of people running for president in 2008 who are Democrats who would like to see that happen.  And they don‘t want the Democrats to control the House. 

MATTHEWS:  Because they don‘t want responsibility. 

CARNEY:  They don‘t want responsibility, and they don‘t want, you know, a free for all with hearings and the public‘s getting sick of the Democrats all over again.  They want to be the stealth candidates for the two and a half years.

MATTHEWS:  Do you remember when Ronald Reagan ran for president?  He said—this was a really good line—I will admit I am irresponsible when you guys admit you are responsible.  I think it works.

TODD:  There is a hidden issue here though that I think it gets at to why the public is—it‘s trust.  The biggest loss that the president and the Republican Party had is trust on a number of issues.  And it‘s that trust issue that I think is now hurting the president when it comes to things like even immigration.  When he can‘t even sell to his own people his plan for immigration, he‘s lost credibility among that sector of people. 

MATTHEWS:  If he can sell this immigration bill, he can convince the Republicans and the Democrats to form one political party.  It‘s 180 from the Republicans on this issue.  We‘ll be right back with Jay Carney and Chuck Todd. 

Republicans heard more bad poll numbers, we‘ll keep talking about that and the question raised by Chuck about the public‘s faith in the leadership of the party which is also at a new low.  And the Democrats don‘t look so great either.  Can they recover?  We‘ll be talking about that when we come back.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “Time” magazine‘s Jay Carney and the Hotline‘s Chuck Todd.  I have to ask you a political question.  What do you think of the fact that a lot of Christian churches are playing a very clever game with regard to “The Da Vinci Code,” which could be one the biggest movies in history.  Talking about $100 million its first weekend, but instead of boycotting it, they‘re saying let‘s talk about it on line, let‘s have dialogue.  Is that a smart move or a bad move for them? 

TODD:  I don‘t know.  Look, I think it‘s smart if they boycott it, they probably give it more attention.  But I think you can‘t underestimate that Christian community‘s ability.  I mean, look what they were able to do with “Passion” positively. 

They could inflict real damage on this movie.  Undermine it a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  They haven‘t seen it yet, in all fairness, none of us have and when they see it, they could say this goes too far.  We can kill this baby.  We can kill it in its bed.

CARNEY:  They may not have to.  The stories today about people who have seen it suggests it‘s going to be panned by the critics.  I mean, just in movie making quality.  Also, the book is, you know, not exactly high poetry. 

MATTHEWS:  Everybody read it and finished.  It was a page turner.  I couldn‘t understand a lot of it.  I read it and I said, this is cool, this is cool, I still couldn‘t figure out why it was so important.  Do you think 40 million people buying a book, if only a few them, half the book readers who paid $30 a book—

TODD:  It will make a lot of money, but I bet it‘s not quite what they hoped. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going up there inside Opus Dei, which is villianized in this movie with thugs wearing monk costumes, albino giants killing people.  They‘re letting us in tomorrow to talk about it and that‘s part of the strategy I‘m talking about, the fact that they‘re letting HARDBALL come in there to see what‘s going on in there, at the same time that place has been exposed as sort of a den of demons. 

TODD:  They‘re on a PR Campaign.  They clearly are trying to—they actually I think are viewing this as an opportunity, sort of like OK wait we‘re being villianized here, let‘s open our doors and let people see what it is. 

MATTHEWS:  Opus Dei said a number of people are coming by their headquarters at 34th and Lexington in New York asking if Silas is home. 

CARNEY:  The scary albino.  It‘s very clever, they‘re saying we‘re not some spooky sect, we don‘t control politics around the world, we‘re just serious orthodox—

MATTHEWS:  Anything could be true, but I met them and they certainly are mild mannered and not spooky in their manner.  Let me ask you this, can the president turn things around? 

CARNEY:  Of course he can. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it plausible that he would do it? 

CARNEY:  His problem, any other situation, yes, but with a war that he cannot control without ending it, I‘m not sure he can. 

TODD:  Speaker Pelosi is the only thing he can hope for to save his presidency. 

TODD:  Victory is defeat in this case. 

MATTHEWS:  Irony of ironies.  Thank you very much.  Jay Carney and Chuck Todd. 

Coming up, have white Americans set back the civil rights movement just by feeling guilty.  Now that‘s an interesting proposition.  And the man who believes in it and has written about it is coming here. 

Plus we‘ll have a special sneak preview of my exclusive tour of Opus Dei headquarters.  “The Da Vinci Code” is fiction, but how bad fiction is it?  You‘ll find out.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As I said, immigration, education, all those issues the Democrats are leading on of course in these latest polls, but race remains the biggest issue in the country I think.

A new book has come out, “White Guilt” about how white guilt has put back the civil rights era itself and betrayed it in many ways.  Professor Shelby Steele is an award winning writer, contributing editor for Harpers and a research fellow at Stanford.  His new book is called “White Guilt: 

How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.”

Strong words, professor Steele.  Do you want to just lay out your premise for the audience now? 

SHELBY STEELE, AUTHOR, “WHITE GUILT”:  White guilt is not a guilt of conscience or remorse or a feeling.  I don‘t think many whites today actually feel guilt.  It is the experience, though, of being stigmatized.  When the civil rights victories and the 60s were one and America acknowledged its racist past, the price that white Americans—and I think more importantly, American institutions paid is that they became stigmatized. 

And so since that time, white in our institutions have been on the defensive, have had to spend a lot of time proving that they‘re not racist.  And so because of the stigma, people actually act guiltily even though they don‘t feel guilt. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that is generational?  Or is it a fact of life that has extended into young people today? 

STEELE:  I think it even applies to young people today.  There is—political correctness is really the language of white guilt.  It is a way that whites can speak about political issues and social issues without risking being stigmatized as a racist.  There is always this anxiety.  There is always this need to prove that we—that whites have not returned to the old white supremacy days of the past. 

MATTHEWS:  Professor, I‘m used to a lot of fighting back and forth.  I remember Jesse Jackson one time coming out—the Reverend Jackson—saying that the reason they were setting higher SAT scores for athletes—requirements in SAT scores for athletes to play in the NCAA is because white kids can‘t play basketball as well as black kids.  I mean, he would throw that racist charge out there.  Isn‘t that part of the game that‘s played back and forth? 

STEELE:  Absolutely.  White guilt is black power, our leadership.  Black leadership today is devoted to manipulating white guilt.  Our entire identity as a group is organized around this idea of power that what we have to do at all costs is keep whites on the hook. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me challenge you a little.  It is your book, and

I would like people to read it because I think the more we understand about

what I call and we all agree is the San Andreas Fault of this country, which is race.  It is not terrorism or anything else from the outside.  It is who we are as a country. 

And black Americans came before any of—most of the people we know, European American.  They were here long before us.  Your family probably was.  So it is an endemic reality.  I think the radical Republicans after the civil war were right.  I think it should have been 40 acres and a mule.  I think black African slaves, males especially, should have been capitalized.  They should have been given a stake in America. 

That never happened.  They were just kicked off the plantation.  They were brought back on for a penny a day.  And they were screwed basically.  How do you address that fact of history?  I‘m not pushing reparations, but they didn‘t get them when they deserved it. 

STEELE:  That‘s right.  And I will tell you something else, they never will get it.  It is a fantasy. No president of the United States is ever going to sign a bill giving reparations to black people.  Maybe he should.  You know, we can have that argument. 

But what is so important for black Americans to understand is that it is not ever going to happen.  We‘re going to have to go out there.  We are going to have to develop, get educated, make ourselves competitive and take what we want the way other people do.  So I agree.  I mean, yes, we got a raw deal in America.  There is still racism in America, and it has to be combated. 

But our real problem—and you saw this in New Orleans—our real is that we‘ve not done well in freedom.  We have to do better at taking advantage at the opportunities that we do have. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Bill Cosby right? 

STEELE:  Absolutely.  Bill Cosby is right.  He could not be more right.  Most people, white and black, know he is right.  White guilt is—it prevents people from saying it.  Certainly whites are not going to feel comfortable in agreeing with Bill Cosby because then they feel they are going to be stigmatized as racist.  So whites never really tell us what they truly believe. 

And one of the problems we have is that we then live in a bubble, where we don‘t get the truth.  New Orleans should have been a wake-up call to black America.  It should not have been a discussion of whether or not President Bush was a racist.  Here was this intractable poverty that had been there generation after generation.  That should have been a wakeup call to blacks.  But we changed the subject.

MATTHEWS:  Professor Steele, a good TV show would be a show where it showed how whites talk about blacks when there aren‘t any blacks around and how blacks talk about whites when there aren‘t any whites around, and we should all watch each other‘s television channel.  I think that would be an awakening too.

It is great to have you on.  Good luck with this book.  You have gotten into a topic I think we have got to look at.  As I said, it is a much bigger problem than terrorism because it came with us and it is who we are.  And I think we‘d better fix it in the long run.  Thank you very much Shelby Steele, the author of “White Guilt.”

Before we go tonight, we have a special preview of tomorrow night‘s show, our HARDBALL exclusive this Thursday.  That is tomorrow.  The millions of people who have read “The Da Vinci Code” or at least read about it are waiting for the worldwide release of the movie version, starring Oscar winner Tom Hanks. 

At the center of that story is of course the Catholic organization, Opus Dei.  Are they really a shadowy group protecting dark secrets?  In a broadcast exclusive, HARDBALL gets a rare look.  It originates tomorrow night live from inside the U.S. headquarters of Opus Dei up in New York.  The building made famous, by the way—or infamous rather in “The Da Vinci Code.”  Here‘s a special sneak preview of what you‘ll see tomorrow on HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS (voice over):  The U.S. headquarters at Opus Dei is located on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 34th street in New York.  This is the address villainized in “The Da Vinci Code,” where Dan Brown‘s character silenced the giant albino hit man, whips himself into a frenzy while plotting his bloody deeds for the sake of God and the church. 

Father Tom Bohlin, vicar of Opus Dei in the United States, gave us a rare look inside this urban retreat that serves the 3,000 Opus Dei members in this country. 

FR. TOM BOHLIN, U.S. VICAR, OPUS DEI:  Many people now come to look for silence, to look for...

MATTHEWS (on-camera):  The bad guy.

BOHLIN:  People—tourists come by.  Tours bus comes by now.  We put a box outside that you can see, where people can take brochures. 

MATTHEWS:  I saw it. 

BOHLIN:  People are coming by all the time. 

MATTHEWS:  How much does building cost? 

BOHLIN:  The building cost around $60 million.  We‘ve got everything in this building, Chris, that a modern person needs.  We are people in the middle of the world.  We‘ve got a lot of pressure, a lot of work in this busy city.  So body and soul have to always go together. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ve just seen your chapel.  It is beautiful.  How do you use the chapel? 

BOHLIN:  We have a chapel here that fits about 60 people.  It is amazing to have a place of such recollection, such holiness and piety right here in the middle of Manhattan that people love to come here and pray. 

MATTHEWS:  Father, tell me about the classroom here. 

BOHLIN:  Sure.  We have all sorts of classes here mainly directed towards lay people because our whole mission is continuing education of lay people in their faith, and also there‘s a very practical aspect of bringing their faith and their ordinary life, their faith and their work together. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about the bedrooms.  Are they lavish?  Or what are they like for people who live here full-time? 

BOHLIN:  Well, as you can see, the bedrooms are very comfortable for people who—they‘re simple, but comfortable for people who come in here, people who live here.  But people who come here for the weekends, men and women who come from all over the area, they make a residential retreat, quiet time to be alone with their Lord, to turn off all of the engines, the motors, the outside noise and just hear God as he wants to speak to us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  I think you are going to find an intriguing interview tomorrow night.  Watch HARDBALL tomorrow night at 5 and 7 Eastern for much more of my exclusive look behind the closed doors of Opus Dei up in New York.

Right now it is time for “THE ABRAM‘S REPORT” with Dan.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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