updated 5/24/2006 12:40:12 PM ET 2006-05-24T16:40:12

Guests: Howard Fineman, Alexandra Stoddard, Bob Herbert, Michael Smerconish, Bill Frist

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, the Clinton marriage once again front page news.  Congress cannot agree on immigration and President Bush tries once again to make Mideast peace.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Today President Bush met with the newly elected Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, Israel is boycotting the Hamas Palestinian government which refuses to recognize Israel. 

Today the White House press secretary says Bush wants Olmert to have more serious talks with the more moderate Fatah Party leader Mahmoud Abbas.  Bush and Olmert are about to begin a joint press conference at the White House and we‘re waiting for that to happen.  I‘m joined by Howard Fineman and Alexandra Stoddard . 

This meeting from all the press reports, Howard, looks like he‘s going to try to put pressure on the prime minister of Israel to go slower in the development of this new boundary over there. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  I think so.  I think Israeli policy means everything to George Bush.  It‘s a big part of his identity as president and he needs to manage the relationship and he knows that and I think that‘s what he‘s doing there right now, what he‘s trying to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s any good news coming out of this press conference today?  You always hope for peace over there and we never get it. 

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think so.  I think a day without disaster anywhere there is as good news as you‘re going to get, and I don‘t see it other than the possibility that the Israeli prime minister will agree to some talks that he wasn‘t planning on. 

MATTHEWS:  The great irony here is that they‘re both building fences, both to keep people out for totally different reasons.  In Israel, you have to keep them out because there‘s a good level of penetration by terrorists on your country on a regular basis and this wall has worked.  It has reduced terrorism in Israel proper and in the territories, at the same time our president has signed on to a longer fence across our southern border. 

ALEXANDRA STODDARD, THE HILL:  I think that President Bush, as we‘ve

seen the bill move through the Senate, we‘ve seen it become more and more

conservative, I guess, supported by those who really favor -

MATTHEWS:  The immigration bill. 

STODDARD:  Immigration bill, more border security.  And I think the president will move that way as the House and Senate meet to arrive at a mutually agreeable piece of legislation, but I still think he wants the cure all.  I think we‘re still going to see Bush continue to fight for the controversial part which is the guest worker program. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re not going to get a bill. 

STODDARD:  No, the House doesn‘t want them to have a bill. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, adverse opinion? 

FINEMAN:  I think in the end they won‘t, because I think various factions will decide it‘s better to have the bill and the argument than the deal. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean the Democrats are better off complaining? 

FINEMAN:  Democrats will complain, so they‘ll have an interest in not having a deal.  The Republican conservatives will want to complain, they‘ll have a better interest in not having a deal, because their base doesn‘t want, quote, amnesty, but on your other point about fences, I think it‘s a very good one, because George Bush‘s vision post 9/11 was about spreading freedom and therefore peace and this notion that we would be tearing down walls rather than building them up, so in a way, symbolically, all the talk about fences really kind of flies in the face of the kind world he says he was going to try to create with his aggressive war on terrorism. 

The Israelis aren‘t buying it, they built a fence.  You know, and we‘re apparently trying to do the same thing. 

MATTHEWS:  So in the end, it seems that every time we have a conflict in the world, whether it goes back to 1948 and the Indians and the Pakistanis, or it‘s Northern Ireland back in the 1920‘s, the solution is partition, the solution is separation rather than unity? 

FINEMAN:  Well the notion that an election equals peace—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I love that one. 

FINEMAN:  It doesn‘t always happen that way. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve had elections now and we‘ve had elections in Iraq, we‘ve had elections in West Bank, we‘ve almost had elections in Egypt.  The -- we had them in Algeria a couple years back, the tendency of the Arab world is to use elections to go more radical. 

FINEMAN:  Not only that, Mexico has a long tradition of independence and democracy, they threw out the dominant party of 40 years down there.  And a lot of the economic problems that have flowed partly as a result, we‘re seeing the reaction to and the results of up here with one tenth of the population of Mexico in the United States.  I mean, so, you know, the mere fact that you have the mechanics of democracy around the world doesn‘t mean that you either have peace or freedom anywhere. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re waiting for the president of the United States, George Bush is come out.  We‘re looking at the East Room of the White House, we‘re expecting him to come out for a joint press conference.  You can see the two lecterns set up as we OFTEN do in the joint press conferences, and the prime minister of Israel who just was elected on the Kadima Party, which is the peace party.  A fusion of both Likud and the Labor policy, the party that wants to develop a peace plan in the toughest way by building a fence and basically setting the guidelines themselves. 

Here they are, the president of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Thank you.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome. 

I‘m particularly pleased to welcome Mrs. Olmert to the White House as well.  Thanks for coming.

The prime minister and I have known each other since 1998, when he was the mayor of Jerusalem and I was the governor of Texas.  And I remember you greeting me in your office there and you probably thought you were going to be the prime minister.  I wasn‘t sure if I was going to be the president.

(LAUGHTER)

We‘ve just had a really productive meeting.  We reaffirmed the deep and abiding ties between Israel and the United States.  And those ties include our commitment to democracy and our strong belief that everybody has the right to worship freely.

The ties include growing trade and economic relationships.  The ties include important educational exchange programs that allow Israeli students to study at American colleges and universities and American students to travel and study in Israel.

In our meeting, the prime minister and I recalled the great contributions to peace made by Ariel Sharon.  I asked the prime minister to convey my very best wishes to Ariel Sharon‘s sons. 

Prime Minister Olmert and I discussed peace and security in the Middle East, which the people of Israel seek and the American people support.

In 2002, I outlined my vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

And Mr. Olmert told me that he and his government share this vision.

The international community seeks to realize this goal through the road map, which calls for a comprehensive settlement that resolves all outstanding issues between Israelis and Palestinians.

I believe, and Prime Minister Olmert agrees, that a negotiated final status agreement best serves both the Israelis and the Palestinians and the cause of peace.

Palestinian Authority President Abbas favors and speaks out for peace and negotiations, yet the Hamas-led Palestinian government does not.  Hamas needs to make a strategic choice for peace. 

The United States and the international community have made clear that Hamas must recognize Israel‘s right to exist, must abandon terror and must accept all previous agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

No country can be expected to make peace with those who deny its right to exist and who use terror to attack its population.

Today, Prime Minister Olmert shared with me some of his ideas.  I would call them bold ideas. 

These ideas could lead to a two-state solution if a pathway to progress on the road map is not opened in the period ahead. 

His ideas include the removal of most Israeli settlements except for the major Israeli population centers in the West Bank.  This idea would follow Prime Minister Sharon‘s decision to remove all settlements in Gaza and several in the West Bank.

I look forward to learning more about the prime minister‘s ideas.

While any final status agreement will be only achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes, and no party should prejudice the outcome of negotiations on a final status agreement, the prime minister‘s ideas could be an important step toward the peace we both support.

I‘m encouraged by his constructive efforts to find ways to move the peace process forward. 

And, finally, the prime minister and I shared our concerns about the Iranian regime‘s nuclear weapons ambitions.  The United States and the international community have made our common position clear: We‘re determined that the Iranian regime must not gain nuclear weapons. 

I told the prime minister what I‘ve stated publicly before: Israel is a close friend and ally of the United States.  And in the event of any attack on Israel, the United States will come to Israel‘s aid.

The United States is strongly committed and I am strongly committed to the security of Israel as a vibrant Jewish state.

I look forward to our continuing discussions after this press conference.  I‘m not sure the delegations realize this yet, but we‘re going to shed ourselves of our delegations and the prime minister and I are going to go up to the residence and sit down and have a continued dialogue.

And if we decide to brief our delegations on what we discussed, we will do so.  But, if not, they‘re going to have to guess.

(LAUGHTER)

And then I‘m looking forward to dinner.  Welcome.

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER:  Thank you, Mr. President.

I thank you for your kind invitation to visit Washington and for the opportunity to meet with you in discuss the main issues in our common agenda.

Our meeting was enlightening.  And I look forward to working closely with you in the coming years to deepen the friendship, understanding and bilateral ties between the United States and Israel.

I also recall our meeting in the city hall when you and I were strolling around the beautiful building at the terrace of the sixth floor watching the walls of the city of Jerusalem.

At that time, you were the governor; I was the mayor. And I think none of us thought that the day would come that I would have the honor and the privilege of being hosted by you as president of the United States and prime minister of Israel.

I could sense, then, your deep connection to the Holy Land and your friendship and commitment to the state of Israel.

I must say, Mr. President, that my instincts did not fail me. 

I and the entire people of Israel appreciate your true friendship and unwavering commitment to Israel‘s security and its well-being as a vibrant Jewish state.

Your involvement in the Middle East and personal contribution to the effort toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been significant.  The vision which you outlined in your historic speech of June 2002 of two democratic states living side by side in peace and security is the basis of any progress toward a solution in this region.

Your unreserved support of the disengagement plan and your letter of April 14th, 2004, to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon—and I join you in praying for his recovery—were the basis for the success of its implementation.

What you immediately recognized to be a historic step was later adopted by all those who were skeptical in the beginning.

I intend to exhaust every possibility to promote peace with the Palestinians according to the road map, and I extend my hand in peace to Mahmoud Abbas, the elected president of the Palestinian Authority. I hope he will take the necessary steps which he committed to in order to move forward.

Unfortunately, the rise of Hamas, a terrorist organization which refuses to recognize Israel‘s right to exist and regards terrorism as a legitimate tool, severely undermines the possibility of promoting a genuine peace process.

As you stated, Mr. President, the Palestinian Authority headed by Hamas government must abandon the path of terrorism, dismantle the terror infrastructure, honor agreements and recognize Israel‘s right to exist.

By doing so, they will find us a willing partner in peace. However, we will not enter into any kind of partnership with a party which refuses to recognize our right to live in peace and security.

Despite our sincere desire for negotiations, we cannot wait indefinitely for the Palestinians to change.  We cannot be held hostage by a terrorist entity which refuses to change or to promote dialogue.

If we come to the conclusion that no progress is possible, we will be compelled to try a different route.  

I have presented to the president ideas which I believe could help advance his vision and prevent a political stalemate. According to these ideas, we will remove most of the settlements which are not part of the major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria.

The settlements within the population centers would remain under Israeli control and become part of the state of Israel as part of the final status agreement.

This process of realignment would reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, ensure territorial contiguity for the Palestinians, and guarantee Israel‘s security as a Jewish state with the borders it desires.

The implementation of these ideas would only be possible with the comprehensive support of the United States and the international community.  I anticipate working with you to explore ways to advance this.

We discussed the Iranian issue.  The Iranian regime, which calls for Israel‘s destruction, openly denies the Holocaust and views the United States as its enemy, makes every effort to implement its fundamentalist religious ideologies and blatantly disregards the demands of the international community.

The Iranian threat is not only a threat to Israel; it is a threat to the stability of the Middle East and the entire world.  And it could mark the beginning of a dangerous and irresponsible arms race in the Middle East.

Mr. President, we appreciate your efforts to curb Iran‘s nuclear ambitions, including through the U.N. Security Council.

They are of crucial importance.

The international community cannot tolerate a situation where a regime with a radical ideology and a long tradition of irresponsible conduct becomes a nuclear weapons state.

This is a moment of truth.  It is still not too late to prevent it from happening.

I thank you again for your gracious hospitality and for our discussions.  I look forward to continue working with you, Mr. President.  Thank you very much.

BUSH:  We‘ll take two questions a side.

QUESTION:  You mentioned that the West Bank plan could be an important step.  Doesn‘t this sweep away the U.S. principle of a negotiated two-state solution?  And should the Palestinian side approve any plan that would establish Israel‘s final borders?

BUSH:  You just heard the prime minister say that he‘s going to exhaust all options to negotiate, that he wants to reach out a hand to President Abbas.

And I agree.  As I said in my opening statement, that the best solution is one in which there is a negotiated final status.  And we spent ways—we spent some time discussing about how it‘s important to get a Palestinian president to the table.

And the prime minister says he looks forward to discussing the issue.  And so our preferred option, of course, is there to be a negotiated settlement.

On the other hand, as the prime minister said, that if he is unable to find a partner in peace, if nothing can go forward, he is willing to think about ways to advance the process forward.

And in order to solve this problem, there needs to be, you know, willingness to take the lead and creativity and the desire to follow through on the vision.  The most important aspect about peace is to have a vision for peace.

And I appreciate the prime minister‘s vision of two states, side by side, two democratic states side by side in peace.  That‘s possible. 

And so, what I come away from the meeting with is that the prime minister, one, has a vision; two, willing to reach out to determine whether or not that vision exists with the Palestinian president, which I think it does; three, is willing to work to see whether or not it is possible for two sides to come together; and, if not, is still willing to consider other ways to move the process forward.  That‘s, to me, a very positive statement.

QUESTION:  You said you wanted to hear more.  Are you really, then, worried about this plan?

BUSH:  I don‘t know.  The only thing that worries me about the plan is that Hamas has said they want to destroy Israel.  And the reason that worries me is how can you have two states side by side in peace if one of the partners does not recognize the other state‘s right to exist?

And it‘s illogical for somebody to say, “I‘m for a state side by side with another state and yet I don‘t want the state to exist.” 

And so we spent time talking about Hamas.  And I assured the prime minister that our position is steady and strong; that Hamas must change.

Now, we care about the Palestinian people.  And I say “we”—both of us; he can speak for himself on this issue—but we are trying to set up a mechanism that supports the Palestinian people. 

Our beef is not with the Palestinian people; our beef with the government—that group in the government that says they don‘t recognize Israel. 

And so the United States, we‘re working with the Europeans—Condi‘s people in the State Department are working with the Europeans to come up with a mechanism to get food and medicine and aid to the Palestinians. 

You may want to comment on it yourself, Mr. Prime Minister.

OLMERT:  Thank you, Mr. President.

Indeed, the government Sunday decided to spend 50 million shekels buying medical equipment -- 50 million shekels; about $11 million—for the time being, to buy medical equipment and drugs needed for the hospitals in Gaza.

And, as I said during the cabinet meeting, we will spend any amount of money needed in order to safe lives of innocent Palestinians suffering from the indifference of their government.  We will not hesitate to do it.  We will use the revenues that we have collected, and more if necessary.

We will make arrangements, together with our friends, so that the supplies will arrive directly to those who need them. 

This is a humanitarian commitment.  We are absolutely committed to help innocent people that suffer from the brutality and the intransigence of their own government.  And we will continue to do it at all times. 

Thank you, Mr. President.     

QUESTION:  Mr. Prime Minister, are you satisfied from what you have learned out of your meeting with the president with regard of the Iranian issue?  And what‘s your message to the Israeli public about this issue?

And, Mr. President, with your permission, there is a military option from your point of view to solve the threat of the Iranian problem, their work on—to gain nuclear weapons?

OLMERT:  Well, the Iranian issue was discussed indeed between the president and myself, and we will continue to talk about it later.

Obviously, there is a major threat posed, as I‘ve said already and the president said, by the Iranians and their attempt to have nonconventional capabilities and also to build up delivery systems and the ballistic missiles that can hit major centers all across Europe, not just in the Middle East.

This is something that needs to be stopped.  We discussed this issue at length and there is a total agreement and understanding between the president and myself that there is a need to stop it.  And we reviewed the different ways how to do it and I‘m very satisfied with what I heard from the president and—on what we agree that we will continue to do in order to achieve this goal.

BUSH:  Our primary objective is to solve this problem diplomatically.

I‘ve told the American people that I will, on all issues, will try diplomacy first and exhaust diplomacy.

And explain to the prime minister that—about our diplomatic efforts, the most important thing in diplomacy is that there be a shared goal.  In other words, you have to have a common objective, a common goal, in order to get people to come together around  you.

And now we have got a common goal throughout most of the world, and that is:  Iran should not have a nuclear weapon.

And that‘s important.  And we are now working the diplomatic front around that goal.  We have a variety of options, one of which, of course, is the United Nations Security Council, if the Iranians aren‘t willing to show progress toward that goal.

We‘re working very closely with what‘s called the E.U.-3, that‘s

Germany, England and France.  And I‘ve been pleased and Secretary of State

Rice has been pleased about their willingness to stay tough on the goal, of

achieving the goal.  It‘s—you know, sometimes when you‘ve got a variety

of negotiating parties, it‘s easier for one—a nontransparent negotiator

to pick off a weak link.

And yet, they have been firm.  And that‘s important for Israel to know.  It‘s important for me to praise our partners for that strength of purpose.

Obviously, there‘s other parties we have to work with, including Russia and China.  In other words, you can‘t get anything out of the U.N.  Security Council unless there is an agreement that the Iranians are not negotiating in good faith and aren‘t willing to go forward.

And so we‘re sending a lot of time working with our Russian friends, in particular to make it clear to them that Iran is showing no good faith.

And one of the interesting issues that the Iranians have tossed out in this debate is that they believe they have the sovereign right for civilian nuclear power.

And my position has been:  Fine, you just don‘t get to enrich the fuel necessary for the plant. 

And so we provided, I thought, a very interesting opportunity for them to say, if you want civilian nuclear power, you can have your plant and the international consortium will provide the fuel for the plant and we‘ll pick up the spent fuel from the plant.

And this very realistic and reasonable approach has been rejected by the Iranians.  And so I say to our friends in our consortium.  I‘m not so sure these people really do want a solution.  And, therefore, let us make sure that we‘re willing to be working together in the U.N. Security Council.

So that‘s where we are.  We‘re headed—we‘re on the cusp of going to the Security Council.  And I repeat to your question: Obviously we‘d like to solve this issue peacefully and diplomatically.

And the more the Iranians refuse to negotiate in good faith, more countries are beginning to realize that we must continue to work together.  Martha.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve been listening to President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the White House, that was a joint press conference we were watching.  We‘re back right now with Alexandra Stoddard of the “Hill” newspaper and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman.  The news value in that press conference so far?

FINEMAN:  Well I think the news value was the prime minister of Israel and the president of the United States agreed that if the Palestinians don‘t come to the bargaining table in the way the West wants, then Israel is going to go ahead and say on its own that some of the more populated, that is by Jewish settlers part of the West Bank, Israel is going to keep and not wait for some final settlement. 

Now that‘s been hinted at before, but I think it is more expressly said here and if you follow closely what goes on if this part of the world, which is important, because things blow up there, that was important, and that was—that was the news.

MATTHEWS:  And of course we‘re left with the Arab reaction, what that‘s going to be to this, which is probably going to be yelling.

FINEMAN:  Yes, because they‘re really putting aside the pretense here of saying everything must wait for the so-called final settlement, and that‘s a threat, that‘s Bush and Olmert putting a threat out there and saying you‘d better come to the table, otherwise you‘re going to lose some territory permanently.

MATTHEWS:  Did you notice the Israeli correspondent trying to get the president of the United States to commit to a military option with regard to the Iranian nuclear threat and he wouldn‘t do it?  The president really held back, he said we‘re going to exhaust the diplomatic route entirely.

STODDARD:  I thought—President Bush in office has gotten better at the long non-answer.  I thought that that was a really interesting answer on Iran, because he really just went around and around to waste time but he did not take the bait.  He wanted to exhaust the subject of diplomacy.

FINEMAN:  Although in exchange for his—in addition to his caution on that, the president here repeated something that made news when he said it the first time not long ago, which was an explicit promise to militarily defend Israel in case it‘s attacked, presumably by Iran.

MATTHEWS:  I never heard that mutual defense treaty.

FINEMAN:  That‘s something that in history, I think neither the Israelis nor the Americans wanted to explicitly say, but it‘s sort of in exchange are for the caution on Iran, I think you‘re right, it‘s the explicit promise of protection.

MATTHEWS:  But what a statement.  It‘s to say as Kennedy did back in ‘62 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, if Cuba attacks us with missiles, that‘s the same as the Soviet Union attacking us, it‘s almost to say if you Ahmadinejad, if you attack from Iran to Israel, that‘s like attacking us, because he said we‘re going to go to their aid, which means we‘re going to engage in an exchange of nuclear weapons.  Is that what he‘s talking about?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t know exactly, but I know this something that both the Americans and the Israelis have wanted to keep vague, if not even unspoken until now and it‘s a measure of how things have changed in the world and the confrontational nature of what‘s going on now that it‘s felt by both the Americans and the Israelis that they have to state this explicitly.  It never really was until recently. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it‘s basically the last step towards a mutual defense packet.  Alexandra, your thought.  We‘re going to go to break right now.  It‘s too bad.  We had a whole plan to talk about the Clintons here which is a lot sexier than the complications of the Middle East negotiations here. 

FINEMAN:  They made a really urgent thing sound boring here, but it is important.  There‘s no doubt about it.

MATTHEWS:  Of course it is.  We‘re going to be talking about it, unfortunately, for the rest of our lives and the movement is so slow.  Anyway, Howard Fineman, Alexandra Stoddard, thank you. 

Still ahead, we‘re going to talk about whether Congress will agree on the immigration plan with Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist.  He‘s going to be here.  My question, will there be a bill?

Also coming up, as Republicans hope to hold onto Congress this November, has President Bush become himself a liability to his own party? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Big elections coming, big questions looming.  Can Democrats finally win back power in Congress?  Do they really deserve it?  Is George Bush doomed if Democrats prevail?  And the Clinton marriage is top of the fold, front and center in the “New York Times” today.  We‘ll get to all of this, rough and tumble issues, in this half-hour.  Plus, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is coming here to play HARDBALL.

But first, we‘re joined by Philly radio talk show host Michael Smerconish and “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert.  Mike and Bob, thank you very much for joining us. 

Let‘s talk about the front page of the “New York Times” today, at the very top of the fold.  I mean, it‘s right up there at the banner, “The Clinton Marriage,” for the “Clintons‘ delicate dance of married and public lives.”  This is the most teasing story I‘ve come across in the “New York Times” in a long time, the paper of record. 

Let me give you some quotes.  “Mr. Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife.  When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up, for many prominent Democrats these days, topic A is the state of their marriage.  Bill and Hillary Clinton have built largely separate lives.” 

It‘s a complicated story, Bob, but why do you think your paper—I know you don‘t put the front page together.  Why did Bill Keller put this story at the top of the newspaper today? 

BOB HERBERT, “NEW YORK TIMES” COLUMNIST:  Well, you have to ask Bill, but I can tell you that in my travels, people are really interested in the state of this marriage and, frankly, I think, you know, with Hillary‘s presumed presidential ambitions, the state of the marriage is going to actually be a factor in her chances of getting the Democratic nomination, and then perhaps, you know, becoming president. 

MATTHEWS:  The question I have for you, Michael, is that I was up there in Philly today on your show—it was great to be on your show.  Let me ask you about this story.  Without getting to much into the goo of this story, which I‘m sure we‘ll get into at some point between now and 2008, here‘s the question. 

Why today, why the “New York Times” break from the gate?  We all thought this story would begin to evolve sometime after the election when Hillary gets reelected in New York, in all probability.  We‘d be talking about her presidential campaign and, of course, every aspect of her life becomes fair game at that point.  Why do you think the “Times” broke from the gate?  This is May 23rd

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, WPHT TALK RADIO - PHILADELPHIA:  I think that it‘s probably the one issue about Hillary that people are most interested in.  If I were to open up the telephone lines in Philly and I were to question folks about the Hillary candidacy, this is going to be way up there, probably beyond Iraq. 

I thought it was significant that in a typical month, they spend 14 days together.  You know what, Chris?  Not me.  I want to make clear, but I think there are a lot of guys out there married who are probably envious of that number. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m not.  Let me ask you this. 

HERBERT:  Neither am I, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Bob Herbert.  Let‘s go to this story here.  I think we‘re learning more about Michael.  The story here, I think legitimately is this.  A former president‘s spouse is running for president.  What role will the former president play in the politics of her getting elected or not getting elected?  That‘s a fair question. 

HERBERT:  That is a fair question.  I also think it‘s interesting that Bill Clinton, which we‘ve already I think noticed, is trying to take a lower profile when he‘s appearing publicly with Hillary and I think that‘s a good idea.  I mean, this guy is such a powerful personality that the tendency is to overshadow her and he doesn‘t want that to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it happened recently, didn‘t it? 

HERBERT:  Oh, it did.  I mean, at the funeral of the widow of Dr.  Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, there was an awful lot of talk about that. 

MATTHEWS:  How good he was and how bad she was. 

HERBERT:  Well, I don‘t know how bad she was, but she wasn‘t as good as he was. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, on the substantive question, remember Hillary came out and joined the national cacophony, which you were a part of, about this ports deal with the Dubai Ports taking over, like, the Port of Philadelphia and things like that, which are very sensitive in south Philly and everywhere else in a big city in the United States.  And it turns out that Bill Clinton took the other side.  He was sort of playing footsie with the Dubai people. 

SMERCONISH:  It does turn out that way, and what a beautiful marriage because they can be all things to all people, but I think, you know, one of the questions you‘ve asked is what‘s going to happen in this next cycle. 

The Democrats only represent that which they‘re against and what they failed to do is far is to articulate what they‘re actually for, and everybody wants to make these comparisons to 1994 and is the loss for the Republicans going to equate that which the Democrats lost in 1994? 

Don‘t forget, Chris, we had Newt.  He was putting forth an agenda.  It was the Contract with America, and the Ds have got to come up with something if they really want to capitalize on the president‘s poor numbers.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Do you think that‘s true, Bob, that you have to offer an alternative program to the president‘s, or you can just sit there as brand X and say, look, we‘re better than that?

HERBERT:  Well, I don‘t agree with either.  I don‘t think the Democrats can just sit there, but I also don‘t know that it‘s a winning strategy to offer a specific alternative to each aspect of the Bush agenda. 

I mean, what I think the Democrats need to do in a broad way is to just push on this idea that there‘s a real desire for change in this country, and then you know, that old Jack Kennedy quote, we can do better.  If I were to come up with a slogan for the Democrats, it would be a change for the better and keep hammering that. 

I can make one other point.  The fact that we‘re talking about the Clintons‘ marriage here I think is just that kind of discussion, the story in The Times today is really harmful for Hillary‘s presidential chances, because I think that there is a real hunger for change in this country politically, and I think if we keep harping on that, and I think it is a legitimate story, but I mean, if the media does keep harping on that, there will be a tendency among the electorate to say, you know, enough already.  We‘re going to move on.  We may move in a different direction. 

MATTHEWS:  It may be like putting on the old bad tire that you‘ve gotten fixed a few times on your car.  We‘re back again where we started.  Do you think there is a fatigue out there of the Bushes and the Clintons together like for years we‘ve had the Bushes, we had Nixon all the time, now we‘ve got the Clintons all around us, do you think, Michael, that people are tired of this bunch? 

SMERCONISH:  I think that if there were a new face out there, but on the Democrat side of the aisle, I don‘t see who that individual could be.  Hillary is the one with star power.

MATTHEWS:  Al Gore would be a new face, wouldn‘t it? 

SMERCONISH:  Would he really?  I‘m not sure.  I think a completely new name is exactly what they need, but even on the Republican side of the aisle, we‘re back to John McCain and I think the world of John McCain.  It‘s a great opportunity for a new face but where is that individual? 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you.  I think the list of possible presidents is shorter than the list of possible network anchors.  It seems like such a short list, and like we used to have Jean Mauk (ph) every couple of years we would get a new baseball team.  The only way to get teams as a manager baseball is to hire somebody who has been fired somewhere.  We‘ll be right back with Michael Smerconish and Bob Herbert.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with radio talk show host Michael Smerconish of Philadelphia, and “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert. 

Bob, let me read you something from your newspaper.  This story at the front top of the newspaper, the very top of the newspaper, it‘s amazing, there it is, the top. 

Quote, because of Mr. Clinton‘s behavior in the White House, tabloid gossip sticks to him like iron fillings to a magnet.  This is “The New York Times.”  Several prominent New York Democrats in interviews volunteered that they became concerned last year over a tabloid photograph showing Mr.  Clinton leaving BLT Steak in Midtown Manhattan late one night after dining with a group that included a Olinda Stonack (ph), a Canadian politician, the two were among roughly a dozen people at a dinner, but it still was enough to fuel coverage in the gossip pages.  What do you think of front page top of the fold story by the “The New York Times” is going to do to him tomorrow and the next couple of weeks? 

HERBERT:  I don‘t know what it‘s going to do in the next couple of weeks.  I do think that that story reflects what political types and also an awful lot of voters actually talk about and think about when they‘re considering president Clinton and Mrs. Clinton‘s presidential possibilities.  I mean, the state of their marriage and the Clintons‘ scandals is sort of lurking there, just beneath the surface, almost all the time. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the rule—what are the rules of play in your newspaper?  You‘re the great paper in this country, what are the rules about what‘s in and what‘s out?  Here they‘ve got what‘s in is apparently any reference to any tabloid, any appearance at a restaurant with somebody.  Of course there‘s always a back story, a subtext to anything that runs in the paper.  There‘s always the hint-hint.  What do you think the rules of engagement are for the press and the Clinton marriage? 

HERBERT:  Chris, I have to cop out on that one.  We‘re on the op-ed page where we have a tremendous amount of freedom.  We do not work for Bill Keller.  That‘s a judgment call. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s usually the other way around.  They say we don‘t talk for the editorial page.  Let me go to Michael Smerconish where the rules of engagement are somewhat broader on talk radio.  I mean I wonder if there are any sometimes.  “The New York Times” has said they‘re off.  It‘s almost like listening to Revele at the Kentucky Derby, they‘re off.  Let‘s talk about the Clintons. 

But it is interesting to me that they keep quoting prominent Democrats, the money people, the people that really drive these campaigns, the political leaders are worried that somehow Mrs. Clinton, who could be the front-runner tomorrow morning if she announces running for president, could be leading all the polls, except we don‘t know how her husband‘s life is going to affect what he might do in the next year or two, the state of the marriage will affect that?  Isn‘t that what they‘re putting on the front page? 

SMERCONISH:  This is one of those stories, Chris, that I read three times and I kept saying to myself as I was reading it, what is it I‘m supposed to be taking away from this that they‘re afraid to say. 

MATTHEWS:  Me too.  What is it that‘s in here that we have to pull out of here. 

SMERCONISH:  Here‘s my conclusion.  The conclusion I came to is what The Times wanted to convey is the same as it ever was with regard to the Clinton marriage. 

MATTHEWS:  What was that?  I missed it. 

SMERCONISH:  I said same as it ever was with regard to the Clinton marriage.  That was the message that I finally decided I was supposed to take away from that story. 

HERBERT:  Well if you read the story and I read it once, I did not read it three times, but if you read the story, I think it gives a pretty clear picture.  Now I don‘t know how accurate, because I don‘t know about the state of the Clinton‘s marriage, but I think it gives a pretty clear picture of what can be known on the record about the way things are with the Clintons. 

MATTHEWS:  It was very carefully reported.  Let me read you a quote from the Clintons.  It‘s quite an interesting quote here.  She is an active senator who like most members of Congress has to be in Washington for part of most weeks.  He is a former president running a multi-million dollar global foundation.  Their home is in New York and they do everything they can to be together, there or at their house in D.C. as often as possible.  Often going to great lengths to do so.  When their work schedules require that they be apart, they talk all the time. 

That‘s a very defensive, formalized statement isn‘t it, Bob?

HERBERT:  I really don‘t know.  I read it and I didn‘t look for a hidden agenda, honestly. 

(CROSSTALK)

HERBERT:  I thought that was a reasonable accurate depiction of what‘s going on.

MATTHEWS:  Could it be to avoid all this kind of speculation that we‘re already involved in and I take responsibility—well, I share it with “The New York Times” here, Michael—that what they‘re really saying, the official spokespeople for these two impressive people is that they‘re saying don‘t count on Bill Clinton living in the White House if Hillary gets elected.

He‘s going to run a big, multimillion dollar—they say, the spokesman says, foundation.  He‘s got a lot of responsibilities up in New York City at his office up there, so don‘t count on him being like a house husband or a first gentleman.  Is that what they‘re setting up here?

SMERCONISH:  No way.  No, what they were saying is that most guys escape to the golf course to get away from their wives and in his case, she‘s in the United States Senate and that‘s his excuse.

HERBERT:  Well, I don‘t think they‘re saying that he won‘t be, you know, the first husband.  I mean, I think that Bill Clinton is such a political junkie, that he won‘t be able to stay away if Hillary is president. 

MATTHEWS:  Well I hate being away from my wife more than a day or two, but thank you, Mike.  You obviously don‘t mind that at all.  Anyway, Bob Herbert, you go home and face her now.  Thank you Bob Herbert.  Up next, the Republican leader in the Senate, Bill Frist, he‘s coming here.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The U.S. Senate‘s expected to approve an overhaul on immigration policy this week but the bill which includes a guest worker program and a path to citizenship, is poised to clash with House Republicans who want legislation focused entirely on border security and punishing illegal hiring.  Will Congress pass an immigrant bill that suits what President Bush wants?  And will a guest worker program split the Republican Party rMD+IN_rMDNM_and drive conservatives away from the polls this November?  Senator Bill Frist is the majority leader of the United States Senate.  Senator Frist, do you think you‘ll get a Senate bill passed?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER:  Yes, Thursday afternoon.

MATTHEWS:  Will it all the pieces: the employer sanctions, the border protection, the legalization and the guest-worker program?

FRIST:  Yes.  It will be a comprehensive bill.  And Chris, the reason why I can say that is I filed what‘s called a cloture petition which means tomorrow morning at 8, 9, or 10:00, we‘ll vote.  And from there, 30 hours later, we‘ll bring the bill to a close.  That will be Thursday afternoon.  It will be a comprehensive bill. 

What stopped the bill three weeks ago or four weeks ago is when the Democratic leader said there will be no more amendments.  And clearly this bill needs to be improved.  It still needs to be improved tonight, tomorrow, we‘ll be voting today, tomorrow and Thursday. 

At the end of that process, we‘ll have a comprehensive bill that will look at the 12 billion people who are out there today illegally.  It does have a temporary guest-worker program that looks at employment, workplace enforcement and the border security.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s so much politics in this, as you know more than I do about Hispanics coming into the country and a demographic change in the country, the need for cheap labor among business or lower-wage employment, the concerns by a lot of people who are not Hispanic, that they‘re coming into, in greater numbers than they should. 

All the sensitivities have been exposed in the last couple of weeks of debate.  Do you think that you can have a Democratic Party helping you pass a bill or are they out there still to try to sabotage this?

FRIST:  You know, initially I was very concerned.  When the Democratic leader says I, the Democratic leader is going to name the comp three‘s, who they are, how many they are, and we‘re not going to let you put any amendments out there, I knew it was just going to be a partisan effort. 

Since that time, we‘ve had an open process.  We‘ve allowed every senator to come to the floor.  We will by the end have over 23, 24 Republican amendments offered and 10, 15, maybe 20 Democratic amendments.  With that, it‘s not a perfect bill but the process itself has worked.  The problem is out there, we all know it.  As elected representatives, we‘ve got to show that we can govern.  It will be bipartisan, not a perfect bill.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the chance of a final bill.  It seems like you‘re in cross purposes with the House.  You have what you call a comprehensive bill.  The House basically wants to stop illegal immigration in its tracks.  In fact, reverse the flow of illegal immigrants back across the border.  How can you meet their demands?

FRIST:  Chris, I think if you look where the debate is, or where it was a month ago, just having these four weeks—really four weeks total of debate on the floor of this Senate, people pay a lot more attention to the issue. 

They‘ve studied it, they‘ve moved towards an understanding that you can‘t just build a fence where we started and send everybody back who is here illegally, even if they‘ve been there for 12, 13 or 14 years.  We progress with a debate.  And I expect what will happen even after we pass it on the floor of the Senate, that the debate will continue, the discussion will continue and will moves toward the Senate position.  Again, the House has taken a strong position on border security only.  I think people realize that you‘ve got to address the magnet pulling people here if you really want to seal the border.

MATTHEWS:  I read the other day, Senator, that if this bill is passed, there will be a 100 million more people here from below the border in 20 years.  Do you think the country will like that new America with a much larger contingent of Spanish background people?

FRIST:  Yes, and I think that is...

MATTHEWS:  ... You think they‘ll like that?

FRIST:  No, they wouldn‘t like that.  And I don‘t believe all the assumptions that went in that everybody here today is going to apply for legal citizenship 11 or 12 years from now.  So I don‘t agree with the assumptions.  We are going to have more legal immigrants here, but that‘s better than having 12 million people here today who we don‘t know who they are, what their intentions are, who are in the shadows today.  So yes, there will be a strong temporary worker program and for those 12 million people who have been here longer than five years, they will be able to earn legalization after 11 years, if they meet all the criteria.

MATTHEWS:  Why would a guest worker agree to go home once he‘s here, or she‘s here?

FRIST:  Well, if they‘re less than two years, they‘ve got to go home.

MATTHEWS:  How do you make that happen?

FRIST:  Well they‘ve just got to come out of the shadows.  Right now the jobs that they have, if they‘ve been here for a year or a year or a half or up to two years—if they‘ve got a job, we‘re going to crackdown on the employer at the workplace and they are no longer going to have that job.

MATTHEWS:  OK, do you believe it‘s possible to develop a fool-proof, tamper-proof I.D. card so we can identify and separate the legal from the illegal people in this country?

FRIST:  Well Chris, we‘ve got to.  Right now there‘s a great amendment on the floor, right as we speak that Mitch McConnell has that says that anybody who is going to be voting in this country has to have a photo voter I.D.  Now it may be that we have to legislate that, I know there‘s a lot of discussions of whether or not it‘s legal or not to have the biometrics.  And if so, we can legislate that.  But it is absolutely critical if we‘re going to enforce at the workplace the law that the employer has something that they can rely on that is fraud proof.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much Senator Bill Frist, majority leader of the United States Senate.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Transcript

Watch Hardball with Chris Matthews each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,