updated 7/7/2006 11:27:04 AM ET 2006-07-07T15:27:04

Guests: Richard Haass, Nicholas Kristof, Gerry Brooks, Chris Cillizza, Howard Fineman, Ed Rollins, Mike Barnicle

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, is the U.S. headed for a showdown with North Korea?  As George Bush tries to rally the world, North Korea threatens to test more missiles.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in tonight for Chris Matthews.  New threats today from North Korea, the defiant country vowed more missile launches as President Bush called for an international unified response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘re dealing with a person who was asked not to fire a rocket, by the Chinese, the South Koreans, the United States, the Japanese, and the Russians, and he fired seven of them.  Which then caused the secretary of state and myself to get on the phone with our partners and reminded them that, of the importance of speaking with one voice. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  How will the world react, and why can‘t we corral China and Russia to support sanctions and how do you deal with a reclusive leader whose survival depends on being a military menace.  We‘ll talk with Richard Haass, former Bush State Department official and “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof who has reported from North Korea.  And tonight, “Decision 2006,” a live debate on HARDBALL between Senator Joe Lieberman and the challenger Ned Lamont in their first and possibly only debate in the Democratic primary for the Connecticut Senate seat.  It is a hotly contested race, a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic party and possibly a litmus test for the 2008 presidential elections.  We begin tonight with North Korea.  Richard Haas is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Richard, thank you for joining us. 

RICHARD HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  My pleasure.

O‘DONNELL:  Today there were indications that North Korea wanted to launch more missiles.  What are we to make of this? 

HAASS:  It‘s continued threats.  It‘s consistent with what they‘ve done and it‘s a way of continuing to remind the United States and the world that North Korea can be a problem and that unless their interests are somehow addressed diplomatically, they can make life uncomfortable for the rest of us. 

O‘DONNELL:  The president is making the case today that there should be a unified response by the world to put pressure on North Korea, and yet the Chinese and the Russians don‘t seem to want to go along, they don‘t want sanctions, they want more of a slap on the wrist if you will.  Is this a problem? 

HAASS:  Sure it‘s a problem, but even if they were to go along, the kinds of sanctions being discussed in New York at the U.N. are quite modest and they‘re not the kinds of sanctions that would probably have a real impact on the world‘s utmost closed society.  The real question here, and the country with the power to determine how this evolves is China.  Most of North Korea‘s goods, energy, food go in and out through China, so at the end of the day, it doesn‘t really matter so much whether China joins us in New York.  What really matters is what happens along the Chinese-North Korean border.  The only real sanctions are ones that Beijing supports whole heartedly. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you then, has there been a fundamental miscalculation by this Bush administration about China.  Was there a thought that China would tire of the antics of North Korea, firing of these missiles, etc., or does China more fear a chaotic North Korea than they do a nuclear powered North Korea. 

HAASS:  Good question.  China clearly opposes a North Korea that goes too far.  They don‘t want to see destabilization on the peninsula.  The last thing they want is a war there.  The last thing also they want to see is a unified Korea that‘s controlled by the south, that‘s close to the United States.  They also don‘t want to see a North Korea that provokes Japan.  China‘s strategic nightmare is a Japan that completely rearms, that develops nuclear weapons itself.  They don‘t want to have North Korea do things that leads to that kind of regional situation, so China will ultimately put its foot down.  The real question, it‘s really been the question for years, is what is China‘s redline.  When does China tell the people in North Korea enough is enough and that‘s the question we don‘t have the answer to. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s step back and take a larger look at the president‘s foreign policy and what‘s going on in the world.  I was struck by what you were quoted in the paper as saying today.  The danger is that Mr. Bush will hand over a White House to a successor that will face a far messier world, with far fewer resources left to cope with it.

Does this mean that the president has left the world less safe?  

HAASS:  My concern is at least as things stand now, after roughly six years of his presidency, the United States is in a worse strategic position than it was.  We have the entire situation in Iraq.  We have Iran and North Korea much farther along the nuclear path, international trade negotiations are stalled.  There‘s been no progress whatsoever in dealing with global climate change.  The United States is more dependent than ever on imported energy.  It‘s hard to see a lot of progress here. 

O‘DONNELL:  Richard, this is interesting, because of course you did work in the Bush administration, and I was also struck by the comments by Bill Kristol today who was fairly critical saying, “North Korea is firing missiles, Iran is going nuclear, Somalia is controlled by radical Islamists.  Iraq isn‘t getting better and Afghanistan is getting worse.  I give the president a lot of credit for hanging tough on Iraq, but I am worried that it has made them too passive in confronting the other threat.”

Have we been too passive in confronting the other threat, because we‘ve been too engaged in Iraq? 

HAASS:  I wouldn‘t necessarily use the word passive, but what I would say is Iraq has absorbed a tremendous amount, and a high percentage of U.S.  energy.  Military strength, our diplomatic energy, the time of policy makers, and as a result we‘re less well situated to deal with these problems.  Clearly countries such as Iran feel they have much greater room to maneuver now than before the United States got bogged down in Iraq. 

O‘DONNELL:  What are we supposed to do in North Korea.  The president, at first, came into office essentially saying that he wanted to totally isolate and not talk to North Korea at all.  Then he seemed to support the six-party talks.  That has not led to much success.  So what now? 

HAASS:  What I would do is basically upgrade the diplomatic effort.  I‘d be prepared to speak to the North Koreans directly.  I wouldn‘t insist that we talk around a table that has six sides to it.  I would put a lot on the table, but more than anything, I would work closely with China.  If there‘s going to be progress with North Korea, it‘s really going to only come about because China is our partner, so I would give up the idea that this North Korean regime is going to fall of its own weight, which the administration was hoping for for years, and I would be willing to talk to them bilaterally and I would put a lot on the table that we would offer and also make it clear what we would demand in the way of them, above all, getting out of the nuclear business. 

O‘DONNELL:  Richard, is there anyone in this administration who supports that?  Pretty much the message from this White House.  I guess I hit the nail on the head with that question.  I mean, you know, it‘s interesting because the president and you the message from the White House the past couple of days is multilateral talks, diplomacy, diplomacy, and interestingly today we heard from some Democrats including Senator Diane Feinstein that said we have to have bilateral talks, we have to speak one-on-one with the North Koreans, but is there anyone in this administration who can convince the president of that, Condi Rice perhaps? 

HAASS:  Well, the president has to convince himself.  I would say there‘s an interesting parallel here.  For years the administration opposed any diplomacy with Iran.  They joined it.  They opposed any sort of bilateral talks.  Now they‘re prepared to enter into those, so it‘s possible that at the end of the day, they would be willing to engage North Korea directly.  Quite honestly, there‘s nothing magical about six party talks.  You can consult with your allies before and after and as we‘ve seen, the six-party approach doesn‘t guarantee success, so I think the administration is foolish to get stuck on the question of how many people sit around the table, they ought to focus on the bottom line. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well it‘s going to be a fascinating debate certainly in the weeks ahead.  The president of course is headed for the G-8 summit, Condi Rice is also expected a trip to Asia, so this issue is not going away.  I‘m sure we‘ll hear more about it.  Anything you want to say about what the president needs to do at the G-8 summit. 

HAASS:  Well, he has a lot of key players there.  He‘s got the Japanese, above all, as well as the Russians, so two of the members of the six party talks.  It‘s important to get them, if possible, around a common policy and signal one way or another to the Chinese what is expected of them.  We ought to make this the test for U.S.-Chinese relations for the next months or even years, and China ought to understand just how high the stakes are, not just for the local situation, not just for North Korea, but for their most important bilateral relationship. 

O‘DONNELL:  You acknowledge, that‘s a tough sell with China. 

HAASS:  It‘s a tough sell, but again, China needs to understand this more than anything else will define the character of their relationship with the United States.  That‘s high stakes for China, given how important the U.S. relationship is to them. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well it‘s fascinating.  Thank you very much Richard Haass. 

I appreciate it. 

HAASS:  Thank you Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  And coming up, what‘s the situation like on the ground in North Korea?  “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof will be here.  And later, could Joe Lieberman go from being a national name to a local loser?   He‘s getting ready to debate his Democratic primary opponent and tonight we‘re going to have live coverage right here on HARDBALL at 7:00 p.m.  Eastern.  By the way, MSNBC‘s Tom Curry has a preview of the debate right now, only on MSNBC.com.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Bush spoke repeatedly today of the starving North Korean population.  And NBC‘s Tom Aspell has more on what life is like inside one of the most isolated countries in the world. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM ASPELL, NBC NEWS - SEOUL:  Very few foreigners are allowed into North Korea, and their visits are closely monitored.  Nevertheless, they can provide a rare glimpse of life inside the world‘s most isolated country. 

(voice-over):  Twenty-two million people in a failed state the size of Mississippi, and most of them hungry, because all available resources go to the military.  Diplomats sometimes get a look inside the communist state. 

JAMES HOARE, FORMER DIPLOMAT TO NORTH KOREA:  Nobody, I think, in North Korea eats well, except maybe a small group in the top leadership, but you don‘t see plump North Koreans.  The children are stunted.

ASPELL:  This British documentary made three years ago showed North Korea to be a bleak country where everybody is encouraged to worship Kim Il Sung, who founded the country, and his son, Kim Jong Il, who runs it now. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He‘s very hardworking for the people, and he does everything for the people. 

ASPELL:  A more recent documentary follows two teenage gymnasts. 

School children start their days with oaths of allegiance to the leader.  There‘s happy family life for the camera, but there is no way to avoid showing electricity blackouts, sometimes 20 a day, even in the capital. 

In contrast to South Korea and its booming economy he lit up every

night, and visible from outer space as the north sits in darkness.  Kim

Jong Il encourages theatrical displays as a means of diverting attention

from the North Korea‘s problems, and away from the lavish lifestyle enjoyed

by the elite. 

MICHAEL GREEN, FMR. DIR. NATL. SECURITY COUNCIL, ASIA AFFAIRS:  That‘s life in North Korea.  Misery for the vast majority, and a pretty good living for a small elite around Kim Jong Il. 

ASPELL:  A leader presiding over a ruined country, but one he hopes to keep isolated for as long as possible. 

(on camera):  Kim Jong Il‘s missiles may be his downfall as the west moves towards more sanctions, which may eventually drive him from power.  Back to you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Tom Aspell.

“New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof traveled to North Korea a year ago and witnessed firsthand how a starving, pariah nation has been able to survive. 

Nicholas, you are one of the few journalists who has been to Pyongyang.  What‘s it like? 

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, “NEW YORK TIMES” COLUMNIST:  It‘s like traveling through the looking glass.  You know, it‘s like no other country I‘ve ever been to.  Places like Iran or Saddam‘s Iraq were oppressive, but you have to recalibrate them to get to the level of North Korea. 

In every home in North Korea, for example, there‘s a seeker on the wall, and it‘s like a radio, except there‘s no turning it off and no way to change the channel.  It wakes you up in the morning with propaganda about the great leader and the dear leader, and it puts you to bed at night with the same kind of thing. 

You know, triplets are taken away from parents when they‘re born to be reared by the state because they‘re considered auspicious.  You know, there‘s all kind of superstition and kind of irreverence for the dear leader, who is now running the country.  It‘s really just the most extraordinary and bizarre and weird and repressive. 

O‘DONNELL:  Those are all great adjectives to describe the place, and I don‘t think many Americans can even begin to understand what it‘s like to wake up and have a microphone, if you will—microphone—not a microphone, but a ...

KRISTOF:  A speaker.

O‘DONNELL:  ...speakerphone in your home with George Bush or something like that broadcasting in there every morning, and I noticed in your article from last year too, you pointed out that everyone must also have a portrait of the father as well as Kim Jong Il, and those are regularly checked up on by the government. 

KRISTOF:  Yes.  Everybody has a little button that—of Kim Il Sung, the great leader on their jacket.  You know, everybody believes that it was the U.S. and the south that started the Korean War, and there‘s—and everybody believes basically that they‘re richer than China. 

You know, until a few people managed to escape to China and then they‘re just absolutely horrified to learn that actually Chinese are way better off than they are.  You know, I think there‘s never been in the history of humanity a country that‘s been as successful in totalitarianism as North Korea, because it‘s not only incredibly repressive, but it uses the technology in a way that no country in the best was ever able to do. 

O‘DONNELL:  And to sort of use the expression of one of your colleagues, Tom Friedman, how is it that the world is flat?  North Korea is certainly not engaged in that.  Nobody has access to computers or the Internet or anything like that.  It‘s the most isolated country in the world. 

KRISTOF:  North Korea is in its own little valley in—you know, far away from anything else.  Your cell phone is taken away from you, your satellite phones are taken away from you as you enter North Korea.  You know, there‘s very little contact with the outside world. 

It‘s beginning to be, you know, a small black-market for short wave radios, for example, and for video cassettes that come in from China, but that‘s a black-market.  They‘re illegal.

And periodically, the North Korean government will turn of electricity to an apartment block and then go through and, of course, video cassettes are stuck in a video player if the electricity goes out, so then they just go through and find out who has got a video cassette if their video player and they see what it is and then the family that has anything considered counterrevolutionary, you know, is in very serious trouble. 

O‘DONNELL:  Kim Jong Il has been described as a crazy man by some. 

What do we know about some of the odd characteristics that he has? 

KRISTOF:  I think that‘s actually a mistake.  Originally, the view was that he was kind of a whacko and, you know, a sex fiend and there were all kinds of stories about him.  But, in fact, we‘ve come to know more about him in recent years, partly from defectors and partly from people, you know, who have met him, including Madeleine Albright.

And, in fact, the sense one gets is that he‘s, you know—he‘s certainly crazy in some ways, and he kidnapped a South Korean movie director because he wanted to improve the North Korean film industry, but this is—you get the sense that this is one rational guy who does everything he does, including launching missiles, as a pragmatic, calculating gesture. 

And, you know, the bottom line is that he‘s still in power, and the Soviet communists aren‘t, you know, the Mongolian communists aren‘t.  There are an awful lot of other regimes that have fallen, and Kim Jong Il is still in power.

O‘DONNELL:  I read once that he claims to like to play golf and that he shoots a 36 on 18 holes, which of course we know is practically impossible.  What is, do you think, the policy, of the United States, well, President Bush, but first tried to essentially isolate North Korea and then he decided to engage in the six party negotiations, has any of that worked and does the policy of further isolating North Korea work or does a policy of a very deep engagement help to open up this closed society. 

KRISTOF:  I think trying to isolate North Korea is playing into their hands.  It‘s exactly what they want.  They‘re trying to be isolated, but you know, more broadly, I think if you look at our policy, it seems to me that it has failed.  Now I can‘t say that I know how to manage North Korea, because after all, if I did, then I would be getting more visas.  It‘s an incredibly hard country to figure out what the policy is, but the bottom line is for all the problems with the Clinton administration policy, at least we managed to freeze their plutonium for eight years.  In contrast, under the Bush administration, he started with approximately two weapons worth of plutonium at the beginning of this Bush administration, and now there are perhaps seven weapons worth and it‘s increasing by at least one weapon a year.  And the missile technology is improving.  Time is not on our side, and it seems to me, this policy has failed and we need to try something else and to me, I think the only real alternative we can try is some kind of broader engagement, including direct talks.  I think it‘s hard to know, but I think the present policy has abjectly failed. 

O‘DONNELL:  Alright, well thank you Nicholas Kristof for that interesting look behind the scenes in Pyongyang. 

KRISTOF:  My pleasure.

O‘DONNELL:  Up next, it‘s a Senate showdown in Connecticut.  We‘re just 90 minutes away from the hot Senate debate between Joe Lieberman and fellow Democrat Ned Lamont.  Could Lieberman lose his August primary?  Could he win easily as an independent in November?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT:  After 18 years of working for, fighting for, and delivering for all the people of Connecticut, I want the opportunity to put my case before all the people of Connecticut in November. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Senator Joe Lieberman this week saying he‘ll run as an independent for reelection if it comes to that.  Just six years ago, Lieberman was the Democrat‘s pick to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.  Today largely because of his strong support for the Iraq war, he could be in danger of losing his state‘s Democratic primary.  Tonight, Lieberman will face off with Democratic challenger Ned Lamont in Connecticut, and HARDBALL will have live coverage of that debate right here on MSNBC at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.  Is Lieberman in danger?  Will his support for the Iraq war force him to run as an independent?  Gerry Brooks is an anchor for NBC affiliate WVIT in Hartford, Connecticut, which is the host of tonight‘s debate.  Let me ask you, how hot is this race in Connecticut? 

GERRY BROOKS, WVIT - HARTFORD, CT:  He went to plan B this week, Norah.  He is hedging his bet.  He says he will run as an independent if he doesn‘t win the August 8 primary, so I would say his people are telling him it‘s way too close for comfort right now. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Joe Lieberman has been a senator in Connecticut for many years, was the vice-presidential nominee for Al Gore, has a national profile and now is facing this very tough race from an anti-war challenger, Ned Lamont, who is very wealthy and using lots of his own money.  Has this split the Democratic party in Connecticut over the Iraq war? 

BROOKS:  Well, basically they‘re fighting the Iraq war here in Connecticut.  That‘s the reason we‘re even going to be here tonight having a debate.  Joe Lieberman has been solidly in President Bush‘s corner and Ned Lamont is the Democrat who has stepped up and said enough is enough and has the money to wage a campaign, talking about putting another million dollars of his own into the campaign and Lieberman has not been shy about identifying Lamont as the “Greenwich Multimillionaire” in all of his ads and mailings, so it is on the verge of bitter here. 

O‘DONNELL:  It sounds like a nasty primary race underway, and of course, we‘ll probably here more of that in tonight‘s debate.  I read also to that Ned Lamont, who was this anti-war challenger to Senator Joe Lieberman and his campaign, have been putting out buttons where it shows the president kissing Joe Lieberman and it says Bush‘s favorite Democrat, so that‘s one of the campaign things is that he‘s been trying to tie Senator Lieberman to President Bush.  How is that playing amongst Connecticut Democrats? 

BROOKS:  Well, you should have been in Willimantic on the 4th of July where they have what they call the boom box parade, it‘s been going on for years now and it‘s full of wild ones and whackos and just plain fun, and there was a papier machet float of the kiss, Lieberman and Bush.  So the Lamont people are playing this up every chance they get.  And of course Lamont is the darling of the so-called new media, the bloggers who are playing up the kiss whenever they can. 

O‘DONNELL:  And Gerry, you read the blogs every day, right? 

BROOKS:  I have subjected myself to the blogs more in the last week preparing for this debate than I have entirely before.  And I‘m amazed at the depth of their knowledge, their passion, and I guess my only question is, do they ever get out of the house? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, it‘s so interesting, because that‘s why we‘re focused on this Connecticut Senate race and why a lot of strategists in Washington and the parties are focused on that race up in Connecticut, because a lot of people see it as a litmus test for the Democratic party.  What direction will they take with it comes to the Iraq war?  What will it mean for the Democrats who are running in 2008?  And what is the power of the blogosphere, particularly the liberal blogosphere, who has taken up the cause or the campaign of Ned Lamont who is mounting a fairly strong challenge to Senator Lieberman.  What are the latest polls there showing? 

BROOKS:  Well, it depends on which one you look at, which one you believe.  I heard he it‘s as close as six.  There‘s also talk within the campaigns that Lieberman is hoping to avoid a blowout.  It could be as much as Lieberman by 20.  Nobody really knows.  We‘re going to find out August 8th.  A lot of it will depend on turnout, and it‘s the bloggers really who are encouraging the Lamont folks to get out and vote.  They could very well win a primary for their guy, but it remains to be seen whether or not they could win an election for their guy in a three-way race. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the big news this week was that Senator Hillary Clinton, some see it as a snub, as well as Senator Kerry, there were others, Al Gore, who said they would vote for the Democratic nominee, whoever that will be.  Do you think that hurts Lieberman there in Connecticut?

BROOKS:  Well, it‘s certainly a very sensitive issue for Joe Lieberman and for all of those people.  This is an issue I‘m sure they don‘t want to deal with.  Chris Dodd, Lieberman‘s colleague, hasn‘t dealt with it.  He hasn‘t said a word about it, nor will he.  But it‘s interesting that the last two men to run for president on the Democratic side, Gore and Kerry, wouldn‘t even endorse Joe Lieberman for the primary, so that‘s the latest development, Kerry yesterday refusing to endorse Lieberman for the primary.  And of course Gore was his running mate.  These guys, Lieberman almost made history with Gore six years ago, as the first Jewish vice-presidential candidate. 

O‘DONNELL:  We look forward to watching you tonight in the debate. 

Good luck to you.  Thank you, Gerry Brooks. 

BROOKS:  Norah, thank you so much for the time.  See you at 7:00.

O‘DONNELL:  Our pleasure.

Up next, how did Senator Lieberman go from vice-presidential nominee to a potential primary loser?  We‘ll ask “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and the “Washington Posts‘s” Chris Cillizza, as we get ready for HARDBALL‘s coverage of the debate between Lieberman and Democratic challenger Ned Lamont at 7:00 Eastern, tonight on MSNBC.

By the way, tomorrow is Friday and that means one thing on HARDBALL—time for the HotShots.  Don‘t miss it.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, in for Chris Matthews.  Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was his party‘s vice-presidential nominee in 2000.  Tonight he‘s in the political fight of his life as he faces fellow Democrat Ned Lamont in a debate that could go a long way in deciding the primary.  Is Lieberman in trouble? 

Howard Fineman is chief political correspondent for “Newsweek,” and Chris Cillizza is a reporter and the author of “The Fix,” for washingtonpost.com.

Howard, let me start with you.  The reason we are so focused on this race, in many ways, is because it‘s about a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic party, isn‘t it? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  I think it is.  And I think there are several Democratic parties and I think Joe Lieberman has lost the allegiance of at least one and maybe two of them.  One he‘s lost for sure is the Internet-based anti-war party of Howard Dean, of moveon.org, of DailyKos, et cetera, all those people who back Dean and have been against the war from the time that Joe Lieberman supported and still supports the president on it.  He‘s lost them, he has the establishment Democrats here in Washington.  The fight is going to be over workaday Democrats in Connecticut, and I don‘t know if he can win them. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you about that, Chris.  This is in many ways a little microcosm debate election about the Iraq war within the Democratic party.  Some people would argue—lots of consultants and everybody looking at this race as perhaps a litmus test, too, for 2008.  How have all of those who want to be president, the Democrats, sort of positioned themselves around this race? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST:  Well, of course, they‘re all focusing on 2006, Norah, so they‘re not worried about 2008.  So, how dare you?!  But, of course they‘re thinking about 2008.  The most interesting one, by far, was New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who as everyone knows, is the front-runner for 2008, she‘s got the most—likely to have the most money, certainly ahead in polling.  She came out on July 4 or July 3, one of those days and said look, I‘m going to support Joe Lieberman right now and through the primary, but if he loses that primary, I will not support a Joe Lieberman independent candidacy.

So the problem that Lieberman is dealing with as it relates to 2008 is, this is politics.  These people recognize that they need to act in their own self-interest and Hillary Clinton needs to make nice with, as Howard pointed out, needs to make nice with these folks on the liberal left. 

O‘DONNELL:  So that‘s so interesting.  Let‘s talk about that.  In other words, Hillary Clinton took this position on this particular Senate race, saying I‘ll support who the Democratic nominee is—which is kind of like sorry, Joe, my old friend for 30 years—because she has had a little bit of an estrangement from the net roots, the blogosphere, the DailyKos of the world, who think she is more political than principled. 

FINEMAN:  I hate to disagree with the hostess of HARDBALL, but a little—

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m just keeping the seat warm.

FINEMAN:  A little bit of a disagreement is an understatement.  They‘re furious at her, that Internet-based anti-war wing I‘m talking about, are furious at here, because even though she was very carefully crafted in what she said back in 2002, she supported the original resolution to go into Iraq, if necessary, with force, and she‘s been very careful and cautious, to be a sort of pro-defense pro-defense-spending, fairly hawk-ish Democrat in New York state.  She‘s visited Fort Drum in Upstate, more that she‘s visited the West Side of Manhattan.

O‘DONNELL:  Just want to remind everybody, what‘s wrong with Joe Lieberman in the minds of some of these Democrats is that he has been a supporter of the Iraq war, as was Senator Clinton, but in the past couple of weeks, too, he voted against both Democratic proposals, which would have called for some sort of phased withdrawal or timetable. 

CILLIZZA:  I think that‘s absolutely right.  I think, though, it goes a step beyond that.  If I can sort of take a shot at it.  I think what it‘s about is not just that Joe Lieberman supported the war and has come out and said, you know, voted against Democratic amendments, designed to propose a timetable recently.  I think what it is is, people who are against him pick up a sanctimony there that they do not like, that they see him as saying, when he came out and said, When we criticize the president in times of war, we do so at our nation‘s peril.  It‘s sort of this idea that, not only do I disagree with you, but you are fundamentally incorrect and I am scolding you about this.  And I think that‘s—

FINEMAN:  And also that he‘s Bush‘s man in the Democratic Party. 

O‘DONNELL:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  To the point where, there‘s that now-famous video of them embracing on the floor of Congress.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, they‘re making buttons of that in Connecticut, of the two of them kissing.

FINEMAN:  There are buttons that Chris was telling me about—what was it, a parade?

CILLIZZA:  There was a parade in Willimantic, Connecticut, over July 4, and there was a huge papier-mache construction of Bush and Lieberman embracing, so I mean, this has become the ...

FINEMAN:  That‘s the kind of puppet theater you want if you‘re Joe Lieberman. 

CILLIZZA:  This has become the image—Howard is exactly right.  This has become the image of the campaign and as we know in politics, a symbol, a picture, is worth a thousand words and for a lot of people that embrace shows that Lieberman has given Bush an out.  He‘s always given him an out.  Well Joe Lieberman agrees with me on this.  Well, Joe Lieberman thinks we‘re doing the right thing, and Democrats are fed up. 

O‘DONNELL:  And didn‘t, to some degree, Senator Lieberman opens up a Pandora‘s box, by saying if I lose the Democratic primary, I‘ll run as an independent, which forced many of these other senators, like Senator Clinton, Senator Kerry, to say, I‘ll vote for the Democratic nominee.

FINEMAN:  No, there‘s a procedural reason why he had to do that, because if he loses the primary, which is possible, he has to get all these signatures in within a day.  But up in Connecticut, they don‘t get the procedural part of it.  They think he‘s already said hey, I‘m an independent, so he‘s been forced by the way the law works to undercut his own standing even further because people don‘t get the details of that. 

O‘DONNELL:  And does this race and the attention on this race play into the Republicans‘ argument the Democratic Party is divided on the Iraq war, Chris? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, you know, I‘ve heard a lot of Republicans say there are two, possibly three, very competitive House races in November on the ballot.  There‘s a race in the second district, there‘s a race in the fourth district. 

O‘DONNELL:  In Connecticut.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Chris Shays, Rob Simmons, and potentially Nancy Johnson in the fifth.  I‘ve heard Republicans say this divide is going to help our guys.  You know, for people who are against the Iraq war in the Democratic Party, you‘re going to see a division there.

You‘re going to see this very divisive primary with the potential that Joe Lieberman, an Independent, pro-Iraq war candidate is going to be on the ballot, so it‘s not going to be this simple division, Republicans favor war, Democrats oppose war, and that‘s going to help them. 

O‘DONNELL:  But I love that Daily Kos, who is one of the most famous liberal bloggers out there, is essentially now keeping a scorecard about who is for Joe Lieberman as an Independent and who will support the Democratic nominee. 

And, of course, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, John Kerry and Bob Menendez are all those who would support whoever the Democratic nominee is, and then he has Ben Nelson and Ken Salazar on the other side. 

FINEMAN:  Actually, Kerry has gone one step further, and he‘s not even supporting Lieberman in the Democratic primary, because he‘s trying to be to the left of Hillary on the war and as usual, Kerry is trying to, you know, carefully position himself on several sides and this is what he‘s trying to do in that race. 

O‘DONNELL:  And then what does it say about Senator Biden, who is going to go campaigning with Lieberman, and Obama who has already campaigned with Lieberman? 

CILLIZZA:  And I would just add two others—Boxer.  I mean, Barbara Boxer from California is clearly in disagreement with Joe Lieberman on the war and she‘s going to campaign with him.  What it says, I think, is look the Senate is an old boys club.  There are women in it, but it‘s an old boys club and the first rule of that is protect your own.

And I think that‘s what we‘re seeing, but it‘s only going to be to an extent.  I think we‘re going to see the political establishment with Lieberman up until the time when he loses, and when that happens, I think you‘re see a lot of folks jump off.  

FINEMAN:  But we don‘t know he‘s going to lose because he‘s going to focus on working-class Democrats, that‘s why he‘s talking about Lamont as this wealthy, you know, multi-millionaire from Greenwich and all of that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Because there‘s not a lot of millionaires in Connecticut.

FINEMAN:  And that‘s—I know.  I know, but that‘s the part of the constituency up for grabs. 

O‘DONNELL:  I‘ve got to go.  I‘ve got to go.  Thank you so much, Chris Cillizza and Howard Fineman. 

And remember, watch HARDBALL tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for the only televised debate on the schedule right now between Senator Joe Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont. 

And it‘s blog-mania on HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.  Go there now to read hardblogger all-star Hilary Rosen preview of tonight‘s debate, and later, a whole bunch of hardbloggers will be live, blogging the debate while it‘s happening.  Look at them all there.

Up next, Republican strategist Ed Rolling, and “Boston Herald” columnist Mike Barnicle will talk about the multiple showdowns between President Bush and what he calls the axis of evil. 

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The entire world continues to zero in on communist North Korea.  Is Kim Jong Il itching for a nuclear war, or is he trying to win concessions from the United States? 

Plus after three terms in the Senate, Joe Lieberman faces the fight of his life, and here to dig into big developments at home and around the world are political pros Mike Barnicle—he‘s an MSNBC contributor—and Republican strategist Ed Rollins. 

Let‘s take a look at George Bush today at a press conference laying out his approach to North Korea. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Diplomacy takes awhile, particularly with you‘re dealing with a variety of partners, and so we‘re spending time diplomatically making sure that voice is unified. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Ed, the message from this president is diplomacy is the way forward, with North Korea.  That‘s so different from a lot of the language we heard with Iraq. 

ED ROLLINS, FMR. REAGAN WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  Well, he has no choice, because of our commitment in Iraq and, obviously, with Iran shaking its fist at us.  You know, you need partners and certainly with North Korea, we definitely need partners, the Russians, the Chinese, Japan and others. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mike, something very interesting happened today from the White House, which is normally they tell us at like 9:00 in the morning there‘s going to be a press conference in 30 minutes, and there‘s reporters running to the White House. 

Well, today the White House said there‘s going to be a press conference tomorrow in Chicago.  Not at the White House in the East Room, but out in the heartland, where the president is going to be trying to talk more to regular folks, to reporters, sort of take the message on the road.  Do you think this is part of a retooled White House strategy? 

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Oh, I think it, Norah, don‘t you?  I mean, over the past three or four weeks since Tony Snow came on board, since there‘s been a new chief of staff, I think clearly the White House is taking a new direction with an aim toward the off-year elections up this fall, and presenting a fairly new image of the president of the United States as sort of a project outreach, a guy who is out there in the country, willing to answer questions. 

He does pretty well in these press conferences, he looks amiable, he doesn‘t get the pressed that much, and they can end the press conference when they want to.  I think it works well for him. 

O‘DONNELL:  Ed, what do you think about this new strategy?  Is it a good one for the president to take the message on the road and sort of get rid of what they call us, the filter, the national media? 

ROLLINS:  I always think it‘s good for a president to get on the road.  I think it invigorates them.  The president I worked for, Ronald Reagan, when he got out on the road, he was much happier, and I think anytime you get away from the Washington press corps, you‘re a lot better off. 

So I think it‘s a good strategy, and I think on the president‘s birthday, I think happy birthday to him and I think anytime he can look like a strong leader, which he has the last few days, is a positive thing. 

O‘DONNELL:  It is his birthday, and we‘re going to talk more about that in just a minute.  We‘ll be right back with Mike Barnicle and Ed Rollins in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I am with MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle, and Republican strategist Ed Rollins.  Well today baby boomer George Bush turns 60 years old.  Let‘s take a look at how he marked his birthday at a press conference earlier today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Come on up, come on, come on.  Come on get up here.  Anybody else have thief birthday today.  It is your birthday? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If we start to get more I will start to question it. Another one, happy birthday. 

BUSH:  Today is your birthday, awesome.  He just told me he‘s 30 years old.  Happy birthday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  That was the president joking about Richard Benedetto, who writes for the “USA Today,” as he invited reporters up there to share his birthday with him.  But the president also shares a special day with a White House luminary as well, 85 years ago today Nancy Davis Reagan was born, and as first lady she is credited with returning elegance to the White House.  She was known for her studious gaze on her beloved husband and made a political fashion statement with her red dresses.  Throughout the Reagan years, she championed her own causes, including the just say no campaign against drugs.  Today she is an advocate for stem cell research and through her tireless work with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, she continues to preserve the life and legacy of her husband, the 40th president of the United States.  We wish her a happy birthday, and also the president of the United States.  So let me ask two baby boomers.  What do we make of the president turning 60? 

MIKE BARNICLE, “BOSTON HERALD”:  Well you know, it‘s funny.  The impression you have of this president, due largely, I think, to us in the collective media, is that he is much younger than 60, they way we write about him, the way the thought process has been injected into the political blood stream of so many Americans, they think of him as the kid compared to Cheney.  The kid as president.  Sixty years of age.  He doesn‘t look 60, he is in great shape, and happy birthday, Mr. President. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Ed, you would not challenge him on a bike ride, would you? 

BARNICLE:  I would not challenge him on a walk down the hall way. 

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGISTS:  I would not challenge Barnicle on the bike ride.  He is a very fit president, and that‘s part of his charm, and there is a joviality to him that we appreciate sometimes.  I just want to say one thing about Mrs. Reagan.  President Reagan would not have been president without her guidance, her enthusiasm, her encouragement and it‘s amazing to me that she is 85.  She always seemed so young and youthful, and still a very beautiful woman. 

O‘DONNELL:  Nancy Reagan said that her role in life was to be Mrs.  Ronald Reagan, and she took that very, very seriously.  She said my life began when I became we, and she took that marriage very, very seriously, and devoted so much to it, as you know, and of course the beautiful love letters that we read between Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.  They truly had a Hollywood love story, did they not? 

ROLLINS:  They were a great team.  I have to tell you that on many hard days, he could go lay in the pillow next to her and have somebody that he knew truly loved him and respected him. 

O‘DONNELL:  And Mike, let me ask you about President Bush because you were talking about him turning 60 years old, it‘s so interesting because, we are now halfway into the year, and we went back and looked, and just about every week this year we have been talking about the fact that he is getting older and turning 60.  He is almost obsessed with it.  He talked about it at the state of the union address saying I‘m just one of the 75 million baby boomers, that‘s why we have to address Medicare and Social Security.  But I think it also kind of shows that he is reflecting about that big number, the big 60, and what it means for him as he is in his final years in office, about his legacy. 

BARNICLE:  I don‘t think that there is doubt about that.  He could not help but reflect.  Here is a man, a young man, at 60, I choose to describe him as, when 20 years ago when his father was active in politics, vice president and president of the United States, I am sure the then 40-year-old George W. Bush, looked at his father‘s peers at 60, 65, boy those are old guys, but now he‘s 60, and it‘s not that old, and he knows he can see the 18th green in terms of his presidency.  He‘s walking up that fairway, he has two years to go, and he has to figure out what he wants to be remembered for, is it going to be Iraq?  He has to think of a much bigger picture than that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Ed Rollins, at the beginning of this year the president had a press conference and he said we‘re going to sprint across the finish line, we‘re not going to limp like a lame duck.  He may not have much control over that, but it suggests with this press conference tomorrow, his efforts to campaign and his surprise visit to Baghdad, this will be a very energetic presidency for the next couple years. 

ROLLINS:  He has a good month.  I think the last month, as a 59 year old has been probably the best he‘s had in a couple years.  So my sense is that there are big challenges ahead and tough decision to be made, but I think he is fully engaged and will not start his retirement too early. 

O‘DONNELL:  What do you think the calculation will be in terms of the midterm on North Korea, and immigration and Iraq, which clearly are going to be the top issues?

ROLLINS:  I think the critical thing is going to be immigration, the economy, basically convincing the nation that it‘s still more secure under a Republican leadership than it would be under Democrats, and I think that‘s the overarching themes. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mike?

BARNICLE:  Well, we have a terribly self observed country, and I think most people unfortunately are focused on the $3.15, $3.35 for gasoline somewhat at the expense of Iraq.  I think a lot of people look at Iraq every single day.  They tune it out to a great extent, but it‘s always with us, and they wonder what are we doing there?  And the president will have to address that right now, not just in the off year elections coming up.

O‘DONNELL:  Alright, well thank you to Ed Rollins and Mike Barnicle.  And we will be back in one hour for live “Decision 2006” HARDBALL coverage of the Lieberman-Lamont debate.  Right now “THE ABRAMS REPORT.”

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

END   

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