updated 8/28/2006 12:35:34 PM ET 2006-08-28T16:35:34

Guests: Rocky Vaccarella, Ben Marble, Dana Milbank, Roger Simon, Steve Laffey, Steve Jarding, Diane Farrell

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Hot politics, a big upset in little, old Rhode Island, the big noise in the Old Dominion, a Connecticut Yankee at Don Imus‘ court, three ring circus, plus the guy who told Dick Cheney what to do with himself.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

The political drumbeat for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld‘s resignation is getting louder the closer we get to the fall elections.  The big question is will President Bush cave to the pressure and dump Rumsfeld in an attempt to save Republican control of Congress, or will the president, praised for his loyalty but criticized for his stubbornness, continue to support his embattled defense secretary? 

The latest politician to call on the president to fire Rumsfeld and set a timetable to get out of Iraq is Republican Congressman Chris Shays, just back from his 14th trip to Iraq.  Today, the White House responded, repeating the president‘s strong support for the defense secretary. 

U.S. Congressman Shays, once a big hawk on the war in Iraq, is in a tough fight to keep his seat.  And later tonight, we‘ll talk to his Democratic opponent. 

Plus, as we approach the first anniversary of Katrina, a bayou brawl over how Bush handled the crisis.  In one corner, the man who told the vice president what to do with himself; in the other, Rockey, the Republican, who went to Washington, eager for four more years—four more years—of George Bush. 

First, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report on Rumsfeld under fire. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In half a dozen cities across Iraq today, it was another bad day of chaos and violence.  Gunmen attacked a mosque, a roadside bomb blew up a police patrol, a hand grenade killed six people at a market. 

In Baghdad, where five bombs went off yesterday, U.S. forces are in the midst of a counter-offensive.  Violent attacks have dropped slightly from 25 per day to 21, but that is still 50 percent higher than the 14 attacks per day at the beginning of the year.  And a new U.N. report says that 17,000 Iraqis have been killed over the past seven months. 

With the majority of Americans calling the war a mistake, pro-war lawmakers facing reelection battles are growing increasingly nervous.  And the pressure is building again on President Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. 

This week, the public calls for Rumsfeld‘s resignation came from House Republican Chris Shays and Senator Joe Lieberman, the president‘s favorite former Democrat.  And Republican Senator John McCain, while saying Rumsfeld is the president‘s decision, added ...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I have been asked a number of times if I had confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld, and the answer is no. 

SHUSTER:  Rumsfeld has long been a controversial figure.  It was his idea to use a smaller force in Iraq than several U.S. generals recommended.  And he told HARDBALL that President Bush, ironically, never asked him if the U.S. should invade. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you advise the president to go to war? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Yes.  He did not ask me, is the question.  And to my knowledge, there are any number of people he did not ask. 

MATTHEWS:  Did that surprise you as secretary of defense? 

RUMSFELD:  It was fine.  Well, I thought it was interesting. 

SHUSTER:  Two years ago when Rumsfeld was asked by U.S. troops about a lack of armor, he replied ...

RUMSFELD:  You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time. 

SHUSTER:  And it was Rumsfeld‘s leadership that was blamed in part for the command culture at Abu Ghraib Prison.  Following the revelations there about U.S. military guards, Rumsfeld privately offered to resign.  President Bush said no. 

But earlier this year, when the sectarian violence in Iraq began to spread, the calls for Rumsfeld‘s resignation grew louder.  Half a dozen retired generals publicly urged that Rumsfeld be fired. 

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  Donald Rumsfeld is still at the helm of the Department of Defense, which is absolutely outrageous.  He served up our great military a huge bowl of chicken feces, and ever since then, our military and our country have been trying to turn this bowl into chicken salad.  And it‘s not working. 

SHUSTER:  In April, President Bush stood firm. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I hear the voices and I read the front page and I know the speculation, but I‘m the decider, and I decide what is best, and what‘s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense. 

SHUSTER:  But that is coming with a political cost.  Last month, Rumsfeld‘s top Iraq commander acknowledged the situation is deteriorating. 

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER OF U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND:  I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I‘ve seen it in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war. 

SHUSTER:  Top Democrats who supported the war then opened fire on Rumsfeld. 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  Because of the administration‘s strategic blenders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. 

SHUSTER:  Today at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld did not address his critics.  Instead, he focused on meetings with Iraq‘s deputy prime minister, who later provided Rumsfeld with some political cover. 

ADIL ABDEL-MAHDI, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER:  We are really very grateful, Secretary Rumsfeld, for all your efforts, all your assistance to Iraq and to the Iraqi people. 

SHUSTER:  And regarding the situation U.S. troops are facing, Rumsfeld offered this. 

RUMSFELD:  Those folks over there are doing a terrific job.  They are the best trained, the best led, the best equipped forces on the face of the earth, in the history of the country. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  White House officials say President Bush‘s position on Rumsfeld has not changed and that the defense secretary has the president‘s full confidence and support.  But Bush supporters in Congress are increasingly terrified about the mood of the electorate and about all of those voters who want to see somebody held accountable for the war‘s mistakes. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Steve Laffey is the mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island.  He is challenging Senator Lincoln Chafee in the Republican primary this September 12th, just two-and-a-half weeks from now. 

Let me ask you, Mr. Laffey, can you win the general election or only the primary?  What are you hoping for here? 

MAYOR STEVE LAFFEY (R-RI), CANDIDATE OF U.S. SENATE:  No, I‘m not just here for the divisional playoffs, Chris.  I‘m here to win the whole thing.  When I was a kid, they told me I would never go to college.  They told me I never went to Harvard Business School. 

Our family didn‘t have any money.  They told me I would never run a southern-based brokerage firm because I was educated in the north.  And they told me I‘d never be the mayor.  So just keep telling me I can‘t do things, but we‘re here to play for all the marbles. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m not telling you anything.  You do what you want as far as I‘m concerned, Mr. Mayor, but I‘m looking at a poll here that shows you down 58 to 26.  Did you ever have that many thousands of people telling you you could not do something? 

LAFFEY:  No.  No, you cannot poll a general election until the primary is over.  You just can‘t do it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

LAFFEY:  I mean, you could—by the reason, there is a really good reason why people should be polling the primary election but no one seems to do it.  No.  After we get done with Senator Chafee, they will then focus our attention on Mr. Whitehouse. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Chafee a rhino? 

LAFFEY:  You can call him what you want, but he ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m asking you to call him something.  Is he a rhino?  That‘s a favorite term of conservatives in your party.  If people are Republicans in name only.  Is he a Republican in name only?

LAFFEY:  But I‘m not a conservative.  He is an irrelevant senator.  He has accomplished almost nothing down there.  He is weak on terrorism, he just hasn‘t done anything.  The nation and Washington are heading in the financial direction, in the wrong direction, Chris.  We have got to stand up to the special interests. 

It‘s not about Republicans or Democrats.  It‘s not about one party attacking the other.  It‘s about getting a new national energy policy to win the war on terror.  That‘s what we have to do.  That‘s why I‘m running, and that‘s what I‘m running on. 

MATTHEWS:  Give us an idea, if you can, for people who don‘t know you, Mr. Mayor of say—give me three, or four, or five names of senators in office right now that you respect and would like to be like. 

LAFFEY:  Well, I certainly respect Senator Coburn and what he has done on pork-barrel spending.  I certainly respect John McCain for what I actually just heard him say on your show here.  We do have to, I think, replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  And it‘s about accountability, so there is a couple I respect.  You know, I don‘t follow every elected official, but those are two people that I respect for different reasons. 

MATTHEWS:  Who was the first one? 

LAFFEY:  Senator Coburn out of Oklahoma, and what he‘s trying to do to stop this wasteful pork-barrel spending.  He is getting senators to vote again on the bridge to nowhere.  He is getting people to try to be transparent with what‘s going on down there in Washington.  And as I‘m knocking on doors all over Rhode Island, you know, with my family and going door to door, people care.  They want to know why their money is being wasted. 

And they want to know why the government, including the President and Senator Chafee, have failed us after 9/11 and not developed a national energy policy like the which of putting a man on the moon to finally get us off foreign oil.  I want to see solar panels on every roof.  We need 20-year production and consumption credits to do that.  And we‘re not doing it at all because the big oil companies, Chris, have too much power down there. 

It‘s a lot like I have been mayor of Cranston.  There‘s a very powerful special interest in Rhode Island like the International Labor Crossing Guard Union.  We fired them.  We had a two-year battle.  Wasteful school spending, we stood up to it and we won.  That‘s what has to happen down in Washington.  Fight the special interests, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, who would you fire in Washington?  You fired the crossing guards up there in Cranston.  Who would you fire in Washington.

LAFFEY:  Well, I‘ll tell you what, I do think the secretary of defense should step down, not because he‘s a bad American.  He‘s a good American.  But I come from the business world, and when you‘re not getting the job done, you make replacements.  It‘s very regular in business that you replace people when they can‘t get the job done. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the president doing the job? 

LAFFEY:  I agree with the president on some things, but I‘m telling you he‘s failed on two major things.

MATTHEWS:  Is he doing the job, and is he doing the job in Iraq? 

Simple question.

LAFFEY:  No, no.  No, we‘re not getting the job done in Iraq.  We‘re

not getting—because we haven‘t asked the American people, Chris, to do

something to help people win the war on terror, so we need that national

energy policy

energy policy and we have to secure our borders.  It should have been the number one and two things we did after September 11, 2001.  We didn‘t do it.  We still have to do it now. 

But down in Washington I watch on TV a bunch of U.S. senators trying to hand out amnesty for illegal aliens and trying to allow foreign workers to make more money than Americans.  That‘s wrong.  The bill we need now in the United States Senate and Congress is to secure our borders first and then enforce the laws against employers.  That will help our immigration problem, but it will also help our national security that we need so desperately to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Steve Laffey, I‘m amazing—I‘m agreeing on you a lot of this stuff.  Thank you, sir.  I never met you before; I like you—you‘re great.  You are great!

LAFFEY:  You‘re a good man.

MATTHEWS:  Keep up the energy.  I love it. 

LAFFEY:  We‘re going to win.  Come on up to Rhode Island.  We‘ll drive around in my RV.

MATTHEWS:  I tell you, it sounds like you‘re going to win.  Anyway, good luck. 

LAFFEY:  We are going to win—the whole thing.

Mayor Laffey, Steve Laffey of Cranston, the home of Jenny Cavalleri from “Love Story.”  Anyway, they‘re going to have a debate—WJR up there in Providence.  Somebody just pulled it off the screen.  That‘s tomorrow night.

Coming up, another HARDBALL hot race:  the macaca fight in Virginia. 

Is Jim Webb ever going to catch up to George Allen?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  One of six key races in the upcoming November elections:  the state of Virginia, Senator George Allen seems to be losing ground to his opponent, but not any good polling yet on that.  Democrat Jim Webb, a former Marine and secretary of the Navy for President Reagan‘s running against him.  Steve Jarding‘s the political adviser for Mr. Webb.

Has Mr. Webb taken advantage of this “macaca” remark enough to gain a real shot at winning this thing? 

STEVE JARDING, POLITICAL ADVISER FOR JIM WEBB (D-VA):  I think he had a shot before.  Allen‘s negatives have been in the mid- to high 30s throughout this campaign in any of the polling that you‘ve seen, even pre-primary for Webb.  This whole incident with the slur, or the comment, that Allen made, his negatives have gone up. 

MATTHEWS:  Why are you hesitating to call it a slur? 

JARDING:  I‘m not—

MATTHEWS:  You said comment—you just retracted that.

JARDING:  No, you retracted it.

MATTHEWS:  No, you said slur, then you said comment.  I got a tape here.  Why did you withdraw—

JARDING:  I didn‘t retract it.  Call it what you want.  It was—

MATTHEWS:  Why wouldn‘t you call it a slur? 

JARDING:  I do call it a slur.  I think it was a slur. 

MATTHEWS:  What else could macaca mean?  Monkey or North African.

JARDING:  But even almost worse than that, the glee that he took out of it.  It was a person of color in a primarily all-white audience.  There was something wrong with that.

I also, by the way, take great issue with—George Allen apparently polled on this.  And we‘ve got a volunteer in our office who got polled the other night.  “Should he have apologized.”  “Did he apologize too much?”  If he‘s got to take a poll to figure out whether he should apologize—his own campaign manager apparently doesn‘t think he should have.  The whole thing was very bizarre, Chris, and I—

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s doing—there is a theory out there that he is doing it both ways.  He is apologizing for the moderate white liberals and the African-Americans who might vote for him, at the same he is sticking it in a way that suggests to the white conservatives, here‘s a guy who isn‘t going to be politically correct for you, that he is willing to take on the establishment. 

JARDING:  Well, that somehow he is being martyred. 

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, martyr is the word.  Have you noticed that‘s how he‘s

playing it, like, ‘I am the one that was slurred.‘

JARDING:  Yes, it appears that that‘s what Dick Wadhams is doing.  If you saw the e-mail that Wadhams, his campaign manager, sent out, it suggests, woe is George Allen, they are picking on him, let‘s get fired up, let‘s go beat up the liberals.  Frankly, that‘s offensive.  These guys have to learn to cut their losses.  It‘s on tape, for gosh sakes.  It‘s been—

60 million people worldwide have seen this thing.

You watch it, Chris, and you—and I think this is where it hurts Allen the most.  If you asked people before this tape, name one thing about George Allen that you like, they‘ll say, I think he‘s a nice guy.  You watch that tape, that‘s not a nice guy. 

MATTHEWS:  What is he on that tape?

JARDING:  He‘s a bully.  He‘s a mean-spirited man. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean he took the odd man out, the kid that didn‘t look like everybody else in the room and made fun of him.

JARDING:  Yeah—it‘s a 20-year-old kid, a person of color in an all-white audience, and he makes fun of him.  And as the audience laughs, he laughs out louder.  He laughs with them.  He continues to pour it on. 

I think it‘s a problem because it shows George Allen—in some ways, the true personality of George Allen.  It‘s not this nice guy that he has cultivated, really, a generation or more in politics to say, but I‘m a nice guy.  This whole cowboy shtick, this whole ‘I‘m likable.‘  That tape—there was nothing likable on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk politics, not morality.  I‘m better at it. 

I understood there‘s like 10,000 people from south Asia, immigrants, very smart, very successful people in Herndon, places like that, in the high-tech industry.  I have met a bunch of them socially.  Why don‘t you harness that strength and beat this guy Allen with that?  Are you doing it or not?

JARDING:  I‘m not going to get into internal strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t you going to go to the ethnic group that was attacked? 

JARDING:  I think the ethnic groups have risen to the service (ph).  Actually, the numbers are higher—it‘s about 55,000.  And I think the fact that Allen had to go meet with them, Allen had—there were people in the community that he met with that said the apology—

MATTHEWS:  South Asians.

JARDING:  Yeah—the apology didn‘t seem right to them.  I just think this is a deeper problem for George Allen because he has got guys in his campaign that like to go negative, like to say very negative things.  He now is on record, on tape, giving a very negative statement.  It‘s going to be tougher for him in that campaign in the future. 

MATTHEWS:  Does your guy have—you have got an opportunity here, it‘s one of those great opportunities, a windfall in the campaign.

But I want to go back to where I started with.  Does your guy Jim Webb have the juice to win this election?  He was sitting here one night, I didn‘t think he had a whole lot of juice.  I watched this guy, Steve Laffey, he is my idea of a politician.  My dad used to say, “A politician is the guy that gets out on the street corner and yells what he believes in.”  Jim Webb sat her rather quietly and answered my questions.  That‘s not how you rouse the voters.  You‘ve got to go out there and show them you‘ve got the belief of god in yourself, that you would bring god‘s help down on you because you think you‘re doing the right thing.

You can‘t just say if you like me, agree with me, vote for me.  You got to say, damn it, I think I‘m right here, vote for me. 

JARDING:  If you see Jim Webb out on the campaign stump when he‘s talking to voters, you get that.  Jim Webb is a—he‘s not the glad-handing politician, which, by the way, I think people are getting a little cynical about. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m talking about passionate pol.

JARDING:  But I think he is passionate.  When he talks about all the Virginians—

MATTHEWS:  You think he is?

JARDING:  There‘s no question he is.  I have seen him.  I have watched him.  I have sat in meetings when we talk about what do we need to do from the policy perspective, and he looks and says why don‘t all Americans have health insurance?  That‘s wrong.  What‘s this whole deal about the minimum wage?  What in the hell are we doing not raising the minimum wage since 1997 when these jokers are giving themselves a $32,000 pay raise?

MATTHEWS:  You know what the Democrats need?  Bulls, not steers, running for office.  They need bulls.

JARDING:  I think you‘ve got a bull—

MATTHEWS:  They need guys like this guy, Steve Laffey.  This guy—I was so impressed by him because it wasn‘t just that he was talking fast, which I like—

JARDING:  I bet you do.

MATTHEWS:  -- but there were ideas in there, point by point by point. 

And they weren‘t necessarily conservative ideas.  They were reform ideas. 

They were stop wasting money with pork-barrel.  Get the tax system right. 

Those things seem important to most people. 

JARDING:  I don‘t know that candidate, but I do know Jim Webb. 

MATTHEWS:  He also said dump Rumsfeld, which doesn‘t hurt him.  Although I don‘t believe Rumsfeld‘s the problem.  I‘m looking at the chain of command here. 

JARDING:  Rumsfeld‘s not the problem.  You can get Rumsfeld to resign, but the truth is, Bush is the guy that ought to resign, because he‘s the problem.  It‘s not Don Rumsfeld.  Don‘t blame Don Rumsfeld.  Go, Rumsfeld, that‘s fine with me.  But Bush is the problem in this thing. 

Back to Jim Webb, I think Virginians were starting to see, even before this whole macaca incident—

MATTHEWS:  When you‘ve got a good poll, will you bring it to us, because we‘re looking for polls here.  Apparently nobody‘s done a really good poll.

JARDING:  Survey USA was just out the other day, 48, 45.  It‘s a three point race.

MATTHEWS:  Is that likely voters? 

JARDING:  Yes and historically they are pretty accurate. 

MATTHEWS:  Who paid for that poll? 

JARDING:  They are independent.  I mean, they‘re not, parties don‘t do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that likely voters? 

JARDING:  Yes and historically they are pretty accurate. 

MATTHEWS:  Who paid for that poll? 

JARDING:  They are independent.  I mean parties don‘t do that.  But there‘s a poll that shows it at five points.  Our own internal ...  

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to get the northern Virginia vote out? 

JARDING:  I think we will get the northern Virginia vote out. 

MATTHEWS:  Former Republican, former Reagan guy running as the Democratic candidate in the United States Senate for Virginia, the Old Dominion, which still has a lot of conservatives in the south but a lot of northern moderates, living in northern Virginia.  Thank you very much, Steve. 

JARDING:  Good to be here.  Thanks Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Are we allowed to say that?  By the way, up next, Republican Congressman Chris Shays, up in Connecticut, supported the Iraq war resolution.  Now he is calling for a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from that country.  We‘ll talk to his Democratic challenger.  He‘s coming on, by the way, Monday.  I won‘t be here but he will be here.  Chris Shays, actually a good guy, we‘ll see how he deals with this thing. 

Diane Farrell is coming up.  She is running against him.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  A congressional race that is widely seen as a showdown over the war in Iraq just got a little bit more interesting.  U.S. Congressman Chris Shays, a Republican of Connecticut, who was once a big a hawk on the war in Iraq, now supports a timetable for withdrawal.  After his 14th trip to that country he said, quote, Our troops cannot be there indefinitely.  We should be able to tell the American people what kind of timeline we can have to begin to draw down our troops.

His Democratic challenger Diane Farrell has been a vocal critic of the war from the beginning but has said she opposes setting a deadline for withdrawing troops.  She is waging a rematch against Congressman Shays after narrowly losing to him two years ago. 

Diane Farrell, thank you for joining us.  What is the mission, as you see it, of American troops in Iraq right now?  What‘s their mission?

DIANE FARRELL (D), CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS:  I think you‘re looking at the end game, Chris.  And I‘ve got to say Chris Shays on the 3rd of August told NPR a time line is absolutely foolish.  On the 8th of August we had a primary, which you covered very ably.  Now suddenly he comes back after 14 trips and decides that a timetable is what has to happen, with the caveat that he still supports the war, still supports the president, and that the, quote, American people may not be that happy with the time frame once it‘s determined by Chris Shays. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you support keeping troops in Iraq? 

FARRELL:  It‘s not that I support keeping troops in Iraq, Chris.  It‘s very simple.  You need an exit strategy.  A time line is not an exit strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  But why keep them there, just give me a mission.  

FARRELL:  We need a new secretary of defense. 

MATTHEWS:  No, you‘re changing the subject.  I want to ask you. 

FARRELL:  No, it was my subject first. 

MATTHEWS:  Why should we keep troops in Iraq, right now.  Starting now, today, August 25.  Why should we have them there August 26 or 27?   They are getting hit.  They are getting shot at in the middle of what looks like a civil war.  Why do you want them to stay there another day, is all I‘m asking. 

FARRELL:  You know what?  I would love that they could come home tomorrow, but where does that really leave us in terms of what has happened in Iraq.  We‘re into this war for $300 billion, 2,600 American lives lost.  This Congress should have been demanding oversight the day they gave the president a blank check. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not answering my question.

FARRELL:  All I‘m saying is replace Donald Rumsfeld, something I called for months ago. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not answering my question.  What is their mission?  What is the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq right now?  Their mission, just tell me why they should be there. 

FARRELL:  To try and maintain some sort of a stable environment to allow this newly elected parliament, although not so new anymore, to create some sort of a government that is going to be successful so that we leave the Middle East in a better condition than that which we have created.  What we need is a new secretary of defense.  I have been calling for this for months.  The new secretary should be brought to the Congress within 30 days of his or her confirmation, with an exit plan.  And that exit plan, in all probability, would contain a timetable.  That‘s what the American people are looking for. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, are we accomplishing anything over there right now, our troops? 

FARRELL:  Our troops?  Well I have a cousin serving over there right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they accomplishing anything in Iraq right now? 

FARRELL:  I would like to believe that they are accomplishing some form of a stabilized government, but frankly, that‘s the difficulty that every American, myself included, has.  We don‘t know what the truth is over there.  We don‘t know the facts.  The first time that we ever heard any truth coming out of the Bush White House was those two generals in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, when they admitted that we were, in all probability, at the early stages, some of us feel even further along, in a civil war. 

So Chris, this is the fact, the president is the only person who can order troops home.  We need a new secretary of defense who is going to be accountable to the Congress, who is going to have to come to the Congress and explain exactly what conditions are on the ground.  That began a little bit with General Abizaid, etc., in front of the Senate committee.  Then we can tell the people exactly how we‘re going to bring troops back, how it‘s going to be a phased withdrawal, how we‘re going to not have left this place in utter chaos as a consequence of this administration‘s failed policies.  George Bush was right.  He‘s not a nation builder. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  The president says he‘s going to keep troops in Iraq as long as he‘s president.  How would you make that differently?  What‘s your alternative to that? 

FARRELL:  A vote is so simple.  Chris, well, nothing in Congress is simple, nothing in Washington is simple.  But for me it is.  Recall Rumsfeld.  Have a vote of no confidence. 

MATTHEWS:  You keep saying that, but you don‘t give a policy difference.  It‘s easy to say get rid of him.  Why don‘t you say have an impeachment of President Bush?  I mean if you‘re going to just say it‘s a personnel problem, that doesn‘t answer the question.  What is the policy alternative you‘re offering?  That‘s all I‘m asking. 

FARRELL:  The policy alternative I‘m offering?  Chris Shays hasn‘t offered a policy.  All he has offered, Chris, is some sort of an abstract timetable because he recognizes that he‘s in enormous trouble politically.  A real policy is to take those individuals who have the president‘s ears, who are responsible, from a chain of command perspective, for what‘s happening on the ground in Iraq into account to the Congress, something that in the three-plus years has yet to occur.  And yet that is the Congress‘ congressional responsibility.  Day one when I am in Washington is to hold these guys to account by having meaningful hearings.  That‘s why I say a vote of no confidence coming from the House of Representatives and the Senate on the secretary of defense ought to be sufficient to move the president to replace Rumsfeld, and then recognize that the American people have had it with this war, and let‘s be very clear. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you vote to impeach Rumsfeld? 

FARRELL:  Absolutely, tomorrow. I would have done that four months ago, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Democratic challenger to U.S. Congressman Chris Shays up in Connecticut.  The Congressman, by the way, will be here Monday.  We‘re going to have Chris Shays here on Monday, on HARDBALL.  Up next, the HARDBALLErs dig into whether Don Rumsfeld, here we go again, and Joe Lieberman could really lose their jobs this year.  And this Sunday, be sure to watch “Meet the Press.”  Tim Russert has an exclusive interview with New Orleans mayor, my buddy, Ray Nagin.  That‘s Sunday on NBC.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Is John McCain Bush‘s best buddy or not?  Would Donald Rumsfeld ever resign?  Could Joe Lieberman become the Republican senator from Connecticut?  These questions and more for our HARDBALLers tonight, the “Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank, who writes a great column on the second page of the “Post” now; and Roger Simon, who‘s always been brilliant. 

Let‘s look at what Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, recently said about rebuilding New Orleans and rebuilding Ground Zero up in New York. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  But you can‘t get the cars out yet.  You can‘t get this demolished ...

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS:  That‘s all right.  You guys in New York City can‘t get a hole in the ground fixed, and it‘s five years later.  So let‘s be fair. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the mayor clarifying those remarks. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAGIN:  They still are planning on how to restore that site.  That‘s the point.  And we‘re only a year into this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Dana Milbank, your thoughts on the mayor.  He is quotable. 

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  I think he has passed Pat Robertson for the ticking time bomb award.  We all have to watch everything because you never know what he‘s going to say next. 

MATTHEWS:  That little hole in the ground, up in New York, the World Trade Center. 

ROGER SIMON, BLOOMBERG NEWS:   I hate to find myself in the position of taking the side of Ray Nagin, but he does have a point.  It‘s gone on far too long in New York.  I mean, it‘s a mess.  It‘s a political mess that they can‘t get their memorial built and those buildings or whatever building they are going to build there.  I mean, it‘s not comparable to new Orleans. 

MATTHEWS:  Five years and no plan. 

SIMON:  Yes, I mean, why not? 

MATTHEWS:  So Ray Nagin is right? 

SIMON:  We‘re a great nation of builders.  We‘re not building in anything in New Orleans.  We‘re not building anything in New York.

MILBANK:  Well, there‘s a way to say it though.  Like, Ann Coulter may have had a point about the 91/1 widows, but there are ways to say these things. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean, there was a nice way to say how do we know that their husbands weren‘t planning to divorce these harpies?  There was a—what is the nice way to say that, Dana? 

Let me go to something more serious now, McCain.  McCain is something to watch.  He does it well, doesn‘t he, Roger?  He never lets you think that he‘s securely part of the Bush team, and yet he never stays away from it too long. 

SIMON: I mean, he has managed a nice straddle here.  He says basically what he said before, that the American public was led down a path of too rosy expectations for Iraq, but he‘s never criticized the war. 

MATTHEWS:  But we have the before the before.  Here‘s John McCain and what he said Iraq this week, and what he said before about the war. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  It grieves me so much that we have not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.  And it has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today because they were led to believe that this would be some kind of a day at the beach. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the people of Iraq or at least a large number of them will treat us as liberators? 

MCCAIN:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  And you think the Arab world will come to a grudging recognition that what we did was necessary?  I mean by that the moderate Arab leaders, the people that we have to deal with. 

MCCAIN:  Not only that, they will be relieved that he is not in the neighborhood because he has invaded his neighbors on several occasions. 

MATTHEWS:  I sincerely hope you‘re right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you go.  He grieves at those who made it sound easy, and there we have him making it sound easy as we went into Iraq.  Isn‘t videotape great?  I mean, one thing you can‘t do in print is really requote a guy from three years ago, but damn it, you can do it on television. 

Dana, this is a powerful medium here.  It‘s our secret objective conscience, even when we don‘t have a conscience. 

MILBANK:  It is true.  Believe me, I love to see the clips.  I love to quote the clips, too.  That‘s—it‘s one of the best journalistic games, is this sort of gotcha thing.  I suspect McCain gets away with it anyway just because for whatever reasons we in the press will always regard him as a maverick, as a truth-talker.  Who cares if he backs down on campaign finance reform?  Who cares if there is something of a reversal here on Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  You do, Dana.  I can tell by that sarcasm.  Let me ask you this, Dana, while you have the floor here.  Could it be that McCain is popular and the numbers show it, because he does reflect that ambivalence in the country, between the true believers and the Bush doctrine, and the desire to be patriotic and support the forces and the deep skepticism which has grown over three years?  It‘s all true with us. 

MILBANK:  Well, yes, I mean, whatever he believes, he believes it passionately.  And technically, what he was saying to you before about being welcomed as liberators, he could argue that that is what happened in the first days.  He never said we are well-prepared for the aftermath of the war there.  So I think he has got a technical way out there.  I will give it to him. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but the buoyancy with which he talked about the arrival of our troops and the way they have been received is exactly what he said he was grieving about, that we made it sound easy when we went in.  Roger Simon? 

SIMON:  I think you nailed him and you‘ve got him dead to rights on that point.  I mean, the real ...

MATTHEWS:  You will be invited back frequently now, Roger.  We like that kind of ...

SIMON:  The videotape doesn‘t lie.

MILBANK:  Chris, you really had him here. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Dana and Roger, we‘ll be right back.  These are great journalists.  We‘ll be right back. 

And later, we‘ll have a bayou brawl.  Wait until you catch these two guys going at you, the Bush guy, the Bush booster, and the Cheney critic.  Remember the guy who told Cheney what to do with himself?  We‘re going to come back and talk—we‘re going to catch some noise here in a minute.

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with HARDBALLers Dana Milbank, of the “Washington Post” and Roger Simon of “Bloomberg News.”  Let me go to Dana again.  Dana, is this fight over Rumsfeld kind of a phony fight?  Meaning, if you don‘t like the war policy, go to the man who made it, that‘s the president.  I had, as we saw in the David Shuster package, when we started the program today, I once asked Rumsfeld over at the Pentagon did the president ever ask you if we should go into Iraq?  He said funny thing, he never asked me.  Now maybe that‘s a false denial because they knew how he stood or the president knew how he stood, but why are people calling for the head of this defense secretary when the problem is the policy? 

MILBANK:  Well, I mean, the defense secretary does have something to do with the policy.  Truth is a lot of people, McCain one of them, Lieberman one of them, many others have been calling for Rumsfeld‘s resignation a long time before things got particularly ugly there.  He is tarred with the execution of the occupation after the war. 

Now, they are not calling on him to resign because of the decision to invade, they are calling on him to resign because it was being, the occupation was being led with too few troops and without much planning. 

MATTHEWS:  Was his belief that a lean operation would work?  And everyone now acknowledges it didn‘t work, that going in light didn‘t work.  The charge of the light brigade, basically.  Why did he believe that?  Did he believe it because of modern weaponry and we could do a lot more with fewer soldiers or did he believe it because Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National congress saying all you have to do is decapitate.  Get rid of this guy Saddam and it will be like eastern Europe, everybody will be rooting for us. 

SIMON:  Well I think there have been a number of books done by now indicating that we chose the intelligence that we wanted.  We chose the intelligence that confirmed the theories that were most pleasant to the people making the decisions and intelligence that showed we would not be welcomed as heroes, we would not have flowers strewn in our path, was ignored.  So, did Rumsfeld have intelligence saying it was going to be easy?  Sure.  Was that the only intelligence?  Apparently not. 

MATTHEWS:  The idea that we were going to liberate a country would be clashed with by the argument that we‘re going to be shot at by everybody there. 

SIMON:  I mean, you asked before what purpose do American troops hold in Iraq now?  Well, to be targets, apparently. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s the problem I have.  Did you notice with Diane Farrell on a while ago, Dana, that the Democrats have made a calculation that they are going to oppose the war but they are not going to propose ending it? 

MILBANK:  Well right, that‘s because, you know, I think we have sort of reached this national consensus here in both parties and broadly among the public that the war has become something of a debacle, but there is an equal consensus that nobody knows what to do about it.  You can stay and you have a bloody thing, verging on a civil war or you can leave and you have a bloody thing, perhaps becoming an even larger civil war. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me try to put that around for an analytical answer.  If you believe we are not accomplishing anything good, that each day is worse than the day before, then you should leave.  If you believe that we‘re accomplishing something over the next six months or a year, a reasonable time we could actually stay there, then you could say it‘s worth the lives of the men we‘re going to lose between now and the end of that year.  But if you believe it‘s getting worse, what justification is there for killing more Americans and killing more Arabs? 

MILBANK:  The Democrats‘ main interest in this is ...

MATTHEWS:  Is electoral. 

MILBANK:  Well of course it is.  We‘re less than two months from an election here or two months from an election here.  But they want to keep the president‘s poll numbers low on Iraq without sticking their necks out and having the cut and run thing put on them.  That turns things around immediately when you offer a solution of your own. 

MATTHEWS:  I have a resolution.  Why don‘t the Democrats meet as a caucus, ask to use the House of Representatives floor some morning, which they are allowed to do, and have a vote on a resolution which lays out their position on Iraq.  Actually have a party position like they do in England, an opposition position.  And state it to the American people before the election so the American people can look at the Bush position and they can look at the Democratic position and they can walk in the voting booth and make an honest decision. 

SIMON:  The Senate essentially did that. 

MATTHEWS:  Who did that?

SIMON:  The Senate essentially did that.

MATTHEWS:  What is the Democratic position as the Senate puts it? 

SIMON:  Well, they came up with two Democratic positions.  One is we sort of pull out whenever we want to think, but not give it a specific date, and the other is the John Kerry, we pull out by July 1.  One got almost the entire caucus, and the one other got just a handful of votes. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, so it‘s, in other words, it‘s sometime we‘ll pull out. 

MILBANK:  They have solidified on a completely amorphous position. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you remember wimpy on Popeye.  I will gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today.  Vote for us today, we‘ll pay you later. 

MILBANK  That‘s a slogan for November.

SIMON:  Also you have got the Bush administration making the case to Americans relentlessly that by fighting terrorism in Iraq, we prevent terrorism from coming to America.  That‘s their position. 

MATTHEWS:  Their slogan and it works. 

SIMON:  It has worked so far.  There has been a poll in the “New York Times” a couple of days ago saying that a slim majority of Americans, a plurality, don‘t quite believe that anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you both.  I have had on Ken Mehlman, the Republican chairman, and I‘ve had other people on in the Republican party this week, Ed Gillespie who was chairman.  They are all saying they are not endorsing this guy, Alan Schlessinger up in Connecticut.  What do you make of that?  Is this the first time in history a party doesn‘t recommend you vote for their candidate? 

MILBANK:  Don‘t you feel awful for poor Alan Schlessinger at 4 percent in the polls and even his own party abandoned him?

MATTHEWS:  Why did they hold a primary if they didn‘t intend to vote for the guy who won.  Any way, thank you, Dana Milbank.  I like your analysis.  Thank you Roger as always. 

Our Bayou Brawl, we‘re calling.  It‘s coming up next.  It is interesting.  We just taped it a few minutes ago, before the show.  It‘s interesting, I can tell you.  A year later, how is the Gulf Coast recovery coming along?  Catch these two divergent points of view, coming up right now.  One‘s called Rockey the Republican, the other one‘s called Dr.  Marble.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Nearly one year after Hurricane Katrina‘s Gulf Coast assault, we are reminded of the fury many people in the region felt about the government‘s response.  You may remember the man who interrupted a press conference by Vice President Dick Cheney last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourself, Mr. Cheney.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You have got to figure out what to do with all of the...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourself.

QUESTION:  Are you getting a lot of that, Mr. Vice president? 

CHENEY:  It‘s the first time I have heard it—friend of John—or a friend of mine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think he was saying a friend of John Who (ph).  Anyway, another Katrina survivor had a top level meeting in Washington. This week Rocky Vaccarella called the Republican Rocky came to Washington with a FEMA trailer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROCKY VACCARELLA:  I wanted to thank President Bush for the millions of FEMA trailers that were brought down there.  They gave roofs over people‘s head, people had a chance to have baths, air-conditioning.  We had TV, we have toiletry. We have things that are necessities that we can live upon. 

But now I wanted to remind the president that the job is not done and he knows that.  And I just don‘t want the government and President Bush to forget about us.  And I just wish the president could have another term in Washington. 

BUSH:  Wait a minute. 

VACCARELLA  You know, I wish you had another four years.  If we had this president for another four years, I think we would be great. But we are going to move on. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Late today, I spoke with both of these men, Dr. Marble from Long Beach, Mississippi.  He is the guy with the commentary about the vice president.  And Rocky Vacarelli on the phone.  He is going to be on the phone from New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Dr. Marble, what exactly do you think the president and the vice president failed to do, they should have done as leaders of the country with regard to the clean up in Katrina?

DR. BEN MARBLE, MISSISSIPPI RESIDENT:  Well, the initial big problem was they should have done some air and food drops—some air drops of food and water to the people in New Orleans that were dying from lack of food and water. 

Subsequently, the number one problem I would say in the New Orleans area is they refused to give the people to rebuild the levees to category five strength.  Because nobody wants to rebuild anything in New Orleans until the levees are restored to a level to where the people will not have to worry about their businesses and homes getting destroyed. 

So there is no progress being made in the New Orleans area pretty much whatsoever.  Now the Mississippi Gulf Coast is entirely different, there is a lot of progress going on here, in Mississippi.  But we don‘t have the levee issue to worry about. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Vacarell (sic), what do you think of that?  Do you think the president been under sold in what he has done here?  Is there something you know that he has done that Dr. Marble doesn‘t know he has done? 

VACCARELLA:  Well, I tell you, you know, the only thing that I can say about that is I live in St. Bernard Parish, and I was born and raised there.  I fished of them levees.  And them levees are held up through many hurricanes that came through. 

And you know, back in 1965, there was a proven fact that the levees were blown up.  And I feel my opinion about the levee is a little bit different than some other opinions, because I was actually on my roof when the levees broke.  And I just, you know, have concerns that it might or might not have been a weak levee. 

I rode my bike on the levee.  To me the levee was like the Great Wall of China.  I was inside the levee protection system.  I felt safe.  We bared the storm.  And then the next thing you know, the levees was breached. 

And you know what, sometimes the levees were breached to protect other cities, and not have, you know...

MARBLE:  The fact is the Hurricane Katrina missed New Orleans.  Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and not New Orleans.  The levees broke, maybe category two at best.  The brunt of Hurricane Katrina destroyed Hancock and Harrison Counties and Jackson Counties of Mississippi. 

VACCARELLA:  I don‘t agree...

MARBLE:  New Orleans was a man-made disaster, because of the Corps of Engineers failed to build the levees to the strength that they needed to be built. 

MATTHEWS:  All right.  Let me ask you both the same question.  Dr.

Marble did you like Bush before this? 

MARBLE:  I liked his dad, somewhat. 

MATTHEWS:  No, him?  Did you like...

MARBLE:  I think Bush is the worst president in the history of this nation without question.  And he should resign as soon as possible. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you, Mr. Vacarrella, did you like President Bush before this? 

VACARRALLA:  Well, you know, I will tell you, my mission wasn‘t about if I liked President Bush or not.  I was going to the White House whether President Bush was there, Bill Clinton was there, I don‘t care who was there.  My mission is to go there, thank the president for sending millions of trailers done there to people (INAUDIBLE) off. 

MARBLE:  Without showing up for five, seven, eight days, letting people die in the streets of New Orleans? That‘s ridiculous.  That‘s an absurd statement.

Sir, Mr. Vacarrelli, I can promise you the overwhelming majority people in the post Katrina area, do not support this president. 

VACCARELLA:  Well, that‘s their decision.  I am not supporting the president.  This is not.  Listen, this is...

MARBLE:  Here is the thing...

VACCARELLA:  This is not a political thing on my part.  My part is this...

MARBLE:  Of course it is, you are a Republican, sir. 

VACARRELLA:  We are doing a documentary on the people‘s story.  We‘re going around...

MARBLE:  OK.  Well, why did President Bush—you lost your house and belongings.  Cindy Sheehan lost her son and the president would not meet with her, but he met with you.  And you don‘t think that doesn‘t have anything to do with politics?  Give me a break. 

VACCARELLA:  Sir, he met with her twice to my knowledge. 

MARBLE:  That‘s ridiculous.  Of course it‘s political. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Vacarella, have you run—Mr. Vacarella, have you ran for office as a Republican?

MARBLE:  If it wasn‘t political you wouldn‘t be on this show.

MATTHEWS:  Dr. Marble, just a second, Mr. Vaccaella, is it true that you are an active Republican?  There is nothing wrong with it.  I‘m just trying to get your politics straight.  You say you‘re not partisan here.  But you are backing the president all the way, even saying he should have a third term.  And you‘ve also—haven‘t you ran for office as a Republican?

MARBLE:  How absurd is that?

VACCARELLA:  You know what, I changed my Republican party in 1980 when Ronald Reagan got in, and I ran (INAUDIBLE).  And immediately when he was inaugerated, they released the Iran—the hostages on Iran.  So I switched to the Republican party.  And yes I did.

But you know what, I vote for the best man for the job.  And our crew went up there to go up there and help build the—help rebuild the Gulf Coast and send a message out the job is not done yet, and please help out.

Our crew is made up of Repulicans, Democratics and independents.  We represent all of the parties and all of the people.  So this ain‘t nothing.  I‘m not no big proactive...

MARBLE:  I commend you on that, because you are drawing attention to rebuilding the Gulf Coast, and that‘s a certainly an admirable thing.  But saying that George Bush deserves four more years in office is so absurd.

MATTHEWS:  Dr. Marble—thank you very much for coming.  Thank you very much Rocky—Rocky Vaccarella for joining us by phone tonight.  Thank you both, gentlemen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  The American argument at work right there.

Anyway, have a nice weekend.  Play HARDBALL again with us Monday.  U.S. congressman Chris Shays and former FEMA boss Mike Brown—remember “Brownie, you‘re doing a great job?”  He‘s going to be with us.

Anyway, right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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 each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,