updated 9/1/2006 11:22:42 AM ET 2006-09-01T15:22:42

Guests: Dan Bartlett, Jack Reed, Kate O‘Beirne, Bob Shrum, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Baker, Katherine Harris

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, Bush is back on the attack.  Team Bush puts Democrats on the defensive calling anti-war critics defeatists and appeasers and comparing Islamic radicals to Nazis and communists.  Will it help Republicans win the political war over Iraq, or have they overplayed their hand? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, in for Chris Matthews.  Welcome to

HARDBALL. 

Today, before an audience of thousands in veterans at the American Legion convention in Utah, President Bush launched the first in a series of speeches defending his strategy on the Iraq war.  It was his sharpest language yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As veterans you have seen this kind of enemy before.  Their successors the fascists, the Nazis, the communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century.  And history shows what the outcome will be. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  How would this speech play in front of an audience of ordinary Americans in the battleground states, Ohio, Pennsylvania or even Connecticut instead of American Legion veterans in Utah? 

The president‘s comparison of Islamic radicals to Nazis echoes the controversial remarks delivered earlier this week from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  The Bush team is putting Democrats on the offensive just days before the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and just weeks before the fall election. 

The stakes couldn‘t be higher.  The big question?  Will voters buy it?  Polls show Americans are against the war in Iraq and do not see it as part of the war on terrorism, so will the Republican strategy of equating anti-war dissent to defeatism and appeasement work? 

More on this tonight with our HARDBALLers Kate O‘Beirne and Bob Shrum, and later, Katherine Harris has been a political lightning rod since she took to the national stage during the Florida recount in 200.  Now she‘s a candidate for the Senate, and tonight, she is here to play HARDBALL.  You don‘t want to miss this rare interview.

But we begin with the president‘s speech today.  Dan Bartlett is counselor to the president and joins us now from the White House.  Dan, thank you for joining us.

DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO PRES. BUSH:  Norah, how are you?

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m well.  Thank you. 

As you know, the president already this year has tried three times to counter critics and try and rebuild support for the Iraq war.  He is now doing this again just days before the 9/11 anniversary.  Why the shift in rhetoric and strategy? 

BARTLETT:  Well, I think what you saw today, Norah, was a very specific articulation of the type of enemy we are here to face.  As the soundbite you used by the president demonstrates, is that the ideological struggle of the 21st century, the terrorist organizations that we are after in this war on terror is very similar in ideological struggles that we faced during World War II and when we fought Nazism and communism. 

This is a—the defining moment for this young century and this generation of leaders is to come together and to understand the very difficult fight we have before us.  These are not disgruntled, desperate groups of individuals that are just lashing out in violence throughout the Middle East, whether it be in Iraq or elsewhere. 

This is a very determined enemy, an enemy that has a very specific, ideological agenda which they are trying to spread across the Middle East and really crush the civilized world and the West‘s view of tolerance and of governance that is in open, free societies.

And what President Bush, speaking to a group of veterans who understand this better than most Americans because they fought specifically the Nazis and others and the communists—they recognize the type of fight we are up against and it is important for the rest of the American people to understand the stakes.

O‘DONNELL:  OK.  The president said today that those that can disagree with him can be patriotic in part, but Secretary Rumsfeld was put out by this administration earlier to speak to the American Legion and he essentially accused critics of this White House—which are essentially Democrats—of being Nazi-era appeasers.  I want to play a clip of what he said and then try and get to you defend it, Dan, on the other side. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else‘s problem.  I recount that history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Fascists, Nazis, communists.  The new e-mail from the RNC that I saw today called Democrats defeatocrats.  Some may argue that all of this name-calling reeks of desperation. 

BARTLETT:  Well, no, what it actually is is that when Democrats make policy proposals in which they want to leave Iraq early and kind of leave this state in the heart of the Middle East to the terrorists and to radical extremists and militias and others who have only one, singular purpose on their agenda and that is to defeat American and the west, there are consequences for that and it is important that we spell out those consequences. 

Time and time again we hear Democrats call the president a liar.  Time and time again we hear them say that the president is on the wrong strategy and that they have the solution if only given the reins.  Well, if they had control of Congress, if they had control of the purse strings, their answer to the question is to saw let‘s pull out.  It is not winnable there. 

Well, there are consequences for those decisions and what President Bush thinks is very important for the American people to understand is that this is central to the fight we are in.  It is central to the struggle that we are facing. 

Now, whether you agreed with the original decision to remove Saddam Hussein or whether you are now dissatisfied with the course that is going on in Iraq and the violence we are seeing, we can‘t mistake that from understanding that this is consequential to the war on terror. 

O‘DONNELL:  Dan, the president earlier this week said that if—that Democrats are promising to block additional money for continuing the war.  Name one Democrat. 

BARTLETT:  Well, Norah, he didn‘t say that.  He said well, I suppose that the way they would do that is just—is to block funding.  Now, there was a Democrat resolution offered in the House of Representatives that had 18 co-sponsors that said just that -- 18 Democrats—and I can send you the list when I get off the air.  So there are Democrats who propose that. 

And the bottom line is, if you propose that, if the Democrats who are running for office right now who say we ought to get out of Iraq, how do they plan on doing it?  How do they plan on implementing their strategy?  Are they going to hold funding?  What are they going to do?

These are the type of questions that the American people need to understand, if you vote for Democrats to take control over Congress or take control over the government in Washington, what that means for the war on terror.  These are important questions. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  What you are saying, Dan, is that if the Democrats were to take power in either the House or Senate or both, that the president would not change his strategy in Iraq? 

BARTLETT:  Well, what President Bush is arguing is that the strategy in Iraq is consequential to the war on terror, that we do have a strategy that‘s going to ultimately prevail in victory.  It is a very difficult fight, but it‘s a very necessary fight, and that the prescription that is being provided by the Democrats is one that will not make our country more secure. 

And we understand that there is a temptation a that if we just pull out things will get better.  And what President Bush argued, quoting the top commander on the ground in the Middle East, John Abizaid, “if we pull out they will follow us.”  If we go to other parts of the Middle East or we come home, they will come after us. 

They have made it very clear, Norah, and I think this is a very important point.  It doesn‘t matter the debate we are having about whether Iraq is part of the war on terror or not.  The enemy themselves has said it is.  Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri, the number two man of al Qaeda.  They have both said the central front is in Iraq.  It‘s the third world raging there in Baghdad, so if they think that, if they understand that ...

O‘DONNELL:  But let me ask you, Dan, though, about the comparisons.  We understand that, but some have said, though, that the comparisons and using the rhetoric like Nazis and Hitler and communists and comparing this to World War II may or may not be disproportionate. 

Let me read you part of—I‘m sure you‘ve seen it—the “L.A. Times” editorial today which was titled “Pipe Down Rummy,” referring to Secretary Rumsfeld, saying quote—referring to his speech earlier this week.  “His speech was vintage Rumsfeld.  It was also unfair and in many places inane.  Take the suggestion that critics of Bush‘s Iraq policy are the moral equivalent of those who refused to stop Hitler.  There‘s a reason why high school debaters are warned away from Nazi analogies.  They‘re almost always disproportionate.”

Dan, you agree with that?  It is true that making an analogy to Hitler can be disproportionate to the current battle.  While extremely important, the war on terror, comparing it to World War II is overstepping? 

BARTLETT:  Absolutely not.  The fascist movement from that era is very similar to the totalitarian ideology that al Qaeda and other extremists, whether they be Sunni extremists or Shia extremists, those who are wanting to pervert a very rich tradition and peaceful religion of Islam to accomplish a certain set of objectives. 

They have taken 3,000 American lives on one single morning.  They have attacked country after country after country throughout the world with a very determined ideology.  They are trying to overturn governments.  They took control of Afghanistan. 

They are trying to take control of Iraq.  They are trying to take control of Lebanon.  They are doing this for a very specific reason.  They want territorial ambition, they want the resources, they want nuclear weapons, they want to destroy the West. 

It is very similar in proportion, I would argue, and then very many other people would argue as well, so it is a very important historical lesson for us to very well understand today, because the fight we are in today is as consequential as the fight we fought in the last century.

O‘DONNELL:  Dan, the White House has made clear that the speech by the president today—as the president even said himself—is going to be part of a series of speeches to rebuild support for the war, political support.  And yet, you had the president call the pool to hear him say this yesterday.  Let‘s play that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  My series of speeches are—they‘re not political speeches.  They are speeches about the future of this country and they are speeches to make it clear that it we retreat before the job is done, this nation will become even more in jeopardy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Dan, you know this president very well.  He smirked after he said that, these are “not political speeches.”  They are clearly political speeches; they are meant to rebuild support, are they not, for the war?

BARTLETT:  You‘re saying that they‘re meant for political speeches. 

What the president has argued and what the administration is—

O‘DONNELL:  But they are—you have made clear that they are part of a communications effort.  The president told Brian Williams that you guys, in fact, are getting crushed on the PR front, Secretary Rumsfeld said the enemy is doing a better job at communicating than we are.  There‘s a new $20 million contract out there by the Pentagon.  The president is giving another series of speeches.  You fully acknowledge that that‘s what he is doing. 

BARTLETT:  Absolutely.  Of course he wants to speak to the American people about the conduct of the war.  We are moving up on to an important reflection point five years into this war.  He is going to be having speeches, like he did today, that talk specifically about Iraq.  Other speeches he will be giving next week and the weeks to come will talk about other aspects of the war on terror. 

He is using this as an opportunity as the commander-in-chief to explain to the American people about what we are doing to fight and win this war, why the consequences are so serious.  That is a responsibility he has, whether there‘s a midterm election or not.  That is the point the president was making, that, whether he gave these series of speeches a year ago, as you pointed out, it is important that certain aspects or certain reflection points in this war that the president speak directly to the public about the conduct of this war, developments in the war and the consequences of this war. 

He‘s not partisan, in the sense that he is going out and attacking individual members of the other party or the like, but what he is doing is taking—

O‘DONNELL:  No, because you‘re going to leave that to Rumsfeld to do. 

BARTLETT:  Rumsfeld talked about critics—as you have pointed out and many times they are on this program—where they go off and say the president lied and people died, that the administration is incompetent, the administration is this, the administration is that.  And it is important that the administration clearly articulate and set the record straight on many of these outrageous comments that people are making.

And some of the outrageous comments are coming from people who want to take control of the Congress.  There are consequences for the rhetoric that they are employing at this time and at this juncture in the war on terror.  And it is incumbent upon officials in this administration to clearly explain to the American people what those consequences are. 

So it is a two-way street, Norah.  As long as our critics are out there saying what they are saying, oftentimes not based on fact, it is important for the administration to very, very aggressively articulate what the facts are and why we believe it.  And there are two sides to these debates and it‘s important both sides are heard. 

O‘DONNELL:  Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president of the United States.  Thank you for bringing the other side; we greatly appreciate it. 

And up next, we are going to hear the other side.  Jack Reed of Rhode Island is going to react to the president‘s speech.  How will Democrats counter the new Republican PR offensive?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When terrorists murder at the World Trade Center, or car bombers strike in Baghdad, or hijackers plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, or terrorist militias shoot rockets at Israeli towns, they are all pursuing the same objective, to turn back the advance of freedom and impose a dark vision of tyranny and terror across the world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Bush today, casting the war in Iraq as part of the greater war on terrorism. 

Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is a member of the Armed Services Committee.  Thank you for joining us.  The president today called the war in Iraq the major ideological struggle of the 21st century.  Your response. 

SEN. JACK REED (D) RHODE ISLAND:  Well, there‘s a struggle going on in Iraq, but at this moment it appears to be a struggle among the Shia community to who will control Iraq in the future.  There are some international terrorists there obviously, but this is a fight that goes back many, many years between ethnic groups within Iraq. 

So, to see this as the great struggle, the central struggle, I think misperceives the point.  The point is that there are scores of terrorist cells around the world who have aims to attack us.  We have to be severe, we have to take them out, find them, take them down.  But that is not what‘s going on essentially in Iraq.  This is a struggle internally in Iraq for political power and position. 

O‘DONNELL:  The president also said today that this is a struggle against essentially Islamic fundamentalists, although the word the Republicans and White House have been using is Islamic fascists of as late, saying that this is very similar to the battle in World War II against fascists and Nazis.  Is that a correct analogy? 

REED:  I think it is a very imprecise analogy.  These are not national states.  Germany under the Nazis, Italy under the fascists, were national states with conventional armies who wanted to essentially use their conventional power to take over adjacent countries. 

This is a struggle of ideas.  It is a struggle with certain religious impulses, but they are not, I think, authentic to the true meaning of Islam.  So this is not easily characterized as a struggle just like the Nazis before World War II.  And I think using this analogy might have some rhetorical appeal, but it misses the very complex nature of the threats we face and the fact that they‘re, in some ways, very much different than what happened prior to World War II. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s interesting that you say that, that it may have some rhetorical appeal.  Do you mean, in other words, that you think that this will probably resonate with the American people, even though you are on the opposing party.  This is a new language that this White House is using.  They have put national security and Iraq at the centerpiece of the agenda.  They managed to do that in 2002, 2004, they won those elections.  Why might it not work again in 2006? 

REED:  Well, I think what has happened is that the American people

have been looking at these slogans—and that is essentially what they are

mission accomplished, that certainly wasn‘t accurate.  They‘ve looked at the slogan of “We‘ll stand down when they stand up”—we haven‘t yet been able to get an adequate security force in Iraq stood up to protect their country by their own forces.  And so I think this is a succession of slogans, and the slogans are wearing thin.

The American public are now looking around at violence in Iraq, they‘re looking at complicating situation in Iran with their nuclear aspirations, they‘re looking at North Korea, who defiantly shot a missile on July 4, and they‘re wondering whether there is something beyond slogans in the president‘s repertoire.  And there has to be something more than that, because this is a dangerous world that has to be protected not by slogans, but by good planning, good resources and a strategy that recognizes the true nature of the threat. 

O‘DONNELL:  You criticize the slogans that this White House has used and the American people, it is true, and the White House acknowledges, are weary of the war in Iraq.  That is the reason, in part, the president has been giving these speeches is to try and counter critics and also to continue to rebuild support. 

But the thing that perplexes many about the Democratic party is, what is the alternative?  The president tried to lay that out today, essentially saying it has got to be either victory and we cannot face defeat.  Here is what he said about why we must win in Iraq and the importance to the larger war on terror. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself the consequence would be absolutely predictable and absolutely disastrous.  We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies, Saddam‘s former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world, who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  You don‘t disagree with that, do you, Senator Reid? 

REED:  Well, I think the president is the master of, in many cases, false choices.  The choice that we face as Americans is not to stay as we are today and continue to suffer as we are suffering casualties or to leave.  The choice should be a better tragedy, one that accomplishes the stabilization of Iraq, one that provides the real resources to do that and again, the president is awfully good about making speeches but the resources there, not just the military resources, but the complementary resources for reconstruction, for civic engagement, to help the Iraqis help themselves, have always been lacking. 

So, I think what the American people are asking for is not more speeches but a coherent plan.  We can‘t precipitously withdraw from Iraq but we have to change the course there to shift the burden to the Iraqis to provide more effective forces for them so that they can fight this battle.  Ultimately this struggle will be won in Iraq by the Iraqi people and that has to be recognized. 

O‘DONNELL:  Secretary Rumsfeld said in a speech several days ago, before the American Legion, that the enemy does a better job of communicating than us he said.  The president also said in his interview with Brian Williams that he believed that we are not doing a good job in the P.R. war, essentially selling this war to the American people.  We learned today that the Pentagon is now seeking and putting out a bid for a $20 million contract to essentially gather information and track media reports on the Iraq war.  Is this a wise use taxpayer dollars? 

REED:  It doesn‘t strike me as something that is terribly useful.  I think the president and the secretary are right though about our failure to really win this battle of ideas, to engage not only the people in Iraq but the people throughout the world and to demonstrate adequately and effectively that we are there to provide them an opportunity to better their lives, to build stable societies.  That has been lost and it has been lost through the Abu Ghraib scandals.  It‘s been lost through many actions and as a result I think we are suffering this battle of ideas. 

O‘DONNELL:  Finally senator, I must ask you a question about the Democratic party.  As Secretary Rumsfeld gave a speech this week, the Vice President Cheney gave a speech this week, the president gave a speech all this week as they have ramped getting ready for the 9/11 anniversary, creating a very clear picture of what they are trying to do, their strategy against the Democrats as we get ready for this election.  We spent several days trying to call Democrats to come on our air to try to talk about this. 

The White House has repeatedly offered people all this week and yet the Democratic party struggled all week to put somebody out.  You were willing to come tonight.  Where is your army?  What is up with the Democratic party that they can‘t have senators mobilized to try and respond to the president and the secretary of defense and others?  If you feel so strongly that they are wrong and that the picture that they are presenting is wrong, why isn‘t the Democratic party mobilized to speak out against them? 

REED:  Well, I‘m here and I‘m speaking out.  I have been doing it now for several years, starting in October of 2002 when I thought that the president‘s strategy was flawed with respect to Iraq, that we were really going to take our eye off the ball when it came to the real war in terror, terrorists who do plot to steal airplanes and to attack civilian targets across the globe and other Democrats are speaking out also and they should speak out. 

Clearly one of the advantages that the administration has is they have the bully pulpit.  You have the presidency and you have major cabinet offices, the vice presidency, they are using it.  But I think the American people have seen through a lot of that and if you look at the polling and not just the polling but come up to Rhode Island or any place across this country and talk to people, they are concerned about the direction that this administration has taken the country when it comes to national security. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Jack Reed, who was gracious to come on tonight. 

We greatly appreciate it from Rhode Island.  Have a nice weekend. 

REED:  Thanks Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  And coming up less than ten weeks until election day the Republican talking points on the war get a makeover.  Will calls to end modern fascism keep Republicans in power?  HARDBALL political analysts Kate O‘Beirne and Bob Shrum will be here.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The fierce fight over the war in Iraq is getting sharper and nastier every day.  This week Donald Rumsfeld compared war critics to appeasers of Nazi Germany and today the president vowed to keep fighting despite the war‘s unpopularity.  Here to take on this fight is the “National Review‘s” Kate O‘Beirne and Democratic Strategist Bob Shrum.  They are both HARDBALL political analysts.  So, Kate, is Bob a fascist? 

KATE O‘BEIRNE, “NATIONAL REVIEW”:  No, I would never ever label Bob Shrum a Fascist.  You know what amazed me, first of all if you actually carefully listen to Reed, Secretary Rumsfeld‘s speech is not actually what he did with respect to the Democratic critics of the war, he didn‘t so label them, but what amazes me is how the Democrats always rise to the bait. 

He talks in terms of World War II, warns against morally and intellectually complacent people and confusion and appeasers and what do the Democrats say, stop talking about us like that.  Well, he wasn‘t but the fact that they appear to have a guilty conscience just reminds people that some of them are comfortably in their camp. 

O‘DONNELL:  Bob let me ask you about that because I spoke with Nancy Pelosi, who is the leader in the House of Representatives and here, essentially, was her response to what Rumsfeld had to say. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  The secretary referencing World War II is interesting.  We have now been in Europe, we have now been in Iraq longer than we were in Europe for World War II.  For the secretary to talk about moral clarity when Abu Ghraib happened on his watch and destroyed our moral credibility in the world is interesting as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Bob, do you think part of the problem that the Democrats have is that they don‘t have a message to respond to the president? 

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  No, I don‘t think that at all.  I think there are plenty of Democrats out there speaking out.  I think they have spoken out very clearly.  Look, when the other side, and in this case the president and the White House, start throwing around analogies to Nazis and fascists and words like that, you know they are desperate, number one.  Number two, you wonder did they just figured this out.  I mean three years into the war they decide what it is all about? 

They are going to run the third 9/11 election in a row because they have nothing else to run on.  I don‘t think it is going to work because I think that the American people know we have a Katrina foreign policy.  This president says we have to win the war on terror.  We are not winning it.  Osama bin Laden is on the loose.  Al Qaeda is reorganizing all over Afghanistan, has cells around the world. 

The London bomb plot came from Afghanistan and in Iraq we are bogged down with 130,000 troops and we have a prime minister in Iraq, and you know people see this on television, who won‘t condemn Hezbollah, won‘t say Israel has a right to exist, won‘t condemn the Iranian nuclear program.  Is he part, this man that we are keeping in power, of the worldwide struggle against terrorism, which I agree is decisive and we do have to win.

O‘DONNELL:  Kate, what about that.  The president told Brian Williams we are being crushed on the P.R. front and then, of course, Secretary Rumsfeld said the enemy does a better of communicating than us.  You are also a word smith like Bob Shrum.  Is it a failure of communication? 

O‘BEIRNE:  What the administration is trying to do and they have done a lot of this over the past years, you know, talk about militant Islam, this lethal threat we face, Islamofascism is the latest way to explain it.

O‘DONNELL:  But that‘s not why we are having a tough time in Iraq. 

O‘BEIRNE:  No, it absolutely isn‘t.  And what Bob is ignoring is the disadvantage the Democratic party has.  They, in fact, are in total disarray on the war in Iraq.  It is a vulnerability for the Republicans but not one Democrats can, I think, exploit as long as they are in such disarray.  They have been from the very beginning. 

A majority of House Democrats voted against authorizing the war, a majority of the Senate Democrats favored it.  Some now who voted for it in the Senate regret they didn‘t say so.  Hillary Clinton won‘t say that. 

SHRUM:  But Kate, you just ignored the question.  Well Kate you just ignored the question you were asked.

O‘DONNELL:  All right, well Kate O‘Beirne, Bob Shrum, you guys are staying with us.  We are going to come back in just a moment.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, in for Chris Matthews.  We are back with HARDBALL political analysts Kate O‘Beirne and Bob Shrum.  Kate, let me begin with you.  This was a new speech by the president today, intended to rebuild support for the war and cast Democrats as defeatocrats, as the RNC is calling them.  There was also some new language in the president‘s speech where he openly and sort of described the security crisis in Baghdad.  Why do you think that formulation? 

O‘BEIRNE::  You know, I thought it was one of the most effective speeches he has given on Iraq in a really long time.  First of all it is right where the American public is.  However they might feel about the wisdom of having gone into Iraq, they want to win it.  They don‘t want to pull out.  I think many of them are persuadable that that is still doable.  The president has to spend more time laying out how it is and what the stakes are if we do leave prematurely. 

What he talked about in this speech was, for instance, the security crisis in Baghdad.  Well obviously that‘s the case.  When you used to emphasize so many sort of good news stories being missed and didn‘t seem to be honestly confronting what we were all watching on our TV, it seemed like he was not addressing the problems, the very real violent problems we were seeing and if he‘s not acknowledging it, how could he possibly be addressing it?  So acknowledging how tough it is, specifically, I think really adds to his credibility and can reassure the majority of the Americans, who want to see a win there, that he has a plan to do so and it is possible. 

O‘DONNELL:  Bob the president told Brian Williams he does not believe that Osama bin Laden picked up the phone and called to order the, I should say Saddam Hussein picked up the phone and called to order the attacks on 9/11, saying that there‘s not a connection between Iraq and 9/11.  And yet there was a seamless sort of transition in this speech where the president now said that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror and that it is the ideological battle of the 21st century.  Once again tying 9/11 and Iraq. 

SHRUM:  Well it is the game they always play because they are in trouble on Iraq so they want to somehow or other connect it to 9/11.  When he is confronted directly by Brian Williams he can‘t say there was some connection, the 9/11 commission has denied it.  In fact Iraq had no terrorists, was not a terrorist base before George W. Bush launched a war of choice, instead of going into Afghanistan and capturing Osama bin Laden.  You know, you asked a question in the first segment that I thought was very important.  Is the administration losing the communications war. 

No, what is happening here is they are not winning the real war.  They are not winning it in Iraq.  And by the way, Kate, earlier this week they tried the good news approach.  They said things are great in Iraq.  Violence is down.  Then Baghdad erupted, which happens every single time they do one of these victory dances.  And so the president did a little bit of reality today.

O‘DONNELL:  Except that Bob, I take your point, but it is interesting this president is talking less and less about the progress in Iraq.  He described it as security crisis in Baghdad.  They are shifting the language now on Iraq as they get ready for the midterm elections coming up.  Thank you Bob Shrum and Kate O‘Beirne.  I‘m sorry we are out of time.  I greatly appreciate it.  You guys are fantastic. 

Up next Governor Jeb Bush says she can‘t win.  She‘s on her fourth campaign manger, Senator Bill Nelson leads her by 35 points, why does Katherine Harris think she can win?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Katherine Harris was the Republican hero of the 2000 Florida recount.  She was elected to Congress twice but now she is fighting for her political life in her bid to oust Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

The Florida primaries just five days way, Congresswoman Harris is in Tampa tonight.  Welcome, Congresswoman.

REP. KATHERINE HARRIS ®, FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE:  Thank you, Norah.  It‘s great to be on the show with you this evening.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you for joining us.  Now, last May Governor Jeb Bush, of Florida, said I just don‘t think she can win.  Why are you running?

HARRIS:  Oh, because we can win and when we travel the state there is a wave of support from Republicans, Democrats and Independents because when they hear our voting record and our accomplishments versus the present senator, it‘s really astonishing.

He‘s left our traditional values.  He doesn‘t line up with where Florida is and we know we can win.  That was kind of a political ploy, prior to a qualification.  We‘ve been going everywhere.  We have enormous support and we know we‘re going to win.

O‘DONNELL:  The latest poll in your state at July shows, however, that it looks like a blowout, that Senator Nelson would crush you 61 to 24.  That‘s a huge lead even with just two months to the election.  Is your campaign essentially a fool‘s errand?

HARRIS:  Oh, you know, you can make polls say whatever you want.  Norah, look back at history.  When I ran against a Democrat incumbent I was down 30 points and we won.  When I ran against the secretary of state statewide against the incumbent, we were down 30 points and we won with 20.

Even Governor Bush was down 10 points a week before the election and he won with 10.  And certainly the president won had—the president had an overwhelming reelection victory with six points.  So we‘ve seen the data.  We know when we turn out our base, that we‘ll win.

Furthermore, when Democrats learn how liberal Bill Nelson truly is versus what he claims to be, then they‘re with us, too.  I mean, he‘s voted against eliminating the death tax permanently.  He‘s voted against doubling the child tax credit, even getting rid of the marriage tax penalty when we consistently have passed this in the House, and this is what people really care about ...

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman, I must ask you, because your campaign has also been dogged by questions that there have been bizarre things that have happened on the campaign trail, statements by you, high staff turnover, et cetera.  Recently you told the Florida Baptist “Witness” there, which is a magazine, quote, “If you‘re not electing Christians, then, in essence, you are going to legislate sin.”

HARRIS:  We were speaking—actually, let me make the record straight.  I think everyone should participate not only in voting, certainly, but in running for office as well.  I‘m speaking to a specific segment of the people because there is a common misperception that those in church should be separated, church and state.  And I said, you need to get involved.  Our Judeo-Christian ethics and values, if you want to be represented, you need to get involved, you need to vote. 

The same thing I would say when I would go a temple to say you need to make certain that those you are electing are fighting for Israel or even when I‘m talking to Second Amendment folks and those who care about their hunting rights, I say look, I have an A rating and Bill Nelson has an F.  So I was speaking to a specific, specific group.

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman, I know that your faith is very important to you.  Do you believe, and what role do you believe, that God plays in your decision to run for the Senate?

HARRIS:  Well, certainly, I‘ve prayed about it, and God willing, you know, He is going to be there with me but I don‘t think He‘s a Republican or Democrat.  I just hope I‘m on His side.

O‘DONNELL:  You know, I ask you that question because Ed Rollins, the prominent Republican strategist who was once your campaign manager and actually quit ...

HARRIS:  That was kind of silly.  You know, he said that—I don‘t know what he said, but the fact is ...

O‘DONNELL:  He said that you told him that God wanted you to be senator.

HARRIS:  That‘s silly.  That‘s just silly.  I wouldn‘t be so presumptuous as to what God would say.  I think that‘s up to His own decision.

O‘DONNELL:  Ed Rollins was a former campaign manager.  He quit.  You have had four campaign chief of staffs quit and you‘ve had four press secretaries quit.  One of your speechwriters also quit and when she informed her friends that she was quitting she said in an e-mail, quote, “Value of handing in my resignation letter, priceless.”

Other staffers have said that you spin completely out of control over the smallest things.  They‘ve not only quit but they‘ve been very tough on you.  That‘s not something you normally hear in politics.

HARRIS:  No, it‘s really not, but you know what?  We have their e-mail traffic.  We know what was behind all of that.  We know who has been paid, who isn‘t and that will come out after the elections.

We‘re focused on moving forward.  We‘re focused on a race that will

come to the primary well and with that momentum, will go forward in the

general.  All these campaign things are just extraneous issues that people

you‘re trying to detract the people.  What we‘re focused on are issues like immigration, where we‘re so different from Bill Nelson.

The Heritage Foundation says that the bill he supports would create 100 million new citizens at the cost of $50 billion a year over the next 20 years.  We can‘t afford that, so ...

O‘DONNELL:  Given all that then, Congresswoman, and all the ideas that you‘re talking about now, why is it then that even Karl Rove and others at the White House don‘t want you to run.  Why do you think that there is this great dislike of your campaign?

HARRIS:  I don‘t think there is a great dislike.  In fact, across the board, the Republicans have supported me in every place we‘ve gone.

O‘DONNELL:  But not even here.

HARRIS:  Even Democrats and independents.  I‘m not going to go along to get along.  It‘s always been that way in every single election that I‘ve run and, in fact, I think there are more issues that unite us than divide us and I am going to fight for what‘s best for Florida, not a party elite, certainly not the liberal media, and not even to be—to do what‘s popular.  I think I have a history of proving that.

I‘m going to do what‘s right and I won‘t be a member of that good ol‘ boy club and I‘m going to fight for Florida.  I‘m going to be the Florida people‘s senator.

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman, there was recently a profile of you in one of the—I think the “New York Times” in which they said that you had said you were—the first thing you wanted to do when elected senator is to bring a dog with you to work everyday in order to use ...

HARRIS:  That‘s not the first thing I want to do.  He was just asking along the trail.  I said I was with the Southeast Guide Dog Association.  I was going to bring that puppy along.

But the thing I said that I did want to do first of all was to make sure that we have tax reform and I‘m going to travel the state and focus on that.  We‘ve talked about the flat tax, but the fair tax would let us eliminate the IRS. 

We would pay taxes on what we spend, versus the entire amount we earn, and in essence bring back billions of dollars in capital that has fled the U.S. and really have a chance for capital formation, new jobs and greater revenues.  So we‘re going to focus on that tax reform as we have the most onerous tax system in the nation.

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman, there has also been the Republican scandal, as you know, involving Congressman Duke Cunningham.  You have been questioned in that case and yet you did not tell members of your campaign staff that that was the fact and they went out and made misstatements.

HARRIS:  Norah, I think that‘s kind of old news.  You know, we‘ve moved on.  We have a great campaign and this is not what the people of Florida are interested in.  But to address that ...

O‘DONNELL:  You don‘t think that the people of Florida may or may not be interested in any potential corruption?

HARRIS:  No, I will answer that.  I will answer that.  The Justice Department says there is no way we could have know that someone was going to reimburse contributions given by us in the future and they have said we are not a target.  So we‘ve moved on and we want to talk about the issues.

O‘DONNELL:  So tonight you can say here that you‘ve been cleared in that investigation?

HARRIS:  They said I‘m not a target.  So we have moved on, and it‘s only the liberals that continue to pressure these kinds of issues when people care about immigration and people care that we don‘t have this amnesty and flood. 

And they care about cutting taxes, and they care right now in Florida

they care desperately about homeowner‘s insurance that‘s gone up 300 percent, and largely because Bill Nelson failed to exercise leadership when he allowed the national insurance companies to cut and run and leave Floridians to insure themselves.

O‘DONNELL:  And finally, if you did have the chance, although it does not appear likely according to the White House, that the president would come and campaign with you, would you want President Bush to come and campaign with you?

HARRIS:  Oh, we welcome everyone to the table.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Congresswoman Katherine Harris from Tampa, Florida.

HARRIS:  Thank you, Norah—appreciate it.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you very much for your time.

And up next Iran defies the international community, saying it won‘t stop enriching uranium.  So what happens next?  “Vanity Fair‘s” Christopher Hitchens and the “Washington Post” Peter Baker will be here.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Today marked the deadline for Iran to halt enrichment of uranium.  Now the United States is pursuing U.N.  sanction against Iran.  Is the U.S. gearing up for another conflict with a Middle East country?  We are here with “Vanity Fair‘s” Christopher Hitchens and the “Washington Post‘s” Peter Baker.  Christopher, let me begin with you, the U.S. is hoping for new sanctions from the United Nations, are they likely to get them?  Are they likely to face not much help from the United States on this? 

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”:  Well first it‘s the Iran that is gearing up for a new conflict with the United States, if I could just correct your intro.  I know you won‘t mind that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Not at all my dear.

HITCHENS:  It‘s been gearing up already with a conflict with the European Union first, to whom it lied repeatedly about its enrichment and other activities.  It is lying internationally through the U.N. 

No, of course, the Russians won‘t support the U.S. call for sanctions.  No, of course the Chinese will not support it, nor will anybody help about the Iranians sending improvised explosive devices and the means them into Iraq, nor will the rest of the international community give a damn about Iran‘s support for the death squad dictatorship in Syria, which murders the elected leaders of Lebanon, nor will it mind that it supplies long range missiles to Hezbollah. 

So it‘s down to what it was down to three years ago or so with Iraq.  Either we do something about it or nothing gets done at all, but those really are the alternatives. 

O‘DONNELL:  So Iran will likely keep on doing what it wants to do, since the U.N. will not likely impose any severe sanctions against Iran? 

HITCHENS:  Well, it can be a mistake to take the rhetoric of a nut case like president, so called president, puppet leader Ahmadinejad at face value, but from his rhetoric, which at least the Mullahs allow him to utter, it does look as if Iran does appear to want to fight, and believe that it has god on its side. 

Now that‘s actually a very dangerous combination of things, given the toxic levels of the nuclear weapons, IEDs, international terrorists diaspora, sabotage of Lebanon and of the peace process in Palestine.   

O‘DONNELL:  Peter, does President Bush have any good options when it comes to Iran? 

PETER BAKER, THE “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well not a lot of good options.  It has been interesting to see his speech today, for instance, in Salt Lake City.  It was mostly about Iraq and the war on terror, but there was some tough language on Iran that you haven‘t heard him use in a number of weeks. 

You know, when Iran came back and rejected the package of incentives that the Europeans and America had offered to suspend its uranium enrichment and rejected this U.N. Security Council order to suspend, the administration took a very soft approach.  It said their response falls short but did not mention the S-word, sanctions.  Today the president used the C-word, consequences, which is code word for sanctions.  He‘s beginning to ramp up the rhetoric a little bit in hopes of pressuring the Security Council members to follow along. 

HITCHENS:  Are you sure, Peter, I don‘t mean to interrupt you, are you sure, I‘m just asking you, are you sure that‘s what the C and the S word is intended to be the same?  I am not so sure. 

O‘DONNELL:  Meaning the consequences?

HITCHENS:  The sanctions, it seems to me, I tell you why I ask you, is that, I don‘t always agree with Thomas Friedman, but I think he‘s right on this, the oil price is so high Iran is floating on this huge amount of spare cash, which we know the uses, we know the uses it is putting this cash to.  They can thumb their nose at sanctions even if they are not vetoed by Russian or China or France.  Doesn‘t consequences mean something beyond sanctions?

BAKER:  Well, are you suggesting military action, I don‘t think that‘s in the immediate future at this point.  I think the Bush administration took a very deliberate approach on this.  Rightly or wrongly, they have been very much trying to stay in tandem with the Europeans and the Europeans, certainly at the moment, aren‘t for any kind of military action. 

So it is going to be a step by step process, I think, over the ensuing months.  If the Security Council doesn‘t go forward with any kind of sanctions than what the United States hopes to do is to arrange its own, sort of, coalition of the willing, if you will, on sanctions with the Europeans and Japan.  This may or may not, as you say, have much affect on Iran.  That‘s a very open question, but I thin they want to ramp it up step by step rather than going straight towards more drastic action. 

O‘DONNELL:  Christopher, can I get your take on the language that the President used today following Secretary Rumsfeld‘s comments, essentially comparing the fight to Nazi‘s, appeasers, etc.? 

HITCHENS:  Yes, I mean, I think that it‘s a mistake.  I think it‘s not like the Cold War was, certainly, with an enemy that had a rational understanding of mutual assured destruction.  It‘s a bit more like the fight against arationality. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, Christopher Hitchens and Peter Baker, my apology, we are out of time.  Right now it is time for Tucker.

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

END   

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