updated 9/22/2006 11:19:17 AM ET 2006-09-22T15:19:17

Guests: Kweisi Mfume, Ed Rogers, KT McFarland, A.B. Stoddard, Eugene Robinson, Ron Christie, Harold Schaitberger

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The country thoughts Bush was a pleasant, down to earth guy who would not rock the boat.  Instead, swayed by some inner impulse, or the influence of Dick Cheney, he has proved to be lawless and reckless.  “He started a war he could not finish, drove the government into debt, and repeatedly defied the Constitution,” the words today of David Broder, the country‘s premier political reporter.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I am Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

Less than a week after the president said there is no room for a deal, there is a deal in the fight over the treatment of terror suspects.  NBC broke the story and we will have more of it in just a moment. 

Today, Venezuela‘s president, Hugo Chavez, once again called President Bush the devil.  Democrats in Congress were quick to rally around the president. 

Plus, Bill Clinton hosts a celebrity summit of his own.  We will show you all of the international star power. 

And former Maryland Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume makes his first TV appearance here since his primary loss.

And new polls show that over 60 percent of Americans now disapprove of the job Congress is doing, the lowest job approval since 1994, when voters threw the bums out and voted the new guys in.  In just 47 days, voters head to the polls.  What will drive their decision, the thousands of deaths in Iraq, the fight against al Qaeda, the economy, or their feelings toward the president? 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report on today‘s poll. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Forty-seven days until the congressional elections, and today President Bush hit the campaign trail in Florida amid slightly better news for him and a mix for Republican incumbents. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Vote for him and send him to Washington, D.C.

SHUSTER:  Today‘s poll show Republicans losing to Democrats by 10 to 15 points in a generic voter preference question.  However, the spread has narrowed.  When voters were asked about President Bush‘s job performance, while the CBS/”New York Times” poll finds his approval rating about the same as last month at 37 percent, the Gallup poll show him up two points to 44, and the Bloomberg/”Los Angeles Times” poll shows President Bush up five points to 45. 

However, most of the numbers are still below where the president started the year, and all of the September surveys, analysts note, were conducted after the president‘s 9/11 P.R. blitz. 

G. BUSH:  Five years after our nation was attacked, the terrorist danger remains.

We are engaged in a global struggle and the entire civilized world has a stake in it‘s outcome. 

To protect our citizens, the free world must succeed in Iraq. 

The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.

SHUSTER:  Polls show most Americans disagree, but for those who are not sure, the president‘s framing of Iraq as part of the war on terror has helped him on both issues.  In the latest CBS News/”New York Times” poll, the president‘s approval rating on fighting terror remains at 54 percent. 

His approval rating on handling Iraq is up six points from 30 percent last month to 36 percent today.  The numbers are still low, but for Republicans, they are improving. 

Democrats, meanwhile, are now trying to put the grim realities of Iraq back under the spotlight. 

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER:  A hundred Iraqis killed a day.  If that is not a civil war, I don‘t know what a civil war is. 

SHUSTER:  The other top issue on the minds of voters is the economy.  With gas prices falling across the country, the president‘s approval rating on economic issues keeps rising, another two points last month from 35 percent to 37 today.  Still, despite the overall bounce for President Bush and his party, the challenges remain enormous.  Coordinated Democratic attacks on the president and the GOP began only in the last week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Republican leaders exploited 9/11 to mislead us into a war with Iraq.  Are they going get away with exploited 9/11 to win reelection?  Not on your life.

SHUSTER:  Today, the dean of the Washington Political Press Corps, the “Washington Post‘s” David Broder wrote that President Bush, quote, “has proved to be lawless and reckless.  He started a war he cannot finish, drove the government into debt, and repeatedly defied the Constitution.”

And when voters focus on Congress, the picture is not pretty.  Only 25 percent of registered voters currently approve of the job Congress is doing, 61 percent disapprove.  That is the worst set of numbers since 1994 when Republicans took advantage of Democratic woes, launched the Contract with America, and swept into power. 

(on camera):  In one of the polls today, voters said the economy was the top issue, another said it was Iraq.  In other cases, analysts say the electorate is in a volatile mood less than eight weeks before Election Day. 

I am David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Now to NBC‘s Mike Viqueira who broke the story of the deal the White House made with Republican senators on interrogation of terror suspects—

Mike. 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, hi. 

First of all, I am not going to take credit for breaking it.  It was a team effort.  The vast empire of NBC news did it, but we have just heard from a wide variety of Republicans—not only Republicans who are combatants on this bill, if you‘ll pardon the expression, including Frist, McCain, Graham, Warner, John Cornyn. 

They came out with Stephen Hadley of the NSA and Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a unified front of Republicans.  They want to put this division behind them and get on to the issues of security in this election year.  They came out and announced the deal. 

Frist says the CIA deal—interrogations can go forward under the deal that they have reached today, but the issue all along, of course, was would we have to reinterpret, would this legislation reinterpret the Geneva Convention Article 3 that deals with the treatment of prisoners?  They got around that by dealing with the treatment of prisoners through the War Crimes Act.  

The other issue was how much information could defense suspects—terrorist suspects in mounting a defense, how much information—classified information could they have access to.  They got around that by appointing a third-party JAG to look at the information and decide what could be used and what couldn‘t. 

So it was a unified deal.  Some great quotes here, one from Lindsey Graham who says that this is done by—“according to American values.  We will win this war because we are better than they are,” Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike, let me ask you this:  What roll did the majority leader play in this, Dr. Frist and Senator Cornyn or Texas?  Was this a battle between the mavericks, if you will, the men with military backgrounds, and the White House?  Or is this a battle between the minority here and the majority of Republicans? 

VIQUEIRA:  Well, it is funny.  We‘re going to have to wait and see just how close to the McCain, Graham, Warner deal—what they had originally proposed, this deal, ends up being.  Because Frist came out—I guess it was just Tuesday—and said that the votes were not there for what they wanted to do, and that he was against it. 

Now earlier, we did hear from John McCain.  He, of course, was leading the charge here, especially when it came to the Geneva Convention.  Let‘s hear a little bit of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  There is always, in this business, people say who‘s the winners and who‘s the losers.  There‘s not.  We are all winners because we have been able to come to an agreement through a process of negotiation and consensus.  We still have the House of Representatives to go along with this agreement, but I am very proud of what we‘ve accomplished today. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VIQUEIRA:  Incidentally, McCain said he was just getting killed with people calling his office, conservatives angry with him.  I spoke with a number of conservatives on the House side during this whole ordeal, angry with McCain, accuse him of being a lens louse, of wanting to run before the cameras to be on the Sunday shows.  He may not have done himself any favors with conservatives that he‘s going to need in 2008 but, again, a unified front of Republicans today, Chris, announcing this deal. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, just along those lines of politics, Mike, the Republicans may need him in 2008 to hold onto the White House.  He may not be their favorite ice cream this week, but he may well be the winner politically.  Anyway, thank you very much, NBC‘s Mike Viqueira for the scoop, and I do give you credit for that. 

Anyway, Ed Rogers is a Republican strategist who worked for the first President Bush.  Kweisi Mfume, he is the former president of the NAACP and a former congressman.  Until last week, he was the Democrat candidate for senator in Maryland.  And welcome.

I have to go to Mr. Mfume first, since you‘re a battle-hardened veteran of American politics right now.  By the way, great race. 

KWEISI MFUME (D), FMR. MD SENATE CANDIDATE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You just didn‘t have the money at the end, I guess, to dominate the airwaves.  Let ask you about this.  Despite—you were a Congressman, you were head of the NAACP.  You know about American values.  Was this a fight that had to be won by people like McCain? 

MFUME:  Well, I think that we have a got to recognize that we have an obligation beyond our momentary sort of responsive reactions to think about the future.  And the future says, how do we position ourselves and, more importantly, how do we reposition our troops, if in fact, the shoe is on the other foot? 

I think Mr. McCain‘s approach was a deliberate, well thought out approach, as I understand it.  I think it probably bodes well for the future.  We‘ve just got to sometimes take one step backwards as we take two steps forward.  

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you, Ed Rogers.  Your thoughts about this compromise?  I noticed that Bill Frist was in the back row.  I noticed that Lindsey Graham and John McCain were in the front row.  That is how you keep score.  McCain won.

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, no, in this case, Bush was a big net winner.  He got to look both tough on terror and effective.  So McCain ...

MATTHEWS:  Who is the leader here? 

ROGERS:  Well, in this case Bush is the leader.  And again—yes, no

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just—I am laughing because I‘m confounded by your analysis. 

ROGERS:  Then I‘m telling you the truth, because he got to look both

tough on terror, and now he gets to look effective in Washington by

bringing the Senate along.  And so, yes, it‘s a big net plus—a net plus

for Bush and probably a small net minus for McCain.

MATTHEWS:  How‘s it a net minus? 

ROGERS:  Because he looked like he was blocking the president when the president wanted to be tough of terror.  I‘m a McCain sympathizer, but I don‘t think this whole episode was particularly flattering for him within the Republican base. 

MATTHEWS:  Explain that culture.  Because in the Democrat party situation he would look like a winner. 

ROGERS:  In the Republican base there is a bias for anything that is tough on the terror and the terrorists and so in this case, Bush looked like he wanted to define some things, to give some meat to the Geneva Convention, for purposes of dealing with the terrorists that we capture.  And there were some forces in the Senate that wanted to dilute that. 

MFUME:  I would agree with Ed to some extent.  I mean, if you take us all out of this and ask the average American citizen how do they feel about it and they probably would yes, say I am glad he stood up and tried to do something with respect to terrorists and I am glad also that he compromised with the Senate.  So it does seem, to some extent, like he has brought the Senate along. 

I agree with your earlier analysis.  I think from a Democratic perspective McCain looks sensible.  He looks logical.  He looks like he‘s clearly trying to find the path less traveled, to bring about a compromise, but average people who continue to worry about terrorism may in fact think that the president did the right thing and he was so presidential that in the end he compromised and brought the Senate along. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I can go back to was that analytically Mr. Mfume is the fact that we had a poll here, taken by the “Wall Street Journal” and NBC.  It‘s a pretty good poll, with a good track record, and it showed that a majority of people, a narrow majority, 51 to 41, didn‘t like the president‘s initial plan here.  They thought for whatever reason it was wrong.  So people are paying attention to the issue of torture and I think marginally, according to our polling, don‘t like us in the roll of torturers. 

MFUME:  I couldn‘t agree with you more.  It puts at risk any American troops that could be captured later on.  I agree with you.  People just don‘t like that aspect.  Besides, it is not something that we traditionally have done or are trying to do.  But I think more than anything else, just to get back to Ed‘s point, not to justify it, in the overall scheme of things I thought that John McCain did the right thing.  It was a sensible approach. 

The question becomes does the president look more presidential in this or does John McCain look more senatorial and the Senate, which actually has hammered out this compromise. 

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE)  Let‘s talk about this bad theater we‘ve had in this country in the U.N. the last week, from an American perspective.  You‘ve had Ahmadinejad, who we all know is our enemy, maybe a very dangerous customer down the road.  He certainly looks dangerous and we have got Hugo Chavez as an old lefty, Castro-like from the old days. 

I was thinking as they went to the U.N., Ed, we grew up, you know, Khrushchev banning his shoe on the table there.  It was scary but it was also ludicrous.  It did not make him look good.  It made us wonder, geeze is this guy as scary as we thought he was.  He looks like a nut.  Does the president benefit to have two bete noires, like Chavez and Ahmadinejad, basically making ridiculing remarks about him in America? 

ROGERS:  Absolutely.  Chavez and the president of Iran, whose name I can‘t say, because I can‘t pronounce it, they look like good bad guys.  And the whole notion that there are some crack pots that are in charge of state resources that this country has to combat—

MATTHEWS:  They‘re rich.

ROGERS:  Exactly, and they are rich.  They have state resources.  They have the proceeds to assume, to acquire nuclear weapons in the case of Iran.  The fact that Bush is the big inhibiter, the fact that Bush is the person that is standing there saying we have to stop these crack pots, yes, that‘s flattering for Bush.  It is important that our bad guys look like good bad guys. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Mfume, let me ask you the same question about, I mean, you want the Democrats to win this Fall, but does this in fact—Let me tell you, here‘s a quote from the president of the United States.  Here he is, the president of the United States talking about the deal just struck on treatment of terrorist prisoners.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  To meet our top legislative priority and that is a law that will help us crack the terror network and to save American lives.  I had a single test for the pending legislation and that is this, would the CIA operators tell me whether they could go forward with the program, that is a program to question detainees, to be able to get information to protect the American people? 

I am pleased to say that this agreement preserves the most single, most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks.  And that is the CIA program to question the world‘s most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets.  The measure also creates military commissions that will bring these ruthless killers to justice.  In short, the agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do, to capture terrorists, to detain terrorists, to question terrorists and then to try them.  I hope the Congress will send me legislation before it wraps up their business. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That is President Bush in Orlando this afternoon.  Kweise Mfume and Ed Rogers are staying with us to talk about what the president just said.  It looks like he is ready to accept this deal, quite well.  He seems very sublime about it. 

And later President Clinton‘s global summit is collecting billions to help the world on poverty, global warming and other big problems.  Are Clinton‘s donors doing what the U.N. can‘t do?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We are back with former NAACP President, former Congressman Kweise Mfume of Maryland and former Bush 41 adviser Ed Rogers.  Ed Rogers is now one of the most powerful men in Washington.  Congressman Mfume has just ran a very good race for the United States Senate from Maryland. 

Let me ask you Mr. Mfume, ethnicity, it has once again raised its ugly head at America, well at least it has raised its head, with this crazy story about George Allen, learning, according to this afternoon‘s interview, he did an interview on another network this afternoon in which he said my mother told me a month ago that she was Jewish in her background, but she told me not to tell anybody after he had told her that a New York newspaper, the Forbits (ph), the Forward (ph) we all know about, it‘s a Jewish newspaper in New York, had already sort of reported on this.  Is this where we are headed in politics, this politics of personal understanding, if you will, or destruction?

MFUME:  Well, I hope not.  I mean, race matters, ethnicity matters, but it shouldn‘t matter so much that we get beyond the issues and the needs of people and the things that people really care about.  And what people care about is the fact that our government is broken in many respects.  We‘re not getting the kind of leadership we ought to get, and we‘re not necessarily always moving in the right direction.  When those sort of things get in, they sort of take us off guard, because we all have a heart, we all have feelings and sensitivities. 

It matters, but the question becomes, when do you get beyond that and start talking about other things that matter?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. But in the end, I guess there‘s a personal plea of mine for people to be honest when it matters.  Like, you know, they poll people on ethnic questions.  They say are you going to vote for Doug Wilder and he comes in 13 points ahead in the polls, and wins by one.  The great Tom Bradley, who was such a credible, estimable police chief Los Angeles for all those years, and he ran twice for governor, twice he came out ahead in the polling and lost to a nobody named Deukmejian after the polling actually took place. 

White voters tend to lie, some of them, to pollsters.  That is why ethnicity, to me, corrupts our system.  They say, well I‘m going to vote for this guy, sure, and then they go into the polling booth and don‘t. 

MFUME:  Yes.  And history has proven that tends to be the case.  And I don‘t know why.  I mean, just tell the truth.  I mean, it is easier that way, I think.  And it is much more sincere.  Now, I don‘t expect everybody to support every candidate that is different from them in terms of religion or race or everything else, but when you‘re asked a question, you ought to at least know.  And if you don‘t know, just say, I don‘t know.  I think people can live with that. 

ROGERS:  Can I say something about this? 

MATTHEWS:  Why do people give false answers to pollsters on ethnic matters?  Why do they?

ROGERS:  Well, who knows?  Maybe there is some latent, sleeping racism that exists in our...

MATTHEWS:  So in other words, you‘re saying you think it is the politically correct answer or the right answer but then you don‘t vote the way you think you should?

ROGERS:  You know, maybe some people are corrupted that way, I don‘t know.   But having said that, Congressman Mfume should change parties.  He should use this as opportunity to break free and come clear. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this a welcome mat we‘re getting here?

ROGERS:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  He will be welcomed, he will be respected, and he will be uninhibited.  He should come in.  By any standard, Black Americans should fire their existing generation—the existing generation of leadership of their political party. 

MATTHEWS:  OK... 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  ... should put all their eggs in one basket.  So come...

MATTHEWS:  Before you respond, I want to show you a radio ad being put out by a group called the National Black Republican Association.  It‘s running in your state, Maryland. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Democrats passed those Black Codes and Jim Crow laws.  Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  White hoods and sheets?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Democrats fought all civil rights legislation from the 1860s to 1960s.  Democrats released those vicious dogs and fire hoses on blacks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Seriously?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROGERS:  Hey, I‘m from Birmingham, Alabama.

MATTHEWS:  You liked that ad?

ROGERS:  No, it‘s harsh, it‘s inappropriate. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it true? 

ROGERS: Steele and RNC...

MATTHEWS:  What part of it was not true? 

ROGERS:  Steele and the RNC have disassociated themselves from that group and that ad...

MATTHEWS:  I know, but what part of that ad wasn‘t true?

ROGERS:  Having said that, I am from Birmingham, Alabama, and, literally, all of that is true.  By any standard, black America should fire their political leadership and make their vote competitive.  Come to the Republican party. 

MATTHEWS:  This is a moment here.  I feel like I‘m here, Congressman Mfume, I feel I‘m Walter Cronkite here between, you know, a Jewish leader from Israel and an Arab leader from Jordan trying to make a peace deal here.

MFUME:  And I‘m being courted publicly. 

ROGERS:  Absolutely.  Absolutely, Congressman.  Think about it.

MFUME:  Well, let me say that about that commercial, garbage in, garbage out.  You don‘t appeal to people by throwing all that stuff in.  The real fact is that Democrats, Dixiecrats and Republicans all dropped the ball on the issue of race.  That is why we had slavery justified for 200 years and segregation justified for another 100. 

So there is enough finger pointing to go around.  The question becomes, what parties are trying to heal, what parties are going to try to make that better, and what parties are going to really offer opportunity?

MATTHEWS:  All right.  Let many go back to one question I‘ve been asked to ask you by my authorities here, and I think it‘s a good question.  George Allen, who is from Virginia—and you are from Maryland—seems stymied on this ethnic family background thing. 

Do you think he has been handling it well, Mr. Mfume? 

MFUME:  Well, you know, I just don‘t know enough about it, and I really don‘t.  I think that if there is something that is relative to your family, your ethnicity, or your history, it is OK to talk about because it‘s a part of you.  But it‘s not OK if you‘re kind using it just to necessarily appeal. 

All of us have stories, and I done want to prejudge this situation because I don‘t know enough about, except to say sometimes that has its place and then sometimes it simply does not. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  It‘s great to have you.  Welcome to our stage, Congressman. 

We love you here, we want you here.  You got my vote at least, anyway.

MFUME:  I want Ed‘s vote.  I want Ed‘s vote.

ROGERS:  As a Republican, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Ed Rogers, Kweisi Mfume, thank you, Congressman.

Up next we will have a report on the billions being pledged at President Clinton‘s Second Annual Clinton Global Initiative. 

And later, much more about the fight for power in the midterm with former New York Senate candidate K.T. McFarland and firefighter union president Harold Schaitberger.  He is a tough guy.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As bad political theater takes center stage at the U.N. this week, big problems are in the spotlight.  And another big meeting in New York, former president Bill Clinton is hosting his Second Annual Clinton Global Initiative, where hundreds of businessmen and political leaders are putting their and their money where their mouths are.  I can tell you the traffic in New York City is unbelievable because of this. 

NBC‘s Mike Taibbi reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE TAIBBI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  The high drama was at the U.N., where on Tuesday, President George Bush and Iran‘s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the international forum each had often criticized to trade accusations and claims to the high ground and where, Wednesday Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez redefined the low ground in referring to Mr. Bush. 

HUGO CHAVEZ, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator):  The gentleman to whom I refer as the devil came here, talking as if he owned the world.  Truly, as the owner of the world. 

News, yes, but just a few blocks across town, a different kind of news.  Mr. Bush‘s immediate predecessor rolling the red carpet for a thousand participants, some of whom also had business at the U.N., for a far less dramatic kind of summit  This was the Second Annual Clinton Global Initiative. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  CGI was designed to tackle big global challenges in bite sized pieces. 

TAIBBI:  Bite-sized, if you think that term applies to the three billion over ten years that British mogul Sir Richard Branson announced today he‘ll donate to fight global warming.

RICHARD BRANSON, BRITISH ENTREPRENEUR, PHILANTHROPIST:  We must not be the generation responsible for irreversibly damaging the environment.

TAIBBI:  Or the millions committed in private and government funds to build enough of these so-called “Merry-Go-Round Pumps”, powered by children at play, to surMDNM_rMDNM_rMDNM_pply fresh water across southern Africa.  It was the best applause line for first lady Laura Bush.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES:  To install 4,000 pumps in schools and communities, and provide clean drinking water to as many as 10 million Sub-Saharan Africans by 2010.

TAIBBI (on camera):  Some say this annual Clinton gathering is already succeeding in ways matching the best dreams for the U.N., bringing together unlikely partners to address world problems that know no politics, and that seek narrowly-defined solutions that work. 

(voice-over):  That is how two political opponents could greet each other so warmly and it is why Clinton told the “Today” show‘s Meredith Vieira two of the people leading his current efforts to combat urban greenhouse gases are even more unlikely allies. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Rupert Murdoch

and Barbara Streisand.  I am quite sure—talking about strange bedfellows

that they have never worked on anything before, but I think they are both pretty proud that they are doing it. 

TAIBBI:  There was a lot of feel good here, power brokers making back room deals to do some good to combat poverty, religious conflict, specific health issues and climate problems to add to what does get accomplished, despite the acrimony at the U.N. 

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I think they both compliment each other. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We need both.  We need the U.N., we need the Clinton Global Initiative.  We need as many as possible to deal with the world‘s problems. 

TAIBBI:  Hard news from this summit?  Some.  Pakistan‘s president, General Pervez Musharraf, was frank in admitting that five years after 9/11 and his new alliance with the U.S., some key al Qaeda leaders are still living in mountain hideouts, and that the Taliban have made a powerful resurgence because of the American presence in neighboring Afghanistan. 

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN:  They are coming back because of the presence of foreign troops there. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Our presence? 

MUSHARRAF:  Yes.  While they were dormant, al Qaeda was in the lead role.  Now the Taliban have taken over, again, the lead role. 

TAIBBI:  In the audience though, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Madeleine Albright were not listening for solutions to war, genocide or the Middle East peace process by design.

CLINTON:  That is not anything any of us can do much about.  I think it‘s more fruitful to talk about things that all of us can have an impact on. 

TAIBBI:  This year‘s donor commitments, nearly $6 billion already, can buy a lot of impact, if not necessarily a lot of headlines.  Private enterprise for the public good, succeeding for the feign public institution with a similar mandate so often seem stalled to the point of paralysis by politics.

Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Mike Taibbi.  Keith Olbermann will have former President Clinton on his show tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern, and this weekend on “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert interviews Bill Clinton at a special time, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, following the Ryder Cup. 

Up next, former New York Senate candidate KT McFarland, and Firefighter union president Harold Schaitberger will be here to talk about the battle for power in 2006.   You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  New polls show the economy is the most important issue in the upcoming midterms with Iraq right behind it.  Are we forgetting about Iraq?  No.  And if the Democrats put the focus on the war, will they win control of Congress?  KT McFarland ran and lost her bid to be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.  Don‘t be embarrassed.  It is a great, patriotic thing to run for the Senate. 

KT MCFARLAND ®, FMR. NY SENATE CANDIDATE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  She is from the state of New York.  She is hoping to run against Hillary Clinton—she was hoping.  And Harold Schaitberger is the general president of the International Association of Firefighters.  It is great to have you both on, both active in America. 

KT, first, what did you make of the deal struck late today between the president of the United States and those rambunctious, independent Republicans with military backgrounds, Warner and McCain especially, over the treatment of prisoners? 

MCFARLAND:  Well, I think it is really great.  It means that the American people won, because the compromises allowed the CIA and the United States to have the tools it needs to interrogate terrorists and get the information they want, but at the same time it keeps American military people safe or safer when—if they are captured and they‘re put under torture as well. 

I mean, I have got a daughter who is in the Navy, and as a parent, it makes me feel much better to think that if she ever is in a combat situation, she and her colleagues will be protected by the Geneva Accords. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is this president forever led around by the civilians, the ideologues on issues like this and not by the military people who have to fight he wars?  Why does he always lean over in that direction to the ideologues and the tough guys against people like McCain and people like Warner and Lindsey Graham who have had experience with the military, especially in the legal area? 

MCFARLAND:  I think that that‘s a bit unfair. 

MATTHEWS:  It is?

MCFARLAND:  You know, the president‘s responsibility is to keep the United States and the American people safe.  And after the attacks five years ago, it put us in a whole different world.  We have a different adversary.  We don‘t know who is adversary is. 

You know, in the Cold War, we knew who our enemy was.  We knew what he looked like.  We knew what kind of weapons he had.  We knew how he would fight us.  Well, all of those things have changed, so I give the president enormous credit for having adjusted to this new world and taken decisive action which none of his predecessors were willing to do. 

MATTHEWS:  So you are happy with things like waterboarding?

MCFARLAND:  I didn‘t say that.  I said ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, in effect you did.  You said his methods are fine with you. 

MCFARLAND:  I think that the compromise that they‘ve agreed to is very important, and I think it‘s very useful going forward.  The problem that we had is after September the 11, we had no idea who terrorists were.  We had no idea where they were from. 

All we knew—and if you‘ll remember, five years ago we were all very convinced that there would be another terrorist attack almost immediately.  Well, there hasn‘t been, and I think one of the reasons there hasn‘t been is that we‘ve taken decisive action in interrogating prisoners. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I am not sure the polls would show you we‘re expecting an immediate attack.  Again let me go to Harold, thank you very much.  This president, are you supporting the Democratic candidate for next time, no matter who it is? 

HAROLD SCHAITBERGER, PRESIDENT, FIREFIGHTERS UNION:  No, we are going to support the candidate who believe can lead this country, that will reflect the issues and the character of our membership and we are going to do exactly we did the last time.  We are going to look at all of candidates and make a valued judgment on who best can serve this country. 

MATTHEWS:  You represent the heroes of America, the first responders. 

SCHAITBERGER:  They would not call themselves that.  They would say they‘re just doing their job. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, everybody in America does.

SCHAITBERGER:  But I represent a proud, noble group of people. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, when all the kids of America, young boys especially, were asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, they always say firefighters.  And it used to be girls used to say nurses.  I mean that‘s still there. 

SCHAITBERGER:  We‘ve got a lot of women who are coming into the fire service.

MATTHEWS:  Well let me ask you about this, the three questions that the voters are looking at in the polls, the economy, Iraq, war in Iraq, and the concern about domestic attack, like K.T. just mentioned, the possibility of another attack.  What, well I see that illegal immigration, this latest poll of daily times, Bloomberg‘s got that third. 

What are your, looking at the list, which are the topics that your people, your rank and file, care most about as they vote?  Is it the economy first?  Is it Iraq second?  Is it immigration, illegal immigration and then is it terrorism after that?  What order would you put it in? 

SCHAITBERGER:  I can tell you that my members are going to vote on how make sure that we secure and protect America.  We are going to then vote on the economy, as far as the issues of working families. 

Are we going be able to provide and afford health care for our workers and particularly our retirees?  Are we going be able to secure and protect our pensions that are, quite frankly, under attack?  Are we going to get a fair day‘s wage for a fair day‘s work?  And for my members, are they going to be afforded the resources, the equipment, the staffing, the training, so they can do a very tough job and have a chance to go home after their shift.  Those are the issues my members are voting on. 

MATTHEWS:  So security is number one? 

SCHAITBERGER:  Security is very high.  Security is number one, but security in the context of being able to ensure that we can protect our borders, that we can protect our ports, that our rails are safe and that our first responders have the resources and the equipment to do a tough job. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  I think that is going to be number one. 

Let me ask you K.T., you‘ve been a tough battle, you lost out in a primary, but now you have a question before you.  I want you to give us some news here.  Are you going back Hillary in the general? 

MCFARLAND:  No, I will always back the Republican candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that you have learned anything being out there with the people of New York, in terms of their attitude towards Hillary and whether they believe in her?  They‘re going to vote for her, obviously, the numbers are way ahead.  Why do New Yorkers look to Hillary if the rest of the country won‘t?  What‘s distinctive about your state?

MCFARLAND:  Look, I think I have traveled all around the state.  New York has 62 counties.  I have been to every one.  I‘ve met people in every one of those counties and I think that what your poll shows is accurate.  People are most concerned about the economy and jobs and their own pocketbook issues.  Now on those issues I think that they will vote Republican because those are the issues Republicans traditionally are very good at protecting. 

MATTHEWS:  But not in New York.

MCFARLAND:  No, I disagree.  The economy is looking good.  Gas prices are lower.  The Bush tax cuts I think have been very successful and have been a stimulant to the economy.

MATTHEWS:  OK, which office, statewide office, in New York are the Republicans going to carry this year?  Because the only one I can think of is Jeanine Pirro, who has a shot against Andrew Cuomo, not a great shot.  You are not going to win the governorship.  You‘re not going to win the Senate race against Hillary, so why are you so optimistic? 

MCFARLAND:  Well I‘m optimistic because I think the Republican message is the one that is important.  Now look, everybody knows it is a tough year for Republicans.  It is going to be a tough year in New York state.  One of the reasons it‘s going to be a tough year for Republicans in New York is because they don‘t have the kind of support that they have historically had nationally and that they‘ve historically had from Republicans in the state.   

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not a big enough tent for you, I know.  And it‘s not a big enough tent for a lot of people.  Thank you very K.T. McFarland in New York.  Thank you Harold Schaitberger.  I always want to know who you are backing for president.  I mean, can you give me an early indication. 

SCHAITBERGER:  No, but I will tell you first when we make our decision. 

MATTHEWS:  I always like to know.  You were for Kerry last time.  I only know the power you have because you were standing with the winner of the nomination last time in Iowa, right.  I will never forget you standing in that first row with the candidate. 

Up next we are going to talk more midterm politics with the “Hill‘s” A.B. Stoddard and the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson and former Bush/Cheney White House adviser Ron Christie.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, polls, politics and international put downs.  Let‘s bring on the HARDBALLers, the “Hill‘s,” that‘s the name of the newspaper, A.B. Stoddard, Republican strategist, I love that word, strategist, Ron Christie and “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson. 

You‘re the only guy, actually I know exactly what you do to, but strategist I want to know more about.  Let me go to Eugene, since he‘s down there at the Post in the most famous news room in America.  Oh, you‘re somewhere else here.  Let me ask you Eugene, why is the president coming up in the polls? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well I think it‘s because he‘s been able to talk about terrorism and not talk about Iraq.  And, you know, the anniversary of 9/11 was a single commemoration, an anniversary.  It was an event and I think it gave the president the opportunity to talk about what is really his best issue, terrorism and security, without talking about something that is one of his worst issues, which is the war in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, do you agree with that, Ron, he took advantage of it? 

RON CHRISTIE, FMR. ASSISTANT TO PRES. BUSH:  I don‘t think he is taking a advantage of it.  I think the president has been very consistent in going to the American people for the last four months and explaining who these terrorists are, the importance of the military commissions and we‘ve heard reports that there has been a deal reached in the Senate and the House, late this afternoon, to make sure that these terrorists can be tried in Guantanamo Bay. 

The more that the president goes and explains to the American people the importance of the war on terrorism and why we need to prosecute these people in military commissions, I think that his poll number wills continue to go up, in addition to the fact that the economy continues to improve. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you say it‘s the economy.  Eugene says it‘s focusing on terrorism.  What do you say A.B.? 

A.B. STODDARD, “THE HILL:  I think that, I agree with Eugene that he was going to get a bump on the anniversary of 9/11.  He has to.

MATTHEWS:  He got a bounce.

STODDARD:  But to make it last, I think he really needs to, I think in a few weeks, when we go back to Iraq, unless there‘s a foiled plot or a way to talk about terror and once this tribunal, detainee, interrogation thing is off the table, we‘re looking ten days from now, I think he needs to start talking about tax cuts and just spend the entire month of October talking about the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  Tax cuts, t and t—terrorism and tax cuts. 

STODDARD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I do think that‘s winning, and the Democrats‘ line is Iraq and Bush.

By the way, Eugene, let me go to you, Mr. Christie, you seem to be the Republican spokesperson here, and fair enough—why, if Bush is doing so well—I shouldn‘t say Bush—if President Bush is doing so well, why not your crowd put him in your ads?  Because “The New York Times” just analyzed the ads the other day, and Bush doesn‘t appear in any ads except the Democrat ads so he can be the dart board for the Democrats. 

CHRISTIE:  Well, President Bush I think is still very popular around the country. 

MATTHEWS:  So why doesn‘t your party put him in the ads if you like him so much?

CHRISTIE:  Because the president of the United States recognizes for those members where it is an advantage for him to either campaign or be in those ads, he will be in those ads. 

MATTHEWS:  But we have not found those campaigns where it‘s an advantage for him to be in the ads yet. 

CHRISTIE:  Chris, I think the campaign season now that we‘ve just passed Labor Day is now kicking into full gear.  You‘re going to see...

MATTHEWS:  But it looks like he comes in after dark, he raises money, and he leaves by midnight, and nobody sees him except the guys who gave him money. 

CHRISTIE:  No, if you look, as a matter of fact...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s exactly what is going on. 

CHRISTIE:  If you look this upcoming Monday, President Bush is going to Cincinnati, Ohio...

MATTHEWS:  How can you keep your face so straight when you know I‘m telling the exact truth here? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Bush in a parade or a rally, or an outdoor speech for a candidate.

CHRISTIE:  Here is the advantage.  I am speaking the truth and not spinning.  The fact of the matter is, the president feels very strongly going to those districts around the country where he can make a difference. 

MATTHEWS:  Name them.

CHRISTIE:  He is going to Cincinnati, Ohio on Monday to campaign for Mike DeWine.  If Mike DeWine...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s going to be seen in public?

CHRISTIE:  If Mike DeWine was going to be in such a bitter, bitter reelection and President Bush‘s presence was going to hurt him, why is the president going to Ohio?

MATTHEWS:  Give me the honest scoop here.  Is the president showing up, or is he just sending in the money? 

STODDARD:  I am actually not sure.  (inaudible) Ron can tell us.  But I think that it would not be wise for Mike DeWine to have Bush come and be with him at a campaign stop this Monday.  I‘d take his money if I were Mike DeWine, but I would not be seen with him.  Mike DeWine is behind Sherrod Brown in that race.  That would be a mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that is getting close there. 

We will be right back with A.B. Stoddard, Ron Christie and Eugene Robinson.  You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with HARDBALL with A.B. Stoddard of “The Hill” newspaper on Capitol Hill, Republican strategist Ron Christie—who did you work for?

CHRISTIE:  I worked for John Kasich.  I used to work for George Allen when he was running for the Senate, and I worked for President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

MATTHEWS:  Are you the guy developing his talking points on this ancestry thing?

CHRISTIE:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Just kidding.  Eugene Robinson in “The Washington Post...”

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... White House and Republican Senators John McCain, John Warner, Lindsey Graham struck a deal about the interrogation of terror suspects, and now CIA officials are praising the deal saying it will permit them to continue their secret interrogations of terrorist suspects. 

So Eugene, this does put a problem behind the president, does it?  I think it helps McCain, but Republicans have told me tonight that in the culture of the Republican Party, you don‘t show such lack of respect and discipline for the leader.

ROBINSON:  It seems to me it helps McCain.  I think being against torture is a good position to have no matter which party you‘re in.  But you know, we‘ve got to hear the details of this deal.  We don‘t really know what it includes.  You know, if Graham and Warner and McCain are satisfied with it, then it‘s got to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, which rules out a lot of the really nasty stuff, I think.  So—but then again, we do know that the CIA was not enthusiastic about torture anyhow.  So maybe they are happy about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not?  Why not?

ROBINSON:  Well, would they be?  I mean, this is not a country that likes to torture people.  This is not a country that likes to play that rough, and, you know, I hear from a lot of people from kind of dot-mail, e-mail addresses, who kind of, rah-rah, cheering me on every time I write about the, you know, torture policy and the way we treat these detainees.

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of torture, speaking of waterboarding, one of the most nonpartisan, straightest reporters there is, David Broder—he even keeps away socially from people in politics so he can be a straight reporter—here is what he said in his column today, and I want Eugene to respond to your colleague.  I‘ve never seen Broder talk like this.  It‘s almost—it reminds me of Walter Cronkite saying we can‘t win the war in Iraq—in Vietnam.  We‘re not winning it, in 1968. 

Quote: “The country thought Bush was a pleasant, down-to-earth guy who would not rock the boat.  Instead, swayed by some inner impulse, or the influence of Dick Cheney, he has proved to be lawless and reckless.  He started a war he cannot finish, drove the government into debt, and repeatedly defied the Constitution.” 

This is straight-laced David Broder, the dean of Washington correspondents.  What do you make of your colleague? 

ROBINSON:  That is very—that is very rare for Broder to come out, you know, that strongly and that definitively on a point like that.  I think—I know that David has been frustrated recently, and I think saddened by the kind of polarization that we‘ve seen in American politics.  And, you know, part of the point of the column, really, the main point of the column I think was the resurgence of a center that makes some sort of sense and tries to find some sort of consensus...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he was looking at the bright side. 

ROBINSON:  ... on really important issues.  But that line about reckless and lawless, that was quite something. 

MATTHEWS:  But the president—one thing about Broder I‘ve noticed is he is an institutionalist.  He believes in the Congress, he believes in the Constitution, he believes in regular order, and he believes in conversations and even friendships across the aisle.  He wants to see people being able to cut deals in the interest of the country.  He is applauding the efforts of these mavericks, as they are called, Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services.  What do you make of this?  Are you glad those guys did it? 

CHRISTIE:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not glad.  You wish Warner had just said, yes, sir, amen.

CHRISTIE:  No.  I don‘t.  Let me say this...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  Let me say this very clearly, Chris.  The president of the United States has said that we do not support torture, we do not condone torture in this country.  When you have people like Senator McCain, Senator Warner and Lindsey Graham, who are trying to make sure that we cannot get these—the information out of these terrorists in the best way possible when you have people who are in the American prison system—I mean, if you want to say that people are being tortured by keeping the lights on, you want to say that people are being tortured by having cold water poured on them, that‘s not torture. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know—they won‘t tell us what they‘re doing.

CHRISTIE:  That‘s...

ROBINSON:  That is torture, though. 

CHRISTIE:  No, Chris, that is actually not true. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I can‘t get Senator Frist or anybody to tell us what is going on, and they know and they tell us they know.  Waterboarding is part of the deal here.  You have got to decide whether you‘re happy with it.

Thank you, A.B. Stoddard.  Thank you, Ron Christie, the man I‘m arguing with.  It‘s hard to say nice things about a guy I‘m arguing with.  And Eugene Robinson.  You‘re a wise man, Eugene. 

Play HARDBALL with us again Friday night.  Our guests will include former AP correspondent Ron Fournier, and former Bush-Cheney strategist Matt Dowd.  Both are going to be here on the hot seat.  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   

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