updated 10/9/2006 12:36:12 PM ET 2006-10-09T16:36:12

Guests: Patrick McHenry, Jack Kingston, Jonathan Alter, Lynn Sweet

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, damage control.  President Bush leads top Republicans in putting out the semblance of a united front on the Foley page scandal.  But are voters so turned off by the sex scandal they‘ll dump the sleaze out of the House in November?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL.  Republicans leaders in the House face a Doomsday scenario for their handling of the Mark Foley scandal.  Today top Republicans, including President Bush are making a show of support around House Speaker Dennis Hastert in an effort to show voters they are united. 

Will Americans buy it? Well, according to the latest polls, it looks doubtful.  A “Time” magazine poll on the Foley sex scandal shows two thirds of Americans who are aware of this scandal believe Republicans tried to cover it up.  One-third of them say this scandal will make them less likely to vote Republican in the election just 32 days away.

And more bad news for Republicans, a new “USA Today/Gallup” poll shows Democrats are gaining ground in the hottest Senate races.  Plus stay the course or change the course?  Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, just back from his eighth trip to Iraq, warns of the violence.  He says it‘s not being reduced in the last 90 days.  He says if it doesn‘t, the United States should consider a change of course if we don‘t change the situation over there by Christmas.  The White House disagrees with Warner, saying slow progress is being made in Iraq.  More on this later, but first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has a roundup of today‘s developments.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well Chris, the White House announced today that President Bush will travel next week to Illinois for an event with Denny Hastert.  White House officials calculate that the damage would be even worse if support for Hastert were to crumble, in part because other top Republicans who might be involved in a leadership fight also face questions about the Foley scandal, as well. 

However, the unity effort has not stopped some Republicans today from charting their own course.  New Jersey Republican Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. said today that Denny Hastert should resign.  In Houston, Texas, Republican House candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs is running for that seat Tom DeLay held, said that she no longer wants Denny Hastert to come to Texas as scheduled and help her campaign.

The latest polling shows that the impact of the Foley scandal is what many Republicans had feared.  According to a Rasmussen survey, 61 percent of voters believe Republicans have been protecting Congressman Foley for years, 21 percent believe Republican leaders only learned of Foley last week. 

But here‘s the key.  Among Republicans, and again this may say something about Republican energy for this election.  Among Republicans, 31 percent believe the Republican leaders were trying to protect Foley for years. 

Now, how deeply has this scandal penetrated the public discourse?  According to “Time” magazine, 80 percent of the public is aware of the Foley scandal and of this figure, two-thirds believe that Tom Foley was being protected by Republican leaders.

Now if you think that the Foley scandal has taken attention from the Iraq war and put Iraq on the back burner, you‘re wrong.  According to the latest polling, the war is a greater concern now to voters than ever before and support for the war continues to drop. 

According to “Time,” 38 percent now say they support the president‘s decision to invade Iraq.  That is the lowest that it has been.  It is down four points.  And there you‘re looking at the overall approval rating for the president‘s handling of the Iraq war.  That‘s at 34 percent.  That is also down.  The president‘s overall approval rating, Chris, stands at 36 percent.  And as if to put an exclamation point on the president‘s problems in Iraq, a group of senators just returned from Iraq, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Republican John Warner, came back and said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), ARMED SERVICES CMTE, CHAIRMAN:  I assure you, in two or three months, if this thing hasn‘t come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it‘s the responsibility of our government internally to determine is there a change of course that we should take?  And I wouldn‘t take off the table any option at this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  You add to that that the top military commander for the U.S.  in Iraq says the number of bombs being placed is at an all-time high.  And Chris, taking together, this is awfully difficult news for Republicans in and for the White House, now just 32 days from the election—Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

A group of House Republicans is desperately trying to shift the blame to the Democrats on the Foley matter, implying they knew about the Mark Foley scandal before it broke.  Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry of  North Carolina is with us now.  Also with us by phone is Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia, who‘s the vice chairman of the Republican conference.  Welcome to you both.

Congressman McHenry, what do you believe was the speaker‘s role in this involving one of your caucus, Mark Foley?  Did he do the right thing or not?

REP. PATRICK MCHENRY ®, NORTH CAROLINA:  Well hindsight is 20/20, and based on the information he had at the time, I believe he made the right decision.  It‘s the same decision that CREW made, based off of—which is a liberal advocacy group funded by George Soros from Washington D.C.—it‘s the same decision that numerous media outlets made, as well as the FBI, that the initial e-mail was not actionable.  Hindsight will tell us that that was a mistake.

MATTHEWS:  No, but do you share the judgment made at the time, because the speaker said to Mike Viquiera of this network, of NBC, that he really hadn‘t gotten any of these e-mails until last Friday.  And that includes the earlier ones, the later instant messages.  What are you talking about?  What do you believe he actually had in hand when he was advised of this awhile ago?

MCHENRY:  I don‘t think he had anything in hand.  I think his staff had dealt with it at the staff level and resolved the issue.  And the speaker of the House has hundreds of meetings a day and a lot on his plate.  But certainly the staff thought they had resolved it.

MATTHEWS:  What about Boehner‘s claim and Reynolds‘ claim that they talked to the speaker about this before?

MCHENRY:  You‘ll have to talk to them about it.

MATTHEWS:  But they‘re leaders of your caucus.  How can you ignore it and not give me an answer?  I mean, these guys, they‘re top people.  They say they informed the speaker of this.

REP. JACK KINGSTON ®, GEORGIA (on phone):  Chris, my understanding was that they knew also about the G-rated e-mails, the October ‘05 e-mails, which the parents of the boy said were OK, you‘ve looked into it, we appreciate it.  We want to protect our son‘s privacy.  We‘ll take it from here, so I think based on the information, you can accurately say did they know about the e-mails?  Yes.  Those were the October ‘05 G-rated e-mails.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you call it G-rated?  What‘s your standard?

KINGSTON:  Well what Foley was saying is OK, Katrina‘s hit, send me a picture, are you OK?  Send me a picture to prove it.  That was his explanation.  It‘s a weird exchange in anybody‘s book for a 50-year-old man to be e-mailing a 16-year-old.

MATTHEWS:  Do you really believe that anybody of your age or intelligence would say the kid was asked for a picture as proof of life or health?

KINGSTON:  Well, you know, when you‘re sitting there and the parents sign off on it, what are you going to do?  Hey, we‘re from the government and we know better?  But I‘ll tell you one thing, Chris, that‘s real important is I‘m a member of leadership.  If I or any other member of leadership knew that Foley was up to this, we would have said Mark, you‘ve got to go, because it‘s a safe Republican seat.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

KINGSTON:  He was expendable.  We could have replaced him.

MATTHEWS:  Did you know or did you know there were rumors at the time that he had gone drunkenly to the dormitory where the pages are put?

KINGSTON:  No, and I can tell you, if I had known, again as a member of leadership, somebody who has to raise a lot of money for the congressional committee, I would have said, we‘ve got a weak link in the chain in a safe seat.  We‘ve got to put this guy on the sidelines, we‘ve got to get somebody to run against him in the primary. 

And you know, that‘s, to use your term, HARDBALL.  We would have done that, because that‘s what leaders do.  There would be no reason to risk a safe Republican seat on somebody who had such questionable behavior.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Kingston, just a simple point for both of you gentlemen.  You‘re both members of the House.  You‘re members of the United States Congress.  You have tremendous authority and respect.  And I give it all to you, but do you honestly believe the speaker when he says he didn‘t know about the earlier, which you call the G-rated e-mail?  He didn‘t know about anything the last Friday, that‘s what he told Mike Viqueira of NBC?

KINGSTON:  I believe that‘s the case.  I believe his staff handled it.  But so did Congressmen Alexander and Congressman Shimkus and Jeff Trandahl and all the people in the page authority chain.  They‘ve all signed off on it.  But most importantly of all, the parents said thank you for what you‘ve done, we‘ll take it from here.

MCHENRY:  Look Chris, this story is pretty clear.  What the speaker did in reaction and what Mark Foley did it perpetrate this crime, clearly what Mark Foley did was sick.  But the only question that remains in the story, Chris, is what person, group, or political entity held that e-mail and/or those instant messages?

MATTHEWS:  Well tell me who it is?

KINGSTON:  Well that‘s why we‘d like to get Ms. Pelosi.

MATTHEWS:  No, wait a minute, let me get this straight.  You‘re going to offer an opportunity for whoever did it on the Democratic side to come in and say that they did it.  But you don‘t know anybody on the Democratic side did it, do you? 

First of all, Mr. McHenry, do you believe a member of the Democratic leadership had anything to do with holding this information and dropping it on ABC last week?  Do you believe that?

MCHENRY:  I don‘t know that—Chris, I‘ll answer it this way.  I do not know that they did not.  And Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel, I asked them two days in a letter to submit themselves under oath and say clearly, yes or no, did they have prior knowledge of the instant messages and or e-mails.  And if they did, they‘re an accessory to this crime.

MATTHEWS:  How so? 

MCHENRY:  Because they allowed to keep a pedophile on the streets.

MATTHEWS:  Just to follow this, let‘s follow that line of inquiry.  Do you believe that your party controls all the committees?  You control subpoena power, you control the leadership, you control all the non-member offices of the House, including the page control.  You have all the authority in the world.  If the Democrats have none of that authority, even if they had a glimmer of this, or a rumor of this, what were they supposed to do?

MCHENRY:  Well, let me tell you something, Chris.

KINGSTON:  Well they should have done what good citizens would have done and reported a criminal action, because it‘s against the law to solicit sex on the Internet, particularly to a minor. But, Chris, somebody had ...

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s not actually.  Well, isn‘t because unless it‘s part of an effort to—and you actually do meet up with the kid and have sex, apparently.  That‘s what I understand the law to be.  But you‘re saying their job was to report it to the federal authorities and not to your leadership. 

MCHENRY:  Absolutely, and the Ethics Committee in the House is evenly divided.  It‘s a bipartisan committee.

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t know—give me the name—please, gentlemen.  There‘s two of you there.  Please give me the name of somebody you suspect, some inclination of something you‘ve heard.  Who do you believe—you mentioned George Soros. 

KINGSTON:  I would be very surprised if Foley‘s opponent knew absolutely nothing of this.  Chris, how do you explain the timing of it?  Again, as a Republican, I can tell you we would have weeded the guy out because we know the political risk of child predatoriness. 

That‘s nuclear plutonium.  We wouldn‘t touch the guy.  Somebody had to sit on this, a 3-year-old e-mail, purposely, and as soon as the Florida law is in place that you can‘t take a guys name off the ballot ...

MATTHEWS:  OK, why George Soros?  Why do you suspect him, the wealthy guy?

MCHENRY:  Well, George Soros funds CREW and a number of liberal groups.  And let me tell you, the leader of CREW, the executive director, is a former John Conyers staffer, a former Democrat staffer from Capitol Hill.  I will tell you that CREW had this e-mail, as reported, in numerous media outlets and I would tell you also that they submitted it to the FBI.  That has been reported. 

What we do not is how CREW got it.  We do not know who CREW gave it to and with their connections to Democrats on Capitol Hill, you‘re telling me that Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi had no knowledge, nor did their political organizations know about this?  Come on. Give me a break.  Rahm Emanuel was a professional oppositional researcher before he was hired by the Clinton White House.  So those are the fact, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you‘re making charges without making charges.  I want to ask you.  You both have a shot now ...

MCHENRY:  I‘m asking questions, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I want to know, do you believe that the House Democratic leadership was involved in leaking this story—holding it, then leaking it at an opportune political time?  Do you believe that?  Congressman McHenry, do you believe it?

KINGSTON:  Here‘s what I would say.  I believe that they need to come in and testify before the Ethics Committee, under oath, in order to clear any question of ...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It is a bipartisan committee.  Don‘t you expect if they are suspects in this in any regard, they will be called? 

KINGSTON:  Well, I hope they‘re called sooner than later.  Because I think it‘s very important for Mr. Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi to clear their names. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, do you believe the speaker of the house should swear under oath, be held to oath on his behavior in this manner?  The speaker of the House?

KINGSTON:  I‘m comfortable with that, because I think that would help exonerate him. 

MCHENRY:  Yes, I agree.  But let me tell you further, Chris ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why doesn‘t he—if that‘s your position as a party, why doesn‘t that man right there, Speaker Hastert, end all this stuff by simply coming out and taking a public oath?

KINGSTON:  Well, you know, he has—he did a press conference yesterday and said the buck stops with me. 

MATTHEWS:  No, that was a generalized admission, but he won‘t make a particular admission as to the information he got, when he got it and what he did with it.  He has not yet done that, and with any clarity.  I can‘t follow it. 

He says to our network, I didn‘t know anything about any e-mails until last Friday.  Then we hear oh, he talked about it with his staff or whatever, or the members talked to him, Mr. Reynolds, the chairman of the Campaign Committee, or Mr. Boehner, your majority leader.  They‘re all saying that they did talk to him about it.

MCHENRY:  Look, Chris, this is not about Dennis Hastert.  It is about the sick acts perpetrated by Mark Foley.  And the question remains—the only question that remains is what did the Democrat leadership know and when did they know it. 

And I‘ve asked Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi to submit themselves under oath.  They said no.  That is their answer, so the question remains, Chris.  The question remains what their involvement was, when did they know it.  That‘s the question. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you two gentlemen ready to go under oath on this? 

MCHENRY:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll see how it goes.

KINGSTON:  Absolutely.  And, you know, Chris, one other thing.  We could learn from Nancy Pelosi why it‘s such a crime today, but she helped make Gerry Studds a full committee chairmanship when the Democrats were in charge, and he admitted to having sex with a 17-year-old. 

We don‘t know if Foley actually did have it at this point.  Gerry Studds did have sex with a 17-year-old.  And why is it so different now?  I‘d like Ms. Pelosi‘s viewpoint.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a good question, because back then the Congress voted to censure Gerry Studds.  And the thing is, is you know how the process works.  The people back home in Massachusetts kept reelecting him year after year after year.  So the Congress did what they could do.  You can‘t do much worse than censure, and that‘s what they did.

KINGSTON:  They could expel him.  In fact, Newt Gingrich, who was a back bencher then moved to expel both the Democrat and the Republican ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Newt isn‘t clean on these matters either.  You‘ve had three leaders in a row.  Let‘s be honest.  It‘s none of your guys‘ fault.  You‘re clean as a whistle, as far as I know.  But you had Newt Gingrich with a girlfriend on the Ag Committee in the House over there when he was married.  You had Bob Livingston who was bounced for a relationship with a lobbyist.  He didn‘t get the speaker. 

And now you have this guy involved trying to deal with the matter whatever way he did.  You‘ve had three sex scandals in a row knocking off your top guy.  Maybe the voters will pay attention to that.

KINGSTON:  Well, Denny Hastert cannot be broadbrushed ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, he‘s just part of the problem because he‘s ...

KINGSTON:  This is about Mark Foley. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, but you‘ve read the polling on this.  It‘s overwhelming.  People think he did. 

KINGSTON:  But, Chris, you know what?  I have been back in the real world outside of D.C. now for a week.  People are delighted about the gas prices coming down. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KINGSTON:  They‘re concerned about immigration, they‘re concerned about Iraq, and the only people who are asking about this really is the Washington, D.C., press corps.  I mean, obsessed with it.  People will ask about it, but asking over and over again ...

MATTHEWS:  You know, we do have backup.  Look, I respect you guys.  You have held public office and I don‘t.  But let me tell you, let me tell you, we get this polling from “Time” magazine, from A.P., the major polling organizations, and they show that of the people paying attention—this was about 80 percent—two-third think they‘ve got a problem with the Republican leadership.  Nobody cooked it up here.  And I think it‘s—and you know what? 

MCHENRY:  Chris, you‘re right.

MATTHEWS:  And I do think it‘s an issue, and I thought the other one

was an issue with Gary (sic) Studds too.  Anyway, thank you Congressman

Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia,

Coming up, two news polls show that two-thirds of voters, as I said, are aware of the Foley scandal and they say the Republican Party tried to cover it up.  Will that come back to haunt them on Election Day this year? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Foley fiasco is in full flight this weekend, and Republicans are rallying around their embattled leader.  Some of them are, but is the political damage already done?  And will it help the Democrats to win the House and maybe the Senate in just 32 days. 

Howard Fineman is “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent.  Joe Scarborough is the host of MSNBC‘s “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.” 

You first, to Howard.  Let‘s go through some numbers here.  These races are interesting.  They seem to be tilting leftward here.  Cardin over Steele in Maryland 15 points.  McCaskill leading Talent, the incumbent by three percent in Missouri.  Menendez, the frontrunner, but now he leads Kean by three percent. 

Whitehouse, the Democratic challenger against Chafee, he‘s up by 11 up there.  I‘ve been predicted Whitehouse.  We‘ve got Harold Ford, Jr. leading Corker, the Republican, by five point.  George Allen still leads Jim Webb by three points.  That‘s getting damn close. What‘s going on here, generally, if you look at these numbers, Howard?

FINEMAN:  What‘s going on, Chris, I‘d like to look at through the eyes of evangelical Christians who form the machine, the fuel in the machine of the Republican get out the vote operation. 

I was interviewing them down in Joe‘s home state of Florida, some of those mega churches down there, and these people never regarded the Democrats as vessels of moral virtue.  But they crossed their fingers and hoped that the Republicans would be, that Republicans represented a new day, a new time, where Christians would get involved, evangelical, Bible-believing Christians. 

I‘m telling you that what‘s happened with the news of the last few days means that that turnout is under question.  I don‘t think those people are going to volunteer as enthusiastically or as numerously, and I think the turnout is going to be down and that could affect all those races that you just had up on the screen there. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, could the image of Laura and George W. Bush going to bed together at 9:30 at night compete?  Can it compete with the image of Mark Foley working the e-mail route for sex?  Those are powerful images.  I‘m just wondering which one‘s going to be out there election day.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, the thing is it‘s Mark Foley. 

But taking objection to what my Republican friend said earlier, he said this is—you know, he said this is not about Dennis Hastert.  Well, actually it‘s all about Denny Hastert.  The Mark Foley scandal by itself would not have sunk the Republicans. 

What‘s going to sink the Republicans this year in the House, and I predict also in the Senate, is the fact you‘ve got a speaker of the House who‘s being contradicted by John Boehner, the No. 2 person, who‘s being contradicted by the head of the campaign onto the Republican Party, who‘s being contradicted by Kirk Fordham, Mark Foley‘s old chief of staff. 

And everything that the speaker of the House is saying now is being contradicted.  I mean, they‘re shooting at each other.  Now they‘re trying to stand shoulder to shoulder and shoot at Democrats.  I understand why they‘re doing that, but it doesn‘t matter what Nancy Pelosi knew and when she knew it or what Rahm Emanuel knew or when he knew it.  Because it‘s the Republicans who are in charge, as you pointed out, and it‘s the Republicans who buried the sex scandal for the past three years, if we‘re to believe Mark Foley‘s ex-chief of staff. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk to Howard just for a second about the stink of this scandal.  Everybody can imagine their kids being involved in it.  They can‘t imagine anybody they know being the perp here. 

Will the stink, the smell of this horror, this stink bomb, waft into the voting booth?  Will people as they vote—now, if you‘re a liberal or a conservative, I wonder why you would change your vote on this?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think, again, Republicans—especially those Bible believers I‘m talking about—hoped for and expected something better from what they regarded as their Republican Party, under Ronald Reagan, now George Bush.  They‘re not seeing it with this. 

I agree with Joe wholeheartedly that the question now is about the Republican leadership.  The dispiriting thing for the grassroots of conservative Republicanism is they now see their own people as no different morally from the people they replaced a decade ago, and I think that‘s going to slow turn out, and I think to the extent the evangelicals don‘t work and don‘t turn out, that‘s going to be a contributing factor in what‘s increasingly looking like a rout. 

Chris, we have a poll in the field now, “Newsweek,” only one night.  We‘ll have a second night and add them up together tomorrow.  The numbers are consistent with what you‘ve been showing. 

It seems like this is—the bottom is falling out here, and those people in the churches I talk to aren‘t very interested in the question of the Democrats and the media spin and all that.  You know, that‘s the line the Republicans are putting out.  People aren‘t buying it right now, because they‘re looking at their own leadership. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Joe.  Suppose you were Rick Santorum.  I know you can imagine, a big statewide race.  You‘re fighting for your life.  You‘re almost double digits behind and you hope you can pull it off in the last month.  What‘s your morale like now?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, your morale is obviously very low, but the thing that you don‘t do is sit back and do what Republicans and politicians have done for years and blindly follow leaders in Washington who have just let you down. 

I think if I were Rick Santorum, I‘d go after Denny Hastert.  And I‘d say, “They‘re my friends, but they let us all down.  Not only did they let the Republican Party down; most importantly, they let these young children down that go to Capitol Hill.” 

And you know, I do believe there‘s a difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, but you can‘t tell that by looking at our leaders in Washington.  I think that‘s what Santorum and other leaders have to do.  They have to distance themselves. 

But you know, the thing is it‘s not just about Foley.  You said this isn‘t going to make the difference.  And Howard‘s exactly right: it‘s about evangelical turnout.  But also, for independents and for moderate Republicans, it‘s Foley.  It‘s Abramoff.  It‘s Duke Cunningham, possibly trading votes for hookers. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘ve got Ney going to jail.  I mean, you‘ve got Tom DeLay indicted and run out of Washington, D.C. 

Foley reaches critical mass.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  And it is the checkmate move because it deals with the moral issues that evangelicals will be so offended by. 

MATTHEWS:  I was thinking that you only missed one there.  That‘s the 90 K in the refrigerator, Bill Jefferson, which—I just was stunned by that myself. 

Howard, this—this decision by the voter coming up, do you think they‘re willing to say, as they go to vote, “Yes, but that damn Mark Foley cover-up is getting to me.  I sort of like this guy,” but you throw together something in Virginia like Macaca and the guy not knowing he‘s Jewish and being confused about that.  And not really happy with the fact in Virginia, not happy with the fact, actually, it turns out.  And the odd things he‘s saying that seem to square with an odd personality.  And then you say, “And I don‘t want—I don‘t want to vote against that damn Foley case, too”?

FINEMAN:  Well, I just think it just adds to the mix.  It‘s—it adds to the mix of the notion that the Republican reformers of a decade ago have, in the words of that great script in “The Untouchables”, they became what they beheld. 

And you know, for people on the outside, outside the beltway, who wanted something more, who wanted a family values-based party, who wanted a reform party, who wanted a party that would control spending, that would watch out for immigration, all that stuff—by the way, a lot of the conservatives, the evangelicals, are upset with this administration already over non-so-called moral issues.  They‘re upset over immigration.  They‘re upset over spending.  This just adds to the mix, Chris. 

I think, you know, it‘s a month left.  The only good news for the Republicans, if it is, is that there‘s a month left, but I don‘t see how they change the story until they do something more about the leadership. 

I know the Bushes and Rove are going the other way here.  They‘re embracing Hastert.  It‘s a big strategic play on their part.  It‘s going to decide the election.  Right now, based on the numbers I‘ve seen, it looks like the wrong decision. 

MATTHEWS:  One thing we know for sure, Joe, that Karl Rove is in some basement of the White House right now, trying to answer this quandary right now. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And Karl Rove was the guy—I mean, I don‘t know this, because he‘s not talking to me right now—but Karl Rove was the guy who decided that Denny Hastert was going to stay on.  They had to make that decision at the White House.  It was never Boehner‘s decision to make or Riddle‘s decision to make. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  Karl Rove made that decision, and they decided they just couldn‘t throw him overboard. 

Actually, I think the only thing that can help the Republican Party would be if reports surfaced that this was shopped around by a Democratic operative with a couple of weeks out, and they tried to turn it into a Dan Rather National Guard story. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Do you think the public cares?  Do you think the public cares who tells them the truth; they just want the truth?

SCARBOROUGH:  No.  Like I said at the beginning, I don‘t think the public is going to hold the Democratic Party in the end—I don‘t think they‘re going to hold them accountable, because Republicans are the ones who are in charge. 

I‘m saying that‘s the Republicans‘ last hope, though, at least in some

at least stop the bleeding.  But again, I think this is an absolute nightmare for the party and they‘re going to lose the House and Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Suzanne Ralston just resigned as assistant to Karl Rove.  What do you make of that, Howard?

FINEMAN:  I think it‘s very interesting.  I think she‘s been with him for a long time, for many years.  I think she had a lot of dealings with Jack Abramoff, a now disgraced lobbyist.  I think this is a picture that they can‘t keep—they can‘t afford to keep adding figures to.  It‘s getting like the cover of the “Sergeant Pepper‘s” album, you know.  There are just too many people—too many people in there. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s like the new TV show, “Six Degrees”. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Everybody‘s connected.

FINEMAN:  Right, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman.

Thank you, Joe Scarborough.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, he may be the Democrats‘ biggest weapon: Bill Clinton back on the campaign trail. 

And next Wednesday—Wednesday, it‘s the return of the HARDBALL college tour.  I‘m so proud of this.  Actor Robin Williams and director Barry Levinson of the new political comedy, “Man of the Year”.  They‘re going to be on this show for the HARDBALL college tour from Georgetown University. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Former president, Bill Clinton, hasn‘t been on a ballot for 10 years, but he may just be the biggest asset the Democrats have on the campaign trail right now. 

NBC‘s Lisa Daniels has the story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA DANIELS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Democrats say he‘s the rock star of their party. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s pretty much the rock star of politics. 

DANIELS:  And yesterday former president, Bill Clinton, proved he still has what it takes to charm a crowd, even with their last name is Bush. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I can now tell you, and may all the Democrats forgive me this close to the election: I love George Bush.  I do.

DANIELS:  Yesterday Clinton attended four Philadelphia events in less than 12 hours, wearing almost as many hats.  The master fund-raiser at this event for Pennsylvania Congressman Chaka Fattah. 

CLINTON:  I love this city. 

DANIELS:  The elder statesman as he shared the Liberty Medal 2006 with Bush 41, both honored for their role in tsunami and Hurricane Katrina relief. 

CLINTON:  I accept this award with great humility and gratitude. 

DANIELS:  Democrats eagerly pronouncing Clinton as the man with the power to lead his party to victory come November, even if his name isn‘t on the ballot. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I believe that he means hope, that there is still so much more out there for him to be able to do in the Democratic community. 

DANIELS:  What is clear, Clinton may be generating the most headlines out of all the Democrats for his attacks against Republicans and FOX News. 

CLINTON:  So you did FOX‘s bidding on the show.  You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. 

DANIELS:  Perhaps a new side of Clinton, who recently himself remarked he‘s been fixated on ways Democrats can learn to fight. 

And supporters say they like what they see. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m happy that, when attacked, he did what President Clinton usually does, and that is respond in an effective, aggressive manner, and he stood up for himself and what he believes. 

DANIELS:  Early proof, some say, he‘ll stand by his man, or in his case, his woman, if or when she runs. 

(on camera) But the question remains, who will Bill Clinton be in the coming years: a tough spokesperson who can fire up the Democrats or an elder statesman who rises above party politics?

I‘m Lisa Daniels for HARDBALL. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Lisa Daniels. 

Up next, “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter and Lynn Sweet of the “Chicago Sun-Times” dig into the Foley scandal and how much damage it may have caused Republicans come election day. 

And this Sunday on “Meet the Press”, Tim Russert interviews Bob Woodward, author of the new book—important book—“State of Denial”.  And Tim will moderate later a debate between the Senate candidates in Missouri, Jim Talent, the incumbent Republican, and Claire McCaskill, the challenger, the Democrats.  That‘s Sunday on NBC‘s “Meet the Press”.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

With just over a month before the election, can Republicans right the ship in the wake of the Foley scandal?  For that and more, I‘m joined now by Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and Lynn Sweet of the “Chicago Sun-Times”. 

Jonathan, what‘s the name of your book again, “The Finest”...?

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  It‘s called “The Defining Moment: FDR‘s Hundred Days in the Triumph of Hope”.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what I‘ve read of it is brilliant.  Thank you for coming on tonight.

ALTER:  Well, thanks a lot, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Lynn. 

Let‘s go to a familiar topic this week.  It‘s the situation in that Florida district down in West Palm Beach, in that area down near around Palm Beach, where Mark Foley‘s absence will now be felt, I believe. 

Will the fact, Jonathan, that the absentee ballots continue to have the name of Mark Foley written on them, is that going to hurt the Republicans in the fall?

ALTER:  Well, obviously, it gives the challenger, Mahoney, an edge there.  But this could still stay a Republican district.  You know, yes, it sounds weird that people would have to vote for Foley in order to hold it in the Republican camp, but it might happen because there‘s been so much publicity about this race, Chris, that Republicans in that district know what they have to do and just might pull that Foley lever in order to keep the district Republican.

MATTHEWS:  You know Lynn Sweet, in Philadelphia politics, which can be somewhat intriguing in the way it runs, Bill Barrett, a long-time congressman from South Philly, got elected after he was dead.  Can Mark Foley get re-elected after he‘s dead, his name, I mean?

SWEET:  Well you know, look, we know in politics go to Missouri, where you know, Carnahan won after he died in a plane crash.  So yes, these things do happen.  But you‘re dealing in an area where you have a sophisticated votership.  And people know what‘s going on.  If there‘s not saturation coverage of this, Chris, what is there?  So as Jonathan said, people said they know who they‘re voting for when they see Foley‘s name on the ballot..  You just have to hope there‘s no chads or any other misfire this time around out in Palm Beach.

ALTER:  Chris, the absentee ballots actually are a big issue nationally, because people are saying a lot of this would wear off in a month.  But there are a lot of people voting in the next couple weeks because of the absentee thing has become a much bigger deal than it used to be.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I was thinking about history the other day, that the Republican Party was originally forged by an alliance between the existing Whig party, which were the established people with property, the part of the Republican Party today, and the abolitionists, who really were fired up for almost Messianic purposes.

The Republican Party today is like that, Jonathan and Lynn.  It‘s a party that‘s composed of the regular established Republicans who inherited their party in many cases and these very religious people on the right.  Will this cause a divorce, Lynn, between those two, this Foley thing and how it‘s been handled?

SWEET:  See, it might not be a divorce, but it might be a separation. 

And the strongest critics of how the Republican leadership is handled has

not come from the Democrats.  It‘s come from the conservative right.  They

are the people who are needed for Republicans to win nationwide.  If they

stay at home or if they decide to punish a Republican by either withholding

I just can‘t see them holding their nose and voting for a Democrat. 

That‘s the problem more than any attack that the Democrats might have, is that you‘ve turned off their own Republican base by this.

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, the numbers went from 104 million voting in the year 2000, to 102 voting in the last presidential election, just two years ago.  And a lot of people say those were Christian conservatives who showed up because they had true belief in George W.

SWEET:  But that‘s a presidential year.  One of the big thrusts of both parties now is to get that drop-off voter.  I don‘t want to dwell on it because that‘s a whole other point, but a whole other campaign is out there is to get the people who voted in 2004 and who may not, for a lot of reasons, not vote in 2006.  Now for some people, Foley might give them that reason just to stay at home.  It will however energize other people, most likely Democrats.

ALTER:  But you‘ve got to remember that it‘s like dog years.  You know, one human years, seven dog years.  The next four weeks are really like four months.  I mean, things happen very quickly.  It‘s sort of like a strange physics thing that happens in October of an election year, where time gets all messed up and one week can really change a lot.  So the Democrats should not count their chickens before they‘re hatched.  There‘s still a long way to go in this campaign.

SWEET:  I call this the wave theory of politics and whoever is catching the wave at the end usually is the winner.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Do these guys have tricks up their sleeves?  You first, Lynn.  Do the Democrats or the Republicans or Karl Rove down at the White House—do they have something planned as an event between now and Election Day to grab the headlines?

SWEET:  One unified event?  No.  And for people who might think that this was a totally orchestrated event with Foley‘s resigning, the story was really triggered by his own decision to resign last Friday.  And I think that‘s a point that‘s been lost in some of this.  And to keep in mind when you try and sort out who did what when.  And that‘s the point.  In terms of one event that‘s going to rock ‘em, sock ‘em.  No, I think people wish they were that smart, and they‘re not.

ALTER:  Well it‘s so interesting that Hastert was saying that somehow the liberal media was withholding this for an October surprise, as if all of us wouldn‘t run over our grandmother for a story.  Maybe that‘s the way they do it at FOX, that they withhold stories to help their team, but that‘s really not the way it happens at ABC News or other places.  So this was not orchestrated, contrary to what they say.  And I don‘t think it helps them to make the argument that it was orchestrated.  It looks whiny on the part of the Republicans.

SWEET:  Well also it shows that they probably—if they don‘t understand exactly how this became a story, and how it came out, you do wonder what they really—you know, let they summarize it this way.  Is it clueless or is it just a naivete about how things work?  Either answer isn‘t very good.

But there is some animus that Denny Hastert has had towards the press for quite a time.  You know, he has spoken about this.  People might be listening more because frankly, he doesn‘t get all that much coverage when he speaks out until now.  But he‘s had a long-held animus against the mainstream media.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come right back.  Both of you hang in there.  Jonathan, hang in there, Lynn Sweet.  We‘ll be right back.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Still with us are “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter and the “Chicago Sun Times‘” Lynn Sweet. 

Lynn, you first.  It seems to me that there‘s irony just packed through in this Mark Foley case, and how it was handled by the Republican leadership.  Here‘s a political party rightly or wrongly that has benefited by conservative concerns about gay marriage, about gay teachers, about gays in the military. 

And now they find one of their own who is involved in a—well, it‘s a gay relationship.  It‘s certainly not an ordinary one.  But here they are caught defending the guy, covering up for him, in a way that suggests politics rather than perhaps compassion.  But isn‘t it ironic?

SWEET:  Well, I‘m not going to buy into—I‘m reserving whether it‘s a cover-up.  It could be they‘re clueless.  Now for the point for the voter, or the point about them lying, I don‘t know.  One is as serious about the other.  Being clueless about not even recognizing the import of the first e-mail.  Forget the lurid e-mails even.  See Chris, that‘s the point here.  I don‘t know if there‘s a cover, no one knows that yet.  If you take people for their word at the moment, that is as interesting, perhaps as serious as anything that these investigative committees might find. 

If they had stopped and at least pressured the parent, can I see the whole e-mail?  Can I not just see a portion of it, you know, before we—you know, can we just know what‘s going out there, and even look at that, those e-mails alone would perhaps have raised some signals.  So is it clueless or a cover-up?  Either one is as serious as the other. 

ALTER:  Well, Chris, I really think the issue is one of basic accountability.  It goes to the larger problem with this Congress in the last five years.  They haven‘t believed in accountability.  The Constitution charges them with oversight of the executive branch, and now, with the Ethics Committee process, oversight of their own members‘ foibles. 

They have totally fallen down in that responsibility.  So, you know,

even if what Denny Hastert did shouldn‘t merit his resignation necessarily

that‘s arguable—it should certainly merit a look by the voters as to whether this Congress is upholding its constitutional function. 

No hearings on what‘s going wrong in Iraq.  That‘s a first in American history, that they would so eliminate that accountability function.  So in this case, they didn‘t let the Democrat on the key committee hear about the original Foley accusations because they didn‘t want to risk that political price and that basic accountability function. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think about what Lynn said, that that first e-mail, that has been called G-rated by somebody tonight, talked about—here you have a U.S. congressman in his 50s, talking to a teenager, not that late a teen—a 16-year-old, 17-year-old—about this other guy being well built, about how he‘s like a picture of him.  It‘s clearly a gay relationship starting there. 

SWEET:  Even if you don‘t know that—Chris, look at what we, even on the prima facie it came from his personal mail account.  Remember, the first excuse from the chief of staff was well, they‘re just trying to keep track of who the interns were in case they need a reference letter or something.  That is what the Congressman is doing on his AOL account, or rather his personal account? 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  He was covering it up.  He didn‘t want people to know about that account.  You‘re right.  You‘re right.  Thank you for that bit.  Jonathan Alter, Lynn Sweet, thank you both.

More HARDBALL after this.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In Missouri, Republican Senator Jim Talent is in a tough reelection fight with Claire McCaskill, and it‘s a key race the Democrats hope will help them take back the Senate.  MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell has more. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Missouri is in the heart of the Midwest, the perfect mix of north and south, east and west, rural and urban.  It almost always votes for the winner in every presidential election. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As a bellwether, Missouri has gone with the presidential winner every single time since 1900 expect in 1956. 

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s America‘s mood mirror.  Issues that are important to voters here often reflect the views of the country.  In Kirkwood, Missouri, a Republican stronghold, some of the party faithful, like Pat Haley (ph), are fed up with Republicans and the Congressman Mark Foley matter. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s too many things that have happened one right after another in the last month.  And who even wants to listen to the news at night? 

O‘DONNELL:  And other issues on voters‘ minds in this state reflect the country at large. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The economy. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Stem cell research. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Medicaid. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The war in Iraq. 

O‘DONNELL:  The contest in this state between two seasoned politicians may determine control of Congress. 

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI SENATE CANDIDATE:  When I was a page, guess what I was doing?  I was stuffing envelopes. 

O‘DONNELL:  Meet Democrat Claire McCaskill, the state auditor and former prosecutor who hopes to add senator to her long list of jobs in public service. 

MCCASKILL:  Our government is a mess, from foreign policy, to the war

in Iraq, the budget deficits, healthcare, retirement security, public

education. 

O‘DONNELL:  On the issue of Iraq, she supports redeployment. 

MCCASKILL:  Other next two years, with the guidance of our military, we redeploy our troops into the region in a way that we can deal with the instability we‘ve created. 

O‘DONNELL:  Trying out a new strategy, she‘s courting rural voters, hoping to pick up a point or two in these areas, after she lost the governor‘s race in 2004. 

MCCASKILL:  I made a mistake in ‘04 in that I didn‘t work hard enough to make sure that all Missourians knew that I wanted to fight for them, that I was on their side. 

Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  A strategy you could see Democratic presidential candidates copying if she pulls it off in November.  The mother of three and the self-described Truman Democrat is prepping herself for the upcoming “Meet the Press” debate.  She says her kids are good sparring partners.

MCCASKILL:  I think the Senator Talent will not be as tough on me as my 19-year-old son has been. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is my privilege to, first of all, introduce Senator Jim Talent.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Jim Talent has held a variety of statewide offices.  He was heavily involved in the impeachment of Bill Clinton when he was in the House, and is considered by many to be a conservative Republican, something that translates well in rural Missouri. 

SEN. JIM TALENT ®, MISSOURI:  It‘s a classic mid-term election, which for the party in power, means you have got to show that you‘ve been effective in making that system work for them. 

O‘DONNELL:  There‘s a state measure on the Missouri ballot that would support embryonic stem cell research.  Mr. Talent opposes the initiative.

TALENT:  The ballot issue here in Missouri would create an unqualified constitutional right to clone the earliest stages of human life, and I‘m not for human cloning. 

O‘DONNELL:  Perhaps reflecting the mood of the country and the state of Missouri when it comes to President Bush‘s favorability ratings.  When you look at Senator Talent‘s ads, you would not know he‘s a Republican. 

TALENT:  I‘d like some Democrats to vote for me too.  So nobody ever runs their party affiliation on ads. 

O‘DONNELL:  On Iraq, he says stay the course, but acknowledges that mistakes have been made. 

TALENT:  They underestimated how long it would take to stabilize the central part of the country.  And there‘s been other mistakes that have been made as well. 

MATTHEWS:  And while courting voters in rural Missouri, in the age of blogs and the Internet, he‘s made an appeal to the more technically savvy voter. 

TALENT:  I have a FaceBook.  I‘m not sure what it means, but I‘ve got one. 

O‘DONNELL:  And right now this race is in a statistical dead heat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Missouri is now one state Democrats are increasingly confident they can knock off a Republican senator, putting them now within striking distance of winning control of the Senate—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Tim Russert hosts the Missouri Senate debate this Sunday on “Meet the Press.”  Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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

transcript

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

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,