updated 11/16/2006 11:57:59 AM ET 2006-11-16T16:57:59

Guests: John Murtha, Richard Haass, Joe Lockhart, Mark McKinnon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The Iraq war explodes to the Capitol. 

After four years of war, the war detonates a huge leadership battle between the leading Iraq critic, Jack Murtha, and the current number two Democrat.  This is the big one, and it‘s all over by high noon tomorrow.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL.

Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.  From leadership votes to committee hearings, the Iraq war dominates the debate today.  General John Abizaid, the top U.S.  commander in the Middle East, wrote and spoke, rather, against a timeline for with drawing U.S. troops.  He also said this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CENTCOM COMMANDER:  When I come to Washington I feel despair.  When I‘m in Iraq with my commanders, when I talk to our soldiers, when I talk to the Iraqi leadership, they are not despairing.  They believe that they can move the country towards stability with our help.  And I believe that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  In power, what can Democrats do about Iraq?  Can they push for a timetable to leave?  Can they cut off funding for the war?  Who will be the leading voice in the fight?  Will it be Nancy Pelosi‘s rival Steny Hoyer or her friend Jack Murtha?  We begin with the man who wants to be majority leader, Pennsylvania Congressman Jack Murtha. 

Thank you, Mr. Murtha, for coming here and nowhere else. 

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Nice to be here. 

MATTHEWS:  So let‘s get the questions that everybody wants answered. 

First of all, it‘s a secret ballot tomorrow, right?

MURTHA:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to win?

MURTHA:  We‘re going to win.  We‘ve got the votes.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got them?

MURTHA:  We‘ve got the votes.

MATTHEWS:  Eyeball to eyeball, you‘ve got them?

MURTHA:  Eyeball to eyeball.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go.  What‘s the difference here, for the average person watching right now, whether you win, as you say you will, or Steny Hoyer wins for the race for majority leader in the House?

MURTHA:  Well the difference is the policy question about the war.  When I spoke out two weeks later, he said “Oh, it would be chaos if we left.  If we reduced our presence in Iraq, it would be chaotic.”  And he went on to criticize that policy.  He never signed onto my resolution. 

So there was a vast difference between what he did and what I said.  I appeared 143 times on these national shows talking about Iraq, about the lack of progress and the need to redeploy our troops. 

And finally the White House has invited me down to talk to them about my recommendations about what needs to be done.  So I think I‘d be the strongest voice of what I consider the most important, single issue during the election campaign.

MATTHEWS:  A lot of Democrats are sitting around on their hands saying, let‘s wait for Jim Baker and his bipartisan commission and Lee Hamilton to tell us what to do.  What do you think of that approach?

MURTHA:  Well, I think we have to go forward.  I think the public is demanding some action on this issue.  I don‘t think they‘ll accept anything less, and I‘m hopeful that the—I talked to Baker-Hamilton Commission, but whatever they say, we have to find a way to give a timetable to redeploy our troops.  And we have to do it fairly soon, because the public wants something to happen. 

I see these troops every week, Chris.  I go to the hospitals.  I get an opportunity to talk to them.  I see them in hospitals all over the world, and the mission is completed for the military.  We can‘t win this militarily.  We‘ve got to redeploy our troops to the periphery and we have to force the issue with the president.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about General Abizaid today, the top guy at CENTCOM, coming on the Senate committee today, the Armed Services Committee, and saying I don‘t want any timetables?

MURTHA:  Chris, they keep saying this over and over again.  They keep saying that we‘ve made progress.  We haven‘t made progress.  As a matter of fact, oil production, electricity production, all those things are below pre-war level.  Every measure -- 60 percent unemployment.  The violence has gone up, not down.  We have 130,000 troops on the ground and it‘s gotten worse during the last six months.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Jack Murtha, imagine, for a second, you‘re President Murtha.  How would you get our troops out and how fast could you do it?

MURTHA:  I would tell the Iraqis you‘ve got to take over.  This is your government.  You‘ve got 300,000 troops trained.  You have to work this out yourselves.  Give them the incentive to get our troops out of—they‘re the targets.

MATTHEWS:  OK, how fast can we get our troops out safely?

MURTHA:  You could start right away.  It‘s a matter of planning to make sure of their safety and the troops.  I said it might...

MATTHEWS:  Right, strategic withdrawals, as you know as a fighting man

you were a combat veteran...

MURTHA:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... is the hardest thing in the world to pull off, because you‘ve got to protect your rear the whole time you‘re getting out.  As you get weaker and weaker as you redeploy, you‘ve got to make sure the last guys out aren‘t attacked.  Is that a threat?

MURTHA:  That‘s always a threat, but it‘s much worse just to leave the troops there and the mission to be—deteriorate and the military to deteriorate, our strategic reserve deteriorate, and the whole world, the credibility of this country deteriorate.  That‘s the thing that‘s happened.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you the big question.  We had a Civil War in ‘61, 1861.  If a foreign power had come in and said we can stop this Civil War, they probably couldn‘t have done it.  It would have just delayed it.  Is that the situation Iraq is in?  If we—it doesn‘t matter when we leave, whenever we leave, they‘re going to have their war?

MURTHA:  Yes, my great-grandfather fought in that Civil War, and you‘re absolutely right.  It didn‘t make any difference what anybody else said, whether it was France or Great Britain.  Whichever side they took, they couldn‘t have stopped the Civil War.  That Civil War is going to come about because we need to settle this ourselves.  This is exactly the situation in Iraq.

Same thing with the British when they left India.  They had not a civil war, but they had a lot of chaos.  The same thing is going to happen.  It won‘t be any worse than it is now.  I think it may be more stable.  I think the first step to stability in Iraq is to start the redeployment and work diplomatically with the countries around her to solve this problem.

MATTHEWS:  The president last—after the election, Wednesday, he moved quickly.  The president, he quickly said he had taken a “thumpin‘.”  I like the way he handled it.  He said, look, we lost, they won, let‘s talk.  He invites you—he invites Steny Hoyer down to the White House with Nancy Pelosi.  Were they trying to set up Steny, your opponent, for this leadership post by bringing him down with her, or is that just protocol?

MURTHA:  No, I think that‘s just protocol.  I think the fact that I‘ve been the one out front on this issue, I‘ve been the one talking about it, I‘ve been the one that knows the military, my background on the Defense Subcommittee, my background in the military, all those things make me the person to be able to challenge the White House, challenge the Bush administration.  They will not be able to compromise on something that is unacceptable to the Democrats if I‘m in charge.

MATTHEWS:  OK, your tactic is to—as you‘re running, what is your big pitch to members as you grab on the floor right now?  You were up in the air.  Guys who—women who haven‘t made up their mind, what do you say to them right now?  They‘re watching, a lot of them, in their offices right now.  What are you saying that makes you better than Steny as the leader?

MURTHA:  I say I know more about the military, I‘ve had more contacts with the military, I‘ve talked to the troops more often out in the field, I‘ve talked to them in the hospitals.  I know we can‘t win this militarily.  I know we have to find a solution that has to be a diplomatic solution.  I know we have to force the White House to acknowledge the fact that they lost this election. 

I spoke on 143 shows last year.  That didn‘t mean anything compared to the election results.  The election results showed that they understood something.  They were going to get rid of an incompetent secretary of defense. 

But having said that, it doesn‘t change policy.  As I said to the national security adviser, look, I appreciate you getting rid of Secretary Rumsfeld, but that does not mean that you‘ve changed your policy.  We have to see a change in policy in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about what‘s being said against you, not just by your opponents, but in the newspapers.  Let‘s talk about Abscam.  Back 26 years ago, I went through the numbers.  Five members of the United States Congress, a United States senator, Pete Williams of New Jersey, were convicted of accepting money from these undercover FBI agents, posing as Arab guys trying to make an offer to congressmen to cut a deal.  We put some money in the pockets of these people.

All these people are convicted, you weren‘t.  Does that mean you‘re innocent?

MURTHA:  Well, I‘ll put this way.  I had 24 percent unemployment, I was looking at investment.  I told them I wanted an investment in my district, they put $50,000 out on the table.  I said I‘m not interested in that.  I‘m interested in investment.  The Ethics Committee cleared me completely on a unanimous vote.

MATTHEWS:  When they said—when they offered you the envelope of $50,000, did you think that was a bribe?

MURTHA:  It wasn‘t an envelope, it was a drawer full of cash.

MATTHEWS:  Was that a bribe?

MURTHA:  No.  As far as I was concerned...

MATTHEWS:  ... No, what did you see that as?  Why did you say I‘m not interested?

MURTHA:  Well, I said I‘m not interested because I just didn‘t feel like it was the right thing to do.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

MURTHA:  Well, I just didn‘t—what the hell, I‘m not going to take cash from some Arab sheikhs.  They weren‘t Arab sheikhs, they were FBI agents.

MATTHEWS:  Right, but you didn‘t know that.

MURTHA:  I just said this is not what I‘m interested in.  I‘m interested in you folks investing in my district.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve heard you, I‘ve seen this tape on YouTube now, everybody has seen it.  A million people apparently have seen this tape.  You said I‘m not interested, and I assume you think it was something you shouldn‘t have done, as you just said.  It wasn‘t the right thing to do, right?

MURTHA:  Well certainly, that‘s exactly.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well then why did you say at this point, then?

MURTHA:  Well, listen, I wanted to negotiate with them about investment in the district.  That‘s what I was interested in.  That‘s the only thing I was interested in.

MATTHEWS:  But what do you mean when you said I‘m not interested at this point.  Then you said I‘m not interested—maybe interested at some point?

MURTHA:  No, no, listen.  The Ethics Committee...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s on the tape.

MURTHA:  ... I went through—I know, but what I said was I want to continue to talk to you guys, I want investment in the district.  That‘s all I was interested in and...

MATTHEWS:  But did you smell corruption in that conversation?

MURTHA:  Sure.  I saw these guys were trying to corrupt me and trying to...

MATTHEWS:  Did you think they were legitimate emissaries for an Arab big shot or did you think they were...

MURTHA:  They were the slimiest guys I‘ve ever seen.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Well why didn‘t you walk out of the room the minute you met them?

MURTHA:  Well listen, they said they were going to invest in the district.  We had 24 percent unemployment.

MATTHEWS:  I understand the constituent service part of it.  I understand that.  But the tricky part of this is to say I‘m not interested, which meant you didn‘t want to have anything to do with these slime balls, as you saw them, but then you said “at this point.”  Was that just a way of finessing your way out of the conversation?

MURTHA:  Exactly, exactly.  I deal with people like this all the time. 

I wanted to find a way to move towards a negotiation to investment.

MATTHEWS:  Did you know they had already paid two other members off?

MURTHA:  I had no idea.

MATTHEWS:  Even when they were talking about we‘ve given 50 to one guy, and 50 to the other guy?

MURTHA:  I ignored that completely.  I paid no attention to that at all.

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t mean anything to you?

MURTHA:  It didn‘t mean a thing.

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t mean Thompson and then Murphy were involved? 

MURTHA:  It meant nothing to me.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you weren‘t charged, right?

MURTHA:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  You weren‘t reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee, so what do you think your record should be, all these years later, 26 years later?  What do you think that should say to people about your attitude as a member of Congress today?  What have you learned from that?  What should they think about it?  And thirdly, is this a legitimate issue in this campaign, as you see it?

MURTHA:  Well, I‘ve been elected 10 times since that happened.  It has come up almost in every contested election, its come up.  And I think the public...

MATTHEWS:  You mean back home?

MURTHA:  Back at home.  They understand what I was trying to do. 

They‘re the ones that didn‘t have the jobs.  They‘re the ones that wanted investment in the district.  They‘re the ones that understand better than anybody else, and I think the people up here understand also, that this was something that was set up by the FBI in order to entice people and send them to jail.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Well, it worked in a lot of cases.  They put five guys—six guys away, including Pete Williams.

MURTHA:  They did put six guys away and I said I want investment. 

That‘s what I wanted.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about the Congress today and I have—watching this and having worked up there, and we were old friends—we still are friends.  I‘ll admit that.  I don‘t mind admitting it. 

Let‘s talk about the system today.  When a congressman—when you pass a bill on the Hill that says you can‘t take a lunch, a hamburger from them, a steak, or a trip, whatever, do you think that makes the Congress cleaner?

MURTHA:  Let me tell you.  There‘s a lot of crap going on in Congress all the time.  Guys violate the law, some do.  But the problem we have is a few people violate the law and then the whole Congress has to be changed.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Is it Mickey Mouse or, as you said, apparently at this meeting with the Blue Dogs the other night, total crap to tell people you can‘t take a lunch from somebody?  Where do you draw—where is your position on ethics right now?

MURTHA:  Let me tell you, I agree that we have to return a perception of honesty to the Congress.  I agree with what Nancy‘s trying to do.  The crap I‘m talking about is the crap that people have violated the law, the crap that—the kind of things that have happened with Abramoff, the kind of things that have happened with some of the members...

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s not what you said.  Didn‘t you say it was total crap, what she was proposing?

MURTHA:  What I said was, it‘s total crap, the idea we have to deal with an issue like this, when—and it is total crap that we have to deal with an issue like this when we‘ve got a war going on and we got all these other issues -- $8 billion a month we‘re spending.

MATTHEWS:  So when this came up in the Blue Dog meeting the other night, you felt that that was a ridiculous—you thought that wasn‘t the right issue to be talking about right now.

MURTHA:  Exactly.  I—what I‘ve been trying to do...

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s really what you meant when you said total crap, because this is all over the wires as if—it sounds to me like you‘re saying, I think all this goo-goo, good government stuff, is a joke.

MURTHA:  And I wonder...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that?  You‘re laughing; do you think it‘s a joke?

MURTHA:  No, I wonder who said that.  That‘s what I‘m laughing about.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you‘re wondering about which person it was?

MURTHA:  I wonder—it was, I think, somebody that may not be in my camp.

MATTHEWS:  No, it is—it was identified as a Steny Hoyer person, in fact, in one of the other wire services.

MURTHA:  What I was...

MATTHEWS:  What do you think—how do you like—here‘s—you‘re old school.  We‘re in the 21st century.  How do we avoid Abscams?  How do we avoid problems with people like Bob Ney, putting stuff in the Congressional Record for a client, things like, you got Duke Cunningham taking a million bucks and boats and all this other stuff—how do you stop that?

MURTHA:  Transparency.  I think that‘s the only way to stop it.  And I think the regulations that Nancy‘s in favor of were very important.  I don‘t mean to imply that they aren‘t.  I‘d say very clearly, the crap that goes on is the thing that worries me.  The thing that worries me is, we‘re diverted from the real issues.

MATTHEWS:  You think it was wrong for the FBI to go into Bill Jefferson‘s office and find the 90K in cold cash in his refrigerator?  Is that fair use of governmental power?

MURTHA:  I don‘t know enough about the circumstances.  I know that it‘s not fair...

MATTHEWS:  Well, they caught the bad guy.

MURTHA:  Well, let me put it this way: it‘s not fair to go into congressional offices without going through the speaker of the House, without going to the minority leader.  This is a breech of the separation of powers.

MATTHEWS:  But you think they were right to try to get that information about him?

MURTHA:  Well, they should have gone to the Speaker, and they should have...

MATTHEWS:  Would the Speaker have given the high sign to Jefferson to pull the money out of his refrigerator?

MURTHA:  Well, I think that‘s beside the point.  Going into their office is what I complained about.  You know, going into the office of a member of Congress in the House of Representatives, which is a separate branch of government, that‘s what‘s wrong.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, Jack Murtha.  Good luck in your race.

MURTHA:  Nice talking to you.  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, we‘re going to talk more about Iraq with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. 

And later MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan and Ron Reagan are going to be here. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.

General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, testified before Congress today about the situation in Iraq.  He said setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would be a mistake. 

Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Richard, you know about as much about this issue as I do.  You‘re very fair-minded.  If you were president, what would you do in Iraq? 

RICHARD HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Well, I agree with the general.  I wouldn‘t set an arbitrary timetable simply linked to the calendar. 

That said, Chris, I would also reject simply doing more of the same.  If I were the president, I would look for some way to reduce U.S. forces ultimately, to get them out of the center of what increasingly looks like a civil war. 

And I would introduce a new diplomatic dimension to things.  I would create a standing forum in the region that would include not simply Iraq, but all of the neighboring states, including both Iran and Syria. 

MATTHEWS:  Jack Murtha was just on, and we were talking about the parallels with our own Civil War.  Can an outside force, in any situation, stop a civil war that‘s incipient, that‘s on its way? 

HAASS:  There‘s really only two things for outsiders to do when it comes to civil war.  It‘s either you sit it out and you let it burn, or you make sure that one side wins.  You put so much weight behind them, that essentially you choose an ultimate victor. 

In Iraq, i don‘t really see that being an option.  If we chose to support the Shia, we‘d have the Sunnis fight to the death an vice-versa.

SO I think either we strengthen the Iraqi government to the point that they can quell a civil.  That‘s been our policy to date.  It hasn‘t worked.  I don‘t see much chance it will work.  So ultimately, my hunch is we‘re going have to essentially pull back, not out of the country, but certainly out of the center, where the sectarian fighting is happening and likely to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s look at those two futures. 

One future, we pull back and let them fight it out, hoping that there will be a resolution in a reasonable period of time, one side will win and the and the bloodshed will end. 

And the other option is we stay there and we try to quell it.  What‘s the more favorable option? 

HAASS:  Well, to begin with, neither‘s good.  And I think that‘s the basic point. 

MATTHEWS:  Least unfavorable then? 

HAASS:  Fair enough.

I would say for a while, we try a little bit longer what we have been doing.  We‘ve ramped our forces up to 150,000.  We try to get the government to do a few things politically that they haven‘t done, for example, power sharing, revenue sharing with the oil money, we set up this regional form.  We maybe give it a few more months.

If it doesn‘t look like it‘s working, then I‘d go to the other option, then I would basically get out of Dodge, get out of the center of Iraq, put our forces in the north and west, and let the civil war simply fight its way out. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be the mission of those forces that had been redeployed beyond the city? 

HAASS:  In the north, it would be to make sure the Kurds didn‘t do anything like declare independence, that you didn‘t have a Kurdish-Turkish war.  In the west, to help to clog that border, because that‘s the border from Syria, across which the al Qaeda types have historically entered Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  People talk about a two-pronged solution.  On is gradual withdrawal of troops, which you mentioned is the least unfavorable prospect over there.  And then they talk about—this is Tony Blair, the prime minister of Great Britain, as well—some kind of engagement by the United States of the government of Iran and the government of Syria. 

It seems to me that the only thing we have to give those governments, especially Iran, is to sell out Israel.  Is there anything else we can offer them? 

HAASS:  I disagree with that, Chris.  I think that you could do with Iran, in particular, is help make sure that Iraq does not split apart.  Iran has a large Kurdish population of its own.  It does not want to see civil war get out of hand.  It does not want to see the country get partitioned.  They have some stake that Iraq ultimately succeeds. 

In the case of Israel and Syria, nobody is talking about selling out Israel, but it is possible that we could ultimately pry the Syrians away from the Iranians and help bring around an Israeli/Syrian peace.  We came awfully close not many years ago.  So I think that‘s in the diplomatic cards if the administration is willing to give it a shot.

MATTHEWS:  If Israel felt strong enough, I‘m not sure the current government is strong enough, to cut a deal regarding the Golan Heights, and that farm up there, does that mean that Syria would begin as part of that deal, to accept their responsibility to cut up their border and stop the involvement in Iraq?

HAASS:  That‘s quite possible.  And it seems to me it‘s a package that‘s win-win.  It would help us with Iraq and Israel would achieve what it‘s always wanted, which is peace with the last of its neighbors that is essentially an independent state.  If you have peace with Syria, I also believe you‘d ultimately have peace with Lebanon.  You‘ve already got peace between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt.  So for Israel, that would really help improve its strategic situation.

MATTHEWS:  But if Bashir Assad‘s father Hafez Assad turned down a deal to accept back land from Israel, the Golan, with no other demands why would they accept a deal that required further action with regard to Iraq and Lebanon?  An even tough deal with Israel, why would they accept it?

HAASS:  Because Mr. Assad‘s son who know runs the country would love to do what his father couldn‘t do.  He could perhaps get a few acres of land that his father couldn‘t get, so he could therefore say he got back all of Syrian territory.  And in exchange to that, they would maybe do what we want in both Lebanon and in Iraq.  It seems to me it‘s a good deal for all concerned including Israel.

MATTHEWS:  Is it good for this war and this whole situation of ours in the Middle East that the Democrats won these elections?  Is that a shock that‘s good for our country on this front?

HAASS:  Well I think what it‘s done is its reinforced the sense that more of the same, or business as usual in Iraq is simply not a long-term, viable option.  So in that sense, I think it‘s good news.  I think it‘s still an open question though whether we adopt a policy that in the long run again doesn‘t achieve victory, doesn‘t succeed. 

I don‘t think those are real options, as you say.  But whether we choose the least bad option.  I think that means in part rejecting the call of certain Democrats who are saying we should get out by a date certain, no matter what.  So I think the answer you probably don‘t want to hear, Chris, is that depends.  But it really does depend on where the administration goes from here.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, you‘re the best.  Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations up in New York.

When we return, reaction to our exclusive interview, you just saw it, with Jack Murtha from Pat Buchanan and Ron Reagan.  We‘re coming right back with that critical assessment.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Murtha-Hoyer battle heats up.  Trent Lott‘s the Republican come-back kid, if you will.  And the top U.S. commander in the Middle East says no timetable is the best course of  action in Iraq. 

Let‘s get to the bottom of all those top political stories of the day with our MSNBC analysts Ron Reagan and Pat Buchanan.  Welcome to both of you gentlemen.  Ron, did you catch the interview we just did?  We got an exclusive just now with Jack Murtha.  What did you make of it?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well listen, Jack Murtha‘s a very forceful guy on the subject of Iraq.  And of course the last election we just had was all about Iraq.  It was the voters delivering a referendum on that. 

Nancy Pelosi of course has decided who she wants to share a foxhole with, and it‘s Jack Murtha, not Steny Hoyer.  And I think that‘s a smart thing.  It tells the voters they‘re serious about doing something about Iraq and it also insulates her a little bit from the San Francisco liberal label because Jack Murtha, whatever else he is, is not actually a liberal Democrat.

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  It‘s a very big play by Nancy Pelosi. 

And my guess is Jack Murtha went to her and said “Look, this is something I really want.  I‘ve been with you all the time.  I‘m calling in my chips.”

And I give Pelosi credit for going with this guy because she‘s really risking a blow to her leadership by going against what‘s considered a moderate Democrat.  And you‘d have a united team and there‘s a lot of folks in the town among the elites who are saying, why is Pelosi bringing her liberal credentials out of the closet?  So she shows a lot of guts in doing it.

MATTHEWS:  So why is the C.W., the conventional wisdom and all the press in this town for Hoyer?  When you pick up the “Washington Post,” they‘re slamming Murtha.  What‘s that all about?

BUCHANAN:  Well the conventional—obviously the slamming I understand because that‘s their point of view.  But the conventional wisdom is, and I share it, that Hoyer probably saw Murtha coming for him.  He‘s been working this thing all fall.  He‘s done a terrific job, he‘s well liked, he‘s popular, he‘s been in my there.  And my guess is he had this thing pretty locked up before Murtha made the run at him.  And so most folks are saying that Pelosi, while she came out of Murtha, she came out late and she‘s not doing all that much work.  Now there‘s a dispute over that.  I mean, you‘ve heard that she‘s really working the phones calling in.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it‘s a serious bid.  It‘s not just I sent a letter for the guy.

BUCHANAN:  Well, it could be over before she made this serious work.

REAGAN:  Pat‘s really right though.  This could be a big risk for

Pelosi.  If she loses this one and Hoyer gets the job, she begins as first

speaker of the House, first woman speaker of the House, already crippled/

BUCHANAN:   But here‘s the thing.  They have already driven Hoyer...

MATTHEWS:  ... Well no crippled—are you that tough, Ron?  How about she broke her pick?

REAGAN:  Crippled might be a little hyperbolic, but it is certainly a loss for her.

BUCHANAN:  But the key thing is she has driven Hoyer off his hard line and quite frankly, this Murtha move has moved the center of the Democratic Party toward the Pelosi-Murtha position.

MATTHEWS:  You are so right.  I heard—we had Ellen Tauscher on, who‘s from the West Coast, she‘s a big supporter.  She‘s a moderate, big supporter of Steny.  And she insisted for five minutes here that they didn‘t have any difference on the war in Iraq.  Now that‘s an extraordinary statement for Steny.

BUCHANAN:  They moved it all the way over, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s a leader, Jack Murtha, win or lose.

BUCHANAN:  Jack Murtha is a leader whether you like him or no, agree or disagree.

MATTHEWS:  OK, what about the ethics stuff?  You first Ron.  I know are you a reformer, a progressive.  What did you make of his defense on Abscam?  The fact that he didn‘t just say I‘m not interested, he said I‘m not interested at this point or whatever.  What do you make of that, in terms of these guys?

REAGAN:  Well, I watched it on the Internet and it makes you uncomfortable when you see that.  Here are these guys, who look as he said, pretty sleazy, waving $50,000 around and he doesn‘t leave the room.  I mean if you‘re really an honest person, it seems to me you get out of the room.  On the other hand, we‘re talking 26 years ago and I‘m not sure how much...

MATTHEWS:  ... Well and also, I‘m not here to defend him.  He had his best defense here, but it seems to me he said he thought—he didn‘t think they are agents.  If they agents, he would say have said excuse me agents, let me see your badges.  He thought they were representatives of foreign Arab governments that wanted to cut a deal to build to mine coal in his district. 

And the question then was, because he said they were there to bribe him, he knew that.  He basically said that.  And then he said, well not right now, which could have meant—and he also seemed to believe in the way he talked about it, if you read the clips, that there were a couple of other guys involved in this.

BUCHANAN:  Yes, two other guys each got 50 or something like that and he said they were solid guys. 

MATTHEWS:  But he did get—he went through a legal inspection, they scrutinized his behavior and he was exonerated.  I just—you‘ve got to be fair that way. 

BUCHANAN:  You‘ve got to be fair in what you...

MATTHEWS:  He was exonerated.

BUCHANAN:  Right.  Look, he was exonerated and the Ethics Committee said nothing wrong, and he wasn‘t indicted and the record is laid out.  People can make that judgment.  Exactly right, but I mean, frankly, it looks very bad back there from 26 years ago and what he said today. 

And, frankly, I‘m not all disagreeing with him when he says, you know, these Congressmen write down things.  We had to do it in the White House.  You know, even if you get a book signed by a friend, you‘ve got to put it down and report it, all this Mickey Mouse stuff.  And he used a different term for it.  That‘s probably going to hurt him, frankly, in the public press but I understand the sentiment. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, we‘ll be right back with Pat Buchanan and Ron Reagan. 

And later, HotSoup.com‘s Mark McKinnon and Joe Lockhart.  Remember him?  He was the guy that spoke for big Bill Clinton.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

If you missed my interview earlier with Congressman John Murtha, you can see it in its entirety on our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.  Right now you can do it.  We‘re back with our MSNBC analysts Ron Reagan and Pat Buchanan. 

So, have we agreed now that it‘s going to be—I don‘t agree with you guys.  Are you both saying that Steny Hoyer is going to win this thing?  I just had Jack Murtha sit in that seat...

REAGAN:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and say—Murtha, he said to me “eyeball to eyeball” I‘m going to win this thing. 

What do you think, Ron?   

REAGAN:  Oh, I think Jack Murtha is going to win.  I think Pelosi is behind him, and I think it‘s just a smart move.  Yes, no, I think Jack Murtha is going to win. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about—you don‘t think so? 

BUCHANAN:  I bet on my old buddy Steny Hoyer. 

MATTHEWS:  Steny Hoyer, from the neighborhood.  Let‘s go.  Did you used to play football with this guy or something?

REAGAN:  Pat, you don‘t want to make another bet do you?  You still owe me $5.

BUCHANAN:  In Suitland High School when I was at Gonzaga, but Nancy Pelosi was at Trinity when I was at Georgetown. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you try to get a date with her? 

BUCHANAN:  No, not the Trinity girls, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you say?

BUCHANAN:  Marjorie Webster (ph).

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me start here—let‘s start with this whole question.  Politics has a forgiving aspect to it.  Trent Lott.  Trent Lott a couple of years ago was—and you understand this. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got the old gray hat on every once in awhile when you go to bed at night.  I know you sleep with that thing on with the plumes coming out of it.  Do you think that that is a good lesson, that it was overkill when he was whacked as leader by the president and replaced by Frist? 

BUCHANAN:  It was rotten.  It was really rotten to do that, and I didn‘t like the way his own senators did not come to his side.  I didn‘t like the way the neocons all, you know, argued with each other who put the knife in first. 

And what it was, was he‘s up there at a 99th birthday to Strom, everybody is drinking and he said wouldn‘t this country be a great place if old Strom were running the show?  Does anyone seriously think he was saying I wish we had segregation back?  It was outrageous what was done to him.  I‘m glad to see he came back.  Although Lamar is a good guy and it was a good battle, but Trent Lott is a good... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Trent Lott is back.  Comeback kid.  Ron Reagan, are you as benign in your view of this? 

REAGAN:  Well, maybe not quite, but listen.  People say things and then they suffer for it.  John Kerry is now not considered a serious presidential candidate because he blew a punchline.  The punchline didn‘t have anything to do with segregation or Strom Thurmond.  But, you know, yes. 

Trent Lott paid for this, and he‘s felt terrible about this.  He‘s really felt betrayed by his own party among other things, as you guys were pointing out.  I don‘t know—and he feels betrayed—felt betrayed by the White House as well.  You know, I‘m not sure if I were in the White House right now I would be too terribly pleased with Trent Lott in the leadership. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a great, old Italian expression.  I believe it‘s a maxim: “revenge is a meal best served cold.” 

BUCHANAN:  Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.

MATTHEWS:  And I think he may be sticking now that the White House has to meet with Mr. Trent Lott, number two Republican.  Every time they have a meeting at the White House, in walks Trent Lott, the guy they tried to kill.  It would be like Freddy Krueger.  They thought the guy was dead and he‘s back again. 

REAGAN:  That‘s right.

BUCHANAN:  You know, Lyn Nofziger had a line.  He said, “When somebody does something like that to you, just sit by the window.  Eventually he‘ll walk by. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So are we going to have—is anything that comes out of this election—a lot of people voted last Tuesday, just a week ago.  They went out and voted because they believed that their vote—and this is about a little more than half the country, three out of five people. 

They thought their vote would do something to end what seemed to be an open-ended war in Iraq that wasn‘t going to go anywhere.  It was just going to be we‘re looking for victory, we‘re never going to find it. 

Pat, do you believe that this war will be in any way attenuated successfully by this election? 

BUCHANAN:  Oh, I think the president—I don‘t want to say the president is broken, but they‘re running around reviewing things, reviewing all options, asking for opinions, seeking counsel and vice, reviewing this, reviewing that. 

I really think we‘re at the point where the president of the United States is about to make a decision—frankly, I don‘t know see how you can go in deeper, that‘s one of the options—to start moving out.  I think the center of gravity is moving that way.  And I think it‘s undeniable.  I think this election is important. 

And also what we‘re seeing with Murtha, Pelosi, what we‘re seeing with Lott, these battles we‘re seeing is the resurfacing of the underlying forces that make our politics so rough and brutal and, frankly, because we disagree profoundly with one another. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

BUCHANAN:  Our party is going to go after—a lot of them are outraged with the Martinez choice.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m waiting for the conservatives to come back and sneak up and say they were dragged into this war and they wish they hadn‘t been. 

Ron, your thought.  Will this election affect the war? 

REAGAN:  Yes, I do, but on the other hand, you have General Abizaid today—and I‘m quote here—“Our troop posture needs to stay where it is.”  Well, that‘s not what the referendum was about last Tuesday.  Nobody wants it to stay where it is. 

So you‘ve got to wonder.  I mean, you can review and you can talk all you want, but what are you actually going to do on the ground?  My suspicion is that we‘re not going to have a withdrawal, but we will have a redeployment. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

REAGAN:  We won‘t have timetables, but we will have benchmarks. 

BUCHANAN:  But the American people didn‘t vote for a defeat in Iraq, they voted for a new policy and to get us out without losing the war.  I think that‘s what they were saying.

MATTHEWS:  I think they voted for alacrity... 

BUCHANAN:  They didn‘t vote for defeat.

MATTHEWS:  ... wake up, be sharp, look for opportunities, make your move. 

Thank you, Pat Buchanan.

Thank you, Ron Reagan.

Up next we‘re going to hear part of my exclusive interview with Jack Murtha and get reaction from former Bush campaign media advisor Mark McKinnon and former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart. 

And if you want to watch the interview in its entirety, we have new opportunities here.  Go to our website, hardball.msnbc.com. 

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

There‘s a bunch of fights in Washington this week.  In the House, Democrats have Murtha versus Hoyer, and the Republicans have Boehner versus Pence versus Barton.  

Once the internal fights get settled, what will happen with the real fight over in Iraq? 

Joe Lockhart‘s former press secretary to President Clinton and Mark McKinnon‘s a former media advisor for the Bush campaign—I mean, earlier campaigns.  They‘re both co-founders of hotsoup.com, MSNBC‘s online political community partner.

Let‘s listen one more time to some of the words of Jack Murtha on the program tonight. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about what‘s being said against you, not just by your opponents, but in the newspapers.  Let‘s talk about Abscam.  Back 26 years ago, I went through the numbers.  Five members of the United States Congress, a United States senator, Pete Williams of New Jersey, were convicted of accepting money from these undercover FBI agents, posing as Arab guys trying to make an offer to congressmen to cut a deal.  We put some money in the pockets of these people.

All these people are convicted, you weren‘t.  Does that mean you‘re innocent?

MURTHA:  Well, I‘ll put this way.  I had 24 percent unemployment, I was looking at investment.  I told them I wanted an investment in my district, they put $50,000 out on the table.  I said I‘m not interested in that.  I‘m interested in investment.  The Ethics Committee cleared me completely on a unanimous vote.

MATTHEWS:  When they said—when they offered you the envelope of $50,000, did you think that was a bribe?

MURTHA:  It wasn‘t an envelope, it was a drawer full of cash.

MATTHEWS:  Was that a bribe?

MURTHA:  No.  As far as I was concerned...

MATTHEWS:  ... No, what did you see that as?  Why did you say I‘m not interested?

MURTHA:  Well, I said I‘m not interested because I just didn‘t feel like it was the right thing to do.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

MURTHA:  Well, I just didn‘t—what the hell, I‘m not going to take cash from some Arab sheikhs.  They weren‘t Arab sheikhs, they were FBI agents.

MATTHEWS:  Right, but you didn‘t know that.

MURTHA:  I just said this is not what I‘m interested in.  I‘m interested in you folks investing in my district.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve heard you, I‘ve seen this tape on YouTube now, everybody has seen it.  A million people apparently have seen this tape.  You said I‘m not interested, and I assume you think it was something you shouldn‘t have done, as you just said.  It wasn‘t the right thing to do, right?

MURTHA:  Well certainly, that‘s exactly.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well then why did you say at this point, then?

MURTHA:  Well, listen, I wanted to negotiate with them about investment in the district.  That‘s what I was interested in.  That‘s the only thing I was interested in.

MATTHEWS:  But what do you mean when you said I‘m not interested at this point.  Then you said I‘m not interested—maybe interested at some point?

MURTHA:  No, no, listen.  The Ethics Committee...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s on the tape.

MURTHA:  ... I went through—I know, but what I said was I want to continue to talk to you guys, I want investment in the district.  That‘s all I was interested in and...

MATTHEWS:  But did you smell corruption in that conversation?

MURTHA:  Sure.  I saw these guys were trying to corrupt me and trying to...

MATTHEWS:  Did you think they were legitimate emissaries for an Arab big shot or did you think they were...

MURTHA:  They were the slimiest guys I‘ve ever seen.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Well why didn‘t you walk out of the room the minute you met them?

MURTHA:  Well listen, they said they were going to invest in the district.  We had 24 percent unemployment.

MATTHEWS:  I understand the constituent service part of it.  I understand that.  But the tricky part of this is to say I‘m not interested, which meant you didn‘t want to have anything to do with these slime balls, as you saw them, but then you said “at this point.”  Was that just a way of finessing your way out of the conversation?

MURTHA:  Exactly, exactly.  I deal with people like this all the time. 

I wanted to find a way to move towards a negotiation to investment.

MATTHEWS:  Did you know they had already paid two other members off?

MURTHA:  I had no idea.

MATTHEWS:  Even when they were talking about we‘ve given 50 to one guy, and 50 to the other guy?

MURTHA:  I ignored that completely.  I paid no attention to that at all.

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t mean anything to you?

MURTHA:  It didn‘t mean a thing.

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t mean Thompson and then Murphy were involved? 

MURTHA:  It meant nothing to me.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you weren‘t charged, right?

MURTHA:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  You weren‘t reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee, so what do you think your record should be, all these years later, 26 years later?  What do you think that should say to people about your attitude as a member of Congress today?  What have you learned from that?  What should they think about it?  And thirdly, is this a legitimate issue in this campaign, as you see it?

MURTHA:  Well, I‘ve been elected 10 times since that happened.  It has come up almost in every contested election, its come up.  And I think the public...

MATTHEWS:  You mean back home?

MURTHA:  Back at home.  They understand what I was trying to do.

They‘re the ones that didn‘t have the jobs.  They‘re the ones that wanted investment in the district.  They‘re the ones that understand better than anybody else, and I think the people up here understand also, that this was something that was set up by the FBI in order to entice people and send them to jail.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Well, it worked in a lot of cases.  They put five guys—six guys away, including Pete Williams.

MURTHA:  They did put six guys away and I said I want investment. 

That‘s what I wanted.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about the Congress today and I have—watching this and having worked up there, and we were old friends—we still are friends.  I‘ll admit that.  I don‘t mind admitting it. 

Let‘s talk about the system today.  When a congressman—when you pass a bill on the Hill that says you can‘t take a lunch, a hamburger from them, a steak, or a trip, whatever, do you think that makes the Congress cleaner?

MURTHA:  Let me tell you.  There‘s a lot of crap going on in Congress all the time.  Guys violate the law, some do.  But the problem we have is a few people violate the law and then the whole Congress has to be changed.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Is it Mickey Mouse or, as you said, apparently at this meeting with the Blue Dogs the other night, total crap to tell people you can‘t take a lunch from somebody?  Where do you draw—where is your position on ethics right now?

MURTHA:  Let me tell you, I agree that we have to return a perception of honesty to the Congress.  I agree with what Nancy‘s trying to do.  The crap I‘m talking about is the crap that people have violated the law, the crap that—the kind of things that have happened with Abramoff, the kind of things that have happened with some of the members...

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s not what you said.  Didn‘t you say it was total crap, what she was proposing?

MURTHA:  What I said was, it‘s total crap, the idea we have to deal with an issue like this, when—and it is total crap that we have to deal with an issue like this when we‘ve got a war going on and we got all these other issues -- $8 billion a month we‘re spending.

MATTHEWS:  So when this came up in the Blue Dog meeting the other night, you felt that that was a ridiculous—you thought that wasn‘t the right issue to be talking about right now.

MURTHA:  Exactly.  I—what I‘ve been trying to do...

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s really what you meant when you said total crap, because this is all over the wires as if—it sounds to me like you‘re saying, I think all this goo-goo, good government stuff, is a joke.

MURTHA:  And I wonder...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that?  You‘re laughing; do you think it‘s a joke?

MURTHA:  No, I wonder who said that.  That‘s what I‘m laughing about.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you‘re wondering about which person it was?

MURTHA:  I wonder—it was, I think, somebody that may not be in my camp.

MATTHEWS:  No, it is—it was identified as a Steny Hoyer person, in fact, in one of the other wire services.

MURTHA:  What I was...

MATTHEWS:  What do you think—how do you like—here‘s—you‘re old school.  We‘re in the 21st century.  How do we avoid Abscams?  How do we avoid problems with people like Bob Ney, putting stuff in the Congressional Record for a client, things like, you got Duke Cunningham taking a million bucks and boats and all this other stuff—how do you stop that?

MURTHA:  Transparency.  I think that‘s the only way to stop it.  And I think the regulations that Nancy‘s in favor of were very important.  I don‘t mean to imply that they aren‘t.  I‘d say very clearly, the crap that goes on is the thing that worries me.  The thing that worries me is, we‘re diverted from the real issues.

MATTHEWS:  You think it was wrong for the FBI to go into Bill Jefferson‘s office and find the 90K in cold cash in his refrigerator?  Is that fair use of governmental power?

MURTHA:  I don‘t know enough about the circumstances.  I know that it‘s not fair...

MATTHEWS:  Well, they caught the bad guy.

MURTHA:  Well, let me put it this way: it‘s not fair to go into congressional offices without going through the speaker of the House, without going to the minority leader.  This is a breach of the separation of powers.

MATTHEWS:  But you think they were right to try to get that information about him?

MURTHA:  Well, they should have gone to the Speaker, and they should have...

MATTHEWS:  Would the Speaker have given the high sign to Jefferson to pull the money out of his refrigerator?

MURTHA:  Well, I think that‘s beside the point.  Going into their office is what I complained about.  You know, going into the office of a member of Congress in the House of Representatives, which is a separate branch of government, that‘s what‘s wrong.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you Jack Murtha.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well that was lively.  We‘re joined right now by “HotSoup‘s” Joe Lockhart and Mark McKinnon.  You were press secretary to President Clinton and you worked for President Bush.  How would you have handled that interview if you were Jack Murtha?

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER CLINTON W.H. PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, maybe Jack Murtha can‘t be anybody but Jack Murtha.  We were kidding when we were watching it that he‘s not stylized, he doesn‘t come in with talking points, he just tells it straight.  And I wouldn‘t tell him to do it any other way.

MATTHEWS:  Be Jack.

LOCKHART:  Be Jack.  Yes, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Well it‘s the real thing.  I mean, I‘ve known the guy forever.  I said I like him and he‘s a friend of mine.  But I think the questions about Bill Jefferson, of all things that came out of nowhere, I don‘t think that was the right political answer.  It was definitely the right answer inside the Congress though.  They don‘t like their offices rifled through by the government.

LOCKHART:  No, and that‘s the election going on now.

MARK MCKINNON, HOTSOUP.COM:  But that‘s the problem, is disconnected from reality and that‘s exactly what—voters don‘t want that crap.

MATTHEWS:  But how about members?  Do they like to have—that word, by the way, by our count was used nine times.  We‘ll be right back with more of this crap, both our interview with Congressman Murtha and Mark McKinnon and Joe Lockhart‘s thoughts about it.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with “HotSoup.com‘s” Mark McKinnon and Joe Lockhart.  Quickly, this war in Iraq, Joe, it‘s the biggest issue on voters‘ minds.  Do you think, looking at the way the Dems are playing this thing, that we‘re going to get some pressure from the Dems on the president?

LOCKHART:  Oh, I think the president feels the pressure from the public, not necessarily the Dems.  I mean, if you look at the exit polls, there is no clear-cut alternative beyond we need a change. 

The Democrats are proposing a timetable but there is no single or arbitrary timetable out there.  And I think the president is smartly right now hiding behind the Baker Commission a little bit to see if they can find something in there that everyone can agree on.  If they can‘t, then I think there will be direct confrontation between Democrats and the president on how we change course.  I think we‘re beyond whether we‘re going to change course though.

MATTHEWS:  Mark?

MCKINNON:  Well listen, asking me about military strategy is like asking Paris Hilton about...

MATTHEWS:  ... No, the policy, the war mission.  Don‘t do this to me.  By the way, our civilian leadership sets war policy.  The generals carry it out.

MCKINNON:  Yes.  And I think what we‘re seeing today is that the president is looking at different options, he‘s open to different options and we‘re going to see the commission report and testimony today.  But surrender is not an option.  So we‘re looking at options for success. 

MATTHEWS:  How long can we stay in Iraq?

MCKINNON:  Listen, we‘ve got 50,000 troops still in Korea.

MATTHEWS:  How long until we stay in Iraq?

MCKINNON:  The issue is how long we‘re going to have casualties.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re not fighting in Korea.  We‘re fighting in Iraq.  How long can we stay there?

MCKINNON:  I think the issue is casualties.  I think we can stay there for as long as it takes to get the Iraqi army up and going and I think we‘ve got some time to do that.

MATTHEWS:  A year?

MCKINNON:  I think we‘ve got a year. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the next president have a large complement of troops in Iraq?

MCKINNON:  I think we‘re going to have troops in Iraq for some time.

MATTHEWS:  In a fighting formation?  In a fighting deployment?

MCKINNON:  I think there will be some limited forces in Iraq for the next four or five years.

MATTHEWS:  Joe, do you think the next presidential campaign is going to be about Iraq?

LOCKHART:  Unless the president can find some common ground with Democrats and significantly change the policy and provide some sort of timetable where people will come home, then it will be the issue.

MATTHEWS:  I would just like them to answer the question like you do in business.  If we stay one full more year and we‘ll lose—you can figure we‘re going to lose almost 1,000 guys maybe in that year—what will we get done for our country in that year?  That‘s the way I‘d like to see it done.

If we have to stay two more years, what can we get done for our country?  It‘s not just a question of not quitting.  It‘s a question of achieving something that‘s worth the deaths of good people.  And I‘d like to know—like in Vietnam, if we had left in ‘63 or rather in ‘73, it would have made much difference. 

So I just think—but it makes a difference to our guys in the 60,000 killed.  So I‘d like to think that we‘re thinking about that, how long can we stay there?  And what can good can we do?  Not just who is afraid to leave first.  I hate that kind of politics.  Who‘s afraid to bug out first when in fact maybe bugging out is a better option.

LOCKHART:  Well, I think that‘s what‘s changing in the debate now.  It was kind of a one-way debate for awhile.  Now there‘s very legitimate people on both sides of the aisle having the real debate which is, what‘s in our interests?  What‘s in our national interest?  How long should we stay?  When and how should we get out?  But it‘s no longer are we going to stay the course indefinitely?  That debate has changed.  And the public will a big voice in changing that debate. 

MATTHEWS:  The next presidential election on your side, on the Republican side—is it really going to come down to, and this is a big question for you—ready?  McCain, Mitt Romney or Rudy?  Anybody else can win that nomination right now? 

MCKINNON:  I think you can throw a couple of other people in there that will mix it.

MATTHEWS:  Who could win it, though?

MCKINNON:  Who could win it?  I think those are the big three, I really do.

MATTHEWS:  Those three?  In your party, Hillary, it‘s Edwards, right?

Who else could win—could win the whole thing?  Obama?

LOCKHART:  Obama.

MATTHEWS:  So those three.

LOCKHART:  I think those are the three.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s interesting that—the money and being able to...

LOCKHART:  ... There are surprises and everyone of these—someone will come on one of the sides that surprises us.

MATTHEWS:  See what we got done here?  McCain, Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani.  On your side, Hillary, John Edwards or Barack Obama.  We‘ve saved year here.

LOCKHART:  That‘s a pretty good race.

MATTHEWS:  I think there‘s lot of good races.

LOCKHART:  I‘d watch that race.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much Mark McKinnon.  By the way, Vilsack will be the running mate of Hillary Clinton.  Anyway, Mark McKinnon and Joe Lockhart—and a reminder, you can watch my interview with Jack Murtha on our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.  McCain‘s running mate will be Haley Barbour.  Play HARDBALL with us again Thursday from the U.S. Capitol.  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.

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