updated 11/20/2006 11:06:40 AM ET 2006-11-20T16:06:40

Guests: Ron Christie, Al Sharpton, Jon Meacham, Sally Quinn, Joan Walsh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the fight goes on.  Do the Republicans face a post election attack of subpoenas, investigations and deadly exposes?  Do the Democrats face the even scarier prospect of having a leave it or take it stand on Iraq?  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

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

What a week it has been for Democrats and Republicans in Congress who picked their new leaders, the men and women who will drive any ideas for change in Iraq.  The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said a timetable for bringing troops home is a bad idea.  And “USA Today” reports that the Bush administration is preparing to ask for as much as $160 billion more for the war. 

And so the big question remains.  What will they do about the war?  How will Democrats use their new subpoena power?  Will Democrats try to cut off funding for the war or will they simply wait for advice from Jim Baker? 

NBC News congressional producer Mike Viqueira has been following it all this week. 

Mike, what is their attitude, a more aggressive, forward-leaning, let‘s go take charge of the war, or wait for the Baker commission? 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL PRODUCER:  Well, I think that the first test they‘re going to have is when the president sends up his budgets.  Of course, the Baker-Hamilton Commission report expected next month, Congress isn‘t really going to be around next month all that much after they dispense with the Robert Gates confirmation hearings and his presumptive confirmation on the Senate floor. 

But at the beginning of next year, and every February, as you know, Chris, they send up the budget for the next fiscal year, and there‘s reports today in “USA Today” and elsewhere that say the president and the administration are going ask for as much as $127 billion for the war for fiscal year 2008 that starts in October. 

Now, this is on the heels of $70 billion that was appropriated for the war just last September, just two months ago before they left to go campaign.  Democrats are going to have some difficult choices to make here. 

Incidentally, we are not sure about that $127 billion figure that was reported.  What happens typically is the services send up a request that is not yet scrubbed by the administration, the Office of Management and Budget.  It generally comes in lower and then they go back in the middle of the year and ask for yet more, which is the $70 billion that they just did. 

However, Democrats are going have to make a decision at that point.  Are they going ask for concrete commitments in return for appropriating that money?  And Jack Murtha, of all people, is going be the guy that sits on the Defense Appropriations Committee that‘s going to decide how much they get.  Or are they going ask for specific commitments in terms of the conduct of the war and the phased redeployment? 

That is where the rubber hits the road, Chris.  Democrats have said they will not cut off funding for the war.  The much is clear, but what kind of concessions or what kind of compromise can they extract from the administration when this budget process really gets started early next year, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any evidence yet or inclination from up there that the Democrats are willing to risk the public attack on them if they try to, in any way, screw around with funding for the troops? 

VIQUEIRA:  Look, there were a group of liberal Democrats who several months ago did just that.  They proposed to cut off funding for the war in Iraq.  They were shot down.  There were only a couple of dozen of them. 

The White House tried to make some hay out of it.  They were passing around the names of the cosponsors.  They were shot down by the leadership.  Nancy Pelosi was confronted with that.  She said no way, shape or form are we going to do that. 

I don‘t think that they‘ve really formulated a decision, Chris.  You know, I have talked to Henry Waxman‘s top people.  I actually ran into Henry Waxman the other day.  They are still working on their agenda as far as their oversight and their investigation in that Government Reform Commitment. 

As far as the funding for the war, it does not appear that they‘re going to outright come out and say no, we‘re not going to give you what you want, however, there is plenty of room for negotiation, Chris.  I don‘t think there‘s any question about that.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Mike Viqueira up on Capitol Hill, thank you for that report. 

Let‘s go right now to some HARDBALLers.  Former Bush White House adviser Ron Christie and the Reverend Al Sharpton. 

Reverend Sharpton, do you think the Democratic Party should threaten to cut off any amount of funding in order to get their way on the war policy? 

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  Well, I certainly think they should not increase funding.  I think that, at this point, the Democratic Party cannot look as though they are trying to be disruptive or in any way try and play into the hands of those that say that the party does not support the troops. 

At the same time, I think they have a responsibility to heed what the voters clearly expressed, in my opinion, in the midterm elections, and that is that they want to see a concrete way to get out of Iraq. 

So it‘s going to be a hard balance, but I think it can be achieved, because at one hand, I think, they cannot abandon troops, but at another hand, they cannot abandon the voters that clearly say they do not see the continuation of this war in the best interest of this country. 

MATTHEWS:  But yes or no—can the Democrats use the purse strings to influence policy?

SHARPTON:  They can use at the bargaining table the threat of anything and in fact, in my judgment, as you know better than anybody, Chris, you can negotiate with any and everything on the table.  What you will actually do is something else after you see where the opposition will go based on what you put on the table. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron Christie, what do you think the Republican reaction would be if the Democrats try to negotiate funding for the war? 

RON CHRISTIE, FMR. ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  It would be a terrible mistake.  I think when you‘re looking at our men and women—our brave men and women—who are over in harm‘s way, if people try to use the bargaining process or try to use the purse strings to try to score political points against the president, that‘s a terrible mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  No, no, to try to negotiate policy.  How else do the Democrats on Capitol Hill negotiate policy or just let the president call the war the way they want to?  Do you think that Congress has any role in fighting this war? 

CHRISTIE:  I do.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the role?

CHRISTIE:  I think the president, as the commander in chief, sets the tone for what our military leaders do overseas, but the Congress has a fiscal responsibility for the American people of making sure that those taxpayers‘ dollars are spent wisely and effectively.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that means setting a policy as well.  You can‘t just say wisely in the interest of the president‘s policy, can you?

CHRISTIE:  No, I think what I‘m saying to you, Chris, is that the Congress has a legitimate role when they appropriate money to help fight and win the war on terrorism that they negotiate with the administration to try to figure what our strategy is. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CHRISTIE:  And I think the American people have spoken.

MATTHEWS:  How do they exercise that leverage?

CHRISTIE:  I think they exercise that leverage with the leadership, to Nancy Pelosi. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, and without threatening to cut off money, how do the Democrats get a say in policy making?

CHRISTIE:  Well, I think, again, Nancy Pelosi...

MATTHEWS:  How do they get a say?

CHRISTIE:  Nancy Pelosi sat down with President Bush last week and said that they wanted to have a bipartisan solution to some of our toughest problems.  And I think the number one issue on the American public‘s mind right now is Iraq.  I think the Democrats...

MATTHEWS:  But what happens if the president says—he treats her to lunch, he gives her a couple of Danish rolls and he gives her a cup of coffee and at the end of the meeting, he does it his way.  What can the Democrats do about that?

CHRISTIE:  Well, the Democrats could try to cut of the purse strings for that, but then the American people would say why on earth would you play politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re telling me the Democrats have no right to control policy after winning Congress? 

CHRISTIE:  No, no, no, no.  That‘s not what I said.  I said the president is the commander in chief.  I said that given the fact that they have an oversight responsibility and that they appropriate dollars, they have a legitimate role in advising the president. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s OK to use the purse strings to leverage policy? 

CHRISTIE:  No, I don‘t think that they should cut of support for the troops. 

SHARPTON:  But, Chris...

CHRISTIE:  But I do think they should say to the president, that in fact, Chris, Mr. President, what you‘re doing here, we would like you to go in a different direction or we‘d like you to consider some alternatives. 

MATTHEWS:  And if he says no what happens? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, if he says no then we will see what happens.  But...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re laughing but what should they do then?

CHRISTIE:  Well, Chris, you know why I am laughing, Chris?  Because it should not get to this point.  It should not get to this point.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Sharpton, it seems like the question is, does Congress, having turned to Democrat—the Democrats are in charge up there -- do the leaders on the Hill with the troops they have and the voting—the number of people who voted, the majority on both sides now—exercise that in terms of policy making or just stand aside and say Mr. President, how much do you want and we‘ll see if that‘s the right amount, but basically we are back you up on policy. 

SHARPTON:  I think that the Democrats have to make one decision whether they believe they won the election or not.  If they won the election, they have to challenge him on policy.  And I think that how it is rolled out will have a lot to do with how the American public responds.

If the Democrats go in, in advance, and say that we want to see a timetable, we want to see this happen in terms of a withdrawal of our troops, we don‘t see how we continuing to put troops in harm‘s way is protecting Americans, and this is what we‘re doing, and if the president tries to force his policies above and beyond that, I think the American people will realize that the body that lost the election is the one that is putting the troops in harm‘s way, not the Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, Reverend Sharpton the Democrats should use the subpoena power they have won by winning a majority in both houses to investigate how we got in this war and not just how we‘re going to get out? 

SHARPTON:  I think that we should use whatever is necessary, including subpoena power.  Let me tell you something, Chris.  It is a sad day in America when Americans are still chasing O.J. Simpson and not wanting to know why 3,000 soldiers are dead on information that was flawed.   

MATTHEWS:  Who is chasing O.J. Simpson?  You lost me on that one. 

Who‘s chasing him?  Judith Regan?

SHARPTON:  Well, you‘ve got all of the American—you have got a lot of your peers that have not risen to the level of a Chris Matthews that are still running around asking O.J.  I‘d like to hear somebody ask where we‘ve got to go...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think that also involves—I hate—I know I don‘t have to enlighten you, Reverend.  You‘re streetwise, but that has to do with money. 

SHARPTON:  Of course it does.  And...

MATTHEWS:  And his money too.  He wants a little in his pocket before it goes back to the people who are going to sue him to get the money, but he must be getting something out of this interview or he wouldn‘t be doing it.  So don‘t treat him like a victim. 

SHARPTON:  Well, I don‘t want to go into O.J., but...

MATTHEWS:  You did.

SHARPTON:  ... I‘m not treating him like a victim at all. 

CHRISTIE:  Al, you brought it up.

SHARPTON:  I think that the victims are the American public that keeps being distracted with these sideline shows. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Reverend Sharpton, you are so smart and you were so far ahead at the funeral of Johnny Cochran.  I wouldn‘t say another word on this subject, because you‘re the one who stood in front of that audience at that funeral...

SHARPTON:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and you said they were not cheering that O.J. got off, they were cheering that an African-American lawyer, a brilliant lawyer, was able to win a case.  And I would not go any further.  That was pretty smart.

SHARPTON:  And that‘s what I would repeat this, but let me say this.  I think the American public has a right to know why we got flawed information, they have a right to know why the secretary of state went to the United Nations with flawed information.  I think that any and every way we can find out...

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe Dick Cheney will agree to do an interview with Judith Regan.  I don‘t know how you get these guys to talk, but it‘s probably the subpoena power.

CHRISTIE:  Well, and I hope it does not go come down to subpoena power.  Congress, I think the Armed Services Committee are going to ask members of the administration and from the Pentagon to come over and answer some very tough questions.  But I would like to see Congress come out of the gates in a very bipartisan fashion, as opposed to saying, I‘m going to subpoena you, so you better bring your tail up here.

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t this administration‘s definition of bipartisan, You can be Joe Lieberman, too.  You can agree with us, too.

CHRISTIE:  No, I—

MATTHEWS:  What is your definition of bipartisan?

CHRISTIE:  My definition of bipartisan is, the leaders of both parties coming together and looking at the serious issues of the day, and not just talking—

MATTHEWS:  Suppose they disagree on whether we should have gone into Iraq.  Suppose they disagree on whether we should stay in Iraq.  What happens then?

CHRISTIE:  I think there are going to be those disagreements, but what I would like to see the Democrats do, rather than just demagogue and say, President Bush took us into this war—I want to hear some solutions.  You find one Democrat politician who has a solution—

MATTHEWS:  Why do you say Democrat?

CHRISTIE:  Why do I say Democrat?

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you say Democratic?

CHRISTIE:  Pardon me.  Find one Democratic member of the Congress who has a concrete plan of what we should do in Iraq, and then I think we should have that debate, rather than—

REV. AL SHARPTON:  But Ron, --

(CROSS TALK)

CHRISTIE:  Wait a second, Reverend Al.  Murtha‘s plan is, Oh, we

should redeploy the troops, or we should redeploy our assets.  That is not

MATTHEWS:  Why are you mocking these proposals?  You said give us a proposal, I give you one, and then you get sarcastic. 

CHRISTIE:  I am not mocking you.  What I‘m saying—

MATTHEWS:  You‘re knocking Murtha.

CHRISTIE:  I‘m not mocking Murtha.  What I—

MATTHEWS:  Sure you are.  Want to run the tape again?  Let‘s rewind the tape.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  What about Joe Biden—what about Joe Biden?  Senator Biden is on this program quite a bit.  Al Sharpton, Reverend Sharpton, your thoughts, too.  He comes on and he says, maybe we‘ve got three parties over there—the Sunnis, the Shia, and the Kurds—don‘t really want to work together, not really happy with each other‘s company.  So why don‘t we let them split up into a confederation instead of this uniform government.  Is that a good idea? 

CHRISTIE:  I think the people in Iraq have their own democratically-elected government.  If that‘s how they decide they want to constitute their country, that should be their decision.  But I don‘t think the United States, now that we have a democracy in Iraq, should be telling them, Divide your country into three different areas, because that‘s what we think is best for you to do.

MATTHEWS:  We should completely defend their policy judgments in that country?  Then why don‘t we get out?

CHRISTIE:  That is not what I am saying.  I‘m saying that one of our stated objectives in Iraq is having a democratically-elected government, which we have over there now.  And we should let the people of Iraq decide how they want to best constitute their country.

MATTHEWS:  But how about if they say they want a unified country and they can‘t defend the unified country?  Suppose they can‘t get people to stop shooting with each other. 

CHRISTIE:  Well, see, this is one of my problems that I think that we‘re going to agree with, Chris.  I am tired of the Iraqi government in my opinion not standing up and taking their own responsibility.  I want to see the Iraqis—we have put everything our blood, sweat and toil over in Iraq.  I want to see some of the Iraqi people, some of the Iraqi politicians say, We have been given the liberation from Saddam Hussein—

MATTHEWS:  Suppose they tell us to leave.  Would you leave?

CHRISTIE:  If they told us to leave?  It depends.

MATTHEWS:  No, no—it depends?

CHRISTIE:  It depends; our stated objective, Chris, was to having a stable, democratically-elected government, which we do not have right now.

MATTHEWS:  It is a sovereign state, you guys keep saying.  If it‘s a sovereign state and it tells us to leave, wouldn‘t we have to leave? 

CHRISTIE:  If they told us to leave and there was stability in the country—

MATTHEWS:  And there is stability?  Wait a minute.  It‘s a sovereign country.  You guys have been saying for—Reverend Al Sharpton, get in here.  He just said to me—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t get to decide.  We have to decide, even though we keep saying they are a sovereign government.  Are they?

SHARPTON:  Chris, I think this is an example of why they lost the election.  You ask him about subpoena power, he says, Why don‘t the Democrats have a plan to get us out of the mess that the Republicans got us in.  When you say Biden has a plan, Murtha has a plan—

CHRISTIE:  That‘s not what I said, Al.

SHARPTON:  I didn‘t interrupt you.  When you say Biden has a plan, Murtha has a plan, he says, Oh, I mock those plans.  Now he says that they have a sovereign state that we need to protect, as long as we don‘t disagree with what they come up with.  I mean, this is crazy.

CHRISTIE:  Al, don‘t put words in my mouth.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you really believe that we have a right to stay in a country that tells us to leave?

CHRISTIE:  Let me put it to you this way:  the democratically-elected government in Iraq has consistently sought our assurances, after this election, that the United States would not leave.  To answer your question directly, Chris, if they come to us in a certain amount of time and say, We think the job of the United States military is done, we would like you to leave—if they are the democratically-elected government and that‘s their decision, then we should honor that decision. 

SHARPTON:  In a certain amount of time.  If they say they want you to leave, democratically make that choice, the question is, do you leave.  And I think that all of these conditions—this is the problem of bipartisanship.  You want set conditions on democracy, you want to set conditions on whether the Congress—which has now been democratically elected by the American people—can sit down and enforce the will of the people, and you want to sit up and ask us to give you 15 different proven plans for the mess you got us in. 

CHRISTIE:  I am not asking you for—Al, but see, again, you are not even talking about a concrete plan.  I‘m saying—

SHARPTON:  Biden has a concrete plan.  I agree with Murtha‘s plan, and it‘s a plan to undo what you guys did.

CHRISTIE:  So you think we should just cut and run?

MATTHEWS:  Do they have to say “Simon says,” before we leave?  We will be right back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and Ron Christie.

And later we will talk about faith politics and the Internet with Newsweek‘s Jon Meacham and the Washington Post‘s Sally Quinn.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We are back with former Bush White House advisor Ron Christie and the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend Sharpton, where are you on the two schools of thought:  one is the Democrats owe the voters action.  They ran basically for big change in policy in Iraq and they ought to deliver fast.  The other school of thought, I am beginning to hear up there, or have heard recently, let‘s wait for the Baker report, and let‘s follow their guidance, somewhere in December.  Where are you? 

SHARPTON:  I think we need immediate action.  The public and the voters were promised that and I think that no one told the voters that if they voted for Democratic members of the Congress and the Senate, that they were therefore going to wait on Baker to come back and give them recommendations.  I think there must be immediate action. 

I don‘t think we ought to do things in a way that would be irresponsible, but I certainly don‘t think that we ought to have it dictated by whatever the findings are of Mr. Baker. 

MATTHEWS:  The president said it was a fine demonstration of democracy, the day after the election.  He came out and said, I just took a thumping.  I am ready to talk to Ms. Pelosi, the Speaker, but I am not going to negotiate with myself.  And I took that to mean—tell me if I‘m wrong—Put something on the table and we will talk.  So the role of the Democratic leadership is to come to the president and basically broker something. 

CHRISTIE:  I think you are right.  I think the American people, as I said before, they have spoken.  We took a thumping in the Congress, and I think the president recognizes that and he recognizes that he needed to make a change at the Pentagon, which he did.  But at the same time, he is looking to see what the Democrat leadership, the Democrat members of the Congress have to say about the war in Iraq and what the objectives for success should be.  I think the president is open to that. 

And I think the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate have an obligation now, rather than to demagogue the issue or to go after Bush, to come out, as you mentioned—Joe Biden had a plan, John Murtha had a plan.  I‘d like to hear what some of the other Democratic leaders have to say about Iraq and to come constructively to the White House and articulate what they believe our goals of success should be.

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Sharpton, one of the dangers of building a bipartisan plan is that the minute you sign on, you are responsible for it.  For example, if the Democrats were to cut a deal with the president next month or January 20th or whenever when they‘re in full power.  And it were to say for the next year we are going stay in Iraq at full force and then begin to reduce our troops, some compromise.  From that day forward from the day you cut that deal, the Democrats would be responsible for all the casualties over there because they‘d be saying—we ought to stay another year to get certain things done and those certain things we can get done in a year justify the loss of American life and treasure.

SHARPTON:  I think that that is ...

MATTHEWS:  Is that something you would want to get your hands stuck in or would you want to stay out of that deal?

SHARPTON:  I think that that‘s the risk you run in any deal.  I think that what I would like to see is that we take the risk, the Democrats take the risk, but at the same time take it with it in mind, that if they can show the American public that they in fact had saved lives and brought them out of a situation that they didn‘t bring them in, they‘re correcting something that we did not start, I think that they can withstand whatever criticism may come about. 

I think the problem is that you have got be willing to take a stand, you got to take a risk and you‘ve got to go in and not become a mirror or a reflection of the same policies that people voted for you for you to end. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, how much change would you demand as a part—as a partnership?

SHARPTON:  A change in—well you‘ve already see the change in defense.  I think you‘ve got to have a hard timetable there that you‘re going to start the withdrawal of American troops.  I do not think there is a purpose to keeping American troops there.  And all of these goals that Ron and the other Republicans are saying, we have heard this over and over again, it is not happening. 

CHRISTIE:  Well, Al, it is not Ron and the other Republicans, it is the generals on the ground, people with actual military experience who are saying that putting together a timetable for withdrawal right now is irresponsible. 

SHARPTON:  And there are other generals that are saying the opposite of that Ron.  And I think the American public have heard the military on both sides‘ arguments and they made a decision.  There was an election and I think the people have spoken and we need to heed what the people have said.  They want out of this. 

CHRISTIE:  Al, the people have spoken but I think that the commander-in-chief working with his generals on the ground, people with specific military experience, in addition to looking at some of the suggestions coming from the Democrat members of the Congress, the Democratic members of the Congress, should put forth objectives, timelines, perhaps of—at a certain point, this is when American troops should come home.  But saying a date certain of leaving in one year or six months or three months is irresponsible. 

SHARPTON:  Well, first of all, I‘m confused.  First you say, we had an election, but we have a commander-in-chief.  I mean, are we under military rule—what are we talking about? 

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  Last time I read the Constitution, my friends, the president of the United States is the commander-in-chief.  Consult the Constitution my friend. 

SHARPTON:  And last time I looked, the president of the United States is elected and if there is an election—we don‘t then say, but we have military overrule of an election. 

CHRISTIE:  Al, give me a break.  That is ridiculous. 

SHARPTON:  Ron, we gave you a break, that‘s why we had an election.  We gave you a break, you lost the election.  But the other part of that Ron is you can‘t say ...

CHRISTIE:  I didn‘t lose the election.  I am not running. 

SHARPTON:  You can‘t say that we can have a timeline, but you don‘t want dates certain.  What kind of timeline doesn‘t have dates?

CHRISTIE:  Let me try to (INAUDIBLE), my friend.  What I‘m saying by way of a timeline is once we have reached certain benchmarks or objectives then we can slowly bring down the number of American troops who are over there.  Cut down on the sectarian violence perhaps.  A strong democracy ...

MATTHEWS:  But that may never come.  But that may never come.

CHRISTIE:  That‘s true, that may never come.

MATTHEWS:  We may never leave then. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  Which means, you are not talking about a timeline, you are talking about the same continuing policies and I don‘t think that you ...

CHRISTIE:  Al.  Al. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I am sorry gentlemen.  I have got go to break.  We‘ll be right back with Ron Christie and Al Sharpton.  And later, “Newsweek‘s” John Meachem and Sally Quinn of the “Post”, the “Washington Post” are here to talk about religion in politics—that should liven things up even further.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Ron Christie and the Reverend Al Sharpton.  Let‘s take a look at an interesting moment.  It was the other day at that very emotional groundbreaking for the memorial to the Reverend Martin Luther King in Washington.  There is Andy Young and there is the Reverend Al Sharpton, there‘s the president chatting away with the president, and there‘s John Louis, the great man from the civil rights movement.  There‘s Condi Rice.  What was that—and there‘s Reverend Jesse Jackson—Reverend Sharpton, what was that little interchange between you and the commander-in-chief there out in the open there? 

SHARPTON:  Well, I was seated there behind Doctor King‘s children.  He reached up and he kind of shook my hand and he said, “Al, have you all had a good week.”  I said yes.  I said, but you know, I‘ve lost a few elections.  You‘ve got to keep going.  He said, “Well, that‘s good advice from you.”  I said, yes, since you are going to continue losing them, I thought I would give you some good advice.  Get used to losing. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No. 

CHRISTIE:  You did not. 

MATTHEWS:  You did not do that?

SHARPTON:  And he smiled and he ....

MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t say you are going continue to lose. 

SHARPTON:  Oh yes, well we always—he and I are not bashful about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well that‘s magnaminous.  Why don‘t you rub his face in the dirt. 

SHARPTON:  Well, he brought up that we had a good week.  I wasn‘t going tell him that we didn‘t.  I thought it was good natured. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there is the more reserved John Louis there.  The more sober-minded I can tell from his face.  He isn‘t into the trash talk that you were involved with there. 

SHARPTON:  I don‘t think it was trash talking.  I thought that the president brought it up, I responded.

CHRISTIE:  Al, you are gloating at MLK‘s groundbreaking.  Come on, man. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  Al, if you watch the tape, he reached over to me. 

CHRISTIE:  I am teasing you. 

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE)  I was overwhelmed at the emotions of that affair.  I mean, the Reverend Jesse Jackson was holding Andy Young in his arms and Andy was crying like a baby.  Reverend Sharpton, what was it like at that moment up there?

SHARPTON:  To me it was a very emotional moment to think that Martin Luther King is going be there on the banks of the Potomac between presidents.  That movement will be permanently there.  And Andrew Young who was like a chief agent to Dr. King, Reverend Jackson, who mentored me and was standing there when Dr. King got killed.  It was an awesome moment for them, for his children.  You must remember one day Chris, we don‘t know what will happen to the King holiday, it could be combined like President‘s Day, but that monument will be there forever.  It meant that as long as there is a nation‘s capital, there will never forget what Martin Luther King did.  It was a great moment for those that believed in him and followed him and it was a great moment for the country.

MATTHEWS:  Where is it located, Reverend Sharpton?  Is it right between—it is supposed to be between Jefferson and Lincoln, right? 

SHARPTON:  That is correct.  And I think that when you think of the fact that Dr. King will be there between two presidents—I mean, I was talking with Martin Luther king the III after the program.  In fact, he did our syndicated radio show, and it would never have been a dream of his father that he would have a monument between presidents and I think that that‘s even more of an examine of the character of the man. 

He didn‘t do this for monuments.  He did what was right.  Thank God he is going to be given the kind of historic significance and salute that he so much deserves. 

MATTHEWS:  I think, Ron, it was one of the two great speeches in American history...

CHRISTIE:  I have a dream.

MATTHEWS:  ...of course the I have a dream speech, which came spontaneously out of him when people yelled out tell it like it is or tell us the—preach us the dream, and he came out of it because he had something he summoned back up from previous occasions.

But the other great speech, Reverend, I think was the second inaugural of Lincoln, where he talked about the Biblical understanding of the horror of the Civil War and to try to understand it as expiation for slavery and trying to tell the people we have lost 600,000 dead soldiers, but we did it because we had to.  It was payment for all that whip.

CHRISTIE:  Whip, that‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  It was in a—made these two speeches stand out.  But they‘re both at the same—they both are memorialized in the same spot. 

CHRISTIE:  I have to tell you, I agree with Reverend Al.  For an African-American of Dr. King‘s prominence and his importance to the history of the United States of American to be enshrined or to have a memorial between two great American presidents, I am so thrilled to see that this took place, and what an emotional day. 

MATTHEWS:  And while we are on the general subject of memorials, let‘s get rid of this President‘s Day thing where they sell mattresses.  And either give it—we give it back to Washington or give it to Lincoln.  Give it to a name of a person.  All presidents don‘t deserve to be honored. 

Let‘s face it. 

SHARPTON:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Ron Christie, thank you very much.  Thank you to Reverend Al Sharpton.

And up next, we will talk faith and politics and the Internet with “Newsweek‘s” Jon Meacham and the “Washington Post‘s” Sally Quinn.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  How will religion play in the 2008 presidential campaign?  Will evangelicals prove themselves to be as powerful as they were in 2004?  “Newsweek” editor Jon Meacham and the “Washington Post” writer Sally Quinn have teamed up to create a new blog on religion which you can find at Newsweek.WashingtonPost.com/onfaith.  Let‘s do that again?  Can we do that again?  But here—let‘s do it again?  Newsweek.WashingtonPost.com/onfaith. 

They both join me now.

SALLY QUINN, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Let‘s make it a little simpler.  You can go to WashingtonPost.com, to the homepage, or you can go to Newsweek.com...

MATTHEWS:  There will be a link to them?

QUINN:  Then you‘ll see On Faith and there we are, with every single major religious person that you‘ve ever heard of in your entire life, starting with the Dalai Lama.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s this, the “700 Club?”  You‘re taking over, Sally.

Jon, thank you for joining us.  Before Sally takes over completely, what is the impact of religion coming up?  I noticed we had 122 million voters last time, a good chunk of that last—above the 100 mark was from evangelicals.  Are they going to come out and vote and matter again in 2008? 

JON MEACHAM, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, whether they come and vote or not is going to be a central question all year long, both—well, there are two questions, obviously.  In the Republican primaries, are they going to find a candidate in the middle or on the right that they‘re comfortable with. 

That is, if you have Brownback, Romney, McCain and Giuliani running, where do the evangelicals go?  Do they go with Brownback or does Giuliani with his more left-of-center social positions make McCain suddenly look pretty conservative?  So there will be a Republican question.

And then in the fall, it‘s going to be do evangelicals feel that the Republican Party will actually deliver this time, after now 26 years or so since Reagan where they asked for a pro-life amendment to the Constitution, they asked for a school prayer amendment to the Constitution, and they—to use a technical, Tennessee phrase—they ain‘t got nothing, and...

MATTHEWS:  Well they got two Supreme Court justices, Roberts and Alito?

MEACHAM:  Well, they have justices but we don‘t know how they‘re going to rule.  I‘m just—you know, James Dobson is out there saying, you know, we‘ve been—my paraphrase—but essentially they‘ve been seduced and betrayed, to some extent.

And you have a lot of people, as you know, hardcore religios world, the more stringently religious who believe politics is sinful, who believe what The Psalmist said, you know, “put not thy trust in princes.”  And so those folks might stay home in the general election if they‘re not convinced they‘re going ot get something.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, Sally, it seems to me we‘ve come a long way, and I‘m not sure it‘s uphill, since 1960.  In 1960 John F. Kennedy had to go down to the Houston Protestant ministers and basically convince them that religious shouldn‘t play a part in the election.  He said there should be no religious test.  My religion is my business and it‘s got nothing to do with running the country.

But that‘s all changed, because now running the country involves making decisions about abortion rights, about gay marriage, and unfortuantely, a lot of the public business is now moral business.  I don‘t know what happened but we‘re dealing with these issues and we can‘t—are we now going to have to go through a religious test to get elected president?  Does John McCain have to go genuflect and visit every, every southern Bible-Belt church to get approval before he can get elected president?

QUINN: Well, I think the evangelicals particularly are probably alot smarter after having dealt with Bush.  And I think that one of the things that they will be looking for is authenticity.  I think they felt had by the Bush office of faith-based ...

MATTHEWS:  But suppose there is no authentic candidates running?

QUINN:  Well, you know, I mean, I think McCain has now hired a coach from Liberty University, a debate coach, which is a very evangelical college.  Hillary Clinton is wearing crosses and I think ...

MATTHEWS:  Harold Ford, Jr. put the Ten Commandments on the back of his handout card.

QUINN: Well, there you are, but I think that people are going to be a little more skeptical than they have been about people who seem to sort of attach themselves to religion.

MATTHEWS:  Well, where does that take us?  It‘s still takes us to having a religious test for the presidency.

QUINN: Well look at somebody like Barak Obama, who made this incredible speech on religion in July and everyone, Republicans and Democrats responded to that and the reason they did is because it was authentic.  He really meant what he said and he was speaking as George Bush would say, from the heart.  And I think people really appreciated that and I think that people are not going to be responding to people that they don‘t think are telling the truth and they think are just using them.

MATTHEWS:  Well let‘s go back to the way it works.  We saw in the last election in 2000, when the Republican Party was looking for a presidential candidate.  And down in South Carolina, George Bush, the then-Governor of Texas, was able to use these wedge issues if you will, to destroy John McCain.  I hear they are going to use other issues, more swift-boating if you will, it‘s going to get just as nasty next time—John.

MEACHEM:  I think there‘s no question.  But the first great religious, religiously-divisive campaign was in 1800 when John Adams‘ campaign put out ads in the newspapers saying you‘re going to have John Adams and God or Thomas Jefferson and no God.  So, this is not something that just started.

MATTHEWS:  Who won?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Jefferson won that one in 1800.

MEACHEM:  Well, they called him a French atheist, which is kind of redundant, sometimes.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s a Francophile, wasn‘t he?

MEACHEM:  He was, he was.  He was the first great triangulator in many ways.  He had a foot in every camp.  But it was—there you have a case where religion was used as a wedge issue.  As you say, what‘s changed since 1960, and Senator Kennedy, down in the Houston Ministerial Association is those court rulings, both on school prayer on sexual morality.  Those questions have come into the public square in a way they simply weren‘t. 

And I‘m always careful and cognizant that we should not act as though our era is somehow the most difficult, the most this, the most that.  You know, the Civil War was pretty bad.  So you have to be careful, but in point of fact, those school prayer rulings in the early 60‘s, which interestingly you remember Kennedy‘s response was—I think people should pray more at home and pray more in their churches and study more in schools.  That‘s the kind of reaction, JFK‘s reaction ...

MATTHEWS:  OK, well back in ‘60 when he went down to talk to the Houston ministers,  I think it was Johnson who told Bob Strauss to go down and find the ugliest of the ministers—the meanest looking ones, to put them up in the first row for the TV cameras.  I love that stuff.  John Meachem and Sally Quinn are staying with us.  And later we are going to talk about how the Iraq Study Group came to be with Salon.com‘s Joan Walsh.  And this Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS”, Tim Russert interviews the two new members of the Senate that gave the Democrats control—Montana‘s Jon Tester, that‘s the crew-cut guy and Virginia‘s Jim Webb, he‘s the former Secretary of the Navy.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with “Newsweek” editor John Meachem and “Washington Post” writer Sally Quinn.  John, I want you to talk about what you are trying to do with Sally.  But what I also want you to do in a larger context—which is, we are involved in a war in the Middle East now stuck in the middle between the Shia and Sunni.  Sectarian violence which is getting worse every week.We‘re getting killed, they‘re getting killed even in greater numbers.  And it seems to be the future as long as we live it looks like it going to get worse.  There‘s going to be sectarian violence between East and West and among the various groups (INAUDIBLE) in that part of the world.  And I wonder, is there anything we can do to make sure that doesn‘t happen here?  That we don‘t find ourselves in a true religious war in this country between the believers who want to influence American politics and seculars who would like to have less religion in our public life.

MEACHEM:  I am very hopeful about this, perhaps overly hopeful.  Because history tells us, American history is actually a wonderful story about the rise and triumph of the idea of religion liberty.  Not just because of secular sources of philosophical thought.  Not just because of the Enlightenment that everyone should have freedom of conscience because we‘re all our own soul and control our own destiny, but on Biblical grounds that were very much part of the founding documents—that all men are created equal.  That echoes the idea, the theological idea that all men are made in the image and likeness of God.

And so the religious in the country, I think should be on the

frontlines of guaranteeing religion freedom on the grounds that when God

created us, if you believe in a religious world view, he didn‘t compel

obedience, he didn‘t create a race of robots.  He created people with free

will, who could choose to love him or not, to obey him or not, to follow

him or not.  Now he certainly encouraged it.  He laid down some

Commandments.  he offered a vision of reward and punishment at the end, but

the nature of creation was that there would be a choice and inherent in

having a choice is the idea of liberty.  There is a noble and great

tradition in this country led by the Baptists in many ways of pursuing

religious liberty, so that any faith and all faiths can take root and grow

MATTHEWS:  OK, John, but John there is a fly in that ointment.  What happens when a girl or a woman wants to wear a burqa to school.  And everybody else says you can‘t cover your face because that‘s exclusionary and that ruins the classroom setting.  How do you deal with those kind of situations?

MEACHEM:  Right. Well, remember what Justice Stewart said about pornography—he couldn‘t define it, but he knows it when he sees it.  I‘ve talk to alot of judges, I‘ve talked to alot of lawyers about this.  There is no central test on the free exercise clause or the establishment clause.  And so we simply have to use—I believe quickly, you have to use common sense.

MATTHEWS:  Sally, what are you going to do to change this?

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN:  I think this Web site is exactly what you are talking about, is that it is trying to get people from all different faiths, from all different points of view to talk to each other and to establish a dialogue.  I think that is one of the problems you have in the Middle East.  People don‘t understand each other and when they don‘t understand each other, they are afraid of each other.  When the Shah of Iran was overthrown, this government was in shock because they had not—they didn‘t have anybody in the State Department who understood the religion in that country and realized that there was this huge religious movement. 

And I think that we have—as a government, we have to talk to people who are abroad.  But we have got political people and religious people from all over the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s tell the people:  What is the identification of this group? 

QUINN:  It is called On Faith.  It is on the Washington Post Web site, WashingtonPost.com and Newsweek.com.  And you can get the Dalai Lama, you can get Elie Wiesel, you can get Bishop Tutu.  You can get Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re all good, except Rick Warren once said if you‘re not Christian, if you‘re Jewish, you are not going to heaven.  I was there when he said it, so I‘m not sure...

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN:  But he‘s on our Web site, and you can go after him if you want.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think he was quite clear in person one time.  There was a middle-aged Jewish woman, she said, can I go to heaven?  He said not if you accept—not unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior.  That put a chill in the room. 

I‘ll tell you—anyway, you‘ve heard about this.  We thank you, Jon Meacham.  Thank you, Sally Quinn.

Up next, we‘ll talk about how Condoleezza Rice convinced the Bush administration to support this new Baker-Hamilton study group.  The panel examining what we should do in Iraq.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Republicans and Democrats alike are eagerly awaiting results of a report that could point the way out of Iraq, and Salon.com reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did some deft political maneuvering around both Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to get the president‘s backing for this. 

Joan Walsh‘s editor of Salon.com.  Joan, this is quite interesting.  What role did Condi Rice play in allowing this formation of this group led by former Secretary of State Jim Baker? 

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR, SALON.COM:  Well, she played a really central role, Chris.  She was somebody who we know from Bob Woodward‘s book was really getting increasingly worried about the gap between what the president was seeing in Iraq and what was really happening.  And what happened was Congressman Frank Wolf, who had himself traveled to Iraq several times, was also getting very concerned about the gap.  So he began talking to some people in Washington.  He wrote an op-ed last September about the need for this kind of bipartisan commission to come in and bring the so-called fresh eyes.  And he and his partner, David Abshire, an old Reagan hand, wound up getting a great hearing from Secretary Rice, who, somewhat to their surprise, wound up being their point person in really getting this through to the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you talking about creation of this bipartisan commission, or winning the president‘s support for it? 

WALSH:  I‘m talking about both, actually.  I mean, it is something that Wolf had floated, that was out there, that she really ran interference for and got the president‘s support. 

Abshire was talking to Baker.  He says he was the one who first approached Baker and Hamilton.  Knew it had to be bipartisan, but Jim Baker said clearly to him, you know, we can‘t do anything without the support of the president, and soon Abshire was talking to Condi Rice at the end of November.  And she wound up clearing a way to the White House so that the president would not block this, but would in fact support it. 

MATTHEWS:  How did she crack the ice around the president, who has been so supportive of the so-called neoconservative approach, that we go into the Middle East, we take over a government, we depose a dictator and we create a democracy, which creates a whole new chain reaction in that part of the world.  How did somebody come in and crack that? 

WALSH:  I think it was very hard, obviously.  No, I think she wound up having some help.  She is somebody herself who, you know, gave us the term that we didn‘t want the smoking gun to be the mushroom cloud.  She started out very much supporting this war, but became—joined the reality-based committee. 

But you know, she had help in Andy Card, if you believe “State of Denial”—and I have no reason no to.  You know, there were people in the White House who were increasingly frustrated by the role that Donald Rumsfeld was playing in both creating the perception that the president was seeing and then executing the war plan.

So you had Andy Card.  Certainly before that, you had Colin Powell unsuccessfully.  According to a lot of accounts, you had Laura Bush. 

So there were people in the president‘s inner circle who were telling him the truth, and Condi Rice, who has always been a very loyal person and very close to him, became one of them and began kind of bringing that information that he needed to hear into the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  My favorite question in politics is who is in the room?  What I mean by that, in a crisis situation, who does the principal bring into the room to advise him or her?  Who was in the room before the president changed his mind?  It was Cheney.  It was Rumsfeld.  Before, it was Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense.  It was probably—well, that may be the roomful.  Who is the new roomful around the president advising him right now?

WALSH:  You know, I am not sure I can answer that question.  I hope Hamilton and Baker get in there at some point, but Condi Rice has definitely gained the upper hand.  She fought hard with Cheney and Rumsfeld.  The ice between her and Rumsfeld was palpable.  Remember that press conference where she was speaking and he was sitting there doodling?  Incredibly disrespectful.  And she fought hard to get the president‘s ear, and we have the Iraq Study Group I think as a result. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hold Cheney responsible for that.  I think Dick Cheney created the Defense Department access with him when he brought Rumsfeld in, his old colleague from Ford days, and I think he was the one who neuterized the State Department from day one. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Joan Walsh. 

WALSH:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Play HARDBALL With us again Monday.  We‘ll have the latest on Iraq and what Congress and President Bush can do about it.  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.

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