updated 1/18/2007 11:46:47 AM ET 2007-01-18T16:46:47

Guests: Chuck Hagel, Vin Weber, Jim Warren, Lois Romano, Jay Carney, Duncan Hunter, Tim Walz

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Hillary and Hagel take on Bush.  Just back from Iraq, Senator Clinton opposes the surge, supports tying future money for the Iraq army to political settlement between Shia and Sunni.

Meanwhile, Chuck Hagel leads the Republican fight against the troop surge and for a reduction in the U.S. commitment in Iraq.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

The 2008 presidential contenders are off and running.  Tuesday, Senator Barack Obama, rising star in the political universe, jumped into the race and announced his formation of an exploratory committee.  This morning, Democratic frontrunner Senator Hillary Clinton appeared on the “Today” show, and held an afternoon press conference about her trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  The president is sending mixed signals.  He has finally said that this is not an open-ended commitment in Iraq, but he is providing the Iraqis with an open-ended presence of American troops.  We need to change course.

I plan to introduce legislation with regard to Iraq that includes three components.  First, it will cap the number troops in Iraq at the levels they existed on January 1, and will require the administration to squeak congressional authorization for any additional troops. 

Second, as a means to increase our leverage with the Iraqi government, my legislation would also impose conditions for continued funding of the Iraqi security forces and the private contractors working for the Iraqis.  It would require certification that the security forces were free of sectarian and militia influence, and were assuming greater responsibility for Iraqi security. 

I do not support cutting funding for American troops, but I do support cutting funding for the Iraqi forces if the Iraqi government does not meet set conditions. 

Finally, my legislation will require the administration to meet additional conditions for success in Iraq, including the assumption of greater responsibilities by the Iraqi government within six months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  More on Senator Clinton later, but first, Democratic Senators Joe Biden, Carl Levin and leading Republican war critic, Senator Chuck Hagel, held a press conference today outlining their bipartisan, nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush‘s plan to escalate the war in Iraq. 

Senator Hagel, a possible candidate for the White House in 2008, joins us from Capitol Hill. 

Senator Hagel, what can you get done with this nonbinding resolution? 

What would be the impact if you get 50 to 60 senators to vote for it?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  Chris, it would be very significant and here is why.  We have not had a national debate on this issue of Iraq.  This is the most divisive issue in this country since Vietnam.  It will continue to drive families against families.  It‘s not in the interest of American, nor of the world.

What a resolution will do to start the process, go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have an opportunity to debate that, bring it to the floor of the Senate, let America understand more what‘s at stake, and put the Senate on record, if that‘s what happens—I hope it does—on taking a position regarding escalation of military involvement in Iraq. 

Now, there is going to be a number of other initiatives.  You just noted one, Senator Clinton‘s intention to introduce legislation.  The appropriations process will start working.  That‘s where there will be significant convergence and debate about whether we should continue to fund our efforts or whose efforts or how much. 

But that‘s the way democracies work, Chris.  That‘s the responsibility we have to America.  America needs to have some assurance that we have a policy that is sustainable, more importantly, that they will sustain it.  That is not the case now. 

MATTHEWS:  How many Republicans do you expect to join you with the nonbinding resolution that comes out of the Foreign Affairs Committee—

Foreign Relations Committee? 

HAGEL:  I don‘t know yet, but I would say this, Chris.  When we had Secretary Rice before the Foreign Relations Committee last week—there are 21 members of the Foreign Relations Committee.  Ten of them are Republicans. 

If I recall, Chris, not one of the 21 senators -- 10 Republicans—came out unequivocally in support of the president‘s position that he announced to the nation last Wednesday night.  I think that tells you something. 

Today, there‘s been some activity of senators, Republican senators, taking positions on any further increase in troops in Iraq.  Some of my colleagues have spoken on the floor today.  That‘s the way it should be because this nation deserves that kind of open debate.  It‘s too important for our future not to have it.

And I would also remind your viewers, Chris, this is the kind of government that has a co-equal branch of government process.  That means the Congress is just as important as the president.  Separation of powers, yes, but we need to be part of this now.  We haven‘t been part of this the last four years.

MATTHEWS:  Why is the Congress—and it‘s not your fault, but why has it taken your colleagues so long to engage on this issue?  The blank check was basically signed back in 2002.  We went to war in 2003.  There was no real debate.  Everybody seemed to be afraid to oppose the president.  What has changed? 

HAGEL:  Well, I think start with the fact that we‘ve been there almost four years, thousands of American casualties, tens of thousands of Americans wounded.  When you add up all the amount of money we‘ve put in there, well over $400 billion and things are worse. 

You have a sectarian, tribal civil war that we cannot fix in Iraq.  The Iraqis are the only ones that can determine their own fate.  They‘re going to have to sort that out.  We can continue to help.  We should.  We must.

For example, we can move our troops, many of our resources, to the border areas to try to protect the territorial integrity of Iraq, but this is an internal issue.  This is not just about insurgents anymore.  This is about Iraqis killing Iraqis, Sunnis killing Shia—actually Shias killing Shias. 

You can‘t feed American troops into the middle of that, Chris, and fix that problem.  And many of us are saying, no more on this.  We‘re not going to sacrifice more American lives to put in the middle of a civil war. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I don‘t get?  I‘ve been trying to figure this out why it doesn‘t square.  You know, you fought in Vietnam.  You fought the VC, eventually fought the main forces—the main line forces of the North Vietnamese.  You know, we knew who our enemy was. 

They had a cause to get us out of there.  Our cause was to help the South Vietnamese government maintain its integrity, its sovereignty, right or wrong.  In this war, I keep asking myself, who is on the other side? 

I mean, if the Shia simply want to oppress the Sunnis and the Sunnis want to survive because they want to run the place, they‘re afraid of the Shia, are they are on our—who is against us?  Aren‘t they fighting with each other? 

HAGEL:  Well, they are fighting with each other.

MATTHEWS:  Well then how do we say we are in a war?  Whose war are we in then?  They know what they‘re doing.  What are we doing?

HAGEL:  We are in a civil war.  That‘s the point of the...

MATTHEWS:  But we are not one of the sides, so what are we doing?  What does winning mean?  We beat both sides?  We stop the war because we kill so many people they stop fighting with each other?  Is that what war means for us, kill as many Iraqis as you can until they stop fighting with each other?  Is that what our definition of victory is now? 

HAGEL:  Well, you‘d have to ask the president that.  But let‘s be real here.  We are not going to win a war of attrition.  The killing is not going to stop because we put 20,000 more troops in Baghdad, put 50,000 more American troops in Baghdad.  That‘s not going to solve the problem. 

Only a political settlement is going to solve that and that is going to have to come as the result of some political acceptance and accommodation resulting in a political resolution. 

Now, we can continue to train.  We‘re not going to be able to just pull out of there.  None of my colleagues that I‘m aware of, who I am talking to, are talking about that.  But we have got to have a far more clear and defined mission for our troops. 

And I don‘t know beyond just continuing to feed them in there, accomplishing nothing other than Americans being seen as occupiers by all of the Iraqis, being seen by Shias, Sunnis and others as being on the other side, and so you put us in the middle of that conflict, back to your point, Chris, well, what is the purpose?  What is the mission?  What is the objective?  What do we think we are doing here?

And what some of us are saying, enough is enough of this, and we are not going to allow, as much as we can have an influence over this, this to continue.  It is not a matter of cut and run, it‘s not a matter of defeatism, it‘s not a matter of giving up.  It‘s a matter of cold, hard facts and realities that we have not faced.               

MATTHEWS:  Well, Hillary Clinton is a very prudent person, and today she proposed that we tie future funding of the Iraqi army to their acceptance of certain conditions:  better distribution of the oil to give some of the oil money, of course, to the Sunnis as well as the Shia; neutralizing the Shia militia; and reversing this de-Baathification program so that Sunnis can get jobs in this new government over there. 

Do you think the president would ever sign such a bill? 

HAGEL:  Well, probably not, based on what they‘re saying.  I mean, they—I understand the administration said today that the administration didn‘t care what the Congress said or did in the way of the resolution or any other piece of legislation, referencing, I guess, the fact that they think that we are inconsequential.   

I think they‘re going to want to review that before this is all over, and.  If they haven‘t noticed, we changed management up here on Capitol Hill on November 7th, and the reason we did that was for one primary issue, and that‘s called Iraq. 

This isn‘t going to get better.  It‘s getting worse.  Just to give you some other dimension of this, over a third of the physicians in Iraq have fled over the last four years.  More than a million Iraqis have fled their home.  There‘s ethnic cleansing going on in Baghdad. 

We are not going to stop that.  Every point that you made, that Senator Clinton made, is going to have to be resolved through a political accommodation, a political process. Not at the end of the barrel of a rifle.  There are only certain things our military can do.  They have fought valiantly, they are spectacular people.  But we have placed them in a tenable position that‘s irresponsible.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. 

Coming up, Hillary Clinton is back from Iraq and Afghanistan.  She wants more troops in Afghanistan and she wants to cap the number of troops in Iraq.  Will Democrats support that plan?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I do not think that this strategy has a very high level of success at all attached to it.  In fact, I think that at best, it‘s a holding pattern.  I support putting a cap on the number of American troops as after January 1st.  I support the beginning of a phased redeployment out of Baghdad and eventually out of Iraq completely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Senator Hillary Clinton this morning on the “Today” show laying out what she thinks should happen in Iraq.  Will Democrats support her plan?  Will she become a bigger critic of the Iraq war as the 2008 campaign moves ahead?

Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst and Vin Weber is of course a former U.S. congressman from Minnesota.  He‘s now working as the policy chairman for Mitt Romney‘s exploratory committee.  You‘ve taken sides, sir.

VIN WEBER, FORMER CONGRESSMAN:  I‘ve taken sides.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we now will put that bowling shirt on you and we‘ll know where you stand.

WEBER:  For Romney, not against anybody else, but for Romney for sure.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Let me go to Shrummy.  On the Democratic side, I‘m impressed by the fact that Hillary took a very strong statement today, made one.  She basically said no more snow surge.  Reduce the number of troops.  In fact, tie the money that we give to Iraq from now on and whether they have some kind of political settlement over there and no more game playing.

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, it‘s a step forward for her and I think she has bought herself some time.  But this process is going to continue to move on and she‘s going to have a hard time, for example, saying she was against the surge and then explaining to Democratic primary voters why she voted against a resolution to cut off funding for the surge, if that is what she does.  So she‘s going to face tough questions down the road.

MATTHEWS:  But she can say, can‘t she, just explain her situation, “I can‘t vote to cut off funds for troops because I‘ll be finished in politics if I do that.”

SHRUM:  You know, I am so tired of this, Chris.  You worked, I believe, in the Senate when this whole debate went on about Vietnam.  No one is saying cut off funding for the troops.

MATTHEWS:  But they will say that.

SHRUM:  Let me finish.  If the Congress said at the end of a year, there will be no more money for this war, the president would withdraw the troops over the next year.  The troops wouldn‘t be left there without weapons, without armor, without protection.  This is another phrase like cut and run that actually obscures what Chuck Hagel said we need, which is a debate now inside the appropriations process.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Congressman Vin Weber—Vin, do you believe that your party and yourself might jump on any move by the Democrats to cut off money and call it cutting off money for the troops?

WEBER:  Absolutely, but first of all I think what Bob Shrum just said is intellectually honest and right on target.  Let me make a point, though.  Yes, it‘s true, the Republicans use that phrase cut and run that Bob didn‘t like, OK. 

It wasn‘t Republicans that talked about not cutting off funding for the troops.  That‘s what the Democrats kept saying, so when we talk about funding, it‘s the way the Democrats have framed the issue.

MATTHEWS:  You mean another one of these Willie Horton issues that was cooked up on the Democrats side, Bob?

WEBER:  No, it‘s a legitimate issue.

MATTHEWS:  Remember that one, that one came out of Al Gore‘s campaign, remember that?  That didn‘t come out of George Bush, Sr.

SHRUM:  Right, in 1988.  But look, what‘s happening here is that this issue has moved on.  The country is in a very different place than it was in 2004.  Democrats are in a very different place.  No one is going to win the Democratic nomination for president unless they are for setting a specific deadline for leaving Iraq and eventually, which is what Hillary Clinton said this morning, won‘t cut it.  And I don‘t think that will be her position come January.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that what she said today wasn‘t setting a deadline?  She seemed to say we‘ve got to start moving the troops out, I thought.

SHRUM:  Eventually.  We have to get them out, we have to redeploy them and eventually get them out.  I think that‘s a step forward for her.  But look, you contrast that with John Edwards who this week seized the high ground, I think, on the anti-war issue inside the Democratic Party. 

Everybody is going to be interested on February 10th on what the other big development this week, how that plays out when Barack Obama actually announces and has to say what he would do to stop a war he opposed in the first place.

MATTHEWS:  Do you set the same standard for him, Bob, that he has to basically vote against funding?  He has to make his move?

SHRUM:  I‘m not setting a standard.  I‘m just saying as a political matter.

MATTHEWS:  You say it to people on the activist party, the Democratic Party was, insist on that.

SHRUM:  This isn‘t just activists and it isn‘t just Democrats.  About 75 percent of the country want this war brought to an end.  Overwhelmingly,  Democrats want us to set a deadline for getting out of Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Senator Chuck Hagel.  I watched Sunday television, I was at a friend‘s house and I actually watched most of the shows.  And he was the most impressive person of the war.  He was more impressive of anybody I can think of on the Democratic side.  He‘s a grown-up, he‘s a military guy. 

What does that say about your party, the fact that he‘s out there and you have very few people out there fighting for the president‘s position?  You‘ve got Cornyn, who is a loyalist of Bush from Texas, and you‘ve got people like Kyl of course, who are out there on pretty hawkish neoconservative positions.  But there are not many voices out there in the Senate on the Republican side backing up the president right now.

WEBER:  First of all, Chuck Hagel is one of the outstanding guys in the United States Senate.  I think the world of him.  I think great of him as a friend.  I don‘t agree with him on this, I‘m really sorry that this is his position.  But I think he is one of the outstanding guys in the Republican Party. 

And you‘re right, he‘s the most articulate and credible critic of the war.  Go on, I don‘t like what he is saying.  But I really like him a lot.  There‘s no question, the Republican Party has got a problem on their hands here and the Bush administration knows that.  That‘s why they‘re spending, working overtime to try to deal with Congress and make sure that they do not cut off funding for the war.

MATTHEWS:  But what happens if Sam Brownbeck joins him, and John Warner joins him and all these other people join him in a resolution in a couple of weeks?

WEBER:  That‘s a bad idea.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think they‘re going to do it?

WEBER:  Well, I don‘t know if they‘re going to do it, and I think it‘s a bad idea.  The nonbinding resolution is just as bad, in my view, as cutting off funding.  But what are we going to do?  We‘re going to stay to the troops, we are going to send you over to Iraq, but we want you to know we think it‘s a bad idea?  How would you like to have that resolution of Congress behind you as you went over to put your life on the line?

MATTHEWS:  But can‘t you reform the question, say if the president can‘t run a bipartisan war, he shouldn‘t be running the war.  You can go that way too, can‘t you?

WEBER:  You could say that at the outset of the war.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you ask soldiers to run for the Republican administration when they‘re not fighting for the country?  That‘s a hard thing to make.

WEBER:  The argument about bipartisanship was the right argument to make at the outset of the war. We are in the war now.  The consequences of the war—of failing are severe. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve gotten rid of Saddam Hussein.  We got rid of the Baathist power.  We walk—now we‘re patrolling the streets avoiding—trying to stop a civil war or something. 

WEBER:  It‘s not a civil war.  It‘s a...

MATTHEWS:  What is it? 

WEBER:  It‘s a violent insurrection.  The vast majority of the Iraqi people are not engaged in this civil war, as you put it.  That‘s who we‘re fighting for.  We‘re fighting to pacify them...

MATTHEWS:  ... I‘m usually ahead of them, but NBC calls it a civil war, so I‘m on good ground here. 

Bob Shrum, Vin Weber, please come back.

They‘re staying with us.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Senator Barack Obama has announced he‘s opening an explore story committee, basically, the first step toward running toward president.  Is he completely qualified?  He‘s been in the Senate for two years, a member Foreign Relations Committee.  Is he completely qualified to be commander in chief, in your opinion? 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK:  You know, Matt, we‘re going to have a really vigorous I think debate on both sides with both parties in this primary season.  And the voters will make these decisions. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that wasn‘t an answer to Matt‘s question. 

But welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, Senator Clinton talking to Matt Lauer of the “Today Show” about Barack Obama and his announcement the other day that he‘s clearly going to run. 

Bob, here‘s—let me give you my iconic sense of Barack Obama.  Let‘s forget ethnicity, racial history, Jim Crow, slavery, all the hell we‘ve been through in this country—at least our forbears did—and suggest something to you. 

He looks like the young American hero—OK, the ears stick out.  I think Maureen Dowd made that point.  He‘s got the skinny, lanky look of a young, healthy guy.  He looks like the young Lindbergh before the politics got in the way, the young Jack Kennedy.  If he sits around and waits until he is middle aged and he‘s got a fat neck, he ain‘t going anywhere.  So the smartest thing that kid is doing—and he is a kid compared to us—is go for it and make Hillary try to catch him. 

SHRUM:  Well, I‘m not going to comment on fat necks, but I think what‘s happened is that there was a sense of void in the Democratic Party.  Obama filled it because he‘s a compelling figure, he stands for hope.  But he‘s now going to be subject to real scrutiny.  The press is going to ask him tough questions about where he stands.

MATTHEWS:  Like what?  Give us something.

SHRUM:  What‘s his health care plan?  Or I‘ll give you another one, because I watched him on the...

MATTHEWS:  ... Kennedy on that one.  He‘s just going to be the standard Democratic blue plate special.  That‘s it.

SHRUM:  No, no, no.  Chris, I think there‘s going to be a real demand for change on health care.  I think it‘s going to be the hugest domestic issue...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you.

SHRUM:  He‘s going to have to answer it.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you.  I‘m with the Romney plan, the Schwarzenegger plan, the Kennedy plan.  Put them all together and do it.  I‘m for it.

SHRUM:  The Romney plan was—there was a Romney-Kennedy plan—and by the way, I should tell Vin Weber I would agree with him and say that I think the world of Chuck Hagel, but I don‘t want to hurt Hagel. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... long-time Congressmen Weber, what do you think of this guy?  Do you think that Democrats are flirting with disaster with—he‘s going to lose the general and get killed, after all these dreams of a new breed of guy taking over? 

WEBER:  I don‘t know.  We‘re going to find out.  I‘m—we‘re all intrigued by Barack Obama.  I mean, he‘s a phenomenon. 

MATTHEWS:  He can write.  He can talk.

WEBER:  I think part of his problem, though, is that as I watch him, in tone and demeanor and everything else, he really impresses a lot of people as a moderate Democrat...

MATTHEWS:  I think he is in tone.

WEBER:  He is, absolutely in tone.  But if he‘s going to defeat Hillary Clinton, he‘s going to have to be to the left of her throughout the primaries... 

MATTHEWS:  You mean on the war?

WEBER:  On the war and a whole bunch of other stuff.  I don‘t think the Democratic—I invite Bob to tell me I‘m wrong—I don‘t think the Democratic Party is looking at the last election and saying, “We‘ve got to run to the center to win the White House.” 

MATTHEWS:  You are so right.  Not an single Democrat lost the election last year.  And the message to the Democrats is, you can‘t be too Democrat, you‘ll win. 

WEBER:  Yes.  So if—but if Obama has to be that in order to beat Hillary Clinton...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... this is bipartisan analysis, you know.  The guy‘s really good, Bob. 

SHRUM:  I agree with that.  I think he‘s terrific.  And I don‘t get this notion that some or other, being in favor of ending this war, setting a deadline to end this war is out of the mainstream.  It‘s very much in the American mainstream...

MATTHEWS:  And I hate to tell you, Bob, it‘s not on the left, either. 

It‘s not a left-wing position.

SHRUM:  I agree it‘s not a left-wing position, it‘s a mainstream position. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an American position.  It‘s a nationalist position. 

WEBER:  It‘s a nationalist position to wish the war was over.  Cutting off funding and forcing an end to the war prematurely is a left-wing position. 

MATTHEWS:  If you want America to be the hegemonic power in the Middle East, you‘re out of step with the American people.  We are not going to fight it out with Iran for the next few years to see who the big (INAUDIBLE) -- I‘m sorry, the big name is on the box.

I shouldn‘t have said that.

Vin Weber, Bob Shrum—get that off the tape.

Coming up, much more on the fight—I‘m sorry for saying that—on the Capitol.

And later, day two of Scooter Libby‘s trial.  That‘s—I must be in Scooter Libby trial mode right now.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The White House is concerned that a nonbinding resolution against the

president‘s new strategy in Iraq would send the wrong message to the world

and they should be worried about that—that message, that the United States is split on success in Iraq. 

Does this pressure from the White House have any impact at all, and what is happening with the Republicans who are jumping ship on Iraq policy? 

NBC‘s congressional correspondent Mike Viqueira has the details—

Mike.

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Chris.

Well, Republicans and Democrats beating a path down Pennsylvania Avenue to the president‘s door.  Today, Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, has called then in for consultations on Iraq policy, but there‘s no indication that Republicans will stop jumping ship, and there is a lot of concern among Republican leadership that that‘s just what‘s happening. 

I talked to a very conservative Republican today.  He said that the president, quote, “has no credibility left on Iraq.”  I talked to another conservative member who says the folks back home in his Midwestern districts are going to give this one more chance, if that.  So the ground seems to be slipping in terms of political support here on the Hill for the president and his policies. 

All of this happening against a backdrop when the army chief of staff comes up here for closed door meetings with an appropriations subcommittee led by John Murtha, and tells them that the president‘s plan, in his judgment, only has a 50/50 chance of success.  That gentleman, General Peter Schoomaker, the army chief of staff. 

Against that backdrop, here comes Chuck Hagel, Joe Biden and Carl Levin, putting forward their proposal of this nonbinding resolution in the Senate.  Let me just tell you, the meat of it—if there is meat of it—it is nonbinding. 

It is not in the national interests of the U.S. to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States troop presence, and the house is expected to follow suit with that, Chris, sometime in the coming weeks, but they do want the Senate to go first. 

Harry Reid has told Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders on the House side that he can get as many as 12 Republicans.  The House says, by all means, go right ahead.  That will really break the ice around Republicans here on the House side when we have our vote.

MATTHEWS:  So the strategy is let the Senate go first, figure 12 Republicans or so join the Democrats, they get a big majority against the war and a nonbinding resolution, bipartisan support.

VIQUEIRA:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Then the House Democrats go working on the House Republicans.

VIQUEIRA:  That‘s right.  And John Boehner, the leader of the Republicans on the House side, has been trying to keep it together.  He‘s been having a series of listening sessions. 

We haven‘t seen a lot of Boehner in public lately, but he‘s been bringing in Republican rank and file to try to find a middle ground between supporting the president 100 percent—which many members do not want to do—and pulling the rug out from under the president which obviously leadership does not want to do. 

They‘ve put forward a resolution by Sam Johnson, a Vietnam war

veteran, highly decorated, and prisoner of war in Vietnam, that coming out

it‘s not actually a bill, not a resolution—coming out and saying we will not cut off troops under any circumstances. 

This is something they are trying to rally around right now, although

it is unlikely that will see any light of day on the House floor when the

House does put forward this resolution, this nonbinding resolution, and

then moves forward in the coming weeks to look at the appropriation bills -

Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Mike Viqueira up on Capitol Hill. 

So how much does Hillary Clinton have to worry when it comes to Obama? 

Should he be worrying her, and can he compete with her political appeal? 

Let‘s bring in our HARDBALLers, Jim Warren, who‘s managing editor of the “Chicago Tribune.”  And Lois Romano is a national reporter and columnist for the “Washington Post.”

Let me go right now to Jim Warren.  You are smiling. Is Obama as good as he looks?  Can he keep up this zest right through February 10th, a week after the Super Bowl, with his big announcement?

JIM WARREN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Oh, yes.  I give him at least another month or two as he is the prom king of American politics, everybody trying to get around him.  But at some point, the bubble is, obviously, going to burst. 

I mean, for sure, at this point, he has a set of formidable obstacles, although I don‘t think they‘re quite the obstacles that people keep laying out about supposed lack of experience, being too far to the left.  I think he has got ample experience.  I don‘t think he is as far to the left as most people think.

But the reality is that Hillary‘s incredible formidable, and just based on name recognition, now she would be way, way ahead of him as would, I think, Giuliani and McCain, among others, on the Republican side.

And then there‘s a reality, I think, of something we haven‘t touched on much the November election that I believe that a lot of newly confident Democrats are a little bit less anxious than they‘ve been about Hillary Clinton in a general election campaign.  And her ratings on that score have continued to gone up—go up. 

She still has far more negatives, favorable versus unfavorable, than Obama, but I still think that Obama will be a flavor for the month in American politics for a good while. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Lois Romano. 

Lois, I wonder whether America‘s changing on ethnicity, and I—my answer is a positive yes based upon everything I see in American life, TV commercials, intermarriage, whatever acceptance of intermarriage, all kinds of different aspects anecdotally that suggest we are basically gradually cracking the old problem of race in this country. 

But I wonder about women.  I just—I wonder about Hillary and her personality and what it is that makes so many men and women both give you that but, I don‘t know, let me think about it.  It‘s not simple.  What do you think is going on?

LOIS ROMANO, “WASHINGTON POST”:  I think part of it is that she comes across as very contained and very cold, unlike her husband, who is just enormously effusive and back-slapper and, you know, never met anybody who wasn‘t his best friend.

She really keeps it all in check, and that‘s something that I think her advisers know that they have to work on.  She worked on it in New York. 

She came into New York with very low favorabilities, but she really worked

she went upstate, she really worked it one on one.  But, I mean, can you do retail politics on a national level?  And that‘s going to be their big challenge.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, can she go door-to-door across the New York and the country. 

ROMANO:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got Jay Carney joining us now, bureau chief for “Time” magazine here in Washington.

According to the latest “USA Today”/Gallup poll, when faced with a head to head matchup, Democrats prefer Hillary 53 to 39. 

Jay, he‘s the new kid on the block.  Is he heading north and she‘s heading south?  Is he going to pull in the mid-40s and she‘ll be down to the mid-40s by a month from now?

JAY CARNEY, “TIME”:  I think that‘s probably going to be true.  There will be polls that will show Obama in the lead, but I think that Jim is right.  And I think that the Clinton campaign is counting on the Clinton campaign to be a long, hard, successful slog, to partially quote Don Rumsfeld. 

And they believe that Barack Obama will be a shooting star, that he does not have—not just the legislative or political experience, he simply has not been through a hard campaign in his life, the likes of which he‘s about to experience. 

MATTHEWS:  Will Hillary take shots at him?

CARNEY:  I don‘t think she‘ll—not for a long time.  She won‘t need to.  I mean, there will not be a crisis point for a long time.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Jim Warren.  It‘s fascinating, and all of you can jump in here.  I love polls that don‘t talk about who‘s winning, but polls that tell you about the person.  According to the latest CBS poll, just out last week—and I mentioned this last night—about half the American people, 47 percent, want to know more about Barack Obama. 

Now, maybe that is a dodge for white people that don‘t want to vote for a black guy but I think it‘s curiosity.  They want to have more information on this guy.  On Hillary Clinton, the number of people who want to know more about Hillary Clinton is three percent, which tells me she‘d better have a shorter campaign than a long campaign, because people don‘t want to hear that much more from her. 

What do you think, Jim? 

WARREN:  Well, a couple of things.  Remember, you know, she‘s been out

there in the public spotlight for far, far longer.  And I think another one

of the challenges she faces is the extent to which the American public,

after two very divisive 8-year presidencies—Bill Clinton and George Bush

may want to get as far away from that as possible.  Nobody in anybody‘s family connected with those campaigns, and I think that is, indeed, an impediment. 

As far as the business about wanting to know about—more about Barack Obama, it‘s easy.  Go to Amazon.com.  There are two books, and particularly that first book, boy, which written when he was a nobody, a book that he probably didn‘t think would sell more than 100 copies, a book that does not show the oversight of an overly cautious political team, as I think the newest book does. 

Take a look at that first book.  And there‘s a tremendous amount about this guy‘s life, both growing up in places like Indonesia and Hawaii, about his being a very effective community organizer, even about his dealings, we now know, with marijuana.  His life is, pun intended, quite the open book, not too hard to find out most everything that‘s played out there.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back in a minute with Jay Carney, Jim Warren and Lois Romano.  Stay with us.  But after the break, will the House join the Senate in condemning President Bush‘s plan to send more troops to Iraq?  Congressman Tim Walz and Duncan Hunter will be here.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s go to Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California and Democratic Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota.

Congressman Hunter, you‘re doing well, you won that little straw vote out in Arizona.  Are you on your way to winning the Republican nomination?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA:  A strong national defense, A strong border and bringing back some of those jobs we‘ve lost on this one-way street, especially to China.  I think that resonates with the Republican base and it obviously did in Arizona.

MATTHEWS:  How come we are hearing from very few national Republican senators, for example, who are really sort of out there with the president?  You do hear from Kyl, you hear from Cornyn.  But there‘s so many you don‘t hear from, and then you do hear from the critics.  What is going on in the Republican Senate right now?

HUNTER:  Well, if you‘re talking about Iraq, obviously I don‘t have my ear to the ground over there.  But Chris, let me tell you, I‘m speaking—

I‘m speaking clearly.  I don‘t care what you call it, a surge, an increase

what the Republican president is doing is sending reinforcements to Iraq to carry out his plan.  And if the Democrats cut off the reinforcements, the American troops will never forgive them and I think the American people will never forgive them.  I think the Republican senators should be loud and clear on that issue.

MATTHEWS:  Well what happens if the Democrats in the House don‘t cut off aid to the troops?  They simply say, no troop is going into combat without a certain level of training.  No soldier will be asked to fight longer than a certain tour.  Is that cutting off funding?

HUNTER:  Well it is, if you try to do it in a cute way.  First, nobody goes into that war without a level of training.  And nobody goes in there without a flak jacket.  I‘ve had calls on that phony issue.  We‘ve got more than two sets of armor for every troop that‘s in Iraq right now, more than two.  And so they‘ve got the right equipment.  They‘ve got the right preparedness.  But cutting off reinforcements is something that‘s never happened in our history.  I think the Democrats are tap dancing between this abyss of cutting off reinforcements and on the other hand, trying to satisfy the more liberal base that says get out now.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Walz, that‘s a strong word, if he used the word reinforcement.  It sounds like we‘re cutting off aid to guys in the field.  That‘s the way the Congressman put it.  That‘s a tough fight politically, isn‘t it?  To say you‘re not going to send in reinforcements for guys who are pinned down?

REP. TIM WALZ (D), MINNESOTA:  Well Chris, of course that‘s not going to happen.  The Congressman is using some terminology that he knows is trying to incite that base of his.

HUNTER:  It‘s military terminology.

WALZ:  I spent 24 years in the military, Congressman, as a command sergeant major, I know that.  The American public knows what they know.  They know the foreign policy experts, the military experts, and no one is saying that this is the way to go.  This administration and this Republican Congress has failed to ask the hard questions about Iraq and now they are trying to pull some new terminology, surge, reinforcements, those types of things, on a failed policy.  The American public is not buying it.  I‘m standing here in testament to that.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think congressman, both of you, of the Hillary Clinton proposal she put out late this afternoon in Washington to basically say the money we‘re giving to Iraq, to the government to build up its forces, will be conditional on whether they get serious about political or a union in that country between Shia and Sunni and they really try to stop these death squads?  Congressman Duncan Hunter?

HUNTER:  Chris, I think that‘s a disaster.  I think this—we‘re going back to the days when we have 535 secretaries of state who star laying out the policy instead of the president.  And let me tell, you, reinforcements is what we are sending in.  I‘ve talked to the commandant of the marine corps, they did request Congressman Walz.  Those 4,000 reinforcements for the Al Anbar Province, that‘s Fallujah, that‘s Ramadi.  That‘s a real war.  So I don‘t know where you are getting your information.  But they did call for reinforcements out there, in Al Anbar.  It‘s going to be a disaster if we don‘t send them.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Walz, do you think Hillary Clinton is right in staying we should condition the money for the Iraqi army on whether they do what they say they‘re going to do, take down these militias, distribute the oil money, stop this debaathification, start uniting the country?

WALZ:  We have to ask the questions.  The al-Maliki government has shown us no reason to believe that they can keep to their promises or deliver on what they say they‘re going to deliver.

In the terms of reinforcements, congressman, the 34th division from Minnesota, those are national gourd troops that have been there for 18 months on their second deployment and they‘re being asked to stay on longer.

These aren‘t fresh troops being brought in.  This is a failed policy that is asking these soldiers to continue to give and give and give with no strategic plan.  So I think asking where every dime is going—during World War II, we held hearings constantly to ask those questions and this Republican Congress has failed to.  When we tried to ask the questions two years ago, we were called unpatriotic and cut and run and you can‘t change course.

I ask the question now, Congressman Hunter, why since November 7th is the president willing to change course?  It may have to do something with the political reality that the American people are tired of this.

HUNTER:  Yes, and my answer to you is ask all the questions you want, but don‘t try to stop troop movements after they‘ve already begun and after commanders in the field, like the marine commanders in Al Anbar, have said we need those troops, we want those troops, we‘re doing good things out here.  We need the 4,000 people.  We have a plan and that‘s a Baghdad plan with the nine sectors, two Iraqi battalions or three Iraqi battalions being backed up by American battalion, embedded forces.  It is a plan, and if the Iraqis don‘t show up, then we‘re going to have to deal with them if they‘re not committed to defending their country.  But right now, the president has a plan, he needs the extra people.  That‘s reinforcements.  I don‘t care—and the people that really came up with the wordsmanship here were the Democrats who called this a surge and talk about deploying to the rear.  That is not a surge, it‘s reinforcements.  We need to support them.

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, let me ask you first, Congressman Hunter.  Do you believe that the American people should continue to fight if it does become a civil war?  Continue to stay in that country even if both sides look resolute in fighting to the death?

HUNTER:  Here‘s my—where I think our metric should be, Chris. 

We‘ve done two things in this 60-year-old pattern of standing up freedom.  We stood up for free government and secondly, you stand up a military that‘s capable of protecting that free government.

Now once we have stood up that 120 plus battalions of Iraqi soldiers and they have the capability of protecting that government and the Iraqi government makes a political decision that they will tolerate violence, that they don‘t want to go after al Sadr and his people, that‘s a political decision that they make.  We‘ve done our job.  We‘ve stood up a free government, and we‘ve stood up the military that has a capability of protecting it.

I think the government will hang on Chris, because it‘s in their political interest to do so.  And they do represent a majority of the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Congressman Hunter and Congressman Walsh.

Up next, it‘s day two of Scooter Libby‘s trial.  We‘ll have the latest from the courthouse with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster, who‘s been down there today.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today was the second day of jury election in the trial—perjury trial against Vice President Cheney‘s confidant and former chief of staff Scooter Libby.  And HARDBALL‘s David Shuster was at the D.C. courthouse today with the latest.

Here he is—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, they are now exactly two-thirds of the way picking through this jury, so we should have a final jury ready by tomorrow evening. 

But the big headline that has come out of these two days is that Scooter Libby‘s lawyers have now made it perfectly clear they are not going to contest the idea that the testimony that he gave to the FBI and the grand jury was inaccurate and was a mistake.  You‘ll know, of course, that Scooter Libby testified he learned about a CIA operative from reporters.  The reporters then testified, said, no, they didn‘t tell Scooter Libby.  And, in fact, prosecutors are prepared to have as many as seven government officials say they were the ones who told Scooter Libby. 

Well, today in front of every single cross examination, every single question to potential jurors, his attorneys kept saying, “Have you ever had a situation where you were absolutely convinced you remembered something one way and then you realized you were wrong?” 

And the jurors agreed. 

And then you had Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald say, “Well, what about

how do you evaluate when somebody makes a mistake?  How do you evaluate when it is an honest mistake versus when it is a deliberate lie?”

And in every single occasion, the defense attorney would stand up again and say, “Are you aware of the concept of reasonable doubt?  Do you understand that it‘s the government‘s responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Scooter Libby intentionally lied?” 

That is clearly where this case is going to be fought.  The problem that Scooter Libby has is in trying to argue that this was an honest mistake, that he was busy with other thing.  That‘s where the credibility of the vice president‘s office will come into play and where the idea that the vice president and Scooter Libby were discussing the Wilsons almost every day for two weeks. 

So it is a very tough road that Scooter Libby is going to try to follow.  But as it stands right now, Chris, 24 people qualified for the jury pool.  They should have the 36 they need by tomorrow so that they can then withstand the strikes and have the 12 jurors and the four alternates. 

And, by the way, Chris, you‘ll find this very interesting.  Out of the 24, 20 are white, only four are African-American.  It‘s  a very unusual sort of breakdown, given that D.C. is 70 percent African-American—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, David Shuster.

We‘re back with the “Hardballers”: Jim Warren of the “Chicago Tribune”, Lois Romano of the “Washington Post”, Jay Carney, who is “Time Magazine‘s” Washington bureau chief.  He also writes for “Time.com‘s” new political website—or blog site called “Swampland”.  I have no idea why.

Let me ask you about the trial.  We‘ll start with Jim Warren.  Are we going to get something out of this trial with any mega-tonnage?  Are we going to learn about how about we got into this war?

WARREN:  No, I don‘t think so at all.  And it just dawned on me after our last conversation that both Libby and his former boss, Bush, face publics increasingly tuning out their respective travails, one in Iraq and one in a courtroom there in D.C.  In the case of Bush, that‘s not a good thing.  In the case of Libby, it might just help a bit. 

But I think for a lot of folks, this may seem as if we‘re talking about somebody lying or covering up an act that we now realize was not a crime.  And I think in the court of public opinion, things may go well for Libby.  But if it‘s a straight and narrow legalistic legal issue of whether or not he lied, then that juror, no matter what it‘s demographic break-up does not buy the notion of an honest mistakes versus and deliberate lie, then he may be on track to getting his fingers he gets a presidential pardon. 

MATTHEWS:  Lois, is Ted Wells, the attorney, talking down to the jury to make them—to assume that they might that a guy as smart as Libby has completely got it wrong?  That he swore under oath he heard something from one person,, and all the facts point out, in fact, all his conversations before that point out he got it from somebody else?

I can imagine somebody thinking they forgot something.  Why would anybody think that he remembered with clarity to the point of swearing to it something that didn‘t happen?  That‘s an accident? 

ROMANO:  No, and I think that‘s going to be a hard one to sell.  I mean, you know, the one observation I would make about this is that I think that Scooter Libby is going to try to save himself and—I mean, we‘re not going to get a lot of answers on the war. 

But I think that Dick Cheney could play a very relevant part in this trial because Cheney was the one that put him up to it.  And Cheney‘s, you know, approval ratings are very low now.  And if people feel sorry for Libby, it might go in his favor.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘m listening to the (INAUDIBLE), Lois.  And you‘ve been reading it, too, in the “Post” and everywhere else. 

Jay, these people don‘t like Cheney.  These jurors, they‘re...

CARNEY They don‘t like Cheney, they don‘t like Bush.  This is a very Democratic city.  And, look, Bush and Cheney aren‘t even popular in Utah.  The most Republican state in the country is finally—Bush has negative, you know, higher negatives than positives there. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you bring Cheney in as your character witness?  How do you do this?

CARNEY:  It‘s not a problem...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re laughing a little...

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANO:  Well, I think you bring Cheney in to say, “Yes, I told him to do this.” 

And Cheney seems—you know, he‘s above prosecution.  And so that could help Libby.  And Libby says he‘s being, you know, loyal to his boss.

MATTHEWS:  He has been.  It‘s manifest the guy covered for the boss.  Clearly, he was doing what the boss wanted.  It‘s so obvious to me.  Why in the world would you lie to all of these agents‘ questions and in front of the grand jury if you weren‘t doing it to protect the big guy?  Why would you do it?

CARNEY:  Well, I‘m not going to prejudge the case.  I...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not prejudging.  It‘s a reasonable assumption.

CARNEY:  It might be.  To me (INAUDIBLE) with Jim and Lois that I think that there will be a lot of—and this will be most interesting, this trial, besides those directly affected by it, for historians.  I think there will—you know, the president and the vice president under oath on the stand, the details we‘ll learn, the more—you know, the greater details we‘ll learn about how the vice president‘s operation worked.  I think it will be fascinating.

MATTHEWS:  And interesting part is that Dick Cheney‘s going to under oath.

CARNEY:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Under oath.  He could be smacked with perjury charges after this.  Go ahead.  Yes?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got to go.  Sorry, I‘ve got to go.  You can‘t.  I‘m sorry, Jim.

WARREN:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Lois Romano, thank you.

Jim Warren, thank you.

Jay Carney.

Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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