updated 2/14/2007 2:08:32 PM ET 2007-02-14T19:08:32

Guests: Steny Hoyer, Jack Kingston, Tim Walz, Christopher Dodd, Charlie Cook

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The House takes up the fight over the president‘s war escalation.  What‘s next, a timetable for pullout?  A cutoff of money?  Plus Mitt Romney gets into the race but will conservatives buy his conversion to the right?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL, tonight from NBC News World Headquarters in New York. 

After nearly four years of war and over 3,100 U.S. troops killed, today the House finally began its debate over the war in Iraq.  A new “USA Today”/Gallup poll shows most Americans now support a congressional resolution opposing President Bush‘s plan to escalate the war. 

The poll also finds most Americans now want real action from Congress, including a cap on troop levels, and a timetable to withdraw.  And a more ominous sign for politicians up for re-election, seven out of 10 Americans now say their representatives vote on the war will affect how they vote in 2008. 

More on the debate in a moment and later, picking the next president. 

In his boyhood state of Michigan today, Mitt Romney announced he‘s running for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t believe Washington can be transformed from within by lifetime politicians.  There have been too many deals, too many favors, too many entanglements and too little real world experience managing, guiding, and leading.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  In a moment, we‘ll talk about Romney‘s odds and talk about the presidency with Democratic contender Senator Chris Dodd.  Plus, odd things in the Scooter Libby trial.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the story.

But first, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the big debate in the House.  Mr. Leader, thank you for joining us.  I want some solution to a problem I‘ve been trying to figure out.  A lot of people, including Hillary Clinton, they‘re saying they voted for the resolution back in 2002 to allow the war in Iraq because they thought the president wouldn‘t use that power, that somehow he would use sanctions or negotiations and avoid going to war.

We‘ve just checked the polls back then.  At the time the Congress including you voted to give the president that authority, 70 percent of the American people believed the war with Iraq was inevitable.  Why didn‘t you think it was inevitable?  Why didn‘t Hillary Clinton think it was inevitable when you gave the president the blank check to attack?

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MAJORITY LEADER:  Well, I don‘t know whether we thought that war was inevitable.  What I know Hillary Clinton and I did not think was that the policy would be prosecuted by Rumsfeld, by Wolfowitz, by Bremer and by the president in an incompetent fashion.

I thinks that‘s really what has so stunned me and I think stuns the American people, that the intelligence was so wrong, that the representations were so wrong, that the president‘s conclusion that the mission had been accomplished on May 1, 2003 was so wrong.  And that is why in my opinion, my vote certainly was a mistake.  Had I had any knowledge that the president would proceed in such a fashion that was clearly not a fashion for success, as he said, none of us voted for failure.  He‘s right.  It was a mistake.

MATTHEWS:  Barack Obama said this Saturday when we‘re out there covering his announcement for president that he thought the war was ill conceived from the beginning, in other words, a bad idea.  You don‘t agree with that, you just think it was badly handled?

HOYER:  Chris, as you know, my premise for authorization was different than most.  It was not on weapons of mass destruction, it was not on preventative strike. 

It was on the fact that conditions had been imposed upon Saddam Hussein and the United Nations had unanimously concluded he had not complied with those conditions and he was shooting at our planes in the no-fly done. 

In addition to that of course, in 1998, we voted for a law which was passed by the House and Senate overwhelmingly, signed by President Clinton which said it was the policy of the United States to remove Saddam Hussein, who was perceived as an international criminal. 

The problem from my perspective is that we have prosecuted that effort in a way that went way beyond that objective.  We removed Saddam Hussein, went way beyond that objective, and the president then came into nation building, which he had severely criticized in 2000.

MATTHEWS:  But the Iraqi Liberation Act said nothing about the use of U.S. force, military force.

HOYER:  No, that‘s correct.  But it said it was the policy of the United States to accomplish that objective.  In any event, Chris, what we‘re doing today is having a debate on whether or not we believe that the president‘s proposal to escalate, by 21,000 the troops we have present in Iraq is a policy that will bring success.

Almost all the military leaders on the Maliki government, the American public, clearly do not believe that will work.  I think you are going to see on Thursday or Friday, probably when we vote on Friday, that the significant majority of the Congress does not agree either. 

MATTHEWS:  Well you‘ve got a majority of the people behind you, according to the latest Gallup poll.  Let me ask you, why are you refusing the Republicans plea for an alternative?  Usually you get a vote to recommit with instructions so that the Republican leader, the minority, who votes against passage or takes that passage can offer an alternative.  Why not give the Republicans a chance for an alternative resolution?

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me tell you what we did.  Chris, we believe that the American public deserves a clear answer to the president‘s proposal.

The Republican president, the leader of our country, the commander in chief, has made a proposal.  We decided that unlike the Senate, which got very confused, and in gridlock on the whereas and therefore classes, that we would put a very simple proposition on the floor.

And that was essentially two premises.  A, we support the troops and we‘ll protect the troops.  B, we do not support the escalation of the president‘s proposal and don‘t think it will work. 

We want a very clear vote on that issue, unconfused by other propositions.  There will be time, as I have said, in the very near future on the supplemental, on the defense appropriation bill and on the defense authorization bill, all of which are coming up in the near term to make those other views known, but on this debate, we wanted a very clear question asked and a very clear answer given.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think it‘s great that you‘re voting.  I‘m just asking about the formal questions.  I also wonder if Congress is ready to take a strong stand, insisting on your right as the Congress to agree whether the president attacks or takes military action against Iran.  Do you think a resolution like that would be in order, should be in order?

HOYER:  I think there‘s going to be action on that.  I think we may well, as soon as we come back, make a statement on that legislatively that we believe that if the president is going to take action or contemplates action against Iran, he needs the authority of the Congress to do that, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, you‘re an extremely good head counter.  You won the majority leadership because you know how to count heads, I think almost to the one you got it right.  So let me ask you now that you‘re in victory here as the leader, can you predict now how many Republicans will join this non-binding resolution this week?

HOYER:  I like to think I‘m a pretty good head counter of the Democrats.  The Republicans are more speculative.  We will leave that to the vote on Friday.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a benchmark of success, sir?

HOYER:  No, I don‘t have—a benchmark of success is passing this resolution, which I think we‘ll do and will be bipartisan, as you know.

Congressman Jones from North Carolina is a co-sponsor.  I‘m confident we‘re going to get a number of other Republicans, some 20 Republicans, have publicly made statements in opposition to the president‘s policy. 

And two members of Congress, one of whom the ranking member on the intelligence committee, indicated that if we make this argument on the escalation or on Iraq, we will lose.  So I think there is a very great discomfort level on their side of the aisle about this vote.  They know it is risky.  They know where the American people are.  They may want to side with the administration for political purposes, but for their own purposes, for the constituent purposes, I think they‘re going to have a great pull on them to vote for this resolution. 

We see that in the United States Senate where you have seven Republican senators who voted to delay debate and not proceed on the Warner Amendment, who now are saying, including John Warner himself, “Gee, we really ought to go ahead on this.”  And as a matter of fact, Olympia Snowe saying the House is making us look bad by proceeding on a debate on the most important question concerning our country.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have a new poll that shows that seven out of 10 Americans are watching Congress to see how they vote on this and they say that they vote and they say that if they vote the wrong way, they‘re going to remember that come election time.

You know, Mr. Leader, you and I were grew up in a country where presidents were very attune to Congress and respectful of it, especially those who came out of Congress like Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy and even Richard Nixon.  They watched the Congress, they paid attention to it and they cared about its legislative duties. 

This president, and I know you respect him as we do, as president, but he came out and said the other day that he‘s not even going to bother watching the floor debate.  He doesn‘t even want to hear about it.  He‘s got other things to do.  He is going to treat you, the first branch of the Constitution, as if you‘re Katrina, not to be paid attention to. 

Does that bother you constitutionally that the president doesn‘t think this major debate on where war is something he‘s not going to bother to watch on television?

HOYER:  It certainly does.  And although he said that, I can‘t believe that the White House is not watching this very closely.  My belief is that they are watching it very closely. 

Furthermore, on a more humorous, but unfortunately real sense, Barney Frank made the observation the other day that some Republicans were saying this was only an advisory resolution, it was a non-binding resolution.  Barney Frank made the observation, which is unfortunately too true, that even when we pass legislation, that the administration then signs a letter, and says, “Well, it‘s really non-binding.”

So whether it‘s a resolution that‘s not compulsory or a statute that is, this White House has too often ignored what the constitutional branch of government which is supposed to make policy says. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, I have to say as an American—and this is totally non-partisan—the more Congress reclaims its power over war and peace, the healthier this country‘s going to be. 

Thank you very much...

HOYER:  Chris, if I can add...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

HOYER:  ... we‘ve had 52 hearings in the last six weeks on Iraq in the various committees in both the House and the Senate.  In the last Congress, as you well know, it a complacent Congress that did not affect oversight or accountability.  So there has been a really new direction in the Congress of the United States in terms of oversight on this war and other policies. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope the blank check that was written in 2002 was the last because presidents should either have war declared or not.  They shouldn‘t be allowed to declare it at their will. 

Anyway, thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland. 

Coming up, Mitt Romney made it official today.  He‘s running for president.  Will conservatives back him?  CNBC‘s John Harwood will report from the site of Romney‘s announcement.  It‘s out in Dearborn, out in car country, out in Michigan. 

Also, MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan and Mike Barnicle will be here. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney formally entered the presidential race. 

John Harwood is up in Michigan covering it all. 

Well, John, I couldn‘t believe watching him in front of that car.  I thought I was watching them roll-out a new line of cars, like the New Year‘s cars. 

What‘s that all about, that setting? 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, he was trying to showcase innovation and the need for innovation, his ties to Michigan, of course, where his father was a governor for three terms, was also a major auto executive.  So there are a lot of reasons for him to be here.  And it‘s certainly better than being in Massachusetts, which doesn‘t quite fit with the GOP theme, or in Utah, where he has also been part of his life, because that might raise questions about the whole Mormon thing, which he‘s not eager to address, at least on his first day formally in the race.  

MATTHEWS:  Well, it looks like a lot of Americans today, including John McCain and others, except for Rudy Giuliani, certainly like Hillary Clinton, who has roots in the suburbs of Chicago and in Arkansas and now in New York—is this the new breed of politician, the mobile? 

HARWOOD:  Well, look, it‘s a mobile society.  And you get candidates as a result who can claim home states in various places.  And they‘re likely to use as a backdrop the ones that are most electorally important for them. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact that he‘s trying to run in his father‘s shadow?  Of course, his father ran for president in ‘68 and got washed out when he said that the military had brainwashed him and somebody said he had not only been brainwashed, but drip-dried.  That‘s an unfortunate legacy for a guy who seems to have switched on some social issues. 

HARWOOD:  Well, you know, you see from some people the idea that Mitt Romney‘s trying to redeem his father‘s unsuccessful presidential race.  But it‘s also useful for him in this way, Chris.  He‘s got a short pedigree in politics, just four years as Massachusetts governor.  Of course, he was unsuccessful in running against Ted Kennedy in 1994.  And the shadow of his father is sort of a stamp of political establishment approval, if you will.  So I think he uses that to some degree to his advantage, as well. 

MATTHEWS:  John McCain won that big fight up there in Michigan back in 2000 against President Bush.  Does John McCain still have the power up there that this guy has to take down?  There‘s a lot of Catholics in Michigan, a lot of people that are sort of Reagan Republicans, who like the cut of John McCain‘s jib, his independence, his maverick reputation.  How does Mitt Romney, the straight arrow, cut into that? 

HARWOOD:  Well, look, I think the burden‘s on Mitt Romney to prove that he is compete in a lot of places.  New Hampshire ought to be a good state for him because it‘s nearby Massachusetts.  But he‘s running behind Rudy Giuliani and John McCain there.  The same is true in Michigan.  So he‘s got a lot of potential.  He talks well.  He‘s tried to make himself as least minimally acceptable to all spectrum of the Republican Party, the security conservatives, the economic conservatives and the social conservatives. 

But even though he‘s done well raising money so far, he‘s got a ways to go to prove that he can attract Republican votes in the primaries. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s also got a network out there of fund raising, doesn‘t he?  He could raise a big chunk of money.  He might be the top money raiser, right? 

HARWOOD:  Well, I wouldn‘t expect him to be the top money raiser, but when you‘ve had 25 years of management consultancy, working in venture capital for bank capital, leveraged buy-outs, you‘ve a big network of companies you‘ve been involved with, people that you‘ve had investments with.  That‘s not bad to start a presidential campaign with.  Of course, he raised $6.5 million on that initial calling day that he opened his fund raising with in January.  And in this Henry Ford Museum, where he announced this morning, he‘s coming back tonight to have a fund raiser right in the same building. 

MATTHEWS:  I think there‘s some—he may be pulling a surprise here.  It might be a bootleg play.  This guy may come up with real money to impress all of us. 

Anyway, thank you very much, John Harwood up in Dearborn. 

HARWOOD:  You bet. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bring in the Hardballers, MSNBC‘s Mike Barnicle and Pat Buchanan. 

The toughest question of your life for Mike Buchanan—Mike Barnicle. 

Mike, who is going to end up being more likable after a long campaign:

Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney? 

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My money would be on Mitt Romney, Chris.  My money would be on—he‘s a very personable guy, very—

I don‘t want to sound like Joe Biden.  He‘s very articulate.  He makes a nice presentation...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s clean.

BARNICLE: ... and he‘s a likable guy.  And he‘s very clean. 

MATTHEWS:  So, he‘ll win—Pat Buchanan, what do you make of Mitt Romney‘s personality?  I want to get to that because he‘s a real unknown in this race.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Everything I know about Romney speaks very well about him.  I‘ve got a lot of friends who say he lights up a room when he comes in, he‘s got a fine personality, he‘s friendly, he‘s an extremely handsome man, as his father was.  And he‘s always has a big smile.  I think in the personality contest, he‘s all over Hillary. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, can he—he‘s got a great chin, I‘ve noticed.  Does mean—is he going to be—does that mean he might not have a glass jaw, is what I‘m asking.  Let‘s take a look here...

BUCHANAN:  I‘m afraid his dad did. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I was—you tested it, didn‘t you? 

I was thinking of Floyd Patterson here with this guy.  But let‘s take a look at two different clips, perhaps two different Romneys floating around YouTube right now.  The first was posted by opponents of Mitt Romney.  The second is Romney‘s YouTube response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MITT ROMNEY, ® MASSACHUSETTS:  I believe that abortions should be safe and legal in this country.  I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I was wrong on some issues back then.  I‘m not that embarrassed to admit that.  I think most of us learn with experience.  I know I certainly have. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The phrase that‘s a problem here is, Mike Barnicle and Pat Buchanan, is “back then”.  “Back then” was 2004. 

BARNICLE:  Yes.  Not only 2004, there‘s all sorts of fodder for Romney.  And he‘s going to have to explain his ideological journey from 1994, not just 2004.  But, again, as you can see in those clips, he is capable of doing it.  It would be, I think, for the evangelicals and the Christian conservatives on the Republican side to decide, no matter whether it‘s Romney or Rudy Giuliani, do you want hard-line, doctrinaire ideology or do you want to win?  Do you want to beat the aforementioned Hillary Clinton?  And can Romney do it?

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re treating him like he is a trade from the

Patriots to somebody out West, the Utah Jazz or something, to cross-

reference there.  I mean, do you think it‘s that easy to just change

uniforms and the other side‘s glad to have you?  Like, you know...

BARNICLE:  No.  No, I don‘t—it‘s not that easy. 

MATTHEWS:  Allen Iverson‘s going to go to play for Colorado, for Denver, and they‘ll be glad to have him.  But can you do that in politics? 

BARNICLE:  Well, we‘re going to see if Romney can dribble behind his back, aren‘t we?  That‘s what it‘s going to come down. 

BUCHANAN:  Hey, Chris, if Iverson joined the priesthood that would be a similar change there. 

Look, I think this.  Look, clearly, Romney has—his position is 180 degrees from what it was.  If I were him, I wouldn‘t say, “I evolved”.  I would say, “I changed my mind”. 

What he has going for him is there‘s an enormous vacuum on the Reagan right.  Reagan was a believer in these things.  And Giuliani and McCain and Romney are all suspects there.  But they‘re the three front-runners and they‘re running into that vacuum.  And some lower conservatives are trying to get up into it.  So that‘s what makes—gives Romney the possibility of winning some of those votes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what does it mean, Pat?  You‘re an ideologue.  What does it mean to just deny?  It‘s like, you know, he‘s gotten—what do we call it—and annulment of his past beliefs.  I mean, is it like Rudy dumping three wives from history?  How can you dump from your past your entire ideological rap sheet and just say, “That doesn‘t matter, never mind”?  How do you do that? 

BUCHANAN:  Very simple.  These are not conviction politicians.  They are politicians trying for the Republican nomination of a party which is conservative and traditionalist, which athwart a lot of what believed, argued and said.  So they‘re accommodating themselves to the party. 

And is it sincere?  I don‘t know.  But, everybody knows what‘s going on.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t know, Pat?  You‘re being generous.  This is like the kind of conversions they had in Spain in the old bad days where if you were Jewish you were Christian the next day or you were burned alive.  I mean, what kind of conversion are we talking about here, Mike?

BUCHANAN:  We don‘t do that in the Republican Party anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  What kind of conversion are we talking about, whereby a party can essentially say, “I swear to God, I never believed what I believed”? 

BUCHANAN:  Do I believe that these are sincere, honest conversions of Rudy or Romney?  I would—in my judgment, probably not.  I think they‘re changing their position for political reasons.  And you got to—you either accept that or you take the alternative, which may be Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

BUCHANAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Pretty rough stuff here. 

BARNICLE:  You cross your fingers if you‘re Mitt Romney.  You cross your fingers and you fib or lie, depending on your point of view.  In 1994 he stood next to Ted Kennedy in a debate running for the United States Senate in Massachusetts and said at one point that he felt he could do more for the gay community than Ted Kennedy could. 

So what does he do about that with the evangelicals?  I don‘t know. 

You lie. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t know what to make of this.  I mean, it seems to me that you could change religions on the spot.  You could go from Mormonism to Baptist you could go—I mean, if we‘re all doing this—to use your favorite phrase from the past, if we‘re all engaged in cross-dressing, how do you believe what anybody‘s costume really is, Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, I mean, I‘ll say this about Romney.  He hasn‘t denied he took those positions.  We‘ve seen them all.  He‘s taken a new position now. 

You know, George Bush, Sr. was pro-choice, I believe, in ‘79 or ‘80.  He came and ran in and said, “I will be pro-life.”  And if you look at the positions he took from ‘89 to ‘93, he was totally faithful to the pro-life position. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  George Bush was, even though I don‘t think in his heart he really believed it.  I think that‘s the situation you‘ve got. 

Rudy says, “I‘ll give you Scalia and judges like that.”  And we know how they‘ll vote on abortion. 

MATTHEWS:  So, is Senator Allen now be able to reclaim his Senate by saying, “I never said macaca”? 

Just deny the past, that‘s all you have to do, is deny, right?

BUCHANAN:  Well, he can‘t deny it.  YouTube‘s got it. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back. 

I mean, this sounds hilarious, but it‘s not. 

Anyway, Pat, you are a man of principle, not necessarily good principle.

But thank you.  Pat Buchanan and Mike Barnicle are staying with us. 

Coming up later, presidential candidate Chris Dodd of Connecticut. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan and Mike Barnicle. 

Pat, what do you think will be the Republican vote this week on the resolution in the House to oppose the escalation in the war? 

BUCHANAN:  I would guess 35 Republicans would vote against the surge of the president of the United States.  There‘s a lot of good folks out there, a lot of brave ones.  Walter Jones is leading this.  There were six Republicans who voted against the war itself.  Duncan, a lot of these guys are courageous. 

And I think there‘s others who think, “Look, four years is enough.  It‘s—we‘ve done the best we could.  We ought to turn around and start moving out.  It‘s going to be a very bad situation, but we‘ve done the best we could.” 

MATTHEWS:  How would you vote? 

BUCHANAN:  I would probably vote for the resolution. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike Barnicle, those people I bet were in the Northeast or in the Northeast and Midwest, those people are endangered species politically, aren‘t they? 

BARNICLE:  Yes, they are, Chris.  But, you know, on this issue, it‘s about time they‘re debating something with regard to the war on the floor of the House and, hopefully, on the floor of the Senate later because this is truly, truly the issue in this country today. 

In listening to some of the debate earlier today, I was struck by more than a few people who stood up and said, “We have to support the troops.”  And in my mind, they are among the most cynical people or the most hypocritical people on earth, because while they say we have to support the troops, again, still to this late date, front page “Washington Post” yesterday morning, 500 armored Humvees not ready to be in the field, won‘t be ready until July.  That‘s really supporting the troops. 

MATTHEWS:  I think before a person should be allowed to run for Congress, they should swear publicly to uphold the war powers of Congress. 

Anyway, thank you, Mike Barnicle and Pat Buchanan. 

Up next, the U.S. House debates the war in Iraq.  It‘s underway right now, the hot putter on the floor.  But what‘s next?

And later, HARDBALL‘s David Schuster will have the latest news—and is weird—from the Scooter Libby trial. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The House began a heated debate today over President Bush‘s war escalation.  It is a debate that Americans say they dearly want, in the face of rising violence over there and a rising casualty toll in Iraq. 

Democrats say the troops are being sent to fight in a civil war, with no sign of an exit strategy.  And Republicans are arguing that opposing the president‘s war plan would send a message to our troops and to our enemy. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  How many more street corner memorials are we going to have for this war?  This is what the president‘s proposal does.  It sends more of our best and bravest to die refereeing a civil war. 

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE RANKING

MEMBER: Our soldiers are engaged in combat right now.  The worst disservice that we can give to them is to retroactively blast and—and degrade the mission that they are currently undertaking. 

There is no good role, there is no good purpose that is served by this.  So, I would ask all my colleagues, let‘s get behind not only our troops; let‘s get behind their mission.  Let‘s vote no on this resolution. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Finally, a sharp debate, both sides handily represented by those two members of Congress. 

Charlie Cook is an NBC News political analyst and publisher and editor of “The Cook Political Report.” 

Charlie, we have got a new poll from Gallup today that shows that seven out of 10 Americans, seven out of 10 Americans, now are going to pay back their member of Congress on how he or she votes on this war issue. 

What is that going to do to the membership of Congress? 

CHARLIE COOK, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think Republicans -

if you‘re a Republican, your whole world has changed, turned upside-down, just in the last six months. 

I mean, think about it.  Six months ago, they were in the majority in the House, the majority in the Senate.  They had picked up seats in two consecutive elections.  They—they felt like they were bulletproof. 

And now, suddenly, everything is—they‘re—they‘re in the minority in the House and the Senate, and—and the despondency that you feel in the Republican Party is great.  And—and we got to the point where, yesterday, my good friend and competitor Stu Rothenberg, in his column in “Roll Call,” suggested that it was—it was possible that, over the next two cycles, that the Democrats could get a 60-seat filibuster-proof Senate, something that would have just been considered just unbelievable six months ago.

So, the thing about it is—and I think that poll hits to it—is that people feel very, very, very strongly about this.  And, at some point, I think Republican leaders have to start wondering, you know, deciding, who are they working for?  Are they working for their members, or are they working for—for the White House?  Because they have got something of a conflict of interest here. 

MATTHEWS:  But what about the charge made by Duncan Hunter—and he made it rather strongly—that, if you vote a resolution basically thrashing the idea of the escalation, of putting more troops into Baghdad, think about being a young serviceperson walking door to door in full battle gear, you know, putting on the—the game face you have to put on just to get up in the morning, and then to walk into each one of those doorways with somebody possibly shooting you, or blowing you up, and all the time you‘re thinking, well, back home, they really don‘t think this is a very good idea?

Doesn‘t he have a good point?

COOK:  Well, I mean, I think it‘s a legitimate point. 

But just let‘s—let‘s just take that and apply it to Vietnam.  I mean, would we still be there?  Can you not have policy debates about whether something, a course of action, is a good course of action or a bad? 

I mean, to be honest, I don‘t think President Bush is going to get more than two, three, four months time on this surge, before you‘re going to see his own members bailing out on him.  And that‘s probably too little time for simply 20,000 more troops to do any good. 

I mean, the thing is, it would probably take six, nine, 12 months, and probably twice or three times as many troops, for such—something like this to actually work.  And he‘s not going to get that.  And these members have to look at this and say, gosh, you know, is a in-for-a-penny, in-for-a-pound strategy really the best course of action, or should we—are we just in something that is an insolvable problem and that—what are we doing here? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the old political expression you and I know is, when

when you‘re in a hole, stop digging. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Charlie Cook, for that assessment. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Democratic Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota retired from the Army National Guard in 2005 -- that‘s two years ago—after 24 years of service in the Guard.  He is also a member of the Veterans Committee.  And Republican Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Let me ask you this, Congressman Walz. 

Imagine that, tomorrow morning, or six hours from now, you have got to get up in Baghdad.  You have got to march around into Baghdad itself, door to door, kicking down doors, with the possibility of fire hitting you in the face, and having your head blown off, and, all the time, you‘re thinking, you know, back in Washington, the Congress doesn‘t think this is a good idea. 

REP. TIM WALZ (D), MINNESOTA:  Well, Chris, first of all, that this—this debate that‘s happening now, the last place it‘s happening is Congress.  And that‘s the sad part. 

I can tell you, those soldiers over there will do everything that is asked to them.  I don‘t think that crosses their mind. 

What crosses their mind is, do we have the correct body armor?  Do we have a mission that can succeed? 

These soldiers want to know, what they are doing is—is going to make this country safer.  They want to know that they‘re going after the people who perpetrated 9/11. 

And the vast majority of them—don‘t think that they‘re not smart and don‘t think that they don‘t understand the situation.  They know that what they have been in—put into is a situation that they cannot achieve militarily, what we‘re telling them to do. 

So, I don‘t think that‘s a concern.  And I talk to a lot of these soldiers.  They just want to know, are they going to be taken care of?  Is their family going to be taken care of?  And, when they come home, are there going to be services for them?  Or are we going to continue to cut the services to the VA right when they need them? 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman Shuster (sic).

Congressman Shuster (sic), you must have seen the Gallup poll that came out today that said that seven out of 10 Americans now are ready to basically pay back a member of Congress who votes the wrong way on this resolution issue about the war, in fact.

Where do you stand on it? 

REP. JACK KINGSTON ®, GEORGIA:  Well, Chris, I—I understand that angst, but I think that we just have to do the right thing, and look at this situation, that you do have troops in the street in Baghdad. 

And we have an opportunity to send them 21,000 more recruits, more soldiers, to help them in that job.  And, tomorrow morning, they‘re going to be asking themselves:  Wait a minute.  My congressman voted no on sending me some help.  That doesn‘t make any sense. 

In the meantime, the Democrat Party, which is now in the driver‘s seat, has not offered an alternative.  And immediate withdrawal seems to be the only alternative that we‘re hearing from the Democrat leadership.  And I don‘t think that‘s any sort of solution. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If President Bush wants to keep our troops in that country for another eight years or more, wants to establish permanent bases in that country, would you support him, Congressman Shuster (sic)? 

KINGSTON:  Well, I think we would only support him if it was stabilized, as we...

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Kingston.

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON:  ... the situation in Bosnia and—and North Korea—or in South Korea, and so forth.

But I think the question is, remember that so much of Charlie‘s discussion, Charlie Cook, was saying that it‘s the Republicans, Republicans, Republicans.  But the Democrats now own policy, Chris.  And the question is, when are they going to put their plan on the table? 

MATTHEWS:  So, in other words...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to Congressman Walz.

In other words, the congressman, Congressman Kingston, is challenging you guys to put your money where your mouth is.  Don‘t just pass nonbinding resolutions. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If you think the war policy should be changed, you have got the power of the purse.  Use it.

WALZ:  Yes, and absolutely, and we do have a plan.

The first thing I would say is, these aren‘t fresh troops coming in.  My constituents and my soldiers are the ones that are being asked to stay on extra.  So, make no mistake.  These aren‘t fresh troops.  These are extensions. 

As far as having a plan...

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON:  Well, actually, they are fresh troops coming in from the 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Georgia.

WALZ:  And there‘s also 3,000 National Guardsmen staying longer.  But that‘s an issue we can debate on the side.   

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON:  Well, they would want 21,000 to help them.  That‘s what‘s important...

WALZ:  That‘s the misplanning.

KINGSTON:  ... that you have an opportunity to send them more help. 

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON:  And that‘s what they want. 

WALZ:  And 21,000, as you know, Congressman, is not near enough.  And General Petraeus knows it, too. 

The issue at hand here is, is that we do have a plan.  The plan is securing this nation from the war on terror.  We have had 2,000 days to capture bin Laden.  We have had that same amount of time to try and secure Afghanistan, both of which we haven‘t done. 

In the meantime, al Qaeda has carried out attacks against our allies across the world.  This is a failed plan and a failed policy...

KINGSTON:  Where is your plan?

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON:  I accept all that, but where is your plan? 

That‘s—the Democrats now are in the front seat, and you still want to back-seat drive.

WALZ:  No, no, no.  What we want to do is...

KINGSTON:  This is an opportunity.

And this is a nonbinding resolution. 

WALZ:  No, it‘s the first step.

KINGSTON:  What kind of silliness is that? 

WALZ:  Rest assured, Congressman, it is the first step in a plan that will actually redirect our forces to the war on terror, secure this nation, fully fund our military, and support our veterans, something that has not been done in this Congress. 

KINGSTON:  It—it‘s a first step?

WALZ:  This is a conversation that has not happened in this country, in this Congress, until right now. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALZ:  The Republicans had the opportunity to have this debate for the past four years.  They have chosen not to. 

The American people spoke on November 7 and said, your way was tried, and all you have done is fail every step of the way. 

KINGSTON:  OK.  I‘m—I‘m saying—I‘m saying, I will take all the criticism, but you guys are now in the front seat.  Get out of the back seat and start driving the car. 

This is a nonbinding, silly, intramural resolution. 

WALZ:  When your resolution...

KINGSTON:  You should be putting real resolutions on the floor.  If this thing is a lost cause, as Nancy Pelosi keeps saying, why are we spending one more day there?  Why not introduce an immediate withdrawal, because you guys are in the majority?

WALZ:  Well, your vote against it, then, won‘t hurt you back home, Congressman.  But I can guarantee you that the...

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON:  Oh, it‘s about voting? 

It is not about voting.  This is about a war.  And, if we are fighting a lost cause, we need to bring the folks home tomorrow.  And why aren‘t the Democrats doing that? 

WALZ:  We‘re moving in the direction to secure this nation, Congressman.  As you know well...

KINGSTON:  With a nonbinding resolution?  Nonbinding resolutions are great...

(CROSSTALK) 

KINGSTON:  ... for the Democrat club back home...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me straighten this out.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me just referee. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will there be a vote on funding at some point this year, Congressman Walz...

WALZ:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  ... a Democratic-advanced vote on funding?

WALZ:  Absolutely. 

And I think the way it will go on this, Chris, is, we are sending—we don‘t have a single unit that—that is C-1 qualified as combat ready.  And I think what you will see is a resolution.  And we will ask Congressman Kingston and the Republicans on that side to make sure, if they‘re willing to put their name on sending soldiers into harm‘s way...

KINGSTON:  Well...

WALZ:  ... when they‘re not prepared and they don‘t have that.

KINGSTON:  ... actually...

WALZ:  And that will happen. 

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON:  Actually, I‘m on the Defense Committee.  We have had extensive hearings this year on combat readiness.  And the numbers saying there‘s not one ready is—is not accurate at all. 

There are some who aren‘t ready, and I share your concern about that.  But—but we will, as Chris is saying, have a binding resolution, called the war supplemental, which contains $5.6 billion for the troop surge.  And that‘s going to be the question.  Do you defund it...

WALZ:  Which CBO says—CBO says it‘s not nearly enough.  They‘re saying it‘s going to be $13 billion to $17 billion. 

KINGSTON:  You‘re in the majority.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KINGSTON:  You can increase the amount.

WALZ:  Well...

KINGSTON:  But, maybe, if you‘re against it, that‘s where you should defund it.  And that might be your plan.  I haven‘t heard a plan yet.

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, I think we have found a lot.  I have—I discovered here a lot here.  We have learned that the Democrats‘ strategy, Democratic strategy, will be to try to set higher standards for troop readiness and rotation requirements that squeeze this policy. 

You‘re saying, Congressman Kingston, they should be more direct and go after funding.  But, if they do, they will really be challenging the president.  And I‘m sure they don‘t want to get that direct yet. 

Anyway, thank you, Congressman Walz. 

Congressman Kingston, I‘m sorry for saying you‘re Bill Shuster.  He was originally scheduled.

KINGSTON:  I have been called worse.

MATTHEWS:  I should have known from your Southern twang that you weren‘t from anywhere in Pennsylvania, sir. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

KINGSTON:  I have been called worse.

MATTHEWS:  Up next—although Newt Gingrich was from Georgia, and he had a—a Pennsylvania accent.

Anyway, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will have the latest news from the Scooter Libby trial when he comes back.

And, later, presidential contender Chris Dodd is coming here from the U.S. Senate. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Today, at the Scooter Libby trial, the defense team announced that neither Libby, the defendant, nor his old boss, Vice President Dick Cheney himself, would be called to the witness stand—amazing developments. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is at the courthouse. 

David, I can‘t believe it.  What is their defense, if it isn‘t, “I forgot,” or something else?  What is their defense, if it‘s not going to use the vice president or the defendant? 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, their defense is going to be simply that there was this information ricocheting between reporters, and that somehow Scooter Libby actually learned the information, or re-learned the information, from reporters, and that, if he did pass along information, he was passing along rumors, and then forgetting about it. 

It‘s really been a tough case for the defense, because prosecutor Fitzgerald really made this a very narrow one, putting forward the testimony that Scooter Libby learned about Valerie Wilson from several government officials before the date upon which Scooter Libby said he learned about it from NBC‘s Tim Russert. 

There has been testimony that has been very damaging about the actions of the vice president, not only before the war, but also once the war began, and Vice President Cheney was directing his office to smear an administration critic, to declassify information that even other administration officials did not know had been declassified.

So, in a political sense, I suppose it‘s good news for Vice President Cheney, because he avoids the spectacle of being the first vice president ever to testify, and avoids facing some of these tough and politically embarrassing questions.

For Scooter Libby, though, it‘s clearly a legal decision.  His lawyer, Ted Wells, has had a habit in the past of having his defendants not take the witness stand.  It is a bit of the roll of the dice, Chris, because—

I was looking at the opening arguments.  And Scooter Libby‘s lawyer said in opening arguments that the testimony and evidence will show it was not Mr.  Libby‘s intent to lie.

And it‘s difficult to understand how a jury can figure out somebody‘s intent if that person doesn‘t take the witness stand, and the only evidence presented to them is the voice of Scooter Libby from when he testified to the grand jury.  And there were clearly a series of misstatements and misrecollections, if that‘s how you want to describe it. 

But we will see.  I mean, Ted—Ted Wells, the Libby lawyer, has been successful in the past.  And we will see what happens this time. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he knows something about the jury that has not come through in the—in the coverage of this trial? 

SHUSTER:  Chris, I think what they‘re doing is, they‘re looking for one juror. 

All they need is one juror to say, you know, there‘s a reasonable doubt.  Mr. Libby, maybe he had a lot on his mind.  He had a lot of issues he was thinking about.  Maybe he just misremembered.  It wasn‘t intentional. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SHUSTER:  All they need is one juror to believe that, and they can get a mistrial.  And, essentially, that would be a victory for them—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I predict that won‘t happen, because this judge will not let them out of that box until they have a verdict.  I don‘t think he is going to let them walk away with a hung jury, and have to start this whole thing all over again.

Anyway, thank you, David Shuster.

That may be the strategy.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think it will work. 

Up next: presidential contender Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Chris Dodd is Connecticut‘s senior U.S. senator.  He‘s one of the Democratic candidates for president.

Senator Dodd, you served in the Peace Corps back when you were young.  You know the world as it is.  You understand Third World sensitivities and the way we have to move as a superpower.

Well, why, then, did you vote to give the president the authority to go to war in Iraq, given everything that has been developed over there since, the horror? 

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, brace yourself, Chris, for the answer.  I made a mistake.  I know you are not supposed to say that in politics.  But, frankly, I wish I could have the vote back.  You can‘t have it back. 

But we can talk about all the reasons why people made that decision five years ago.  I, candidly, think the more important debate and discussion is now, where do we go from here? 

The situation is getting worse.  The president is ignoring the Baker-Hamilton report, ignoring Congress, ignoring the American public.  And, clearly, we need to move in a different direction than the one we‘re heading in.  He wants to escalate, in my view, this conflict by putting more troops on the ground inside these large, densely populated areas, such as Baghdad.  I think that‘s a huge mistake. 

I think we ought to be moving in the opposite direction.  You don‘t put troops—you put troops in harm‘s way to protect and advance your national interests.  Being a referee in the middle of a civil war is not a national interest of ours here.  We ought to let them do the training, the border security, the counterterrorism activity in the country.

But, if the Congress—if the president won‘t change his mind, then I think Congress has got to step up and reduce the funding, to put pressure on the White House, so that we can start to redeploy these troops in the country and also outside of Iraq. 

And I am prepared to either offer language like that or support language that would allow us to do it, if the president doesn‘t change direction.

MATTHEWS:  Why is the Pentagon holding off-the-record briefings about Iranians‘ -- Iranians‘ involvement in the war in Iraq?  Is somebody over there trying to gin up a war?  What is that about?

DODD:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  Why off the record?  Why these sneaky briefings, where the secretary of defense, Gates, does not even put his name on it, the president doesn‘t put his name on it, but we are getting all this stuff in the newspapers about how we should be worried about, in fact, angry at Iran? 

DODD:  Well, as I said before, you know—you know, fool me once, your fault.  Fool me twice, my fault here.

And—and we have been down this road.  You mentioned the vote in 2002.  We now know about Doug Feith and the folks in the Pentagon who were cooking up the books and making up the information that led to those decisions.  And we know the I.G. reported last week what happened here.

I am skeptical.  I am—I‘m sorry that I feel that way, but having been—been fooled along the way on so much of this information, I want to know, first of all, who are these unnamed sources suggesting that this was a decision reached at the highest levels in Iran?

I was briefed in 2005 about these devices and how much damage they are costing our troops on the ground.  That‘s not an issue.  We understand that.  We need to stop it.  But the suggestion was made, the decision to use them was made at the highest levels in Iran. 

Then, you have General Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying yesterday that there is no information whatsoever to make that linkage. 

So, I‘m very skeptical about why this drumbeat is being—being created—and very strange circumstances on briefings that you have hardly ever seen before.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s imagine—and I know I can certainly imagine it—and I think you can—you are president of the United States right now.  Senator Dodd, you are president of the United States.

DODD:  Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS:  We are stuck in Iraq.  We are faced with who knows what kind of mischief by Iran in that region.  What would you do, as commander in chief?  What would be the broad stroke that you would take right now?

DODD:  Well, first of all, I would be opening up negotiations in Syria.  I would be exploring ways to get around Ahmadinejad in Iran, and to deal with other power centers there, because we need regional support.

We need a surge in diplomacy here.  Again, unless you accept—or—or deny the—the underlying point that everybody has made, there is no military solution in Iraq.  We need to come to terms with that.  Apparently, the president hasn‘t.

So, it‘s politics and diplomacy.  You don‘t have the U.S. troops on the ground in a six million population density center like Baghdad here acting as a referee being Shias and Sunnis.  That doesn‘t bring you closer to a political resolution.  I think it takes you further away. 

I would put my troops into—into aggressive training of Iraqi forces.  I would provide real border security around Syria and Iran particularly.  I would have them actively involved in counterterrorism activities, get some of them over to Afghanistan as quickly as you could, put the rest in Qatar, or Kuwait, so they can be there if your national security interests gets jeopardized, then get regional powers together, these moderate Arab states, to start playing a critical role on bringing the Sunnis and Shias together.

That offers some hope of stability in that country.  What we‘re doing presently is taking us in exactly the wrong direction.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Senator Chris Dodd, Democratic candidate for president.

Play HARDBALL with us Wednesday.  Our guests will include Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. 

See you then. 

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