updated 2/20/2007 11:49:13 AM ET 2007-02-20T16:49:13

Guests: Peter King, Joe Sestak, John Fund, Jenny Backus, Tammy Duckworth, Bryan Bowlsbey, Roger Simon, Matthew Continetti

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The House votes to disapprove the surge with 17 Republicans joining in the majority.  Tomorrow the Senate votes to challenge the Republican filibuster to prevent it from doing the same.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  In a rare rebuke of a wartime president, the House passed a non binding resolution today opposing President Bush‘s plan to send more troops to Iraq.  Tomorrow, the Senate will meet in an unusual Saturday session to vote on whether to take up same House measure.  Senate Leader Harry Reid‘s decision to call a weekend vote to force most of the senators running for president to cancel their campaign events.

Is Congress setting the stage for more challenges to the president‘s war power?  Can Congress force President Bush to change his strategy in Iraq?  Do these politics have the political will to block funding for troops?  We begin with this report from HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the final hours of the House debate, the emotions were raw.

REP. JOHN LEWIS D), GEORGIA:  Vote for this resolution.  It is the right thing to do.  We must send a powerful and strong message to this administration to stop this madness.

SHUSTER:  The prospect of challenging the surge in Iraq and admonishing President Bush prompted heated arguments throughout the week.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, MINORITY LEADER:  Nonbinding means non-leadership.  It‘s not accountable and I don‘t think it‘s the right message for our troops.

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MAJORITY LEADER:  Do not hide behind the troops, do not assert that anybody on this floor does not have every intention and commitment to supporting to whatever degree necessary our young men and women.

SHUSTER:  The designer by lawmakers to be heard was so intent on both sides that more than 350 out of the 434 House members spoke out.  Today there was a final round of debate and testiness.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Let‘s give the second phase a chance to work.

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  The gentleman from California wants to claim Iraq as a success, he‘s entitled to do that.

SHUSTER:  And then, there were remarks by the House speaker.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER:  The stakes in Iraq are too high to recycle proposals that have little prospect for success.  The bipartisan resolution today may be non binding, but it will send a strong message to the president.  We here in Congress are committed to protecting and supporting our troops.

SHUSTER:  Late this afternoon, the House voted, 17 Republicans joined Democrats in approving the resolution and the final tally was 246 to 182.  It was a rare rebuke of a commander-in-chief during war time.

The House resolution has been embraced by Democrats in the Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid will try to bring up the measure on Saturday.  A week ago, Democrats failed to get the 60 votes needed to end a Republican filibuster over the Iraq debate.

And some Republicans who oppose the troop surge supported that filibuster.  Now after intense criticism, a few are hinting they will join the Democrats this time around. 

Still it not clear at all that Democrats can get the 60 votes they need.  So the rare Saturday session has forced several presidential candidates to change their weekend campaign schedules.

Senator Hillary Clinton is moving events around in New Hampshire.  Senator Joe Biden is rearranging his weekend plans for Iowa.  And Senators Chris Dodd and Barack Obama are trying to juggle schedules in South Carolina.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain has three events planned for Saturday in Iowa and will not be changing them.  McCain does not support the Democratic resolutions and his office notes he does not need to be in D.C. for a head count if those trying to end the Republican filibuster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Republicans aren‘t confident the Senate Democrats will fall short.  Still with the latest poll numbers showing the public is more frustrated than ever over the war in Iraq, lawmakers on both sides acknowledge these voices in Congress are just beginning and that measures that will be more binding are coming in the weeks ahead.  I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Now let‘s reason together.  Now that the House voted to disapprove the president‘s plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, what‘s next?

U.S. Congressman Peter King is the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee and U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak is the former head of the navy‘s anti-terrorism unit and a member of the Armed Services Committee.  Congressmen, let me start and I want to give you some more time tonight than I usually people.  It‘s Friday, it has been a big vote today.  I want to know what you really think.  Congressman Peter King, what made you vote the way you did today?

REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK:  Chris, I strongly oppose the resolution.  I think it‘s absolutely wrong for Congress to be injecting itself into a strategic battlefield decision.  The Senate unanimously confirmed General Petraeus.  I‘ve been to Iraq with General Petraeus.  He‘s our finest commander over there.  He says this plan can work, he wants to make it work, he‘s already implementing it and for us to be in effect undermining him, and that‘s what we‘re doing by saying that the plan won‘t work, we‘re substituting our decision for that of General Petraeus. 

And also, the logical sequence, or the logical connection between today‘s vote and the next vote would have to be I believe a vote toward cutting off funds, which by the way is what Jack Murtha and Nancy Pelosi are already talking about, by imposing so many conditions on the next appropriations bill, to in effect make it impossible to pay for the troops that will be there.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Sestak, you‘re a military man, how do you see this thing differently?

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  I voted for this resolution because I don‘t believe doubling down on a bad military bet. 

We have tried this before, we have increased troops by 12,000 since August and it hasn‘t worked.  More than that, every day that I was forward deployed, leading men and women into harm‘s way, whether it was while I was on the ground in Afghanistan or with my battle group over in combat in Afghanistan or in Iraq, I wanted to know that back here the men and women, the policy makers are thinking about the best use. 

And so when the Republicans for Somalia or Kosovo put conditions on the use of our troops there during the Clinton administration, I thought they did it because that‘s what they believed because of the constitutional duty of providing for the common defense.

I wish just someone had thought through getting our troops—our marines out of Lebanon before we lost so many there during that sectarian violence.  This is our constitutional duty in Congress, based on our best judgments or experiences to say how can we best provide for a common defense?

We have to go further than this and provide now an alternative strategy, which there is one in order to redeploy out of Iraq to better—and this is what I most believe in, that Iraq does not permit us to provide for overall global U.S. security.  That‘s what we‘re missing out on the more we remain in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Congressman King, explain the constitution as you understand it.  I know it‘s always open to interpretation.  The constitution in terms of war powers, who decides where we fight wars, who decides where we stop fighting them, the whole sense of it that you have as a member of Congress?

KING:  I was one of those few Republicans who voted with Bill Clinton in Bosnia, with President Clinton in Kosovo and I think it sends a terribly contradictory message to be confirming General Petraeus on the one hand and then undermining his mission on the other.

Now, Congressman Sestak, who obviously has a brilliant military record, but the fact is that the military command in Iraq is General Petraeus.  This is a new policy, a new strategy.  He believe it can work and if that was the case, the Senate shouldn‘t have confirmed him.  If they thought the policy wasn‘t going to work, you shouldn‘t be sending over a commander who says this is policy, he wants to make it work.

As far as the constitutional issue, I give the president a strong hand just like President Truman had a very strong hand in Korea.  That war was opposed by 70 percent of the American people, the same ratios of troops as far as the U.S. and coalition forces was in Korea as there is today in Iraq and yet President Truman stuck it out.  Today, he‘s looked upon as a great president and Korea was looked upon as one of the lynch pins of the successful policy is bringing down communism.

MATTHEWS:  Well, have you ever opposed a president on a war, Mr. King?

KING:  The closest I came was in Haiti.  I thought it was wrong for President Clinton to send troops into Haiti.  I don‘t know if you want to call that a war or not.  I thought that was sending in troops to police.

But in the case, if we are going to oppose the policy, then we should make it clear that we are going to be cutting off funding and not be doing it incrementally the way we‘re doing it now.  To me, today‘s was a political vote which sends a terribly wrong message to the troops in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Well let me ask Congressman Sestak about that.  You‘re a military man, as I made clear, I hope we all understand that.  Suppose you‘re one of those G.I.‘s, you‘re over there, a soldier, a marine, you‘re in Baghdad, and every morning you get up, you‘ve got to put on your equipment, your gear, your M-16 and whatever and you basically have to go kick down doors for eight or 10 hours that day in broad daylight, kicking down doors, not knowing what‘s on the other side, what you‘re going to be hit with. 

You‘re dealing with a kind of Russian Roulette situation all day long and now you‘re reading the papers online that day that the Congress has voted to say that this mission you‘re on right now is no good.  In fact the United States Congress thinks it‘s no good.  How does that help or hurt your morale as you face death each day, sir?

SESTAK:  A good question and I really do respect the opinion of the congressman, but where I disagree is this.  It‘s like General Pace, chairman of the joint chief of staffs said in response to almost an identical question last week at the House Armed Services Committee—he said, “Look, our men and women are very educated in our military and they understand our democracy and why there are these debates.”

I firmly believe that.  I always wanted to know, as I mentioned, are men and women thinking about the best use of us for deployed as a national treasure?  When I had to carry a battle group and we moved into the Persian Gulf because to some degree, we thought we were going to do it with a running start that‘s been written about this war—although I did not think this was a clear, nor present danger, I did nothing, nothing except best prepare those men and women I was accountable and responsible for that battle.  And that‘s what those men and women out there should do. 

And what this resolution says is continue to support that individual soldier.  And I agree with what the Congressman says, it then goes and says, “Let‘s not surge, we don‘t agree with it.” 

But I think we need to take the next step and say it‘s not about supporting the individual troop, it‘s about where to place that individual troop now to better secure America‘s interests. 

Our Army at home is broken. 

General Schoomaker twice last week said he‘s very concerned about this and we‘re unable to address Afghanistan properly because we don‘t have sufficient forces. 

And so therefore the question is to that troop out there, “Can we use you better elsewhere?  Because this endless war is not continuing to be in the U.S. interests.” 

It‘s a different message that we‘re sending than you have given in the question, sir. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I put the question.  But, Congressman King, do you want to pond to that? 

KING:  I just want to say, Chris, that General Petraeus who is—is our commander—is a new commander.  He has said this policy can work.  I believe he deserves the support of the Congress to give him the opportunity to make it work. 

Now, the Democrats are saying “This is President Bush‘s policy.”  And, obviously, as commander in chief, it is his policy.  And he signed off on it.

General Petraeus, who‘s an extremely distinguished general, he supports this.  He was one of the architects of the policy.  We shouldn‘t be undercutting him so early in the day. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re taking a very pragmatic view, Congressman King, you‘re suggesting—the way you look at it is, we only give this guy one big more try. 

Next summer, the violence level in Iraq continues, the sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia, the bloody—the killing on both sides continues.  Is there a point where you say, “I want to vote against this”? 

KING:  Well, Chris, first of all, I want to assume and hope that it does work and do all I can to make it work.  If for some reason it‘s not working, we‘ll have to decide what to do at that stage.  Right now, I want to do all I can to make sure that it does work and be positive about it. 

But, obviously—listen, every American life that‘s lost is tragic.  I go to the funerals, I go to the wakes.  It‘s terrible.  And so I‘m not in any way minimizing what happened.  I‘m just saying that in the long run, as someone who lost almost 150 people on September 11, I want to make sure we do all we can to stabilize the Middle East.  And I believe that General Petraeus feels and is competent—reasonably competent, there‘s no guarantee here.  But he‘s reasonably confident he can make this work.  And as the commander in the field, he‘s entitled to be given that opportunity. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Sestak, do you believe the war in Iraq has helped to stabilize the Middle East or has it made it worse? 

SESTAK:  no, it has made it worse.  As you know, the NIE, part of it said that we‘re breeding terrorists there.  The polls indicate that many believe that this has been the wrong war.  And the United States is less respected. 

I remember having the aircraft carrier battle group off Afghanistan.  I had thirty ships, only ten of them were U.S.  There was a Japanese ship with a Japanese admiral, Greek, British, Italian, many, many other countries were there.  Then we went into the Persian Gulf, took a left turn and entered it.  And the British and Australians came with us, but not the other nations. 

No, this was the wrong war.  This is not the central point of terrorism.  It is Afghanistan where I would place more troops. 

Now, we need to remain in this region, our bases in Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.  And on our carrier battle group and in our amphibious ready groups there.  We need to ensure that regions remain stable.  But we need to get our Army ready here at home.  We need to reengage in this world just like President Bush did do with North Korea, returning to where we were years ago in order to bring about a more peaceful peninsula.  Let‘s take the time and resources in order to address this world‘s security problems.

MATTHEWS:  The problem, Congressman Sestak—the problem is that you weren‘t elected president in 2001 and George W. Bush was.  That is the problem.  He‘s our commander-in-chief.  He disagrees profoundly with your assessment of what we should be doing. 

And the question is what do we do now? 

And you and Congressman King and the others are going to have to decide that.  We have a president who disagrees with you, Congressman Sestak.  And therefore, we have to live with that, as well.

Anyway, thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Peter King, U.S.

Congressman Sestak.

Coming up, the house voted, will the Senate vote?  They‘re going to try to vote tomorrow. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The nonbinding resolution against President Bush‘s Iraq strategy passed today, a striking vote of no confidence, if you will, against the president. 

Tomorrow, a rare Saturday session in the U.S. Senate.  They‘re going to vote to take up what the House accomplished today.  Clear signals against the war?  But is it enough and what‘s next? 

With us is Democratic consultant Jenny Backus and John Fund of opinionjournal.com. 

Good evening.

Jenny, what do you do for the Democrats? 

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT:  I do consulting.  I work...

MATTHEWS:  What kind of campaigns? 

BACKUS:  Presidential, congressional, Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  you‘re doing all of that?

BACKUS:  Yes, I started off with Harry Reid a long time ago.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Great.  Let me ask you about this.  The criticism of the vote today was it‘s not binding, it doesn‘t do anything except it sort of says, “We don‘t like your policy, Mr. President.”  What good is it? 

BACKUS:  It‘s a great message.  It shows to the voters who voted very overwhelmingly in 2006 for Democrats that Congress heard them, that we heard the American peoples‘ voice, that we don‘t like the surge policy.  And it set the stage for a series of different proposals that will come up on the president‘s supplemental policy...

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t the game on the ground?  It‘s not in the cheerleading section?  It‘s like having the visiting cheerleaders of a football game cheering the home team without doing anything.  Isn‘t the battle whether Congress funds the war or not? 

BACKUS:  Well, the battle‘s heading that way.  But like you said on the football game, you have an opening announcer who says, “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight the Democrats vs. Republicans.”

This is the opening salvo...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t mess with my metaphors.

BACKUS:  I can take—I love your metaphors. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s OK.  Let me go—let me go to—who else is on this?

BACKUS:  John.

MATTHEWS:  John Fund.  You‘re so familiar I forgot your name. 

John Fund, it‘s Friday afternoon.

Let me ask you this: where do you stand on the vote today?  Seventeen Republicans joined the Democratic majority.  Only two Democrats from the South, Jim Marshall of Georgia and Jean Taylor, a very conservative fellow from Mississippi, were off the Democrats. 

Seventeen Republicans—is it significant? -- joined the Democrats today in saying they disapprove of the surge.

JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM:  It is significant.  But it‘s significantly less than what people thought it would be 48 hours ago. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not kidding.  What was the number 48 hours ago, about 50? 

FUND:  Up to 60. 

BACKUS:  But that was Republicans making predictions, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they were low-balling this thing? 

BACKUS:  I think they were definitely—I think everyone...

MATTHEWS:  ... prediction of what the number would be?

FUND:  Please understand the Republicans who were making that prediction were the ones who were voting for this resolution.  So they obviously have an incentive not to low-ball it. 

Look, I don‘t think this is a game.  I think Congress has every right to restrict funding, Congress every right to be involved in foreign policy.  And I‘m sort of old-fashioned.  I wish that Congress would eventually, you know, some times go back and remember that it has the power to declare war and we actually go back to that old constitutional principle. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  They have a constitutional right as the first branch of government.

But the question is, what should they—what‘s a good American to do if a good American is representing 600,000 people in Congress and thinks this war was a tragic mistake and wants to cut the losses of this war, what do you do? 

FUND:  Don‘t play politics, play policy.  Look, Heather Wilson, who was the Air Force Academy graduate, she‘s a former member of the National Security Council.  She‘s the Republican who actually opposes the Bush surge in Baghdad.  She said it‘s not going to work.  But she voted against this resolution because this is plain politics.  She said it was very cleverly worded, but we could do better.  If Congress...

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  ... should vote to cut off funding, not to salami-slicing. 

BACKUS:  Look, this is the silliest debate that we‘re having right now because everybody heard what Nancy Pelosi and Jack Murtha said, which is that we‘re going to have a real debate on the supplemental resolution that‘s coming forward that‘s going to have different, that‘s going to have challenges, that‘s going to have Murtha‘s idea about not extending tours, that‘s going to have benchmarks and triggers, that‘s a real fight. 

MATTHEWS:  All around the world, tonight, tomorrow, over the weekend in Beijing and Reykjavik, everywhere, they‘re going to read a headline that says “U.S. Congress Rebukes President‘s War Plans”. 

BACKUS:  Uh-huh. 

MATTHEWS:  What good does that do to us in the world? 

BACKUS:  It does great good, it actually starts to get the world‘s will with us again.  It gives us some help in how to really solve the situation in Iraq, which is politically, which is diplomatically. 

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t is just beat president?

BACKUS:  The president, is—we think he‘s low at 30 percent.  He‘s probably 10 percent in all of these other foreign capitals.  We need to work—and look at 9/11 Commission.  It‘s not me, it‘s a bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic diplomats who say we need to work in diplomacy, we need to work with allies...

MATTHEWS:  So you suggest it‘s going to move the president to a different policy? 

BACKUS:  This president is trying to put, you know, his...

MATTHEWS:  But wait a minute.  Is it going to move him or not?  Because if it‘s not going to move him or not, it‘s just going to dump on him. 

BACKUS:  Well, if it dumps on him—it‘s got to do—we‘ve got to move this president off not moving...

MATTHEWS:  ... Fund, do you think the president will be—I know he said, “I‘m not paying attention”, I know he said, “I‘m not going to swing at this one”, that‘s good politics, I guess.  David Broeder said that in the Post today, “Washington Post”.  It was good for him to let the Democrats have their win and move on to the issue of funding.  Does the president feel the pressure from Congress on today‘s vote? 

FUND:  Of course he does.  I don‘t think he‘s going to ignore it.  But let‘s be clear, when you talk about a diplomatic or other solution to the war in Iraq, you‘re basically going to be talking about defeat, surrender.

Iran is killing our soldiers.  If you think you can diplomatically have a negotiation with them about that that does not involve our defeat or our surrender, you‘re kidding yourself. 

BACKUS:  (INAUDIBLE)

FUND:  If you want to cut off funding for the war—let me finish—if you want to cut off funding for the war, have a serious vote to do that.  But the salami slicing, the constant micromanaging is exactly the kind of thing that people say the Bush Pentagon did and failed at.  Congress should either vote to cut off funding or it should not pretend and play politics. 

BACKUS:  John, you just went into the realm of absolutism and just a second ago you said...

MATTHEWS:  John, by the way, they are going to do that.  I think that‘s what I want to talk about when you two come back.  I want to talk to you about what‘s going to happen.  We had a 246-183 vote on the nonbinding resolution.  Within the next couple of weeks there‘s going to be a vote to choking off the money through various means for the war in Iraq.  Will it pass? If so, what will it do? 

And later former candidate congressional Tammy Duckworth‘s coming here.  She lost both of her legs in Iraq and now she‘ll be making another sacrifice for her country.  Her husband‘s about to be deployed in April over there.  He‘s a Guardsman.  They‘ll both be here to discuss the cost of this war to their family. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Democratic consultant Jenny Backus and John Fund of opinionjournal.com. 

Jenny, do you believe the Democrats have enough votes to get 218, a majority in the House, to cut off or choke off the funding for this war when they do vote in a couple of weeks? 

BACKUS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  John Fund, do you believe that‘s possible, that they‘ll have enough votes, given their majority status, hold on to 218 out of the 246 they got in principle today? 

BACKUS:  And Republicans, too. 

FUND:  Only if they do it by stealth.  In other words, they try to redirect the funding, they try to withdraw and withhold equipment from the troops...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what they‘re doing.  That‘s mean—you know what they‘re doing.  They‘re basically saying you need a higher level of training for the troops.  You have to have more rotation out of the troops.  They can‘t be there for sustained tours.  You know, no permanent bases.  It is kind of around the edges, but the intent is to choke off the money...

FUND:  ... it‘s undermining the mission by playing politics. 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  ... if you believe the war is a mistake, say the war is a mistake, don‘t play these games. 

BACKUS:  They have said the war—they just voted with 17 Republicans to say that.  This is not undermining the message... 

(CROSSTALK)

BACKUS:  ... John, is the mission working? 

FUND:  ... play acting. 

BACKUS:  John, are American lives being sacrificed every day in a war that we can‘t win?  Yes.  Is the American people becoming increasingly fed up with this war?  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  We have learned one lesson from Vietnam and from Iraq: micro management is bad.  Either go in and completely win the war or don‘t or pull out.  The bottom line is the Democrats want to micro manage and play politics with this, you cannot get 218 votes for a complete cut-off of the war.  I know you can‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  ... a corollary to what John Fund said.

BACKUS:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Never, ever again give a president a blank check to go to war.  Either declare war, tell them it‘s time to go to war, agree with the president and say we have to go to war with a country, but never, ever again vote, “If you think we should go to war, Mr. President, do it.” 

That‘s what Democrats did in 2002.  It was a deadly mistake, because they turned over foreign policy and war-making decisions, the most fundamental decisions in our government, to someone else. 

BACKUS:  Well, look, we‘re paying the price.  But now is now.  We have troops over there, they‘re getting higher and higher.  What can we do to stop this?  The American people want it stopped. 

MATTHEWS:  ... to do, John.  Do you agree with this?  If Congress had simply said, “If the president can‘t work with the U.N., if he can‘t do it a certain way in terms of inspections, come back to us for a final vote and we‘ll back him up.” 

Why didn‘t they do that?

If they had done that, then Congress would have had a hand in this hand directly.  Instead they gave him a blank check.

FUND:  Chris, let me make this very personal.  My nephew Michael, over there with the 7th Marines, was wounded by an IED.  He can respect a Congress that actually says, “We think this war is a mistake.”  You can at least argue with that, you cannot argue with micromanaging what equipment they‘re going to get, what training they‘re going to get.  You‘re starving the mission without ending it.  It‘s complete hypocrisy and, frankly, it‘s playing politics with our troops. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, John, this is the best we‘ve ever had on this show. 

And I want to hear every voice again.

So thank you both, John fun, and thank you, Jenny Backus.

Up next, Tammy Duckworth, the Iraq veteran who ran for Congress as a Democrat, barely lost.  Now her husband‘s being called up for duty in Iraq as a Guardsman in Illinois.  They‘re coming here next, both of them. 

And this Sunday on NBC‘s “Meet the Press”, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow—isn‘t he gotten to be a big boy—“Meet the Press” as a guest?  He would have been lucky to moderate it a few years ago.  He‘s certainly lucky to do that.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth narrowly lost her bid for Congress last year when she ran as a Democrat in a Republican district in the suburbs of Chicago.  She lost both of her legs when the helicopter she was piloting over in Iraq was shot down three years ago.  Now her husband, a major in the Illinois National Guard, is being deployed to Iraq in April. 

Welcome to both of you.  Tammy, you‘re the most famous person to lose last November and of course, one of the reasons you lost, because you ran in a Republican district where Henry Hyde, a great man in many ways, was king for so many years.  Why did you run in a district that was overwhelmingly Republican?  Why don‘t you go find a Democrat seat to run for? 

TAMMY DUCKWORTH, IRAQ VETERAN, FORMER HOUSE CANDIDATE:  Well, you know, this is—that district is my home.  I—my husband has worked in that district for a while and it‘s where my community is and, you know, my.

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you think like Hillary?  Go shopping for states.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  . and just go find one where you can run. 

DUCKWORTH:  Well, I have got to tell, you know, we lost because the other side spent $11 million and we spent $6 million.  So we were a little outspent but I think we put up a good fight and got our message out. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you done with this business?  I want to get this straight, are you still a politician, or are you a civilian or what are you now mentally? 

DUCKWORTH:  Right now I am the director of the Veteran Affairs for the State of Illinois.  And mentally, as I always have been, a soldier and I‘m out to look out for my.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So you are under the Hatch Act.

(CROSSTALK)

DUCKWORTH:  . in Illinois. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you Hatch Act here where you can‘t talk politics or where do you stand on this stuff ? 

DUCKWORTH:  Oh, I am Hatch Act.  I have not ruled out running again, but right now the governor of Illinois, Governor Blagojevich, has charged me with the mission of taking care of my buddies.  And that is what I‘m doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you spell Blagojevich right now if I asked you?

DUCKWORTH:  I‘m sorry? 

MATTHEWS:  Could you spell Blagojevich if I asked you?

BRYAN BOWLSBEY, ILLINOIS NATIONAL GUARD:  Can you spell Blagojevich?

DUCKWORTH:  Sure.  It is actually pretty easy, Blago-je-vich. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

DUCKWORTH:  B-L-A-G-O—yes.

(LAUGHTER)

DUCKWORTH:  You have got to be able to spell it in order to work for him.  So, you know.

MATTHEWS:  I thought so.  I wanted to check you out there.  Bryan, you‘re being—headed back over, it‘s your duty, are you accepting it with a full heart or where do you stand on this?  You are going over there to serve your country again as a Guardsmen.  How old are you now, Bryan?

BOWLSBEY:  Yes—no, sir, I have never deployed. 

MATTHEWS:  How old are you? 

BOWLSBEY:  I have never deployed.  This is—oh, I‘m 39, sir. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You are not that old.  So good luck. 

BOWLSBEY:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about this, the fact that you‘re going over there at 39? 

BOWLSBEY:  Well, it‘s amazing that it hasn‘t happened before this.  This is something that we have assumed was going to happen sooner or later and it‘s kind of surprising to me that it didn‘t happen while Tammy was at Walter Reed or last year.  And it‘s I had—we had been planning on it happening next year.  So it‘s not a matter of, oh my gosh, Bryan is gone, it is just this is a little bit of—it is an abrupt change that—oh, I‘m gone a year earlier than I thought.  But.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of your billet?  What kind of billet are you going to have over there? 

BOWLSBEY:  It‘s going to be hot.  I don‘t want to talk about what I‘m going to be doing too much, not that it‘s super secret stuff or anything like that, but it‘s just I‘m going to over there to support 150,000 of my brothers and sisters that are in Iraq and we‘re going to do the best job that we can.  I think it is a matter of public. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re motor transport, right?  You‘re motor transport.

BOWLSBEY:  I‘m going with a transport unit. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BOWLSBEY:  Yes, sir.  I‘m actually.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you.

BOWLSBEY:  . a signal officer, but I‘m going with a transport unit. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you the question that we have been asking people for the last couple of days.  What is the impact on the fighting person to know that the U.S. Congress has now formally rebuked the president on his strategy over there?  You first, Bryan. 

BOWLSBEY:  Chris, I have got to tell you, I‘m happy to see the democratic process in action.  I‘m happy to see our government working.  My understanding of American history is this is the way it has been ever since the founding of the nation and that gives me some comfort as I go downrange.  I find it reassuring that the debate is actually occurring. 

MATTHEWS:  Tammy how would you have voted today?  Can you say that now where you are? 

DUCKWORTH:  I would have voted for the resolution.  I think that when the pilot in charge of the aircraft is going down the wrong direction, it‘s the other—it is the co-pilot‘s job to say, hey, you‘re headed the wrong way, buddy, make a turn here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of the Constitution?  You ran for the House, you almost won.  You did well.  You obviously had a great belief in the role of a U.S. congressperson.  You know, we all grew up with the idea that the Constitution says it‘s the Congress that gets to declare war or not and to sign treaties, and yet, ever since, I guess—for years now, almost centuries, it hasn‘t been enforced. 

I mean, we went to war in Korea because of the U.N.  We went to Vietnam because of some joke called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  We went in this war because a lot of Democrats were afraid to say no, I think.  Do you like the way our Constitution.

DUCKWORTH:  I don‘t think the Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  . is performing? 

DUCKWORTH:  I don‘t think that the Democrats are too afraid to say no now.  And that‘s part of what this resolution is.  You know, we are—we now are getting back to that balance of power that should be there in our form of government.  And I think it‘s good that the Democrats are standing up and saying, you know what?  You‘re headed in the wrong direction.  And that‘s part of why I was running for office was I got sick and tired of a government that really wasn‘t representing where I was and where my community was. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re being very—you know, if you ask Hillary Clinton, for example, would you vote for a resolution today that entitled the president to continue prosecuting the war, do you think she would vote against it?  Do you think the Democrats would actually vote against a resolution that said the president has the right as commander-in-chief to continue prosecuting this war? 

DUCKWORTH:  Well, I can‘t say—you know, I can‘t speak for Hillary.  I just know how I would have voted.  And, you know, I just really feel that this war was a mistake, it was the wrong thing to do.  And that we really need to re-evaluate where we are and where we‘re going.  You know, one of the things I would like to bring.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But your husband is going over there to fight.  What position does that put you in? 

DUCKWORTH:  Well, it puts me in this position of a spouse.  And I think that, you know, I‘m going to be worried about what he‘s doing and where he‘s going and I‘m going to be anxious for him. 

But my governor put me in charge of the state‘s veterans‘ affairs and I think that was because he understood that I have a very close, personal relationship.  I understand what our families are going through.  I understand what our soldiers are going through over there.  And that‘s part of why Governor Blagojevich put me in this job.  Because he knows that.

MATTHEWS:  Bryan.

DUCKWORTH:  I bring an understanding to this job. 

MATTHEWS:  Bryan, your feelings.  You‘re going over there in April.  You are going to be sitting around.  I assume you get some time off to read the papers and check the e-mail from home and also to check the online news.  What are you going to be watching as you sit over there as a soldier and work over there and risk your life?  What are you going to be watching at home in terms of Congress? 

BOWLSBEY:  My plan is to work about 16 or 18 hours a day.  When Tammy was in Iraq initially, that was the only way I could stay sane.  So I don‘t know if I‘m going to have time to watch DVDs and news and streaming video and that kind of stuff. 

There will be—there‘s a mission and I‘ve got 150,000 people in Iraq that I‘ve got to support.  So my scope is going to be very focused while I‘m there.  It‘s going to be focused on the job at hand.  And that‘s what I‘ve got to do to support those folks and to do my job optimally and to take the best care of our soldiers that I possibly can.  So to ask—honestly I have no.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ve been a little frisky with you two today—I want to tell you, I have been frisky with you today.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  . because I‘m trying to make everybody feel better on this tired Friday.  But let me tell you, Tammy, I really thank you for your service and your sacrifice, obviously; as everybody who knows your story does, I hope and I believe. 

And, Bryan, good luck over there, I wish you well.

BOWLSBEY:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  And thank you for your service because it‘s going to be hot over there.  And thank you for coming on here to talk about the political heat.  Thank you Tammy Duckworth and Bryan Bowlsbey. 

DUCKWORTH:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  . Bowlsbey  -- Bowlsbey! 

Up next, tomorrow‘s vote in the Senate is forcing some presidential hopefuls to change their weekend plans.  They have got to work this Saturday in D.C. because they have got to decide if they can beat this filibuster.  We are going to get into that with The Politicos, Roger Simon and the Weekly Standard‘s Matthew Continetti.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The House and the Senate are both focused on the war in Iraq this weekend and the president‘s plan to escalate the war.  Will President Bush heed their calls of protest? 

Plus, new Gallup polling shows the New Yorkers leading their respective packs, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton.  Here to talk about all of it are The Politicos Roger Simon and the Weekly Standard‘s Matt Continetti. 

First of all, I want to have a quickie here with you Roger, first of all.  The significance of the vote in the House today where 17 Republicans joined the Democrats in a 246-vote majority to disapprove of the surge doesn‘t have any meaning to U.S. policy in Iraq. 

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  Probably not.  It‘s symbolic, symbolism is important, we all know that.  The trouble for the Democrats is that they‘re going to be asked shortly to back up their symbolism with real action, cut off funding for the surge, cut off funding for the war. 

And they are simply not going to do that.  They don‘t have the guts to do that, even though rank and file Democrats probably want them to.  But Democratic elected leaders are just not there. 

MATTHEWS:  So there will not be 218 votes, a majority in the House to choke off the funding in any way? 

SIMON:  I can‘t imagine it.  I just can‘t imagine it. 

MATTHEWS:  Matt, your sense on that point.  Project now a couple of weeks ahead, they‘re going to—basically like a plumber, they‘re going to turn the spigot tighter.  They are going to say no, you can‘t get—because we‘re going to reduce your ability to use troops without certain levels of training.  We‘re going reduce your ability to recall people back into service and rotate them more back into long tours.  We are going to get no more bases—permanent bases over there.  Do you think they‘ll pass that with 218? 

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, WEEKLY STANDARD:  Look what.

MATTHEWS:  Yes or no? 

CONTINETTI:  . Speaker—yes—well, they might not pass it, but they‘re going to push it.  Look at what Speaker Pelosi said, Majority Leader Hoyer said.  This is the first step, Skelton, Lantos, they all used this phrase, the “first step.” We‘re going to pass this non-binding resolution this week, but then we‘re going to move on in the supplemental bill for the war, $100 billion in March.  That‘s when they‘re going to put this Murtha plan, the “slow bleed” strategy is how some would... 

MATTHEWS:  So they are going to—first shots over the president‘s head, the second one is going to wing him in the toes, right? 

CONTINETTI:  Introducing these benchmarks, we‘re not going to allow you to send the troops unless they‘re properly trained.  We are going to determine how properly they are trained.  And they are going to go for it, absolutely. 

Nancy Pelosi wants to end the war in Iraq.  She has Murtha as her point man on this.  She will do everything she can to end the war as quickly as possible. 

MATTHEWS:  Roger, do you see that?  Are they really going for the kill here?  Do they really want to end this war or just posture politically? 

SIMON:  Oh, they want to end this war, they just don‘t want to cast a meaningful vote to end this war.  I don‘t think the Murtha plan is going to be seriously brought to the floor of the House.  The Democrats know that they can‘t be seen to be meddling with the health and welfare of the troops who are fighting for their lives, literally, in Iraq.  The Democrats have the burden of proving they are not the mommy party, that they are a strong daddy party. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SIMON:  That they are strong on national defense. 

MATTHEWS:  You agree with that?

CONTINETTI:  No, I don‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  No, you are saying that—well, let me get it straight. 

Roger, you believe they‘ll never bring the measure to the floor to choke off the spending for the war, you believe that?  They‘ll never bring it to the floor? 

SIMON:  Unless they want a symbolic vote just to show that Democrats can‘t get a majority to pass it. 

MATTHEWS:  Matthew, do you think they will come and have a vote on this?

CONTINETTI:  Of course they want symbolic votes. 

MATTHEWS:  Will they have a vote?  I‘m trying to get you guys.

CONTINETTI:  They will have a—they are going to bring this to the floor.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

CONTINETTI:  I‘m sure of it.  I mean, look at what they are saying. 

It is clear that they think that every person who wins an election always over-interprets their mandate.  The Republicans did it in ‘94.  Bush did it after ‘04.  The Democrats are going to do it this time.  They are going to go a little bit too far for the public, and the public will sit back.

MATTHEWS:  Roger, it seems to me you‘re onto something.  I think they would be or probably are and maybe should be afraid of one word.  The way the Republican supporters of the war are phrasing this is, Democrats are ready to kill reinforcements.  And if you think of the imagery of that, a fighting person over there in the streets of Baghdad about to be re—about to helped out by 20 guys coming in to help him.  And now those 20 guys aren‘t going to arrive.  And that‘s the way the image will look if you vote with the Democrats. 

SIMON:  In the middle of a hot shooting war where American lives are at risk, the Democrats are not going to supplant generals and supplant the executive branch as much as they would like to.  That is not what the American people want as much as the American people might want the war ended.  They don‘t want to replace the structure of the Pentagon with Murtha and the Democratic Party.

MATTHEWS:  All right.

CONTINETTI:  We‘re heading down to a showdown here.  Look at the administration‘s rhetoric, they want to change the conversation to the supplemental debate about the war funding, Chris, because they know that‘s a debate they can win.  If they‘re smart they might listen to Roger.  But I think at the end of the day, the Democrats are going to go for.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what I see?  All right.  We are going to talk about Rudy and Hillary in a second when we come back.  But I think that both sides have agreed they want to make their fight on this choking off of funding.  The Democrats think they have got a neat way to do it, which, as you just said, rules.  The Republicans feel they can beat them on this.  So this is going to be a big battle royale the next couple of weeks.  The real fight is coming, right? 

CONTINETTI:  It is coming this spring. 

MATTHEWS:  The real fight is coming, Roger, right?

SIMON:  Yes, you bet. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll be right back with Roger and Matt to talk about amazing ballooning of the numbers of Hillary and Rudy Giuliani, both at 40 percent now, beating the hell out of the field in both parties.  We will be right back.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back Politico.com‘s Roger Simon and The Weekly Standard‘s Matt Continetti.  According to the new USA Today/Gallup poll, Rudy Giuliani leads the Republican pack with 40 percent.  Now look at that number now.  And that‘s a big increase since last month, which was 31.  The poll also shows Hillary Clinton, the same kind of bounce.

Let me start with Roger.  You have been covering campaigns back since well—I bumped into you about the ‘80s I think.  What do you think about this blossoming of these frontrunners?  Is it just P.R.?  Or are people really getting to like these people?

SIMON:  I think it is a little too early for them to get to like these people, because they don‘t really know either of them yet.  It could be that the Democrats have decided that they know everything about every candidate and they like Hillary, or it could be she has been national figure since 1992 and that is what is driving the polls. 

Same thing with Rudy Giuliani.  He—everyone remembers the Rudy Giuliani of September 11th.  His Republican opponents want them to concentrate on the Rudy Giuliani of September 10th, and no one is doing that yet.

MATTHEWS:  Would that be a great campaign for us to cover?  I mean, just think personally now, right now, in the interest of you and me, Roger.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Would we find that satisfying, a race between a streetwise New York Italian-American who is tough, tough cop, against Hillary, who is sort of like remade New York suburbanite, the Illinois suburbs—Chicago suburbs and Arkansas, both New Yorkers, a subway series, fighting over the suburbs, probably is where the fight would be, would that be a great presidential campaign for the country?  Would we learn something out of that and decide something big?

SIMON:  It would be a great campaign.  I‘m not sure we should put our interests above the national interest.  But there are so many good combinations this year.  It is hard to find a bad combination that is likely to do worse.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, how about Edwards and Romney?  Could you stay awake through the whole thing? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You say there is no bad combinations?

SIMON:  Well, OK, with certain exceptions.  Actually by the time it gets down to that, we would find a way to make that interesting. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let me just get with the two big—I‘m a city guy, basically.  Let me go with this.  Matt Continetti, do you think in terms of the zest of the campaign, the sharpness of the debate, the involvement of the American people that having these two New Yorkers go at it might be the most exciting contest? 

CONTINETTI:  Well, there‘s one New Yorker in that race, Chris.  But remember 2000?  That was the race the whole country wanted.  Certainly everybody in the political journalism class wanted it.  We were robbed of it because Giuliani had to bow out for personal reasons.  It looks like I think we have a fairly good shot at that race taking place next year. 

MATTHEWS:  And if it is fought out, will it be a good thing for the country?  Will it sort of end this stupid red-blue state thing and really have a choice for people who are—most people are a little of this, a little of that.  Most people who watch this show I know are like that.  They may be—well, let me try and think about myself there. 

No, that wouldn‘t be a good idea.  They‘re for some cases of capital punishment.  Because there‘s some people that deliberately kill people.  And they do it for money and they do it for the wrong—I mean, just evil, just evil, unless it is like an accidental thing.

Capital punishment, would like to keep it there.  At the same point, they think that maybe—that women who become pregnant and really don‘t want to be pregnant should have a chance to do something about it in the early weeks and months. 

They don‘t fit a simple pattern, they believe in legal immigration and sometimes they will support treating people who get here illegally OK, but they want to basically stop the illegal immigration.  I think most people are practical.  They believe we should fight al Qaeda but not necessarily get stuck in a war in Iraq. 

Now listen, I think people figures things out.  And I think maybe we would be better off with a presidential campaign between two people trying to figure it out, instead of one who absolutely sure of himself and the other one who is absolutely sure of themselves. 

CONTINETTI:  Giuliani throws the entire map open because of his mix of positions.  Tough on the war on terror, tough on crime.  He‘s a tax cutter, but he also is comfortable not only with social conservatives, even though he‘s not one of them, he‘s a social liberal, but he‘s comfortable with them.  He respects all positions. 

That is a word that is going to come up a lot in the campaign, certainly in the primary campaign: respect.  Giuliani demands respect for society, for the orders in society and for the international order.  But he also gives respect to social conservatives who he doesn‘t necessarily agree with on all of the issues. 

He throws the whole map open in a way that Hillary Clinton probably doesn‘t.  I think Hillary Clinton is more in our old—the past decade of polarized politics. 

MATTHEWS:  She is a more traditional Democrat.

(CROSSTALK)

CONTINETTI:  More traditional Democrat.

MATTHEWS:  . interest group Democrat.  She appeals to the interest groups;  Roger, your thought on that.

SIMON:  I have just got to say, Chris, your scenario may go one bridge too far however for—on the Republican side.  I don‘t see how Giuliani gets the nomination.  I have gone to New Hampshire and caught his act there, and it‘s not a bad act.  He says to Republican audiences, if you like strong defense, that‘s where I am.  If you like lower taxes, that‘s where I am.  If you like homeland security, that‘s where I am.  And on these other issues that we disagree on, well, we can just agree to disagree.  The trouble is in the Republican Party, these issues are huge issues.  Abortion is a huge issue.

MATTHEWS:  Well, is there anybody—but he‘s not running against Ronald Reagan.  Is there anybody who fits neatly all of these Republican concerns in one package, Roger? 

SIMON:  No, no.  Social conservatives, Christian conservatives this year have trouble with the entire top tier of the Republican Party.  They‘re all going to have certain problems.  The trouble I think for Rudy Giuliani and the mountain he has to climb is that he has a few more problems than the others. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Well, they had their chance, his name was George Allen.  But he is not running.  Anyway, thank you, Roger Simon.  Thank you, Matthew Continetti.  Both great writers. 

Play HARDBALL with us on Monday, it will be Presidents Day.  Who‘s going to be number 44?  That‘s the next number for a president, in our butcher block world here with the little piece of paper.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.” 

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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