updated 3/26/2007 12:27:46 PM ET 2007-03-26T16:27:46

Guests: Charlie Rangel, Mike Pence, Ron Christie, Ron Christie, Chris Cillizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Democrats in Congress dictate an exit from Iraq by September 2008.  Can they grab control of this war or are we in that country for the Bush duration?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews, welcome to HARDBALL.  Today Democrats set a date certain for an Iraq exit but President Bush won‘t buy it.  A house divided by the way voted to impose a deadline to bring home the troops.  And a little more than an hour later, President Bush vowed to veto the bill. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  These Democrats believe that the longer they can delay funding for our troops, the more likely they are to force me to accept restrictions on our commanders, an artificial timetable for withdrawal, and their pet spending projects.  This is not going to happen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The vote was 218 to 212 in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by September 1st, 2008.  We will talk to two members of Congress in a moment. 

Plus, the second Washington showdown this week is over the Democrats‘ attempt to subpoena top Bush adviser Karl Rove and other top administration officials.  Can President Bush stop them?

And how big of a role will the candidates‘ spouses play in this race? 

We‘ll dig into it with the HARDBALLers. 

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Schuster is here with the latest in that fight over the war—David. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, this is the first time congress has used its budget authority to try to end the Iraq War.  The House measure attaches benchmarks and a withdrawal requirement to money that would pay for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq this year. 

This afternoon, the president promised a veto. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The purpose of the emergency war spending bill I requested was to provide our troops with vital funding.  Instead, Democrats in the House, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Democrats noted today that military commanders say there is no military solution in Iraq.  In any case, the debate was tough today on the House floor.  Republicans decried the spending measures that Democrats added to swing a few votes, and Republicans argued that setting an Iraq withdrawal date is a fool‘s errand. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ll see chaos in Baghdad, we‘ll see genocide there.  We will provide safe haven for our enemies.  We will destabilize the moderate Arab countries in the Middle East. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Voting to set a hard-edged date for U.S. troops in Iraq and imposing strict standards for deploying forces gives hope to the enemy and it is a prescription for failure.  Worse, forcing members of Congress to decide on this issue when the bill is cluttered with excess money for spinach and peanuts is abhorrent. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Democrats spoke about the problems in Iraq and the will of the American people.  And Representative Patrick Murphy, who was a veteran of Iraq, he spoke in very emotional terms about 19 paratroopers he served with who were killed with in Iraq.  Murphy described leading a convoy through “Ambush Alley” in Baghdad and the question he was asked by his gunner. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  He said, sir, what are we doing over here?  What is our mission?  When are these Iraqis going to come off the sidelines and stand up for their own country?  So to my colleagues across the aisle, your taunts about supporting our troops ring hollow if you are still unable to answer those questions now four years later. 

REP JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Every time something happens over there, what we say is, oh, we‘ll send American troops.  We‘ll send American troops back before they have their time at home.  We will send American troops—we will extend American troops.  The Iraqis have to start to bear this responsibility for themselves and that‘s why we‘re putting in the bill. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Jack Murtha, of course, led the effort on this bill and has been speaking out against the Iraq War for two-and-a-half years.  This afternoon on the House floor, he began to weep as he spoke about his great grandmother. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURTHA:  I was 6 years old when she died.  She said, you‘re on this Earth to make a difference.  We‘re going to make a difference with this bill.  We are going to bring those troops home, we are going to start changing the direction of this great country!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Again, it was a very emotional debate, especially for the Democrats who had to rally last night to try to get the votes they needed again, the final count, 218-212.  The Senate will taking up a similar measure next week.  Senate Republicans vowed today, Chris, that they would kill this and that everybody, of course, would have to essentially start over—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  The great grandmother of Jack Murtha, he was talking about with so much emotion, as you said, that was—she was a widow of a Civil War veteran. 

SHUSTER:  Yes, that‘s right.  He spoke on the floor about how his great grandfather fought for the North and lost his arm during the Civil War, but that his great grandmother imparted to young Jack Murtha at the age of 6, how everybody on this planet is there for a reason and between that, talking about his family and also talking about the emotions of having visited wounded troops and those who have lost limbs, it all seemed to catch up with Jack Murtha, of course, in the moment, as the Democrats were able to pass this measure. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  What a short history this country has had, to have a great grandfather in the Civil War. 

Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.  And Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman Rangel, can put as deadline on this war? 

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, WAYS & MEANS COMMITTEE:  No, I don‘t think I can.  I think realistically what we are doing is what the majority of the American people want us to do, and that is to tell this president that no president can effectively conduct the war if the American people are not supporting it. 

The president has just ignored military people, political people.  He takes no prisoners, literally, and I think what we are telling him is that it is time to put some checks in his conduct. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr.—Congressman Pence, you voted against this measure. 

REP. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE:  I did, Chris.  Look, Congress can declare war.  Congress can decide whether to fund or not to fund war, but Congress cannot conduct war.  And today, for the first time in American history, the Congress of the United States laid out benchmarks and timetables and criteria on our commander-in-chief and our commanders in the field.

And President Bush is right to make it clear that he will veto that and defend the constitutional prerogative of the commander-in-chief. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they saying in this bill that the Congress won‘t allow the money to be spent after September 1st or what?  If they did that, that would be cutting off the funding.

PENCE:  It was—you know, the interesting thing about this, and I—you know, I have great respect for Charlie Rangel and worked with him on a number of issues, but if they had brought a bill to the floor, to be honest with you, that answered the desire of members of Dennis Kucinich and other members of Congress that thought we ought to cut off funding because they think this is a lost cause, I would have disagreed with that, but I could respect it because that would be in the prerogative of the Congress to control the purse strings. 

But this micromanaging of the war that has been roundly condemned by not just conservative thought leaders, but the left column of The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times is a bill just aching for a veto. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, The Washington Post is not the liberal newspaper it was, Congressman, let me tell you.  I have been reading it for years and it is a neocon newspaper. 

Now, Charlie, let me ask you—Mr. Chairman, let me ask you think, why are—let me ask you a very fundamental question.  I know you are used to arguing this on television.  But let‘s recap.  Why is the Democratic Party, and this part—this vote today was very party line.  Why is the Democratic Party for an earlier withdrawal from Iraq than this president wants to accomplish? 

RANGEL:  Well, first of all, the American people advised that this thing would only take a couple of weeks.  Now it has taken longer than World War II.  And I don‘t think people are aware of the fact that these military people don‘t enjoy fighting just because they volunteered.  They want to come home like everyone else. 

They respect the flag.  They respect the president.  But we‘re the only ones shooting and dying over there, allegedly to bring some type of sound government here.  We have got people that have been fighting each other for thousands of years, and they‘re not even participating in bringing the peace there, the Arabs, the Egyptians, the Saudi Arabians.

And so, OK, we know it‘s going to be vetoed, but the frustration that‘s involved and how many more soldiers have to die to win a military war that everyone says can‘t be won? 

PENCE:  But honestly, Chris, I think there—you know, Charlie said, and many Democrats said on the floor today that there was a call for change in the last election, and maybe there was.  And now we have a new secretary of defense.  Now we have new generals on the ground, in the theater of operations.  We have a new strategy going forward. 

There is a change on the ground in Iraq and I believe that there is some—the initial evidence that that change, that news way forward is beginning to work.  But having Congress begin to use its authority to tie to bills that ought to be clean, ought to provide funding to our solders in the field and Afghanistan and Iraq, these timetables and benchmarks represents exactly the kind of war by committee that our founders rejected at the Constitutional Convention. 

MATTHEWS:  This war is four years old, Congressman.  How many years will you put up with, personally, as a member of Congress representing your constituency?  How many years of war, two more years?  Five more years? 

RANGEL:  No, he is going to.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Mr. Pence.

RANGEL:  No, you can‘t tolerate this war.  One day someone would ask all of us, just what were you doing when Americans were dying without any mission at all that was overseas?  I have to go to these funerals.  These kids come out of communities such as mine.  I have to convince their parents and loved ones that they‘re heroes. 

How sad this would be to say, no, there was no military victory intended.  We just had to have your son and your daughter or your husband, your wife over there, until we found out what we were going to do. 

It‘s morally wrong.  It has nothing to do with the military.  All of these surges, all of the military people have said that this should be done, four years is too long, and any life we can save now by any means possible is going to be what God and our constituents want. 

PENCE:  Well, Charlie, I think what would be sad—Charlie, what would be sad is that if the sacrifices that have been made by families in your district, families in eastern Indiana were not married to a victory for freedom in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What would that look like?  We have a four-year war now.  Let me—Mr. Pence handle this question.  I want to give you a minute here, all right?  Where do you see victory coming in the reasonable future?  Not 30 years from now, a year or so from now?  Do you a stable, democratic non-threatening Iraq coming out of this in the next couple of years?  The only amount of time we can actually stay there is a couple of more years.  Do you think in that time we actually will accomplish that goal? 

PENCE:  Well, the one thing is we should expect the—we should not define victory as the absence of violence.  We should not.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is your victory?

PENCE:  . define victory—we should not define victory as the presence of a mature Jeffersonian democracy like we have.

MATTHEWS:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE:  . in Washington, D.C.  What I would define victory as, when we can leave Iraq—when our military operations can leave Iraq with the absolute moral certitude that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military can defend their nascent democracy. 

MATTHEWS:  There could be a coup 15 minutes after we leave.  And there is nothing we can do about it.  This guy Maliki could be dumped five minutes after we walk out the door.  Why do you.

PENCE:  Well, we need to be prepared to.

MATTHEWS:  . assume we can have this colonial power over a Third World country? 

PENCE:  I believe.

MATTHEWS:  What control do we have over the future?

PENCE:  I truly believe that the combination, Chris of making sure that their military and their internal security forces can protect that new democracy combined with diplomatic efforts in the region could lead to success. 

MATTHEWS:  What stops them from having a parade for Ahmadinejad down the main street of Baghdad the day we leave?  What stops them?

PENCE:  Well, given the freedom of expression that is enshrined in their new constitution adopted there by their people, nothing.  But allowing the American forces to remain until freedom has won, until the Iraqi people can defend their nascent democracy is how we define success. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Rangel, one last word. 

RANGEL:  Since when has that been our mission for us to get involved in a civil war that we had no—we screwed it up from the very beginning.  It‘s getting worse every day and we‘re going to tell the parents of those people who are going to die that we were there to bring freedom and justice?  That never was the agenda. 

It was supposed to stop terrorism.  It was supposed to be a response to 9/11 and weapons of mass destruction.  The whole thing was a lie to begin with and it gets worse each and every day. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Congressman Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  And Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, who is the ranking Republican  the Middle East Subcommittee of Foreign Affairs. 

Coming up, MSNBC‘s Mike Barnicle with a special report on a U.S.  service member who knew he needed more armor, didn‘t get it and died because of it.  And now his father is on a crusade to keep other soldiers safe.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  American soldiers in Iraq are better equipped now than many were at the start of the war when soldiers used junkyard scrap iron to armor their vehicles.  Mike Barnicle has the story of the father of one fallen soldier and his political ally who forced the Army to provide more armored Humvees to our troops. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over):  Arlington National Cemetery where Brian and Alma (ph) Hart from Massachusetts buried their only boy, Army Private John Hart, killed in Iraq in October 2003 when his Humvee was attacked. 

BRIAN HART, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  John fought off the insurgents until he ran out of ammunition and then he was shot in the neck. 

BARNICLE:  It was the start of the war, when soldiers like John Hart were sent into battle with a lethal lack of protection.  One week before his death, John called his parents about unarmored Humvees. 

ALMA HART, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  What has always haunted me is that John said, you know, they‘re just going to keep sending us out like this until somebody gets killed.

BARNICLE:  A father‘s heartbreak turned to fury when he learned thousands of vehicles in Iraq had no armor. 

B. HART:  If John were willing to die protecting the three other men in his vehicle, then we sure as heck could spend some time making sure that they were better equipped. 

BARNICLE (on camera):  So citizen Hart came to Washington where he set out on a mission to make sure other soldiers in Iraq had better equipment than his son. 

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  On Thursday, I‘ll give you a call. 

BARNICLE (voice-over):  Ted Kennedy attended John Hart‘s funeral at Arlington.  Now he and Brian Hart, originally from Texas and a self-described conservative Republican, are unusual allies. 

B. HART:  He raised the body armor and the vehicular issue and used John as an example.  And that‘s how the whole issue of procurement went public. 

BARNICLE:  He visited Humvee plants, cultivated sources in the Pentagon and the defense industry. 

B. HART:  Frankly, I developed what I would call “cubicle patriot” sources that were willing to tell me what was wrong. 

BARNICLE:  He pushed, prodded and embarrassed the military to make armored Humvees a priority.  Kennedy called Brian Hart a “one-man armed services committee.” 

KENNEDY:  So you have got to be patient but you have got to be restless and persevering, and Brian has just had that in spades.  And he brings a knowledge to this subject matter that few people have. 

BARNICLE:  But this father‘s obsession angered the military bureaucracy.  When he asked for records of the event that killed his son, Brian Hart were told they were gone. 

B. HART:  Everything.  Somebody pulled the files or took them. 

BARNICLE:  What happened?  A cover-up of a mistake?  Retribution against whistleblower Hart?  He isn‘t sure but he wants to know. 

B. HART:  There are some officers that are helping us, and some that aren‘t.  Some that we even had threatened with the FBI.  And it‘s a terrible situation, but it‘s one we‘re dealing with. 

BARNICLE:  In their grief, the Harts have been happy to know their efforts have helped others. 

B. HART:  One of the nicest things we ever got was a letter from a mother of a Marine who sent us a thank you letter.  He had only lost his foot.  I felt bad, because I knew a little more armor could have protected that kid. 

BARNICLE:  Brian Hart, father of a fallen soldier, a man still on a mission. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Mike, that‘s a great report.  It reminds me of one of your great columns up there in the papers up there.  Let me ask you about this situation.  APCs, Armored Personnel Carriers, you know, for years the Army has used them, they have used tanks,  is it normal to send people in to battle with unarmored vehicles?

BARNICLE:  No, of course it‘s not normal, Chris.  And it leads to the question that has been raised for four years now, the lack of preparation, the lack of equipment that was afforded the initial element of soldiers introduced into Iraq after “Mission Accomplished” occurred.  And it still occurs to some point today, the lack of equipment.

MATTHEWS:  So what do we have now?  If you had to go over there and look at all of the Humvees we have over there and Armored Personnel Carriers, and particularly the Humvees, how many of them are armored?  We are looking at one now.  We are looking at an APC now.  How many are actually armored? 

BARNICLE:  Well, they are awaiting an order of 500 up-armored Humvees in July of this year.  They are that far behind in terms of the production of the armored Humvees.  The Army states that they are trying to keep up with the initial—with the request for armored Humvees, but they have an order for 500 due this July.

MATTHEWS:  Can they protect against the IEDs? 

BARNICLE:  No, no.  They afford better protection than the initial Humvees that were in-theater, but the increasing sophistication of this enemy and the increasing sophistication and lethality of their weapons pose a huge danger to even tanks, even tanks. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  The solders have for years been sitting on their helmets and, you know, the enemy always finds a way to penetrate.  Anyway, thank you very much, Mike Barnicle, great report about American patriotism of a different kind, which is the home front war to protect the troops.  Thanks for staying with us, by the way. 

Up next, we are going to talk with Mike and also Ron Christie (ph) about the president‘s fight with Congress over Iraq and of course, those fired U.S. prosecutors.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The House of Representatives voted today to pull troops out of Iraq by next September, that is September, 2008.  The president says he will veto the bill.  Let‘s go to our HARDBALLers.  As I said, Mike Barnacle, our political analyst, is sticking with us, and Republican strategist Ron Christie. formerly of the vice president‘s office, right? 

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER BUSH/CHENEY AIDE:  And the president‘s office. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you, since you are part of this administration and speak for it, what is wrong with saying we will be out of a war that has already lasted four years in six years? 

CHRISTIE:  What is wrong with that is the fact that the commanders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan should be the ones who are determining if we have met our objectives.

MATTHEWS:  How long are we there?

CHRISTIE:  Have we met our objectives?  Have we done what we have set out to do? 

MATTHEWS:  So the president doesn‘t decide that? 

CHRISTIE:  The president is the commander-in-chief.  The president, in consultation with his generals, his admirals, the secretary of defense... 

MATTHEWS:  Supposed the president decides that we‘re not winning this war, we are not going to win the war and he decides to withdraw, is he allowed to do that? 

CHRISTIE:  Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Is he allowed to do that?

CHRISTIE:  . he is the commander-in-chief. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CHRISTIE:  He can decide to do what he wants to do. 

MATTHEWS:  So it is not up to the generals on the ground? 

CHRISTIE:  No, Chris, what I said to you was, in consultation with his generals on the ground. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, suppose they want to stay and he says, we‘re going to leave, who wins? 

CHRISTIE:  This president.

MATTHEWS:  Who wins?

CHRISTIE:  This president is the one.

MATTHEWS:  This troops.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  This president is the one who makes the determination. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Hiding behind the troops, who makes the policy call? 

CHRISTIE:  The policy call is the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s (INAUDIBLE).  Mike, this comes down to an issue of the president versus the Congress on how long a war we should fight, constitutionally who has the call? 

BARNICLE:  Well, the president is the commander-in-chief, but today‘s debate on the floor of the House, Chris, I watched and listened to a lot of it, and I was struck by the disingenuousness of so many people who stand up and say this is about supporting the troops when the fact is they don‘t support when the troops return home. 

We have all seen that in the past two months with the Walter Reed Hospital reports in The Washington Post.  They don‘t support the troops because of the mismanagement of the procurement system of the Pentagon.  We just saw that with the piece on Brian Hart who lost his son John. 

This has been a mismanaged war from the beginning.  The idea that any member of Congress could stand up and say, a vote against this resolution or for this resolution is a vote against the troops is pathetic. 

CHRISTIE:  They‘re playing politics with this.  This is.

MATTHEWS:  Who is they? 

CHRISTIE:  They is the Democratic majority leadership.  Look at what they have done here.  What they have done is decided in our infinite wisdom, we want to be an armchair general.  We want to be the ones who make the determination of when the troops should leave.  Is that in the best interest of the United States? 

Here is why, Chris.  It absolutely not in the best interest.  Our stated objectives, trying to work with our Iraqi allies to have a stable and safe Iraq.  If you have a.

BARNICLE:  Ron.

CHRISTIE:  Hang on a second, Mike.  If you have a date certain—Mike Barnicle, if you have a date certain, if I‘m a jerk terrorist sitting over there, I‘m going to wait it out and say that the United States has no will, has no means to fight, they‘re going to cut and run, so maybe we‘ll just disappear for a little bit and then by September 30th of next year, we are going to come out because the Americans, the cowards have cut and run. 

That it is dramatically irresponsible, Mike.  I cannot believe that anybody who has proclaimed to uphold the Constitution and take that oath would support such a terrible piece legislation. 

BARNICLE:  Ron, before we get to the Constitution, the idea that you might think that the American military‘s mission on the ground is the same as the mission of the Iraqi government on the ground over there in Baghdad, that‘s sad that you would think that. 

CHRISTIE:  That‘s actually not what I said, Mike.  What I said was that it‘s irresponsible for us to put our troops in harm‘s way because the terrorists will realize that there is a date certain. 

BARNICLE:  No, I would say that it is more irresponsible to suffer the loss of one more American soldier basically in a civil war, a religious sectarian civil war. 

CHRISTIE:  I agree with you that there is absolutely a political element that needs to be taken with looking at the Sunnis and Shias and the Kurds.  However, we need to help our Iraqi partners stop the sectarian violence. 

BARNICLE:  So how long are we going to do this?  Our partners? 

CHRISTIE:  Yes, what I said—of course our partners.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We only have a minute.  Mike, we only have a minute.  I want to try to slice and dice this.  What do you think we should do in Iraq before we get out of there?  Is there anything would you like to see us do before we just get out of that country?  Is there a further mission that you see? 

BARNICLE:  Me, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Or do you think we should just get out of there now? 

BARNICLE:  Listen, the idea that anyone would think that we‘re going to be getting out of there at some point when they have a chapter of the League of Women Voters or Common Cause in Baghdad, that‘s never going to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  But what would you like to get done before you say we should leave? 

BARNICLE:  I would like to see a timetable, as indicated today on the floor of the House, to notify the Iraqi government that we‘re not going to be babysitting them forever.  That we are.

CHRISTIE:  But you didn‘t even answer.

MATTHEWS:  But you say like—in other words, you would give them a duration to get their act together, just enough? 

BARNICLE:  Look at politically, politically it‘s suicide for the Republicans to have this thing continue through next year anyway.  It‘s a presidential election year.  Ron, I don‘t know.

CHRISTIE:  You didn‘t even answer the question, Mike.

BARNICLE:  . about you.

CHRISTIE:  I mean, don‘t you want stability?  Don‘t you want an Iraq where al Qaeda is not using that as the basis for terrorist operations?  I mean, you didn‘t even answer Chris‘ question of what would define success in Iraq... 

BARNICLE:  There is no stability—we‘re not going to bring stability to Iraq.  We are not going to bring stability to Iraq.

CHRISTIE:  Oh, so in other words, we should just pull-out now and we should just let al Qaeda win and let them use that as a platform to launch attacks against the United States and our allies.

BARNICLE:  You know, that is so lame, Ron, the al Qaeda thing. 

CHRISTIE:  It‘s not lame, it‘s—Mike, you.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  Mike, you can can‘t express how you define success in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They already have—they already have a base of operations for the terrorism against the United States.  It‘s a good portion of Pakistan they‘ve already got control of.  So they don‘t need another base.  This idea that there‘s only one part of the world...

CHRISTIE:  I‘m not saying that.

MATTHEWS:  ... that they can launch attacks against us is ridiculous!

CHRISTIE:  I didn‘t say that.

MATTHEWS:  This isn‘t a real estate battle.

CHRISTIE:  I didn‘t say that.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Mike Barnicle and Ron Christie—stirring debate tonight.

And later: Marriage by the six-pack.  The Giuliani campaign reveals another marriage, not his, hers!  What‘s going on here?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, it‘s Friday afternoon, OK?  But I have watched that economic bulletin there.  But let me just tell you.  Next time the producer has to choose between a picture of more of Margaret Brennan and that oil derrick, that offshore oil derrick, stay on Margaret Brennan, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  She‘s a beautiful woman.  She‘s a very bright reporter. 

She makes us feel good.  I am sick of looking at that offshore oil drill. 

It drives me crazy.  Bring back Margaret.  Thank you, dear!  Thank you! 

Back by popular demand!  Happy Friday!  And she‘s 6 feet tall, besides. 

You‘re gorgeous, and I hate that oil drill.  I hate the oil drill.

CHRISTIE:  Let‘s hope...

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to comment on that?

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC NEWS:  More of the oil boards?  Hey, well, you know, sure.  More air time I‘m not going to complain about.  But I‘d love to be more on your show there, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, dear.  You are on right now.  Thanks for the

held over by popular demand, dear.  Thank you.  Happy Friday.

Anyway, Mike Barnicle—that was a—that was—I‘d rather see her than you guys, anyway.  Thank you.  Mike Barnicle‘s coming on right now, and Ron Christie.

Look, this is a constitutional question.  It‘s a political question.  It‘s a life and death issue.  We might as well have it out here for a few more minutes.  Forget the lawyers and all the prosecutors.  I want to ask about this question.  Who‘s going to decide when we‘ve done our best in Iraq?  Who do you trust to make the decision, We‘ve given it a college try, we‘ve lost enough guys and money, we‘ve kicked ass over there as long as we can, but we just got to get out of there because it ain‘t working?  When do you decide, Ron, we‘ve done our best in Iraq?

CHRISTIE:  I think we‘ve done our best when General Petraeus, who is

our commander of our forces over there, has come to the president of the

United States and said, Mr. President, the objectives that we have set out

we‘re trying to rein in some of the sectarian violence—we are in a position where we can now leave, where this country will not fall further into instability.  I think after those consultations, in addition to consultations with the Congress, I think it would be time for us to leave.

MATTHEWS:  So you trust General Petraeus.  Mike, who do you trust to decide when it‘s time to really yank us out of there, no funny business, we‘re out of there, we‘ve done our best?

BARNICLE:  The Congress of the United States, Chris.  First of all, if this administration had had the courage of their convictions, if Iraq was, indeed, the pivot point in the war on terror that they have claimed it to be for so long, why did they not go to the Congress and ask for a declaration of war?  They never did.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they did ask for an authorization, which Hillary Clinton gave them.

CHRISTIE:  Yes.  Exactly!

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me (INAUDIBLE) Make your point, Mike.  You think it should have been a formal declaration of war.

BARNICLE:  Yes.  Now I do, yes.  But then, no.  I—the authorization vote seemed to make sense at that point in time, but given the fact that the president of the United States has this messianic belief in our mission in Iraq, despite all of the flaws, despite everyone, from General Petraeus on down, Ron, who has said there can be no military solution here in Iraq, solely a military solution, it has to be a political solution—right on down the line, and yet the president has this messianic belief that somehow, there‘s going to be a Coca-Cola sign above Baghdad in about a year.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE:  Mike, you talk about courage of convictions and messianic beliefs.  For goodness sakes, for one, read the Constitution.  The commander-in-chief of the armed forces is the president.  Secondly, if you want to talk about true courage...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me (INAUDIBLE) on the Constitution point.  It says only Congress will have the power to declare war.  Why are you...

CHRISTIE:  No, I‘m quibbling because Mike said that the Congress should be the one who determines whether or not this war should be ended or not.  But let me get to my second point.  My second point is this, and it‘s very clear.  If the Congress—if they have any courage of their convictions and they don‘t like this war, let‘s vote to cut off all funds.  The Democrats won‘t vote to cut off all funds because they know the American people don‘t support this.  They know that it would be a slap to our men and women in uniform.

MATTHEWS:  But then you‘ll jump on them and say he‘s cutting off the armament and food for our troops.

CHRISTIE:  At least they would be honest about what they‘re trying to accomplish.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  Chris, you know as well as I do the president would veto that, but these guys are trying to have it both ways, and this bill today...

MATTHEWS:  Mike, I asked you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the tough question last time.  I‘m going to push a little HARDBALL fashion here.  How do people who think this war is a fricking disaster end it reasonably?  How do you extricate 150,000 troops over there out of a country that‘s come to rely on us like Big Brother and say, We‘re leaving?  How do you do it?

BARNICLE:  Well, logistically, it‘s going to take six months to a year to do that.  It‘s pretty much in the timetable set forth in the bill passed by the House today.  I mean, 140,000 troops, all of that equipment, civilian personnel, everything encompassed in the Green Zone, everything encompassed in Falluja and other points throughout Iraq—it‘s going to take six months to a year logistically to get them removed safely.

MATTHEWS:  Where would you put our troops...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you do it as a regional withdrawal or a country withdrawal?  Would you take those 150,000 troops and put them somewhere else in the region, or would you get them all home?  What would be your policy?

BARNICLE:  You know, Chris—you know...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a key question.  That is a key question.

BARNICLE:  That‘s a key question and an interesting question.  And the more people you talk to with intricate knowledge of Iraq and our situation in Iraq, more and more people tell you that we are going to have fixed bases in or around Iraq for a decade to come.  For a decade to come.

MATTHEWS:  Around Iraq.

CHRISTIE:  See, this is what gets me, Chris.  Oh, it‘s a key question.  Oh, it‘s an interesting question.  The Democrats would rather pull our troops out, cut and run, but they have no idea what our troops should be doing...

MATTHEWS:  How many...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll ask you a HARDBALL question.  What percentage of the Republican Party would be supporting this war in Iraq, 150,000 troops in an ethnic struggle way around the other side of the world, that may have an unclear result, right, and may be there for murky purposes, even...

CHRISTIE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  How many of your party would be supporting this if this was Bill Clinton‘s war?  What percentage?

CHRISTIE:  I can‘t answer that!  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Well, then, I think you‘re a follow-the-leader party.

CHRISTIE:  No, I am not—no, I am not a follow-the-leader person!  I think that this is...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking you, would you support this war if it were Bill Clinton‘s war?

CHRISTIE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Bill Clinton‘s war?

CHRISTIE:  If Bill Clinton were president of the United States and Iraq posed a serious threat, which Hillary Clinton and all these other Democrats...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Bill Clinton told you it did.  If Bill Clinton told you it did.

CHRISTIE:  Bill Clinton said it.  Hillary Clinton said it.  All these Democrats who said it...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, you would be fighting this war with just as much enthusiasm if it were a Clinton war.

CHRISTIE:  Chris, yes (INAUDIBLE) actually being honest.  Senator Clinton—you look at all the members on the Democratic side...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think she‘s a hawk.  I agree with you.

CHRISTIE:  ... all these people who said that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States and that they should—if he did not comply with those sanctions, he should be removed from power—this should not be who‘s sitting in the Oval Office, it should be if the commander-in-chief...

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If this war had turned out right, she‘d be the Martha Raye of this war!  She‘d be over there with the troops every hour.

Anyway, thank you, Mike Barnicle.  It was a mix-up tonight.  It was a great fight.  Thank you, sir.  I met your son again today.  He‘s doing great, Mike Barnicle.

BARNICLE:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Anyway, thanks.  Christie, you were pretty good tonight.

Up next, MSNBC‘s Craig Crawford and Washingtonpost.com‘s Chris Cillizza on how candidates‘ spouses—we‘re getting tricky tonight—will factor into the presidential campaign.  Just think Judy Nathan, think Bill Clinton.  Wow.

And this Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS,” Tim interviews two of the fired U.S. attorneys, David Iglesias and John McKay—by the way, we had Iglesias on yesterday—plus the senator trying to cut the deals on subpoenas, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC—and Dick Durbin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  This week, we saw the spotlight shone on spouses of the 2008 candidates for president.  On Thursday, of course, a sad story.  John Edwards announced that his wife‘s cancer had returned but that he would continue his campaign in full force, with her full help.  The New York papers today are reporting that Judith Giuliani has been married three times, not twice, as most of us thought.  Plus continued intrigue—I love that word, it would have been mine, as well—at what might be called about—might be called intrigue about having Bill Clinton back in the White House.

Let‘s bring -- (INAUDIBLE) I skipped over that—let‘s bring in “The Congressional Quarterly‘s” Craig Crawford and the Washingtonpost.com‘s Chris Cillizza.

Craig, let‘s go to the sublime before we get to the ridiculous.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The impact of this true story, biographical fact now that the Edwards family has been hit by cancer, and it‘s not going away.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I

think, you know, it allows Edwards a lot of attention.  I don‘t want to be crass here.  I‘m not saying...

MATTHEWS:  Well, don‘t.  Tell the truth.

CRAWFORD:  I‘m not—I‘m not saying that—you know, that—you know, they did that on purpose, of course.  But I think it‘s a great opportunity for him.  It gives him a window for a lot of Americans to pay attention to him again, to get at him through an issue that‘s very relevant and important to a lot of people...

MATTHEWS:  Twelve million people today are cancer survivors.

CRAWFORD:  ... what he does with that window now.

MATTHEWS:  How long will that window be open?

CRAWFORD:  I think a—I think maybe a month or two, at least.

MATTHEWS:  What about—what about Elizabeth Edwards, who has to carry on as a—and boy, I think she loves her family more than she does herself.  This woman is unbelievably devoted to the lives of her people close to her to the point of her own life.  I mean, I‘ve never seen a smile like that.  That‘s beatific for what she‘s going through.  And the news got worse as the day went on.  Apparently, it‘s really bad and the prognosis is not good.  And yet they‘re going to go for the White House.  Chris?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST.COM:  Well, I think Craig is right.  I mean, I think the image that it sends is there‘s two ways that you can go on this.  You can say, the way that the Edwardses have, Look, this race is fundamental more important than me or my own health.  This race is about the future of America.  I think my husband is the best person to lead people forward.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s saying that.

CILLIZZA:  That‘s exactly what she‘s saying.  I think the other narrative that exists out there is, this is a very well-to-do family.  This is a guy who‘s already...

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  ... a guy who‘s already run for president before...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CILLIZZA:  ... young, relatively young children.  Why do it again?  And so I think there are competing narratives out there.  I mean, it‘s clear that...

MATTHEWS:  But who‘s telling that other story?  Who‘s telling the anti story?

CILLIZZA:  I think that‘s much more of a whisper campaign.  It‘s certainly not Hillary Clinton.  It‘s certainly not Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS:  I haven‘t heard that...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  They need to be sure that it is seen for what I think it really is, is two people willing to make a huge sacrifice to continue a presidential campaign.  On the other hand, to some it may look like naked ambition.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about ambition because...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  ... and you run anyway.  I don‘t think that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Craig, the one thing missing in every political biography -

and we‘ve read them all.  You and I are junkies.  You‘re getting to be one.  They never tell you why they want the office.  Hillary Clinton is never going to tell you she‘s ambitious to be president.  Bill Clinton‘ll never say it.  I think Jack Kennedy was the closest to admit ambition.  He said, I want to be where the action is.

But mostly, they say, I‘m doing this for the people.  I care about this.  But this family I think has been driven by tragedy.  I think, looking at it from the outside—and I can‘t read their hearts, the loss of Wade in his teenage years, when a kid‘s with so much promise, is killed in a car accident in a split second, that something happened with the father there, something that‘s—something connected to existential existence, My being as a father.

CRAWFORD:  He‘s definitely driven by a purpose that I don‘t really see in a lot of the other candidates.  I‘ve thought for a long time we were overlooking John Edwards too much.  It‘s a shame this is what it took to get the attention back on him.  But so many people have been writing this off as Obama versus Clinton.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Al Gore was accused properly of exploiting his sister‘s death, right, his son‘s accident.  Remember?  He went to the conventions and gave these speeches at the conventions!

CRAWFORD:  I thought Al Gore decided not to—he decided not to run in 1992 because...

MATTHEWS:  But right in the middle of the political carnival, he‘s telling stories of horror about his family, whereas Elizabeth never talks about this.

CILLIZZA:  Look, I think that‘s why this has the potential for real resonance, is because this is a seemingly genuine emotion...

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  ... right—in a world in which we expect politicians to be somewhat phony, to be somewhat fake, that this appears to be...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  I mean, that‘s the other thing about the authenticity of this...

CILLIZZA:  It‘s humanizing.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... he was the Breck girl two days ago.  Now he‘s the good husband.

CILLIZZA:  That‘s right.  There‘s no more sympathetic image than a man taking care of his wife.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... but we‘re going to come back and do the ridiculous.  We‘re going to be doing spouse counting here when we come back with Chris Cillizza and Craig Crawford.  I don‘t know whether it‘s relevant.  It isn‘t to me.  But it is the big story in the tabs today.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Candidates have always tried to grow their grass roots support.  Now they‘re putting time, money and energy into building netroots support, and we now have brand-new ways of measuring who‘s got the most going on line.  HARDBALL‘s Jeremy Bronson has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEREMY BRONSON, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  There‘s a new word dominating campaign politics.  It‘s called the netroots, political activism organized on line.  With the 2008 presidential candidates off and running, which of them have netroots support, and how can you measure it?  Four years ago, the gauge was simple: Who raised the most cash on line?  The answer then was Howard Dean, who turned the Internet into a campaign jackpot.  But candidates now have new ways to grow and measure their support at the netroots.

One of them involves the popular networking site Myspace.com, in particular how many Myspace friends a candidate has on his or her home page.  A new Web site called Techpresident.com tracks it every day.

ANDREW RASIEJ, TECHPRESIDENT.COM:  If you have a lot of Myspace friends, it‘s a very good indicator of grass roots support.

BRONSON:  Right now, Barack Obama has more than 70,000, Hillary Clinton about 30,000, John Edwards roughly 14,000, Mitt Romney 2,500, John McCain 1,500 and Rudy Giuliani trails with 1,300.

But not everyone believes that Myspace friends make a big difference.

MICHAEL TURK, BUSH-CHENEY ‘04 E-CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR:  Tila Tequila (ph), the “Playboy” model, with 1.7 million friends outclasses the entire field of presidential candidates, but I don‘t think she‘s going to be our next chief executive.

BRONSON:  On the Democratic site, new independent Web sites are rallying netroots donors for different candidates and causes.  On Actblue.com, John Edwards has received the most cash, more than 11,000 contributions totalling over $1 million.  Governor Bill Richardson has gotten over $280,000.

Campaigns are also spending money to grow netroots support.  Just as they study the demographics of cities and neighborhoods, they‘re now studying the demographics of the Internet, buying advertisements on blogs with the most traffic and the most energetic readership.

For Democrats, that means advertising on sites like Mydd.com, the Daily Kos and the Huffingtonpost.  For Republicans, sites like Townhall.com and “The National Review‘s” The Corner.

MINDY FINN, INTERNET CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST:  Blog ads are attractive for campaigns because they‘re very cheap.  You‘re able to reach while a small percentage of the voting public, a very influential percentage of the voting public.

BRONSON:  Indeed blog ads, only cost a few thousand dollars.  Compare that to the going rate for a 30-second spot in Iowa, which can cost $100,000.

(on camera):  The big question is whether netroots support will mean actual votes come 2008.  if so, we could see our next president chatting with Myspace friends on a computer inside the Oval Office.

Jeremy Bronson, MSNBC, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Jeremy.

Let‘s go now to “Congressional Quarterly‘s” Craig Crawford and the Washingtonpost.com‘s Chris Cillizza.

Let‘s talk about this marriage thing.  Rudy Giuliani‘s wife, Judy Nathan, or Judy Giuliani, has been married twice before now, it turns out, according to the New York tabs today, not once before.  That means they‘ve had a combination of four previous marriages rather than three.  At the point of three to four, does that increment mean anything politically, Chris?

CILLIZZA:  No.  I think if you are unhappy with the fact that a candidate is divorced and you believe marriage is a holy union that cannot be broken, two doesn‘t matter, three doesn‘t matter, four doesn‘t matter.

CRAWFORD:  I thought New York media was better than this.  I can‘t believe they never got this story before now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Betty Ford was married twice, and it didn‘t hurt anybody.  Why does...

CRAWFORD:  I think it‘s not so much...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t hurt at all.

CRAWFORD:  Why didn‘t we know about this?  Why are they just now telling anyone about this?  I think that is the closest thing to an issue out of this for—for...

MATTHEWS:  So we need full disclosure on the number of previous marriages?  That‘s the...

CRAWFORD:  That might help.  I think Americans pretty much expect to know that.

MATTHEWS:  How much stock do you have, and how many wives have you had?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  How many husbands have you had?  I‘m serious.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... too big-city here.  I wonder—we‘re going to have to test this over the next couple of weeks, if this means anything.  I don‘t think Rudy Giuliani‘s being judged on the basis of his personal life.  I think he‘s judged on the basis of the fact that he may be the most impressive leader of the candidates running, and that‘s the way they‘re going to judge him.

CILLIZZA:  The one thing I will say is I would tend to agree with you only that Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon and obviously, you know, people have things with marriages—he‘s obviously not a polygamist...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CILLIZZA:  ... but there‘s always that skepticism.  His wife jokes that Mitt is the only one who‘s been married to the same woman his whole life.  Remember, John McCain has been divorced.  Rudy Giuliani‘s been divorced.  Newt Gingrich is divorced.

MATTHEWS:  Now we‘re starting...

CILLIZZA:  I‘m just saying she‘s putting that out there.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... joking, and it‘s not working.

CILLIZZA:  But she‘s joking with a serious content behind it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s reemphasizing his religious distinction as a Mormon.  I don‘t think (INAUDIBLE) the way they‘re playing it as a joke I don‘t think is—I think (INAUDIBLE) address that (INAUDIBLE)

CRAWFORD:  The fear, I think Republicans, some are going to have, the ones who think this through, is that, you know, What else is there?  I mean, this is...

MATTHEWS:  You mean there‘s more under the table.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s more there.  I like that.  In other words...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... two marriages apiece...

CRAWFORD:  ... always going to be that concern is, Are we going to hear something like this in the middle of the general elections if we nominate this guy?  I mean, that‘s the danger of this story, to me, is how weird it is that we‘re just now hearing about a marriage in her background.  And what other things are out there?  And what are his kids going to—you know, his kids barely speak to him because of the way he treated their mother.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CRAWFORD:  And those are going to be things that (INAUDIBLE) coming out in the general election, Republicans, if they look at him as a possible nominee, just have to think what kind of ticking time bombs are out there.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not—I—you know what?  I have a big question mark here because I don‘t know whether his appeal is so much that he‘s the tough guy, that these things are not—he‘s not being judged the way that other guys are (INAUDIBLE)

CILLIZZA:  The one thing I would say is I would have told you three months ago that Rudy Giuliani‘s liberal social views on abortion and gay rights would never allow him to be where he is in polling.  It appears as though that his tough guy image from September 11 -- I‘m the guy...

MATTHEWS:  And crime.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  ... has insulated him.

MATTHEWS:  OK, every time...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the murder rate goes up in the big cities, Rudy Giuliani looks better.  That‘s my theory.

Anyway—you don‘t like that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... murder rate.  Craig Crawford—Craig, you‘re thinking about it.  They‘re going to know about that murder rate.  Craig Crawford, thank you.  Thank you, Chris Cillizza.

Play HARDBALL with us again.  Monday, we‘ll have the latest on the fight over the fired U.S. prosecutors.

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

END   

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