updated 4/24/2007 1:08:07 PM ET 2007-04-24T17:08:07

Guests: Dick Durbin, Bill Richardson, Anne Kornblut, David Ignatius, Jim Clyburn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The man who stood on a tank, faced down the Red Army, brought a final end to the cold war, Boris Yeltsin, may he rest in peace.  And Scooter, Iraq, Gonzales, Wolfowitz—George Bush can‘t stop the rain.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Democrats in Congress could give the president an Iraq bill this week that calls for an exit date to bring home the troops.  Today President Bush once again vowed to veto it.  We‘ll dig into that fight with Democratic senator Dick Durbin and U.S.  congressman James Clyburn.

Plus, big news on the 2008 campaign trail.  This week, John McCain officially announces his campaign.  But is there anything he can do to lighten the burden of Iraq?  And Barack Obama lampoons Hillary Clinton.  We‘ll play the video.  Just three days until the Democrats go to South Carolina for the first presidential debate right here on MSNBC.  HARDBALL will be there to cover all the action, and we‘ll start tonight.

But we begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster on the ongoing fight between the president and his opponents in congress.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The criticism today by Senate majority leader Harry Reid marked the harshest attacks on the president‘s war policy in months.  At a midday speech, Reid hammered the president for rejecting bipartisanship and he ridiculed recent Bush claims that Iraq is making process.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NE), MAJORITY LEADER:  The White House transcript says the president made those remarks in the state of Michigan.  I believe he made them in the state of denial.

SHUSTER:  Reid noted American troop casualties are increasing and that Iraqi militias are not being disbanded.  And the Senate majority leader defended efforts to pass a war funding bill that includes a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal.

REID:  No more will Congress turn a blind eye to the Bush administration‘s incompetence and dishonesty.

SHUSTER:  This morning at the White House, President Bush met with the top U.S. commander in Iraq.  Then the president promised again to veto any funding bill that includes conditions.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I believe strongly that politicians in Washington shouldn‘t be telling generals how to do their job.  And I believe artificial timetables of withdrawal would be a mistake.

SHUSTER:  The president did not address the personal charge he‘s in denial about Iraq, nor did the White House respond to Senator Reid‘s accusations that president is obstinate and engaged in happy talk.  Instead, President Bush tried to stay on message.

BUSH:  I will strongly reject an artificial timetable withdrawal and/or Washington politicians trying to tell those who wear the uniform how to do their jobs.

SHUSTER:  Taken together, the president‘s comments and Reid‘s speech kicked off a week of confrontation between the Democratic Congress and the Bush administration over a war that has taken the lives of more than 3,200 U.S. troops and lasted longer than America‘s involvement in World War II.

Late last week Reid drew sharp criticism when he said the war in Iraq had been lost.  And Reid did not repeat that assertion today, a few prominent Republicans have been saying the same thing.  Last month, former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger said, quote, “Military victory is no longer possible.”  Retired general William Odum, national security agency director under Ronald Reagan, recently published an essay titled “Victory Is not an Option.”  And General Tony McPeak, who served on the Joints Chiefs of Staff for Bush 41 during the first Gulf war, said, quote, “Even if we had a million men to go in, it‘s too late now.”

Still, President Bush is insisting Congress pass a war spending bill with no restrictions.  And for several weeks, he‘s been trying to ratchet up the stakes.  Earlier this month, the president declared that a failure to send him a funding bill he likes will increase the burden on U.S. troops and their families.

BUSH:  The bottom line is this.  Congress‘s failure to fund our troops will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines.  Others could see their loved ones headed back to war sooner than anticipated.  This is unacceptable.

SHUSTER:  But the very next day, the president‘s secretary of defense announced he himself was lengthening the year-long tours of duty in Iraq by an extra three months.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  All the units that are there and all the units that will deploy are now extended—will be extended to 15 months.

SHUSTER:  In other words, the war itself is already prompting military families to wait longer than expected for their loved ones to return.

(on camera):  Today, in addition to attacking the president‘s credibility, Democrats also reached a tentative agreement on how to reconcile their competing House and Senate Iraq legislation.  Senate Majority Leader Reid says the message will be sent to the White House within days, where the president is promising a veto.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is the majority whip in the U.S.  Senate.  He visited Iraq late last year.  Senator Durbin, are we going to get anywhere with this back and forth between the Democrats in Congress and the president on the war date?  Is anything going to happen here?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  I hope we can make some progress, Chris.  But I have to tell you something.  I don‘t think that the Bush administration is really envisioning any change.  They just want to send more troops, more American soldiers, into the midst of this civil war.  We‘ve lost 3,324 American soldiers, as your lead-in said.  This war has gone on longer than World War II.  This president does not have a plan, and that‘s what we‘re trying to force, a new plan, a new direction in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  What would you like it to be?

DURBIN:  Well, I think the president should take an honest look at it. 

We‘ll use the benchmarks he‘s given us, see how Iraq is doing.  If they‘re doing well, then we can start bringing our troops out slowly and turn this war over to them.  If they‘re refusing to respond to their own deadlines, their own benchmarks, then I think the writing is on the wall.  At some point, the Iraqis have to stand up and defend their own country, and American soldiers need to start coming home.

MATTHEWS:  You just set up an option plan where both options call for removal of American troops.

DURBIN:  That‘s right.  That‘s right.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Well, then, why do conditions matter, if under any condition, you want to bring troops home?  If things are going swimmingly over there, we bring the troops home.  If they‘re going disastrously, bring the troops home.  So why even look at conditions?  Just bring them home.

DURBIN:  If things are going well enough, we would continue, of course, our troops for obvious purposes, to hunt out al Qaeda terrorists, to train the Iraqis and to make sure that the force removal is safe.  But honestly, if there are people within the Bush administration who now want to accept the permanent presence of 100,000 or more military troops in Iraq, I think they‘re just—in a policy or at least pushing a plan...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what...

DURBIN:  ... that‘s indefensible.

MATTHEWS:  ... Hillary Clinton is, isn‘t she?  She says she wants to keep a residual force.

DURBIN:  Well, everybody‘s talking about some residual force.

MATTHEWS:  But Hillary‘s talking about—your party‘s probable candidate is talking about keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely.  She doesn‘t use the term “permanent basis,” but she damn well says keep troops over there after this surge.

DURBIN:  But the Democrats have been consistent about bringing the combat troops home, leaving behind those troops necessary to hunt out al Qaeda terrorist, train the Iraqis and to protect our troops as they‘re leaving, but not a permanent military force.  I haven‘t heard her say that, nor many Democrats, if any.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you ought to check her statement out because she talks about a residual force to protect U.S. vital interests in the region, including Israel.  It‘s a very clear statement about enduring interest and an enduring force to meet those interests.  I mean, maybe this is politics on her part, but she‘s not talking about getting out of there.  She‘s talking about staying there.

DURBIN:  Well, Chris, I haven‘t heard Senator Clinton‘s plan.  I know Senator Obama‘s plan, and it‘s a plan that would start bringing these troops home.

MATTHEWS:  Are you pro-Obama over Hillary?

DURBIN:  Yes, I am.

MATTHEWS:  Even though Hillary‘s promised to make her husband a roaming ambassador?

DURBIN:  Listen, the Clintons...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you like that word, “roaming” ambassador?  It used to be “roving ambassador.”  Now she‘s going to make him a roaming ambassador.  I have no idea what that means.

DURBIN:  I‘m not sure, either.  But the Clintons are a great family.  They‘ve given a lot to this country, and Senator Clinton is a terrific colleague.  I‘m supporting my colleague in Illinois for the presidency.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a couple of little problems over in our war over there.  Do you think the Kurds are going to get so excited about having their own country in Kyrgyzstan and Iraq that they‘re going to bring about a war with Turkey?

DURBIN:  I hope not.  Turkey has been our ally in many of the important struggles that we‘ve had in the late 20th century.  And now, as we embark on the 21st century, I want to keep peace between the United States and Turkey, and I hope we can work it out for the Kurdish people.  These are people who have oppressed and displaced for such a long period of time.  They‘re looking for some stability in their own lives and their own future.

MATTHEWS:  But this is what all the old hands predicted would happen.  The Sunni and Shia would go to war, the Kurds would seek independence, the whole place would come apart.  And whatever post-colonial power or do-gooding democratizing power that went in there would be stuck trying to hold it all together.  And that‘s where we are now.

DURBIN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  The guys who knew the region predicted all of this, and still people like Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and people like that voted to authorize this war.  I don‘t know how you can share a caucus with these people who still support the war when you‘re so opposed to it.

DURBIN:  Chris, there are 23 of us who voted against this war.  I was one of them.  I did it based on what I knew at the time.  But I‘m not going to second guess my colleagues.  You know, that‘s a hard call in terms of the war and going forward, and they made their best judgment under the circumstances.

MATTHEWS:  Are they ready to join you, or are they still playing at—pussyfooting and still trying to support a residual force over there, not quite being with Harry Reid when he says the war is lost, always trying to distinguish themselves from the Democratic majority on this issue?  Have you noticed even today they‘re doing that?

DURBIN:  Well, I can just tell you this, Chris.  The Democrats in the United States Senate are agreed that this management of the war in Iraq by this administration has been handled very poorly and that the American troops need to start coming home.  There are differences of how we might achieve this, but keep in mind the Bush White House is in denial about the serious disintegration of this situation over there.  It‘s grave and deteriorating, in the words of the Iraq Study Group, and that‘s a reality.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of this idea that our armies over there are building a wall like they have in Northern Ireland—you‘ve seen those terrible walls up there—or the wall they have in Israel to keep the terrorists out, between the Israelis and the Green Line?  Now they‘re building a wall over in Iraq.  Are we—we‘re the wall-building country.  The Iraqi government over there told us to tear down the wall, like they‘re telling Gorby—we‘re telling Gorbachev to tear down the wall.  How did we get in the wall-building business if the people over there who supposedly run that government don‘t want a wall?

DURBIN:  And how did we get in the business of occupying a country where they basically want us to leave?  You know, this has gone on too long.  And in defense of what‘s been said and where I stand, our military has done a fine job.  Our military has won the war, deposing Saddam Hussein, giving these people a chance for their own constitution and their own government.  What‘s been botched is the occupation policy of this administration.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And it‘s set by the administration, not by the generals.  How can the president continue to bamboozle the public by saying it‘s the Democrats against the generals?  The generals are under orders.  You guys keep letting him say it‘s you against the generals.  It‘s you against the president, who‘s telling the generals what to do.  Do you think the generals came out with this wall idea?

DURBIN:  The president is the commander-in-chief.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.

DURBIN:  Ultimate responsibility here.  And I think our soldiers have done a great job.  I‘ve been over there.  I‘ve met with them.  I have no complaints whatsoever in the fine job and bravery that they‘ve shown.  But the policies of this administration—this has been the worst foreign policy mistake in our nation‘s history, and it‘s on this president‘s watch.

MATTHEWS:  Is there any chance—I respect your independence, Senator.  Is there any chance that this president will create a transition, a bipartisan transition, and move out Cheney, move out Condi Rice, bring in new people like he brought in Bob Gates and really create a bipartisan transition government, or is he going to stick with what he‘s got right through the end of his term?

DURBIN:  Well, if history is any guide, he has such a shrinking circle of true believers, Alberto Gonzales and Cheney and Secretary Rice.  I think he wants to keep them by his side to the end.  And unfortunately, that means there‘s little hope for the bipartisanship you‘ve asked for.

MATTHEWS:  I think the public wants bipartisanship right now.  They don‘t want to lurch to the left.  They don‘t necessarily want the Democrats.  I think they wanted to see some bipartisan thinking and action and maybe some head-rolling, like we saw with Rumsfeld.

Anyway, thank you very much, sir, Senator Dick Durbin, majority whip of the U.S. Senate.

Up next, Democratic presidential contender Bill Richardson‘s coming here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  A new Zogby poll shows that two thirds of Americans do not believe that stricter gun laws would have prevented the Virginia Tech killings.  New Mexico governor Richardson is one of the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates.  He was previously—he previously signed into law a bill allowing residents to carry concealed handguns.

Do you believe, along with Governor Huckabee of Arkansas, Governor, that a right to carry in Virginia would have saved some lives at Virginia Tech?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Not necessarily, Chris.  I believe in responsible gun ownership.  You know, gun ownership for the West is critically important.  But I do support stronger measures, background checks to detect criminal activity.  And obviously, in this case, we‘ve learned that mental illness has been very wishy-washy in terms of being able to purchase a gun.  We have to tighten those laws.  I think we have to enhance penalties for criminal activity involving a gun.  But I do believe, Chris, that we can‘t overreact.

I would move in the direction of stronger intervention programs for kids.  We don‘t treat mental health the way it should be.  It‘s sort of a secondary illness.  One out of five Americans have some kind of mental illness problem like schizophrenia.  Let‘s find earlier treatment, earlier detection, a comprehensive mental illness strategy in this country.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back to what you‘ve suggested you might believe there.  A lot of gun advocates, 2nd Amendment people, believe that as long as only the bad guys have guns, they‘re going to run the show and you‘re going to have a lot more crime than you need to have.  Do you believe that the occasional ex-cop or the occasional professor carrying a gun—you don‘t think students should carry guns, I assume—on the campus of Virginia Tech would have shot that kid down before he killed 32 people?  He fired 175 rounds, apparently, before he was finished there.

RICHARDSON:  Well, I think, Chris, in selected areas, ex-law enforcement possibly, I‘m not sure a professor in a building.  But I think there needs to be a full debate here.  I think the last thing we should do is demonize anybody that owns a gun.  You know, a sizable majority of gun owners in this country are law-abiding, in hunting and in the West.  What I think we need is a dialogue, rural and urban, NRA and gun control advocates on how we can assure, at least in schools with kids, that we can have this absence of these horrendous crimes.  I think this is cause for a summit.

But at the same time, Chris, I think we—on mental illness, there‘s a lot of cases where gun laws are very weak.  And why not enhance criminal penalties for those that commit crimes by a gun and enhance background checks, not just for criminal activity, but for mental illness of some kind.  We don‘t have that.  We need stronger...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think any of these laws would stop a guy like Cho from going to a big city and buying himself a Glock?

RICHARDSON:  No.  I think it would reduce the possibility.  What I would have liked to have seen is—apparently, this young man was very troubled, and there was early detection.  There should have been—in New Mexico, we passed a law called—well, we tried to pass a law called Kendra‘s law, that basically says anybody that has some kind of a mental illness has to get treatment.  Has to get treatment.

I think we should consider that on a national basis, Chris, because this kid did not get the treatment he needed.  This kid was angry.  This kid had enormous problems.  And again, with mental health, I mean, you barely can get insurance for mental health, Medicare, Medicaid.  I think we‘ve got to take this illness more seriously as a society.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I know you‘re a student of politics, as well as a politician and a candidate for president, Governor, but you know, if you look at a map of the United States, you get right—I did a study of this.  I just studied all the states in the middle of the country, starting in Louisiana, working the way all the way up to Ohio to the north.  Every one of those states in sort of the center of the country is very pro-gun.  Very pro-gun.  In fact, on the Brady bill and the assault weapons issues, they vote pro-2nd Amendment.  Isn‘t that the reason that people like yourself and Hillary Clinton won‘t touch the gun issue?  Not that you don‘t think it‘s good policy to limit the number of guns, but you know you‘re finished in terms of the electoral map if you do it.  Isn‘t that the reason?

RICHARDSON:  No, that‘s not the reason.  It isn‘t politics.  I mean, I think a lot of these issues need to be dealt with with sensible legislation, but not overreaction.  Again, most gun owners in this country, a sizable majority, they‘re very law-abiding citizens.  Hunting in the West is a reality.  I think this should not be a litmus test in the Democratic Party.  I have said that...

MATTHEWS:  Why do hunters need—why do hunters need Glocks?  Why do they need semiautomatic pistols? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, they don‘t.  They...

MATTHEWS:  How many people go hunting with semiautomatic pistols?

RICHARDSON:  No, they don‘t.  They don‘t.

But what we do need, Chris, is—look, this is a mental illness issue.  We need to expand that definition, so that those with mental illness cannot get guns.  We need to enhance criminal activity.  Yes, obviously, you don‘t need assault weapons to go hunting. 

But let‘s make sense out of also looking at the areas that are preventable, like mental illness, like earlier intervention. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But, Governor, we have that law.  The law is on the books that says you can‘t buy a gun in the country if you—if you‘re listed as someone who has the psychiatric problem; you have been brought up to a court. 

This guy—I have seen the documents—he was brought to an official, to a court.  He was declared to be an imminent danger to himself and to others.  It‘s all in the paperwork, with his Social Security number all listed there.  And, yet, he was able to order and pick up a gun in the state of Virginia. 

There‘s no clearinghouse, apparently, for this information.  It isn‘t getting done. 

RICHARDSON:  Well, there has to be a national database. 

But, Chris, there are a lot of individual laws in states that basically exclude that enforcement of that mentally ill patient.  I think we have to expand that definition. 

But I think, more than anything, we—we need a dialogue, you know, rural and urban.  We need a dialogue between the gun control people and the NRA.  We need a dialogue between parents and everybody on what it is we can do, at least in schools...

MATTHEWS:  OK, bottom line.

RICHARDSON:  ... to reduce...

MATTHEWS:  All things considered, is the NRA good for America, yes or no? 

RICHARDSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  The National Rifle Association, is it good for America? 

(CROSSTALK)

RICHARDSON:  I think it‘s fine.  I think it‘s fine, responsible gun ownership, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Thank you very much, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico running for the Democratic nomination for president.  He will be in the debate this week in South Carolina. 

Up next:  How long will the standoff go on between the Democrats and President Bush over the funding of this war in Iraq? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  President Bush and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid engaged in a war of words today over the war spending bill that sets a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.  But how long will the political showdown last?  And how much longer can our troops stay in Iraq.

David Ignatius is a columnist for “The Washington Post.”  He also has a new book, which is fabulous—I have got a blurb on the back—called “Body of Lies.”  He is the new John Le Carre.

Right?

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Absolutely.  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  He is.  This guy writes the best stuff about spooks and all these guys, all this secret stuff that goes around the world, the guys in trench coats and... 

IGNATIUS:  Been writing about it for 30 years...

MATTHEWS:  And you know about what it means to fight...

IGNATIUS:  ... longer than you have been talking about politics. 

MATTHEWS:  ... what it means to fight terrorism.  You get it.

IGNATIUS:  Well, you know, I have watched these guys operate.  They‘re in a life-and-death struggle.  They‘re—they‘re fighting for all of us.  They have got to be really smart.

I think the one thing I have learned writing this book is, we have got to depend on our allies, you know, the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians. 

MATTHEWS:  Bush I...

IGNATIUS:  They‘re—they‘re going to get inside the tent.

MATTHEWS:  Bush I was so good at that.  Bush had good connections with the agency, the CIA, because he was head of it...

IGNATIUS:  He was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... great connections with the Saudis, the Jordanians, when Mubarak—he and—were—friends with Mubarak.  He got the Arab League behind us in that first Gulf War.

IGNATIUS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He had the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese, the Brits.  Why did the second Gulf War not have that alliance?  Why did we end up going in there basically alone, with Tony Blair? 

IGNATIUS:  Well, everybody was ready to have us go out and do it on our own.  They didn‘t want to be publicly identified with it. 

You know, I think the invasion of Kuwait, said all the Arabs, this is a problem we have to stop now.  You didn‘t have a trigger like that in the second Gulf War. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

What do you think is the reaction in the Arab world to the following? 

Because I think they‘re always suspicious—and you tell me if I‘m wrong -

that we‘re back to recolonize east of Suez, that the Brits pulled out; they—we want to go in there and take over those parts of the world with all the oil. 

Hillary Clinton—and this I‘m reading from “The New York Times,” her paper, March 15 of this year, just a month ago—she foresees a remaining military, as well as political mission in Iraq, remaining—because we have remaining vital national interests in the country.  And she says that, if we don‘t stay there, it will be a vital—it will be a failed state.  It‘s in the heart of the oil region.  She said it‘s directly in opposition to our interests to pull out.  It‘s in the interests of regimes, to Israel‘s interest for us to stay there, to keep a force of—a military force in Iraq. 

Why is she so sensitive every time I say she wants to keep a permanent base there?  What‘s the difference between keeping forces there permanently...

IGNATIUS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and having a permanent base?  Is there a distinction without a difference here? 

IGNATIUS:  You know, well, you know, bases sound permanent, sound colonial.

But I think you‘re—you‘re dismissing too easily the realities that she‘s describing there.  We do have interests.  This part of the world is really...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m just...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I just want to know her policy. 

IGNATIUS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  She‘s the front-runner for president.  Does she want to keep a permanent force in Iraq or not?  And, if so, let‘s get it clear. 

IGNATIUS:  Well, I—you know, it‘s a good question.  It‘s a good question.

MATTHEWS:  Her own—her own colleague, Durbin, Senator Durbin, didn‘t seem to know about this statement she has put out.  She hasn‘t corrected it.  She wants—I know that they negotiated back and forth between her people and “The New York Times...” 

(CROSSTALK)

IGNATIUS:  Don‘t do a gotcha if you discover that she wants to keep troops there for—you know, because, you know, we have—we have...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... because the Democratic majority, most Democrats don‘t like the idea of being there, and they like even less the idea of staying there. 

IGNATIUS:  Let me—let me tell you something that an Arab ambassador...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you think?

IGNATIUS:  ... an Arab ambassador...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

IGNATIUS:  ... told me last week.  He said, there are two kinds of land mines.  There‘s one kind that detonates when you step on it, and there‘s another kind that detonates when you take your foot off of it. 

And what is Hillary is thinking about is, maybe this is the land mine that detonates when we take our foot off. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, that‘s her policy, not to take her foot off?

IGNATIUS:  And you do have to think about that.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s her policy?

IGNATIUS:  Well, it‘s to keep enough troops that, if that land mine goes off, it doesn‘t blow us all up. 

MATTHEWS:  So, why is she and her people so sensitive to being reminded that she supports the policy that you...

IGNATIUS:  They‘re...

MATTHEWS:  ... that you admire here? 

IGNATIUS:  Well, I think it‘s—I think it‘s responsible to say that we may need to keep troops in that part of the world for a while. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Iraq.

IGNATIUS:  Well, in—in—if the Iraqis—I mean, at the end of the day, this is about what the Iraqis want.  We‘re not going to force our troops on anyone. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Why did we end up building a wall over there that Maliki, the prime minister, who is supposedly the sovereign government over there, says we should never have been building? 

IGNATIUS:  You know, I think this was—it is not—this is not President Bush‘s wall.  I suspect this is something that the commanders decided to do that General Petraeus backed. 

They have—they have thought that you needed barriers to prevent people from getting in and out.  They‘re trying to seal off these neighborhoods to reduce the level of violence and the killing.  And they decided, obviously, that this wall was a good idea. 

And it offends the Iraqis.  I mean, this is a classic example of us being a little...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s their country. 

IGNATIUS:  ... a little bit tone-deaf.

It‘s—it‘s their—I mean, if they want to build a wall, they will build a wall.  We shouldn‘t be building walls for them, obviously. 

MATTHEWS:  How did we get to turn—you know, we don‘t like to think of ourselves as a colonial occupying force.  But here we have a leading Democratic senator keep—talking about having a remaining military force in that country in perpetuity.  And we‘re building walls over there. 

What, are we going to build bowling alleys next? 

IGNATIUS:  We‘re...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, when are we going to stop saying it‘s not our country? 

IGNATIUS:  You know, we...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We built bowling alleys in Vietnam, by the way. 

IGNATIUS:  We...

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t work. 

IGNATIUS:  We—obviously, we have just to stop saying—I think the country is saying, this is—we have got to reduce our—the number of troops. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

IGNATIUS:  But, Chris, there‘s a difference between responsibly, but quickly reducing the number of troops, and also protecting our interests. 

And if—for as far ahead as I can see, this part of the world is going to be real dangerous. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

IGNATIUS:  And, if people there want us to stay and help them, I think you have to listen to that. 

MATTHEWS:  What are the chances, as you watch this administration, of someone at the top, the president of the United States, who a lot of people still like, putting together a bipartisan team, getting rid of Cheney, getting rid of Condi, bringing in a first-rate secretary of state, giving Condi the vice president job, and telling her to do nothing, basically, put together a team like Bob Gates? 

Bob Gates has been a breath of fresh air. 

IGNATIUS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He says debate is good for the troops.  It gives us a better leveraging over there, in terms of the—dealing with the Maliki government. 

He got rid of the people at Walter Reed.  When he brings in the clean broom, things happen.  This president can still save the next two years of his administration if he makes some big changes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to do it? 

IGNATIUS:  The chance of him firing his vice president is zero. 

But I do think that there—there is a chance that he could move back to the Baker-Hamilton report.  I mean, the Baker-Hamilton report is a...

MATTHEWS:  Is...

IGNATIUS:  ... platform for bipartisan policy on Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re hopeful he can make an adjustment?

IGNATIUS:  I think that Secretary of State Rice, who you have been criticizing here...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I just don‘t think she‘s done anything. 

IGNATIUS:  She—in a week, Chris, she‘s going to be at a meeting, meeting with Syrians...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

IGNATIUS:  ... Iranians, Iraqis, Saudis, to try to get some diplomatic basis for stabilizing this.  And, you know, that‘s what you want.  That‘s what most people want.  And that...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  

IGNATIUS:  And that is what, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I would like to see some peacemaking...

IGNATIUS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... efforts over there. 

IGNATIUS:  Well, they‘re...

MATTHEWS:  I just think it‘s a little late.

IGNATIUS:  Then, hope that she—hope that she goes after this aggressively. 

MATTHEWS:  Does she have her heart in it? 

IGNATIUS:  ... because this is the—well, I think so.  I think she does.

I mean, whether she will succeed is—is another question.  But, if you say, you know, “What is the thing she should be doing?” this is the thing.  She‘s going...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is Wolfowitz going to hold on at the World Bank? 

IGNATIUS:  I would be surprised.  I think the issue is money.  I think it‘s going to be very hard to raise... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is Scooter going to get pardoned?

IGNATIUS:  Yes.  Of that, I feel confident.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I like affirmative...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, the neocons will survive?  It won‘t be the—never mind—Battle of the Little Bighorn for these people. 

Anyway, thank you, David Ignatius...

IGNATIUS:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  ... a very wise man, and a great novelist—“Body of Lies.”

Up next:  The Democratic presidential candidates get together this Thursday.  It‘s coming up in three days, the first-in-the-nation debate.  And MSNBC is hosting it.  Brian Williams is going to moderate that debate live from South Carolina State University.  What a big opportunity for that university and for MSNBC and for the Democrats.  Look at them all.  They are all going to all be together, testing their wits against each other.  What a great moment that is going to be.

Congressman Jim Clyburn is going to be basically the host. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hello.  I‘m Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC.com “Market Wrap.”

The Dow ended today‘s session at 12919, losing more than 42 points, the S&P 500 down more than three, and the Nasdaq down almost three. 

The ailing housing industry is hurting car sales.  That‘s according to General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz.  He says the housing market decline and mortgage industry meltdown are making new cars less affordable for consumers. 

And gas prices keep moving on up.  The latest Lundberg survey shows self-serve regular now averaging $2.87 a gallon.  So far this year, gas prices are up 69 cents, but they‘re still averaging 15 cents lower than last summer‘s record price. 

And C.D. sales continue to drop, as music downloads soar.  C.D. sales are down 17 percent from last year, while downloads are up 53 percent.  The recording industry is benefiting from brisk sales of mobile phone ring tones, which is countering lagging C.D. sales. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL.  

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Lots of big news out on the campaign trail and here in Washington: 

John McCain tries to reignite his campaign this week with his official announcement tour this week.  Barack Obama has some fun with Hillary.  And Democratic Hollywood fights with Republicans at the White House at this past weekend‘s White House correspondents dinner. 

Let‘s go to “Newsweek” Howard Fineman and “The Washington Post”‘s Anne Kornblut.

OK.  At Saturday night‘s White House correspondent dinner, environmental activists—I love these names—Laurie David—that‘s—what‘s his—Larry David‘s wife.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Larry David‘s wife.

MATTHEWS:  And he‘s the guy that produced “Seinfeld” all those years and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”—and Sheryl Crow walked over to Karl Rove, the president‘s top political kick, to make their case. 

Here‘s what they say happened. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURIE DAVID, PRODUCER/ENVIRONMENTALIST:  And, I mean, this was exciting for us.

So, we walked over to engage him.  I mean, the first thing I said is, I would—I—I urge you to maybe take another look at what‘s happening with global warming.  And he immediately got kind of, you know...

SHERYL CROWE, ACTIVIST/SINGER:  Defensive.

DAVID:  ... gruff and hostile with us. 

And it kind of went downhill from there.  So, it was really just an attempt to engage him, to talk directly to the administration, and say, look, we have to do something about this. 

And he—he wasn‘t interested, really, in talking to us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s how “The Washington Post” characterized it—quote—“Things got so hot that Crow”—that‘s Sheryl Crow—“stepped in to defuse the situation, and then got into it herself with Rove.

“‘You work for me,‘ she told the presidential adviser, according to bystanders.

“‘No,‘ Karl Rove responded, ‘I work for the American people.‘”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I guess excluding Sheryl Crow. 

Let me ask you, Anne, what do you make of this?  Is this one of those P.T. Barnum things, where, if you want a crowd, you start a fight? 

(LAUGHTER)

ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I have to say, I was—I was there on Saturday night.  And it took all of about 30 seconds for the entire room of several thousand people to have heard the anecdote. 

It‘s hard to imagine what Sheryl Crow and Laurie David really expected would happen when they went up to talk to—to Karl Rove.  But I think all of them participating in this little incident knew they would get an audience, shall we say. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is this predatory table-hopping? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, is it?  I mean, if I were having dinner...

KORNBLUT:  Isn‘t that the point of the White House correspondents dinner? 

MATTHEWS:  ... and somebody came up to me with a ‘tude and had a point of view, I would say, well, that‘s good.  Now I want to eat. 

(LAUGHTER)

KORNBLUT:  I can‘t believe that‘s never happened to you, Chris.  Come on. 

MATTHEWS:  No.  You know, Anne, any time you want it, come here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Howard—Howard, what is this?  Is this just a Hollywood publicity effort? 

FINEMAN:  Well, this is a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It works.  We‘re talking about it. 

FINEMAN:  ... a volatile mix of Hollywood publicity and Washington table-hopping.  As you say, some people come with a ‘tude.

But everybody is table-hopping.  That‘s what the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FINEMAN:  That is what that whole event is about. 

MATTHEWS:  Has Hollywood moved on from the Iraqi war?  I mean, we‘re at war.  We‘re losing people every week.  We have 1,000 Iraqis killed this month, about 100 Americans every month.  It‘s the crisis of our country right now. 

And they have moved on to the more—Well, what‘s the word? -- more hot issue of global warming, as if that‘s what they fight about now. 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think they‘re...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The war—do they now ignore the war in Hollywood? 

FINEMAN:  No, I don‘t think they ignore the war in Hollywood. 

But the war is a—is a—is a tough, divisive, and nasty, and all-too-political issue.  Global warming still has the aura of can‘t we all get along and can‘t we all see the light.  It hasn‘t become so intensely partisan by party yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Everybody‘s green. 

FINEMAN:  Everybody‘s green.  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  When Robert Redford is green, they‘re all green.  And Bobby Kennedy Jr; I‘m very impressed by it all.  Let me go to McCain.  Anne, you‘ve followed McCain through a couple of cycles now.  We were enamored of him.  The press was his base back the last time with his Straight-Talk Express, because he was the maverick.  Now that he‘s moved into the regular lane of traffic, can he adjust himself as a Republican regular and say it‘s my turn? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, certainly that‘s his hope right now.  I mean, he‘s relaunching his campaign all week, three or four times, it seems, this week.  And I think the hope, obviously, is for him to try and capitalize on what has been some weakening in Rudy Giuliani‘s numbers, for him to try and shore up support from Republicans, and to try and get away from the issue of the war in Iraq, although he‘s not running away from his position on it.  He‘s trying to demonstrate that there‘s more to him than just supporting the surge and being in favor of the war. 

MATTHEWS:  Well he‘s a powerful candidate.  I would say he‘s one person you can bet on who would have a slight edge on Hillary if he ran against her, I think it‘s fair to say, based upon the numbers.  If he can win the nomination, he‘s a force to be reckoned with in American history right now.  If he can win that nomination.

FINEMAN:  The harder part, I think, is winning the nomination, which he realizes, which his people have realized all along.  The one hopeful sign he‘s got is, despite the mistakes, despite the shortcoming in fund-raising and so forth, he seems to have a solid maybe 20, 25 percent of the party there, which is a little more than I thought he was going to have.  And that isn‘t all made up of the hard core right, by any means. 

So he‘s got people who like him.  They haven‘t all abandoned him, by any means.  We make fun of the relaunch, but if he stays steady, he‘s got the one thing that people are looking for, which is experience in world affairs and military affairs. 

MATTHEWS:  We want a grown-up as our president, Anne.  Is that a strength for him that he is a mature fellow with a lot of history behind him, a lot of experience, a lot of service to the country.  He‘s not some new kid on the block? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, that‘s one of the arguments of his campaign.  There are other campaigns, like Chris Dodd‘s, that are making that same kind of argument.  I would say, in addition to what Howard said, about the strong Republican support, he doesn‘t have as much support among independents as he used to.  That was one of his great selling point in 2000, obviously, certainly in New Hampshire. 

He‘s seen erosion there, which makes him slightly weaker against whichever Democrat, Hillary, Barack Obama, than he would have been before.  So, as always, this is a wide open race. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that the Christian right will support him? 

KORNBLUT:  Are you talking to me?  I think it‘s too early to say. 

There‘s a lot of discomfort within all of the Christian right with all of the candidates; certainly McCain, who thumbed his nose at them in 2000, but no less so for Mitt Romney and certainly for Rudy Giuliani, the twice divorced, thrice married Rudy Giuliani. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy, you got that one in, didn‘t you?  You know, Anne, I liked the way you said, “are you talking to me.”  I was thinking of Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver.”  We‘ll be right back with Howard Fineman and Anne Kornblut. 

And later, we‘ll preview Thursday‘s first big debate with the Democratic presidential candidates with Brian Williams keeping them honest.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and the “Washington Post‘s” Anne Kornblut.  Let‘s listen to Barack Obama poking a little fun at Hillary Clinton this past weekend. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  Now, after three years I went back to law school, got my law degree.  And there‘s something humming down here.  Oh, that‘s somebody‘s Blackberry.  That‘s Sharpton‘s Blackberry.  Is that Hillary calling?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Anne, we don‘t know whether it was Hillary or not, but who was that shot at?  Sharpton for working for Hillary or Hillary calling the shots or what? 

KORNBLUT:  Don‘t you think a little of both?  The crowd seemed to like it though. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was—What did you think it was?  How would you interpret the laughter there about that shot? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, I mean, obviously he‘s acknowledging what everybody knows, which is, you know, both of them seeking support from black voters and from Al Sharpton.  So I think he‘s just kind of taking a little of the air out of the event and pointing out what everybody already knew to be true. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he was suggesting an ex parte arrangement between Hillary and Sharpton against Obama, something that‘s not official. 

FINEMAN:  Maybe.  But I think that was a way to pay further homage to Al Sharpton. 

MATTHEWS:  Really? 

FINEMAN:  Sure—no, no, no, he‘s saying, you‘re the man, you know, to Al Sharpton. 

MATTHEWS:  Because Hillary‘s got to keep calling.  You are so positive. 

FINEMAN:  Well, no, Obama -

MATTHEWS:  You are so positive.  Get a little more conspiratorial here. 

FINEMAN:  That‘s conspiratorial enough.  Obama is at the Sharpton event. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  And he‘s saying, oh, Al, you‘re so important that Hillary is waiting on the line.  That‘s all it is. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this thing about the Democrats right now.  Let me start with the Republicans.  I know, Anne, that you‘ve covered these candidates more than most people.  Howard has, too.  But let‘s talk about the human side of this.  Rudy Giuliani keeps doing OK, but not so well since there‘s been talk of Fred Thompson coming in the race.  He‘s coming down a bit because of the thoughts of Thompson coming in.  Does that give John McCain a chance to pop up to number one again? 

KORNBLUT:  That‘s certainly what the McCain team is hoping.  Look, he never does better than when he‘s running behind or when he‘s an outsider.  So he‘s got some real competition from these guys, in addition to that Republican sport we were talking about before.  That actually puts him more in his comfort zone.  He‘s never been comfortable being a real front runner.  So I would say yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, has he got a shot to win back number one and win this whole thing?  As I said, I think if he runs against Hillary, it will be extremely close, and she could win, but he‘ll have a little edge. 

FINEMAN:  Well, yes, their whole strategy is to run as far to the right as possible to get the nomination, then worry about getting the independents back later.  One thing about McCain, the guy is durable.  The guy can take a punch.  The guy has been through everything in life.  Nothing scares him at this point.  He‘s not about to go wring his hands. 

He‘s just going to put one foot in front of the other. 

And most important, he‘s talking about things other than the war.  Today he was talking about global warming and geopolitics.  He was talking about Middle East oil.  Any time he gets off the ball and chain of the war, which ruins him, as Anne said, with independents, then people say, you know what, he‘s still a pretty interesting guy. 

MATTHEWS:  I think so too. 

FINEMAN:  He‘s ruined his reputation for independent thinking on the war, but not on everything else. 

MATTHEWS:  The other good thing is we know all the bad stuff about him already, whatever there is.

FINEMAN:  He‘s pre-disastered as John Irving said in “The War According to—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Howard Fineman.  Anne Kornblut, it‘s great having you on.  When we return, U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a top Democrat in the House.  We‘re going to preview the debate that he‘s sort of hosting down there in South Carolina.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well it‘s begun.  In just three days, MSNBC will air the first presidential debate for the year 2008 presidential elections.  Eight Democrats will be in Orangeburg, South Carolina on the campus of South Carolina State University for a debate moderated by NBC‘s Brian Williams.

U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn is the House Majority whip, and a proud graduate of South Carolina State University.  Congressman, it‘s great to be here, but it‘s more important to have you here.  I want you to raise the curtain on the first of the year, first of the campaign debate among the Democrats.  How important is this night in South Carolina, this Thursday?

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D), MAJORITY WHIP:  This is going to be a great, great night for South Carolina and for South Carolina State University.  As you know, Chris, I bring this up—some people will be upset about it—but that school and that community has been in almost a 40 year funk.  You may recall that South Carolina State, like Kent State back in 1968, had some very unfortunate circumstances to occur.  You all and this debate will be a part, I think, of getting us beyond that, reclaiming the morale that was on that campus when I was student there. 

So I am looking forward to this and I think the candidates will find a tremendous laboratory when they get down there.  They will begin to see what it‘s like to campaign among agriculture workers and farmers, what it is like to campaign among manufacturers, as you will find up in the (INAUDIBLE) of our state. 

You find down in the low country, where the tourism trade is so big, Charleston, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach—South Carolina is a laboratory for candidates, and I think they will find themselves sharpening their lines, getting their act together.  It‘s going to be great for them.   

MATTHEWS:  You know, as you know, growing up in this country, you saw that all the Democratic and Republican primaries were always in pretty much all white areas, like New Hampshire and Iowa.  Now South Carolina, which is black and white, is going to be a premiere state.  How important do you think it is going to be down there, who wins the South Carolina primary, come early next year? 

CLYBURN:  Well, if were one of the analysts looking back on this primary after January 29th of next year, I would be looking not just how well the candidate did in that state, but I would be going section by section to see how well did that candidate do in the P.D. (ph) area, where most of the rural voters are.  How well did that candidate do in the low country, Charleston, Brickyard (ph), Dorchester, where most of the black voters are, and around Columbia?  How well did that candidate do up in the Piedmont, where you have a manufacturing base. 

I would be looking back and trying to determine how that candidate connects with various voters.  You have a small state, a laboratory there.  I really believe that the candidates are going to come out of this experience much better candidates.  And I think it will overcome what we had the last two cycles, when Kerry did not do well, simply because he could not connect with significant portions of Democrat voters.  And, of course, Al Gore suffered the same consequence.

MATTHEWS:  What where you able to vote for the first time, sir? 

CLYBURN:  I voted for the first time in 1961.  Luckily for me, South Carolina has never had the kinds of issues that you had in some other parts of the state.  Even my parents were registered voter when I was growing up.  We had a lot of other things though that people don‘t think about.  We had schemes, what I call creative devices, full slate voting, numbered posts, runoff requirements.  All of these things were designed to neutralize or in some way dilute black voters.  But, by in large, blacks were able to register and vote.  They just never could get their votes counted.

And then you may recall we had a white only the primary in South Carolina until 1948.  Though my parents could vote, they could only vote for the president, because they could not participate in the local election elections, because they were all controlled in a privately owned Democratic primary. 

MATTHEWS:  When did you think—You ran for the House—what, you have been in about 20 years now, right? 

CLYBURN:  I have been here in Congress—this is my 15th year.  I first ran for office in 1970, under the old full slate voting, which meant that in Charleston County, where I was running from, I was among—there were 11 seats open.  So it meant that for anybody to go to the polls and vote for me, they would had to vote against me ten times, because in order for your vote to count, you have to vote for all 11 vacancies.  If you went in and said, well, I‘m only interested in Jim Clyburn, nobody else, your vote would not count.  That way, though you could vote for Jim Clyburn, you had to vote for 10 other people may not have known, or may not have even liked in order for your vote to count.  That is how they kept us out of the office. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy, they spent a lot of I.Q. denying you people rights down there. 

CLYBURN:  Absolutely.  I always said that South Carolina is a very, very creative state, never very contentious, just very creative. 

MATTHEWS:  Well maybe that creativity will be applied to greater opportunities for everybody in the future.  It looks like it is.  And congratulations for this, a big event at South Carolina State University, your alma mater.  Thank you Jim Clyburn, one of the top Democrats in the House. 

The Democrat presidential candidates‘ debate is this Thursday at 7:00 Eastern, live from South Carolina State University.  Brian Williams, there he is, is going to be the moderator.  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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