updated 5/2/2007 12:01:15 PM ET 2007-05-02T16:01:15

Guests: Paul Eaton, Steve McMahon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Roger and I are back. 

The president is going to be speaking.  He‘s going to be speaking from what is called the Cross Hall in the U.S.—in the White House, actually.  It‘s a long hallway you see oftentimes in the backdrop of a presidential press conference, when you look at it from the point of the view of the East Room, looking down towards the state dining room.  That‘s the hallway that connects the main part of the White House. 

I‘m not sure why that spot has been chosen.  I imagine he will have his back to the doorway that opens in to the very historic East Room. 

Roger, what do you think of this setting?  The president really is setting up a very historic occasion to explain his veto late this afternoon of the war spending bill. 

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THEPOLITICO.COM:  He wants this to be momentous.  He wants this to be a defining moment of his presidency and a defining moment for the Republican party. 

He is saying he is standing up to a party of defeat.  He is standing up to Democrats, who, as John McCain said, you know, are celebrating defeat, who want to wave the white flag.  And this is where he draws his line in the sand, between the Republican Party, who supports this war, and the Democratic Party, who is against this war. 

MATTHEWS:  That was a strong political position several months ago.  But the latest NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows that the public, by 2-1, is more nervous about the president being stubborn than they are about the Congress overreaching. 

SIMON:  I think it‘s a real concern.  I think his veto will be upheld this time.  But this is a clash, an issue the Democrats are going to revisit time and time again. 

And barring some momentous change on the ground in Iraq, a great disaster on the one hand, a great victory on the other, it‘s hard to believe—it‘s hard to see how the president‘s position doesn‘t erode over time, and how, eventually, he doesn‘t give ground to Democrats and to Republicans.

As November of next year draws closer, Republicans are going to get very, very nervous about this war...

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON:  ... and more and more of them are going to slide over. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The position of the American Indian, the Native American, in fighting the settlers eroded over time, of course, but they won the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  And they beat Custer.

Could it be that we‘re looking at a rerun of the old Newt Gingrich mistake?  Which is, yes, the country wanted less government; they supported the conservatives when they came in ‘74 -- or ‘94 and ‘95, when they won that big Gingrich revolution, the Contract with America, until it reached the point where the Republicans in Congress challenged the executive authority of the president with the government shutdown. 

And, all of a sudden, the country shifted and said, wait a minute.  Whatever problems we have with Bill Clinton, he is the only president we have got.  Could that happen here, where the issue shifts from, should there be a deadline for the war, which the public supports now, to, are we funding the troops or not?

SIMON:  Well, it‘s possible.  I think part of the Bill Clinton victory was that he was a far more likable candidate and better salesman than Newt Gingrich was in selling his positions. 

But you‘re right.  He spoke with one clear voice, and the Republicans had scattered voices.  On this issue, the hope of George Bush and the Republican Party is to sell two things.  One, we are protecting the troops by providing these funds, and the Democrats are turning their back on the troop. 

And, two, by fighting this war, by fighting terror in Iraq, we keep the terrorists from coming home and killing Americans in their beds as they sleep or as they go to work. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And this is the horrible conundrum we face, because, when you talk to people who support the war heartily with the president, all the way with him, like Ken Blackwell a few moments ago, the former secretary of state from Ohio, they admit—well, it‘s not a matter of admitting. 

They point out, as everybody does, that a lot of the people we‘re killing are coming in from out of Iraq, from other countries.  They‘re suicide terrorists being recruited out of that sea of hostility against us over in that part of the world. 

And how do you stop that recruitment?  It‘s almost like, you know, the

the NFL draft.  They just keep recruiting these people to commit suicide.  And it‘s very hard to stop a person by killing them if being killed is what they are seeking to get done.  It‘s a real conundrum, isn‘t it, to win a war against people who are running at you to get—to blow themselves up? 

SIMON:  It‘s extremely difficult when these insurgencies are based in

on religious grounds. 

Classically, you end insurgencies not by defeating them militarily, but by making them part of the process.  Take a look at Ireland.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SIMON:  You power-share.  You make them part of the mainstream.  When the mainstream turns against the insurgents, the insurgents can‘t exist anymore.  They are not enough insurgents...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, unfortunately, that is not happening, because, just today, we are looking at the possible resignation from the Maliki government...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... of a good number of Sunnis.  And they‘re the only people that can represent their people, that minority of 20 percent who are waging this war against the majority Shia. 

Most Americans don‘t want to deal with this—these issues of these sectarian groups over there.  But we have got to deal with the fact this is the war we‘re fighting.

Let‘s bring in Pat Buchanan and Steve McMahon. 

Pat, I want to ask you to try to analyze this—it‘s a horrible word for it, but game that is going on.  It is heavy stakes, 100 Americans killed this month.  More will be killed in the future as this war goes on.  But this political back-and-forth—the president vetoes the bill this time.  Two weeks from now, they get another bill back at the president, perhaps, and then the president has to veto it again. 

At what point does he say, wait a minute, you are cutting off funds for the troops?

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think he‘s going to say tonight that this bill is basically a formula for an American defeat in Iraq by an immediate withdrawal, or withdrawal beginning in October, that this cuts off the troops, that it gives the enemy a message.

Look, I think the president of the United States is deadly sincere.  I agree with Roger.  This is historic.  The president is saying, you stand with us or you stand with them, and they are the party of defeat here, all those who voted for this.  I want no deadlines.

And I think, in the short term, Chris, the president of the United States will, as you suggest, win this battle.  I think the Democratic Congress will split inside its caucuses.  They will give him the money.  There will be some deadlines.  But I doubt that they will binding, in the sense, if something really terrible happens, if they‘re not met—I think he wins in the short term.  I believe this, though.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No.  Let me—no, don‘t agree with me too quickly. 

I think the Democrats win tonight.  I believe, when it gets down to the short hairs, when it gets down to the question, are we actually cutting off vital funding of our soldiers in the field, their reinforcements, their fighting ability, when is that going to happen?

Let me bring in Steve McMahon here.

Steve, it seems to me the president has mentioned the date May 15 a couple weeks ago.  When that happens, when he says, at this point forward, not enough training, not enough equipment is going to the troops, what do the Democrats say then about getting a bill to him that is clean? 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, I think the Democrats are going to get funding—going to get a bill that is going to provide funding for the troops, but they are going to do it incrementally. 

And this is going to—this is going to all come home to roost on the president when the Republicans cave in on him.  And you now have Congressman Blunt and Congressman Boehner talking about specific benchmarks that the Iraqi government will have to meet.  And the conditions that they‘re placing on the benchmarks if they‘re not met are things like where the troops can be positioned inside the country.

So, this is a situation that is coming to a head partly because the Democrats won Congress and are forcing it, but also partly because the Republicans in Congress are reading the same polls, Chris, that you and I are. 

They know.  Anybody who has to stand for election in November of ‘08 knows that this is going to be the issue against which they are measured.  And, if they don‘t heed the call of the American people to find a way out of this conflict, everybody on that ballot is going to be in trouble. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think being a Republican now, in this war fever right now, it‘s almost impossible to get victory east of the Mississippi.  And that measure, Pat, that may be moving further west as this war goes on...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... where it becomes almost impossible to win.

BUCHANAN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, sir.

BUCHANAN:  ... you look at the debaters Thursday night, when you are talking to them.  Almost all will support the president, because I will tell you what is going on here. 

This is even larger.  This is Bush‘s war.  It‘s Cheney‘s war.  It‘s Rumsfeld‘s war.  It‘s the neocons‘ war.  What is being set up now is that these guys who voted us into the war in the Congress turned around and took a walk and cut off the troops when we were late in the battle.  That‘s right.  And he‘s setting it up for the Democrats‘ defeat:  They lost the war.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  That is what is being set up here.  And that is why the president—his cards—he‘s only got so many cards.  And they‘re not that high.  And, in the long run, the country, I think, is turning against the war.  But that is what he is setting up for the future debate on who lost Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying that he is willing to throw the game? 

BUCHANAN:  Oh, no, I think he wants to win it.  But he does believe, if this goes through, we are going to lose it.  And he‘s going to say so.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Steve, do you think that is true?  Does anybody—let me go—let‘s bring in General Paul Eaton just for a second.

Major General, you have written a letter to the president, questioning his claim that he is speaking for the troops. 

MAJOR GENERAL PAUL EATON (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  I have, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, make your case, General.

EATON:  This—this bill, and, when you attach a timeline to it, the audience is not the American people.  The audience is not the—our enemy.  The audience is really the al-Maliki government. 

And, throughout my career and throughout most soldiers‘ career, there is a timeline discipline.  You attach a timeline to discipline the process.  And, right now, we have got an open-ended situation.  The Iraqis are playing us along, the Iraqi government.  And they are not pursuing the benchmarks that they agreed to and the timelines that they agreed to. 

We‘re talking about the reinstatement of the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

General—hold on, General. 

We have the president coming right now to the lectern. 

Here is, the president of the United States.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... the Congress to pass an emergency war spending bill that would provide our brave young men and women in uniform with the funds and flexibility they need. 

Instead, members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders.  So a few minutes ago, I vetoed the bill. 

Tonight, I will explain the reasons for this veto and my desire to work with Congress to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. 

We can begin tomorrow with a bipartisan meeting with the congressional leaders here at the White House. 

Here‘s why the bill Congress passed is unacceptable.  First, the bill

the bill would mandate a rigid and artificial deadline for American troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq.  That withdrawal could start as early as July 1, and it would have to start no later than October 1, regardless of the situation on the ground.

It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing.  All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars and gather their strength and begin plotting how to overthrow the government and take control of the country of Iraq.

I believe setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people, would encourage killers across the broader Middle East, and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments.  Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure.  And that would be irresponsible.

Second, the bill would impose impossible conditions on our commanders in combat.  After forcing most of our troops to withdraw, the bill would dictate the terms on which the remaining commanders and troops could engage the enemy.  That means America‘s commanders in the middle of a combat zone would have to take fighting directions from politicians 6,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.  This is a prescription for chaos and confusion.  And we must not impose it on our troops.

Third, the bill is loaded with billions of dollars in non-emergency spending that has nothing to do with fighting the war on terror.  Congress should debate these spending measures on their own merits, and not as a part of an emergency funding bill for our troops.

The Democratic leaders know that many in Congress disagree with their approach and that there are not enough votes to override the veto.  I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war.  They have sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need.

Our troops are carrying out a new strategy with a new commander, General David Petraeus.  The goal of this new strategy is to help the Iraqis secure their capital, so they can make progress toward reconciliation and build a free nation that respects the rights of its people, upholds the rule of law, and fights extremists and radicals and killers alongside the United States in this war on terror.

In January, General Petraeus was confirmed by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate.  In February, we began sending the first of the reinforcements he requested.  Not all these reinforcements have arrived in Baghdad.  And, as General Petraeus has said, it will be the end of the summer before we can assess the impact of this operation. 

Congress ought to give General Petraeus‘ plan a chance to work.  In the month since our military has been implementing this plan, we have begun to see some important results.  For example, Iraqi and coalition forces have closed down an al Qaeda car bomb network.  They have captured a Shia militia leader implicated in the kidnapping and killing of American soldiers.  They have broken up a death squad that had terrorized hundreds of residents in a Baghdad neighborhood. 

Last week, General Petraeus was in Washington to brief me.  And he briefed members of Congress on how the operation is unfolding.  He noted that one of the most important indicators of progress is the level of sectarian violence in Baghdad.  And he reported that, since January, the number of sectarian murders has dropped substantially.

Even as sectarian attacks have declined, we continue to see spectacular suicide attacks that have caused great suffering.  These attacks are largely the work of al Qaeda, the enemy that everyone agrees we should be fighting.

The objective of these al Qaeda attacks is to subvert our efforts by reigniting the sectarian violence in Baghdad and breaking support for the war here at home.  In Washington last week, General Petraeus explained it this way:  Iraq is, in fact, the central front of all al Qaeda‘s global campaign. 

Al Qaeda—al Qaeda‘s role makes the conflict in Iraq far more complex than a simple fight between Iraqis.  It‘s true that not everyone taking innocent life in Iraq wants to attack America here at home.  But many do.  Many also belong to the same terrorist network that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, and wants to attack us here at home again.

We saw the death and destruction al Qaeda inflicted on our people when they were permitted a safe haven in Afghanistan.  For the security of the American people, we must not allow al Qaeda to establish a new safe haven in Iraq.

We need to give our troops all the equipment and the training and protection they need to prevail.  That means that Congress needs to pass an emergency war-spending bill quickly.

I have invited leaders of both parties to come to the White House tomorrow and to discuss how we can get these vital funds to our troops.  I‘m confident that, with goodwill on both sides, we can agree on a bill that gets our troops the money and flexibility they need, as soon as possible.

The need to act is urgent.  Without a war-funding bill, the military has to take money from some other account or training program, so the troops in combat have what they need.  Without a war-funding bill, the armed forces will have to consider cutting back on buying new equipment or repairing existing equipment. 

Without a war-funding bill, we add to the uncertainty felt by our military families.  Our troops and their families deserve better, and their elected leaders can do better.

Here in Washington, we have our differences on the way forward in Iraq, and we will debate them openly.  Yet, whatever our differences, surely we can agree that our troops are worthy of this funding, and that we have a responsibility to get it to them without further delay.

Thank you for listening.

May God bless our troops.

MATTHEWS:  That was the president of the United States laying it on the line there.  He has vetoed the bill, which would have required a timetable for the removal of U.S. forces over six months from Iraq.

Let me bring in General Paul Eaton again.  We‘re going to also have Pat Buchanan joining us, Roger Simon, and Steve McMahon. 

But, first of all, General Eaton, once again, the president said it‘s a battle between the Democrats on Capitol Hill, the congressional leadership, that wants to substitute, as he put it, the opinions of politicians for the judgments of our military leaders. 

What is he saying there that make sense to do?  Or how do you disagree with him? 

EATON:  Chris, I come at it from a perspective, this bill puts discipline in a process that has demanded discipline for the last three-and-a-half years.

The—the real intent is to get after the al-Maliki government and to get them to start the settling of the benchmarks that they agreed to, the reinstatement of Baath leadership, as—as we vet them and bring them in, the distribution of mineral resources, to do those things that they have agreed to, to begin a legitimate government, to reestablish a legitimate government in Iraq that the Iraqi security forces can look to for legitimacy.

Right now, that is absent.  And what we are seeing right now, the—the withdrawal—the—he has stood down some very successful Sunni generals and a couple of Shia generals who are having marked success working in the arena of—with—of drawing down the sectarian violence.

And you are going to have a continued defection of Sunni leaders from his parliament with—without a sense of inclusion and bringing the Sunnis in there in a vital context. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, especially if they keep arresting them, these generals. 

Let me bring in Pat Buchanan here. 

Pat, one of the problems over there is that this political goal we have of a unified government doesn‘t seem to be working.  You see people—the Maliki—rather, the Muqtada al-Sadr crowd, where they withdrew from the government.  They‘re still in parliament, I believe.  You—you see now the threatened removal of several Sunni members of the government. 

You wonder.  And then you see they are arresting Sunni military people who are acting against the Shia militia.  It doesn‘t look like any steps are being taken to build this unity that we are having our guys killed for. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, that‘s exactly right, Chris. 

And there‘s a real sense of frustration on the part of everybody with the Maliki government and its seeming inability to be broad-minded and bring in the Sunnis and share the oil revenues.

(CROSSTALK)  

BUCHANAN:  But the key question here is what the president did just now.  He called this a date for failure.  That‘s what this bill set.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  He almost went to say it was a date for defeat.  So, he is framing this argument.  And this bill is dead.  I do believe the next bill is coming down.  The Democratic Party, or a significant slice of it, will vote to give the president of the United States the $100 dollars.  I think it would be a mistake for them to parcel it out every two months.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  And I think there will be some benchmarks, but they will not be linked to any withdrawal.  And this is going to be an immediate victory for the president.  And it‘s going to divide the Democratic Party.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask Steve McMahon.

Steve, are you—are you sensing any defections?  As these two trucks get close to bashing into each other, do you sense any defections on the Democrat side, where they are saying: “Wait a minute, we have made our case.  Let‘s stop it here.  We don‘t have to keep going back to the president.  We made our case.  He vetoed the bill.  Everybody knows where the Democrats stand.  They know where the president stands, but we only have one commander in chief”?

Why do they keep going back into the pit against the president at this point? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I guess I don‘t know the answer to that.  Why do they want to do it again?  They made their point.  He‘s going to veto.  Nobody thinks the Democrats have enough votes to override.  Leave it at that.  Let him feed the troops.

MCMAHON:  Because that is what the American people elected the Democrats to do, to hold this president accountable and to change direction in Iraq.

You know, it‘s ironic Chris.  As we sit here today, it‘s the fourth anniversary of the president landing on the aircraft carrier, announcing mission accomplished.  And now he is saying, we need more time.  We need a blank check.  We don‘t want any benchmarks.  We want don‘t any timetables.

And, frankly, I just think the American people are tired of it.  And you talked about defections.  And I think the interesting defections are not going to be on the Democratic side.  I have mentioned this before.  They‘re going to be the Republican side. 

It‘s people like Boehner and Blunt, and Inglis from South Carolina, the people who are openly talking about benchmarks, the very benchmarks the president doesn‘t want. 

But—but he‘s going to have benchmarks.  The only question is, what is the nature of the benchmarks?  What is the nature of the accountability?  This Congress is tired of the blank check.  And the American people are forcing, frankly, not just the Democrats, but the Republicans, to take some action to find a new way in Iraq. 

And the Republicans are getting the message, just as the Democrats have. 

MATTHEWS:  We have got NBC‘s Chip Reid joining us from Congress.

Chip, it‘s amazing to watch the president.  They set up the shot tonight so that the—the Jefferson Memorial could appear in the back of the president as he was speaking from the Cross Hall at the White House. 

And, yet, I have to ask myself, wasn‘t Jefferson the one who believed that Congress should have the major authority in making war or making peace? 

CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, that‘s certainly true, Chris. 

And let me add something to what you were talking about just now, the question, why are the Democrats pushing this so hard?  Why not just leave it there?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

C. REID:  They believe you have to just push it for every inch that you can get all the way, partly because they believe—take, for example, a lot of people said they were not going to be able to pass timelines in the first place, because they knew it would be filibustered or they knew it would be vetoed.  So, why bother?

Well, they believe that, by passing it, even though they know it can‘t become law, by having this unified Democratic position, they have really made clear to the nation that they are making progress. 

And the reason—I think one reason they are going ahead with the veto vote—override vote, even though they know it is going to fail, in the House tomorrow is because Democrats, especially on the House side, have been just—been getting hammered by the left wing of their party, saying, you have got to do more.  You have got to bring the troops home.  So, they have got to show them they are doing everything that they possibly can. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens when the point comes where the president goes on television, and says, it‘s May 15, or whatever date; we will now be unable to provide the full training and resources our troops get normally because of what Congress is doing to me? 

What happens, then, to that Democrat solidarity? 

C. REID:  Boy.

Well, I think you‘re going to still going to—I think you‘re going to still going to have—they are going to find a way.  They are going to find a way to keep—we saw this time—I mean, Democratic solidarity a number of weeks ago looked impossible. 

They got it, because the alternative is to give the president a victory.  And, so, the Democrats have managed to find ways to—to get some solidarity. 

Now, I should say, on this benchmarks issue, Democrat have been telling us up here that they do understand this is going to split the Democrats, because a lot of Democrats, this next time around, are not going to vote for this thing.  Even Democrats concede that, because they are not going to vote for something that doesn‘t have some form of timeline in it.  They say it just gives too much.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

C. REID:  So, Democrats realize they have to get Republicans votes here.  They‘re going to have to get people from both sides.

MATTHEWS:  So, in other words, the Democrats—the Democrats have to thread the needle here. 

C. REID:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  They have to have a bill that somewhat—puts up benchmarks for the president to achieve with regard to the Maliki government.  But, if they give it too easy, then they lose their—their real anti-war base. 

C. REID:  That‘s right.  Exactly.

And they are going to lose some of that base on this one, some Democrats have predicted to us, Democrats in a position to know.  And they have got make up for that by getting Blunt and people like that on—and Inglis and people like that, people who are willing to do something on benchmarks that may even have a little bit of teeth.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Nancy Pelosi can fine-tune this? 

C. REID:  Fine-tune, fine-tune...

MATTHEWS:  Fine-tune a bill that requires some action by the president, but also keeps aboard enough Democrats and wins enough Republican support to get the 218 in the House she needs.

C. REID:  It‘s possible, but she can‘t do it with a magic wand herself.  It‘s got to something that people like Blunt and some other Republicans are willing to do, that they want to—they realize moderate Republicans are in a real fix here.  And they have got to give them something to vote for that isn‘t just red meat from the Republican side, some kind of benchmarks. 

I mean, everybody, from the president all the way to the left side, everybody has supported, in concept, the idea of benchmarks for a long time now. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

C. REID:  So, a lot of Republicans, moderates in particular, are saying, well, then, let‘s do some serious benchmarks.  Let‘s not just have talk. 

And people like Blunt understand, you have got to give those moderate Republicans something to vote for here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re watching history in the making, as Pat Buchanan said, Chip.

Let‘s go back to Pat on this point now, where we‘re—obviously, what we say on television, we are stretching a bit here, waiting to hear the two top leaders.  Harry Reid of the Senate, the Democratic majority leader, and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, are about to come on and tell us exactly what their next move is.

It‘s going to—here they come.  It‘s going to be, apparently, another attempt—or an attempt to override, followed by perhaps another bill with some new strings attached. 

Pat, again, I recall that Thomas Jefferson played a role in creating the Congress as the first branch of government with regard to war-making powers.  Is this a challenge to that?  Is the end of that, or what?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, Jefferson was in Paris when they wrote the Constitution.  And he himself violated the Constitution when he grabbed the Louisiana Purchase he had no right to do.  And, of course, he overthrew the Alien and Sedition Acts on is own volition.  He was a very strong president when he got in here. 

The Democratic problem, Chris, is threading the needle between taking a principled stand with the country and setting benchmarks or guidelines to get out, and appearing to obstruct the American forces in battle in Iraq.  If they are perceived as the latter, with two months of spending and so much here, and the troops have got to do this, they are setting themselves up to be held accountable for what is going to happen at the end game, which does not look good right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I wonder, Steve, whether you can put an ankle bracelet on the president.  I mean, how much can you hobble the president as commander in chief and not look like you‘re—you‘re hurting his ability to win the war he is trying to win? 

MCMAHON:  Well, there is a legitimate question, Chris, about whether or not the conditions on the ground are going to significantly improve, regardless of how much time the president has. 

Remember, four years ago, mission accomplished, and, today, he is asking for more time.  The American people have said clearly that they expect some accountability, some standards, some benchmarks, benchmarks that the president himself said the Maliki government was willing to meet.  And now the president doesn‘t want to ask the government to meet it. 

I just think that the American people have spoken.  The Congress is tired of being ignored.  The voters are tired of being ignored.  They want to apply some pressure.  And the Democrats and moderate Republicans now are going to start to apply pressure every way they can. 

It‘s not an effort to necessarily hamstring the president.  It‘s an effort to change direction in Iraq, to let the president recognize that there is a co-equal branch of government involved here, and that the voters have spoken, and they are looking something different.  And, as long as...

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  ... as long as...

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  ... elections, there‘s going to be pressure.

MATTHEWS:  Let me read you a poll fact that we just got from the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll. 

This is what public opinion is right now, and reflected—it‘s being reflected in what we‘re watching here politically between this back-and-forth between the Republican president, George Bush, and, of course, the Democratic leadership in Congress. 

What concerns you more, the poll question was, that Congress will go too far in pressing the president to reduce troop levels in Iraq, or that President Bush will not make enough changes in his Iraq policy? 

Well, guess what the results are?  Congress will go too far, 31 percent.  Something less than a third of the people are worried Congress will go too far in hobbling the president here.  President Bush will not make enough changes, 61 percent.

Pat, that is shifting toward the Democratic or anti-war position. 

BUCHANAN:  A snapshot will say that is exactly correct.  I don‘t dispute the poll.

But what the Democrats know is that this is early May of 2007.  And, if American withdrawal, let‘s say, had completely happened by next April, my prediction would be, by June and July, the Iraqis who supported us there will be suffering the fate of the Cambodians and the Vietnamese and the Harkis in Algeria.

And, at that point, a snapshot might say, especially if the president of the United States is saying, these guys lost this war, would be dramatically different.  The Democrats know this.  That‘s why they‘re deeply apprehensive, even though they‘re sitting there with what looks like...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That argument did not help Jerry Ford in 1976, Pat. 

Here is Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House.  And there‘s Harry Reid, the majority leader, the Democratic leader of the Senate, coming in, with Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin and some others, and Jim Clyburn. 

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  ... mired in the middle of an open-ended civil war.  But we‘re not.  And neither are most Americans.

A bipartisan majority of Congress sent the president a bill to fully fund our troops and change the mission in Iraq.  The president refused to sign this bill.  That‘s his right, but now he has an obligation to explain his plan to responsibly end this war.

In the coming days, we will continue to reach out to the president, and we hope congressional Republicans who remained silent—congressional Republicans through this whole debate—will work with us as well.

But, if the president thinks, by vetoing this bill, he will stop us from working to change the direction of the war in Iraq, he is mistaken. 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Thank you, Mr.

Leader.

Earlier today, the leader and I sent to the president a bill that made a strong commitment to support our men and women in uniform and a strong commitment to honor our promises to our veterans.  This is a bill that was worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. 

It was a bill that honored and respected the wishes of the American people to have benchmarks, to have guidelines, to have standards for what is happening in Iraq, again, out of respect for the wishes of the American people.

We had hoped that the president would have treated it with the respect that a bipartisan—bipartisan legislation, supported overwhelmingly by the American people, deserved. 

Instead, the president vetoed the bill outright, and, frankly, misrepresented what this legislation does.  This bill supports the troops.  In fact, it gives the president more than he asked for, for our troops.

And well they deserve it.  They have done their duties excellently.  They have done everything that has been asked of them, all of this without, in some cases, the training, the equipment, and a plan for success for them.

The president wants a blank check.  The Congress is not going to give it to him.  The president said in his comments that he did not believe in timelines, and he spoke out very forcefully against them. 

Yet, in 1999, on June 5, then-Governor Bush said, about President Clinton, “I think it‘s important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they would be withdrawn.”

Despite his past statements, President Bush refuses to apply the same standards to his own activities.

Standards, that‘s the issue.  If the president thinks that what is happening on the ground in Iraq now is progress, as he said in his comments tonight, then, it is clear to see why we have a disagreement on policy with him.

I agree with Leader Reid.  We look forward to working with the president to find common ground.  But there is great distance between us right now.

Thank you.

QUESTION:  Senator Reid, would you be willing to consider...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, they are not taking questions.  That‘s Harry Reid, had a statement.  And then he was followed by the speaker of the House.

Pat Buchanan, your thoughts on the way they handled it, the Democratic leadership? 

BUCHANAN:  That did not sound like to me Alamo defiance, Chris. 

I mean, I thought Harry Reid...

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  ... was very abbreviated, and, frankly, fairly weak.  And she into a long, elaborate explanation:  We‘re going to work together.  We‘re not going to give him a blank check.

I didn‘t get any sense here that they have a clear-cut strategy or that they have made a hard decision—“We‘re going to defy this president, no matter what it takes, to make sure we get deadlines in there”—at all.

I think the president—if you looked at simply the body language and the tone of the two sides tonight, this looks to me like the president feels that he is the one that has got the winning hand in this short-term battle. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me to go Steve.

I think the Democrats have the winning hand, but I think it may well turn about in the near future, once the funding runs out.

I go back to my question, Steve.  Once the president can come to the country and say, I need funding for my troops, give me a clean bill, or else they will be short, I don‘t see how the Democrats can say to him, no, we are not going to give you what you need to feed the troops.

I don‘t see how you win that.  We have been through this so many times.  It is like a game of chicken, where the two trucks are coming at each other.  And the Democrats look great, until they hit the other truck.  And then, I think...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... one side gets blamed.  And that is the guys who started this fight.

MCMAHON:  Well, Chris, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I guess I‘m not going to convince you. 

MCMAHON:  Well, no, but...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... because it‘s not your job to agree with me.

MCMAHON:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  But I just that the timing—it‘s like a guy sits down at the blackjack table in Vegas, and he‘s winning three or four hands in a row.  Get out of there.  You won.  Leave.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  But, Chris, hold on a second...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

MCMAHON:  ... because there is another—there is another path.  And, if the president wants his funding, he can sign the bill.  The Democrats sent him a bill that gave him the money that he asked for.

MATTHEWS:  No, he can‘t, because that ties his hands.

MCMAHON:  No, no, no.  Because he is being stubborn and obstinate—that‘s why.  And it‘s exactly what the American people have figured out.

There‘s a lot of ways for the Congress to apply pressure.  One way to announce a hard deadline for the troops to be removed from Iraq.  Another way is for the Congress to impose some accountability on the Maliki government, benchmarks that the Maliki agreed to, and start to apply the pressure to the—to moderate Republicans in the middle, who are worried about their reelection prospects.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MCMAHON:  And those people are going to come...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That is different than what they are doing. 

Steve, you‘re prospecting here on what—what the Democrats might do. 

What they are doing now is saying, the president doesn‘t get his funding unless he agrees to sort of a six-month timetable for removing our troops from Iraq.  That‘s what they have done.

Now, you‘re speculating that, somewhere down the road, they‘re going to be smart to say, OK, you can have the funding for our troops, Mr.  President, if you simply tell the Maliki government, you don‘t get any money for ship-building—I‘m sorry—for building projects over there, no more sewer construction, no electric grids anymore, none of the money, unless you agree to do certain things in terms of building a unity government, right?  That is what you are saying? 

MCMAHON:  Yes. 

I‘m saying that this the first step in applying pressure to change direction in Iraq.  It‘s just the first step. There will be more.  There will be more pressure.  And there will be more Republicans who are applying it.  It‘s not just going to be the Democrats alone.  The American people want a new course.  The Republicans know it.  The Democrats know of it.  Everybody knows it but George Bush.  And this Congress is going to make sure that, at—in one way or another, he figures it out. 

BUCHANAN:  But, Chris, exactly when you get the benchmarks—and let‘s say they withhold $5 billion in foreign aid if the benchmarks are not met. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  One hundred billion dollars is voted by the Congress to continue the war, and every hard-core liberal in the Democratic Party—and it‘s an anti-war party—they say, the Congress we elected to defund the war has refunded the war, to a tune of $100 billion, given the president what we wanted.  And what we got are a couple of benchmarks and maybe a reduction in foreign aid, and the war goes on.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  So, the division moves into the Democratic Party. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you say the Democrats are trapped? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes. 

MCMAHON:  Well, Pat is a Republican.  Of course he‘s going to say that. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I was against the war.

MCMAHON:  I would say the Republicans are trapped.

And the American people did not vote the Democrats into Congress to defund the war.  The American people voted the Democrats into Congress to find a new direction and to find a way out of the war.  That‘s what the Democratic Congress is going to do.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MCMAHON:  And I suspect it‘s going to do it with a lot of Republican support. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Chip Reid.

Chip, are you still with us?  Chip Reid?

Not still with us.

Roger—oh, there is Chip.

Chip, what do you hear, in terms of hard reporting, as for the Democrats‘ next move, after the—they fail to override, fail to get the two-thirds in both houses?

OK.  We are not going to hear from him. 

Roger Simon, do you have any reporting on that?  What will the Democrats do once they fail to override tomorrow? 

SIMON:  I think this is going to be short-term defeat for the Democrats.  The president will get his funding.  But, in the end, it‘s probably a long-term victory for the Democrats. 

I have to disagree with Pat when he says—I think he said that the issue is going to get to, in the end, who lost Iraq?  I don‘t think that is the issue for the American people.  The issue is going to be that, when this war ends—and we all know it‘s going to come to end—mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and children are going to be very happy that those troops are home.

And that is going to be the dominant force in American politics, getting the troops home, and being happy once they are here.  And, if the Maliki government fails to want a secular, democratic government more than we do—right now, we want this more than the Iraqi people want it.  If they fail at it, it‘s going to be their failure.  This has got to be a Iraqi success or an Iraqi failure, not an American-imposed one.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  General Eaton—General Eaton—let‘s go to General Eaton, a man who is a military expert.

General, the troops in the field, men and women, are they rooting for the president in this battle when they read the paper, when they read “Stars and Stripes” or they check with Armed Services Radio?  Are they checking in on this dispute back here, or are they just fighting the war? 

EATON:  Chris, they are just fighting the war.  They—the effort at squad level is very focused on getting the mission done.

But I will tell you that Secretary of Defense Gates has extended tour lengths from 12 to 15 months.  We have not yet increased the recruiting goals for United States Army Recruiting Command to grow the force to meet the foreign policy demands of this country. 

We have a timeline on the table.  It‘s January 2009.  It is coming.  And what the American people did last November was vote to accelerate that timeline.  That is what we need to do, in order to discipline this war and put spine in the foreign policy in the State Department to get after a diplomatic solution, to get this al-Maliki government to produce. 

MATTHEWS:  Do the—does the Maliki government in Iraq that we up put there and are helping to stay up, do they have a calendar?  Do they know that this president leaves office in January 2009, and he is their last committed friend?

EATON:  The country of Iraq is a country that has had 1,000 years of eternal Muslim domination and 30 years of Saddam brutality. 

They don‘t think like we do.  And they have got to be absolutely disciplined.  This bill helps do that.  They have got to put markers on the ground to meet in order to—to survive as a nation in its concept. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what makes you think that they want to do what we want them to do, that Maliki wants to put together a government which shares the oil revenues among the three groups, that gives the Sunnis, who were running the show for all those 30 years, a piece of the power, that tells the Shia they can‘t have a mullah-led government, that it‘s going to be something of a secular state in the middle of Arabia?  All those conditions are American goals.  Who says they are Iraqi goals? 

EATON:  Chris, you have defined the problem. 

The whole issue is the performance of the al-Maliki government that is

not deemed legitimate by the Kurds in the north or the Sunnis in the

center.  And, until you get a legitimate government operating—and that

legitimate government could be something on the line of Peter Galbraith‘s

book “The end of Iraq,” or it could be Senator Biden‘s plan of a

tripartition—this—victory, as defined by President Bush, is not out -

it is not possible with this current government. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me—thank you very much, General Paul Eaton. 

And let‘s bring in—Major General.

Let me bring in right now Pat Buchanan, and then Steve McMahon, in order. 

Quickly, your assessment of where this heads in the future?

Pat first.

BUCHANAN:  In the future, I think, Chris, we are headed down the road. 

We are coming out of Iraq.  We‘re at the beginning of the end of America‘s involvement in Iraq.  But that is not the end of the war in Iraq. 

I believe the war is going to turn into a disaster.  I think it could spread down the peninsula.  And it‘s at that point that I disagree with Roger.  I agree with him.  The American people want their guys home.  They have had enough of this.  That‘s going to get stronger and stronger.

But, at the end of this, if there is the gathering disaster in the—in Saudi Arabia, in Jordan, and the Sunni-Shia war in Iran, and all the rest of it, people are then going to say, who was responsible for the disaster?

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Your assessment, Steve.

MCMAHON:  I think Pat is right.  People are going to say, who was responsible for the disaster?  This is George Bush‘s war.  This is George Bush‘s puppet government in Iraq.  And it‘s George Bush...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MCMAHON:  ... who is responsible for the disaster.  And the American people have already reached that judgment. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

The only problem is, the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton may have had her fingerprints on this.

We are going to be right back. 

In fact, we are going right now to Tucker.  And we‘re going to catch him in progress.

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

END   

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