Guests: Rep. Kay Granger, Rep. Artur Davis, Tony Blankley, Tom Andrews, Al Sharpton, Richard Land, Charlie Cook
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The leader of the Republican Party met this week with worried politicians. The topic? Poll numbers showing how the war in Iraq is hurting the party‘s electoral outlook. Suddenly, the inside-the-Beltway politicians trying to direct the Iraq war are Republicans inside the White House.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. After four years, the political clock is running out on the war in Iraq, and that clock is on the wall of the Republican cloakroom. On Tuesday, 11 Republican House members met with President Bush and his top team and delivered a grim message. They warned that the war in Iraq is endangering the very future of the Republican Party, and President Bush has lost all personal credibility in making his case for more war.
Amid this growing pressure, in the first public sign of compromise on the war, President Bush said he‘ll seek common ground with Congress on benchmarks to measure progress by the Iraqi government. We‘ll talk to two member of Congress who may or may not disagree on this issue. Plus, the Reverend Al Sharpton is in the news for comments he made about Mitt Romney. Reverend Sharpton is here, and we‘ll dig into this political fight with him.
Plus, questions about abortion, stem cell research and evolution raised some eyebrows at the Republican debate last week. Dr. Richard Land from the Southern Baptist Convention will be here with his thoughts.
But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report on the politics of Iraq.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two days after President Bush heard Republican lawmakers tell him at the White House he has no credibility, and one day after a general who led U.S. forces in Iraq accused the president of putting America in peril, today at the Pentagon, President Bush offered his first major concession in the debate over funding for the Iraq war. The president backed down from his demand that Congress eliminate any restrictions.
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It makes sense to have benchmarks as a part of our discussion on how to go forward. And so I‘ve empowered Josh Bolten to find common ground on benchmarks.
SHUSTER: Josh Bolten is the president‘s chief of staff and top negotiator with Congress. The details as to what constitutes progress in Iraq must still be hammered out, but the president today pointed to goals set by the Iraqi government.
BUSH: These benchmarks include adoption of a national oil law and preparations for provincial elections and progress on a new de-Ba‘athification policy and a review of the Iraqi constitution.
SHUSTER: No progress has been made on any of those issues, and it is not clear how the Iraqi government will break the impasse because despite a visit Wednesday from Vice President Cheney, the Iraqi parliament is still planning to take a two-month recess.
Still, the continuing violence in Iraq and the president‘s sinking approval ratings have left Republicans in Congress fearing for their careers, and the pressure in the White House has become enormous. On Tuesday, 11 House Republican lawmakers met in the White House residence with President Bush and administration officials, including Secretary of State Rice, Defense Secretary Gates and White House political adviser Karl Rove.
Participants described the meeting as unvarnished and blunt, with lawmakers warning the president he cannot count on Republican support for the Iraq war much longer. Details of what the lawmakers told the president were first reported by NBC‘s Tim Russert.
TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: And one said quote, “My contradict is prepared for defeat. We need candor, we need honesty, Mr. President.” The Republican congressman then went on to say, The word about the war and its progress cannot come from the White House or even you, Mr. President. There is no longer any credibility. It has to come from General Petraeus.
SHUSTER: Earlier this year, Petraeus said that report on the impact of the troop escalation would come in midsummer. Now the general says September, which coincides with the life of the funding bill the president is asking Congress for now.
BUSH: We will respond to what he says. And so I said, Why don‘t we wait and see what happens? Let‘s give this plan a chance to work. Let stop playing politics.
SHUSTER: On Capitol Hill today, Republican senator Olympia Snow and Democrat Evan Bayh unveiled a proposal that would fund the war contingent on Iraqi political progress that appeared similar to what the White House is now talking about, though spokesman Tony Snow was not making any predictions.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will continue to work with the leaders in the House and Senate to come up with something, the president once again expressing some confidence that we‘re going to get to the right place. But I‘m not going to prejudge.
SHUSTER: Meanwhile, in the House today, Democrats pushed forward with legislation that amounts to some funding now and more two months from now, if Iraq delivers.
(on camera): The House measure, which is expected to be approved as early as tonight, faces huge obstacles in the Senate and the promise of a Bush veto. However, all eyes are now in the White House negotiating team and on the president, scrambling to keep moderate lawmakers who supported the war from now breaking away.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster. U.S. congressman Artur Davis is an Alabama Democrat and Congresswoman Kay Granger is a Texas Republican. Let me go to Congresswoman Granger first because the president is saying new things now. Do you think the ice is cracking between the two parties on how to figure out the rest of this war?
REP. KAY GRANGER ®, TEXAS: I certainly hope so. I hope we‘re working together toward success in this war. I know the president—we‘re now talking about benchmarks. I‘ve always been for benchmarks, as long as they‘re benchmarks that lead toward success, not benchmarks that put hoops that we have to jump over so we‘ll fail.
MATTHEWS: Well, do you think that setting up requirements that they divide up the oil over there, that they allow more participation by the Sunni minority—do you think those are obstacles that are set up to kill our war or obstacles that are reasonable and our policies?
GRANGER: No, I think that they‘re important. I think they‘re important for the Iraqi government to move forward. You know, this is not just a military war. It also has to be solved politically, and I think those are important things for the Iraqi government to move forward on. And we‘ve said that for a long time.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Artur Davis, sir, thank you for joining us. Do you believe there‘s going to be a compromise between the president, his party, and the Democrats in Congress?
REP. ARTUR DAVIS (D), ALABAMA: Chris, I think we may move toward a compromise between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Don‘t know if President Bush is going to be part of it, but the last two days, the president has met with a group of moderate Democrats. I was in that meeting. He met yesterday with a group of moderate Republican. And he got same message from the center, that the American people want a new course.
Increasing numbers of Republican members of Congress are recognizing that, and I compliment them for their candor in telling him that yesterday. The president needs to see that his party is moving away from him. The country has long moved away from him. And we need to move toward getting our troops out of a civil war between Shiites and Sunni in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, what do you make of this meeting of 11 moderate Republicans with the president this Tuesday, where they really expressed their political worries that this war is jeopardizing the future of the party itself?
GRANGER: Well, I think what‘s being missed is we meet often with the president. I‘ve met several time with the president on this war. I was with secretary Gates yesterday. We continually talk about this and try to figure out what we can do to ensure success. I hope we all do work together, but working together is not putting a 60-day timeframe on this plan.
MATTHEWS: Have you ever been in a meeting with the president where a member of your party has brought out poll data showing that their congressional district is in huge trouble politically? I mean, have you ever been to that kind of a partisan meeting, where people have warned the president that the war is killing the party‘s chances?
GRANGER: No. We don‘t meet so we can talk about our own political careers.
MATTHEWS: But that‘s what happened this Tuesday.
GRANGER: Well, as I say, I was not there. But what we meet with the president is to talk about how we can work together and make this thing work and what our reports are, what‘s actually happening there. Those are the important things, is what our troop are doing there, what General Petraeus is doing there, not my own political career.
MATTHEWS: Does that bother you, that the troops are over there fighting, and in some cases, giving their lives for our country, and the Iraqi parliament is about to take two months off instead of meeting these benchmarks?
GRANGER: It bothers me greatly. The other thing that bothers me is that they‘re over there fighting this war as we speak, and we‘re saying, You‘ve got 60 days, and that‘s not right. I don‘t agree with that, and I‘m going to vote no tonight.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you for that. Let me go back to Congressman Davis. What do you make of the possibility that the Iraqi government will not meet these benchmarks, at which point, what happens?
DAVIS: Chris, two points. The Iraqi government is acting in an irresponsible way because they refuse to assume leadership over this war. This is not our war to win, it‘s their war to win. It‘s their country to build.
And I reminded my friend from Texas, on five or six occasions in the last 20 years, the U.S. Congress has voted to put limitations on funds for the military, on how our combat forces can be used. It was done with the troops in Lebanon in 1983. It was done with our efforts in Central America in the 1980s. It was done to Bill Clinton in the early 1990s with Somalia. And it was done in the late 1990s with the Balkans.
Congress is not a potted plant. Congress has a constitutional obligation to insert it itself into this process. And Congress has the authority and has the discretion to put limits on how the funds are spent, to require benchmarks of our putative partners, the Iraqis. That‘s part of our constitutional responsibility. We‘d be shirking that responsibility if we didn‘t act.
GRANGER: We asked for a change of course. We got a change of course. We need to give it a chance to work. And General Petraeus (INAUDIBLE) He said, I will report to you through the summer and in September, and that‘s what we should be supporting.
DAVIS: Kay, the two previous military commanders said a short-term surge wouldn‘t work. The president didn‘t like their advice. He sent them packing elsewhere. This 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 infusion won‘t change the realities on the ground. This is a vicious civil war between two sets of radical Islamic fundamentalists who both have blood on their hands, who both shed American lives, and a civil war between two sets of radical Islamic fundamentalists is not worth 3,300 American lives.
MATTHEWS: OK, let the congresswoman respond. Do you believe, Congresswoman, that we can end this civil war between the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq?
GRANGER: Let me remind you that the bombings, very recently bombings, have bombed Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. We‘re talking about insurgents. We‘re talking about terrorists. And I think we‘re missing the point if we just say it‘s a civil war. I believe it is the Iraqis importance that they stand up but we back them up while they make this transition. Then they are in charge of their own security, and we go home. Let‘s just give it a chance and make sure that we are backing up our troops that are doing what we asked them to do.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Kay Granger of Texas and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama.
Coming up on HARDBALL, the Reverend Al Sharpton‘s coming here. Plus, now that President Bush says benchmarks sound like a good idea, is he giving in to pressure from his own party? Is part of these decisions being made in a White House a result of electoral fear?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. A group of Republican House members, as I said, met with President Bush this Tuesday, telling him—this is for the first time, I believe—that he doesn‘t have credibility on Iraq—strong words—and that his policy could spell electoral disaster for the Republicans in this coming election. Will the president accept guidance from deeply worried members of his own party?
Here to talk about the Republican politics of war are HARDBALLers Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times” and former Democratic congressman from Maine Tom Andrews. He‘s the national director of the group Win Without War.
Tony, you know, until about a few hours ago, the president said, We can‘t let politicians inside the Washington Beltway direct this war. And lo and behold, politicians within the White House itself are talking about the politics of this war, showing the president data, electoral data, polling data to show that they‘re in a deep hole politically. Isn‘t he guilty now of playing electoral politics in reviewing his war policy?
TONY BLANKLEY, “WASHINGTON TIMES”: Oh, I think—you know, look, that‘s semantics. Obviously, politics is always involved.
MATTHEWS: Well, he‘s a politician.
BLANKLEY: Everybody in town is a politician. We‘re all politicians. I mean, let‘s not worry about that. But let me say what I think‘s going to happen...
BLANKLEY: I‘m sorry. Not you (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: I‘m a critic.
MATTHEWS: It‘s easier being a critic than a politician (INAUDIBLE)
BLANKLEY: Well, here‘s what I—I mean, I did a column Wednesday, before the meeting, where I said I think that Republicans are going to break with the president in September over the bad polling on Iraq, if that continues.
MATTHEWS: You mean it isn‘t the war failure, it‘s the political danger.
BLANKLEY: They‘re going to be scared to death that 2008 is going to be a terrible election. They‘re going to try to save their skin. Some percentage. Not all, but some percentage are likely to do it. But let me give you the flip side. I don‘t—I think this is heading to the courts because I don‘t think the president is going to accept anything, any policy out of the Congress, whether it‘s bipartisan or Democratic, that stops him from doing what he wants to try to do in Iraq. And I think...
MATTHEWS: You think he can fund without approval?
BLANKLEY: Well, I think—my guess is that he will test the limits of the commander-in-chief authority of the 1861 Feed and Forage Act that allows to you keep an army in the field without appropriated funds, passed during the Civil War, and it‘ll end up being litigated, and only at the Supreme Court would he accept whatever legal resolution there is. So I think it‘s going to persist.
MATTHEWS: Do you think...
MATTHEWS: Do you think—Tom, do you think the Congress would not only vote not to give him authority and not to give him a bill that‘s clean and he can say with good confidence that it won‘t affect our war over there, and then just go ahead, if he can‘t get a clean bill like that, just do it by executive action and test the course, like Tony said?
TOM ANDREWS (D), FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN: Well, you know, from a strictly political point of view, certainly from a—not from a moral point of view but from a political point of view, the Democrats would love this, have a constitutional battle with the president over the will of the Congress, reflecting the will of the people. You know, there‘s an old political maxim...
MATTHEWS: Do you think the president would get in trouble with the country for trying to feed his troops?
ANDREWS: He would get in big trouble by refusing to take those troops out of harm‘s way. And that‘s what the Congress is talking about, fully funding an orderly, systematic withdrawal of our troops.
There‘s an old political maxim that you know and Tony knows, that, you know, you may not always be able to see the light as a politician, but you always will feel the heat. And there‘s an awful lot of heat going in there. You know, one of the congressmen that...
MATTHEWS: In a certain part of the country. Do you think the people
and we just had a congresswoman on from Texas. Do you think Texas Congresspeople, Republicans, are really afraid of losing their seats over the war? Do you think someone from the deep South or from the Bible Belt? I do agree that anyone from the Northeast or Midwest is in big trouble politically. I see the Republican Party I grew up with, the moderate Republican Party that you know in Maine all these years...
ANDREWS: Sure. Sure.
MATTHEWS: ... in huge trouble.
ANDREWS: Sure. They are in huge trouble. But you know, these political tsunamis that we‘ve seen in years past—in just the last election, we saw seats go down that no one thought were going to go down. They thought that they were safe. But because of this tremendous weight of this war...
MATTHEWS: Hey, Menendez won in New Jersey. That‘s proof a Democrat can‘t lose.
MATTHEWS: He had all kinds of people attacking...
ANDREWS: Even without boats, he can‘t lose...
MATTHEWS: I was just going to say the guy got no good press, no good image, and he still beat Keane, the former governor‘s son. It looked to me like it‘s awful tough to win as a Republican.
Aren‘t you surprised, Tony, a member of the party, it was reported by I think Tim Russert, and it came out in some of the print reports, that this meeting, that the Republican moderates, the 11 of them, had with the president the other day, included discussion of poll data, political polling data, telling the president they‘re in big trouble?
BLANKLEY: No. I mean, obviously, I wasn‘t surprised because I predicted it in my column that they were going to look at the polling data and be scared about the issue of Iraq.
MATTHEWS: But here‘s the president saying in a derogatory fashion, Politicians inside the Washington Beltway shouldn‘t be directing war policy.
BLANKLEY: Clearly, President Bush is not looking at poll data or he would have gotten out of Iraq two years ago. So he‘s not bothered about it. But obviously, an awful lot of working politicians...
BLANKLEY: ... in this town are. And this was a blunt conversation. They understood this was their one chance to tell him, “Here‘s what we‘re thinking” honestly.
MATTHEWS: Tom and Tony, let‘s look at the numbers here. The latest “USA Today” Gallup poll shows over two thirds of Americans disapprove of the president‘s handling of Iraq. That‘s not new. By the way, he‘s up a tick from 28 to 30 in terms of approval. Give him credit for that, although it may not be statistically significant.
The poll also shows bad marks for Republican and Democrats in Congress when it come to Iraq. Look at these numbers. No victories here. Thirty-four percent approve of the Democrats, twenty-seven percent of the Republicans. That‘s awful close, gentlemen.
Tom, why do the Democrats have a hard time getting credit for their successful efforts to win majorities against the war?
ANDREWS: Well, it‘s the nature of the congressional institution. People don‘t want to see gridlock. There‘s a lot of debate. Obviously, if you‘re Nancy Pelosi, if you‘re in leadership, you have to pull together enough...
MATTHEWS: But she‘s at 53 percent.
MATTHEWS: She‘s getting good numbers.
ANDREWS: She is getting good numbers. And that‘s really great.
But the institution itself, you know, when you try pull together...
MATTHEWS: Is that an old saw? Just trash Congress?
ANDREWS: It is. I mean, historically, it is.
But you have got the Blue Dogs on the one hand of the Democratic Caucus. You have got the Out of Iraq Caucus. And, then, somehow you have to pull it all together.
ANDREWS: And, meanwhile, you‘re negotiating with Republicans. That‘s a tough nut to crack. And people don‘t want to see gridlock. They want to see us out of Iraq. They want see Congress establish those benchmarks. They want to see a time certain to get out.
But they want action. And, right now, given the nature...
MATTHEWS: Do you know what they really want? I think they want—let me interpose this, Tony.
MATTHEWS: They want a B plan, a plan B. They want the both parties to get together to give us some kind of policy which is not frontline service in Iraq, but some kind of reasonable strategic commitment over there, something that leads that government over there to realize, we are not going to be there more than—I don‘t care how far right-wing you are, Tony. We‘re not staying there more than a couple years, right?
BLANKLEY: I—no, I think...
MATTHEWS: Is that agreed upon?
BLANKLEY: No, that‘s not agreed upon.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we might stay there more—and fight this war for more than two more years?
BLANKLEY: My guess is that, if President Bush stays—keeps the troops there through January 20 of 2009, and there‘s a Democratic president who comes in...
MATTHEWS: Then they won‘t pull out?
BLANKLEY: ... that that president, looking at the geopolitical reality of the world, will not—will be staying there, because we probably have to stay there.
But let me just make one point.
MATTHEWS: Is this going to be like the Portuguese and Mozambique? We just keep fighting it until the money runs out?
BLANKLEY: I don‘t know. But to answer your previous question...
MATTHEWS: You‘re serious? You think we will just keep fighting this war...
BLANKLEY: Yes. I have been saying—I have been saying that...
MATTHEWS: ... indefinitely?
BLANKLEY: I think we are going to have a very strong presence there.
The strategies may wane and wax.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that‘s good policy, to just stay there...
BLANKLEY: I can‘t...
MATTHEWS: ... indefinitely?
BLANKLEY: I can‘t read the future.
But let me make one point.
MATTHEWS: Well, no. As a policy statement, do you believe it is good policy for the United States to remain in an Arab country continuing to fight a war?
BLANKLEY: No. No. In an ideal world, no. We don‘t live in that world, unfortunately. But, look, regarding the Democrats in Congress...
MATTHEWS: I would rather live here myself.
BLANKLEY: Yes, the Democrats in Congress—look, the Democrats have not gained the trust of the American people. Bush has lost the trust on the issue of Iraq.
So—and that‘s where the Democratic vulnerability is between now and 2008.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, there is an open question about that. I agree with you about the first part. But I‘m not sure—you‘re right. I don‘t think of any Democrat who has the public trust right now on how to handle this war.
We will be right back with our two gentlemen here, Tony Blankley and Tom Andrews.
And, later, the Reverend Al Sharpton is coming here and Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. We have got two reverends coming here of a different cloth, you might say.
And, this Sunday, on NBC‘s “Meet the Press,” an exclusive interview with John McCain—there he is. He always gets huge ratings, by the way, when he comes on Sunday talk shows. So, people are still very interested in this fellow.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re back with the HARDBALLERS. And they are HARDBALLERS, Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times,” a conservative gentleman, and former Democratic Congressman Tom Andrews, very much an anti-war fellow these days. He‘s head of the national—he is national director of the group Win Without War.
Let take a look at these numbers. The latest “USA Today”/Gallup poll shows that almost 60 percent now want to—quote—“stick to a timetable or exit date for U.S. troops.” And the others say wait until the situation gets better.
Tony, it is interesting how they word these things, as if we have a timetable.
MATTHEWS: But they do seem to like the idea of a regular order; we get out there on a schedule.
Look, I mean, there‘s no doubt that about two-thirds of the country is generally against the war and doesn‘t like what‘s going on. I‘m not going to haggle that.
How you phrase these questions in these polls, you can move the numbers.
MATTHEWS: OK. Stick to a timetable, what does that tell you?
BLANKLEY: I don‘t—I don‘t think that means anything. I mean, stick to a timetable, sounds positive. We should all stick to timetables.
MATTHEWS: You mean, if the movie is supposed to be on at 8:00, it should go on at 8:00?
BLANKLEY: Yes. I mean, if you phrase it, on the other hand, would you like to see al Qaeda win by sticking on a timetable, the numbers would go down. So, you can move the numbers, but...
BLANKLEY: ... we all know intuitively—we all...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Tom.
People don‘t get it? Do you think that people don‘t get the fact that, if we leave Iraq, other people take over? Do you think they don‘t get that?
ANDREWS: Well, they get that it is going to be impossible for us to prevail in Iraq militarily.
MATTHEWS: If we leave.
ANDREWS: Well, exactly. We have got to leave.
MATTHEWS: They know that.
ANDREWS: Well, of course.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t they?
Maybe they don‘t like the sound...
ANDREWS: Well, I think they do.
MATTHEWS: But Tony has a point, though. They don‘t like the sound of it. They don‘t like it rubbed in. It is one thing to say, let‘s get the hell out of that crazy place. And the other says, well, do you want the crazies to have an international base to use against us?
ANDREWS: But here‘s the problem. We are making things worse by being there militarily.
ANDREWS: When you talk about polling, 80 percent of the Iraqis think that their country is more dangerous, less stable, more violent, with the presence of American troops. They want us out.
MATTHEWS: Is there any way to leave over the next several years in a way that doesn‘t encourage more recruitment by al Qaeda...
ANDREWS: Well, stop...
MATTHEWS: ... which is our number-one concern in the world?
BLANKLEY: Well, why are we having such a large recruitment of al Qaeda? It is precisely because we‘re in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s what I would argue. But I also know that, once we leave, and they start having hosannas over there...
MATTHEWS: ... and victory rallies, that could encourage even more recruitment. They can get their recruitment while we‘re there, and they can get more recruitment when we leave.
ANDREWS: Well, the fact is...
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I‘m worried about.
ANDREWS: But let‘s look at the facts.
The facts are that they—according to our own CIA, they are using this as their number-one and most powerful recruitment tool, as long as we‘re there. And it makes sense that...
BLANKLEY: But, Chris...
ANDREWS: Let‘s take that away from them, recognize that there is no military solution to this problem. It is only going to be a political solution. And, as long as we‘re there, we‘re going to be interrupting that political solution.
BLANKLEY: The—the—it is always easy to say what we shouldn‘t have done and to argue that that was a bad idea.
ANDREWS: I‘m not arguing that.
BLANKLEY: But my point is that, if you think things can‘t get worse, the world constantly gives us examples of how things get worse when you—when you think they can‘t.
And the argument for a lot of us is...
ANDREWS: Well, it‘s getting worse.
BLANKLEY: ... whatever you think about how we got to this point, you better think very carefully about the consequences of when and how we leave, because things...
BLANKLEY: ... because things—because things could get a lot worse.
ANDREWS: Well, they‘re getting worse. And that‘s the—that‘s the reality.
ANDREWS: As long as we continue this road, things will get worse.
MATTHEWS: Things don‘t always get better....
MATTHEWS: By the way, Vietnam is an example of how things don‘t get necessarily get better if you stay, because you can stay year after year after year, kill more and more people, have more and more of our fellows getting killed, and women, and that doesn‘t necessarily make the conditions better. It‘s a...
BLANKLEY: Well, two million in Cambodia died after we left.
MATTHEWS: It‘s a terrible—it‘s a terrible—yes. We had to leave eventually.
Anyway, this is a conundrum. Do you know what that means?
BLANKLEY: Yes. It‘s a dilemma.
MATTHEWS: There is no easy way out.
ANDREWS: I think we agree on that. We agree on that.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s the worst thing you can say about this policy. It put us in a box canyon, where nobody watching right now knows an easy way out, because we‘re stuck with this policy, because it was a mistake to do it.
Anyway, thank you, Tony Blankley.
Thank you, Tom Andrews.
When we return: the Reverend Al Sharpton.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks tumbled today. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 147 points. The S&P 500 fell 21. And the Nasdaq dropped 42 points.
Stocks were hurt by disappointing retail sales in April—Wal-Mart, one of the biggest losers, posting its steepest one-month decline in 28 years.
A larger-than-expected trade deficit in March also hurt stocks. The deficit swelled more than 10 percent.
And JetBlue Airways replaced founder David Neeleman as CEO. The move came three months after a Valentine‘s Day week ice storm that caused a service meltdown. Neeleman was replaced by chief operating officer Dave Barger.
Oil prices rose today, gaining 26 cents in New York trading, closing at $61.81 a barrel.
And 30-year mortgages edged lower for the third time in the past four weeks, falling to a nationwide average of 6.15 percent.
That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back other HARDBALL.
The Reverend Al Sharpton was criticized by Mitt Romney this week when Sharpton spoke at an event on atheism and religion, and responded to a comment about Romney‘s Mormon faith.
Let‘s listen to Reverend Sharpton in this short tape we have here.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: As for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway. So, don‘t worry about that. That‘s a temporary...
SHARPTON: That‘s a temporary situation.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton has since said his words have been mischaracterized.
Here‘s how Governor Romney responded when MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough asked him, the governor, about Sharpton‘s statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MORNING JOE”)
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Do you think Al Sharpton was questioning your faith in god?
MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I can only, hearing that statement, wonder whether there is not bigotry that still remains in America. That is an extraordinary thing for someone to say. And I can‘t imagine what prompted him to say something of that nature.
But, you know, as I go around the country, the overwhelming majority of people I meet welcome a person of faith. They want a person of faith to lead the country. They recognize that ours is a nation of many faiths. That is, in part, how our nation got founded. They have no interest in applying a religious test or suggesting that God wants one faith or another to succeed in becoming the president.
So, it‘s an extraordinarily bigoted kind of statement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton, thanks for joining us. We always welcome you on this show.
God, you look angry. Why are you angry?
SHARPTON: Well, I think that it‘s—I‘m not angry.
I‘m a little baffled at how one could respond in an atheist debate, saying, after the person I‘m debating, who is a scholar, wrote a book, and he‘s saying that all religious people put poison in the world...
SHARPTON: ... and I‘m saying that, when you—among the things he tries to charge, that religious people have done bad, is what he claimed the Mormon Church had done...
SHARPTON: ... and I answer atheists, how Romney reads all of that into the line you just said is kind of appalling to me.
But, you know, it is politics, I guess, on his side.
MATTHEWS: Well, maybe. Well, let me ask you this. Why did people laugh at your comment about the Mormons? I heard the chuckles there in the crowd.
SHARPTON: Because they knew I wasn‘t talking about the Mormons.
MATTHEWS: You must have said something funny.
SHARPTON: Because they knew I wasn‘t talking about the Mormons.
MATTHEWS: Well, is that funny?
SHARPTON: They knew I wasn‘t talking about the Mormons.
They knew that I was categorically going against all he said about religious people. He started by saying atheists helped guide the civil rights movement. I talked about Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
SHARPTON: He said other things. And, then, when I got to that, I said, let‘s not even worry about the candidate, the Mormon candidate for president, because, true believers, meaning people, not atheists—we‘re not going to depend on an atheist vote.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but...
SHARPTON: We‘re going to vote. And...
MATTHEWS: But you at least were saying that he‘s going to get beaten. I mean, you said—that was pretty clear. You said this is a passing thing.
SHARPTON: Yes, but not because of he was a Mormon.
He‘s the one that brought up his being a Mormon, and that he, according to this guy Hitchens, they were racists. I would have said that if he named any Republican, because I don‘t believe any Republican was going to win.
You know, today, Chris, I talked with...
MATTHEWS: Do you think they were jumping on you? Is this—are they trying to make you into Sister Souljah, a la 1992? Is this a...
MATTHEWS: Do you think he is tagging you for political gain on the right?
SHARPTON: I think—I think clearly that.
I mean, first of all, whether one agrees or disagrees, there are many aspects, as you know, of the Christian faith that don‘t recognize Mormons. I do.
SHARPTON: There are some Christian churches that don‘t recognize them. I do.
So, I mean, to act as if this is some statement that, if I wanted to say, oh, no, I have theological problems with him, I would be agreeing with others, I happen not to have that position.
MATTHEWS: Yes. But you were reporting, as if you were a commentator, that, knowing what you know about certainly the Bible Belt and the South, where people are very committed to their beliefs and to Jesus and to their faith, that you‘re basically saying in that quote, if you put a benign face on it, you‘re saying this guy doesn‘t have a prayer among Christian believers.
You said that in your—in the quote. We can play it again. That‘s what you said.
SHARPTON: Well, I mean...
MATTHEWS: This guy is a passing problem. He is going to be gone.
Why worry about him?
SHARPTON: I‘m saying that he is a passing problem, but not that they‘re even going to vote for—against him because of his faith. I don‘t think he is going to win anyway. And you‘re acting as though...
MATTHEWS: Well, you said because the believers aren‘t going to vote for him, is what you said.
SHARPTON: No, but I‘m saying that—I‘m not going to depend on the atheist vote.
You have got to understand, the tone...
SHARPTON: ... of Hitchens was, the atheists are the ones...
SHARPTON: ... with the innate morality to save the world.
No, Christians are going to vote. And they are going to vote on the right people. Jews are going to vote. They are going to vote on the right people. People that believe in God, true believers, are going to vote. And it‘s going to be a moral vote.
I‘m glad to say, though, I talked today to two of the leaders on the top apostles group of the Mormon Church. I said to them, I was certainly not being anti-Mormon.
SHARPTON: I am going to go see them in Utah. I have said, if I offended Mormons with the misuse of my words, I would apologize to Mormons.
And I am going to go out there and visit them. I think Romney is going to play politics. But I think that we have—need to have a dialogue.
SHARPTON: Clearly, I‘m not anti-Mormon.
MATTHEWS: Did you ever hear that phrase what goes around comes around?
And do you think you might be getting tagged pretty hard here because, Romney, being pretty astute politically, sees you as a great target, not just because you‘re a Democrat, but also because you were very tough in bringing down Don Imus, and he said: “Well, this guy is up on a pedestal. I‘m going to knock him off. And, that way, everybody will say he is a hypocrite”?
MATTHEWS: Well, it seems to me like it was a—you can say it was a sucker punch or a Sunday punch, but, clearly, Romney is swinging for the fences against your head. There‘s no doubt about what‘s going on here.
SHARPTON: The problem he‘s got—the problem he‘s going to have is, is he now going to say that everyone in—in the religious world that doesn‘t recognize the Mormon Church are bigots? And...
MATTHEWS: Well, I think he would say that.
SHARPTON: Well, I—I think that, then—then, you would have to start saying that, when you guys question Giuliani about his Catholicism, or Senator Obama about his pastor...
MATTHEWS: Hey, look...
SHARPTON: ... now you all are bigots. Nobody can ask questions no more.
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m going to tell you something. Reverend, we can agree on one sociometric overlay. I happen to know that some people within our Christian faith think of the Catholic Church as a cult.
So, maybe they‘re a bit further over.
SHARPTON: But that doesn‘t make them bigots.
MATTHEWS: But that...
SHARPTON: We—we do have the right to have theological disagreement. I just happen not have this one about Mormons.
MATTHEWS: Well, if somebody calls me a cultist, I may have a problem with their theology.
But you‘re right.
SHARPTON: I think you‘re right.
MATTHEWS: It‘s up to—we all believe what we believe, you know? I mean, it is tricky.
SHARPTON: I think if I had called him a cultist, he would say that. I didn‘t say that. And I think that nowhere did I mean to compare Imus denigrating people with name calling, with someone, at best, questioning someone‘s standing in terms of the faith, and that is not even what I intended to say. I think that Romney would find that will back fire big time. But I‘m going to go see—
MATTHEWS: I‘m just saying you‘re a big target, Reverend. Every time you climb up the ladder a little bit, your rear end gets bigger. That‘s the fact of public life. You are a big man this year. You‘re bigger now than you were four, or the last time you ran for president, three years ago. You‘re a much bigger fellow, and the defeat of Don Imus, which was a career defeat, you were seen as the ram rod of bringing him down.
So you have to understand that someone like Romney, who is probably looking for a way to distance himself from the left politically, and a chance to bring down somebody big, this is a chance for him. Isn‘t it? Isn‘t that what he is doing?
SHARPTON: I think he shouldn‘t do it, if that‘s what he‘s doing, at the expense of his own fellow Mormons, which is why I reached out to heal, and why I‘m going to see the leaders of the Mormon church.
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t you, to use an old phrase from the Reverend Martin Luther King, why don‘t you get around the table of brotherhood with this guy?
SHARPTON: I have no problem talking to Mr. Romney and explaining to him what I meant and what I didn‘t say.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he will give you—do you think he‘s going to end this or he is going to play it?
SHARPTON: Let‘s say this: if I‘m willing to talk to him, and if the leaders of his church have said to me, lets sits down and you talk—if he is the only man out, you tell me why he won‘t come to the table.
MATTHEWS: Because he has a winning hand, he thinks.
SHARPTON: Well, the question is, if people feel that you‘re playing it as a winning hand, and not real moral outrage, it could back fire. I don‘t know. I‘m not running this year. If Mr. Romney, in fact, does believe what he said on that clip, he would be meeting at the table of brotherhood to get clarity and move on. If he doesn‘t, people have to decide that. I will tell you, I will be going to meet with the leaders of the church and I will continue fighting against intolerance, which is why I thought it was important for me to clear this up.
MATTHEWS: Can you do me a favor? Can you smile? Can you be happy? I like you happier. Thank you, sir. I really appreciate you coming on tonight.
SHARPTON: All right Chris.
MATTHEWS: Are Christian conservatives comfortable with the leading Republican presidential candidates? Up next, dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. Can a Republican win the party nomination of the Republican party without the support of the Christian conservatives? Dr. Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention‘s Ethnic and Religious Liberty Commission. Lets cut the turkey here. Rudolph Giuliani is going to apparently make it clear that he is pro-choice on the issue of abortion. Does that mean he can‘t win the nomination for the Republican party for president?
DR. RICHARD LAND, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: No, it doesn‘t mean that. It means he‘ll have to do it without pro-life support. About a third of the people who say they are likely voters in Republican primaries are pro-choice. And they‘ll all vote for Rudy.
MATTHEWS: And let assume that. You can‘t assume that the pro-choice people will vote for Giuliani. But can you assume that some of the pro-life people will vote for him on other grounds?
LAND: Some will. Some will. Fewer in the primary than in the general election. I think that some of them would hold their nose and vote for him in the general election.
MATTHEWS: But you said to me, in memorable words, as we walked away -
I‘m quoting you directly; maybe it was off the record. But you said, you can‘t go to your congregation nationwide and say lesser of two evils. You said you can‘t do that. It won‘t work.
LAND: I can‘t do it. I won‘t do that. I won‘t vote for Giuliani. I won‘t vote for him in a general election.
MATTHEWS: You said you couldn‘t sell that to the people.
LAND: I don‘t think I could sell him to most of them and I wouldn‘t try. I would say vote your values and your beliefs and convictions and have to leave it to them to connect the dots. But I have said publicly, I don‘t endorse candidates, but I‘m negatively endorsing. I could not vote for Giuliani.
MATTHEWS: I‘m a political student, not a religious student, although I am religious. I just think that the way people like Terry McAuliffe are setting this up, and the Democrats and Hillary. Hillary and Rudy have a common ground here. They want early big primaries, Florida, the beauty contest down there, the same day as South Carolina to sort of debunk the earlier smaller primaries in more conservative areas, like Iowa. You know what I mean.
So the big stakes on the coast, Florida, New York even, California have all their big votes, huge overwhelming votes early in the year next year. They both win. And so from February until November, we have two relatively centrist candidates, relatively. And I think both parties are going to rebel. I think your party, on the cultural right, will rebel and someone will come out of the weeds somewhere and be a five or 10 percent conservative candidate for president. Don‘t you think?
LAND: Or more.
MATTHEWS: And I think there might be an anti-war candidate on the Democratic side.
LAND: How about this for a scenario? Assume that what you‘re predicting happen, and John McCain and Joe Lieberman decide to run a McCain-Lieberman non-partisan independent ticket. Let‘s put aside the partisanship and do what‘s best for the country, one term pledge. And John McCain is pro life.
MATTHEWS: You‘re smiling, sir.
LAND: It would be an interesting race.
MATTHEWS: It sounds like you would be for them.
LAND: I don‘t endorse candidates.
MATTHEWS: Would you endorse a guy who is orthodox in his Judaism, with an Episcopalian mainstream or mainline church guy like him?
LAND: I have voted against southern Baptists the last five time I‘ve had an opportunity to vote for southern Baptist for president.
MATTHEWS: That would be Gore, Carter, Clinton, who else.
LAND: Carter twice. I voted against Carter twice. I voted against Clinton twice. And I voted against Gore.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get to it. On Broadway right now, “Inherit the Wind” is playing. I hear Christopher Plummer is fabulous. I‘ve always been a Brian Dennehy fan. Brian Dennehy is playing the William Jennings Bryant character. Are you surprised that three of the Republican candidates for president in our debate last week openly expressed opposition to a belief in evolution?
LAND: No. I‘m not surprised at all.
MATTHEWS: Huckabee, Brownback and Tancredo, whereas John McCain basically said he is for evolution.
LAND: Of course, when I heard the question, I thought, you can‘t answer that question in a brief sentence.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at how they answered. Then I‘ll let you do it sir.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I believe in evolution, but I also believe when I hike the Grand Canyon and see a sunset, that the hand of god is there also.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, somebody that, if you look at the Grand Canyon, you get one view of theology. You look over Flat Bush Avenue, you might have another one. Mankind hasn‘t always improved on nature. I should say any where. What do you think of that answer? Was that a believers answer?
LAND: Yes, it is one that many believers would give. The first reaction I had when I heard the question—I watched the debate. And I thought, well, what do you mean by evolution? Do you mean the Darwinian theory of evolutionary origins? That‘s one question. Are you talking about evolution within species? Are you talking about inter-species evolution?
MATTHEWS: I think most people mean that mankind evolved from lower species.
LAND: Yes, well, I don‘t believe that.
MATTHEWS: How many people in the evangelical world believe that even though it had the hand of god in our creation, that this was the way god created us, through evolution.
LAND: It would be a small minority among southern Baptists and a slightly larger minority among evangelicals. Sixty percent of American, across the board, say they believe in some form of creation.
MATTHEWS: Do they believe in the seven days? Do they believe in Genesis literally, the way it was written in scripture? Do they believe it that way? Or do they believe there is some license there in the writing and it could well mean—it could well conform even to what some people see as evolution.
LAND: Some do and some don‘t. Some would dispute about how literal the Genesis account is, in term of the word day, whether the day was a 24-hour period.
MATTHEWS: We study that in school as kids.
LAND: Francis Collins is a strong believer, and yet he is a theistic evolutionist. The fellow who runs the Human Genome Project would tell you that he sees no problem between his understanding of evolution and his belief in the bible. So there would be, among evangelicals, not to mention Catholics and others, you would have enormous differences and gradations. But you would have a fundamental difference with the idea of the theory of Darwinian evolutionary origins.
MATTHEWS: Yes. If you say it was all an accident, and it was just a big bang a million years ago, and it ended up creating us sitting here now, a lot of people have a hard time with that, because it is unimaginable, that an accident led to somebody as serious as you sitting in front of me, that you could be created by accident is an amazing idea.
LAND: It takes a lot more faith to believe in the Darwinian theory of evolutions origins than it does—
MATTHEWS: I grew up Roman Catholic and we were taught evolution as part of god‘s plan, that this was just the way he did it. You know, it wasn‘t a challenge to our beliefs.
LAND: Well, I don‘t agree with that, but it is an acceptable believe that many Christian have. By the way, I don‘t think Catholicism is a cult.
MATTHEWS: We have to get away from that kind of debate. You know, there are some things we can‘t debate on this show. Whether some religion is in or out is not our call.
LAND: I think it is preposterous for Americans to say that some religions are kosher and some religions aren‘t. American have complete freedom of choice in religion.
MATTHEWS: By the way to believe in any religions a leap of faith. it comes with grace and it come with god‘s help. And the idea that you can say one is better than the other is a hard case. Anyway, thank you.
LAND: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Dr. Richard Land, he laid some cards on the table tonight. Up next, NBC political analyst Charlie Cook on where the presidential campaign debate has moved us since our big debate last week at the Reagan Library. He is got some new TV ads to show us. We always like them. You‘re watching it; HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Charlie Cook writes the Cook Political Report. He‘s also an NBC News political analyst. Charlie, I would never have predicted the 2008 presidential election would involve a debate over evolution. This is the kind of debate we had back in the early part of the 20th century, you know, with the Scopes trial, the monkey trial, so called. Here we are again, recognizing, big city guys like me, that 60 percent of the country does in fact believe in the literal interpretation that was given to us in the book Genesis. Are you amazed it became an issue?
CHARLIE COOK, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Don‘t you love primaries?
MATTHEWS: I love the fact that Politico—that John Harris asked that question on that big stage last week. And it created an interesting dispute. John McCain said I believe in evolution with this coloration of I like sunsets, which I think even the most secular people like sunsets. And then those three other guys put their hands up and said I disagree. Let‘s get to it, what do you think?
COOK: I think that we are looking at a fascinating situation where each party—one group of people counts on the Republican side. One group of people counts on the Democratic side. And 60 percent in the middle; we don‘t matter until fall.
MATTHEWS: MoveOn.org is moving the Democratic party and the religious conservatives are pushing the Republican party? Now, is this going to croak Rudy Giuliani? Or does he have the big state solution? I can win in Florida. I can win in California, New York, New Jersey. And if I lose Iowa on this issue, or lose South Carolina, I can still win the nomination?
COOK: I don‘t think you can loose Iowa and New Hampshire and win this nomination. And that‘s why I—
MATTHEWS: Hillary could.
COOK: First of all, she‘s ahead in New Hampshire.
MATTHEWS: But even if she lost the little states, she‘s still going to win this thing. Isn‘t Hillary going to win this thing?
COOK: If I had to put my money down some place, yes. But the thing about it is, if somebody wins in Iowa, somebody else wins in New Hampshire, and you didn‘t win either one, your face isn‘t on the cover of “Time” or “Newsweek” or “U.S. News.” You‘re not getting that bump.
MATTHEWS: Can I rehearse what Bill Clinton is going to do if he loses either one, if his wife loses. Well, you know, I lost the first three in those little states. Wait until California gets to it. My accents not that good, but Bill Clinton is so good at spinning this stuff. I can see him on the platform—
COOK: That was a year when Iowa didn‘t count too.
MATTHEWS: You still go with it. You‘re theory—and you‘re an expert—is that the little states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, are still going to drive this thing?
COOK: I think Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. I‘m not sure that Nevada is going to get that much—
MATTHEWS: So you are saying Giuliani is trouble because of his pro-choice position?
COOK: Yes, I just think that he‘s got the perfect position for a Democratic candidate. I just don‘t know if you can get a Republican nomination this way.
MATTHEWS: That makes two of them, because I always thought McCain would make a great Democratic candidate.
COOK: The thing is Giuliani has kept this thing together longer and better than I thought.
MATTHEWS: So that leaves it. You think Hillary is going to win the Democratic nomination and you think Romney is going to win the other one?
COOK: I think it‘s either Romney or Thompson, more likely Romney.
But McCain has just hit such a tough patch.
MATTHEWS: Romney was the star at our debate last week. He just looked right, talked right. I‘m not sure if everything he said was true, by the way. His thing about the national ID card, check the record. These guys are for a national ID card, and to say just for aliens. If you tried demanding a card only from people that looked foreign or talked foreign, you would have serious court problems.
Anyway, thank you Charlie Cook.
COOK: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.
Right now it is time for “TUCKER.”
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