updated 5/22/2007 11:20:32 AM ET 2007-05-22T15:20:32

Guests: Bill Richardson, Harold Schaitberger, Ken Blackwell, Charlie Crist, Jonathan Darman, Lois Romano, Chris Cillizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  West Wing, East Wing.  What happens when Bill comes back as First Gentleman?  Is there enough dinner planning and funeral attending to keep him busy?  Why not put the former president in charge of foreign policy, the way he put her in charge of health care?  Might work this time.  The guy knows his stuff.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  He‘s just my Bill.  So what will it mean to have him back, living in the White House?  Will the popular appeal of America‘s most talked-about situation comedy mean tragedy next November for the Republicans?

And Carter is back, and there‘s going to be some trouble.  He calls President Bush‘s administration the worst in history.  Then today, he said he was misinterpreted and was only talking about Bush‘s foreign policy.

And look who benefited from the MSNBC debate.  Mitt Romney has now got an overwhelming lead in the countries first 2008 contest, the Iowa caucuses, even as Florida rushes its primary practically to the front of the line.

But the real political noise tonight is on the right.  This immigration bill is not going down well among Republicans.  Republican senators are getting booed down South for Bush‘s plan to legalize illegal immigrants.

And sponsor John McCain drops the “F-bomb” on Bush‘s number one senator, Cornyn of Texas.

We begin tonight with our daily look at the best sounds and sights from the day.  Our panel tonight, the Washingtonpost.com‘s Chris Cillizza, “The Washington Post‘s” Lois Romano and “Newsweek‘s” political correspondent Jonathan Darman.

First up, the Bill Clinton factor.  During that first Republican presidential debate, I asked the candidates about Bill Clinton and what it would be like to have him back, living in the White House.


MATTHEWS:  Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back, living in the White House?


MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You have got to be kidding!

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m not.


MATTHEWS:  His wife‘s running...


ROMNEY:  The only thing I can think of that would be as bad as that would be to have the gang of three running the war on terror, Pelosi, Reid and Hillary Clinton.  So I—I—I have to be honest with you.  I think it‘d be an awful thing.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Brownback?

ROMNEY:  For a lot of reasons.


MATTHEWS:  Well, now the question, the Clinton question, is front and center.  “Newsweek‘s” cover story this week by Jonathan Darman takes a look at that very question, Bill Clinton‘s role in 2008.  Last week he made headlines by saying that Hillary and Obama shared almost the same voting record on Iraq.  Obama hit back on MSNBC, and this morning Hillary talked about their voting records on the “Today” show.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have all voted the same way when we‘ve had the responsibility to vote, and that has been to try begin to reverse course in Iraq.  I think most people are really intent upon moving out of Iraq as soon as we reasonably can, and that‘s what I‘ve been focused on for a number of years, and that‘s what I‘m going to continue to vote on and talk about and try to urge that we get together and do.


MATTHEWS:  OK, let us go to Jonathan Darman, who wrote that big cover piece.  Jonathan, thank you for joining—a hell of a piece, but I still have the question in my mind.  Is Bill more trouble than he‘s worth, or is he a big plus for Hillary getting back—the family back to the White House?

JONATHAN DARMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  I mean, so far, Chris, I think we‘ve seen how he‘s a big asset for her.  He‘s gone out there and he‘s raised a lot of money for her, and he‘s certainly whispering in her ear.  And you look at who her top team are, they‘re all Bill Clinton people.  They‘re people like Terry McAuliffe and they‘re people like Mark Penn.  These are people who know what Bill Clinton thinks about the race, and that‘s really helpful to any candidate.  Now...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s their deal?  What is their deal, Jonathan?  You must have done some reporting on this.  Let‘s not get into the particular human details of their relationship because who knows about any relationship, but do they live in the same world?  Are they in like what you‘d call a long-distance marriage, where one person works in one city, the other works in an another?  How often do they actually see each other?

DARMAN:  They don‘t see each other that much.  And this is, of course, a pretty sensitive issue for them.  And it‘s actually also a sensitive issue as they talk about that global ambassador role that he‘s supposedly going to play if he‘s in the White House.  Some people see a sort of coded message in that, which is, Hey, he‘s not going to be hanging around the White House.  But then that invites all its own problems, with people saying, Well, how close is this marriage, and how much time are these people really spending together?

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Lois Romano.  Without getting any further than

I‘m going right now, how do you explain a comment from the former president

“I talk to her almost every day”?


MATTHEWS:  Well, what does that mean, though?  What does it mean to say you talk to your spouse almost every day?

ROMANO:  Well, look, what I think...

MATTHEWS:  What does that mean, to say something like that?

ROMANO:  I think they‘re extremely close.  They‘re of one mind.  And I


MATTHEWS:  I‘m not asking about that.  Are they living on the same planet?  Do they ever see each other physically?

ROMANO:  They‘re completely—oh, yes, yes, yes.


ROMANO:  Come on.  They‘re a partnership.  Because, look, she‘s a

senator.  She goes home on weekends.  He‘s traveling around.  But they are

they are—make no mistake about it, they are a partnership, and they are a love story.  I mean, regardless of anything else that‘s happened...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how many is it?  Is it 20 days a year?  How many days of the year are they actually together in the same roof overnight, if you will?

ROMANO:  I think—I think that I saw a report that said it was about half a month.

MATTHEWS:  A year?

ROMANO:  Yes.  Well, a half a month every month.  So whatever—half a year, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, really?  I would recheck the reporting.  Is that what you got, Jonathan, in your reporting, that they‘re together half the time overnight?


MATTHEWS:  They actually live together half the time?  I don‘t think I‘m getting that from your—your words so far tonight.

DARMAN:  From what I‘ve—from what I‘ve heard from people—this is not, again, something they like to talk about that much—but that it‘s a little bit less than that.  And I seem to recall a figure that was 70 days a year and—so that‘s less than half a year.  But again, I mean, there‘s this—there‘s this question of—in a lot of ways, both of the Clintons have really benefited since they‘ve been out of the White House by going out there and carving out their own identities.  He‘s doing his global thing with the foundation, and she‘s sort of distinguished herself as a senator, and they‘ve really, you know, benefited from getting their own individual identities and not having everyone fixating on what their...

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a sense, Jonathan...

DARMAN:  ... marital dynamic is.

MATTHEWS:  You put a cover piece, so I‘m going to keep pounding on you.  Is he going to live in the White House, if they win?  Why are you laughing, Lois?

ROMANO:  Because—what is your obsession with logistics here?  Of course, he‘s going to live in the White House and...

MATTHEWS:  Because I‘m talking to three reporters, and I‘m trying to get three straight answers, so I don‘t want attitude about this.  It‘s a point of view—I want facts.  Tell me what the facts are, Lois, if you know them.  If you don‘t, I don‘t know what you‘re arguing about.

ROMANO:  Of course, he‘s going to—of course, he‘s going to—look, they‘re dancing a very delicate dance now.  He doesn‘t want to be too influential.  He doesn‘t want to be around too much.  He wants to advise her.  Of course they‘re going to say he‘s not going to be at the White House 24/7 because then everybody will say, Oh, he‘s going to be president.

But I believe he‘s going to live in the White House, and I believe...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think it‘s—Lois, you don‘t think it‘s a relevant story for people who are going to vote in this election?

ROMANO:  No.  I don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think it‘s relevant whether Bill Clinton comes back and lives in the White House.  You don‘t think that‘s relevant.

ROMANO:  It is relevant because people are going to be concerned that he‘s going to be the president.  People that want him to be the president will like that, and others that don‘t like either of them will keep bringing that up.  But I mean, I think it‘s crazy to think he‘s not going to live in the White House.  Is he going to travel and do other stuff?  Of course, he‘s going to do that.

MATTHEWS:  I think this is a bigger issue than you think.  Chris Cillizza, will this be an issue in the election?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Sure.  Of course.  I mean, her last name is Clinton.

MATTHEWS:  I think the fact that he‘s back in the White House is an issue.

CILLIZZA:  Well, I think it is an issue, but I don‘t think it‘s the fundamental issue.  It is an issue.  There‘s no question.  They don‘t like talking about it because they know that Bill Clinton comes with the good and the bad.


CILLIZZA:  You know, I mean, they‘ve gotten a lot of the good so far. 

He was just down in South Carolina, ginning up the black community for her.  He helps her in a lot of ways.  But of course, he hurts here.  I mean, there‘s a part of this country that simply does not want someone with the last name Clinton again in the White House, whether he lives there or not.  They don‘t necessarily want her in there, either.  And I think that‘s something that, of course, they‘re going to have to figure out how to come to terms with.  It‘s one of the challenges we, as reporters, have.  What is the dynamic of that relationship both politically, professionally and personally, and it‘s very hard...

MATTHEWS:  Just remember...


MATTHEWS:  ... at great lengths on “60 Minutes” before the last election.  This is not going to be a story again.  The sitcom is over with.  No more discussions about it.  And all of a sudden, it became the biggest story of the second term, Lois.  It really did.  It became the biggest story of the second term of that presidency.  And to pretend it‘s all gone and it‘s not going to be a story again, I think, is to cover up what is going to be a developing story between now and the election.

ROMANO:  No, I‘m not saying it‘s not going to be a story.  Of course, everybody is focused on their relationship.  But what I‘m saying is that, basically, they are a team.  They are a partnership.  And he‘s very popular right now.  I mean, yes, is it an issue?

MATTHEWS:  Yes?  Well, then...

ROMANO:  But I think it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  ... it‘s a positive.

ROMANO:  What‘s an issue is what you don‘t want to talk about, and that is the blow-up over Monica Lewinsky.  I mean, that‘s the issue that people don‘t want to talk about and that they‘re staring at right now and saying, Gee...


ROMANO:  ... you know, a little—everybody‘s a little edgy about it, but—but you—you know, but aside from that, which is a big aside, they are a partnership.  His numbers are way through the ceiling right now.


ROMANO:  I mean, he just brings positive...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, because the American memory is about, what, three minutes?


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, let‘s go back to—let‘s go, Lois.  You started this.  With Jimmy Carter this week, former president Jimmy Carter, took his criticism of President Bush, George W. Bush, to an historic level.  In an interview with “The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,” President Carter said that when it comes to international relations, the Bush administration has been the worst in history.  This morning on the “Today” show, the former president tweaked his critique.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Also, you‘re saying now that you believe they were careless?  Or reckless?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I think they were, yes, because they were interpreted as saying—preparing (ph) this whole—the administration to all other administrations.  And what I was actually doing was responding to a question about foreign policy between Richard Nixon and this administration, and I think that this administration‘s foreign policy, compared to President Nixon‘s, was much worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But not the worst in U.S. history.

CARTER:  Well, I—I—that‘s not what I wanted to say.


MATTHEWS:  Wow.  What do you make of that, Lois?  He‘s not—he‘s pulling back his horns there a bit.

ROMANO:  Well, you know, Jimmy Carter has worked very, very hard to rehabilitate himself.  And you know, he goes on his missions for peace and he‘s well regarded.  But I still think the bottom line is you can‘t have the pot calling the kettle black.  I mean, you know, Jimmy Carter didn‘t have a great foreign policy.  Everybody still, you know, aligns him with the whole debacle over the hostages.  So I‘m not sure what he said is going to have any impact or relevance.


ROMANO:  And I think he knows he overstepped a little, obviously.

MATTHEWS:  I think he does.

CILLIZZA:  The other thing that‘s interesting—I was just (INAUDIBLE) He said, That‘s not what I meant to say.  That‘s very different than, That‘s not what I mean.


CILLIZZA:  I think what he recognized is that former presidents of the United States tend not to criticize one another.  Obviously, we have this wonderful detente between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  Not everyone‘s going to get along that well.  But this is a relatively small...

MATTHEWS:  Why can‘t we have a president somewhere between Carter and Bush?


MATTHEWS:  Somewhere in the—Jonathan, you want to weigh in here?  I mean, Carter was seen as too weak, and Bush—well, we have the other problem, perhaps.  But you know, it seems to be a reasonable debate between these two gentlemen, but it obviously has gotten personal.

DARMAN:  I mean, we have this sort of expectation of ex-presidents, that they‘re never going to say anything about their predecessor.


DARMAN:  And it‘s largely true, although it‘s not necessarily always been the case historically.  I mean, I think of Teddy Roosevelt, who picked William Howard Taft as his successor...


DARMAN:  ... and then he got so angry with him, he ran against him.  I mean, so it‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  Harry Truman didn‘t say much nice about Ike, either, from what I remember.  Not that I remember, but—having read about it.

DARMAN:  I think it‘s almost a sort of modern media phenomenon because these presidents have a power that they didn‘t necessarily have before when they make comments.

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask you a question, Jonathan, because I love asking reporters straight questions.  Did you get any reaction to your cover on “Newsweek” today from the Clinton crowd?

DARMAN:  We haven‘t gotten a negative reaction from the Clinton crowd.

MATTHEWS:  I want to see everything you get, buddy.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway—look at that cover!  It‘s a nice picture.  Anyway, we‘ll—I think the cover is going to sell.  My bet is big newsstand this week for “Newsweek.”

Anyway, we‘ll be right back with our panel.  And later: New Mexico governor Bill Richardson today made his official declaration for president.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Back with the Washingtonpost.com‘s Chris Cillizza and “The Washington Post‘s” Lois Romano and “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Darman, the hot new kid on the block who did the big cover this week.

Next up, Iowa winners and losers.  Mitt Romney‘s taken off in Iowa.  A new poll for “The Des Moines Register” has Romney leading the pack now—catch this number -- 30 percent—and that‘s not double digit, that‘s triple double digit—followed by John McCain at just 18 and Rudy Giuliani at just 17.  So look at Romney out in the Midwest there.

On the Democratic side, the poll has John Edwards.  You know, we hear a lot about Obama and Hillary, but there‘s Edwards leading in the first contest, 29, 23, 21.

Chris Cillizza, will the Iowa caucuses still have the clout they‘ve had in recent years?

CILLIZZA:  Absolutely.  I think they‘ll have more clout.  The reality is—in fact, Dean—does anyone really believe that you can come in third or second in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and make it to...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happens when a candidate like Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton come out and say, You know, these early primaries don‘t have any delegates.  The big delegates are coming up January 29 and the 30th.

CILLIZZA:  They won‘t do it.  It‘s not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  Why won‘t that work?

CILLIZZA:  Hillary Clinton is not going to come out and say, Iowa

doesn‘t matter because

MATTHEWS:  Well, after she loses, she can!

CILLIZZA:  She can try.  She can try.  But history suggests that...


CILLIZZA:  ... the story out of Iowa...

MATTHEWS:  Has history changed...

CILLIZZA:  ... winds up being the story.

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, has history changed?  Because I‘m just looking here at the schedule of primaries.  It‘s absolutely brand-new.  On one day, on February 5, California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and all these other states one on day.  Can we still look at what is called the slingshot effect of one state like Iowa or New Hampshire defining the winner?

DARMAN:  Yes, I think, because of the media expectations game.  I mean, Hillary is going to be in an interesting position because, you‘re right, she can‘t ever concede and say, OK, I‘m not going to going to compete in Iowa.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happens...


DARMAN:  Yes, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Can she cover a loss?

DARMAN:  That‘s the question.  She‘s got this—she‘s got a tremendous organization in those February 5th states, and I kind of think that she‘s, like, you know, the Roman empire.  She‘s strong until, you know, she collapses.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me—let me try...


MATTHEWS:  ... something by Lois.  Lois, I remember back when I was covering the New Hampshire primary, and you probably were, too, back in ‘92, a hundred years ago.  And Bill Clinton lost to Tsongas by 8 points and simply declared himself “the comeback kid” and won.  Spin still plays a big role here.  Can‘t he just say, you know, I lost the first few primaries and Hillary lost the first few, and we‘re going to come on like bandits and win the big ones?

ROMANO:  Well, I think the calendar works against that.  I agree with Chris there.  I mean, everything is so tight now that the problem is the—you know, number two used to be a pretty good spot for New Hampshire and Iowa for somebody to kind of get a bounce.  And when you can get a bounce only a few weeks, can you really recover?  And I don‘t know the answer to that.

MATTHEWS:  So you feel that these early ones still matter most.

ROMANO:  I think they will matter.  They will matter.

MATTHEWS:  Really?

ROMANO:  And I think—and I think Hillary, you know, can‘t write it off, and I don‘t think she will.  I mean, somebody who comes in a close second, I think they can recover, but I think it‘s a very important statement because of the expectation game.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, let‘s look at how it‘s going to work.  It‘s so far ahead, but if we have—we have Iowa, then we have Nevada that weekend coming right away real fast.  If Edwards wins a one-two punch, I guess that‘s big time.

CILLIZZA:  Well, the crucial difference, I think, between comparisons of Bill Clinton and “the comeback kid” and Hillary Clinton is Hillary Clinton is by far seen as the frontrunner in this race.  Barring all the Obama stuff...


CILLIZZA:  If there is a puncture in that inevitability...


MATTHEWS:  ... Jonathan on this.

CILLIZZA:  Yes.  If there is a puncture...


MATTHEWS:  ... Lois so we have a threesome here.  You all believe a big puncture in the balloon hurts the most.

ROMANO:  In what—I‘m sorry.  A big puncture in whose balloon?

MATTHEWS:  Hillary.

ROMANO:  Hillary?  Yes.  Definitely.  Definitely.

MATTHEWS:  OK, (INAUDIBLE) let‘s take a look at what‘s really hot right now, the booze (ph) on the border.  Last week, a bipartisan group of senators and the White House reached a compromise on illegal immigration that would give residency to millions of illegal people.  But a lot of people don‘t like the bill because it would legalize millions of illegal immigrants, obviously, and they‘re vowing to fight it to the finish.

This past weekend, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss drew boos and hisses for supporting that Bush plan.  Let‘s listen up.


SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS ®, GEORGIA:  We got face the fact that we‘ve got to create a meaningful, truly temporary worker program for those segments of our economy that need...


CHAMBLISS:  ... temporary workers.  All you have to do is to go any farm in south Georgia where you love to buy vegetables from, and if we don‘t have a meaningful workable program, we simply will be dependent on foreign imports for food products, the way we are dependent on foreign imports for oil products.


MATTHEWS:  Presidential candidate John McCain has been under attack for his support of the bill, too from rival Mitt Romney.  When asked about Romney‘s opposition to the immigration bill, McCain said today, Maybe I should wait a couple weeks and see if it changes.  Maybe he can get his small varmint gun out and drive those Guatemalans off his yard.  The Guatemalans reference refers to a “Boston Globe” story about—from last year that reported that Romney used illegal immigrants from Guatemala to do his yard work.

I think you‘re laughing, Jonathan.  This is really hot stuff.  I mean, this is so close to the bone in terms of this country, in terms of people here illegally, people who work for people‘s families, they do yard work in some case.  They do a lot of big-time construction where I live in Maryland.  And are they here illegal or not?  And what‘s the question politically?

DARMAN:  I mean, I think they‘re directly engaged, at this point.  And it‘s—it‘s an interesting sort of mirror on where the Republican Party is right now.  Normally, if you have a divisive issue that plays differently in different parts of the country, and you know, divides where the political base is and where the donor base is, a sort of smart place to be, if you‘re running for president, is sort of staking out the middle ground and following the lead from your party‘s incumbent president.

And that is where McCain is.  And it‘s really, really hurting him. 


DARMAN:  So...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it‘s not a winner. 

I—I only think it is a winner in Arizona if you‘re a senator...

CILLIZZA:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... because you have a large Latino population you would like to not alienate.  And he told me on past occurrences that one reason Bill Clinton carried Arizona back in ‘96, in the reelection, was because of anger against the Republican Party over what happened to Prop—whatever it was -- 187 in California. 

CILLIZZA:  I think what he is hoping for—and I‘m not saying this is going to happen—I think is what he is hoping for is that this is a little bit of straight talk that the Republican Party will respect him for. 

The issue is—I think the real question is...

MATTHEWS:  Fat chance.

CILLIZZA:  ... how many people is this a voting issue on in the Republican Party? 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think it‘s a big voting issue more than you think.

You know, Michael Savage, I‘m no fan of the guy, but, about four or five years ago, I started listening to the radio at night coming home at night, listening to him rant—rant—against illegal immigration. 

CILLIZZA:  Laura Ingraham, too.

MATTHEWS:  And I think really—really—and Lou Dobbs, of course. 

I get the feeling that there is a grassroots anger against the president over this. 

What do you think, Jonathan?

DARMAN:  Yes, I think so, certainly.

And I think that, you know, it was sort of—we did not pay that much attention to it in the 2006 cycle, because we were focused on Iraq.  But this is something that the Republican base really cares about, that they feel like this is an area where...


DARMAN:  ... their party‘s leadership has abandoned them. 

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s a distinction between the interests of business and those of the just regular people in this.  The regular people are against illegal immigration.  And business sees it as a business opportunity. 

DARMAN:  Yes.  I mean, Mitt Romney is an interesting position right

now, because he‘s Mr. Business.  You know, he uses his sort of language of

of being..


DARMAN:  ... of being the CEO.  But he‘s basically staking out, or trying to grab, basically, the populist right territory.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

Has he—ever not take, Lois, the most conservative position since this began?  Every issue—name the issue—Romney is out there.

ROMANO:  You know, the one thing I just want to add to what everyone else is saying is, is, basically, I think this thing is going to hit the skids.  And I think that both the Democrats in Congress and the White House desperately needed to change the subject last week, for very different reasons.

I mean, all Bush is doing is the war.  And the Democrats are getting hit for not doing their agenda.  And they might have rushed out there a little bit with this compromise.  And they were not ready. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think you are right.  I don‘t think it is a winner for either side politically.  I think there‘s a lot of anger out there.

Anyway, our—if they can convince everybody, by the way, to enforce the law, I think we would have reform right now.  It is—it‘s the lack of credibility.  Everybody thinks it is another Simpson-Mazzoli, another giveaway of something, and not that teeth we want to see in the bill to really enforce a policy. 

Anyway, our panel is staying with us.

And, later, Governor Bill Richardson, he formally kicked off his presidential campaign today out in L.A.  We‘re going to talk to him in a minute.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  We are back with HARDBALL. 

We‘re back with Chris Cillizza of TheWashingtonPost.com. Lois Romano of “The Washington Post,” and Jonathan Darman of “Newsweek” with the big cover this week on the Clintons.

Next up:  Senate Democrats threaten a no-confidence vote against embroiled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  On Sunday, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, predicted Gonzales would have to go. 


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER:  You already have six Republicans calling for his resignation.  I have a sense, Bob, that before the vote is taken, that Attorney General Gonzales may step down.


MATTHEWS:  Today, President Bush stood by his man.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You asked about Alberto Gonzales.  He has got my confidence.  He has done nothing wrong.  There‘s been enormous amount of attention on him, that there has been no wrongdoing on his part.  He has testified in front of Congress. 

And I, frankly, view what‘s taking place in Washington today as pure political theater. 

I stand by Al Gonzales.  And I would hope that people would be more sober in how they address these important issues. 



MATTHEWS:  Boy, that was pretty good, Chris.  I think he is with him. 

CILLIZZA:  Well, predictions of Al Gonzales‘ political death are vastly overrated.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, and what—and what would be yours, Mr. Cillizza, as of this week?  Will he be gone this week?

CILLIZZA:  Well, I thought he would probably be gone before this week.


CILLIZZA:  So, I am not sure...


CILLIZZA:  ... my prediction that he would gone this week or not holds a lot of weight. 

I mean, this is sort of defying all the political conventional wisdom.  After the first set of House and Senate hearings, almost everyone I talked to said, it is a matter of hours, not days. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I think he...

CILLIZZA:  Well, that was a month ago.

MATTHEWS:  Lois, I think he‘s got the Wallendas, the Flying Wallendas, beat here...


MATTHEWS:  ... for staying up there this long. 

Do you it‘s—it‘s over?  Or—when Arlen Specter said that on the weekend, that he won‘t want to face a—in fact, he warned him—“You won‘t want to face no-confidence vote; it‘s just an historic verdict,” that he will quite before that, I don‘t know.

What do you—what do know?  What do you hear?

ROMANO:  Well, the one thing that we should all remember is, in 1972, when George McGovern came out and said he supported Tom Eagleton 1000 percent...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I do remember that.

ROMANO:  ... he was gone the next day, I think.


ROMANO:  So, I—we shouldn‘t read too much into the president‘s comment.

But, also, the Democrats should—should be careful what they wish for.  I mean, Gonzales is the gift that just keeps giving.  I mean, so...


ROMANO:  ... the longer he is around, you know, the longer they get to beat up on him.  And it—it‘s—it is great fodder for them. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I wonder.

What do you think, Jonathan Darman?

DARMAN:  I don‘t know.  I think this is an interesting case where the president is sort of digging in his heels.  This is the kind of situation he hates. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

DARMAN:  I mean, think about, you know, when he said, I‘m the decider.  That was a similar moment.  People were saying, hey, you got to get rid of Rumsfeld. 

He hates it when someone takes what he thinks is a decision that is up to him and says, hey, this is what you should do.  He hates being told that.  And that—and that could last for—for a while. 


CILLIZZA:  Well, on Social Security—I mean, it‘s an issue, not a person, but, on Social Security, I think Lois‘ point is correct.

President Bush supported it, supported it—we‘re going to reform Social Security—right until he realized, I think, in his own heart of hearts, OK, this is a political loser, it‘s not going anywhere—cut ties.  That was it.  We did not hear about Social Security again. 

BLITZER:  But, Cillizza, you believe he‘s gone this week, don‘t you? 

Come on.  Come on.  Come on. 

CILLIZZA:  I‘m an objective reporter and don‘t offer opinions on things like that, Chris. 



MATTHEWS:  I—I—I think he is around for a while. 

Anyway, thank you, Chris Cillizza, Lois Romano, and Jonathan Darman.

Up next, Governor Bill Richardson is coming here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closed mixed, after a rally fueled by the latest round of deal-making fizzled.  The Dow Jones industrial average closed down more than 13 points, after the S&P 500 hit a new intraday high, passed its record closing of 1527 made seven years ago, before ending the day 1525, up two points.  Meantime, the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained more than 20.

The big deal news included General Electric, as expected, confirmed that it is selling its plastic business to a Saudi Arabian firm for $11 billion.  GE, of course, is the parent company of CNBC and MSNBC. 

Also, Goldman Sachs‘ private equity arm and TPG Capital agreed to buy Alltel Wireless for more than $27 billion.

A negative for stocks today, oil prices surged because of unrest in Nigeria, a major oil producer.  Crude climbed $1.33 in New York‘s trading session, closing the day at $66.27 a barrel.

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson formally announced his presidential campaign for president today.  We will talk to Governor Richardson in a moment.

But, first, here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.


DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been campaigning for months, but, today in Los Angeles, he made his presidential election bid official. 

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It means so much to me to announce my candidacy in California, the state that I was born and where I‘m going to win this primary here in this state. 


SHUSTER:  Richardson is strong on the environment, well-liked in Silicon Valley, steeped in immigration issues, and he is Hispanic. 

RICHARDSON:  Muchisimas gracias.

SHUSTER:  And, with several big Southern states moving up their primary election, Richardson sees a huge opportunity. 

RICHARDSON:  The fact that Florida, Texas and California are early, I welcome that, because they‘re states with strong Latino populations; they‘re states with strong environmental concerns; they‘re states where I believe I can do well. 

SHUSTER:  The Constitution limits the presidency to people born in the United States.  And Richardson only happened to be born in California 59 years ago because his father sent his mother from Mexico to L.A. at the end of her pregnancy.  Days later, she and the new baby returned to Mexico City, where Bill Richardson grew up until eighth grade.

Richardson then went to schools in the United States.  And he was first elected to Congress from New Mexico in 1982.  He won reelection seven times.  Then he served as U.N. ambassador and energy secretary during the Clinton administration.  Through the years, Richardson has become something of an international troubleshooter, conducting successful negotiations with the likes of Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and North Korea‘s Kim Jong Il.

And that vast experience has been a central theme of his campaign. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  Fourteen years in Congress, U.N. ambassador, secretary of energy, governor of New Mexico, negotiated with dictators in Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, Zaire, Nigeria, Yugoslavia, Kenya, got a cease-fire in Darfur.

So, what makes you think you can be president?


SHUSTER:  But, while Richardson‘s commercials have been clever, his presidential campaign is not in the top tier in poll numbers or money with Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.

Richardson‘s first debate performance was unremarkable.  And now there is a dispute over Richardson‘s references to Aaron Austin, a New Mexico soldier killed in Iraq.  On campaign stops, Richardson has said he spoke with the soldier‘s mother about meager financial death benefits, and that this conversation inspired Richardson to make New Mexico the first state to underwrite $250,000 in life insurance for National Guard members. 

But the soldier‘s mother, De‘on Miller, says she does not recall the money issue coming up in their conversation.  Richardson says it did. 

In any case, Richardson‘s campaign says the more important issue is the war in Iraq and Richardson‘s call to withdraw U.S. troops right now. 

RICHARDSON:  My plan says this:  We withdraw American forces—no residual forces by the end of this calendar year, because they have become targets.  And it troubles me that over half of the Iraqi people say it‘s OK to shoot an American soldier.

SHUSTER (on camera):  The latest poll in Iowa, the first caucus state, shows Bill Richardson in fourth place at 10 percent.  But that double-digit figure is 10 times better than where Bill Richardson was just a few months ago.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David. 

And now that he has made his campaign for president official, we officially welcome presidential candidate Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico to HARDBALL this evening. 

Governor Richardson, can you hear me?

RICHARDSON:  I can hear you, Chris.  Thanks for having me. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand that, during that first debate, you had a problem hearing Brian Williams.  Was that a technical problem that hurt your performance, do you believe?

RICHARDSON:  Well, I could not hear when Brian would lower his voice and look down a little bit.

But I felt I did well in the campaign and in the debate.  But I was looking a little uncomfortable, because I was trying to hear him.


RICHARDSON:  But I have no excuses.  I—I felt I did do well.

But I—I did have difficulty hearing him. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you looked angry there.  And I—I couldn‘t figure out what it was.  I was like you—you couldn‘t hear, or you couldn‘t tell what was going on in the conversation at one point, it seemed.

RICHARDSON:  But I will do better the next one. 

We have one in New Hampshire.  And we have got about seven more.  But I felt I did well, but I did have problems hearing him.  And I had this sort of scowly expression, which I won‘t do again.


MATTHEWS:  So, did you review the tapes?

RICHARDSON:  Well, yes, I did, because I had heard from a lot of my

friends that I looked uncomfortable.  And I was just trying to hear.  And -

and I had difficulty, because I was way in the end.



RICHARDSON:  ... I think some of the—the—NBC people later told me that they checked it out, and there was a little difficulty from those of us that were in the end.

But there‘s no excuses.  It was a good debate.  But there are eight or nine more to go.  We have got nine months to before this campaign is over. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you...

RICHARDSON:  And that‘s good for me.

MATTHEWS:  How do you shake up the lineup that seems to be in the press‘ mind right now?  The media has it that Hillary is way ahead, Obama is in second, Edwards is in third, and everybody else is in that group of what we call the great resume candidates, you, Senator Biden and Senator Dodd, and the others.

RICHARDSON:  Well, Chris, I have been moving up. 

Both Iowa and New Hampshire polls...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re 10 percent in Iowa.  You‘re moving up.  You‘re right.

RICHARDSON:  Ten percent.  So, I am moving up.  My message is getting across. 

You know, I am campaigning very hard in those states.  It is house party, door-to-door, in both communities.  I feel my message of bringing the country together, my experience, my international experience, diplomatic, energy experience as secretary of energy on energy renewable issues, my role as governor—I am a CEO of a state—in other words, the experience that I have had and what I have done as a public official, is getting through.

And I believe that the voters are going to see who has the best vision...


RICHARDSON:  ... who can bring this country together in a bipartisan basis, and not go for who is the biggest rock star, who has the most money, who is ahead in the polls right now.

But I am moving up, and I feel the momentum.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at the lineup. 

You know, I—I was talking a while ago with some of the reporters about how things are different this time.  And if you are a student of politics, as you are, you know the difference.  It used to be New Hampshire.  That decided everything.  The winner always won, pretty much.  And then it was Iowa, New Hampshire, put together, mattered. 

And then it was Iowa, New Hampshire, and what happened in South Carolina.  But now, as you know, governor, California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, all on February 5th.  And here‘s the big enchilada coming on, January 29th, Florida, way early, a huge state with a diverse population.  Does that help you. 

RICHARDSON:  Well, Florida coming early does help me, so does California and Texas.  But I believe, Chris, it‘s going to end up being the same, that Iowa and New Hampshire are just that much more important.  Whoever does well there is going to be catapulted into the other states.  And I suspect that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina may adjust their primaries so that they are, in fact, substantially ahead of the others. 

This is not over yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they might move into this year, governor?

RICHARDSON:  Well, yes.  I will campaign anywhere, anytime, Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa California.  I mean, California is a very good state for me.  That is where I announced.  But I think, Chris, that I will campaign wherever the primaries move.  Now, again, it is a little chaotic.  It is a little hard to figure out, as a candidate, where you are going to put your resources.  My answer is simple.  I am going to go everywhere.  But I believe Iowa and New Hampshire are that much more important. 

MATTHEWS:  I think I am hearing you, governor.  I‘m hearing you.  And what I‘m hearing you say as a candidate whose announced today is that if you‘re going to catch Hillary or Obama, or pass both of them, you‘ve got to do it when the track turns through those smaller states, because you‘re not going to be able to catch them if they win the early ones.

RICHARDSON:  Well that‘s right.  But I do believe, Chris, that states like Texas, California, Florida, with large Latino populations, with environmental and progressive voters, where I‘m strong, will help me.  But it is so important to do well in those first states.  I would add Nevada and South Carolina, too.  But I believe the center of the next presidency is Iowa and New Hampshire.  And this is why I feel so good that we are moving up there at 10 percent.  We‘re concentrating our resources, and that‘s what we‘re doing.

MATTHEWS:  I am glad you are running, governor, because you would be a great president.  I know that.  I think there‘s a lot of competition out there.  There are some other candidates who could be great presidents too, but certainly you are one of them.  I appreciate you coming on the show.  Governor Bill Richardson announced today for president.   

Up next, two guys who know a lot about campaigning, former Iowa Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, one of the big backers of John Kerry last time.  Let‘s find out who he‘s backing this time.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  So how are the big shots shaping the 2008 presidential race?  My two guests know all about that.  Harold Schaitberger is the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.  By the way, he was one of the kingpins of the last Democratic fight.  If you remember, he was standing next to John Kerry out there in Iowa, in the caucuses, and he carried him over the finish line, this man personally.  And former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who is now with the Family Research Council. 

So let‘s find out.  We‘ll get to that.  Let‘s get to something I‘m more familiar with, which is labor her.  Is labor going to get in there for Edwards, because he‘s saying everything right for you guys and he‘s out there leading in the Iowa caucuses.  What more can he do for you guys than he‘s done?  He‘s with you on trade.  He‘s with you on everything.   

HAROLD SCHAITBERGER, INTL ASSOCIATION OF FIRE FIGHTERS:  John Edwards has been great on the labor movement issue.  And, by the way, it is great to see a candidate for president of the United States use the word union and be comfortable with it and mean it.  But the labor movement is going to wait, Chris.  We all have made a decision.  We‘re going to take a look at all the candidates.  It‘s not a matter of what any one candidate can do.

MATTHEWS:  Would you back a candidate who agreed with you, even if you thought they couldn‘t beat the front runner?

SCHAITBERGER:  We always back a candidate that, number one, will support our issues, and is consistent with our members‘ views.  And then we‘re going to back, within those candidates, the person that can win, because nothing else counts other than winning. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your party and the cultural right.  I noticed that there is no cultural conservative southern Baptist type running this time.  The president isn‘t quite in that category, but people are very comfortable with this president, in terms of his beliefs, his Christian beliefs, his cultural values.  Is there a candidate out there now that shares the president‘s cultural values. 

KEN BLACKWELL ®, FMR OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE:  It seems as if Fred Thompson, who has yet to declare, is starting to build a momentum among social conservatives.  But I will tell you—

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s from Tennessee.  He‘s from the buckle of the bible belt.  I believe he is Baptist.  He fits.  He is pro-life.  He has been for many years.  He fits all of the categories.  There‘s nobody else like him.

BLACKWELL:  He has not pulled the trigger though.  And so, you know, the answer to your question is that there is a gathering momentum for Fred Thompson.  But I will tell you now, as the numbers indicated in Iowa, Romney has played a strategy that is very impressive.  He has basically said, if you can win in Iowa and New Hampshire, you will get the momentum and -- 

MATTHEWS:  The “Des Moines Register” numbers right now, as I said, are 30 percent.  He‘s not up there in double digits.  He is way up there in a wide field.   

BLACKWELL:  Look, Chris, and 33 percent of the participants in the caucus in January will be social conservatives and Christian conservatives and conservative Catholics.  They are going to have an impact. 

MATTHEWS:  So the LDS thing, being a Mormon, you don‘t think is stopping support for him among that community?   

BLACKWELL:  I think they view him as a conservative Mormon, not at traditional Christian, but a person who is articulating values that they share.   

MATTHEWS:  What about McCain?  He‘s still seen as the odd man out among that crowd, isn‘t he?  If you were to walk into the Family Research Council when you get back from the show tonight and say, I just love this guy McCain, wouldn‘t they think you were an oddball?   

BLACKWELL:  They would look at me cross-eyed.

MATTHEWS:  What is McCain‘s problem?  I mean, I know he‘s mainstream.  He‘s Episcopalian.  He‘s somewhat secular in his politics.  What is it that turns cultural conservatives off about McCain?

BLACKWELL:  I think it‘s issues on positions and a history of sort of thumping the foreheads of Christian conservatives. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean calling them agents of intolerance?

BLACKWELL:  Agents of intolerance and a host of other things.  And so look, I think he‘s still in the game.

MATTHEWS:  Would you vote for him over Hillary? 

BLACKWELL:  Quite naturally I would.  I think we have a field that is stronger than people give credit for. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Romney‘s doing well thanks to our debate.  He seemed to have done well in our debate.  Not that that was the purpose of the debate.

BLACKWELL:  And while Rudy is not in a freefall, I think he is beating expectations right now.  So it is a pretty competitive field. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think anybody would cause you trouble with the Republicans.  Would you have a hard time holding your voters against Rudy? 

SCHAITBERGER:  No, my voters are going to be against Rudy.  Let me tell you one thing Chris, you usually ask me who we are going to be for.  And I always tell you who we‘re going to be against is Rudy Giuliani.  And we‘re going to be expressing our views on what we think .

MATTHEWS:  What is the worst you tell your rank-and-file about the man we‘re looking at right now? 

SCHAITBERGER:  Well, we are going to tell the rank-and-file the truth.  First of all, we are going to tell them exactly what his actions were that led up to 9/11, as it related to members of FDNY, and not having the adequate radios to be able to communicate, 121 of our members dying in the North Tower because they could not communicate and hear the evacuation messages. 

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s this man‘s personal fault?

SCHAITBERGER:  Not police officer—I blame that on him.  He should have had those radios replaced.  He knew it in 1993.  He put inadequate new radios in the field in the year 2000, had to pull them out of the field.  And those fire fighters were using the same radios that they were using in 1993. 

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re a fire fighter.  Isn‘t it true that in most cities the fire fighters and the police just don‘t get along?  They don‘t normally have a well-coordinated operation.

SCHAITBERGER:  No, that has nothing to do—

MATTHEWS:  But is that the case?

SCHAITBERGER:  It‘s not the necessarily the case.  But it has nothing to do with what the actions were of the mayor, as it related to our members on 9/11.  It has nothing to do—

MATTHEWS:  So you would say—you‘re telling me in Philly, Chicago, New York, Boston, most cities besides New York, that the firemen and the police are on the same frequency?  You‘re telling me that?

SCHAITBERGER:  No, I‘m not telling you that.

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re saying it‘s his fault it wasn‘t the case in New York.

SCHAITBERGER:  What I am telling is you asked me about what our members would do related to Rudy Giuliani.  And I am telling you that our members, all across this country, as they have learned and as they know the actual decisions that he made that affected our members, loss of life with trying to continue with dignified recovery of the fallen -- 

MATTHEWS:  So they like Hillary more than him?

SCHAITBERGER:  No, we‘re not going to say who we like.

MATTHEWS:  No, but I‘m asking you, as a fire fighter out there, coming out of the fire station, has to vote, will he vote for Hillary or Rudy? 

SCHAITBERGER:  We are going to make that decision on Labor Day.  We are going to evaluate the candidates, continue to do so, as we have been, and then we will make an informed decision, let our members know. 

MATTHEWS:  Because I remember them booing Hillary too.  I remember that stuff.

SCHAITBERGER:  And I also know that Hillary now has made sure that the fire fighters in New York and across this country now have the resources they need.  She‘s been making sure that the medical monitoring and the follow up medical treatment has been in place.  She has fought for their resources. 

BLACKWELL:  It is pretty hard to dislodge Rudy as a national hero.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Harold Schaitberger - boy, the right and left don‘t like this guy—and Ken Blackwell.  And keep up with all the news behind the scenes here on HARDBALL.  Get our free daily email briefing.  Just go to our website.  This is really hot right now, this website, HARDBALL.MSNBC.COM.  You‘re watching it, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Harold Schaitberger of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council.  Let me ask you about Reverend Jerry Falwell, a lot of ink both directions on this fellow.  Give me your bottom line on him.

BLACKWELL:  He did a lot to mobilize now 60 million Christian evangelicals into a powerful force.  Now, I‘ll tell you, Chris, there are a lot of candidates who believe that they can win without the Christian right.  I do not believe that is the case.  They can‘t take that voting block for granted and they can‘t walk away and expect to win in November. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that voting block matters in the big cities up in Ohio, place like that, not just in the south? 

BLACKWELL:  I really do, because their agenda is one that is clear and it is succinct. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I see all the big mega churches.  I can see the evangelical movement right around here.  Do you believe that, that that is a big part of American power, economic and political power right now, these churches? 

SCHAITBERGER:  Absolutely.  And, in fact, our membership really has a strong Christian base. 


MATTHEWS:  Maybe it makes sense that you would be religious.  Anyway, take a break.  We‘re going to bring in right now one of the very popular figures in this country, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who today signed a bill moving his state‘s primary to January 29th.  Governor Crist—

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST ®, FLORIDA:  Chris, how are you buddy?

MATTHEWS:  Last time I saw you, sir, I was moderating your debate, which I guess you won down there, because you won the election.  

CRIST:  Well, we did win the election because a lot of people worked very hard.  They really did.  And we had an historic day down here in Florida today, along with Congressman Robert Wexler, to sign this bill into law to move the primary up to January 29th, 2008, and also, to provide a paper trail, Chris.  You know what a big issue that‘s been in Florida. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, tell me how it works.  If we all get down there—legal voters of Florida vote on the 29th of January next year, what will they walk out of the polling booth with? 

CRIST:  Well, they won‘t walk out with something, because that takes affect in July.  So that will not be in affect yet at the primary on January 29th.  But for the general election in November, that will be in place by then.  It‘s going to take some time to get these machines in place and do it right. 

MATTHEWS:  Will they tell people how they voted or just that they voted? 

CRIST:  It will tell them that they voted.  It will verify that they voted.  It will verify that they will have the opportunity to, if we need a recount, we can have a good valid recount.  And that‘s very important to our people, as you know Chris, because of what happened back in 2000.  We want to be able to make sure that people realize that every vote counts. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean Pat Buchanan won‘t get any more votes from people that wanted to vote for Joe Lieberman? 

CRIST:  That should not happen again.  I mean, number one, you‘ve got to keep it simple.  You know how important that is.  Number two, you want to be able to verify.  To me it‘s just common sense, Chris.  I mean, you go to your ATM machine; you get a receipt; you get a record of what you did.  You go to the gas station—

MATTHEWS:  Governor,

CRIST:  You get a receipt for it.  This is just common sense.


MATTHEWS:  Maybe you are going to push the other people to having their elections this year instead of next.  Anyway, thank you Governor Charlie Crist, Harold Schaitberger, Ken Blackwell.  Right now, it is time for “TUCKER.” 



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