updated 6/20/2007 11:05:49 AM ET 2007-06-20T15:05:49

Guests: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Linda Douglass

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Hillary Clinton plays HARDBALL.  The New York senator and Democratic frontrunner stood up to my questioning about Scooter Libby today and was backed up by big labor, and you‘ll see the action right here.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  This morning I presided over a bombastic Democratic presidential forum held by one of the country‘s loudest labor unions, the American              Federation of State.  County and Municipal Employees.  Like most union meetings, the hall was packed with raucous members united by old-fashioned pocketbook issues.  But like the rest of America, Iraq was front and center.

Tonight, the highlights from this combustible forum that featured the three leading candidates for 2008 on the Democratic side.  Later, our HARDBALL panel tonight, NBC political director Chuck Todd, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and Linda Douglass from “The National Journal.”

But we begin with the frontrunner. Hillary Clinton.  Halfway through my interview, by the way, I asked the senator where she stood personally on pardoning Scooter Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice.  When she dodged the question, tough-talking allies heard down front in the room tried to shout down the questioning.  As you‘ll see, it was raucous democracy at its best, and Hillary‘s non-answer on Libby speaks for itself.

Here‘s my interview with Senator Clinton.


MATTHEWS:  What is your specific exit strategy for bringing American troops home from Iraq?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I have been saying for some time that we need to bring our combat troops home from Iraq starting right now.  I would not wait.  I would begin to get them out of the multi-sided sectarian civil war that they are part of.

You know, our American young men and women in uniform have done their job.  They were asked to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they did.  They were asked to let the Iraqi people have elections, and they made it possible.  They were asked to let the Iraqi government have some space and time to get organized in order to defend the Iraqi people, and they‘ve given them that time.

But the Iraqi government hasn‘t done their part.  They haven‘t met the conditions that are necessary for a political solution because there is no military solution.

So I think it is time that we start bringing our troops home.  I also think we have to make it very clear to the Iraqi government that if they don‘t meet conditions that they themselves have met (SIC), like how they‘re going to allocate oil revenues, how they‘re going to bring the different sectarian groups together to hammer out what is the political determination that they‘re going to agree upon.

If they don‘t do that, we should begin cutting aid to them.  We cannot continue to support them if they‘re not going to do the job that they have to do.

And finally, we should have intensive regional and international diplomacy.  I believe in diplomacy, unlike our current president, who apparently doesn‘t.  He thinks you don‘t talk to people you disagree with or people you think are bad people.  Well, I don‘t know how you get through the day, the week or the year if you don‘t talk to people you don‘t agree with every so often.


CLINTON:  So I believe that we‘ve got to start engaging in diplomacy.  And that‘s what I would do beginning now, if I were president, and if our president doesn‘t end our involvement in Iraq, when I am president, I will.


MATTHEWS:  President Bush and his spokespeople have suggested a Korean model for Iraq—in other words, a long U.S. occupation perhaps of a—well, have a century in the case of Korea.  Should we leave a residual force in Iraq after the current fighting is over?

CLINTON:  Well, Chris, I have for some time said that we may still have remaining vital national security interests that are important to America.  You know, we cannot let al Qaeda have a staging ground in Iraq.  And finally, we have made common cause with some of the Iraqis themselves in al Anbar province, so that they are actually working with American forces against al Qaeda.  That doesn‘t take a lot of American forces, but I think we have to look carefully about continuing that.

We also have to look to see how the Kurds are being treated because the Kurds have behaved very well in this.  You know, they took their opportunity for freedom from Saddam Hussein‘s tyrannical rule, and they‘ve been building their society in the north of Iraq.  We also have to pay attention to Iranian influence.  I don‘t know that we need very many troops to do that.  I think diplomacy and trying to get the rest of the region involved is the best way to go there.

And finally, we will have to protect our interests.  We‘ll have an embassy there.  And if the Iraqi government does get its act together, we may have a continuing training mission.  But that‘s a limited number of troops with very specific missions—no permanent bases, no permanent occupation.  I don‘t think it‘s equivalent to Korea.  I don‘t see that as an analogy.  I think what we have to do is try to persuade or convince the Iraqis themselves to take responsibility, and so far, that hasn‘t proven to be very successful.

MATTHEWS:  Mayor Giuliani, who you know...


MATTHEWS:  ... has said recently that he would consider enlarging our force of troops in Iraq, depending on conditions over there.  Would you consider expanding the U.S. force level in Iraq?

CLINTON:  Well, number one, I don‘t know where he thinks he‘s going to get the troops.  Our military is stretched thin.  We have been deploying not only active duty but Guard and Reserve troops consistently.  Some have been on their second, third, even fourth deployments.  I bet some of you in this audience know people who have been in that situation.


CLINTON:  And we also haven‘t demonstrated the commitment to our veterans that they deserve to have.  We have to clean up our treatment at DoD and the VA of how returning young men and women are given medical care and compensation and disability.


CLINTON:  We have an all-volunteer military.  And I am very grateful for those young men and women who serve their country, and I thank all of you who have served and all of you who have loved ones who are serving.  But I think it‘s important that we keep faith with them.  And I don‘t see how more American troops in a situation that we do not control because we do not set the course for what the Iraqis want themselves would make a difference.

The Iraqis have to decide whether they want to continue killing each other.  They have to decide whether they‘re going to get together and resolve the differences among them.  And it‘s not just one group against another group, it‘s multiple groups.  When our young men and women are on a street in Baghdad, they often don‘t know what is happening, they don‘t know whose side they‘re supposed to be on, they don‘t know the language.  I don‘t see why putting more of our young men and women into that situation makes any sense whatsoever.


MATTHEWS:  Senator Joe Lieberman, your colleague from Connecticut, has called for—at least he‘s been careful about how he‘s couched this, but he‘s talked about limited military action against Iran right now because of their aid to the people fighting us in Iraq.  Are you with that position of considering military action, not because of a nuclear threat but because of this immediate involvement by Iran in the Iraqi war?

CLINTON:  Well, I believe we do have to defend our troops, and there is considerable evidence that weaponry and fighters are crossing the border not just from Iran but from Syria and from other countries, as well.  So we do have to try to choke off the weapons coming in and the fighters crossing the borders.

But I think we should focus on intensive outreach and diplomacy right now with Iran, and that is one area that I‘m pleased that President Bush and Secretary Rice have moved toward.  We do need to start engaging the Iranians.  I think it‘s been a mistake for us to ignore them, to outsource our policies to the British, the French and the Germans.  So I think we have to focus on what‘s going on inside of Iraq right now out militarily, and focus on what‘s going on outside diplomatically.  And that‘s what I would be pressing for, if I were president.


MATTHEWS:  Would you have any problem or anything to say if President Bush were to pardon Scooter Libby?


MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think there would be enough to be said about that without me adding to it.


MATTHEWS:  That is such a political answer!


MATTHEWS:  That is such a political answer.  Would you have a problem with Scooter Libby getting a pardon, getting to walk after being convicted of perjury and obstruction?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, a real question.  OK.

CLINTON:  Like a question that‘s really about the people in this audience...


CLINTON:  ... and not what goes on inside of Washington.

MATTHEWS:  So we‘ll leave that as a non-answer, then.  You want a fight?  OK.

CLINTON:  This is good!  This is good!


MATTHEWS:  Right here.  Look, why—why—OK, let‘s have a fight.  I like to fight, OK?  Let‘s start...


MATTHEWS:  You want a fight?  OK.  What about—what about military service regardless of Sexual orientation or “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell”—where are you on that, Senator?

CLINTON:  I am for allowing people who are patriotic Americans to serve their country.  We need their service.


CLINTON:  And you know, I said in the last debate that I agree with Barry Goldwater.  You don‘t have to be straight to shoot straight.


CLINTON:  And I think it‘s time we let people serve.


MATTHEWS:  You‘re still a Goldwater girl!


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask a couple more labor questions, then we‘ll end this.  Homeland Security—they don‘t have full collective bargaining rights, Transportation Security Agency, the people—Administration—check our luggage—should they be allowed to organize?

CLINTON:  Yes.  In fact, we passed that in the Homeland Security bill, that we would give federal employees, like TSA employees and others, the opportunity to organize and bargain collectively.

We went through a world war.  We went through a Korean war.  We went through a lot of challenges in our country, and we allowed federal employees to organize and bargain, and I think we should allow it again.  The president has threatened to veto the entire Homeland Security bill over the provision that would allow people to organize, and I sure hope he doesn‘t do that.

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask one question of my own, please, just one question?


MATTHEWS:  Just one?  One frickin‘ question, all right?


MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  You have your ringers out here.  OK.  All right.  I wouldn‘t ask this, except I moderated the Republican debate at the Reagan Library, and three qualified candidates for president raised their hands and said they don‘t believe in evolution.  So it‘s an odd thing to be talking about in the 21st century.  But do you believe a public school teacher should ever be fired for teaching evolution?


MATTHEWS:  Do you believe a public school teacher should ever be fired for offering an alternative explanation of how we got here?

CLINTON:  Look, I think that a science class should be about science.  I think philosophy classes and history classes and social studies classes should be broad-ranging and looking at different points of view because that‘s what the debate should be about.  But in science, let‘s stick to science.

I mean, one of the problems with the current administration is that they have confused us.  I consider myself a person of faith, a religious person, and I don‘t see any conflict between believing in the power of the almighty to have created this extraordinary world we‘re part of in ways that I can‘t possibly understand...


CLINTON:  ... and going to the museum and seeing a dinosaur.  I mean, I think that those go hand in hand.  I can believe in both faith and science, and I think our country is stronger when we believe in both faith and science because science has given us an advantage over so many other societies going back 100 years.

So let‘s not confuse the two.  Let‘s keep our faith strong, those of us who are people of faith, but also let‘s let our scientists do the work that will break through all kinds of barriers, including stem cell research, to keep us healthy and give us a better life.



MATTHEWS:  There‘s nothing more fun than tangling with Hillary Clinton.

Coming up, my interview with John Edwards, and later Senator Barack Obama, all speaking their minds on the Iraq war.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  John Edwards also addressed that forum at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees this morning, and here‘s part of my conversation with Senator Edwards.


MATTHEWS:  What is your specific exit strategy for bringing American troops home from Iraq?

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If I were president of the United States today, what I would do is draw 40,000 to 50,000 troops out of Iraq immediately, out of the north and the south.  I would continue to withdraw combat troops out of Iraq over the course of about the next 10 months.  I would get Sunni and the Shia leadership engaged in serious discussions to see if they can reach some kind of political solution, political reconciliation, because without that, there‘s never going to be peace in Iraq.

And I would engage every other country in the region, and specifically the Iranians and the Syrians, into helping stabilize Iraq.  They have no interest in stabilizing Iraq as long as America is an occupying force there.  But as America makes clear we‘re leaving and we‘re pulling combat troops out of Iraq—the Iranians for example, the last thing they want is a million refugees coming across their border.  They don‘t want to see a broader Middle East conflict between Shia and Sunni because they‘re a Shia country in a Sunni-dominated Muslim world.

So they have an incentive to stabilize Iraq, once America‘s not occupying Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Clinton—I don‘t want to put words in her mouth because she was very nuanced about it, but she‘s talked about leaving a residual force of some kind, not like the Korea model of a major American constabulary force of 30,000 and 40,000, whatever troops, like we have in Korea since ‘53, since armistice there, but she wants to keep some U.S.  troops in Iraq for the long haul to fight al Qaeda and to keep Iran‘s hands off the situation.

Where are you on that?

EDWARDS:  Here‘s what I‘d do.  As America pulls its combat troops out of Iraq, we‘re going to have to maintain a presence in the region, which means we‘d probably need a rapid-deployment force in Kuwait.  If the Jordanians would allow us to station troops there, we may want to put troops in Jordan.  We‘re going to have to fortify our position in Afghanistan because things are going very badly in Afghanistan.  The Taliban‘s reemerging.  The heroin trade is way up.  We need a naval presence in the Persian Gulf.  And if we maintain our embassy in Baghdad, which I think we should do, we‘re going to have to have some troops there to protect the embassy.

MATTHEWS:  Why is the Democratic—this is Ada Johnson (ph).  I want to go back to her.  It‘s a great question, I think.  She‘s an Illinois correctional counselor.  Why is the Democratic Party having such a hard time connecting with the American people?


EDWARDS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s her question.

EDWARDS:  This Democrat‘s not having trouble connecting with the American people, I can tell you that!


MATTHEWS:  She further asks...

EDWARDS:  I think—I think...

MATTHEWS:  ... Where are the grand ideas?

EDWARDS:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Where are the grand ideas that resonate with the people? 

That was her question.

EDWARDS:  Oh, I didn‘t hear “grand ideas.”  I...

MATTHEWS:  she wants the grand ideas from you especially, Senator.

EDWARDS:  All right .  I‘ll tell you what the grand ideas are.  America has a dysfunctional health care system.  We need truly universal health care in the United States of American required for every man, woman and child.  Another grand idea is America to move away from its addiction to oil and move toward energy independence and to deal very directly with the issue of climate change, global warming, in an aggressive way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050, to invest in wind, solar, cellulose-based biofuels; for America to develop carbon capture, carbon sequestration technology; for America to build the best, most innovative, fuel-efficient vehicles on the planet with union workers, not being built somewhere else around the world...


EDWARDS:  ... for America—America to lead the way of addressing the big moral issues that face us here at home and the people around the world. 

For example, I think it is an enormous problem in the United States of America that we have 37 million people who wake up in poverty every day.  It—it says something...


EDWARDS:  ... about the character of our country, how we treat millions of own people who are worried of—just about survival.  And there is so much we can do about that. 

New Orleans is a great example.  New Orleans is a national embarrassment. 


EDWARDS:  We have a responsibility to do something about that. 

But—but the other big idea is, how does America become a force for good again in the world?  How can we be seen as a country that‘s worthy of leadership, that understands its responsibility, not just to ourselves, but to humanity?  And there are a whole group of things that America needs to be doing. 

We need to be leading to stop the genocide in western Sudan and Darfur.


EDWARDS:  We need to be leading to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. 

I think America—and here‘s an idea.  Listen to this one.  Suppose America, instead of spending $500 billion if Iraq, America led the way to making primary school education available to 100 million children in the world who have no education whatsoever...


EDWARDS:  ... in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America. 

Suppose America led to stop the spread of disease by leading on sanitation, clean drinking water.  I mean, clean drinking water, by itself, would have an enormous impact in a Third World place like Africa. 


EDWARDS:  And can I mention just one last thing?  I can see you wanted to interrupt me.

Let me just mention one last thing.  The other thing is America could lead the way...


EDWARDS:  You have all have been on his case today.  I have been listening to you. 


EDWARDS:  America could also lead the way to economic development with tools like microfinancing and microlending. 

But the importance of all this is for America to once again be seen as a force for good again, for America not—we are not the country of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, torture, the illegal spying on Americans...


EDWARDS:  And one last thing, one thing I promise you:  On the first day that I am president of the United States, I will close Guantanamo. 


MATTHEWS:  I—I just—I just—you‘re the first candidate to really mention Katrina.  And I just wanted to give you a chance to expand on that, because I think it is important to our country and who we are.

And do you think it have been different if President Bush had shown up with water? 




MATTHEWS:  What would you have done if you had heard about Katrina and seen those people at the Convention Center that first day?  What would you have done?

EDWARDS:  Well, if I had been president when the hurricane hit, first of all, I would have been very personally involved in the planning for what we needed to do in case the worst happened.

Second, as soon as the hurricane hit and it was possible to even get to New Orleans, I would have personally been there with the people who were struggling and suffering in New Orleans.


EDWARDS:  This, both then and since that time, was a moment for presidential leadership.  And what has happened in New Orleans is a complete failure of presidential leadership.


EDWARDS:  And it—I know—I know a lot of the—I know a lot of the folks who are here already know this, but, a year or so ago, I took 700 college kids down to New Orleans to work during their spring break. 

By the way, people who say the young people in this country don‘t care anymore, they‘re dead wrong.  They do care.


EDWARDS:  They gave up their spring break.  They went to New Orleans to work, to volunteer.  In fact, you interviewed me when I was down there.  I don‘t know if you remember that.

MATTHEWS:  I remember that.

EDWARDS:  But, since that time, I have been to New Orleans many times.  We—I announced my presidential campaign from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, because, in the Ninth Ward, in Saint Bernard‘s Parish in east New Orleans, nothing has changed.  Nothing has changed.

You know, I feel—I feel kind of like a normal citizen, because billions of dollars have been appropriated.  Where did that money go?  Has it—has it been used to help anybody?

As president of the United States, not only would I have been there, Chris; today, I would have a high-level person in the White House whose job it was to report to me every single day what they did in New Orleans yesterday. 


EDWARDS:  And I don‘t want to know what they‘re going to do six months from now.  I want to know what they did yesterday.  And then I want him to come the next morning and tell me what they did yesterday.  And then I want him to come the next day and tell me what they did yesterday.

If the president did that, you would see change in New Orleans.  And we could rebuild New Orleans and make it a model for the entire country for what‘s possible.



MATTHEWS:  Strong performance there. 

Anyway, still ahead: my interview with Senator Barack Obama.  Wait until you catch this. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


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

Stocks ended higher slightly higher today, with the Dow Jones industrial average gaining about 22-and-a-half points, the S&P 500 up more than two-and-a-half, the Nasdaq gaining, but just fractionally. 

Oil gained a penny in New York‘s trading session, closing at $69.10 a barrel. 

Housing starts fell in May for the first time in four months.  But the 2 percent drop was less than what was expected.  Meantime, requests for building permits were up 3 percent. 

Home Depot announced it will sell its construction supply business to three private equity firms for more than $10 billion.  Home Depot wants to concentrate on retail sales.

And United Airlines say it will hire 100 new pilots later this year, the first new pilots they have added since 2001.  The company will also bring back the remaining pilots who have been on furlough.

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


MATTHEWS:  Does the market always go up when Margaret Brennan gives us that report, or does it just seem that way? 

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Illinois Senator Barack Obama was among five Democratic presidential candidates who spoke at that forum of AFSCME this morning.  And I hosted it.  And I got to tell you, he was something else.

I began by asking the senator about why he was opposed to the war in Iraq from day one. 


MATTHEWS:  Senator Obama, you have said that this war in Iraq, about which everybody is concerned, is—was wrong in its conception, not just badly carried out.  That separates you from some of the other candidates. 

Explain why it was a bad idea to go into Iraq with the American Army.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, look, we know that the case for weapons of mass destruction was overstated.  And that became apparent once we got there.


OBAMA:  But many of us, looking at the evidence ahead of time, understood that there was not an imminent threat.

More importantly, there was a lack of judgment in recognizing that, once we were in, it would be very difficult to get out.  The question was not whether we could overcome Saddam Hussein‘s army.  The question was: 

What would happen once we were there?  Could we win the peace?  Would this inflame anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East?

And, most importantly, would it distract us from the necessary fight that we still have not finished in Afghanistan?

So, we should not have gone in.  Once we went in, we continued to make mistakes and blunders.  And we have for the last four years.

But, look, what‘s done is done.  We have no good options in Iraq left.  we have got bad options and worse options.  The best option, I believe, is to make certain that we begin a phased redeployment, that we‘re as careful getting out as we were careless getting in...


OBAMA:  ... but that we start bringing our troops home, and send a signal to the Iraqi people, and, most importantly, to the factions that are still warring in Iraq, there is not going to be a military solution to the problems there.  There are only political accommodations to be had.

And, while we‘re at it, we should be talking to countries like Iran and Syria that are acting irresponsibly, in part because they think we can keep a lid on things.


OBAMA:  And, as we let them know they‘re going to have to take some responsibility, then, I think we have the possibility of creating the kind of regional framework that allows us to scale back our commitments there, and, most importantly, allows us to start bringing our troops home.

I am tired of meeting young women whose husbands are over there.  I am tired of meeting mothers who are crying on my shoulder at town hall meetings because their sons or daughters are not coming back.  It is time for us to bring our troops home.


MATTHEWS:  Compare your world view about war and life and death—the big stuff—with the president‘s.

OBAMA:  Well, the biggest problem with this president is that he seems to be driven by ideology, as opposed to by fact. 

He—he doesn‘t seem to be concerned with what‘s happening on the ground.  He has certain ideas, and he hopes that the world will conform to his ideas. 


OBAMA:  And, unfortunately, over the last five years, they have not conformed to his ideas. 


OBAMA:  You know, we heard that we would be greeted as liberators.  That did not happen in Iraq.  We heard that this would only take a few months and it would only cost us a few billion dollars, and it didn‘t happen.  And, yet, he stubbornly continues on the same course. 

That is not just true with respect to foreign policy.  The same is true on domestic policy.  When—when you are cutting taxes for folks who don‘t need it, and weren‘t even asking for it, at a time when we know that families all across the country are struggling, trying to figure out how do they fill up their gas tank, how do they save for their children‘s college education, how do they pay for their health care, how do they save for retirement...


OBAMA:  ... there is a sense of unreality to the president that is disturbing. 

And the fact is, look, the problems we face are not easy.  Let‘s—let‘s take the situation on health care.  I put forward a plan that says that we can provide high-quality coverage to all Americans by obtaining savings, making sure that children get regular checkups, instead of having to go to the emergency room for treatable illnesses, like asthma, making certain that we‘re applying technology to the health care system, so that we know that you—when you go to the hospital, you don‘t have to fill out forms in triplicate, and there are all sorts of errors that arise. 

We can save $100 billion to $125 billion a year and apply that to make sure that every single American has health care.  But we‘re still going to need some additional resources to make that investment, which is why I have said let‘s roll back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.


OBAMA:  Let‘s make certain that those resources go to the people who need it. 

If we do that, then I‘m absolutely confident that we can solve that problem, the energy problem, our education problems.  But we‘re not going to solve it by pretending that issues of poverty and struggle among working families are just going to go away magically because the stock market is going up.

MATTHEWS:  So much of what you say just grabs people like me, because it sounds like Bobby Kennedy.  It sounds like the ‘60s at its absolute best.


MATTHEWS:  And, at the same time, you say, we shouldn‘t fight those old fights. 

What was—just one—one personal question here—what was wrong with those old fights?  What was wrong with fighting about civil rights and war and peace?  Aren‘t those good fights to fight?

OBAMA:  Oh, listen, everybody in AFSCME—and Henry Bayer and Roberta Lynch and the folks in—in Illinois ask me.  They know I like a good fight. 


OBAMA:  I don‘t mind a good fight. 

But the—the question is, how can we create a majority consensus in this country to actually win some of these fights?  And—and what I have argued is that we‘re going to have to win some independents.  We have got a lot of disaffected Republicans. 

After six years, they—George Bush has actually been a good advertisement for the Democratic Party.



OBAMA:  And we have got a whole bunch of folks who are starting to ask some questions, and say to themselves:  How do—how do we move this country in a new direction, and how do we unify, instead of divide?  How do we create a politics that‘s based on hope, instead of based on fear?

And—and that means that we have got to reach out to some folks who may not seem like natural allies to us, but actually are hungry for something new. 

And what I have seen, as I have traveled around the country, you meet independents, you meet Republicans.  When you talk to them, it turns out that they want a return to common sense in our politics.  And they don‘t want to see just arguing and squabbling over little things.  They don‘t want a—a gotcha kind of politics. 

What they‘re looking are some big—big ideas, but also the capacity to pull people together around a larger purpose. 

You know, I mentioned the issue of energy.  The fact the matter is, that we can solve our energy problems both at the pump, in terms of our foreign policy and our environment, but we‘re going to have to come together to take some difficult steps. 

We have got an energy bill right now in the Senate, and we can‘t even get an increase in fuel efficiency standards.  If we increase fuel efficiency standards to 40, 45 miles a gallon, we would have to import zero oil from the Middle East.  And if we import zero oil from the Middle East, that means that gas prices are going to go down at the pump, and it means our environment is going to improve.  That is not a Republican or a Democratic issue.  That‘s an American issue, that we should be able to solve right here and right now. 


But let me just say one last thing about what we can‘t compromise on.  We can‘t compromise on a progressive vision that says if you are able and willing to work, you should be able to find a job that pays a living wage.  We should not compromise on retirement security for our senior citizens. 

We should not compromise on issues of racial equality and gender quality.  We should not compromise on the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain to improve their standing in life.  We shouldn‘t compromise on the idea that every child should get a decent education.  It shouldn‘t just be a slogan. 

So there are some things that are worth fighting for, and if people disagree and we can‘t persuade them, then we‘ve just got to beat them, and that‘s what we‘re going to do in this next election.


MATTHEWS:  Up next, which Democrat won the day?  The HARDBALL panel breaks it open.  Plus, Hillary Clinton picks a campaign song, and Fred Thompson picks a fight with fellow Republicans.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s bring in our panel now to talk about today‘s big Democratic forum and AFSCME.  Chuck Todd‘s NBC News political director.  Howard Fineman is chief political correspondent for “Newsweek” and an MSNBC political analyst.  Linda Douglass is contributing editor to “The Nat” (ph) and our political partner on “The National Journal.”

Let me ask you all, Linda, Hillary.  Was she as charming as you thought she might be? 

LINDA DOUGLASS, NATIONAL JOURNAL:  I thought she did a very good job in this forum.  I mean, she calibrated her answers perfectly for the crowd.  She laughed all the time and seemed, you know, much more humanized. 

MATTHEWS:  Quoted Barry Goldwater to a union crowd.

DOUGLASS:  And you reminded her that she was once a Goldwater girl. 

MATTHEWS:  I kept thinking of that sash, that Goldwater sash on her.


MATTHEWS:  What about saying in front of a liberal crowd, an anti-war crowd, working government workers, that she is for keeping a residual force in Iraq after the hell we‘re in right now may pass away, but we‘re still going to stick around with armed men and women in Iraq.  Is that a smart thing to say in front of a group like this?  

DOUGLASS:  Well, she is not the only Democrat who‘s saying it.  Barack Obama is saying there has to be some kind of residual force left in Iraq too.

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t say it today. 

DOUGLASS:  And there is a—there is...


MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t say a thing.

DOUGLASS:  But he‘s been saying it.  He‘s been saying it.

MATTHEWS:  All right.

DOUGLASS:  And there is certainly a large group of people in the country, even though they are against the war, even thought they want people to get out, who are uneasy about what happens if we completely leave. 

Now, obviously, Bill Richardson is the one who has been saying we need to get out altogether...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he sure did.

DOUGLASS:  ... but she made the case and does each time she talks now, much more strongly than she has in the past, that there has to be some way to get out. 


MATTHEWS:  Howard, I want you and I—I also want Chad—to take a look at the argument that ensued here.  Here‘s Hillary Clinton when I asked her about her—whether Scooter Libby should be pardoned for, I guess these were the key phrases, perjury and obstruction of justice, which people tell me reminded her of her husband‘s charges against him that caused him to be impeached.


MATTHEWS:  Do you have any problem or anything to say if President Bush were to pardon Scooter Libby?  

CLINTON:  Oh, I think there would be enough to be said about that without me adding to it. 

MATTHEWS:  Does that—that is such a political answer.  That is such a political answer.  Would you have a problem with Scooter Libby getting a pardon, getting to walk after being convicted of perjury and obstruction? 


MATTHEWS:  Oh, a real question?  OK...

CLINTON:  Like a question that‘s really about the people in this audience and not that‘s about inside of Washington.

MATTHEWS:  So we will leave that as a non-answer, then. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that?  A dodge ball. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  That was a fascinating piece of political theater.

MATTHEWS:  What was she up to?

FINEMAN:  Of which Hillary Clinton was in full control.  That‘s the interesting thing about it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, explain how.  Explain how.

FINEMAN:  You asked—you tried to draw her into the swamp of perjury, having to do with her husband.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think I did that on purpose?

FINEMAN:  Well, I don‘t know, maybe you just had an academic interest in the topic.  In any case...

MATTHEWS:  You mean, so, if she said she was for pardoning a guy for perjury and obstruction, then it would be resonating back to her husband‘s problems.

FINEMAN:  But if she bangs the table and says, my God, no, we can‘t pardon this guy, throw the book at him...


FINEMAN:  ... then people say, now, wait a minute...

MATTHEWS:  She‘s a hypocrite. 

FINEMAN:  Yeah.  I mean, that‘s the trap she stayed away from.  And when you said “that‘s a political answer,” she went like this, meaning, you are darn right it‘s a political answer.  At which point she notices the audience... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, she had a bunch of favorite...


FINEMAN:  It was a three-way triangular discussion of which she was in full control.  And then when she saw she had a chance to use the audience against you, she did. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you like it when I said I want to fight with the audience...

FINEMAN:  I thought it was great.


FINEMAN:  I expected the gloves to come off. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re talking to me?  It was Robert De Niro.  You talking to me?

Let‘s go, let‘s go right now to Chuck Todd.  Hillary Clinton‘s genius.  

Do you assume the same level of greatness on her part that Howard does? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I guess I‘m not going that far, because she still avoided answering the question, which was odd.  It seems like...

MATTHEWS:  I think the question will be put to her again in the days that follow.

TODD:  Correct.  Correct.  This is going to be a story that—it‘s going to be a summer story.  I think at some point, the White House is going to make a decision, and then the story will finally go away for us, but I think—she didn‘t answer the question, which I think is only going to lead others to keep asking her.

MATTHEWS:  And of course, she was on the Watergate committee staff, and she saw through the pardons of Nixon and everything.

DOUGLASS:  And the word “pardon” also has a very...

MATTHEWS:  Because of Marc Rich?

DOUGLASS:  It resonates—it resonates...

MATTHEWS:  The sleazeball of the century...

DOUGLASS:  ... in the Clinton administration—exactly.

MATTHEWS:  ... that Clinton let off?

DOUGLASS:  A very controversial pardon that President Clinton made...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, very controversial.

DOUGLASS:  ... on the very last day of his presidency.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look—I‘m sorry—let‘s take a look at the new poll we got here, the Mason-Dixon poll.  Let‘s take a look.  This is a virtual three-way tie on Iowa, 27 percent are still undecided.  But the top three candidates, I wish they would show it, right now, the top three—there they are!  These numbers, people tell me in the polling business, are basically a lock.  They are altogether, 22, 21, 18.  They‘re all basically the same within the margin of error, which you can see up there in the corner, the margin of error is about five points.  Howard?  John Edwards has to win in Iowa and he is struggling with these other two candidates right now. 

FINEMAN:  I‘ve got my eye on that guy on the right there.

MATTHEWS:  Who is undecided.

FINEMAN:  You can‘t really make out in the picture.

MATTHEWS:  He is called undecided.  He is beating everybody.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I think those experts will tell you that that poll is functionally meaningless at this point.  But you are right, Edwards has to win it because he has put all of his eggs in Iowa.  Going back to the 2004 campaign when he was famous for buying computers for the Democratic party of Iowa, he has been out there a million times. 

MATTHEWS:  So even David to beat Goliath, needs a slingshot. 

FINEMAN:  He needs a slingshot.  Computers or something.

MATTHEWS:  Lets take a look, quickly at the Republican side.  It shows Romney in the lead in Iowa.  Pretty strong 25 percent.  Look at this lead, that‘s a substantial lead, a significant lead. 

Thompson moved up, and the sad story here for John McCain, he doesn‘t even make the top three.  He doesn‘t finish in the money.  He is now in Iowa below Huckabee.  John McCain is at six points in Iowa.

FINEMAN:  Well, in fairness to McCain, he has never made Iowa a place for him.  He skipped it in 2000, he‘s not really campaigning there. 


FINEMAN:  I think he may regret that, because he desperately is—if he is still in it by then, he is going to need a place to at least show up.

MATTHEWS:  As Meredith Wilson said in a beautiful lyric, give Iowa a try.

FINEMAN:  There you go.

MATTHEWS:  We will be back with Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman, and Linda Douglass.  You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.



FRED THOMPSON, FMR. U.S. SENATOR (R-TN):  I do know that the political window is closing.  How rapidly, I am not sure.  But one of the things that I was thinking about, when I made reference to the fact that we need leaders who can think past the next election.  And that goes for members of my own Republican party back home.  No one wants this debate going in through an election.  But nobody wants a more dangerous world than when we went down there. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was former senator Fred

Thompson apparently suffering from jet lag today, talking about Iraq.  He

is in London where he is meeting with former Prime Minister Margaret

Thatcher.  There is one exciting meeting of the minds.  Chuck Todd, Howard

Fineman, Linda Douglass.   Chuck?  Dare I mock this occasion?  This guy

went to London to meet with Margaret Thatcher to get what?  The Reagan-era

gloss?   What‘s he going for?  What is he doing? 

                TODD:  Well, I think he was trying to get some statesman form

international credentials.  I mean, let‘s remember, this is not a guy who you think—when you think of Fred Thompson, you don‘t immediately think of international statesman.  While he gets to go to London, does a Q&A almost all the questions were about foreign affairs, and he gets to look presidential, above the fray.  He did not get questioned about abortion or campaign finance reform.  Frankly, I think it was a success, if you are the Thompson folks.  You know, you are saying, you know, you are mocking his drawl a little bit, but, look, get used to it.   That‘s Fred Thompson. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you mean, you thought there was a regionalist aspect to my critique? 

TODD:  It‘s always going to be just a little ...

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that I was simply noticing that a guy running for president ought to have a little more excitement about the moment that he is intending to share with the entire world ...

TODD:  Well, its London.  He seems proper. 

FINEMAN:   This is his strategy, as Chuck points out.  This will be his strategy.  Fred Thompson will try to stay as far away from the trenches of the campaign for as long as he possibly can.  Because he knows the moment he gets in, all of that changes.  And the aura that he had from “Law and Order,” where he barges in and says, “What the hell is going on?” 

That‘s going to disappear.  That‘s going to disappear, and there are a lot of E.U. countries he could go to, France, Belgium, you know, all over the place. 

DOUGLASS:  Well, one of the things that I noticed about Fred Thompson that I noticed when I covered him in the Senate is he is very good with a script.  He is a smart guy, he‘s got a reputation for being smart, but he is very long-winded.  What you just saw was, what happens sometimes when he is thinking out loud at length, and people don‘t know that about him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Hillary Clinton announced her campaign theme song today in a skit that ran on her website.  Let‘s take a listen and a look. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Anything look good?

CLINTON:  We have some great choices. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I ordered for the table. 


CLINTON:  I am looking out for you. 

Where is Chelsea? 

B. CLINTON:  Parallel parking. 


B. CLINTON:  How is the campaign going? 

CLINTON:  Well, like you always say, focus on the good times. 

B. CLINTON:  So what is the winning song? 

CLINTON:  You‘ll see. 

B. CLINTON:  My money is on Smash Mouth.  Everybody in America wants to know how it‘s going to end.  Ready? 


MATTHEWS:  Well, the song she chose, by the way is “You and I,” rather, by Celine Dion.  Did that work for you?  I feel like Hemingway.  How was it for you?  What did you think of that, what we just saw? 

FINEMAN:  I thought they were trying real hard to be hip. 

MATTHEWS:  Did they make it? 


MATTHEWS:  Linda Douglass? 

DOUGLASS:  What struck me, is that whenever she feels that she needs help, she brings in Bill Clinton, the domesticated husband. 

MATTHEWS:  The charmer offensive.  It‘s always led by Bill.


MATTHEWS:   Did that work?  In that booth in that diner?

DOUGLASS:  It may work the first time, when you look at it again, I wonder if it doesn‘t make you just a little bit uncomfortable. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you think, Chuck?

TODD:  God, we‘re like examining this like we examined the Sopranos ending.  Look, I thought it was fun, and it actually is growing on me.  At first I thought it was too silly.  I think it‘s fun.  The only downside for them is, do the Clintons want to be compared to a mobster family? 


TODD:  And you know that is inevitable.

MATTHEWS:  I shock you all.  I liked it.  But anyway, I liked seeing it again.  Thank you Chuck Todd, thank you Howard Fineman, thank you Linda Douglass.  Right now it‘s time for Tucker.



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