updated 9/21/2007 1:12:59 PM ET 2007-09-21T17:12:59

Guest: Laura Ingraham, Joe Trippi, Anita Staver, Zach Wamp, April Ryan,

Chris Cillizza, Susannah Meadows

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bush gets into the fray for ‘08.  He doesn’t know who he’s backing but sure knows who he’s opposing—Hillary.

Let’s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I’m Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL.  The big story tonight: Today at a press conference, President Bush jumped into the 2008 presidential fight, warning voters that Democrats will raise taxes, they’ll trash the military and kiss up to the far left.  Here’s the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I thought the ad was disgusting.  And I felt like the ad was an attack not only on General Petraeus but on the U.S. military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bush isn’t looking to knight a successor, he just wants to remind his party who the enemy is, and all signs point to Senator Hillary Clinton.  We’re going to talk about the president’s battle cry with NBC News political director Chuck Todd and radio talk show host and author Laura Ingraham.

Hillary Clinton dominates our second story, as well, tonight.  She’s coming under attack by John Edwards and his wife.  We have Edwards’s top political guy here, Joe Trippi.

And is Fred Thompson really the great hope for conservatives or isn’t he?  That’s our HARDBALL debate tonight.

We begin with HARDBALL’s David Shuster with this report on the news out of President Bush’s press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Ten days after General Petraeus gave Congress his view of the Iraq war and was hit with a full-page ad by Moveon.org that said “General Betray Us,” today President Bush weighed in.

BUSH:  I thought the ad was disgusting.  And I felt like the ad was an attack not only on General Petraeus but on the U.S. military.

SHUSTER:  Moveon.org responded immediately.  Quote, “What’s disgusting is that the president has more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war.”

Moveon has been ratcheting up its attacks on Iraq war defenders for months.  This week, for example, the group aired a television ad slamming Moveon critic Rudy Giuliani, noting his priorities after he was invited to be part of the Iraq Study Group.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  After skipping important meetings of the Iraq Study Group, he quit and gave speeches for money.  Republican voters should ask Giuliani, Where were you when it counted?

SHUSTER:  Still, the dispute over the Moveon attack on General Petraeus has been building.  And with Democratic presidential candidates refraining from any public comments about the ad, today President Bush went on offense.

BUSH:  Most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like Moveon.org, or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military.  That was a sorry deal.

SHUSTER:  But just yesterday, one could argue Democrats tried to pass a measure that would have given U.S. troops as much time at home as they serve when deployed.  But the bill, which had the endorsement of military organizations, was blocked by Republicans.

Today President Bush also spoke about the ongoing problems in Iraq and then tried to explain them.

BUSH:  Part of the reason why there’s not this instant democracy in Iraq is because people are still recovering from Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule.

SHUSTER:  Maybe so, but Saddam’s rule ended four years ago, and human rights organizations say more Iraqi civilians are being murdered in sectarian violence than were killed under Saddam.

On Iran, amid indications that diplomatic efforts are failing to stop their pursuit of nuclear weapons, President Bush offered the exceptionally hawkish view of some in his administration before catching himself.

BUSH:  ... that the free world’s just not going to tolerate the development of know-how in how to build a weapon, or at least gain the ability to make a weapon.

SHUSTER:  The president was asked today about former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan.

BUSH:  My feelings are not hurt.

SHUSTER:  Rumsfeld said recently he hasn’t spoken with President Bush and doesn’t miss him.  And Greenspan’s new book criticizes the president’s lack of discipline on spending and tax cuts.

BUSH:  I respect Secretary Rumsfeld.  I believe he did a fine job. 

And I respect Alan Greenspan.

SHUSTER:  Still, the president made it clear again today that his views are firm, even more so when it comes to keeping U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely.

BUSH:  And so Mark, yes, the goals are the same.  And have we achieved them as fast?  No, we haven’t.  But however, having not achieved them doesn’t mean we ought to quit.

SHUSTER (on camera):  But even some Republicans wish President Bush would push the Iraqi government a bit harder.  His refusal to do so actually helps groups like Moveon.org, which usually feed off of any attention.

I’m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Chuck Todd is NBC’s chief political director, and Laura Ingraham is a radio talk show host and author of “Power to the People,” which will debut later this month at number one on the “New York Times” best-seller list.  We are in the company of a great author.

Laura, did the president find a sweet spot today by going after Moveon.org?  In other words, this war’s hard to sell, but is it easier for him to trash Moveon.org and its ad making fun of Petraeus?

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  First of all, let me say, my life is not complete without a David Shuster report on President Bush because those reports are always completely unbiased and completely just objective...

MATTHEWS:  As you are yourself, Laura...

INGRAHAM:  I love those.

MATTHEWS:  ... equally symmetric in your judgments.

INGRAHAM:  I’m not—I’m not—look, the president is at 29 percent in the polls, OK?  We know where his approval rating is, and it’s not good.  I think there are a lot of Republican candidates out there who would rather be the guys swinging at Hillary than to have President Bush swing at Hillary.

But that having been said, on the issue of the “General Betray Us” ads, the public has spoken.  The public has more trust in the military leaders than they do in the clowns on Capitol Hill.  And when you have 11 percent approval rating for Democrats and Republicans, something’s going on here in this country.  Something is going on.  And President Bush is trying to piggyback on that with the comments about the “General Betray Us” ad.

But correct me if I’m wrong, but I think today in the Senate, 75 senators condemned the Moveon.org ad.  So it seems to me...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it was 72-25.  You’re right.  It was a big condemnation.  I noticed, Chuck, that 22 Democrats joined the Republicans in trashing Moveon.org.  So while the president said the Democratic candidates are afraid of the left wing, as he put it, apparently, the U.S.  senators who want to get reelected from conservative states are not more afraid of the left than they are of the military.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  It was a real red-blue divide in the Democratic caucus...

MATTHEWS:  Wasn’t it interesting to watch?

TODD:  ... and I mean, it was—you could just see which way it was. 

Look, the fascinating votes were the two that I think we concentrated on, and that was Clinton, who voted no and voted against, voted sort of on the side of Moveon, or that’s what all the press releases I’ve been getting on my Blackberry over the last 25 minutes, have said.  Barack Obama didn’t vote.  Now...

MATTHEWS:  Barack Obama put out a statement, by the way—Laura, you may not have seen it—explaining he didn’t want to vote because he didn’t want any part of this what he considered a game of attacking the left...

INGRAHAM:  Ah.

MATTHEWS:  ... when the issue is the war.  Your thoughts?

INGRAHAM:  Well, I mean, first of all, Barack Obama at this point is paddling upstream against the Clintons.  I mean, good luck on that.  But look, Hillary has made it clear that she does not want to tick off Moveon.org and Soros and the far left of the Democrat Party.

And I’ve got to say, if I were in the far left of the Democrat Party, I’d be really ticked off at most of these senators right now.  I mean, they have been banking on this Senate to stop this war.  And George Bush, at 29 percent in the polls, somehow always gets his way with this war in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

INGRAHAM:  So if you’re a Democrat, you’ve got to be mad at everyone right now except Hillary Clinton because she didn’t vote to condemn this group.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s let the president speak for himself.  Here he is, Laura Ingraham, taking a shot at the Democrats for not taking a shot at the left.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  ... are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like Moveon.org, or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let’s put it in perspective, Chuck.  It could well be that a lot of people think the big issue of our times is the war in Iraq and they will not be distracted and start attacking bloggers when they think the real problem is the policy.

TODD:  Well, I think—look, I think...

MATTHEWS:  I’m talking about the Democratic candidates.  Why should they turn their guns to the left when they think their fight’s on the right?

TODD:  Well, not only that, what’s been interesting, though, with this is that all the Republican presidentials jumped on this and used this as a way of ducking having to actually deal with the policy debate last week.

INGRAHAM:  Oh, I think they did deal with the policy debate.

(CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM:  That’s the conventional wisdom in Washington, Chuck.  That is ridiculous!

TODD:  OK.  Come on.

INGRAHAM:  The Republicans have been talking...

TODD:  Rudy created a straw man.

INGRAHAM:  ... the surge.  They’ve been talking about what’s working and what’s not working, frankly, in Iraq.  And the fact that Moveon.org stepped in it once again and made fools of themselves in front of the national media and for the public at large, which condemns what they do...

MATTHEWS:  OK, Laura, you make my point.

INGRAHAM:  Give me a break!

MATTHEWS:  It’s easier to trash Moveon.org than it is to defend this war, right?

INGRAHAM:  Chris, were you the one the other night, correct me if I’m wrong, who said that we should hang Exxon and Mobil signs at Arlington National Cemetery?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but I think we should start reminding...

INGRAHAM:  Did you say that?

MATTHEWS:  ... everybody that if this war’s about oil, as Alan Greenspan pointed out the other day, and many other people have—if it is about oil, why are the oil companies making such huge windfall profits...

INGRAHAM:  Well, first of all, Alan Greenspan...

MATTHEWS:  ... at the cost of what we’re putting into this war?  Yes, that’s a legitimate charge.

INGRAHAM:  Alan Greenspan—Alan Greenspan, as you know, Chris, has stepped away from the way that book was marketed, and he said the Bush administration, he doesn’t believe they thought the war was about oil.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me tell you, I went back...

INGRAHAM:  He’s making a comment about the reality.

MATTHEWS:  ... and I read the book on the air, and I will do it again.

INGRAHAM:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  The book stands for itself.

INGRAHAM:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He is trying to cozy up with his former allies and colleagues.  But clearly, Alan Greenspan...

INGRAHAM:  Yes, but...

MATTHEWS:  ... spent years writing this book.  He wrote what he believes.  He said the war is obviously about oil.

INGRAHAM:  Right.  Well, earth-shattering conclusions, like Republicans are spending too much money.  Of course.  You know, that’s—we’ve only been saying that for about 10 years in conservative politics.  Of course they’re spending too much money.  Of course there’s a lot of shenanigans going on on Capitol Hill.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

INGRAHAM:  But you know, take it from someone who’s out there selling a book, I mean, the way press material sometimes is written doesn’t always necessarily reflect what...

MATTHEWS:  No, I’m going by the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I’m not going by the PR, I’m going by the text of the book.

INGRAHAM:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I read it.  It’s still in there, Laura.  You ought to read it.  It’s on I think...

INGRAHAM:  Yes, I did read it, Chris.  He did not say that the Bush administration got into the war in Iraq because of oil.  And if you think he did...

MATTHEWS:  He said that—well, we’ll get the text.

INGRAHAM:  ... then go to the times he’s been interviewed where he doesn’t say that.

MATTHEWS:  We’ll get the book and read it aloud...

INGRAHAM:  Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You don’t have to thank me because we read it.  Laura, we read the book verbatim here, and we’ll do it again.

INGRAHAM:  Excellent.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it’s hard to do it after you make it into an order, Laura.

Let me go here—let me talk about this other issue here about the fact that the president seems to know who the Democratic opponent is, constantly today talking about the SCHIPs program, the program for kids who basically—whose parents make above the poverty line, and talking about the fact that that’s going to mean higher taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  ... also talked about “socialized medicine.”

MATTHEWS:  Right.

TODD:  And he used the words “socialized medicine.”

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like he’s anticipating Hillary as the nominee.  He’s going to say health care expansion of benefits covers—raises more taxes, more taxes means recession.  It’s all about Hillary.

TODD:  Well, I thought the fascinating thing about Bush today was that he was—he seemed to embrace the lame duckness, right?  He’s, You know what, I’m unpopular, and it doesn’t matter.  And he took his shots, and he took his shots at the left wing of the party, and then he took a shot on health care and he took a shot at Clinton, almost sending a message to the Republicans running for president, Hey, you know, I’ll be this guy, if you want me to be this guy.  So you know, all in all, I thought it was an interesting performance by Bush.

MATTHEWS:  What did you think of that, Laura, the fact the president made such a—took such a shot at health care with this issue?

INGRAHAM:  Well, I think that—you know, he’s still—he’s concerned about his legacy now.  He hopes that it’s not just Iraq, at least if Iraq doesn’t improve markedly.  He wants it to be expanded.  So he made the point, which is a factual point, that he has tried to increase spending for the SCHIP program by a billion dollars a year over five years.  That’s a 20 percent increase over five years.  The Democrats want to broaden the category of people who are covered under this.  He made that factual point.

And look, Hillary is going to be the Democrat nominee.  I mean, we can talk about Obama and that’s kind of fun, but Hillary’s going to be the Democrat nominee.  He knows it.  All of us know it.  We can, like, drop the formalities here.

And Bill Clinton—I mean, George Bush is making the point that, Look, how do you give more power to Americans today, more power to the people?  That’s what I focus on.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask...

INGRAHAM:  And he says—by putting more decision-making in Washington, regardless of how you frame this issue, is that giving more power to the people?  And he said no.  That’s a political statement.  Yes.  For sure.  But that’s where we are right now in politics.

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of the president not commenting really about what Gates said?  You first on that, Chuck.  I think it’s interesting that Secretary Gates was asked, Do you think it was smart to go to Iraq, to invade Iraq and occupy it all these years?  Was that a smart move?  And he didn’t really respond.

In a way, and ironically because I had—several years ago, I had Rumsfeld on this show, Laura—take a look at this.  This is Rumsfeld.  This is an odd way these guys respond.  They don’t really respond when you ask them about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did you advise the president to go to war?

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Yes.  He did not ask me, is the question, and to my knowledge, there are any number of people that he did not ask...

MATTHEWS:  Did that surprise you as secretary of defense?

RUMSFELD:  Well, I thought it was interesting.  He clearly asked us, Could we win?  And I said, obviously, that the military assured that they can prevail in that conflict in terms of the—changing the regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What did you think of that, Laura?  It’s—these guys, including Gates, they don’t seem to want to step up and say they were part of the decision-making...

INGRAHAM:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... that took us into Iraq.

INGRAHAM:  Yes.  Well, we’ll see if things start changing and continue to improve in different parts of Iraq and we do see fundamental change.  Then you’ll see the same people saying, Well, you know, I knew all along that American force could do the heavy lifting and...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  When do you think that will happen, Laura?

INGRAHAM:  Well, Chris, I’m different from you on this.  I actually have hope that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But when do you expect it will happen?  When will this war look like a smart decision by the United States, in the interests of the United States to invade Iraq?

INGRAHAM:  When America maybe gets a little bit more united behind the idea...

MATTHEWS:  No, but when will it objectively...

INGRAHAM:  ... that we’re trying to do...

MATTHEWS:  ... this was a smart move for America?

INGRAHAM:  ... something very liberal in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  When will it look like a smart move?

INGRAHAM:  Chris, we know where you are on this.  You think it’s a disaster and it’s never going to get better, OK?  We know that’s where you are.

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me read you...

INGRAHAM:  And I respect that.  That’s what you think.

MATTHEWS:  Let me read the Alan Greenspan quote from his book.

INGRAHAM:  OK.  Here we go.

MATTHEWS:  “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows, the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

INGRAHAM:  Did he say that George Bush believed when he went...

MATTHEWS:  No, he’s just...

INGRAHAM:  ... in that the war was about oil?

MATTHEWS:  He just said the Iraq war is largely about oil.

INGRAHAM:  He has since commented that he doesn’t believe the administration went into Iraq for oil, as many times on this show, I believe...

MATTHEWS:  What does it mean...

INGRAHAM:  ... -different people have implicated.  That’s not the case.

MATTHEWS:  What does it mean to say the Iraq war was largely about oil?  What does that mean?

INGRAHAM:  I don’t care.  I really frankly don’t care what Alan Greenspan is writing.  Alan Greenspan is not a national security expert, last time I checked.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That’s a fair...

INGRAHAM:  Last time I checked, he was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That’s a critique, but it’s not a denial.  Laura, you’re always welcome.  But that was the quote directly from the...

INGRAHAM:  I like your brother—I like your brother better than you are right now.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Laura.  You know it’s hard to face the truth. 

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd.

INGRAHAM:  Yes, right.  Good try.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Laura Ingraham.

Coming up: Is Hillary Clinton corrupt?  Let’s hear from an attacker.

You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Barack Obama doesn’t seem to be doing much to stop Hillary Clinton these days, if you look at the polls, but John Edwards sure is.  His campaign is calling Hillary’s campaign fund-raising corrupt.  And also, Elizabeth Edwards is questioning Hillary’s leadership ability on the health care issue.

Joe Trippi is a senior adviser to the Edwards campaign.  We invited, by the way, the Clinton campaign to defend themselves against these charges, and they passed, as they did last night.

Let me ask you, Joe, just go through this whole thing about fund-raising.  What’s wrong with the way the Clintons are raising money?

JOE TRIPPI, SENIOR ADVISER TO EDWARDS CAMPAIGN:  I mean, I think the fund-raiser they had a few days ago in Washington was a great—it should be a poster child for what’s wrong, invited people, lobbyists and contractors in homeland security to come to a fund-raiser, where after the lunch, they were given an hour breakout session with committee members, chairmen, members of Congress who actually serve on the committees that the lobbyists wanted to persuade on homeland security.

I mean, it was sort of like speed dating between chairmen of committees and lobbyists, and it was all orchestrated and looked over by Hillary Clinton.  I mean, it’s—it’s really—you know, the system in Washington is corroded and corrupt.  The American people know it.  The American people know it’s rigged against them.  And I don’t know what else to call it.  I don’t think her campaign is corrupt or that she’s corrupt.  I do think it’s sort of blind to what this stuff looks like.

And to—it doesn’t matter whether the candidate for president is or isn’t.  It matters if—if you’re trying to pass health care, for instance, and 435 members of Congress are being inundated with lobbying money, and 100 U.S. senators are being inundated with that lobbying money and that influence, it doesn’t—it doesn’t—you know, it—that’s how you don’t get health care. 

You know, we don’t have health care since 1993, when she tried.  We don’t have it today.  It’s 13, 14 years later.  The special interests killed that health care plan.  We all know that.  She knows it.  But now she’s taking money from them. 

I mean, there’s just—this is part of the system that—that the Edwards campaign is out to change.  And the first thing we did was ask her and Obama and everybody else running for president to call on the Democratic Party, all Democrats, to stop taking the money of Washington lobbyists. 

If the party unilaterally did that, the Republicans would be exposed.  Either join us or they expose themselves for not being a party of the people, but a party of the special interests, corporate interests.  And the Democrats...

MATTHEWS:  When did your—when did your candidate, John Edwards, become a virgin when it comes to... 

TRIPPI:  NO.

MATTHEWS:  ... not taking lobby...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... money?

TRIPPI:  We’re not—we are not...

MATTHEWS:  When did he stop taking this kind of money? 

TRIPPI:  Well, no, John Edwards never has ever, from the beginning of his political career, has never taken PAC money or the money of Washington lobbyists, ever. 

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  His campaign was—was...

TRIPPI:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... bankrolled the first time around by the trial lawyers. 

TRIPPI:  No.  No.  No.  Trial lawyers are not lobbyists.  They’re trial lawyers, like doctors.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they have one—they lobby for one cause, which is they don’t want caps on damages. 

TRIPPI:  No.  No. Well...

MATTHEWS:  That’s their number—that is what has made it—made them a big issue in states like Pennsylvania, where it’s hard to get a doctor to practice out there because of the trial lawyers. 

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  Right.  No, no.  Chris, Chris, Chris, let me—there’s a difference. 

MATTHEWS:  How is the—what’s the difference? 

TRIPPI:  Doctors, nurses, trial lawyers, teachers, they may hire lobbyists, but they don’t lobby.  The lobbyists are the people that have to register as lobbyists because their job...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but what’s the difference between somebody who comes to a candidate with a special interest, like they have—they’re trial lawyers.

TRIPPI:  Because they’re the only ones.  Look, it’s like saying...

MATTHEWS:  What is the difference?  Why are you guys clean and the other side dirty, then? 

TRIPPI:  We’re not—first of all, we’re saying this is the first step. 

But you can’t get anybody in the party right now—you can’t get Hillary Clinton to agree to stop take lobbyists’ money, let alone trial lawyer money or any other—any other group out there. 

We’re just saying look, in a jury, a trial lawyer, a lawyer walks into the room.  He’s allowed to make his case before the jury, but he’s not allowed to pay them.  That’s called bribery. 

A lobbyist is registered because they’re going to—they’re going to try to influence legislation.  That—he—they should be allowed to make their argument.  They should be allowed to make their case to a member of Congress. 

But they shouldn’t be able to give money to the member of Congress.  That’s what’s wrong.  That’s the difference between any other group and a Washington lobbyist.  We think that you start there as a party.  If we were to, as a party, to say no more money...

MATTHEWS:  So, you’re saying that the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is take bribes, basically? 

TRIPPI:  We’re saying...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I don’t how else you’re saying it.  You’re saying she’s taking money from lobbyists who are lobbying her.

TRIPPI:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And you’re saying they’re paying her to do what they want her to do.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  Well, I would call it legalized bribery.  And I think the Democratic Party should be the party that says, enough.  We’re not going to do this anymore.  No Democrat will accept money from Washington lobbyists.  We will hear their case, but we’re not going to take their money. 

If the Democratic Party did that, we would be the party of the people.  The Republicans would be the party of the special interests, corporate interests with Washington lobbyists. 

We—John Edwards doesn’t take lobbyists’ money to—and never has.  Barack Obama this year—he took it when he ran for the U.S. Senate, but he has stopped taking it as a U.S. presidential candidate.  If you have—if it’s good for us, if it’s good for Barack Obama, it should be good for the entire party.  That’s the case we’re making. 

And—and, when you’re really look at what Hillary Clinton did the other day, we’re not—it was—it pales—I mean, most Washington dinners or fund-raisers pale when you look at this one.  It really was speed-dating, hooking up the lobbyists with the committee chairmen, you know, for $1,000 or a $25,000 bundle. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

TRIPPI:  Look, something’s wrong with that.  The American people get to decide...

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  ... status quo...

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  ... let this stuff keep going?

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to be your big issue with Hillary Clinton in this fight for the nomination between John Edwards and Hillary Clinton? 

TRIPPI:  Well, it’s...

MATTHEWS:  Is this the issue that separates the two of you? 

TRIPPI:  I think it separates—it causes separation on all of them. 

Who—you are going to get health care because you’re going to take on these special interests, not because you’re going to take their money...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

TRIPPI:  ... then compromise with them. 

MATTHEWS:  Hey, great.  It’s great to have you on, Joe Trippi. 

TRIPPI:  Thanks. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  The Rudy Giuliani-Hillary Clinton fight gets personal—that and more from the campaign trail. 

You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the politics out there: Hillary’s Wolf pack.  If you want to know who Hillary fears will be the Republican candidate next year, check out what her pal Tom Vilsack just said on New York television. 

The former Iowa governor and Clinton booster speaking on New York 1 -- quote—“I can’t even get into the number of marriages and the fact that his children, the relationship he has with his children.  Mayor Giuliani, he’s got an interesting past.”

Hmm. 

Isn’t this Howard Wolfson’s job, to go biting at the heels of anybody who threatens Hillary?  And I thought the Clinton crowd’s position was that topics like sexual behavior and family catastrophe were—quote—

“personal matters”—close quote.  Isn’t that what her flacks are told to say every time Bill gets into the media headlights? 

Speaking of Rudy Giuliani, this Friday, he speaks to the—to the NRA.  That should be interesting.  The thing is, they must love his law-and-order approach to running New York, but I don’t think they like his backing of gun control.  And let’s face it.  He didn’t like them all that much, either. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE CHARLIE ROSE SHOW”)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, MAYOR OF NEW YORK:  I agree that there should be stronger penalties for people who have guns.  I agree that it’s the person who uses the gun that is the source of the real problem. 

But the gun is also the source of a very big problem, and the NRA’s, in essence, defense of assault weapons and their unwillingness to deal with some of the realities here that we face in cities is a terrible, terrible mistake. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  On the other side of the map, Elizabeth Edwards is—once again, as I said, going after her husband’s number-one nemesis, accusing Hillary Clinton of stealing her husband’s health care plan—quote—

“Mrs. Clinton has, seven-and-a-half months after John unveiled his health care plan, unveiled a health care plan that is, in every material respect, just like John’s.”

Here’s one to watch.  How long will Columbia University take heat by hosting Iranian President Ahmadinejad this Monday?  Let’s see how long academic freedom trumps politics. 

And, finally, potty training—it turns out that, when Larry Craig flew home to Washington, or flew back to Washington, this week, he avoided the stopover airport that he knows so intimately.  Instead of flying through Minneapolis, he stopped over in Denver instead.  Should have done that before. 

Up next:  Some Christian conservatives are not so sure that Fred Thompson’s really the great hope for them.  We will debate that.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I’m Mike Huckman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

The two-day Fed rate cut rally came to an end today.  The Dow Jones industrials dropped almost 49 points.   The S&P 500 fell 10 points, and the Nasdaq lost 12 points.  Stocks fell on mixed economic news, including a report showing the index of leading economic indicators dropped six-tenths-of-a-percent last month, indicating a possible slowdown ahead.  But first-time jobless claims dipped to their lowest level in seven weeks.  And that signals a firm job market. 

Circuit City reported a larger-than-expected quarterly loss today, sending shares of the electronics chain plunging nearly 18 percent to a new low. 

Oil prices continue to surge.  Crude gained $1.39 in New York, closing at another record high of $83.32 a barrel. 

And 30-year mortgage rates rose this week, after hitting a four-month low last week.  The nationwide average edged up now to 6.34 percent. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and one of the country’s most influential evangelicals, had some harsh words when it came to Fred Thompson’s presidential candidacy. 

In a private e-mail he wrote—quote—“Isn’t Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won’t talk at all about what he believes, and can’t speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?  He has no passion, no zeal, and no apparent ‘want to.’  And, yet, he apparently is the great hope that burns in the breasts of so many Christian conservatives.  Well, not for me, my brothers, not for me.”

Is Thompson really the great hope for Christian conservatives? 

Well, Republican Congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee is a Thompson supporter.  And Anita Staver is a self-described values voter and president of the Liberty Counsel, a public interests law firm that specialize in religious civil liberties and issues of human life and traditional family. 

Let me go to Congressman Wamp. 

Is Fred Thompson a Christian conservative? 

REP. ZACH WAMP ®, TENNESSEE:  Well, there’s no question he’s a solid social and fiscal conservative with an eight-year track record in the United States Senate.  That’s why two dozen members of the House are solidly with him.  And it’s some of the most socially conservative members of the House, because we believe in him as a man. 

MATTHEWS:  So, what’s wrong with him, Anita? 

ANITA STAVER, PRESIDENT, LIBERTY COUNSEL:  Well, thank you for allowing me to speak on this.  And I must say that I’m not representing Liberty Counsel.  I’m talking as a values voter, as you mentioned, saying my own personal statements. 

And one of the things we’re very concerned about him about is, he really doesn’t seem to understand the importance of marriage.  He is against the federal marriage amendment.  He says he favors a state’s right to legislate same-sex marriage.  And that is a problem, because he says that no state would do that. 

Well, as a fact, the state of California has already done that and was only vetoed by the governor.  So, it clearly shows he doesn’t understand the issues. 

He says states’ rights trumps over top of traditional marriage and family.  And it doesn’t really make any sense, any more than saying that the states could impose, for example, slavery and not wanting some sort of federal law or federal policy to abolish that.  It just doesn’t make any sense to any of us values voters. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Wamp, is that a litmus test for you, that a presidential candidate or a future president should have to be for a constitutional amendment to prevent states from enacting same-sex marriage laws? 

WAMP:  Well, I supported the federal marriage amendment, but I have to admire Senator Thompson’s courage for standing up for what he believes is the federalist view, which is that, if it’s not defined in the Constitution, the Tenth Amendment does apply.

We have run roughshod over the Constitution.  And, frankly, this could be left up to the states.  His perspective is, don’t turn this over to judges.  They have proven to be too liberal.  Let the legislatures in the states make this call. 

But I will tell you this.  The president’s not even involved in amending the Constitution.  We all know that.  So, this is not a litmus test issue.  This is one issue.  He’s got a 10-year, solid pro-life voting record.  He’s a solid conservative.  He’s the guy we can count on. 

And, frankly, I have been in Congress 13 years.  I know basically all these candidates.  I will guarantee you, of any candidate that can actually win our nomination and go head-to-head with Hillary Clinton, he’s the most conservative. 

STAVER:  Chris, this—this is really—it is a federal issue, in that the president has a great deal to do about it, because he needs to be able to push this through Congress.  And it’s very important that he put in judges that are not activists and that...

WAMP:  He will. 

STAVER:  ... we put in the right person on the U.S. Supreme Court that will...

WAMP:  He will. 

STAVER:  ... take the right steps. 

Well, it just doesn’t make any sense to allow one state to have same-sex marriage.  And they will export it to other states...

WAMP:  Anita, this...

STAVER:  ... because we have seen these battles between, for example, right now, Vermont and Virginia.  There’s a battle going on right now because Vermont has what is an equivalent to a same-sex marriage.  And it’s wreaking havoc across our country in the lives of children.

And we really just can’t continue to sit back and watch this happen and to be able to support some sort of candidate who does not really understand the fundamental issue of marriage...

MATTHEWS:  How does it affect the lives...

STAVER:  ... and how it...

MATTHEWS:  How does it affect the lives of children?  I’m sorry. 

STAVER:  Because they’re being pulled apart from their natural biological parents and being put in the lives of same-sex couples who aren’t even really related, just based on some past relationship. 

It really doesn’t make sense to not be able to have a federal marriage amendment to take care of those issues.

MATTHEWS:  Now, wait minute.  I just want to get that one fact in. 

You jumped—I always like to know what people are talking about. 

STAVER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  How are children being torn away from their parents and given to same-sex couples?  How does that work? 

STAVER:  Well, for example, there’s a lady right now in—from Virginia.  She and her partner went to Vermont, entered into a civil union.  She had her own biological child.  And now there’s a custody battle going over that child, because Virginia doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages under the state law, and Vermont recognizes civil unions and gives parental rights to people who are in civil unions. 

And this has set up a terrible battle.

MATTHEWS:  So, who are her parents?  Who raised her? 

STAVER:  The person who raised her is her biological mother. 

MATTHEWS:  And where’s the parent that...

STAVER:  And she had very little contact.  And that’s the lady who...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how was she torn away from her natural parents?  What do you mean by torn away? 

STAVER:  Because there’s a judge in Vermont that says that she has to travel—the biological mother has to take her from Vermont—from Virginia to Vermont at least once a month to spend time with this person who she’s not even related to and does not even know.  This is just one example of things that go all across the country and—

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—that’s a deal breaker for you and Fred Thompson. 

STAVER:  Absolutely.  It is. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, that’s all it takes.  

STAVER:  There’s many other things, too.  It’s not just one issue.  He’s an uninformed, reluctant candidate.  He can’t face others.  He won’t debate.  He delayed getting into the race.  He told many of us that he was going to get into the race in July.  He kept putting it off and putting it off. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, well he is going to debate.  Congressman, I have to tell you he is going to debate because I’m going to moderate the debate. 

WAMP:  There’s no question.  Let me say this.  He is for—Anita, he is for traditional marriage.  He is against gay marriage.  But he doesn’t think we necessarily have to amend the constitution to bring that about.  This is possibly the most conservative position you can take.  I was here when this debate started.  There was a discussion among Evangelicals as to whether the Federal Marriage Amendment was the actual best way to go on bringing about heterosexual marriage. 

There was a debate from the very start.  He’s taken the federalist quasi-most conservative libertarian kind of position here.  So he is very much for traditional marriage.  Listen, your husband moderated the debate that he didn’t participate in, so you’ve already—you’ve got an angle in.  He’s participating in the debates.  He was drafted to run for president. 

He—

(CROSS TALK)

WAMP:  Because we need a strong candidate. 

STAVER:  He refused—

WAMP:  Listen, my nephew works for Huckabee.  Huckabee’s a fine man. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me just say again, Anita and Congressman, he is going to participate in the CNBC debate. 

WAMP:  Correct. 

MATTHEWS:  Which is going air on this network as well.  Thank you both for joining us, Congressman Zach Wamp and Anita Staver. 

Up next we’re going to argue the biggest and latest stories on HARDBALL with our panel.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I’m optimistic about our economy.  I would be pessimistic, however, if the Congress has its way and raises taxes.  The worst decision that Congress could make would be to raise taxes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

I’m optimistic, but I would be pessimistic if I thought Congress was going to get their way, and they’re not.  They’re not going to raise taxes.  Candidates who say we’re not going to raise your taxes will do well. 

Taxes. 

Taxes. 

Taxes. 

Taxes. 

Taxes. 

Taxes. 

That’s why I’m not going to let the taxes be raised. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That really happened today.  Those are the president’s words again and again and again and again; taxes, taxes, taxes, taxes, taxes; 18 times he said the word in a very short press conference.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  time for our round table.  The “Washington Post’” Chris Cillizza, “Newsweek’s” Susannah Meadows, and April Ryan, a White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. 

I want to start with April.  It seems to me that the president believes the Clintons are going to come back to the White House.  They’re going to have a health care plan.  It’s going to cause a raise in taxes.  It’s going to cause a recession and he’s starting the drumbeat right now. 

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK:  Yes, he is.  Chris, you have to remember, the president is one who’s touting the fact that he’s gotten an A in keeping taxes low and cutting taxes.  And he feels the economy would spin out of control with a Democrat like Hillary Clinton and former President Clinton running the White House again.  And the president is very concerned about those issues. 

And not only, that they’re looking on the Democratic side and saying yes, Hillary could be the nominee.  But there are also some big names here in the White House on the Republican side, looking the way of Rudy Giuliani again. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, interesting.  Let me go to Susannah Meadows.  It looks to me like they’re sharp shooting.  They’re sniping at who they believe will be the nominee.  Health care equals higher taxes, equals recession.  I’m sorry, I skipped the first one.  Hillary equals health care, equals higher taxes, equals recession.  This is the Republican game plan.  He’s shaping the battlefield. 

SUSANNAH MEADOWS, “NEWSWEEK”:  Right.  Well, certainly the old—or even the more recent, sort of, references to Hillary-Care as socialized medicine are sort of falling flat this time around.  And so they’ve got to shift the conversation to taxes.  And she hasn’t quite answered the question of how this plan would be paid for.  She talks about rolling back Bush’s tax cuts.  But that only covers about half the bill. 

And so it is a question.  Where is this money going to come from? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is the Republican—or the Democratic bugaboo, Chris.  This is what Democrats have to defend every time they run for office.  Yes, we’re good at some things like the environment.  We’re better with poor people.  We’re better with education.  But we cost more. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Chris, that’s always been the Republicans’ strongest selling point, I think, is you can boil down their message; less government, lower taxes, right?  Four words.  Democrats have always had a more complicated argument.  I think you saw President Bush—you mentioned 18 times in the short press conference.  He also took quite a bit of time to talk about MoveOn.org and their comments about the military. 

I think that’s the two-pronged attack you’re going to see, taxes and strong at home, strong abroad.  I think those are the two things where Republicans think they still have some footing with the American voting public.  And I think that’s probably President Bush giving the candidates a foreshadowing of here’s maybe what you should think about running on. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, April, can you still win the argument that you’re against higher taxes at a time where people really want health care for everyone?  Is it still a strong Republican edge to say better to have low taxes and not cover everybody with health insurance, against the Democrat argument, yes, it will cost some money, but at least this will be a civilized country if we have health care for everybody? 

RYAN:  Well, Chris, that argument is under attack, especially today.  At the beginning of the president’s press conference he talked about the S-Chip program for low-income American children.  And he’s talking a difference of five billion dollars over five years, and the Democrats in Congress are talking about funding it for 30 to 35 billion dollars.  And these poor children may not have—this S-Chip program could expire at the end of the month. 

So if you’re talking about health care, you’re talking about taxes, and he’s scared that we’ll be taxed more because of the Democrats, it’s something that’s got to be really weighed.  Are you really concerned about health care?  Are you really concerned about keeping taxes low? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, finally, a philosophical discussion about the future of America.  I’m sort of happy with this, Susannah, because everyone says we spend too much time worried about Nicole whatever her name is and O.J.  and we should be focusing on what kind of a country we want to live in.  And to me this is the central domestic policy question.  Do we want to commit ourselves to a bit of—I know it’s a terrible phrase—socialized medicine?  A bit of national support for medical care for people that don’t have it right now, that don’t have insurance, or don’t we? 

Do we want to stay the way we are?  That’s to me a good debate. 

MEADOWS:  I don’t think anyone’s even proposing socialized medicine. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that’s a phrase that scares people, but it’s reality.  It’s what they call it in every other civilized country.  I don’t know why we don’t want to call it that.  In Canada or Britain or whatever, they have a national health care system. 

MEADOWS:  Right.  But even with Hillary, she’s proposing keeping the insurance companies right in place.  And if you can’t afford it, you get money from the government.  I mean, that keeps people who have insurance from being scared that it’s going to be taken away.  And I think—I don’t think there’s anybody, if truth be told, who’s going to sacrifice the good care that they’re already getting, even—however well meaning they are.  I think when it comes down to it, people don’t want to give up what they have. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  I think Hillary scared a lot of people, they were going to get shifted to HMOs from fee—pay—fee per—I forget the phrase.  But it was the—it’s the normal way where you go to the neighborhood doctor. 

Anyway, we’ll be right back with Chris Cillizza, Susannah Meadows, and April Ryan.  You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We’re back with Chris Cillizza, Susannah Meadows, and April Ryan.  This question—let’s take a look at something we’ll remind a lot of people watching what’s wrong with political fund-raising.  This is Al Gore back in 2000 raising money at an exotic locale.  You’re watching him going through a group of people that are a religious group out in California, obviously trying to pay tribute to them as he raises big bucks from them.  This has become an iconic example of what politicians do to raise money among groups. 

A lot of them, recent arrivals in this country, as has been traditional in America, they feel endangered, they feel that they need to cultivate favor with people with power.  Let me go to April on this.  You know, this has been going on since the immigrants first arrived in America.  You hit the most recent immigrants, you hit them up politically.  You scare them.  You try to squeeze as much money out of them.  And now you see Hillary Clinton taking this money from this fellow Hsu, who’s in all kinds of trouble legally right now. 

And you’ve got this question of bundling.  It’s been reported in the paper today that people are being asked to kick in to campaigns and then being compensated by their bosses.  They’re Republicans being forced to kick in to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  A lot of this sleaze is going on.  It’s not the new kind of post-Watergate politics we were promised. 

RYAN:  Well, unfortunately, we’re seeing what the politics of politics are.  Unfortunately, Chris.  And what that means is we’re going to see candidates accepting money.  They’re accepting money and they’re not asking questions.  And then when it comes out, you find out you have to give the money back to a charity.  You have to give it back some kind of way.  And it’s best for the candidates, I guess, to say hey, look, we’re going to take this money.  We don’t necessarily dig.  You may not some of what the person is doing, but they’re going to continue to accept money from many people and many organizations. 

It’s about money, Chris.  It’s about money and the issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Susannah, the problem is they only give them back the money, the sleaze money, when they’re caught.  You never hear of them giving it back ahead of time.  It’s when somebody in journalism has done the digging and proven that it’s a real problem, or somebody gets arrested or tried for something.  And only then—oh, did we take their money?  We’d better give it back.  They never give it back ahead of time. 

MEADOWS:  Right.  Well, the funny thing is that now with this new lawsuit that’s been filed against Hsu, the money that these campaigns have accepted from him has been frozen.  And so they can’t even get rid of it.  So they just—days—more days of their name in the headlines associated with this money, which is certainly payback. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was interesting, Chris, that Howard Wolfson, who is usually a tough guy, was quoted in the paper today as saying they were concerned about some of this money that is coming to them from these bundlers, and they were concerned that some of it may have been fraudulently raised by people who were basically being dunned at work and told, we’ll give you the money back after the end of the year or whatever, the kind of thing I always suspect goes on in law firms and places like that. 

Does that mean they’re getting a sense, the Clinton campaign, and others, to this problem sleaze? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, look, I think, Chris, as soon as you saw they were going to return the 850,000 dollars that Hsu helped raise you knew that they were concerned about it.  This was an attempt to get this story out of the papers.  It hasn’t worked.  Look, that’s not an insignificant amount of money.  We are not talking about 2,300 or 4,600 dollars.  We are talking about nearly a million dollars. 

I do think the Clinton campaign is uniquely aware of it because of what the video you showed, because of the Clintons, because of Johnny Chang.  You know, there’s all of this stuff.  They don’t want people—they want people to remember the good times of the Clinton administration, the good economic times, peace at home and abroad.  They don’t want them to remember these fund-raising things, the ethical questions.  That’s not how people want—they are not going to vote for a Clinton if that’s the image of a Clinton they are being given. 

So that’s why you see the Clinton campaign being very, very careful, both in how they handle the situation, giving back all of the money or at least all of the money they can trace back.  April is right in the end, too.  You’re talking about 50, 75, 150 million dollars.  The need to raise all of that money forces these candidates, I think, to use these bundlers, many of whom they have not met or met once or twice. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, Chris—oh, Chris.  Excuse me.  You’re saying it forces them to be corrupt?  Excuse me, are we now in the business of justifying—because their ambitions are so grand, we can’t expect them to be careful in how they raise money?  Excuse me, they choose to run for president.  They believe they can handle the job without being corrupt.  They say so.  And when they are found to be corrupt, we say oh, that comes with the territory.  Is that the excuse? 

CILLIZZA:  I don’t think—what I don’t think, though—I don’t think that the fact that Hsu is corrupt means that Hillary Clinton is corrupt.  I think she made an error in judgment by accepting this guy as a bundler. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  What about the characters they dealt with in the White House all of those years that say you got to pay to get on the subway, this pay to play mentality?  All of the people who stayed over night like Motel Six at the Lincoln Bedroom, time after time after time.  One fund-raiser after another in the White House, huge amounts of money.  Do you think this isn’t something they do? 

(CROSS TALK)

CILLIZZA:  I think it is something that every politician does.  I don’t think it’s unique to the Clintons. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we are talking volume here though. 

CILLIZZA:  People give money for access.  People give money to gain access.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you Chris Cillizza, thank you Susannah Meadows, thank you April Ryan.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it’s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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