updated 9/28/2007 11:26:01 AM ET 2007-09-28T15:26:01

Guests: Rep. Jim Moran, Rep. Trent Franks, Heidi Harris, Ed Schultz, Ezra Klein, Eugene Robinson, Debra Saunders

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Does the country have two war parties now?  In last night‘s Democratic debate, you‘d get that idea.  Every top candidate said they‘d keep troops in Iraq through 2013.  And Hillary just signed onto a resolution justifying war with Iran.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  The 10-year war?  The American people made it clear in the last election that they want to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home.  They threw out the Republicans and put the Democrats in power.  And yet last night, the top three Democratic candidates for president, after months of attacking President Bush and the war, would not pledge to bring the troops home, even by the year 2013.  That‘s 10 years of war.

Did these top-tier Democrats expose themselves on the war in Iraq at the Dartmouth debate last night?  And how will voters respond?  How will the Democratic base respond?

Plus, Senator Barack Obama‘s performance was low-key, to say the least, last night—and it was the least.  His advisers say he was sick.  But has the Obama fever broken?  More on the Democratic debate in just a minute.

And in our second story tonight: Here he is again, Larry Craig.  Is he in or is he out?  After being caught in a men‘s room sex sting operation, the senator announced the other day—originally, he said he‘d leave office September 30.  That was then.  Now he‘s appealing his guilty plea and says he will continue his work in the U.S. Senate for Idaho.  But how do his fellow Republicans feel about that new development?  More on this in a moment.

And last night‘s debate brought up some serious questions about Iran. 

Are we going to war with Iran?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight.

But we begin with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with this report on the Democrats‘ odd debate at Dartmouth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For Democratic activists, it was a kick in the gut.  Each of the top presidential hopefuls in last night‘s debate refused to promise the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, even by the year 2013.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t want to make promises, not knowing what the situation‘s going to be three or four years out.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I agree with Barack.  It is very difficult to know what we‘re going to be inheriting.  Now, we do not know, walking into the White House in January 2009, what we‘re going to find.

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I cannot make that commitment.  I think the problem is—and it‘s what you‘ve just heard discussed—is we will maintain an embassy in Baghdad.  That embassy has to be protected.  We will probably have humanitarian workers in Iraq.  Those humanitarian workers have to be protected.

SHUSTER:  Edwards did try to draw a distinction.

EDWARDS:  I heard Senator Clinton say on Sunday that she wants to continue combat missions in Iraq.  To me, that‘s a continuation of the war.

SHUSTER:  And throughout the night, Edwards tried to stay on offense against Clinton.

EDWARDS:  I was wrong to vote for this war, and I accept responsibility for that.  Senator Clinton also voted for this war.  I have no intention of giving George Bush the authority to take the first step on a road to war with Iran.

SHUSTER:  That was a reference to a vote Clinton made earlier in the day for a resolution giving President Bush authority to put more pressure on Iran.  Most of the Democrats warned it could open up a new war front.

MIKE GRAVEL (D-AK), FORMER SENATOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And I want to congratulate Biden for voting against it, Dodd for voting against it.  And I‘m ashamed of you, Hillary, for voting for it.  You‘re not going to get another shot at this.

SHUSTER:  While Clinton got hit hard on foreign policy, she also took some softer jabs on home front issues.  Barack Obama sees an opportunity, after Clinton said her health care efforts in 1993 were lonely.

OBAMA:  Part of the reason it was lonely, Hillary, was you closed the door to a lot of potential allies in that process.  At that time, 80 percent of Americans already wanted universal health care.

SHUSTER:  Joe Biden also took a shot, not at Clinton personally but at what he sees is the central problem of her candidacy.

Sen. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The special interests with regard to Hillary, they feed on this—you know, this Clinton-Bush thing.  It‘s not Hillary‘s fault, but the fact of the matter is, it‘s much more difficult to go out and convince a group of Republicans, I would argue, getting something done that is of a major consequence.

SHUSTER:  Biden‘s harshest line, however, targeted the GOP‘s frontrunner.

BIDEN:  Rudy Giuliani doesn‘t know what the heck he‘s talking about.  He‘s the most uninformed person in American foreign policy now running for president.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  As for Hillary Clinton, her campaign will long remember the debate for a quick comeback.  After talking about her policy on torture, Clinton was confronted with a contrast in a quote from her husband.

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR:  It was William Jefferson Clinton last year. 

So he disagrees with you.

CLINTON:  Well, he‘s not standing here right now.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

RUSSERT:  So there is a disagreement?

CLINTON:  Well, I‘ll talk to him later.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  While that was one of the most deft responses, the most emotional came from Mike Gravel as he attacked the frontrunners for not fighting harder against the Iraq war.

GRAVEL:  Every single day, you vote to override the president‘s veto.  And in 40 days, the American people will have weighed in, put the pressure on those—you‘re telling me that the votes aren‘t there?  You go get them by the scruff of the neck.

SHUSTER:  Iraq is the biggest concern among Democratic voters, and the refusal by the frontrunners to promise an end to the war could provide an opportunity for Bill Richardson.  He is in the second tier, but he‘s been unequivocal.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My position in bringing all troops out of Iraq is to end the war.  The American people want us to end this war.  Our kids are dying.

SHUSTER (on camera):  Today, as the debate was digested, the anger that‘s been building among Democratic activists turned to shock.  If none of the Democratic frontrunners can promise to bring all the troops home from Iraq before 2013, where does it leave a party that took control of Congress by promising to end the Iraq war now?

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  Democratic congressman Jim Moran of Virginia is a member of the Appropriations Committee of the House, and Republican congressman Trent Franks of Arizona is a member of the Armed Services Committee.  Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

Hold on there for a second, Mr. Franks.  I want to go to Mr. Moran for a minute here.  What do you make of the Democratic leadership?  You‘ve got the three top candidates all say they‘re going to keep American troops in Iraq through 2013.  That will make it a 10-year war.  Isn‘t the Democrats the anti-war party?  What happened?

REP. JIM MORAN (D-VA), APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE:  I think they need to stay focused.  Al Qaeda is the enemy, and the longer we remain in Iraq, al Qaeda continues its most potent recruiting tool.  We need to get out of Iraq, particularly when 60 percent of Iraqis want us out -- 85 percent of the Sunnis and the majority of Shia.  What are we staying in there for, if al Qaeda truly is our enemy?  It‘s not the Iraqis.  So I think that the candidates were wrong, although Chris Dodd answered it the way I would have answered it.  We need to get our troops out of Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  You ran for re-election, as you always do, in November of an even year.  If the Democrats had told—if you had told your people back last November, Oh, here‘s my platform, we‘re going to keep fighting in Iraq through 2013, do you think the Democrats would have carried Congress last November with that pledge?

MORAN:  No, they wouldn‘t have.  And you remember when Richard Nixon announced that we were withdrawing troops out of Vietnam, 28,000 more soldiers lost their lives after the announcement of withdrawal.  We need to get—we need to announce we‘re withdrawing and get those soldiers out of there so we have the least loss of life, as far as I‘m concerned.

MATTHEWS:  Before we go to Congressman Franks, I want to read something that very much impressed me.  It‘s in “The New Republic.”  I read it today.  It‘s by Drew Weston (ph).  He‘s the author of this new book, “The Political Mind,” very smart guy.

“The question Democrats have never asked Republicans since the war began is the only one that really matters: Would you send your own child to die in Iraq?  And if so, have you done everything you can to convince your children that if this is truly the war you say it is, for our freedom, for our very way of life, to keep the terrorists over there so that they won‘t fight them over here, they should drop their lucrative investment banking careers and be all they can, all they can be over in Baghdad?”

At the end of the piece, he says, “The Democratic leadership needs to ask themselves whether they would send their own children to die in this war.  And if the answer is no, they need to vote as if every soldier were their child.  That‘s what it means to support our troops.”

I thought that‘s a smart point because it says stop calculating, stop positioning yourself somewhere in the middle supposedly on this war.  Democrats, vote your beliefs.  Do you think the top candidates like Hillary and a Barack and Edwards are voting their beliefs or they‘re voting positioning?

MORAN:  I think the public senses too much political calculation.  Mr.  Weston is absolutely right.  He is on point.  I would not let my son die in a war that I didn‘t believe in and that was not worthy of his sacrifice.  This war is not worthy of their sacrifice, and that‘s why we shouldn‘t be fighting it.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Trent—I‘m sorry, Trent Franks—Congressman Franks, thank you very much.  This is your first time on the show.  I want to give you full time.  First of all, stepping back and watching the Democrats debate, whether you watched last night or you‘re just watching it in general, what do you make of the fact that the three frontrunners are the most cautious, they‘re calculating, they don‘t want to end the war really, they want to sort of oppose the war, they don‘t seem to want to end it?  How do you read that politically?

REP. TRENT FRANKS ®, ARIZONA:  Well, you know, Chris, I have to say that I think one of the most potent weapons that liberal Democrats have is their willingness to say whatever the people they think want to hear.  And they did that in the election.  They knew that it was a disingenuous position at the time.

But I think something‘s happening now where even in the cloud of liberal thinking, the truth of what we‘re really facing in jihadist terrorism is starting to seep through.  And they know what‘s happening with the rest of the nation.  And so I think that that is the basis of their caution.  You know, you...

MATTHEWS:  So you believe that Hillary Clinton really does want to keep our troops, that she‘s genuinely supportive of a U.S. military commitment to Iraq through the next presidential term, all the way through...

FRANKS:  No, I didn‘t say that at all.  I said that she thinks that‘s what the people want to hear right now.  And the bottom line...

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

FRANKS:  The bottom line...

MATTHEWS:  So she‘s a fraud.

FRANKS:  The bottom line is that—you mentioned about, you know, this notion of whether we would send our own children...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Well, that‘s what the author—I think it‘s a good question.

FRANKS:  I think it‘s a very good question.  And it really speaks to even the broader question, and that is what will happen to all of our children in the future if we fail in Iraq?  It will supercharge terrorist efforts all over the world.  And I believe with all of our hearts that if we do not deal with jihadist ideology effectively in this generation, perhaps even in this generation, the children of this country will see nuclear IEDs in America.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you—I want to ask Mr. Moran about this question.  If we—I want to ask you the values question.  If we stay in Iraq with our troops, supporting the Shia side of the fight—because that‘s what we‘re doing, we‘re arming the Shia majority—and the Sunni revert to their warrior past and they decide to take over the country, is that our position?  Mr. Franks said we should take sides with the Shia against what he calls the...

FRANKS:  No, that‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  Well, the jihadists are the Sunnis, sir.

FRANKS:  The fact is—the fact is that our number one foe in Iraq is al Qaeda in Iraq.  That is the fact.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re Sunnis.  They‘re the Sunni Iraqis.  That‘s who they are.  And you‘re saying we have to defeat them.

FRANKS:  They‘re the people trying to kill our soldiers, and yes, I did say we have to defeat them.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  You‘re saying—well, that means someone has to defeat them.  That means the Shia have to defeat them.  Somebody has to win in Iraq, right?

FRANKS:  Yes.  And it has to be the cause of freedom, and it has to be America...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What side do you want to win over there?

FRANKS:  I want the side of freedom to prevail.

MATTHEWS:  Well, who‘s that?

FRANKS:  I want to see Iraq be a freestanding government...

MATTHEWS:  OK, but which government...

FRANKS:  ... that can stop terrorism and completely...

MATTHEWS:  Sir...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, I can‘t argue if you‘re going to...

FRANKS:  ... completely overrun by Iran...

MATTHEWS:  ... filibuster.  Who do you want to win the war in Iraq over there?  Which side of the fight?  I mean, we can‘t—we‘re coming home eventually.  Who do you want to be there when we leave?  Who do you want running the show when we leave?

FRANKS:  I want to see a freestanding government in Iraq that can defeat terrorism and stave off the challenge that Iran faces to dominate that region entirely.

MATTHEWS:  OK, in other words, you want—but the Shia are identified with Iran.

FRANKS:  Well, there may be different factions that may have some different advantages, but if we see a free government in Iraq, where they have been having elections since they were called Babylon, we could see something happen here that could germinate peace and even an ideal of freedom in the Middle East that may turn the whole of humanity in a better direction.

MORAN:  When we look back on this, what we‘re going to have is a Shia theocracy far more loyal to Iran than it is to the United States, and equally repressive of women‘s rights and human rights.  If we put half of the troops we put into Iraq into getting rid of al Qaeda where it is, in Pakistan, that—we would have eliminated our real jihadist threat, the people who actually did attack us.

Again, Chris, I think we need to stay focused and our focus should not be on Iraq, it should be on the headquarters of al Qaeda.  And the headquarters of al Qaeda is certainly not in Iraq.

FRANKS:  Mr. Moran may have a point in taking on al Qaeda in Pakistan.  Maybe he‘s advocating us moving on Pakistan.  I don‘t know.  But the fact remains that the terrorists themselves, al Qaeda themselves, Osama bin Laden himself see Iraq as the front line on their war with...

MORAN:  Only because we‘ve made it the front line.

FRANKS:  ... quote, “great Satan” of America.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKS:  Osama bin Laden is saying that.  If it‘s not a part of the war on terrorism, then you need to explain that to the terrorists, Mr.  Moran, because they don‘t understand.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Your last word, Mr. Franks.  I wanted to just underline—give you a chance to underline your basic assessment of the Democratic candidates for president.  You believe the top candidates last night and throughout this debate are posing as more hawkish than they are.  Is that what you‘re saying?

FRANKS:  Unfortunately, I believe that liberal intelligence (ph) in the Democratic Party is willing to sacrifice the cause of freedom and the best for America for the sake of political expediency.  Yes, I‘m afraid that‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona.  Thank you, Jim Moran, congressman from northern Virginia.

Senator Larry Craig keeps on fighting.  He says he‘s staying in the Senate—well, we‘ll see how long—while a Minnesota judge considers his case.  This case has legs.  This man is not going away, and the Republicans just wish he would.

And later, we‘re going to have more talk of this whole question of—are we getting closer to war in Iran?  I raised that earlier.  Hillary Clinton and a lot of Democrats signed onto a measure which basically declares Iran to be a terrorist state.  That is the kind of language which was signed onto with regard to Iraq back in the late ‘90s, which was in many ways a precursor and a rationale for our invasion.  That‘s the HARDBALL debate.  It‘s coming up, and it‘s hot.

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  What a difference a month makes. 

Here‘s Larry Craig on September 1 out in Idaho.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO:  It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But Senator Craig‘s intent has changed since then.  He wants to withdraw that guilty plea he entered following his arrest in an airport men‘s room.  A Minnesota judge is now deciding on that question, and Craig intends to stick around until the decision‘s been made.  In a statement, he says, quote, “The court has not issued a ruling on my motion to withdraw my guilty plea.  For now, I will continue my work in the United States Senate for Idaho.”

Well, Stan Brand represents Senator Craig before the Senate Ethics Committee.  Stan, it‘s great to have you on.  You always get the more interesting cases.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I have to ask you about this.  What is it like dealing with Senator Craig?  What‘s the guy like?

STAN BOND, ATTORNEY FOR SEN. LARRY CRAIG:  Well, he‘s, you know, somebody who‘s been through the crucible now and emerged, you know, partially at the other end I think wiser for some of the things that have occurred.  And you know, he sought legal advice, and for now, you know, he‘s taking that advice pretty much, which is, you know, to fight this out a bit.

MATTHEWS:  Had you been there when he pled to disorderly, with the promise from the police that they would have kept it quiet, out of the press, would you have gone along with that plea?

BRAND:  No.  No, I don‘t think any lawyer worth his salt would have because when you strip it down and look at the allegation and the facts, there‘s no crime been committed here.  You know, no illegal act occurred, other than, you know, tapping your feet on a floor and passing your hand on a stall.  And I don‘t think, candidly, that holds up in front of a judge or a jury.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then it was a blackmail by the police, saying, All right, we can‘t prosecute you on this kind of evidence, but you don‘t want to go in public and have to explain that kind of behavior to a jury or to the press.  Is that what the game was here?

BRAND:  I think that was the sub rosa message that they were sending him, was, Look, you know, we can all make this go away.  He wasn‘t advised of his rights.   No judge was there to ask him whether he understood what he was doing when he was waiving the right to trial, et cetera.  That‘s normally something that happens in the system, and he didn‘t—it wasn‘t available to him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, can you make the charge that the police were really blackmailing him; they weren‘t offering him justice; they were saying, we will give you injustice if you don‘t give us the 500 bucks?

BRAND:  Well, I don‘t know if I would call it blackmail.  I‘m a defense lawyer.  I wasn‘t, you know, born yesterday.  I have seen police and prosecutors and FBI agents do this all the time. 

And they get people to waive valuable rights and induce them to plead, when, had they stood up to their rights and consulted a lawyer...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BRAND:  ... they would have been in better shape. 

MATTHEWS:  But here they have the hammer of publicity...

BRAND:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... to a U.S. senator. 

BRAND:  Right.  And that‘s a heavy hammer, when you‘re running for office. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the prospects of getting a withdrawal of this—of his guilty plea. 

When I read about it in the papers, it looks pretty difficult, because it sounds like, once—that you have to prove manifest injustice.  Can you? 

BRAND:  Well, I—I think it‘s hard.  I have said that before.  It‘s an uphill battle.  It‘s not unprecedented. 

And look at the facts you have here.  You have somebody, you know, without counsel in a very intimidating situation, basically told that, if you do it this way, everything will be OK...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

BRAND:  ... and you can walk away. 

And I think that‘s—you know, that—that‘s the stuff that a case is made of, where a judge could see his way clear to say, no, I‘m going to let this defendant have his day in court. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Ethics Committee.  That‘s especially for you working within the Congress on ethics matters.

Can you win his case in the Ethics Committee, if it comes to that?  I know that no senator‘s been expelled by the Senate.  I—I think you have to go back almost to the Civil War, when they expelled people for joining and taking an oath to the Confederacy. 

BRAND:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the case?  Would they...

BRAND:  Well, again...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the worst the Senate could do to a senator...

BRAND:  Again...

MATTHEWS:  ... if he says, I‘m staying? 

BRAND:  Yes.  Again, I mean, I—you know, I—they‘re—it‘s inconceivable to me that the United States Senate will open the door to bringing cases against senators for misdemeanor, misdemeanors that have nothing to do with the performance of official duties. 

I know they say they have the right to discipline people for bringing discredit on the Senate.  That‘s a vague standard.  That‘s well beyond where we are in 2007.  I can‘t imagine that 99 other senators want to be judged by that standard. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you wonder about all the traffic violations and other kinds of problems that they would be facing. 

Anyway, thank you. 

Stan Brand, is your sense that the senator may well be able to hang on until the end of his term? 

BRAND:  I—I think that‘s conceivable, especially if he gets some type of relief in Minnesota.  But I don‘t think it depends on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re a great lawyer.  Thank you very much, Stan Brand, defending Larry Craig. 

And this guy keeps fighting. 

Up next:  John McCain takes on his rivals, and Bruce Springsteen takes on the Iraq war.  Did I say that right?  Bruce Springsteen. 

And, later, the HARDBALL debate:  Are the Bush administration and Congress together trying to justify a war with Iran now? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for some exciting political news. 

John McCain is showing a second wind out there.  The long-floundering candidate for president is getting tough with his top two rivals, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. 

Today, he attacked his opponents for their inexperience in foreign policy. 

Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Tough talk and managerial successes in the private sector aren‘t adequate assurance that their authors have the experience or qualities necessary for such a singular responsibility. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, translation:  Tough talk is obviously Rudy, and managerial experience is, of course, Mitt Romney. 

Speaking of war, a stark protest move today from an Army Reservist who served a year fighting in Iraq.  Twenty-seven-year-old Josh Gaines announced that he will mail his medals, the ones he‘s won for service over there, to Donald Rumsfeld—quote—“I‘m going to give those back, because I truly feel that I did not defend my nation and I did not help with the global war on terrorism.  If anything, this conflict in Iraq has bred more terrorism in the Middle East.”

Another voice of protest comes from rock legend Bruce Springsteen, whose new song “Last to Die” also takes on the Iraq war. 

Take a listen. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MUSICIAN (singing):  Who will be the last to die for a mistake, the last to die for a mistake?  Whose blood will spill?  Whose heart will break?  Who will be the last to die for a mistake?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Who will be the last to die for a mistake? 

In Hillary land, the front-running candidate refused to say, when asked in last night‘s debate, if the public ought to know who‘s giving big bucks to her husband‘s presidential library. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Would they voluntarily, the Clinton Library and Clinton Foundation, make their donors public?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, you will have to ask them.

RUSSERT:  What‘s your recommendation?

H. CLINTON:  Well, I don‘t talk about my private conversations with my husband.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, today Bill Clinton, as usual, tried to turn her dodging into a chivalry issue, something he‘s done so many times before.  He‘s just looking out for his honey. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  She just thinks I‘m entitled to speak for myself, just like I think she‘s entitled to speak for herself. 

And she‘s got no—got no business being asked to speak for me in a presidential debate, just like I don‘t try to speak for her, unless I know what her position is. 

But I think that we should all be treated the same.  And I would be happy to honor any disclosure requirement that affects all people equally. 

Now, the people that have already given me money, I don‘t think I should disclose it, unless there is some conflict of which I am aware.  And there‘s not, because a lot of people gave me money with the understanding that they could give anonymously.  And some of them were Republicans.  They may not want them to know—anybody to know they gave me money.

(LAUGHTER)

B. CLINTON:  It may ruin their reputation in their own party. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s something, isn‘t he? 

Whenever you question the Clintons, Bill says you‘re attacking Hillary and he‘s simply being a gentleman in calling you out for it. 

Anyway, behind every great man, there‘s a woman trying to kill him.  Guess who just said that Barack Obama has to win the Iowa caucuses this January?  His wife, Michelle, said that—quote—“If Barack doesn‘t win in Iowa,” she told a crowd in Davenport, “then it‘s just a dream.”

Thanks, dear, for setting the bar just high enough to kill me. 

Finally, Pat Buchanan, avatar of the old right, gushed after watching last night‘s Democratic debate, and toting up all those goodie-goodie positions the gang took.  Democrats are all for outlawing smoking anywhere in public, but they had a hard time last night opposing teaching about homosexuality to second-graders. 

Pat may well have written another page in the cultural right‘s catechism.  This nanny-style liberalism may play in the Ivy League, he‘s arguing, but he figures it will die in Peoria. 

By the way, my new book, “Life‘s a Campaign,” comes out on October 2.  It‘s everything I have learned in 36 years about politics, how politicians really get to where they are, how they get to the top, the stuff they don‘t ever put in their memoirs. 

And you can watch me talk about it on all the shows next week.  And I am going to have so much fun on this tour.  I‘m doing “The Today Show” Monday morning, then “Martha Stewart,” then “The View” with Whoopi Goldberg -- Goldberg and the rest, then the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith, and then, of course, Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” 

What a great run for two days.

And up next, the HARDBALL debate right here:  Is the U.S. Congress about to hand President Bush another blank check, this one to go to war with Iran? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks closing higher for a second straight day.  The Dow Jones industrials gained almost 35 points, the S&P 500 up almost six points.  And the Nasdaq gained 10-and-a-half points. 

Sales of new homes plunged more than 8 percent in August from the previous month, dropping to their lowest level in seven years.  In addition, the median price of homes sold fell 7.5 percent from one year ago. 

Meantime, the 30-year mortgage interest rate rose for the second straight week, inching up to a nationwide average of 6.42 percent.  The nation‘s gross domestic product grew at a healthy 3.8 percent in the second quarter.  That is slightly less than previously estimated.  It was also before the credit crunch really began taking a toll. 

And first-time jobless claims fell unexpectedly last week to a four-month low. 

Oil prices rose sharply today, climbing $2.58 in New York trading, closing at $82.88 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Bush is left with a variety of options right now, if you think about it, with how to deal with Iran, accept its nuclear ambitions, whatever they are, impose stricter economic sanctions, or use military force against Iran.  This is all in the wake of Ahmadinejad‘s appearance in New York. 

Our HARDBALL debate couldn‘t be more on target.  Are we going to war in Iran? 

Ed Schultz is a syndicated radio talk show host, and Heidi Harris is a radio talk show host as well. 

Heidi, do you think we‘re going to war with Iran? 

HEIDI HARRIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, I hope not, Chris.  We all feel the same way about this, I‘m sure.  It‘s the last thing we need to do.

And look at it geographically.  Look at the size of Iran vs. the size of Iraq.  That‘s the last thing anybody wants to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we have an Army capable of occupying Iran at this point? 

HARRIS:  I—I can‘t imagine that we do.  And I can‘t imagine that, even if we were gearing up to go to war, which I don‘t think we are, I can‘t imagine that that would be the plan, to try to take over Iran with ground forces.  How could we possibly do that? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go over to Ed Schultz on the same question. 

Do you think that we‘re ginning up a war?  Are we beating—are the drums beating, as they were back in the ‘90s, like when we passed the Iraq Liberation Act, and all that came leading up to 2003?  Do you believe the war drums are beating again? 

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  There‘s no doubt, Chris.  This is an instant replay.  We have been down this road before. 

What I find so disheartening is that the election to take over the Congress was less than a year ago, and I never thought I would see Senate Democrats vote to fuel the neocon agenda.  This is the Congress‘ way of saying, bring it on. 

We have had no negotiation in the territory with the adversaries, and we need to do this.  This is what the world wants.  I thought John Edwards was spot on last night:  Do not give them more authority for more military interaction here. 

Our presence in Iraq is why we‘re getting hit by Iranians across the border.  If we redeploy, that ends and it shows the world that we‘re serious about not going to war.  We‘re going in the wrong direction. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s John Edwards from last night.  And I will let Heidi respond to it. 

Here‘s John Edwards going after Hillary on this very point, attacking

her for voting for this resolution last night—or in the Senate yesterday

that basically designates the—the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There was a very important vote cast in the United States Senate today.  And it was, basically, in a resolution calling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

I voted for this war in Iraq, and I was wrong to vote for this war.  And I accept responsibility for that.  Senator Clinton also voted for this war.  We learned a very different lesson from that.  I have no intention of giving George Bush the authority to take the first step on a road to war with Iran. 

And I think that vote today, which Senator Biden and Senator Dodd voted against—and they were correct to vote against it—is—is a clear indication of the approach that all of us would take with the situation in Iran, because what I learned in my vote on Iraq was, you cannot give this president the authority, and you can‘t even give him the first step in that authority, because he cannot be trusted. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Heidi Harris, your response to that tiff there between Edwards and Clinton?

HARRIS:  Well, my response is that John Edwards, if he were to be president, God forbid, would want every single ounce of authority to conduct the war any way he wanted to.  That‘s my first response to that. 

The whole thing is ridiculous, that—that they‘re going to vote—that Democrats are now jumping on board to vote against this.  I just don‘t think that calling a spade a spade is leading us into war.  I really don‘t.  And, when John Edwards says, if we redeploy, Iran won‘t be a problem, is he kidding?  He can‘t possibly believe that.  No one believes that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me read the language to you, Ed, so you can respond. 

Here‘s what the sense of the Senate language, which was adopted 76-22 yesterday—quote—“That the United States should designate Iran‘s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and place the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the list of specially designated global terrorists, as established under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and initiated under Executive Order 13224.”

What do you think is the significance and the meaning behind that move by the Senate? 

SCHULTZ:  I think it‘s the Bush administration asking for license to do whatever they want to do when it comes to military action.  I think it‘s overreaching, without negotiation and diplomatic efforts in the region. 

I think it‘s dangerous.  I think it‘s reckless.  I don‘t think the American people want this.  I also think Hillary Clinton is off the mark on this vote.  There are some very seasoned senators who voted against this, Lugar, Hagel, Kerry, Biden, Dodd.  I mean, I trust their experience.  I think this is the wrong way, Chris. 

And I think that we‘re seeing an instant replay, and it‘s a failed policy, part two.  America has got to wake up to this.  These folks are setting the table to follow these nuts who are on the Project For a New American Century. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SCHULTZ:  And we have got the footprint to do something much greater. 

And we need debate on this. 

Where‘s Robert Byrd when we need him? 

MATTHEWS:  Heidi Harris, what do you make of the fact that the ranking Republican on Foreign Relations, Dick Lugar—and he was longtime chairman of that committee—he voted against this resolution? 

HARRIS:  Maybe he doesn‘t think it‘s the right thing.  Maybe he thinks it is a precursor to war.  I just don‘t see it that way.  You know what‘s amazing to me, Chris, is so many people don‘t want to identify Ahmadinejad or anything in Iran as contributing to the problems we have in Iraq.  They act as if we don‘t identify it that way then maybe it will just go away and it won‘t be a reality.  That‘s how I see it. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  I think he has a big—my problem is, of course, Heidi—I don‘t know why I‘m interjecting here—but I worry about this.  I think we‘re on the side of the people he‘s on the side of.  That‘s the strange thing.  We‘re both with the Shia majority.  And I‘m not sure whoever wins over there who they‘re going to be loyal to, the west or Iran.  And we just don‘t know, do we? 

HARRIS:  We don‘t know.  And I‘ll tell what you we do know.  We do know that if we back out like we did in 1991, remember when 100,000 people were slaughtered by Saddam? 

MATTHEWS:  You mean the Kurds. 

HARRIS:  That‘s exactly right.  We asked these people to rise up against Saddam and look what happened to them.  We can‘t encourage them to form a new government and try to fight off Iran, and then turn around and walk out again.  And that‘s what the rumblings in Congress are telling those terrorists.  That‘s what‘s scary about this. 

MATTHEWS:  Ed Schultz, last word, do you think this is going to be the equivalent of the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998, another one of these precursors to military action? 

SCHULTZ:  I think the military action we‘re talking about is much grander than anything we‘ve ever seen in the history of the world.  I think it‘s dangerous.  It‘s the wrong path to take.  And I hope the Congress, especially the Democratic leadership, can reel this rhetoric in before it gets out of hand.  We need the U.N.  We need a lot of countries like Russia, Germany, France, Japan.  We need these people on board to know exactly what‘s going on. 

And we‘ve got to get the intel right, Chris.  And I want all these Democrats who felt they got cheated on intel on Iraq to make sure we get it right on Iran this time. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one thing I‘ve learned, these resolutions count, because they‘ve counted before. 

SCHULTZ:  They do. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Ed Schultz and once again, we always want you on Heidi—Heidi Harris.  I think that‘s Las Vegas behind you, isn‘t it? 

HARRIS:  Is the fountain going on behind me?  I can‘t tell. 

MATTHEWS:  I see the Eiffel Tower, and there‘s only two in this world, and I know where one is and you ain‘t there.  Anyway, thank you very much. 

Up next, Iran, Larry Craig and last night‘s winners and losers.  The HARDBALL round table takes up the fight.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, the round table is here.  Eugene Robinson made the trek out here to our new studio.  He‘s a columnist for the “Washington Post.”  Ezra Klein did not make the trek out here, but he writes for the “American Prospect.”  Where are you, Ezra? 

EZRA KLEIN, “THE AMERICAN PROSPECT”:  I‘m in New York.  I‘m at the Clinton Global Initiative. 

MATTHEWS:  I take that back.  You have a perfect right to be in New York.  Just don‘t be on the other side of town here.  And Deb Saunders is with the “San Francisco Chronicle.”  She‘s on the other side of this continent.  Thank you. 

Deb, what did you think, looking across the continent last night at the Democrats debating in Iowa, where they all came off as, let me say it, hawks?  Keep the troops in Iraq until 2013, all of them.  Except, well, maybe Richardson. 

DEB SAUNDERS, “SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE”:  They‘re giving the careful answer, and they‘re giving the answer that they know they have to give.  You know, I don‘t think a whole lot of people were watching that debate last night, Chris.  Were they? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you want to talk about the people who watched it and think it‘s important or the people who didn‘t watch it and don‘t think it‘s important?  Let‘s talk about the people who think it‘s important, like me. 

SAUNDERS:  OK. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Debra?  Me. 

SAUNDERS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it important that the Democratic party will not honor the campaign commitments it made last November to end this war?  It seems like if you look at the polling on Congress, people are disappointed with this Congress, because it doesn‘t do what it said it would do, begin to end the war. 

SAUNDERS:  I can‘t say I‘m surprised.  We have four candidates who voted for a war and then walked away from it, and now they‘re walking away from their walking away from the war. 

MATTHEWS:  Now they‘re—I think they‘re—what do you think, Gene? 

I think they‘re walking toward it last night. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Yes, I was dumbfounded, actually, that none of them, none of the big three could say we would have our troops out by the end of a first term.  That‘s 5 ½ years from now.  And actually, I write about this in my column tomorrow.  You know, you‘re supposed to—this is your job, to give this some thought.  You said you want to end the war.  And there‘s a difference between just kind of saying that to make everybody happy and, you know, thinking a way out of it. 

So don‘t give me this—I don‘t want to talk about hypotheticals; 5 ½ years is a long time.  It‘s longer than we were in World War II.  Come on. 

MATTHEWS:  From now. 

ROBINSON:  From now. 

MATTHEWS:  Ezra, I don‘t know.  I guess I thought they could have said, sure, by then—in fact, what do they have to lose saying they‘ll try to get them out by then and if they fail, well, you know, Bill Clinton once promised the people of Arkansas he would never run for president.  These promises don‘t have to be in stone.  Why are they afraid to even promise something, let alone deliver on it?  Ezra? 

KLEIN:  I‘m sorry.  I didn‘t hear you.  Yes, I think the problems they‘re running into though is sort of what you said, that it‘s a little less binary than we‘re looking at it here.  I think Edwards and Obama and to some degree Clinton and to a greater degree Richardson, all have plans to get the troops out so much as they can.  What everyone one of them is worried about—what Obama‘s plan mainly focuses on is the possibility of a humanitarian disaster, a massacre as they leave. 

So what they‘re trying to do is leave themselves a little wiggle room.  I don‘t believe that the issue here is that any of them want to continue the war.  I think what they‘re worried about is providing a commitment that none of them have the will to keep if things go wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  How many troops would it take, Ezra, if the Sunnis decide to really pull an insurgency and come out behind—bring their guns out and say we‘re taking become what we had and they‘re going to war with whatever‘s left after we leave of the Iraqi army?  Who do you think‘s going to win that fight?  And do you really think we could stop that war once it started with anything less than a couple hundred thousand troops? 

KLEIN:  I don‘t think we can win that fight.  I think that‘s for sure.  But I think that—I actually believe the withdrawal is going to keep that from happening.  We are the crutch for the Sunnis right now.  So long as we are complimenting them on their great success in Anbar, they think maybe we‘ll pick them to be the winner and they are using us as a way to sort of hope for a total victory later on.  The more we leave, the more they have to make the compromises that will keep their people safe.  I think it‘s unlikely—

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know how we can pick the Sunnis, since we‘re committed to democracy and democracy says four to one the Shias outnumber the Sunnis.  You‘ve got to give it to the majority. 

KLEIN:  Sure, I don‘t think we‘re going to pick the Sunnis.  I just think the Sunnis are hoping we will.  And that‘s keeping them from making some of the compromises they need to make. 

ROBINSON:  What I have not heard is a coherent vision—what is Hillary Clinton‘s vision of the Middle East?  OK, the Republicans have a coherent vision.  I happen to think it‘s insane.  But their vision is all those people want to kill us.  We have to fight them over there.  We have to stay there forever.  We have to have a big base in Iraq to attack Iran from, or whatever.  It‘s all kind of a piece in this kind of war on terror.  It‘s coherent.  What is Hillary‘s vision of the Middle East? 

MATTHEWS:  Archie Andrews had in the comic books of Betty and Veronica.  He wanted both of them.  And that‘s what she wants, both arguments.  She wants to be seen as a hawk and be seen as a dove for the purposes of this campaign. 

ROBINSON:  Well, I would like to hear her vision.  I‘d like to hear Obama‘s vision.  I‘d like to hear Edwards‘ vision. 

MATTHEWS:  Debra, what do you think looking at it from your side of things?  Do you think Hillary Clinton has a notion, much less a vision, of what to do in Iraq? 

SAUNDERS:  I think she‘s more interested in winning this election.  I think the big three were all acting that way.  They didn‘t want to go further out than the other person.  So they all basically gave the same answer.  Yes, we want to get out, but we won‘t make any promises. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a Washington notion that somehow the truth lies between the two sides.  I‘ve never understood the conceit behind that, that somehow it‘s always on the 50 yard line.  Probably the truth is somewhere outside the box, and neither the neo-cons nor the Democrats have figured it out.  Some notion of how the United States can use its limited power in that part of the world and end up better off 20, 30 years from now. 

ROBINSON:  And what is this temporizing going to sound look a year from now, when we‘re in the heat of election season; we‘ve still got 130,000 troops?

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, I interrupted you. 

SAUNDERS:  It seems like these are focus group answers, where they‘re just trying to make sure they don‘t alienate anybody too much.  You‘re just not getting what you want to hear right now from any of the candidates. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what this fellow, Drew Weston, said.  Say what you really believe.  People don‘t mind any position you take, just don‘t take the fetal position.  Stop just hiding.  And all these compromise positions and I‘m going to leave—one of the guys—I‘m going to leave a brigade behind to guard the embassy, and I‘m going to—you know, everybody has these cleverly little nuanced positions.  And they don‘t seem like the heart or the mind speaking. 

Anyway, we‘ll be right back to talk about Larry Craig.  We‘ll have some fun with him.  It seems to be more comic than tragic at this point.  And the we want to talk a little bit about this Iran resolution that passed yesterday.  Is this trouble for those who don‘t want another war?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table.  Gene Robinson, Ezra Klein, and Deb Saunders.  Gene, you‘re in Washington here.  You must be wondering at this surprising prospect that this Larry Craig story, which we thought was sort of a bad night, or day in an airport, would be over with.  And maybe to my glee, I must admit, this story seems to have legs.  It‘s one of those ludicrous stories where one guy lives in his solipsistic universe and he says I can win this baby. 

ROBINSON:  Yes, and how, pray tell, can you win this baby? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he can win in court and then he can dare the Senate to act against him and they chicken out. 

ROBINSON:  And so do you think Mitch McConnell will physically remove him from the Senate chambers?  I mean—

MATTHEWS:  I find the whole Mitch McConnell obsession with this story more fascinating than I dare admit.  Let me go to Deb Saunders.  This is on a conservative side of politics.  Mitch McConnell‘s war to get rid of the offending, embarrassing Larry—I was going to say Larry Saunders.  Larry Sanders.  Larry Craig.  It‘s almost a comedy.  How‘s this going over out there in San Francisco? 

I mean, I just wonder how the gay community everywhere looks at this, because the gay community tends to be liberal.  They tend to be Democrats, although there‘s a lot of obviously entrepreneurial thinking and they‘re pro-private enterprise and all that.  But generally liberal on these issues.  Then they find this hard right Christian conservative humiliated here. 

SAUNDERS:  Well, people have been of two minds of it.  There are people here who actually have sympathy for him and feel that he was entrapped.  Then there are more people who think this guy‘s a hypocrite.  He voted against same-sex marriage.  He‘s been anti-gay.  and now we find him—by the way, you said the story has legs.  Bad pun, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to come back at you, Deb.  What is your feelings about this story? 

SAUNDERS:  Well, first of all, I can‘t believe the judge even has to

consider Larry Craig‘s request for a do-over.  I mean, there‘s no reason

for this.  He‘s a U.S. senator.  He‘s not some scared kid who was shunted

into a room and forced to sign something after he hadn‘t slept for three

days.  He‘s a man who makes laws.  He signed a statement in which he said -

he couldn‘t say he wasn‘t guilty later.  His lawyer was here saying he didn‘t have counsel.  And whose fault was that? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he was blackmailed, wasn‘t he, by the cop, who said, if you sign this and accept the 500 dollar disorderly charge, I‘ll keep this secret.  Well, that‘s a wonderful offer to a guy who‘s just been completely caught red-handed.  I‘m going to keep it secret.  And the cops didn‘t keep it secret. 

SAUNDERS:  Well, you say red-handed.  I mean—

MATTHEWS:  Another pun maybe.  I don‘t know.  But I‘m not looking for them.  This is high school again.  This is so fraught, this story, with weird high school puns, you don‘t even have to try for them.  I can tell you. 

SAUNDERS:  I mean, I think he should just get out.  I think his request for a do-over is an embarrassment from a body that legislates and makes laws.  So I‘d like to see him gone. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, we don‘t have a British system of resignation in this country.  We fight.  Everybody clings to office around this town.  Ezra, do you have a view of this?  I thought this story was a one-weeker.  Now it looks to be he‘s going to fight his case not just in court—and even if he loses, I think, according to his counsel tonight, Stan Brand, who I know pretty well, he‘s going to fight it no matter what in the Ethics Committee and dare these senators to dump him. 

KLEIN:  I was praying it was a one-weeker.  What is this, Ahmadinejad‘s Iran?  We have to pretend we have no gay people in the Senate?  This is done.  Today the guy went out and he voted against S-CHIP.  He voted against expanding health insurance to 4 ½ million children, and all we can talk about and all he‘ll let us talk about is this bizarre thing where he flashed a wedding ring under a bathroom stall.  It‘s embarrassing. 

And there‘s nothing left I think even to say.  He‘s just going to keep fighting and eventually he will either be kicked out of office or he will leave it. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Gene Robinson.  Thank you, Ezra Klein.  Thank you, Deb Saunders.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more of this 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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