updated 4/10/2008 10:21:46 AM ET 2008-04-10T14:21:46

Guest: Sen. Joe Biden, Margaret Carlson, Roger Simon, E. Steven Collins, Michael Smerconish

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  How many years shall we stay in Iraq?  Let‘s take a vote on it.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘ll Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  General David Petraeus was back on Capitol Hill for a second day today.  The Democratic candidates want to end the American war in Iraq.  John McCain is calling for an open-ended stay.  So what‘s the best thing for America?  In a moment, we‘ll talk to Senator Joe Biden about when and how we get out of Iraq.

Plus, Clinton versus Clinton.  Did you know that Hillary Clinton opposes the Colombian trade agreement and Bill Clinton supports it?  In fact, he‘s been given 800 reasons so far to do it.  That‘s the number of thousands of dollars he‘s gotten from groups supporting the deal.  Is Hillary really against him on this?

And let the games begin—with demonstrations disrupting the Olympic torch trek around the world.  Should President Bush boycott the opening ceremony?  Should the U.S. boycott the game entirely?  We‘ll get into the politics of the Olympics in the show tonight.

And the race in Pennsylvania seem to be getting tighter by the day.  Both Democrats are there today.  We‘ll take a look at that critical race up in the Keystone state and the latest national numbers—boy, they‘re really moving, these numbers—in our “Politics Fix” tonight.  And if you‘re wondering whom they‘re betting on in Europe, we‘re going to let you know how the Irish betting odds are going.  It‘s still legal over there to bet politics.  We‘ll give you the numbers.  They‘re going to surprise you a bit tonight in our C block.  That‘s the third block of the show.  I think we might call it the “So what” part.  We‘re not sure.

But first, check out Senator Joe Biden‘s final thought to Ambassador Ryan Crocker at yesterday‘s hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  And the last point is, Ambassador Crocker, just so you know, nobody thinks you‘re surging.  Nobody thinks there‘s a diplomatic surge anywhere.  Nobody.  Nobody.  And we need to surge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Senator Joe Biden, who‘s the veteran chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Senator Biden, you‘ve conducted probably the most important hearings on a war since your predecessor, William Fulbright.  Congratulations.  We‘re all talking about what we‘re learning here.

I guess I have to start, however—to a young man from Scranton, I have to ask but the Senate race—the race between your two colleagues in Pennsylvania for the nomination.  You were in that fight.  Now you‘re watching it.  Does it matter to you, watching this, that the poll data shows us tonight that that race has narrowed from what it was two weeks ago, a 12-point spread for Senator Clinton, down to a 6-point spread for Senator Clinton?  It‘s eroded by half in just two weeks.  What do you make of that?

BIDEN:  Money.  You know, I think Hillary is being outspent, what, two, three, four to one, number one.  Number two, I think to see Obama is to like him.  And I think that the best weapon Obama has is showing up in those areas where they may have been, as you said in a different context earlier, a little hostile to him or not inclined to think they were going to go for him.  But when you see him, he‘s a very attractive and compelling personality.  So I think the combination of those two thing explains what I believed all along, that it would tighten up.  I think it may even tighten more.

MATTHEWS:  You know, when you look back at our history—we‘re about the same age.  You know, the big election‘s ‘32.  That‘s not quite in our history.

BIDEN:  No!  Don‘t do that to me!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Not me, either.  The ‘80 election, where Reagan came in out of nowhere, a guy that never would have won, probably, like FDR, Reagan, wins when times are really difficult.  Do you think we‘re in that kind of change mode in this country, where somebody really surprising like Barack Obama could win Pennsylvania come November?

BIDEN:  Oh, yes, I do.  Absolutely, I do.  Look, you know, I‘m born and raised in Scranton.  You‘re a Philly guy.  I‘ve been hanging out in Philly the last 50 years, 35 as a senator.  You and I know the neighborhoods that we both came from.  They‘re not totally dissimilar.  Yours is bigger.  But the bottom line here is it really is about the economy.  It really is about change.  The one thing I‘m confident of is they have had their fill of the Republicans.

I mean, look, Chris, everybody talks about how bitter this race is.  I don‘t see this race as a bitter race between the two Democrats.  I know you‘re all trying to—not you, but trying to make it that.  I‘ve seen a lot more bitter races.  But one of the great, incredible things that‘s happening, look how many new registrants there are in Pennsylvania who are now going back to their roots or brand-new, becoming Democrats.  This is a big deal.  It‘s happening all over the country.  So I think if Obama is the nominee or Hillary, they‘re going to have a real leg up, notwithstanding the fact that this was a tough fight.

MATTHEWS:  Well, having been through all the debates, Senator, and watching the hearings, you conducted them yourself now—and they were impressive hearings—can you tell the voters of Pennsylvania how to decide between the Republican, the Democrat, the Hillary voter, the Obama voter?  Is it possible to learn, in watching the hearings as you presided over them, where these three different people stand on how we get out of Iraq and when?

BIDEN:  Yes, I think it‘s real clear.  I think the Democrats, there‘s not a lot of difference.  They‘re trying to make it a difference in order to appeal to different aspects of our constituency.  But the bottom line is they both know we got to leave.  They both know it‘s costing us dearly around the world to stay.  They both know that we can‘t leave immediately, like Richardson used to talk about.  It‘s not physically possible.  And they are both rational people who will do it in an orderly way, while investing in our security in the places where the real threats are, like on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

In the case of John McCain, I‘ve known John.  He‘s my friend.  I love him.  I know we say that lightly, but you know he‘s my personal friend.  I think John‘s dead wrong on Iraq and the way he talks about Iran.  I thought it was interesting, in his questioning, he kept focusing on al Qaeda and Iran.  The fact of the matter is, most experts are believing now if we left tomorrow, al Qaeda would shrivel up in Iraq.  We‘re their reason for being there—and go after them where they really live, number one.

Number two, the idea that anyone who thinks, Chris, that we‘re going to be able to have our interests met in Iraq, no matter what we do, without some accommodation being reached with Syria, Turkey and Iran knows that‘s not possible.  Yet you still have John continuing to talk about Iran as if we‘re going to have to take them on physically, rather than actually sit down at a table with them.

So there‘s a fundamental difference between two Democrats and John McCain on Iraq, and no prescription—no prescription from my good friend John McCain as to how this ends.  How—you know, how do you know when we‘ve succeeded?

MATTHEWS:  When we went in there, we went in there to knock off Saddam Hussein.  Then we started to fight the insurgents, who are Sunnis.  Now, I was taken—Senator, you‘re the expert, but I was taken at the number of groups we‘re fighting.  We‘re fighting groups call the “special groups.”  They‘re coming in with the back (ph) of the Qods Force out of Iran, as you mentioned.  We‘re fighting group called criminals.  We‘re fighting the Shia militia.  We‘re worried about the Kurdish rebels up north, as well as the old fight with the insurgents.  How can we possibly disentangle ourselves on so many fronts in the reasonable future?

BIDEN:  We can‘t without us engaging the international community and the region in a political settlement in Iraq.  And the outlines are there, Chris.  I know I‘m a broken record.  It‘s a federal system giving local control and local authority where (ph) the power is made (ph) about security and neighborhoods and the power is made (ph) about education at a local level, with a weak central government.

But look, here we are.  You‘ve got Maliki, who‘s a member of the Dawa party, who is now in league with the guy who is the head of the party that runs the Badr Brigade and against Sadr, and they‘re all Shia.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BIDEN:  They‘re all Shia.  And guess what?  They‘re all embracing, getting supported by, getting funded and trained by—all of them, all of them—by the Iranian Qods Force.  And at the same time, Ahmadinejad is visiting and getting kissed on both cheeks by Maliki and every one of them.

So look, this is a complicated situation, but there‘s only one way out.  The only way out is local control.  And absent that being able to be done, you know, what says tomorrow that the 90,000 troops in the, quote, “awakening,” the Sunnis—why is that working, Chris?  It‘s working because you and I were talked three years ago it had to be done.  You had to say to the Sunnis, Hey, here‘s the deal, no Shia can come into Anbar province.  You can control your own territory.  That‘s the deal.  That‘s why thing are calm.  That‘s why...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think you got the idea because if you look at the number of fronts we‘re fighting on, Senator—and you‘re the expert again, but if we‘re fighting the criminals over there—I thought we had enough in Philly to fight right now.  We don‘t have to go looking over there for criminals.  We‘re fighting the Shia.  We‘re fighting the “special groups” coming out of Iran.  We‘re fighting the Kurds.  We‘re fighting the Sunnis.  I don‘t know.

Anyway, thank you, sir.  You‘ve got the idea to break the country up, and it makes sense.  Thank you, Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Coming up: Could Bill and Hillary Clinton‘s policy disagreements cost them votes—rather, her votes—in Pennsylvania?  Why is he getting 800,000 bucks to take a position opposite hers on trade?  And who do you believe, the guy getting the money or the woman making the case against trade?  He who pays the—what is it?  He who pays the piper sets the tune.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  We‘re looking at pictures right now of San Francisco, or going to be looking at them.  Amazing security out there.  Look at that.  Look at those motorcycle patrolmen there, guarding this opening ceremony.  They‘re all worried, of course, about people who are very concerned about the treatment by Darfur, over the role that the Chinese government is playing in Darfur in bringing about that genocide over there.  Look at that.  That‘s right now.  We‘re watching that live.  Isn‘t that something?  Look at the—and they‘re very concerned, of course, about Tibet.  And this is going to be a hot issue in San Francisco, a city which has always been activist.  I used to write for the paper out there.  One of the nice things about that city is it‘s the nicest city in the world.  The other thing about it is it‘s very political.

Anyway, right now, we‘re going to talk about this big fight.  We‘ve got Mark Penn has resigned from his senior role at the Clinton campaign because of his work for Colombia, the government, not the university, on the free trade agreement.  But Bill Clinton‘s support of the pact may pose an even greater problem for Hillary.  It turns out—well, we‘re going to get to that—that this is going to be a hot issue in Pennsylvania, and it‘s starting to heat up right now.

On the show, I‘ve got Margaret Carlson joining us right now.  I want to take a look, by the way, today at what Senator Clinton said today when asked if she‘s told her husband to keep quiet about this trade deal down in Colombia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There are two sides to this debate.  It is not, you know, 100 to nothing.  I believe that the weight of the evidence clearly, in my view, supports my decision not to support the Colombia free trade agreement.  But you know, very credible people who care deeply about this country and who have a commitment to improving the economy for working people have a different view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Margaret Carlson is with Bloomberg News and Roger Simon‘s the chief political columnist for “The Politico.”  Roger, you first.  It looks to me like they‘ve been caught.  The only reason we know that Mark Penn was the—one of the chief lobbyists or promoters of this deal with Colombia, this trade deal, is that it was reported.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And reporters caught him up doing it, and he had to resign and he ended up losing both clients, Hillary and—at least, the big job with Hillary—and the Colombian government.  He had to give up that client.  We now know that Bill Clinton has collected $800,000 in speaking fees from those pushing that trade deal, at the same time Hillary‘s up in Pennsylvania as the anti-trader.  What is to be believed here?

SIMON:  Well, Bill Clinton says that he didn‘t take the 800,000 grand as a quid pro quo and then take the position, that he took the position first, that he‘s actually had this position for the last eight years.  And a group paid him because they believed in him and wanted him to speak, or whatever the heck he did for the money.

The Mark Penn situation I think is different.  He was the chief political strategist, and he was, apparently without Hillary Clinton‘ knowledge, lobbying the government of Colombia for a trade agreement she doesn‘t agree with.  I think disagreeing with her husband does not hurt her.  She sells herself as a strong person...

MATTHEWS:  All right...

SIMON:  ... willing to stand on her own two feet.  I think it doesn‘t hurt her to disagree with Bill once...

MATTHEWS:  Is this more of the sitcom, Margaret, the sitcom that went on for eight years and continues, this Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz number that they do together?  Well, oh, that‘s just Ricky, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He has his ways.  You know, 800,000 bucks going into the joint account is not something she might have not noticed.

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS:  Well, let me be Ethel Mertz (ph) here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The neighbor (INAUDIBLE)

CARLSON:  The marriage has survived more than differences on Colombian trade pacts.  So they‘ll get through this.  The problem is that, early on, Senator Clinton wanted to take credit for everything that happened in the Clinton administration.  Now those things that she doesn‘t want to take credit for, she has to break.  Because, remember, the old slogan is, What don‘t you like about the peace and prosperity of the Clinton administration?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CARLSON:  Well, one of the things that voters in Ohio and now Pennsylvania don‘t like are the trade agreements.  And now this one, Bush is calling for a vote.  It‘s coming up right at the very moment when some of her support is weakening in Pennsylvania, so she has to make a big deal about it.  And she can‘t get Bill Clinton to resign, the way she can get Mark Penn to resign.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CARLSON:  So there‘s no headline for this except for her to go, you know, city to city saying, Oh, I disagree with my husband on this.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s try the gender reversal role here.  Suppose a male candidate were running, and it turned out his wife, after he said he was against a trade deal, was pulling in 800,000 bucks from the people pushing the deal.  Wouldn‘t people think that was a back door payment?  Wouldn‘t they think that way?

SIMON:  Oh, I think so.  People think it now, with the genders switched back to the original.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SIMON:  But the fact is, there‘s no proof.

MATTHEWS:  Why couldn‘t Bill Clinton resist taking that 800,000 bucks from a group that was going to take a position against his wife‘s campaign?  Why wouldn‘t he just resist, a little fasting here, and say, I don‘t need that $800,000?

SIMON:  I don‘t think the tax returns show that they resist taking much of anything!

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON:  I mean, you got to give them credit.  Neither of them made much money during their years in public service.

MATTHEWS:  This is (INAUDIBLE) to hear.

SIMON:  Bill Clinton...

MATTHEWS:  I will not listen to this argument...

SIMON:  Bill Clinton...

MATTHEWS:  ... this argument that we owe the Clintons some billable hours...

SIMON:  No, we don‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... all those hours of client work for us.  Now they can get us to pay up.

SIMON:  Bill Clinton has a right to do it.  Most presidents have done it after they left office...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SIMON:  ... which is cash in.

MATTHEWS:  Margaret, I want to ask you the question.  We have joint tax returns for a reason.  People assume you pool the money.  If the husband or the wife is pulling in 800,000 bucks from the enemy group here, shouldn‘t it taint a bit our suspicions about whether she‘s for real?  Is she really a protectionist?  I have real doubts that Hillary Clinton‘s a protectionist.  I have real doubts.  I think she‘s right about this being a gray area.  But when she goes out in the tub-thumping world of the trade unions, we have to make it very clear.  She sound like, you know, an old-line anti-trade person.

CARLSON:  Well, Bill Clinton is not—does not practice restraint in anything...

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  ... so there‘s a pile of money, he‘s going to take the pile of money.  You‘re right, trade is a gray area.  Now that we‘ve had more experience with NAFTA, you see that maybe more side agreements need to be written and whatever.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CARLSON:  But at the time, for Senator Clinton to go back and say she wasn‘t for NAFTA—when her schedule came out, she was out there pushing NAFTA more than a person might have to if they had real reservations about it.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of Bill Clinton‘s role in this campaign?  I want to step back with a wider focus here.  He‘s the best politician of our times.  You—all three of us agree.  We‘ve always watched him.  He‘s the best there is.  I swear he could go to Mars tomorrow and win over the people.  He‘s the best.  But he hasn‘t done it this year, for some reason.  Is he just not a good number two man?

SIMON:  I think it‘s very hard to campaign for someone else.  I think he was very good, as you say, campaigning for himself.  I think one of the surprises of this campaign, something we wouldn‘t have predicted at the beginning, is that Bill Clinton, who was beloved by Democrats...

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON:  ... I mean he really was.

MATTHEWS:  ... Pennsylvania especially.

SIMON:  ... he really was, has, I think, come away in this campaign, at least so far, as a net negative to the campaign, as a net negative to his wife.  There‘s just been too much controversy about what he says.  There‘s too much drama.  I never believed in Clinton fatigue really before this year.  But I think there‘s just so much always going on with both of them, that one of the real reversals has been the popularity of Bill Clinton.

MATTHEWS:  I think also that is true.  I said it before, the sitcom, the sense that we‘ve watched so many permutations of this relationship, so many arguments, so much drama, melodrama, that people may be looking for a new show.  Margaret?

CARLSON:  Well, there‘s melodrama in the Clinton campaign—the firings, the shouting matches, all of that.  So some of the dysfunction of the Clinton White House is now in this Clinton campaign.

And there is something else about Bill Clinton.  He is rusty on the campaign trail. 

SIMON:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  He‘s been surrounded by wealthy people anxious to be close to him, who always laugh at his jokes, and are giving him money, like Ron Burkle, all the money that he made giving—quote—“advice” to Ron Burkle and his investments in the Cayman Island. 

That kind of life softens you up. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  And he‘s out there, and I think he‘s lost a little of the—the mojo. 

And one of the reasons I think he so resents Senator Barack Obama is that Obama seems to have a little bit of what Clinton had in his heyday. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  It is always hard to see the younger guy doing what you once did better than he is—than he is. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re two of the best politicians of our time, but not necessarily a great doubles team. 

Anyway, thank you, Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Roger Simon.

Up next:  The Monty Python and Barack Obama doubles team, what will that tell us? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

So, what else is new in politics?

Well, second-term President Bush looked a little bit like first-term President Bush today, as he spoke at a bill signing for a new prisoner release program called Second Chance. 

In his remarks, he invoked his own personal struggles with addiction.

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When I visited the program, I tried to remind them that the least shall be first.  I also reminded them I was a product of a faith-based program.  I quit drinking.  And it wasn‘t because of a government program.  It required a little more powerful force than a government program in my case. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the guy a lot of people voted for. 

Anyway, the return of the compassionate conservative today, shades of the Bush many moderates, as I said, voted for in 2000.

Well, Hillary Clinton continues to wage her uphill battle against Barack Obama.  Here she is telling National Public Radio‘s Michele Norris that she‘s been getting hit with a double standard. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO)

MICHELE NORRIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  The only way that Hillary Clinton can win is if she is willing to win ugly. 

When you hear that, what does that mean to you?  How do you react to that? 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I don‘t know what it means, because there is no way for Senator Obama to win unless he also obtains a significant number of superdelegates.  You know, I understand that there has been throughout this campaign something of a double standard.  I accept it.  I live with it. 

NORRIS:  What is the double standard? 

CLINTON:  Well, I think that, you know, it is pretty obvious to anybody who has followed it. 

NORRIS:                  Well, I—just in case someone—just in case it‘s not clear to someone, I just—I don‘t want to assume.  I just want you to tell me what you think the double standard is, because I don‘t want to assume.

CLINTON:  But, for example, why is the question directed at me? 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, at some point, Senator, you have to choose between being a champion, a winner, and choosing to be a victim. 

Now to Barack Obama.  He is getting a bit of a boost from this British actor/comedian. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN CLEESE, ACTOR:  (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s John Cleese of “Monty Python” fame, who says that, if Obama wins—quote—“I‘m going to offer my services to him as a speechwriter, because I think he is a brilliant man.”  That‘s Cleese.  And he will be a big help with those bowling teams up in Pennsylvania, I‘m sure. 

Anyway, speaking of showbiz, Hugo Chavez not only hates George W. Bush

I think he hates us, too—he apparently hates Bart Simpson.  Venezuela has officially dropped “The Simpsons” from morning TV down there, deeming it inappropriate for children.  Its replacement?  “Baywatch.” 

How is it going down there?  Homer Simpson, no, Pamela Anderson, si? 

Way to go, Hugo. 

And now it is time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.” 

The fight for the Democratic nomination may not be over, but the online traders over at Dublin-bases Intrade.com have clearly spoken today.  According to the latest Irish betting odds, what‘s Obama‘s chance of winning the Democratic nomination?  Catch this.  Eighty-six percent, compared to Hillary Clinton‘s 13 percent chance of winning.  So, place your bets -- 86 percent out of 100, that‘s the betting odds for Barack Obama over in Ireland. 

Up next:  The Olympics get political.  You‘re looking right now at a live shot from San Francisco, where the Olympic torch is under—look at that—heavy security.  Look at those motorcycle cops.  In a moment, we‘re going to hear from David Shuster on the travails of that Olympic torch, which makes its way one incident after another, all the way to Beijing.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks fell as oil hit yet another record high—the Dow Jones

industrial average losing 49 points, the S&P 500 down by 11, the Nasdaq off

by more than 26 points. 

Oil hit a new intraday high of $112.21 a barrel, after the government reported a surprise drop in U.S. inventories.  Crude settled at $110.87 a barrel, up $2.37 on the day.  Gasoline futures also hit a record high on news of a larger-than—expected drop in supply inventory. 

Meantime, shares of American Airlines‘ parent company dropped by 11 percent, in part due to high fuel prices and also word that American canceled more than 1,000 flights, or 45 percent of its schedule, to inspect its fleet of MD-80s. 

And corporate sponsors of the Beijing Olympics are closely watching the Olympics torch relay now in progress in San Francisco, where thousands of anti-China and pro-China demonstrators gathered.  The route of the relay was cut from six to three miles. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to Chris and HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A few years ago, the 2008 Olympics were awarded to Beijing, in part because China promised to improve its record on human rights.  But now, four months before the Games begin, the Olympic torch relay is bringing a new spotlight to China and prompting anger in the streets of Europe and also here in America. 

Today, the torch is in San Francisco, the only stop in the U.S.

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster catches up with this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today in San Francisco, officials canceled police vacations, summoned officers from nearby, and put part of the city under lockdown. 

(SHOUTING)

SHUSTER:  And, this afternoon, as the Olympic torch wound through the City by the Bay, instead of joy and celebration, it was a scene of dread and nightmarish security—at issue, China‘s deplorable record on human rights. 

In the wake of strong-arm tactics on Tibet, which is seeking more religious and political autonomy, demonstrations against China have been growing.  In Europe this week, the Olympic torch relay descended into chaos.  This was London, where demonstrators used a fire extinguisher. 

Still in London, watch the man with the black hat. 

(SHOUTING)

SHUSTER:  Almost everywhere along the route, there were clashes.  This is not Olympic-style Greco wrestling. 

In Paris, the French tried to protect the torch with 3,000 police, and, yet, they were overwhelmed.  Five times, Chinese officials in track suits had to extinguish the flame and retreat to the safety of a bus. 

Then, as the Olympic torch left France and headed to California, demonstrators scaled the Golden Gate Bridge.  The signs read “One World, One Dream,” and “Free Tibet.” 

PROTESTERS:  Free Tibet!  Don‘t go!  Free Tibet!   

SHUSTER:  The rallying cry was repeated last night at a candlelight vigil.  And there were speeches by activists, including the actor Richard Gere. 

RICHARD GERE, ACTOR/ACTIVIST:  China wanted this Olympics to show off, so they‘re not going to be allowed to show off unless they actually have created a society that is worth showing off. 

SHUSTER:  The demonstrations have prompted the International Olympic Committee to consider canceling the rest of the worldwide relay. 

CLAYTON DUBE, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, U.S.-CHINA INSTITUTE:  This would be a really devastating blow to the Olympic movement.  And it would send a very powerful and very negative message to the hundreds of millions of Chinese who anxiously await the opening of the Beijing Olympics. 

SHUSTER:  It would also send a stark message if world leader boycott the opening ceremonies. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is urging President Bush to do just that. 

And, today, President Bush responded with this. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... the Chinese government in good stead if they would begin a dialogue with the representatives for the Dalai Lama.  They will find, if they ever were to reach out to the Dalai Lama, they would find him to be a really fine man. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  White House official wouldn‘t say if President Bush meant that as a threat.  Meanwhile, the torch is supposed to go next to Argentina and then a dozen other countries.  The Games themselves will begin in August.  And that leaves world leaders four months to decide whether the glow from the Olympics in the shadow of Beijing deserves praise or protest. 

I‘m David Shuster, for HARDBALL, in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David. 

So, how much will this, like everything else, affect the presidential race? 

Joining me right now is Perry Bacon of “The Washington Post” and Chrystia—Chrystia Freeland of “The Financial Times.” 

Perry, can you sort out the politics of these three candidates, McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, on what to do with the Olympics? 

PERRY BACON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  So far, Senator Clinton has—

Senator Clinton has said Senator Obama should—Senator Clinton has said that President Bush should not attend—should not attend the ceremony. 

Obama has said he is concerned that the issue, but has not sort of called for President Bush not to attend the opening ceremony yet.  And Senator McCain has also not made—taken the stand Senator Clinton has taken so far. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to Chrystia Freeland.

This question now of what is holding up Barack Obama from taking a stand, which would clearly be popular, which is to make some statement against the Chinese government‘s policy toward Tibet and Darfur. 

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “THE FINANCIAL TIMES”:  Well, I think that you‘re right to say that would be a popular position, and it is smart of Hillary Clinton to get ahead of the issue, because she wins in two ways in this. 

It is a way of playing to protectionist sentiment, to people who are worried about the impact of Chinese factories on American jobs.  And it is a way of playing to people who are worried about human rights in China.  But I think, for Barack Obama, it is tricky, because the economic relationship with China is really important for the United States. 

And, for someone who wants to be seen as a serious, thoughtful contender for the Oval Office, I think maybe you want to say, hang on a minute.  We want to be careful about alienating a Chinese government that holds a lot of U.S. dollars, at a time when the dollar is pretty weak. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the question I want to take back to Perry. 

It sounds—it is good politics, perhaps initially, to take a tough stand against China, but we have to deal with the reality.  They‘re holding our paper.  I mean, they lend us money.  They‘re our—they‘re our creditors.  We depend on them to finance our wars, don‘t we? 

BACON:  I suspect that‘s all true.  But where the next—the next election is in Pennsylvania.  You see these candidates dueling right now over who‘s most opposed to NAFTA, and who is most opposed to the Colombian trade deal. 

So, I think the protectionist sentiment is going to overwhelm everything else.  And I suspect you will see Senator Obama make sort of stronger statements about this in the next few days as well.  I think Hillary is on the right view as far as the politics of this are concerned. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at Hillary‘s statement here.  It‘s fresh today.

Quote: “I have been deeply disturbed by the recent events in Tibet, and have communicated my concerns in public and to President Bush.  As I have said repeatedly, the Chinese government must take immediate steps to respect the dignity, security, human rights, and religious freedom of the Tibetan people, to provide foreign press and diplomats with access to the region, and to, finally, work with the Dalai Lama toward meaningful autonomy for Tibet.  If they do not, there should be consequences.”

Would this be seen as an elitist issue. 

And here‘s an Obama statement, which I will get to in a moment.  We just—I guess everybody saw that one. 

Let me ask you, is this a bit of an elitist issue, Chrystia?  In other words, college students, people who are—perhaps are more interested in international events, than it is a trade issue? 

FREELAND:  Well, I think that you could say, potentially, that the Tibet issue is something that maybe liberal elites are more focused on, although there is a strong argument to make that human rights are something we should all care about.

And, certainly, bringing human rights to the world is something that we have seen the neocons focus on a lot.  But I think the possible trade aspect...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, at the point of a gun. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Their idea of spreading democracy is to go into a country, overrun it with guns, tell everybody what to do, shoot the leaders, or hang them, take over, and tell people to be democrats. 

FREELAND:  Not—not—not in the former Soviet Union. 

I think one of the real tragedies of the war in Iraq is this notion of discrediting America as a country that stands for democracy and human rights around the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FREELAND:  I think that‘s a really noble part of what America stands for. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes, but we‘re for democracy and human rights, if it doesn‘t mean—is not just an excuse for another war. 

Let me point out something.  I made a mistake right there.  That was Barack Obama‘s statement I read.  It was not Hillary Clinton‘s.  We do have Hillary Clinton‘s.  We will have it in a moment. 

Let me go to you.  Let me go.

Here it is right now.  Here‘s the statement right now from—from Hillary Clinton. 

Senator Clinton released this statement.  And I will read it in part:

“At this time, and in light of recent evens, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government.”

So, she is much tougher.  She is clear, Perry.  She is not talking in generalities.  She says, don‘t show up for the opening ceremonies. 

BACON:  Yes, she‘s been very tough on the Chinese on the campaign trail a lot, on trade issues, as well as the food safety and other issues as well.  I think she‘s been tough on the Chinese for the last several weeks.  I think it‘s part of something she‘s trying to do to try to tap into that protectionist sentiment some.  I think that probably is effective.

I think you‘re right a little bits that Tibet and even Darfur are important issues for elites.  I‘m sure not at a time when the economies bad and Iraq is on the focus that a lot of Pennsylvania voter are thinking about what‘s going on in Darfur and what the Chinese should do about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Chrystia, your sense of the political relevance of this debate about China and the Olympics, two people voting in Pennsylvania in a couple weeks. 

FREELAND:  I think it is relevant chiefly as a way of talking about protectionism, Chiefly as a way of saying I‘m going to stand up to countries that threaten American jobs.  Even if you don‘t directly link your position on the Olympics to trade, I think that‘s pretty clear.  I think that people who are worried that globalization is taking away their jobs are worried primarily about China.  I think that being tough on China is good for Hillary Clinton in another way, which is it points to one of the legitimate achievements of her period, which was that really terrific speech she gave in China about women‘s rights being human rights.  It is good for her on a lot of fronts. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Chrystia.  We read your paper every day.  My corporate executive wife, Kathleen, and I read the “Financial Times” every day thanks to the copies you send to us.  Thank you. 

FREELAND:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  We get them early and read them early.  Perry Bacon of the “Washington Post,” thank you for joining us as well.  Up next, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama up in Pennsylvania.  Is their message getting through?  I think they are because these number are moving up there.  We‘ll bring them to you.  Surprising movement in the numbers in Pennsylvania.  The politics fix is also coming up.  We‘ll tell you about the national movement in the Gallup Poll.  It looks good for Barack.  You never know what will happen after Pennsylvania.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Our round table tonight, two Philadelphia radio talk show hosts, very popular and powerful men, Michael Smerconish and E. Steven Collins.  Gentlemen, I want you to look at this movement in the polling in Pennsylvania.  I want to you tell me if it is true or just a mirage here.  On March 18th, Senator Clinton led Senator Obama 12 points, 53-41.  By a week ago, the senator‘s from New York‘s lead over Obama had eroded to nine points, 50-41.  And this week, just yesterday, Senator Clinton leads—her lead is now down to six points, 50-44. 

It has been cut in half.  I want to get your response to that.  What does it mean?  Have you got any anecdotal back-up to suggest it is real? 

E. STEVEN COLLINS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It is real.  As you know, Chris, she was spending most of the first few weeks that the polling was going on here concentrated on Pennsylvania.  Barack Obama was not here and then he took a few days off, and then he started to focus.  He spent an inordinate amount, I think it‘s three or four to one, to what she is spending, getting his message out.  Then he had a very successful bus tour, and he did the college tour, which was enormous for him, and a variety of other thing. 

Today, for example, he called into our radio one station, spoke to three audiences about 80, 90 percent of all African-Americans, delivering message of focus for middle class people, that resonated incredibly well.  And I think all of that is the reason why you see these number jumping. 

Remember, Hillary has to win big in Pennsylvania.  It can‘t be two or three percent.  She has to have a 15 percent or 20 percent win and it doesn‘t look like she‘ll get it here. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Michael.  You‘re the king of the suburbs  up there.  You know those five counties out there.  You know Montgomery and Delaware.  In Montgomery and Bucks, I just saw finally are Democratic counties now, to the consternation of my brother among others.  It is now Democrat land, at least marginally.  Are these new registrants primarily Barack voter? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I think they are primarily Barack voters.  You do owe me an I told you so, I think, Chris, because you had me on when it was a 16-point race and I said, that‘s bad news for Hillary Clinton, because there will come a day when that gap will close and everybody will say, my god, look at the momentum.  Now here we are.  Six points, and those suburbs, I think, hold the key. 

In the suburbs, he‘s beating her among whites, the white wine crowd by 11 points.  And I think that could be the margin of victory for him.  Bucks County, Montgomery County, now in the hands of the Democrats.  Chester and Delaware county—and you know this.  We‘re talking about those inner Philadelphia suburbs, which now, if you add independents, are also controlled—

MATTHEWS:  Not everything is New Hope, you know.  There is Longhorn and Bristol.  I don‘t know exactly these areas, but you‘re like white wine country, Bucks County, Fiesterville (ph), white wine, you‘re generalizing.  Aren‘t you? 

SMERCONISH:  It was actually Karl Rove who said she has the beer crowd and he has the white wine crowd. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know.  What do you think?  Steven, you agree that it is as simple as a class difference?  That Hillary gets the people that are regular and the people who have more extra money, if there is such a person out there, are voting for Barack? 

COLLINS:  I think we started this and there were a ton of African Americans who supported Barack and there were a ton of white females for Hillary for feminist reasons and so forth.  As we get closer, and everything is happening, I think people are focusing now on her qualities, her decision making, her judgment.  This whole thing about her campaign management, the stories that she told about Bosnia and a variety of other things, the pregnant woman; all that stuff resonates on her qualities. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with better quality.  Right back with E. Steven and Michael.  You‘re watching hardball on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table, with the politics fix.  E.  Steven Collins is with us, and Michael Smerconish.  Let‘s look at Senator Clinton at Malvern, Pennsylvania, right outside Philadelphia, talking about McCain.  This is Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I respect John McCain.  He‘ll be a worthy opponent.  He is a genuine American hero.  But if you believe that our economy is on the right path, then John McCain is the right candidate for you.  Senator McCain has been a staunch supporter of Washington‘s failed policies.  In this election, he‘ll offer more of the same policies that have set back working people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s Senator Clinton, also on Pennsylvania, again going after President Bush‘s Iraq policy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I want to reiterate my call to President Bush, who is going to address the nation tomorrow, and I think it is incumbent upon him to provide us with an end game for Iraq.  What are the conditions that are referred to very generally without any specificity?  And that if there is negotiation that leads to a security agreement with Iraq, it will be submitted to the United States Congress.  Certainly, it seems somewhat strange that such an agreement would be submitted to the Iraqi parliament and not to the United States Congress. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Michael, and then Steven, it seem like Senator Clinton is trying to get on the anti-war front that has been owned by Barack at this point. 

SMERCONISH:  I draw more significance about where she is speaking than the issue that she is raising.  In other words, he is in Malvern and then he went to Bucks County.  She was in Aliquippa (ph).  What I think is significant is Barack Obama is beating her in those Philadelphia suburbs.  Chris, you know, that‘s Ed Rendell‘s strong hold.  That‘s Ed Rendell country.  If he can beat her there, and he obviously thinks he can, because that‘s where he is spending his precious time, that‘s what I think is most insightful. 

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts on the geography of this fight, the fact that he is going to the suburbs and Hillary is out in western Pennsylvania. 

COLLINS:  It could be that she is saying, clearly, that she feels that it may be a lost cause in Philly.  And remember, Ed Rendell won—and Ed Rendell is her most valuable player, no question about it here.  He is very popular.  He won the 16 closest counties to Philadelphia.  In doing that, those numbers just outweighed everything else in the state.  And I think he is looking at following a similar pattern. 

The issue of the Iraqi war is another total different question.  We saw them in their discussions with the generals on Capitol Hill this past week.  And the discussion really focused on who was ready to really ask the hard questions.  And McCain believes in this war, and he didn‘t really focus, I thought, on any real substantive questions on when is victory, what is a win, how do we get out, when do we get out?  It is all about staying there for the sake of pride in this country . 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the Gallup Poll.  This is a national tracking poll.  We‘ve been watching it almost every day.  It is a Gallup poll.  It shows—I‘m always interested in this—it shows Senator Obama now pulling open to a ten-point lead again.  Michael, it seem like every time nothing is going on, there is no issue, no flap over anything, the normal trend seem to be toward Obama when time—when things are calm. 

SMERCONISH:  I‘ve always perceived her support as fixed and his as being more volatile.  Chris, I think you could run this election tomorrow against John McCain if it is Hillary, against Barack Obama, because I believe that it is a finite measure of support that she is ever going to garner in any election.  You either love her or you don‘t.  You might as well have at it.  We could have this race in August and save this country a lot of money. 

MATTHEWS:  Whenever she wins in New Hampshire, you‘re saying, or pulls an upset or does well in Ohio, you‘re saying it is the same largely women base that she has; is that what you‘re saying? 

SMERCONISH:  That female base—I‘m glad you raise that.  In the Quineppiac survey that you quoted from initially, that six point margin, where has she most lost support in Pennsylvania?  It‘s among females.  By the way, he is on the air today in Pennsylvania with a brand new spot, the women in his life, his sister, his grandmother, and his wife.  So I think what he is doing now is he is saying, wow, man, she is really vulnerable among females and I‘m moving in for the kill. 

I happen to think this is an all-out full court press for him to defeat her two weeks from yesterday.  If he beats her in Pennsylvania, it is over. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, E. Steve, about the African-American vote in the city.  We know it‘s large.  It‘s half the Democratic electorate.  I‘ve heard numbers that are enormous, but I‘m impressed by the fact that the percentage in the black community is going up for him lately.  It‘s going up around 90 is where it is at, I think. 

COLLINS:  I think so.  First of all, I think you have to remember a lot of new voters are from Philadelphia.  I think it is something like 200 plus, 235,000 newly registered voter, in a state that now has 4.1 million voters.  This is going to be a huge turnout, huge.  It could set a record in our state for a primary, number one. 

And number two, Barack Obama is speaking to issues that really matter to people in the neighborhoods.  He‘s talking about more police and crime.  He‘s dealing with teachers and education.  He‘s talking about health insurance and gas prices, things that matter to every day African American and other Americans in the city. 

The one thing though you have to remember, we‘re dealing Hillary Clinton.  That usually means you can‘t count her out.  You‘re dealing with Ed Rendell.  He‘s masterful.  So you can‘t just say—just because the polls say one thing, it could be a little different on election day. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the 66th Ward up in north east Philly; where is it going?  Hillary or Obama?

SMERCONISH:  Obama.  I think it is going for Obama.  The city is clearly going for Obama.  You‘re pointing out a white ward in northeast Philadelphia.  I think it could go for Obama.  Chris, may I make another observation about the shifting registrations? 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

SMERCONISH:  There‘s a long-term implication here for the Republicans.  There‘s been an exodus of the more moderate or liberal Republicans to the Democratic race, which I think is going to haunt, potentially, a guy like United States Senator Arlen Specter.  Here‘s Specter, he narrowly defeated Pat Toomey in that GOP primary.  He‘s already announced.  You know the blogosphere is hot today with speculation about you.  I hope you don‘t mind me saying that. 

Roger Stone has something online today that says Chris Matthews, it‘s perfectly positioned for you.  Those individuals have got to come back to the GOP, or it‘s going to be a reconstituted Republican party, long term implications. 

MATTHEWS:  The day Roger Stone supports my positions on things and me personally will be the day that heaven comes to Earth.  Thank you for that thought.  It‘s always possible. 

COLLINS:  Keep in mind, Michael, a lot of people—

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Michael.  Thank you, E. Stephen Collins.  You guys are trouble makers.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.

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

END   

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