updated 4/30/2008 10:40:00 AM ET 2008-04-30T14:40:00

Guests:  Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Tamron Hall, David Shuster, Ed Gordon, Margaret Carlson, Howard Fineman, Pres. Jimmy Carter, Bill Richardson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, Barack Obama separates church from state with a vengeance.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Barack Obama couldn‘t change the suspect, so he changed pastors.  One day after the Reverend Jeremiah Wright‘s flamboyant self-involved spectacle at the National Press Club.  Senator Obama called a news conference and declared a clean break—some call it a divorce—from his former pastor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Will this stop the damage and allow Obama to change the subject?  Also tonight: Former president Jimmy Carter has been making news lately with his meetings in the Middle East and his favorable comments about Barack Obama.  He‘s going to join us right here at this table in a few moments in Washington.

Plus: Is a summer gas tax holiday a good idea?  Hillary Clinton and John McCain both think so.  Or is it just pandering during an election year, as Barack Obama says?  And the North Carolina governor‘s endorsement for Hillary Clinton, tonight in the “Politics Fix.”

But first, Chuck Todd is NBC News‘s political director, NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell covers the Clinton campaign and Tamron Hall is an MSNBC anchor.

I want you all to watch.  Here‘s Senator Obama today on what Reverend Wright said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.  His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.  They certainly don‘t portray accurately my values and beliefs.  And if Reverend Wright thinks that that‘s political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn‘t know me very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what Barack Obama looks like when he‘s angry.  If you watched the whole speech—we‘re going to show you a lot of it in the next few minutes—he is tear (ph) on this guy.

Andrea Mitchell, it seems to me two things bugged him.  This guy stuck his face into his presidential campaign yesterday with these radical statements yesterday about the United States being the bad guy of the world, right in the middle of this guy‘s toughest week, and then he blames Barack Obama for being, basically, a fraud, saying he really secretly believes in all this crap and he won‘t say so.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Right on both points, except that Reverend Wright first blamed Barack Obama on Friday in the PBS interview, blamed him for being politically not authentic, for just using the Philadelphia speech as politics—you know, That‘s what politicians do.  He‘s a politician, I‘m a pastor.

What took Barack Obama three or four days to come to that conclusion?

MATTHEWS:  Could it have been the tomfoolery of yesterday?  Because he did his greatest hits yesterday.  I mean, he talked about AIDS being caused by the U.S. government.  He said our military actions overseas are terrorism.  What else did he say?  Farrakhan was one of the great men of our time.  He forced him to divorce him, didn‘t he?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I think he had to, and I think there‘s—look, you can‘t divorce politics from this.  I mean, clearly, they saw some movements, some problems in the campaign...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, last night‘s (INAUDIBLE) poll.

TODD:  ... whether it‘s Indiana, North Carolina.  And he had to look like he could stand up to his pastor.  I mean, let‘s remember we‘re electing a commander-in-chief.  If you can‘t stand up to your pastor on views you don‘t agree with, are you going to stand up to another world leader?

MATTHEWS:  Tamron...

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Yes, you know what?  I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tamron, it reminded me of “The Godfather Part II,” when Fredo couldn‘t take care of his drunken wife at the wedding and Michael said, Either you take care of her, or I‘ll take care of her.

HALL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  The voters were saying that, Either you take care of this guy, or we‘re going to take care of you.  What do you think?

HALL:  Well, you know, I...

MATTHEWS:  You were a parishioner of that—you were a congregant of that church.

HALL:  I was a visitor of the church.  I went there maybe about six times.  I lived in Chicago for 10 years.  But the thing that I‘m hearing the most, Chuck, Andrea and Chris, is that people at that church and people in Chicago who still support Barack Obama were furious at the performance.  I had one person use an old Southern term.  They felt that the Reverend Wright was showing out, or showing off, depending on what word you liked to use.  And they felt that he just used his ego as an opportunity to—as one person put it, an African-American voter, a black man taking down another black man who once looked up to him.  So it was a classic situation.

But what I think is perhaps the problem in the future is that who has the most to lose?  Is Barack Obama now taking a knife to a gun fight, in that he has the presidency perhaps on the horizon, and you have Reverend Wright, who perhaps just wants to sell books or move on?

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HALL:  I don‘t know what his goal or motive is, but from what we‘ve seen—and Chris, you commented on this.  From what we‘ve seen of the Reverend Wright, it is very possible by the end of this evening he‘s back out in front of some television camera.

MATTHEWS:  And for all we know—you follow it because you know him better than I know him.  I only know him from a distance.  He‘ll just follow Barack Obama for weeks now.  He may never leave his trail, right?

HALL:  Well, you know, at the church, when I visited that church—and as I said before, this is a type of church when you move to Chicago and you‘re a young African-American, you‘re often told, Listen, there are two churches you probably need to join.  It‘s Apostolic Church on the South Side of Chicago, or Trinity Church also on the South Side.  There you can meet people.  You can network and kind of get your feet in the water of Chicago and learn...

MATTHEWS:  Got you.

HALL:  ... the life of Chicago.  And that was my experience, and I went—I can tell you, Chris, I never heard this type of language.  I‘ve called a dozen or more people who regularly attend this church, and they say they didn‘t hear this type of language.  But the tape is out there.  We know it exists.  And we know this is the type of language that  is part of the character...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

HALL:  ... of Reverend Wright.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s where my skepticism comes in.  If somebody in my church, Blessed Sacrament in Maryland, had said, “God damn America,” in some Sunday pulpit experience, some sermon, the word would have been word of mouth, all—you‘d have been meeting people at Safeway, meeting them everywhere, Did you hear what the priest said on Sunday?  He said, “God damn America.”  How can the parishioners, the congregants of Trinity Church not have buzzed about that...

HALL:  Yes, I think...

MATTHEWS:  ... to the point it would have reached Michelle or Barack Obama or one of their friends?

HALL:  But I don‘t know...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the hard part.

HALL:  ... how regularly—I mean, listen, it‘s one thing when you‘re running for office to say, This is a part of my history, this is a part of my church.  I don‘t know how regularly Barack Obama attended the church.  I know that at any given Sunday, if you go to the South Side of Chicago, there is a line getting in that church.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HALL:  You can‘t find a parking spot.  You‘ve got to park in the alley.  This is a mainstream church, Chris.  This is not, from my experience—and again, living in Chicago for 10 years, I never heard anyone say, Hey, you want to stay away from that, that guy‘s kind of crazy...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HALL:  ... that church and it‘s members are kind of crazy.

MATTHEWS:  I want Andrea to respond.  Here‘s some more of Obama so people who didn‘t get to hear it during the afternoon—here‘s some more of this incredible divorce paper, basically, that was issued by Barack Obama today.  He is completely cutting off personally this man who‘s caused him so much trouble, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  When he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States‘ wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.  They offend me.  They rightly offend all Americans.  And they should be denounced.  And that‘s what I‘m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Was he unequivocal, Andrea?  Did he do the job?

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  He was absolutely unequivocal.  I mean, Tamron makes the point that this is a mainstream church.  It has lots of white members.  This is not some radical place.  That said, Barack Obama was concerned enough about the controversial aspects of Reverend Wright‘s history to have disinvited him from his announcement in Springfield, Illinois, last winter, a year ago.  And so he was already concerned enough about the optics of this.  He had him there to pray with him and Michelle before and after the ceremony, but he didn‘t want him to be in public.  This could, by the way, have been what first  set off Reverend Wright to feel that he was being dissed by this guy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think he did him a favor today.  I think the Reverend Wright yesterday did a favor to Barack Obama, so all the people out there who are loyal to both people, the black church, generally speaking, and to Barack Obama‘s hopes for himself and America, can say, This guy didn‘t start this fight.  He‘s not dissing a brother.  He‘s not throwing somebody from the train.  This guy wants to make him a fool.  Jeremiah Wright is trying to bring down Barack Obama, and he‘s right to separate from him.  I think that‘ll be the way it sells.

TODD:  No, I think that that‘s why Obama will get the benefit of the doubt from most folks.  But let‘s remember the other audience here, I think, in this case, and that was superdelegates who are sitting here, unwavering (ph), wondering, Can this guy handle a crisis?  They‘ve been weighing this—superdelegates I talked to...

MATTHEWS:  Is he strong?

TODD:  That‘s right.  Superdelegates I talk to tell me it‘s, like, You know what?  Obama‘s baggage doesn‘t seem any heavier than Clinton‘s baggage.  The question is, she seems to know how to...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... be a—have more baggage handlers, frankly, than he does.

MITCHELL:  And is he a street fighter?

TODD:  And is he a street—right.  And today...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... like a referee.  If somebody says “Monica”

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... it‘s offensive.  If somebody says, Your husband was impeached, you can‘t dare say it.  These are all—these have all been declared by the Clinton campaign off—out of bounds.  You can‘t discuss these things, whereas you can talk about the Jeremiah Wright, you know, until the last dog dies!

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Well, what‘s interesting is—is that...

MATTHEWS:  Not that current.

TODD:  ... is this now over?

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) yesterday.

MITCHELL:  Right.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Is this now over?  I mean, you bring up the Reverend Wright point.  I do think that superdelegates will look at this and say, All right, he‘s shown some fight.  This is as angry as Obama looks.  I mean, we‘re all saying he‘s angry, he still is a pretty even-keeled guy.  He doesn‘t show a lot of emotion.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  But does it go away?  Does Wright come back?  If Wright comes back and does make a comment—and I don‘t think he will because I think this is bad for business for him—I think if he goes one more step here...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let Tamron get in here...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Reverend will stay on this fight.

HALL:  Yes, but let me tell you this.  This is what I think also can happen here.  Could this perhaps be Barack Obama‘s New Hampshire moment, where you saw this vulnerability that Hillary Clinton showed in New Hampshire and people rallied behind her?  And I say this because I‘ve talked, again, to a lot of people in Chicago who watched this young man rise to the person he is now.  And they were concerned that perhaps he was believing the press and that maybe a little bit of that “Saturday Night Live” skit was true, that he had fed into—that this was his, it‘s his destiny to be the first African-American president.

So now he‘s in crisis, and he‘s not just street fighting, he‘s also fighting with perhaps heart and that we heard Richard Wolff (ph), one of our colleagues, say in that, he was angry, he was hurt, he was saddened, and perhaps that is something that white female voters will key in on and say, Listen, you know what?  I feel bad for this guy because this is someone he cared about and this is someone who tried to ruin him.

MATTHEWS:  I think he had his first good night‘s sleep, Tamron.  I thought his ability—I mean, all the sparkplugs were popping in that Q&A session today.  He was very...

HALL:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... eloquent in dealing with a very tricky situation.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  As late as 11:00 o‘clock last night, he was dismissing it, joking about it.  He was saying...

MATTHEWS:  Was he?

MITCHELL:  Yes.  In a rally last night, he was saying, you know, My opponents are trying to make a big deal out of the fact that I don‘t put my hand over my heart, they‘re making that up, and they‘re talking about my former pastor.   He was dismissing the issue.

TODD:  Look—look...

MITCHELL:  So he should have taken...

TODD:  Something...

MITCHELL:  ... it serious.  Something happened overnight.  He should have taken it more seriously yesterday, and he didn‘t.

HALL:  I think what happened, Andrea, is he looked at the video.  He saw the clip.  I know he says he read the transcript.

MITCHELL:  That‘s what staff is for.

HALL:  But when I talked a Susan Rice, a member of his campaign, she was visibly angry within five minutes of Jeremiah Wright finishing what he had to say, her voice quivering.  She was very upset.  And I think throughout the day, it just boiled.  And when you look at maybe, for example, “The New York Post,” and you‘ve got this picture of Reverend Wright and he‘s gesturing and he‘s motioning, that is enough to tip someone over the edge.  And then you factor in...

MITCHELL:  No, I‘m just saying...

HALL:  ... Michelle Obama and what she perhaps said to her husband. 

And she‘s a very passionate person and...

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right.

TODD:  Yes, there‘s something...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Yes, but you know, Tamron...

MATTHEWS:  ... that point, I think, about Michelle Obama, the fact that he referenced her today...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... I think that when he pointed out that she was as angry as he was—I‘ve always thought that when it came to church service and church loyalty, oftentimes, the woman in the family, the wife, the both mother has a major role in those relationships.

MITCHELL:  But if you look at this thing, yesterday they scrambled right before the evening newscast...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ... and they got him out on the tarmac barely in time to get a reaction.  All day long, we didn‘t get a reaction from him.  They kept him away from reporters.  They didn‘t respond quickly to this.  Somebody in headquarters should have been watching it in real-time.  It happened at 8:30 in the morning.

TODD:  This has been a pattern.  Obama...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... on the front page of almost every newspaper today.

TODD:  I‘ll tell you this, this has been a pattern.  Obama always seems to react one day later than he should have—politically.  Now, it still may be enough time and there‘s still...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s about four days faster than Bush was with Katrina.  But anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd.  Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.  Tamron Hall, thanks for that first-person reporting.

Coming up: President Jimmy Carter‘s going to come here.  We‘re going to take a look at what he thinks about the Wright controversy and more, certainly about his book about his mother, but also President Carter—you might say he brings his china—what do you say—what do you call it—bull in a china shop?  He brings his china shop with him.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people.  Their situation is getting worse.  And this campaign has never been about me.  It‘s never been about Senator Clinton or John McCain.  It‘s not about Reverend Wright.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Former president Jimmy Carter says his family supports Obama.  So does that mean the former president will throw his weight behind Barack Obama, as well?  Jimmy Carter is here to talk about the presidential campaign, especially Barack Obama, and his new book, called “A Remarkable Mother.”  It‘s about your mom.

(CROSSTALK)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m really here to talk about my mother.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  But we have the news.  This is a news program.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And before you—you have to pay for your supper.  First of all, Mr. President, my former boss, with great dignity, what did you make of this fight?  Because I know your family supports Barack Obama, but he‘s in the middle of this storm over his former minister.  Has he gotten out of it today by divorcing the guy, basically, from his life?

CARTER:  I don‘t see much of the news, but I think that Obama and Wright ought to be completely separated.  From what I hear lately, Wright has really turned on Obama and tried to attack him.  His purpose in doing that is indecipherable.  And some of the things he said are hard to believe, also.  And I think it‘s very wise of Obama and courageous to separate himself, so far as I can tell, completely from his former pastor.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think his pastor will be used by people on the right to play the racial card?

CARTER:  I don‘t have any doubt that they‘ll use everything they can by the racial card.  That‘s what the Republicans have done, at least in the South, ever since 1964, when Lyndon Johnson ran against—against Barry Goldwater.  And my mother was Lyndon Johnson‘s campaign—his campaign leader in Sumter County.  So yes, I think they will use everything they can against Obama if he gets...

MATTHEWS:  Well, race is not just an issue in the South.

CARTER:  It‘s all over.

MATTHEWS:  Coming from Pennsylvania—it‘s everywhere.

CARTER:  It‘s all over.

MATTHEWS:  But how does he—how does this guy, this young guy—he‘s 46.  how does he change history by being able to separate himself from all the differences we have in this country, which are most large at 11:00 o‘clock Sunday morning at church?

CARTER:  That‘s true.  Still are.  And of course, that‘s about the same age I was.  I was 56 when I got out of the White House.  And—but I think that he‘s handled it extremely well so far.  He‘ll be tested even more severely than in this slight squabbles in the Democratic Party when he faces the general election.  And I think he‘s proven beyond anybody‘s expectation that he can handle a tough campaign quite well.

MATTHEWS:  So you say he‘s the nominee?

CARTER:  No, I don‘t say anything about that.  We‘ve got nine more contests to go, and after June the 3rd, we‘ll know who has the most delegates, and that‘s the only thing that counts.

MATTHEWS:  So it matters (ph) -- do you believe, in the selection of the next president by your party is the person who wins the most elected delegates?

CARTER:  That‘s what the Democratic and the Republican Party go by is how many delegates you get.

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t think these superdelegates should be able to overrule that.

CARTER:  In an extreme case, yes, I think they have the right to do that.  As a matter of fact, the superdelegates were created right after my election in 1980, when the Democratic Party was split down the middle and the Ted Kennedy part of the Democratic wing wouldn‘t support me.  So, that‘s when they formed the—the superdelegates.

But I don‘t have any doubt myself that after June the 3rd when we know the result of the primary that there will be a very quick decision and, in my judgment, both candidates will support the other one if they should lose.  And I believe that most of their supporters will also support a Democrat.

MATTHEWS:  The Democratic Party never really came back together in 1980, Mr. President.

CARTER:  No, it didn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Because Ted Kennedy wouldn‘t shake your hand at the platform.  And here—but this—are you afraid it might happen again, that the Hillary people...

CARTER:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... may not come back and back Barack with all they have?

CARTER:  I‘m not afraid of that.  I don‘t think that will happen at all.

I think Hillary and Bill are two strong Democrats and committed to our party.  I think Obama is the same way.  So, my judgment is what I have already said, that after the primaries are over and we see who the clear leader is, then the superdelegates will probably go along with that, unless it‘s an extreme case, and—and the loser will endorse, and—and their supporters will support the winner.

I think there may be one exception to that.  And that is a lot of the young people, and maybe the African-American people, that have come in for the first time to participate enthusiastically in a campaign may not be enthusiastic if their candidate loses.  But that would be the only exception.  And that‘s a minor percentage of the total votes.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s a propaganda campaign being run against Barack Obama by people who think his name Hussein is a problem?

CARTER:  I have heard about that, yes.  Well, you know, I think that‘s a frivolous sort of thing.  And, in my judgment...

MATTHEWS:  People who say he‘s a secret Muslim?  Thirteen percent of the American people now believe it because of that propaganda.

CARTER:  I think they will get over that before the general elections.

MATTHEWS:  You do?

CARTER:  Yes, sure.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you one question.  The pollsters asked in the Gallup poll—and I will get to your book—the Gallup poll, they asked about whether you would be proud to have this person as your next president. 

What would be your pride, as a world figure, to have Barack Obama as the next president of the United States?

CARTER:  If you go to almost any country in the world and see what they feel about the presidential election, the answer would be apparent to you.

I have been, in the last month, I think, in nine different countries, and the number-one item of discussion there is the prospect of Obama being the president.  But, of course, the decision is to be made by the American people, not foreigners.

MATTHEWS:  How do we get back to a country where your mom would join the Peace Corps?

CARTER:  Well, you know...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, that spirit, that sense of public service and this sense that we are part of the world; we‘re not the enemy of the world?

CARTER:  I wrote this book because I feel like a lot of people have—have lost sight of what it really means to be a strong, determined, dedicated American that wants to change things and don‘t—and doesn‘t care what the public thinks. 

My mother started off that way when I was a child.  I grew up on—in a community, as you may know, that didn‘t have any white neighbors.  All of our neighbors were African-American.  And that was in the depths of the Depression and also the depths of racial discrimination, when blacks were treated like animals, almost.

My mother was a single holdout in the whole community.  She treated back and white people the same.  And she was condemned for it.  And she resisted the condemnation.  And she persisted.  And I would say she persisted all during her life, because, when she was 70 years old, she was still doing the same thing as a Peace Corps volunteer in India, dealing with untouchables, people who had leprosy and so forth.

And, in effect, she was an untouchable, too, because she was a nurse, and she dealt with bodily fluids and things of that kind. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARTER:  So, she was scorned by the—by the high-class people. 

But mother persisted in that all the way through.  And she did it with a sense of humor.  She never thought that she was making a sacrifice when she gave her life to other people.  She thought it was a great privilege.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Obama could bring back that spirit that you felt during the ‘60s?  I know you said, when—and I completely believe you—when Jack Kennedy was killed, you were crying out at the farm. 

CARTER:  I was.

MATTHEWS:  And that spirit of national service, and being part of the world?

CARTER:  I think that either one of the Democratic candidates can do that, because it‘s going to be such a dramatic change and improvement over what we have done—what we have seen for this past seven-and-a-half years. 

MATTHEWS:  Last question.  I‘m not a foreign policy maven, like you are.  I have this sense out there—and I‘m not pro-Syrian or pro-Arab.  I‘m trying to see peace over there.  I‘m trying to figure it out. 

And—and all that you have learned over there—I got a sense that, for some reason, Bashar Assad wants a deal with Israel.  Am I right?

CARTER:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Why does he want a deal and, at the same time, playing games with the North Koreans with nuclear weapons and all that stuff? 

What‘s his real game here?

CARTER:  I‘m not sure—I‘m not sure that‘s true.  I mean, nobody has proven that he has nuclear weapons. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But what—what‘s his game?  Does he want peace with Israel?  Does he want a real treaty with them, or what? 

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER:  He wants the Golan Heights back.

MATTHEWS:  But will he sign a real treaty with them?

CARTER:  Absolutely.  He told me that he is eager to do it, starting tomorrow. 

And there are only two requirements that he has.  One is that the United States be involved, because the United States is blocking Israel, now, from negotiating with him, and also...

MATTHEWS:  We are?  How can we stop Israel from negotiating with one of its neighbors? 

CARTER:  I know you‘re kidding.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m serious.  How can we stop them?

CARTER:  Well, the United States has a great influence in Jerusalem, as you—I‘m sure you know. 

But, anyway, that‘s what—that‘s what Assad thinks. 

I have known Assad since he was a college student, Bashar Assad.  I knew him because I used to visit his father. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you think that Israel—Israel could have another peaceful neighbor, like Egypt...

CARTER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... in the near future? 

CARTER:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  And what has to happen for that to happen? 

CARTER:  Just—they have already agreed on 85 percent of the aspects of a peace agreement between Israel and—and Syria. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARTER:  They have agreed on the geography.  They have agreed on international monitoring. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CARTER:  They have agreed on the whole thing. 

And—and Assad is just waiting to go back to the negotiating table with Israel.  He wants the fact that they are having negotiations to be made public. 

MATTHEWS:  I know he wants it, but will he recognize the right of the Jewish state to exist? 

CARTER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a hell of a development, if that happens.

CARTER:  He‘s already done it.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER:  ... all 22 Arab nations, all their leaders have already agreed three different times.

MATTHEWS:  But they set the condition that Israel has to give back Jerusalem, give back all the land of ‘67.

CARTER:  No, just—just go back to the 1967 border.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, that‘s a lot for Israel to give back.

CARTER:  Well, it may be hard, but that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, it‘s really hard.  I mean, they don‘t want to have to give away their capital again.

CARTER:  Well, that‘s the Palestinian territory.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s an argument that you can make, Mr.

President...

CARTER:  That has always—that has always been...

MATTHEWS:  ... but that‘s not accepted by Israel, is it?

CARTER:  That‘s always been the premise.  Is Israel willing to have peace, or would—do they want Palestinian land?

MATTHEWS:  I think—I was trying to look at a narrow—I—I thought a separate peace between Israel and Syria could be done by itself, though, right?

CARTER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t have to give back the ‘67 borders?

CARTER:  I don‘t think they do, no.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a development.

CARTER:  It‘s just a matter that concerns the Golan Heights, but it goes all the way down to the Sea of Galilee, as you know.

MATTHEWS:  Well, as Adlai Stevenson said, the walk of 1,000 miles begins with one step.

Thank you, Mr. President.

CARTER:  It‘s a pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s always a great thing to have worked for you, sir. 

CARTER:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

Jimmy Carter.  The book is “A Remarkable Mother,” not a hard sell. 

Ms. Lillian, we grew up with her.  She served in the Peace Corps. 

I can tell you, that‘s pretty impressive for a woman of her age.

Up next: Governor Bill Richardson on Obama, Hillary, and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright—more on that hot-cooker story when we come back in a minute.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Governor Bill Richardson, Obama supporter and former presidential candidate, what does he make of the race?  And what does he make of Obama‘s divorce today from the Reverend Wright?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closing mixed—the Dow Jones industrial average losing 40 points, the S&P 500 down five, and the Nasdaq up less than two—investors cautious ahead of tomorrow‘s announcement by the Federal Reserve on interest rates.  The Fed is expected to cut rates again by a quarter-of-a-point to give the economy a boost.  But many experts believe it will be the last in a string of rate cuts than began last September. 

Meantime, oil prices tumbled, partly on speculation the Fed will stop cutting interest rates, leading to a stronger dollar—crude falling $3.12 a barrel in New York trading, closing at $115.63 a barrel. 

And a widely watched index shows home prices plunged in February by the largest amount on record, prices falling almost 13 percent from a year ago. 

And the Conference Board reports, consumer confidence has dropped to a five-year low, thanks to those low housing prices.

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

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Senator Obama grabbed center stage today by declaring that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is wrong.  But, with gas prices hovering at almost four bucks a gallon, the candidates are battling over to—how to fix the road rage and over how to win over voters in North Carolina and Indiana next Tuesday. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today on the campaign trail, Barack Obama made it a one-on-two.  He slammed Hillary Clinton and John McCain for supporting a summertime cut in the federal gas tax, and he accused them both of pandering.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The easiest thing for a politician to do is to tell you what they think you want to hear.  But, if we‘re going to solve our challenges right now, then we have got to start telling the American people what they need to hear, tell them the truth.

SHUSTER:  The federal gas tax is about 18 cents a gallon and about 24 cents a gallon for diesel.  That revenue goes into the federal Highway Trust Fund, a fund that helps pay for construction and repair. 

Experts say suspending the tax for three months would cost the highway fund $9 billion and would eliminate about 300,000 highway construction jobs.  According to Obama, the overall cost is not worth the savings to individual drivers. 

OBAMA:  I want you to understand what a gas tax holiday would mean.  It would last for three months, and it would save you, on average, half-a-tank of gas, $25 to $30. 

SHUSTER:  But, with gas prices rising and expected to go even higher, Hillary Clinton argues, the federal government must do something. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think it‘s time we had a president who understands both the impact of these gas prices...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

CLINTON:  ... and is prepared to do something about it. 

SHUSTER:  Clinton said a gas tax suspension is appropriate, wants to create a federal watchdog group for price-gouging, and argues the Trust Fund could be replenished with a new windfall profit tax on oil companies.  It‘s not clear if Congress would approve that tax.  And Republicans, including John McCain, say the suspension of the tax cut should not be met with new taxes on anybody. 

As the candidates picked a fight over gas policies today, Hillary Clinton picked up a high-profile North Carolina endorsement, Governor Mike Easley. 

GOV. MIKE EASLEY (D), NORTH CAROLINA:  It‘s time for somebody to be in the White House who understands the challenges we face in this country. 

SHUSTER:  Obama, though, tried to show he understands North Carolina passions.  Obama played basketball this morning with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, a squad that hardly ever plays defense as passively as this.  Meanwhile, new battles erupted today over harsh television ads. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

NARRATOR:  And “The Washington Post” wrote that what Obama would actually do remains a mystery in too many areas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The commercial attacking Obama on the economy was produced and paid for by a group of Clinton supporters.  The Obama campaign called the effort outrageous. 

BOB BAUER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN GENERAL COUNSEL:  This organization is a rogue organization that has decided to completely break the law. 

SHUSTER:  And the McCain campaign is blasting this ad from the Democratic National Committee. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Maybe 100.  That would be fine with me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The McCain campaign says his words were taken completely out of context. 

(on camera):  But the Democratic Party is hitting back, noting those were McCain‘s words. 

In the meantime, the Clinton/Obama battle over gas policy is erupting exactly one week before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. 

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is an Obama supporter.

Well, who wins the battle of the pander bears here, Governor?  Is coming out for a cut in the gas tax just an easy way to get votes, to buy them? 

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO:  Yes, it‘s a quick fix that doesn‘t work. 

When I was energy secretary with President Clinton, we were faced with the same situation, high gasoline prices, high oil prices.  The last thing you want to do is a gimmick, like a three-month tax holiday.  Not only is it bad energy policy, but this is money that goes away from the Highway Trust Fund. 

We need to rebuild our highways, our infrastructure, our electricity grid.  My state, for instance, would lose about $60 million if we did this gimmick for three months.  The right policy is what Obama says: a new policy that shifts dramatically from fossil fuels to renewable energy, to new technology, energy efficiency, conservation, the American people being more energy conscious and conserving. 

That‘s what we need to do.  We need a long-term policy that is going to mean a lot of sacrifices and changes in the way we live. 

MATTHEWS:  Do voters see through this?  Do they see what‘s opened, an obvious pander?  Or do they say, wait a minute, I need a break, I will take anything I can get?

RICHARDSON:  I think voters see—see a pander.  They see a—they know that half a gas tank that they‘re going to save over a three-month period is not the answer. 

They know that the major oil companies today are making huge profits, that what we need is a long-term policy that shifts away from fossil fuels, that we need strong conservation measures, that we need new investments in solar, wind, and biomass.  It‘s going to take some time, but the government has to be a partner.  And it also means, Chris, all of us, in our heating bills, in the way we deal with energy every day, appliances, we got to be more energy conscious and not have a quick gimmick for three months that is going to end, and is going to hurt the basic infrastructure of this country. 

We need to rebuild those highways.  Look what happened in Minneapolis with that bridge.  We need to repair those bridges around the country. 

MATTHEWS:  How does Barack Obama separate himself from Jeremiah Wright? 

RICHARDSON:  He did it today.  It should have been done sooner.  It was a total denunciation of Reverend Wright.  It was a total rejection.  It basically said, this guy‘s off on his own.  I‘m on the ballot, not Jeremiah Wright, who is trying to sell books.  It was is pretty, pretty, strong, strong rejection.  I wish this had come sooner, because now we can move on.  Now he‘s totally separated Reverend Wright from his campaign, but it probably should have been done sooner. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think it took him so long to shake this guy? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, I think that the impact of this man over the last four days, when he has shown strictly to be on his own, promoting his own interests, not caring about Senator Obama, basically trying to defend himself with outrageous statements about the government using AIDS and promoting HIV and Reverend Farrakhan; that the guy is obviously in it for himself. 

And, you know, Senator Obama, he was angry.  He was pained.  I was proud that he took such a strong stand. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about another person that won‘t leave Barack Obama, fairly enough.  Hillary Clinton has been doing well in Pennsylvania.  She won in Ohio.  She won in Texas.  Do you think she‘ll take a loss in June, or she‘ll hold on until August, no matter what happens, go right to the convention in Denver? 

RICHARDSON:  Now, I believe, Chris, after Indiana, after North Carolina, the primaries next week, I think you‘re going to see not just those coming primaries, but you‘re going to see a lot of new super delegates come forth and go with Senator Obama.  Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, a member of the Senate, just moved that way.  I think you‘re going to see many more in the southwest, some in my state. 

I think that‘s a trend, nationally.  So I believe that party elders—

And eventually there‘s going to be a view that it‘s best to end this very divisive campaign.  I just see John McCain smiling at what‘s happening.  He‘s going out in Democratic states being a statesman.  I think we need to end this divisiveness. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the Clintons have been so tough on you, saying that you promised them all those times to not back Barack Obama?  Why are they so vengeful towards you? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, I regret it very much, because I still have a lot of affection for them.  But, you know, I‘ve always said, there‘s a certain view that they‘re entitled to the presidency that they‘ve had.  And anybody that deviated from that, I believe, you know, is going to be the subject of their scorn.  I regret it very much because I still proudly have the photographs of President Clinton and Senator Clinton at our home.  That‘s not going to change.

But, you know, I felt I had to do that for the country, not for past ties.  And, you know, so be it.  But apparently they feel the same way towards a lot of other people that used to be in their administration.  But you‘re right, the intensity towards me was probably a lot more. 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if they have the self-aware to know that in calling you Judas, they were making a claim about themselves that was somewhat high. 

RICHARDSON:  Well, I just know that I go around at airports, people come to me and say that I did the right thing, that they‘re very upset at the way that I was called that name.  And at the same time, I think it shows a perception that it‘s very hard for them to let go of this entitlement they feel they have towards the presidency. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s almost by using the language of Judas; it sounds like divine right.  Thank you Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. 

RICHARDSON:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, the politics fix.  One week to the Indiana and North Carolina primaries.  That‘s next Tuesday, believe it or not.  The Reverend Wright dominates the news so far.  Today could be the end of Wright‘s rule.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight, we got a topic du jour.  Today‘s round table, Howard Fineman of “Newsweek,” the author of a great new book, “Thirteen American Arguments,” which is so deep.  I‘m just getting into it.  Margaret Carlson of “Bloomberg” and Ed Gordon, who is host of “Our World” with Black Enterprise. 

Margaret, you‘re in front of me.  I‘m going to ask you the question.  Did Barack Obama make the divorce work today?  Is he off this baby?  No more Jeremiah Wright to haunt his dreams. 

MARGARET CARLSON, “BLOOMBERG”:  I thought his handling of Jeremiah Wright has been disastrous up until now.  And I thought, today, it was human.  For the first time in a long time, I saw a politician actually reacting with the degree of humanity towards a situation that we all recognize.  I was looking at him, and I remembered, you know, being on the bus in high school when my best friend went and sat with someone else and I couldn‘t believe it.  There was a certain amount of hurt involved in this, that the guy has gone around the bend and decided to make this a personal attack on Obama himself. 

And I saw in Wright a vain, valuable guy who loves attention, to his detriment, looking to sell a book, probably get made for TV movie, who can‘t control himself.  And he could have said some things in sermons once in a while not out of anger.  You would never think he was an angry man.  You think he‘s a silly man. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Ed Gordon on that.  If seemed like we were getting the greatest hits from Jeremiah Wright all in one session with the National Press Club yesterday. 

ED GORDON, “OUR WORLD”:  With that, he made it very easy for Obama to distance himself.  I don‘t agree with Margaret in one sense, in terms of the handling.  She has to remember that there were a lot of black Americans, and I don‘t mean those on the fringe, who didn‘t always disagree with all of what Reverend Wright said.  But the antics of the last few days have made it very easy for Barack Obama to distance himself without looking like he was throwing this man, who was such an important part of his life, under the bus. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, do you also agree that it was an aggressive act by Jeremiah Wright yesterday that allowed Barack Obama to say enough. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Yes, I think so.  Yesterday, Chris, down in San Francisco, I had lunch with your friend and mine, Willie Brown, the former mayor and speaker and a very knowledgeable African-American politician.  He was contemptuous of the way the Obama people had been handling up to that point.  There are a lot of the Obama inner circle, including African-American leaders around the country, who thought Obama had botched it. 

But I spoke with Willie Brown just a few minutes ago.  I said, all right, what about now?  He said Obama finally did exactly the right thing.  To quote Willie Brown, it was everything but giving him a one-way bus ticket to Rwanda.  That‘s Willie Brown‘s quote, which is what Obama needed to do.  In Willie‘s estimation, Obama should have done it the day before he announced his candidacy in Springfield a year ago.  But he did finally do it.

People will still complain.  They will still argue, but Obama will now be able to go to the super delegates and go to the voters and say, look, I‘ve done everything.  That‘s not the same guy that I knew.  I thought that was well gone.  As Bill Richardson said, it should have been done a long time ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Margaret, he said today, from now only, whatever this other guy says, the Jeremiah Wright persona says, he‘s not me talking.  In fact, he‘s basically my enemy talking. 

CARLSON:  Well, it‘s not about what Wright believes.  It‘s what Obama believes.  And you can‘t now believe after having seen him that he subscribes to these things.  He was able—Most people won‘t have seen the National Press Club speech.  Once you see it, you can see how Obama would have gone along with the crazy uncle. 

MATTHEWS:  Ed Gordon, do you believe Barack Obama when he says, I had no idea that this guy was saying these radical things all these years?  I didn‘t know about it. 

GORDON:  I think it to a degree that—sometimes of the context, when

you hear it again, you have to think about the prisms.  There were a lot of

you does discussed it earlier in the show—a lot of African-Americans who attended that church, not on the fringe, who listened to Jeremiah Wright and did not walk out on Sunday thinking this man was a cook.  So I think you have to look at the prism that it was done. 

Ten thousand people in Detroit on Sunday listened to Jeremiah Wright at the NAACP dinner, gave him a standing ovation.  While all of those 10,000 didn‘t totally agree with him, they did not run him out of a rail.  But, again, with the fervor that he has shown over the last couple of days, even those who gave him a standing ovation on that night, rethought this. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come right back and talk about the next several days, which I think are critical in the campaign Indiana and in North Carolina.  I do believe, unless Barack wins both of these contests, the battle for the Democratic nomination for president is going all the way to Denver in August.  That‘s serious business.  We‘ll be back with the politics fix.  You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  Ed Gordon, I want to is you, it seems like Barack has to fight at least a three-front war right now.  He‘s got to fight Hillary Clinton for the nomination.  He‘s got to fight the Reverend Wright, to get him off his tail.  And he‘s got to change the subject to something where he can win votes with. 

GORDON:  Yes, I thank you‘re right, Chris.  You know, he fell off the wagon, if you will, with this lag time between primaries of this campaign of change.  Then he had to start fighting all this.  He has to find a way to get back to the idea that I‘m above this fray.  I‘m not going to bring you what you‘re used to.  He‘s smack dab in the middle of what we‘re used to and that‘s hurting him tremendously, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Howard, the same question to you.  How does he fend off the Reverend Wright, how does he change the subject, how does he beat Hillary in Indiana? 

FINEMAN:  Ed‘s right about having to make that message work, except that Hillary is trying to drag him into another debate, where she‘s taking the traditional political route.  I‘m talking about gas prices.  Obama‘s trying to take what he views as the high road.  He could get his brains beat out with it in both Indiana and North Carolina.  The Clinton campaign has a new ad that they‘re just putting up, bragging about Hillary‘s desire to have a mortgage foreclosure freeze and now a gas tax suspension.  She‘s trying to say, I will take action, traditional-type action.  Let that guy talk theory; I‘m talking fact and action. 

That‘s what she‘s trying to set up here.  It‘s dangerous for him. 

He‘s got to get ahead of that somehow.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s Hubert Humphrey.  It‘s hard to beat Hubert Humphrey in the Democratic party.  He‘s the old grand guy that would be for guns and butter.  He was for war and he was for domestic—He promised everything.  How do you beat that in the Democratic party?

CARLSON:  He‘s going to have to come up with something to answer the gas forgiveness that looks more substantive.  It‘s a stunt.  It‘s an absolute stunt. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me try something that‘s deep; Mark Penn was trying to run a general election campaign with Hillary Clinton, tough on the war, tough on security, willing to risk primary, liberal votes.  It seems like the change policy with Jeff Gerren.  The policy now is win the next primary, whatever it is.  Give out the money, where‘s the check. 

CARLSON:  Just roll it out.  Obama can starve the Wright story now.  He‘s answered.  He‘s done.  Wright will self-destruct on his own.  He‘ll have to give the laundry list of speeches and hand out his own money.  But he can‘t follow her on this gas tax. 

MATTHEWS:  This reminds me, Ed Gordon, of Bill Clinton being accused of being a pander bear by Paul Tsongas in 1992.  Guess what?  The pander bear, with his pandering on Middle East policy, whether it‘s obliterating Iran, his version of that, or I‘m going to give you everything you want in Social Security without you paying for it—pandering tends to work in the Democratic party, doesn‘t it? 

GORDON:  Pandering works, particularly in an economy and the situations that we find middle America in right now.  They want some pandering.  He‘s going to have to find a way to do that and still look new. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, last word, will pandering sell? 

FINEMAN:  Yes, it will sure sell, especially when she makes it look like she‘s the person of action.  She‘s the one who wants to take action and Obama is too busy giving speeches.  That‘s her theme for the rest of this very long primary season. 

MATTHEWS:  The best thing in politics is to prove that something that‘s easy to do looks hard to do.  You deserve credit for it.  Ronald Reagan cut taxes.  That was tough.  Thank you Howard Fineman.  Thank you Margaret Carlson.  Thank you Ed Gordon.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, hosted tonight by David Shuster.

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

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