updated 6/12/2008 12:26:04 PM ET 2008-06-12T16:26:04

Guests:  Tucker Carlson, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Cecile Richards, Ellen Moran, Michelle Bernard, Wayne Slater

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Will women rally around the flag, the Democratic flag?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Does Barack Obama have a problem with women?  He lost women overwhelmingly to Hillary Clinton, and a brand-new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows that he still has a lot of work to do against John McCain with a key group, suburban women.  The poll found that while Hillary Clinton would beat John McCain among suburban women by 14 points—look at this difference—Barack Obama loses among that group to McCain by 6 points, a 20-point difference.  She wins by 14, he loses by 6.

With an election this close, those suburban women may be absolutely critical to deciding who wins and who loses in November.  In just a moment, we‘ll be joined by three powerful high-profile, politically active women who may have a big say in how women vote in the fall.

Also, did John McCain just get himself in trouble again talking about U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq?  Here he is this morning on the “Today” show talking to Matt Lauer.  Pay special attention to the first thing he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, “TODAY”:  If it‘s working, Senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No, but that‘s not too important.  What‘s important is the casualties in Iraq.  Americans are in South Korea.  Americans are in Japan.  American troops are in Germany.  That‘s all fine.  American casualties, and the ability to withdraw—we will be able to withdraw...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Democrats have wasted no time in focusing on those first words, that when American forces come home is, quote, “not important”?  Did McCain step into it again, or are Democrats distorting his larger meaning?

Also—Well, that didn‘t take long.  The head of Obama‘s vice presidential search committee is out just days after he was in.  Why Jim Johnson was forced to step down so fast in the “Politics Fix.”  And in the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight, forget about Judge Wapner.  How about TV judge -- catch this—Al D‘Amato?  No joke.

And we want to let you know that we have a complete report tonight on that NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll on tonight‘s 7:00 o‘clock edition of HARDBALL.  I promise you, you don‘t want to miss that one.

But first: Does Obama have a problem with women voters?  Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and she supported Hillary Clinton during the long primary fight.  She looks smiling and happy as ever.  Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood.  Cecile, thank you for coming on for the first time.  And Ellen Moran is the executive director of Emily‘s List—I don‘t think it‘s her list—a political action committee that supports pro-choice Democratic women candidates.

Kathleen, old pal—Governor Townsend, properly known as...

KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND (D), FORMER MARYLAND LT. GOV.:  Thank you, Chris.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  ... the feeling among people you talk to personally about Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate, is their love growing?  Is affection growing, acceptance?  How would you describe the mood right now among Democratic women?

TOWNSEND:  It‘s going to grow.  I mean, very—very clearly, it‘s very tough to lose.  It‘s tough to have your candidate lose.  I think there‘s you know, a period of mourning for many women to see their dreams dashed that they would have the first woman president.

But that‘s going to change and Obama is going to get the strong support of the women.  He‘s going to reach out, as he‘s a very good candidate.  And at the end of the day, we‘re going to say, Who‘s going to be the best for women and for families and for our country?  It‘s going to be Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Cecile, what are your thoughts about this poll we have now, that we can release right now, the “Wall Street Journal”/NBC poll that basically breaks out suburban women.  I know there‘s a sort of a notion of a suburban person as someone with a little more wealth than an inner-city person, perhaps than a rural person.  That person is way off base, if you‘re a Democrat right now.  That candidate—that voter is 14 points ahead for McCain, the woman from the suburbs.

CECILE RICHARDS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD:  I think these—look, I think these women are absolutely coming over to Senator Obama.  I think what we‘ve found at Planned Parenthood—we‘re a health care provider to—you know, one in four women come to Planned Parenthood in their lifetime.  And what we find is that when women learn more about Senator McCain‘s record, particularly on issues like women‘s health care, they absolutely leave him and recognize that they have a much better choice in Senator Obama.  Senator McCain has a zero percent voting record with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on a whole host of women‘s health care issues, and most women are really surprised to find that out.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  A Gallup tracking poll of women shows that Obama has widened his lead over McCain from 5 points last week to 13 points this week.  So your thought, Emily, about this whole feeling thing?  I‘m trying to get—I believe there‘s a swirl in American politics right now, of attitude, of feelings.  It‘s very unsettled.  That‘s my view.

ELLEN MORAN, EMILY‘S LIST:  Well, the primary just ended last week.  And certainly, those who worked so hard for Senator Clinton are taking a tough loss.  They‘re moving through it.  But, you know, there‘s a Gallup poll out this morning that shows Barack Obama has jumped, you know, 13 points from where he was among women.

And I think, again, as the clear picture of the choice between Senator Obama and Senator McCain comes into focus for all women, Senator McCain has very little to say to them.  You know, how are we going to get our kids out of Iraq?  What are we going to do about health care?  Cecile‘s talked about women‘s health issues.  There‘s not a lot of positive things that McCain can say to win these women over, and they‘ve always been a battleground in the general election.

MATTHEWS:  Kathleen, Governor Townsend, you have a lot of dispute within your own family.  I mean, I talked to, who was it, Ethel Kennedy, your mom...

TOWNSEND:  There are a number of them!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I talked to her.  I haven‘t talked to—I bumped into Caroline somewhere up in New York.  Certainly, Senator Kennedy is on one side, Patrick, your cousin, Maria, your cousin.  But then you‘ve got a bunch of your siblings on your side.  It‘s always fun to talk about the Kennedys because there are so many of you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But how‘s that coming together, just for a little novelty here?  How‘s it in the family?

TOWNSEND:  It‘s—you know, it‘s terrific.  Actually, we were all together just last Friday, as you can imagine, and we talked about how we‘re going to move over to Barack Obama.  My mother is having an event at Hickory Hill on Wednesday night for Barack Obama, and we‘re—many, many of my siblings are going to be there.  So you know, just as—if Barack Obama can bring the Kennedy family together, he can bring the country together.

MATTHEWS:  Cecile, you come from a famous family.  Of course, your mom was the governor of Texas, the famous, wonderful Ann Richards, which everybody—well, I think everybody liked Ann Richards.  Let me ask you this about your feelings and what you think of Barack Obama as a candidate for president.  Is he inspiring on women‘s issues or just sort of OK?  Is he in trouble?

RICHARDS:  He is a remarkable candidate—he‘s a remarkable candidate on women‘s issues.  And I have to say that for women in this country, obviously, Senator Clinton‘s candidacy was historic, exciting, brought our millions of people to vote.  She got nearly 18 million votes in this election.  So women‘s excitement about this election I think has never been greater.  And I think that these women are going to recognize in Senator Obama an incredible leader.  And he‘s been a great leader for Planned Parenthood on women‘s health issues.  He has a long record, you know, in the Illinois legislature and in the United States Senate fighting for women‘s health care, affordable health care for women.

And I like to think, if mom was with us, I know that she would be out there stumping for Barack Obama and seeing in him an incredible father, an incredible husband, raised by a really tough, strong woman.  And I think she would have related to him.  I know she cared very deeply about him before, and I think that...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RICHARDS:  Again, I think women are going to rally around and I think he‘s going to inspire an unbelievable record turnout in this country.

MATTHEWS:  Ellen Moran, you—well, you‘re pretty young, I guess.  I can‘t tell anymore.  I guess you‘re young.  You‘re young.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re very young.  I‘m just trying to say because in every

in every category of voter...

TOWNSEND:  Chris, at what point...

MATTHEWS:  ... whether it‘s African-American—I‘m sorry.  Who was talking?  Go ahead.

TOWNSEND:  I‘m just wondering about when you can tell and not tell.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m—I‘m a fool.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘ll make the blogs!  Let me ask you about this because in every ethnic group—I don‘t even like the term “race” because we‘re all the same race.  But in every ethnic group, in every—the gender female—female, male—there‘s this tremendous age thing that‘s going on.  We looked at—every night we covered an election, primary, we‘d look at the breakout.  And if it was 60 -- if anybody—under 30 voted for Barack Obama, the majority, then we figured he lost.  If it was about 45, he carried.  He won.  You know what I mean, as it moved up?  But is this among activist women, feminists, is—there seemed to be a break there, too, on age.

MORAN:  Well, certainly, Barack Obama had a tremendous appeal to young people of all stripes.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MORAN:  And that is something to be celebrated.  And I think, you know, Senator Clinton brought millions of new women into this process, women who had never voted before, women who had waited their whole lives to see a woman run for president.  And frankly, there‘s not—there weren‘t a huge number of differences on major policy issues between the two candidates.  And the fact that they each brought different constituencies to the table, I think, bodes well for Democrats in the fall as we move forward because now it‘s time to come together.

And you know, certainly, a case needs to be made by Senator Obama to these women to bring them on board.  He‘s taking important steps to do that.  He‘s going to do that.  And Hillary Clinton, it should be said, is going to play a major role in this general election to bring these people around.

MATTHEWS:  I want to come back to a hot issue, I think, for all of you, and that is this issue of abortion rights, reproductive rights.  I have a sense that younger women—and I‘ll make a judgment here because I think younger people generally don‘t know what it was like ever to abortion outlawed, punishable for doctors and everybody, criminalized, if you will.  They don‘t know what it was like, and therefore, their sensitivity on this issue, younger people, may not be as extreme as women who have a memory, at least, of what it was like.

We‘ll be right back with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Cecile Richards and Ellen Moran to talk about how this abortion rights issue may be breaking for Barack Obama and against John McCain as people become more aware of where McCain stands on Roe v Wade.  He wants to get rid of it.

And later: John McCain says the timing of when U.S. troops can come home from Iraq is “not too important.”  Democrats have already seized on that comment.  Who wins this political fight over the war in Iraq, McCain or Obama?  That‘s ahead in the “Politics Fix.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, and Ellen Moran, the executive director of Emily‘s List.

Amazing new number came out today.  Planned Parenthood commissioned this poll by Peter Hart, the much respected Democratic pollster who is also part of the “Wall Street Journal”/NBC poll operation, that says that 50 percent of American women voters today in key battleground states don‘t know John McCain‘s position on abortion rights.  In fact, 36 percent, more than a third, of pro-choice McCain voters are less likely to vote for him once they figure out that he wants to get rid of Roe v Wade.  Ellen?

MORAN:  Yes?

MATTHEWS:  This is a lot of—a lack of information that seems to be important to this election that could hurt McCain.

MORAN:  Well, sure.  We‘re just a week into the general election, and the case hasn‘t been made for these two candidates.  Elections are about choices, and I think, you know, certainly, Senator Obama‘s campaign has a lot of work to do in framing that choice.  All of the allied forces, the groups that work on these issues, need to make the case to these women voters because there is a lack of information out there.  And once this information comes to light, it‘s going to be really bad news for Senator McCain.

MATTHEWS:  Kathleen, how—this is going to get—I don‘t think anybody is a total one-issue voter.  Choice is a major issue with a lot of people, but they also consider—let‘s face it, economic income bracket changes people‘s voting.  Poor women don‘t vote the same as rich women.  Rich people don‘t vote the same as poor people.  How does this break out in a woman‘s vote?  I mean, how do they decide this thing?

TOWNSEND:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  If they‘re well off and they want a lower tax break and yet they want rights, how do they decide these things?

TOWNSEND:  Well, I think pro-choice becomes more important with this Supreme Court.  And the fact is that for many years, the Republicans have scared people about—you know, run on abortion and people could vote for Republicans because they knew it wouldn‘t matter, it wouldn‘t make a difference as to who would actually win.  But this year, it will really matter.  If there‘s one more Republican vote on the Supreme Court, it is very possible that Roe v Wade will be overturned, and it will throw people into disarray as to what will happen when they‘re in trouble.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TOWNSEND:  I mean, we were young—we‘re young enough—or old enough, I guess, Chris, to remember that there are friends who needed to have an abortion.  Some of them didn‘t live.  Some of them died.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I‘ve heard the stories.  I didn‘t know about it at the time, but I‘ve heard about it since, about how a girl who has a pregnancy, who doesn‘t want to—can‘t deal with it and has to—and wants to deal with it her way, they had to do all kinds of thing that you don‘t have to do today.

Let me ask you, Cecile, this whole question.  Are you amazed that that many—I was looking at the poll results as we covered the Florida primary for the Republicans.  So many pro-choice Republican voters—women, I guess—voted for McCain.  How do you explain it?

RICHARDS:  Right.  Right.  I think it‘s—you pointed—it‘s a very important point, Chris.  First, we know from the Planned Parenthood poll that you just mentioned, half of McCain women‘s supporters are pro-choice and they have no idea where he is on these issues.  But it‘s not simply that he wants to actually overturn Roe, that he has stated he wants to overturn Roe, it‘s that he‘s voted against every women‘s health issue that we‘ve ever worked on—affordable family planning, cancer screening for low-income women, and on and on.

And I think actually—I find all across the country, women are really surprised and really dismayed to find out that a candidate who they thought of as a maverick is so out of touch with women‘s health care needs in this country.  I think it‘s going to be a huge problem for him.  And I really think that‘s why women voters, when they learn more about John McCain, they‘re going to simply say, This is a risk we can‘t take.  And I think it‘s going to be a problem.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder, you know, a lot of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Kathleen.  Go ahead.  I‘m sorry.

TOWNSEND:  Yes, I think it‘s a problem because it shows how out of touch he is with women.  I mean, you know, he‘s been great on national security.  That‘s where his strength comes from, and you know that.  But there are going to be a lot of issues in this campaign and people are going to want to know about economic issues and who‘s paying attention to them and who cares about their family at home.  And very frankly, he has not made a place for him, made a mark for him on those kind of issues, on bread and butter issues, on how people live every single day.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TOWNSEND:  And I think that‘s going to hurt a great deal with women.

MATTHEWS:  Ellen, last word.  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead, Cecile.

RICHARDS:  I think that‘s exactly right.  OK.  I mean, I think that‘s exactly right, and I think, again, the difference between Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama on affordable health care for women—the difference is as vast as the Grand Canyon.  And women are going to find that out and I think are simply not going to be able to support John McCain for president.

MATTHEWS:  Ellen...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘re all in different places.  It‘s complicated.  Go ahead, Kathleen.  Then Ellen.

TOWNSEND:  I know.  I mean, I was just going to say, and it‘s not just that he‘s bad on women‘s issues.  It‘s also that on national security, Barack Obama made the right vote on the war and therefore...

MORAN:  That‘s correct.

TOWNSEND:  ... is going to be able to say, Look, I know how to protect America.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TOWNSEND:  I know how to make us strong.  So it‘s—so he‘s going to be good on both of those issues for Americans—for American women and for all Americans.

MATTHEWS:  Ellen, last word.

MORAN:  Well, in building on what the other panelists have said—look, this is a whole package that is going to be exposed for women voters.  And it‘s women‘s health care, but this is a guy who also voted against reauthorizing SCHIP.  This is a guy whose health care plan takes it away from the employer-based system that‘s working for a number of Americans now and...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s SCHIP?

MORAN:  SCHIP is the Children‘s Health Insurance Initiative...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MORAN:  ... that allows kids to get health care who are in low-income families.  A lot of kids, million of kids, get...

MATTHEWS:  I remember.  That was a big fight, too, a few months ago.

MORAN:  ... their health insurance—right.

MATTHEWS:  A huge fight on the Hill, yes.

MORAN:  And so, you know, this is a whole package, and you know, it‘s really...

MATTHEWS:  SCHIP finally got vetoed, didn‘t it

MORAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And did it get overridden?

MORAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  OK, it‘s dead.  OK, thank you—this time.  Anyway, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Cecile Richards, Ellen Moran.  And up next: Judge Wapner says hello to Judge D‘Amato.  That‘s coming up on HARDBALL.  The “Sideshow‘s” kind of funny tonight.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Love that merry-go-round.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

Well, there is no problem too small for Senator Al D‘Amato.  Remember him from New York?  He was known as Senator Pothole, because he was willing to listen to any constituent complaint, no matter how small. 

Well, now that he is out of office, the former senator is taking his brand to the small screen, to television.  According to “The New York Post,” D‘Amato is shooting a pilot for a “Judge Judy” type court show, in which he will wear judge‘s robes and preside over small-claims cases. 

My idea for the title, “What‘s the Matter With Al D‘Amato.” 

Well, it seems like Barack Obama has mastered at least one art of politics, personal attention-giving, or at least the appearance of it.  Scarlett Johansson has taken time out of her acting career to stump for Obama.  And according to ThePolitico.com, she trades frequent e-mail with the Democratic nominee, talking about everything, from his debate performances, to his favorite Hollywood movies. 

The “Other Boleyn Girl” star says, “I feel like I‘m supporting someone and having a personal dialogue with them, and it is amazing.”

Ah, the people who meet in politics. 

Mitt Romney may be in limbo over his V.P. prospects, but he‘s dealing with the situation in style.  ThePolitico.com reports that the Romneys, Mitt and Ann, have just bought this $12 million Pacific Coast home out in La Jolla, California.  The real estate posting describes it as a rare beachfront residence with manicured lawns and mature landscaping, a lap pool, and a spa. 

By the way, according to “The National Journal,” Romney is leading—the number-one leading candidate among Republican insiders to be McCain‘s running mate.  Is the real estate deal a chance to challenge Obama in—in California this November?  I love political repositioning. 

And now for tonight‘s edition of “Name That Veep.”  “The New Republic” magazine came out this week with their list of potential number twos.  Can you guess which big-state governor a “New Republic” writer is describing here?  Quote—catch these words—“A large, hairy bear of a man,” this person “would enliven Washington in a way nobody has in years, more Jackie Mason than Jack Kennedy, one of the smartest, most intuitive politicians in the country.  He calls it as he sees it.  And that makes him the most compelling of men.”

So, who is it?  Pennsylvania Governor Eddie Rendell.  I tell you, this guy would surround that slice of ham, Obama, with so much rye bread, he would have the whole state of Florida munching on it. 

And now it is time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

As we told you earlier in the show, Senator John McCain said this morning on NBC‘s “Today Show” that estimating the time of withdrawal of our troops from Iraq—quote—“was not too important.”

Well, the war in Iraq has become a protracted struggle that many in this administration never predicted would last this long.  So, just how long has it been since the United States invaded Iraq?  Nine hundred and 10 days, so, for five years that the troops have been at war.  “Not too important,” that phrase, may go down with “mission impossible” and “We will be greeted as liberators,” as an example of the many ridiculous statements used to describe this war -- 1,910 days, tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  How will the war in Iraq affect who Americans vote for this November?  We will ask chief NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARY THOMPSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Mary Thompson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

Stocks plunge, as oil prices soar, the Dow Jones industrial average tumbling nearly 206 points, to its lowest level in nearly three months.  The S&P 500 fell almost 23 points, and the Nasdaq dropped almost 55.

Oil ended a two-day slide, after the Energy Department reported a larger-than-expected drop this week in U.S. inventories and as the dollar weakened.  Crude rose $5.07 in New York trade, closing at $136.38 a barrel. 

In the meantime, gasoline rose to another record high, AAA saying the national average for regular climbed another penny to $4.05 a gallon. 

The Federal Reserve‘s latest snapshot of the economy shows it remained generally weak heading into the summer, with consumers feeling the pinch from rising food and energy costs. 

And some late-breaking news:  Anheuser-Busch says it has received an unsolicited bid from the Belgian beer giant InBev for $65 a share.  Anheuser-Busch‘s shares close up 2 percent today at over $58 a share. 

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

HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Today, the issue of the Iraq war came roaring back into the 2008 presidential race.  It started when Matt Lauer of “The Today Show” asked Senator John McCain about the surge in Iraq and bringing American troops home. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  If it‘s now working, Senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No, but that‘s not too important.  What‘s important is the casualties in Iraq.  Americans are in South Korea.  Americans are in Japan.  American troops are in Germany.  That‘s all fine. 

American casualties and the ability to withdraw—we will be able to withdraw.  General Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are.  But the key to it is, we don‘t want any more Americans in harm‘s way.  And that way, they will be safe, and serve our country, and come home with honor and victory, not in defeat, which is what Senator Obama‘s proposal would have done.

LAUER:  Senator...

MCCAIN:  And I‘m proud of them, and they‘re doing a great job.  And we are succeeding.  And it‘s fascinating that Senator Obama still doesn‘t realize that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Senator Obama‘s campaign pounced on that quickly, honing in on those first few words of Senator McCain‘s. 

Here‘s Obama supporter John Kerry of Massachusetts on the today‘s—on today‘s Obama conference call. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  It is unbelievably out of touch and inconsistent with the needs and concerns of Americans, and particularly the families of the troops who are over there.  To them, it is the most important thing in the world, when they come home.  And it is the most important thing in the world that we have a commander in chief who understands how you can bring them home. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, then the campaign of John McCain punched back on their conference call. 

Here‘s South Dakota Senator, a Republican, John Thune. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN THUNE ®, SOUTH DAKOTA:  It is a deliberate distortion that is trying to change the subject.  The Democrats are trying to blow this up as an issue because they don‘t want to talk about the success of the surge and the stability that has been delivered throughout Iraq. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Richard Engel is NBC News chief foreign affairs—actually, foreign correspondent, and author of the new book “War Journal:  “My Five Years in Iraq.”  I know, Richard—congratulations on this amazing book.  I will read you‘re the best over there.  So, let me ask you about life over there right now. 

If the Iraqi people could have a plebiscite tomorrow, and everybody could vote in a secret ballot, would the majority tell us to leave or to stay? 

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  That debate is actually going on right now in Iraq, Chris. 

There is a discussion going on in Iraqi politics and on the streets about a long-term security agreement between the United States and Iraq.  And many Iraqis are concerned that this means permanent bases in Iraq. 

According to officials who are involved in the negotiations, they say that it is not about setting up long-term bases in Iraq.  It is about setting up a framework to have a military presence in Iraq. 

But this discussion has generated considerable debate among Iraqis.  If you asked people in the country, they want a withdrawal, but they want something that it is gradual.  They don‘t want to see a return to the levels of violence that were in Iraq in ‘06 and early ‘07. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, reconcile or put together what Senator McCain just said on “The Today Show” with Matt Lauer about really having an indefinite commitment to staying there with their concern we have an indefinite commitment to stay there.  I mean, isn‘t McCain saying the very thing they‘re afraid of, that we are never going to leave? 

ENGEL:  What John McCain said about the troops, I think, doesn‘t always—it is not what I‘m always hearing from the troops themselves. 

He said that they‘re—the most important thing for them is when they come back.  Obviously, it is very important for the troops to—and their families—to know how long this commitment is.  But the troops also feel, according to interviews and when I have spent time with them, that it is important that they continue to have success in Iraq, and that all of their hard work is not thrown away. 

There have been considerable gains in Iraq over the last year.  You can walk around the streets much more than you could a year ago.  Markets are opening up.  More people are going to school.  Violence has gone down considerably. 

But, at the same time, Iraqis and Americans don‘t want the troops there inevitably, and—don‘t want them there forever, I should say.  Right now, the—according to the—the command structure, there are about 150,000 troops.  According to General Petraeus and the plans that are under way, about 10,000 should be coming home by this summer, at which stage, General Petraeus has asked for a pause to reevaluate. 

At this stage, if it is successful and stability is maintained, one would assume that more troops would then come after that and start coming off.  I think the real debate that the future leader of this country is going to have to face is, how quickly does that off-lining or the pullback of troop take place?  Is it quick or is it fast—or is it slow? 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know if you can answer this.  It is a policy question.  But the debate in this country, as you know, being back here and being in touch with this, is, should we pull out eventually over, say, two years, over five years?  Is there any real difference in what we can get done?

In other words, if we could pull out starting in six months, would we be able to accomplish anything less than if we started to pull out in six years?  Is there anything getting better over there in terms of the lives we‘re losing? 

ENGEL:  There are...

MATTHEWS:  Is it worth it to stay another three or four years, if we‘re eventually going to come home?  If we‘re always going to be there, and John McCain is talking about a 100-year occupation under some sort of notion of no casualties, it‘s probably not worth the debate. 

But if the debate is over whether we stay two years, two months, 10 years, is there a real set of metrics that you can say, we‘re getting things done?

ENGEL:  There—it is not just the troop levels that are determining the security in Iraq.  So, it is not the only factor in the debate. 

One of the reasons that surge had a strategic impact on the ground and was able to bring violence down was because there was a new battle plan, a new commander in General David Petraeus, a new way of spreading out the troops, instead of keeping them on bases.  There were obviously more of them. 

But there was also this alliance with Sunni tribes, the Sons of Iraq program.  There are about 100,000 people, many of whom are fighting the Americans, are now fighting alongside the Americans. 

If that were to—that alliance were to break, it would be a game-changing event.  And, so, it is not just the pullback of troops that you have to look at as a factor there.  You have to look at this very strategic alliance. 

There has also been a gradual improvement of the Iraqi army.  There are places, neighborhoods where, a year ago, U.S. troops were going in, doing clearing operations, then pulling out, only to see death squads and militia leaders going in at night and taking over those areas.  Now there are times where they will clear an area and actually hand it over to Iraqi troops. 

That said, it is not a consistent picture.  I was in one of the biggest firefights I have ever seen in Iraq just a few weeks ago.  So, where it is still violent, it remains very violent.  What you‘re asking is a difficult question.  Is it worth it to stay there if we‘re going to pull out eventually? 

If we pulled out immediately, most—most people in Iraq say there will be a return to chaos.  If you can do it at a reasonable rate of pulling back, keeping all of the other factors, keeping the alliance with the Sunni tribes on track...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ENGEL:  ... keeping the Iraqi army building, then there is an argument to it to say that it should take—be a gradual pullback. 

MATTHEWS:  Hard out—hard out coming up. 

Richard, you‘re the best. 

The book is called “War Journal,” by the guy who knows what is going on.  He‘s there every day of his life for all these years, speaks Arabic, is on the ground over there.  What a great picture. 

Up next: the “Politics Fix” and what John McCain‘s comments about U.S.  troops means for the race.  Is it important how long we stay there, politically? 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, MSNBC senior campaign correspondent Tucker Carlson, and Wayne Slater of the “Dallas Morning News.” 

Wayne, let‘s go to John McCain, the Republican candidate, saying this

let watch this.  Let everybody take a look at the whole bite of this thing.  Here‘s Matt Lauer on “The Today Show” asking John McCain about this commitment of troops to Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER:  If it is working, senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq? 

MCCAIN:  No, but that‘s not too important.  What is important is the casualties in Iraq.  Americans are in South Korea.  Americans are in Japan.  American troops are in Germany.  That‘s all fine.  American casualties and the ability to withdraw.  We will be able to withdraw.  General Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are.  But the key to it is we don‘t want any more Americans in harm‘s way.  And that way they‘ll be safe and serve our country and come home with honor and victory, not in defeat, which is what Senator Obama‘s proposal would have done. 

And I‘m proud of them and they‘re doing a great job and we are succeeding.  And it is fascinating that Senator Obama still doesn‘t realize that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Wayne, let me ask you the question.  It seems to me, if we could elect a General Eisenhower, who had won World War II, we could have some confidence that he could end this war and end the casualties.  There is John McCain talking about becoming president and basically reducing to almost none the casualties we face over there.  How do you do that with the war still going on? 

WAYNE SLATER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”:  Well, look, there is no way any Democrat is going to seriously challenge John McCain and make people think that he doesn‘t care about the troops.  There was something about the tone in what he said that suggested that.  That won‘t fly.  But Americans do care about when the troops come back.  The rest of the statement about the casualties I think most Americans agree with.  It is that this about how long are we going to be there.  Americans do think it is important. 

I think the way it works against McCain is if Democrats are successful between now and November in tying that idea about staying here 100 years or eight years or—it is not important—to the bigger idea, are we going to get mired down in something in Iran.  We‘ll hear a lot about Iran between now and November, to the extent that the people on the Democratic side can say that McCain has these neo-cons around him, who are likely to move us aggressively and forcefully in Iran.  That‘s when it hurts. 

MATTHEWS:  On that point, George Will was just in that chair, Tucker, the other night.  And he said if you vote for McCain, you‘re voting for war.  There will be a war with Iran.  Iran wants a nuclear program.  He says, if they try get to one, we‘ll blow them up.  We‘re going to war. 

Let me ask you about the earlier point today, the big news story today.  What is John McCain talking about when he is talking about a long term American commitment to that country of Iraq without casualties?  How do you keep troops in a war zone without suffering casualties? 

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC SENIOR CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT:  Only if it is no longer a war zone is that‘s possible, like South Korea.  You have to pacify the country in order for that to work.  His proposal is actually not so different from Hillary Clinton‘s former proposal, Barack Obama‘s current proposal, which is you keep troops there to train Iraqi soldiers, to fight al Qaeda, and protect American installations, which everyone agrees are there on an indefinite basis. 

MATTHEWS:  So take them out of action. 

CARLSON:  Yes, but nobody is proposing taking them out of action.  Both candidates are proposing using American troops with guns, not peace keepers, soldiers, to fight al Qaeda and to train Iraqi troops. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re in a fighting war?

CARLSON:  Everybody agrees. 

MATTHEWS:  What is this about no casualties?  What‘s he talking about? 

How do we have no casualties in a war? 

CARLSON:  It‘s a goal, he‘s saying.

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  He has gone from A to Z. 

MATTHEWS:  What world do you have a war with no casualties? 

BERNARD:  He‘s gone from A to Z without explaining how you get there.  The bottom line, he can‘t say to the American public, but I think what he is talking about what the future looks like, and has not discussed the fact that we‘ll there be for a long period of time.  You can‘t be in a country and have no casualties unless you are—

MATTHEWS:  Let me give the example.  He always talks about this being Korea, Wayne.  It‘s going to be like Korea, where you have a long term commitment of troops but generally no casualties, year after year.  But Eisenhower went into Korea and cut an armistice deal.  Within six months, there was no war.  We accepted the awful 38th parallel.  We lived with it as a dividing point.  Does McCain have a plan like that to have an armistice in Iraq and end the fighting and killing? 

SLATER:  Right, we haven‘t seen it.  And Michelle is right.  The problem is, A, how do we get to that, Z.  How do you negotiate some kind of armistice with various terrorist groups, which are related in some ways, but totally unrelated in other ways.  There doesn‘t seem to be a way to get to that point where we just have troops in Korea or somewhere in Europe and a nice peaceful arrangement.  I don‘t think the American people have seen it.  If they don‘t, I‘m not sure they‘ll buy off on this idea. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we getting too picky?  This election season is brutal for statements.  Everything is attacked, whether it‘s gender or it is sexism or it‘s racism.  Here‘s a guy saying, it is not that important.  Is that anti-service man, service women?  Is that going to be taken that way, he doesn‘t care?

CARLSON:  It is an unwise formulation, because it plays to the perception that he is insensitive about this stuff.  On the other hand, here‘s the context; four generations of his family served in the military professionally, including currently.  So overseas deployments are seen differently by the McCain‘s than by most people.  But he shouldn‘t have said it.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s no chicken hawk.

CARLSON:  He‘s certainly not a chicken hawk.  Any time the conversation goes to foreign policy and defense, John McCain benefits.  You‘ll never change my mind on that. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re with me on that.  Topic decides winner. 

CARLSON:  Do you think there‘s no question about it.  You think the Obama people want to talk about this?  I bet they don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t this fall into the old trap of his 100 years formulation, when you start saying you don‘t care how long? 

BERNARD:  It starts to fall into the trap.  What he has got going on his side, for example, if Barack Obama had said it, the public would never have forgiven it.  John McCain saying it, he was a prisoner of war, he fought in Vietnam, he has this great legacy of serving our nation, so people seem to forgive it, ignore it, not hear it.  But something goes on when he makes these statements. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the hot question, Tucker.  You‘re very good at the unexpected question.  Here it is: a lot of people say we‘ve been very fortunate and very well protected since 9/11 not to be hit again.  It is a combination, probably, of good defense, good Homeland Security, good intelligence, perhaps, to some extent, our aggressive foreign policy.  We‘ll never know for sure.  What happens if we get hit between now and election day?  What happens politically in an attack on America? 

CARLSON:  It could go either way.  My gut feeling is we revert to type.  You want a strong leader in a time of crisis. 

MATTHEWS:  You go right. 

CARLSON:  I think you go right. 

MATTHEWS:  Go right?

BERNARD:  I agree.

MATTHEWS:  Wayne, do we go right faced with a threat—with an actual attack between now and November. 

SLATER:  You bet.  This is a change election.  An attack would make it a choice election, like 2005.  We want somebody on the porch with a gun to kill the bad guys.  John McCain benefits. 

MATTHEWS:  You are down in Texas, aren‘t you?  Are you the guy on the porch in your house? 

SLATER:  No, I want John McCain there for me. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.  We‘ll be right back with more.  We got to talk when we get back about this shake-up.  It‘s so quick.  This guy was named to head the selection of the vice president‘s committee what, 30 hours ago?  He‘s gone now.  We‘re going to come back about Jim Johnson, how quickly—What is it?  Today is peacock; tomorrow is feather duster.  More with the round table and the politics when we come back.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  Tucker, it is amazing how quickly interesting new campaigns, novel new approaches like Barack Obama, become typical campaigns.  Today, they announced that Jim Johnson, the guy who was going to help pick the vice-presidential running mate, a pretty big job, along with Caroline Kennedy and who else?  Eric Holder, the top lawyer in town.  Those three were going to do the picking.  Now we‘re told Jim Johnson is not one of the guys doing the picking. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Because of his connection to getting a loan from this company. 

CARLSON:  I‘m the only person in America who feels this way.  I want people like Jim Johnson around Barack Obama.  Barack Obama has the thinnest resume of any modern presidential candidate with a shot of actually winning.  Very talented, not much experience.  You want people who know how the government actually works, who know how Washington works.  Bush, Clinton, both came here with contempt for Washington, the idea that they knew a better way.  They didn‘t know a better way. 

MATTHEWS:  You want someone with a few notches on his belt. 

CARLSON:  Many notches.  This guy has them.  I don‘t care if he worked at Fannie Mae.  Barack Obama wants to hold a moral measure to the people in his government.  I want a competence measure. 

MATTHEWS:  You have the same problem with this firing or dumping as you did with getting rid of Samantha Power. 

CARLSON:  He can hire Satan, as long as Satan knows what he is doing. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a strong position, Michelle.  Are you that tough? 

BERNARD:  I wouldn‘t want him to hire Lucifer to work for him.  But whether it is the Obama campaign or McCain, McCain has Charlie Black.  You are not going to hire anyone who has any sense of how Washington works or how our government works.  You can‘t hire anyone in this town that actually knows what they‘re doing unless they have some job experience and inevitably you‘ll run into conflicts of interest.  I think this was silly.  That being said, the whole story was going to be about Jim Johnson.  So he didn‘t really have a choice. 

MATTHEWS:  Wayne, are the saints going to come marching in to Washington?  Nobody has ever been here before?  I worked for a fellow who used to brag about never having been to Washington, basically.  His name was Jimmy Carter.  A lot of people said it didn‘t work out. 

SLATER:  That‘s right.  The one thing about Jim Johnson is Barack Obama will have a lot of people around him who have a lot of experience in Washington.  This has become kind of an issue in the campaign, who has the lobbyist closest to you.  I frankly think that I was—I frankly was impressed by how quickly they got rid of Johnson, how quickly Johnson, who was a creature of Washington, understood I‘m the story.  Two days of talk radio is enough.  It ain‘t getting better.  I‘m gone.  I thought that was a pretty good tactical move. 

MATTHEWS:  Especially for a guy who has had some prestigious positions to take that kind of lumping.  He is head of the Kennedy Center.  He is—look at that arched eyebrow I‘m getting now.  You are so sarcastic. 

CARLSON:  I‘m not sarcastic.  I actually—I‘m a reflexive defender of people like Jim Johnson, if not Johnson himself.  This is the moment you know, there is no way he can pick Hillary Clinton.  It is not possible, because by these criteria—

MATTHEWS:  A bigger picture emerges. 

CARLSON:  There‘s no—you can‘t fire Johnson and take Hillary. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that, Michelle?  This is a leading indicator. 

BERNARD:  Absolutely.  Bill Clinton and the Clinton library and fund-raisers; is he going to give up those names.  It becomes a huge problem for the Obama campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  And Bill Clinton was infamous for the way he raised money in the White House.  Let‘s not recall.  Remember Motel 6?  Wayne, this question, has he raised the bar so high he can‘t fill the cabinet?  He can‘t put a cabinet together now?  He can‘t use anybody from Washington, anybody who has ever lobbied, anybody who ever had a nick on them.  That‘s a pretty good standard.  Is it going to work? 

SLATER:  He will have to name some people who know their way around Washington and he will.  And there will be some criticism, but, frankly, I think it will work out fine.  The real problem for Barack Obama—the good side was how quickly the campaign dealt with this.  The bad thing was that lousy answer, the initial response from Barack Obama.  What is that? 

MATTHEWS:  That was weak. 

SLATER:  He looked like Chauncey Gardener in “Being There.”  And what you need, the Democratic party needs like Neo in “The Matrix.”  He‘s the one.  You don‘t need Gardener, who is clueless. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  He was clueless. 

BERNARD:  Neo was a scary dude.  I don‘t think he wants Neo. 

MATTHEWS:  This whole question of it was a very bad answer by Barack Obama the other day, when he said what about your guy you put in charge of picking the vice president, helping you pick him?  Saying that‘s not really a job.  It‘s not really that important.  It is a discreet task.  I love that phrase, a discreet task. 

CARLSON:  This is all setting us up for something that is going to be a pretty big story soon, which is public financing.  Barack Obama is setting himself up as a saintly figure, morally pure.  How, given that, is he going to say no, I‘m going to go back on my pledge to take public money.  I‘m going to have it privately financed.  How can he do that? 

MATTHEWS:  The wonderful thing about Barack Obama that has inspired me

I‘ll admit it, I‘ve admitted it before—is the absolute freshness of the guy, coming from an inter-racial background, coming with this fascinating third world background, being raised partially in Indonesia, and then in Hawaii, with an interesting background in Chicago, an Ivy League education on top of everything, Harvard Law.  All this wonderful magic of life, yet there‘s a certain mundane quality to this campaign setting in. 

The tit for tat over taxes the other day could have been between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan, or between Adlai Stevenson and Dick Nixon.  This is an old fight, Democrats tax, Republicans don‘t tax.  Republicans do other things wrong.  This isn‘t seeming like a brand-new election now. 

BERNARD:  It‘s not.  The only thing that‘s brand-new is the Democratic nominee and the Republican nominee.  I am certain that between now and November, it will get more interesting again. 

MATTHEWS:  I want novelty.  I want phenomenon.  Today, we‘re talking about personnel in the vice presidential selection process.  By the way, wasn‘t Dick Cheney in charge of picking the vice president for Bush? 

BERNARD:  He was. 

MATTHEWS:  Who did he pick? 

CARLSON:  Jim Johnson could have been the VP.

MATTHEWS:  I always thought (INAUDIBLE) Dick Cheney doesn‘t know how to get the job done.  He was the guy in charge of picking the VP.  Somehow I can see him saying going—here‘s Dick Cheney; George, governor, if you don‘t mind me calling you George, it‘s too bad about Tom Ridge being pro-choice and not sharing our values, isn‘t it?  Then he goes through the whole list until finally, Bush is so flummoxed, he goes, there‘s nobody left on the list.  He looks around the room and says, how about you.  I‘d be glad to take that job, Mr. President. 

Anyway, Michelle Bernard, sarcasm is catching on here.  Thank you Tucker Carlson.  Wayne Slater, sir, thank you for joining us.  Join us all again in one hour for the latest numbers from our new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  Lots of numbers tonight at 7:00.  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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