updated 1/9/2009 1:58:34 PM ET 2009-01-09T18:58:34

Guests: Margaret Brennan, Perry Bacon, Howard Dean, Chris Cillizza, Michelle Bernard, Rep. Bobby Rush, Lynn Sweet

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Call him B-Rod.  When it comes to picking senators, the guy‘s batting 1,000.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight, Governor “Hot Rod” Blagojevich may be in trouble, but he may soon have a friend in the U.S. Senate because it looks like he‘s going to put him there.  Roland Burris is one step closer tonight to becoming Senator Burris.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROLAND BURRIS (D), FORMER ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL:  My whole interest in this experience has been to be prepared, Roland (ph), to represent my great state.  And that is my love, that is my desire, and very shortly, I will have the opportunity to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Senate Democrats praised Roland Burris today after meeting with him and laid out conditions that could pave the way for him to fill Obama‘s vacant Senate seat very soon.  It was a decidedly softer tone from Democratic leaders, who initially opposed the appointment.  Is this a victory for Governor Blagojevich?  And has the Burris appointment somehow become a fight about race?  Illinois congressman Bobby Rush thinks so and will be here in a minute.

Plus, on a day when President-elect Obama spoke about inheriting a trillion-dollar deficit, President Bush hosted an exclusive presidents‘ club get-together for his successor at the White House, and here‘s what he told him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  One message that I have, and I think we all share, is that we want you to succeed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, four years ago, Republicans had the White House, the Senate and the House, but now all those bodies, including the White House, are in Democratic hands.  Did Howard Dean‘s 50-state strategy work?  We‘ll ask him, Governor Dean himself.

In the “Politics Fix” tonight, is Harry Reid the big loser in the Burris mess?  Did he lose control of his caucus by initially taking a hard line against the Burris appointment?  Also, which presidential campaign prop has now become a war reporter in the Middle East?  Well, it‘s Joe the plumber, I‘ve got to tell you.  This is outrageous.  But anyway, that‘s one for the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.

But first, breaking news tonight that the Democratic Black Caucus has now unanimously called for the Senate to seat Roland Burris immediately.  With us now, Illinois congressman Bobby Rush.  Congressman Rush, thank you for joining us.  You were pretty tough on this...

REP. BOBBY RUSH (D), ILLINOIS:  It‘s always a pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  Well, (INAUDIBLE) again tonight, sir.  Let‘s take a look at Roland Burris, the senator-designate from your state of Illinois, and what he said today after meeting with Senator Reid and Senator Durbin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURRIS:  When we get these two matters, as you heard in his press conference, out of the way, the signature of my good friend—and I say my good friend, Secretary Jesse White, because we are friends—and of course, my testimony before the impeachment committee tomorrow in Springfield, then we will proceed then to submit our documentation to the Senate.  And as you heard chairman—President (SIC) Reid say, this will go to the Rules Committee and they will then assess it and let me know what the outcome is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So watching the proceedings today, Congressman Rush, from the other side of the Capitol, watching the Senate Democratic leaders meet with the designated senator from your state, do you think there‘s a racial piece here or not?

RUSH:  Well, no.  First, let me be real clear, this was about fairness and equality.  You know, we want to have a Senate that reflects America.  We want to have a Senate that is diverse.  And I think that right now, we‘re well on our way to having a more fair Senate, a more diverse Senate, a Senate that really reflects more of America.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the problem you address here—well, let me show you what you said a week ago.  You‘re being a little bit more, well, pleasant about the issue today.  Here you were a week ago, Congressman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH:  I applaud the governor for his decision.  And I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointor.  Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s what “The Chicago Tribune” reported.  Quote, “On

Sunday night, Rush”—that‘s you, sir—“called the Senate ‘one of the

last bastions of plantation and racial politics in America‘ and said that

Senate Democrats, who won‘t seat Burris are, quote, ‘going to have to come

and ask for forgiveness from black Americans.‘”

Do you take back those strong words, or do you think that was a reasonable threat?

RUSH:  No, I don‘t take back anything that I‘ve said.  But understand, these are—we are—that calmer heads are prevailing.  We‘re moving forward.  Senator Reid is moving forward.  Senator Durbin is moving forward.  Secretary of State White is moving forward.  So there‘s no reason now to remain in the same place that we were.

We got the attention.  We were able to make the argument, a strong argument.  And now we are moving forward to—at the point where I can really see that Roland Burris will be seated as the junior senator from the state of Illinois.  So Chris, in a way, we can begin to strike up the band now and start singing “Happy Times Are Here Again.”

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re going to strike up the band.  But here‘s the senators in the Democratic leadership and what they said today.  Apparently, the rules now are, they want your secretary of state out in Illinois to either be forced to sign that document, or else somebody has to say it doesn‘t matter.

And secondly, they want the candidate, the designated senator, Roland Burris, who you support, to appear before the impeachment committee of the legislature out there in Springfield.  Do you think those two requirements are extraordinary or what?  Do you think they should just seat the guy?

RUSH:  Those are minimum requirements.  You know, we certainly don‘t -

we‘re not arguing against those minimal requirements, although, you know, nobody else has to go through that.  But given the circumstances and given the fact that we have to certainly give the majority leader of the Senate and others an opportunity to somehow redeem themselves, this is not an extraordinary requirement.

Roland was scheduled to appear before the impeachment committee in the General Assembly even before these recent occurrences.  So you know, they‘re not extraordinary.  These are modest requirements.  And I know that he will pass these requirements with flying colors.

MATTHEWS:  You sound like a magnanimous man who has won.

RUSH:  I‘m happy.  I think that the people of the state of Illinois have—again, we‘re moving forward now, and this is a time to really put our battle cries aside now and begin to work together to solve the many problems that the American people are facing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s—now that you‘ve won the battle, I want to let you watch some of the other side.  Here‘s Senator Reid and Senator Durbin, who spoke today after meeting with the designated senator from Illinois, Roland Burris.  Here they are again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  Roland Burris, one of the first things he said to us—Hey, this is nothing that‘s racial, I understand that.  So a lot of people tried to make this a racial issue, but Roland Burris has not and will not.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  As I‘ve said, I‘ve known him for such a long time.  We‘re friends and on a first-name basis.  And at the outset, he said, I want to make it clear that this—I understand this controversy has nothing to do with my race and I understand that both of you have excellent records when it comes to racial relations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Are you satisfied with those comments?

RUSH:  Well, let me just say this, Chris.  I‘m not going to react to those comments, but let me just say this.  I‘m an American citizen.  I‘m 62 years old.  I served in the U.S. military 4 years, 7 months and 28 days.  I have never lived in what some would call the post-racial America.  There‘s still racial issues that we have to deal with in America.  There are racial issues today, racial issues yesterday, and there will probably be racial issues tomorrow.

However, you know, that‘s the down side.  That‘s the part that that‘s unpleasant in some instances.  So when we can move beyond that even for a moment, then it‘s a good thing.  And I know that tomorrow, there may be some other issue that really has its genesis in racial attitudes or racial indifference or racial intolerance here in America.

And I live my life a certain way.  I stand on my own integrity.  I‘m not going to ever say that this racism doesn‘t exist in America.  It does.  This is American as apple pie, in some instances.

Am I the cause of it?  No, I‘m not the cause of it.  Do I like it?  No, I don‘t like it.  As a matter of fact, I detest it.  But the fact of it is, it‘s a reality that I have to live with every day of my life.  It‘s a reality that I believe my children will have to live with, my grandchildren will have to live with every day of their lives.  So I‘m not going to apologize for anything that I‘ve said or any position that I‘ve taken.  No, I never will do that.

But I believe at that the truth shall set us free, and the truth is, is that we have a lot of work to do.  And you and I, if we‘re ever going to make America the kind of nation where everybody can really assume and everybody—assume their rightful responsibility (ph), everybody can have a fair share of the American piece of the pie, of the American justice and the equal way and of America‘s benefits, then you and I have a lot of work to do.  And we have to struggle with this.  We just can‘t sweep this under the rug.  And sometimes it‘s very unpleasant.

But I think that America is better off now, I think that Harry Reid is better off now, I think that Dick Durbin is better off now and I think the U.S. Senate is better off now simply because of the fact that they have had to deal with the question of the fact that there are no African-Americans in the U.S. Senate.  And hopefully, that situation is rapidly changing.  Hopefully, in the next few days, Roland Burris will be seated.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  One reason I agree with a lot of your sentiment, although I don‘t assess it the way you do, is that I do believe that the power of your friend, Roland Burris, appearing yesterday in the rain with his two attorneys holding the umbrellas over him, having been turned away at the door of the U.S. Capitol was so powerful a picture that I think the American people responded to a gentleman who was standing up for what he believed to be his status as an appointed senator.  And that picture was so powerful that I don‘t think any leadership in Washington could have stood in the way of it.  And so I do believe that it‘s something good about America...

RUSH:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... that when you show up for the job...

RUSH:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... you‘re respected.  Thank you very much, U.S.

Congressman...

RUSH:  Chris, if I could, just say this.  It reminded me of the dogs being sicced on children in Birmingham, Alabama.  That‘s what it reminded me of.  And any time you have a situation like that, America responds.  And that‘s what I love about this nation.

MATTHEWS:  OK, sir.  Thank you.  U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois.

Much more on the Roland Burris saga—and that is what it is, a saga, as we watch this man literally march to the U.S. Senate.  He‘s going through a few more stops on the way, but I got to tell you right now—here‘s a prediction.  That guy‘s going to be the senator from Illinois in a matter of days.  Burris says he anticipates that‘s what‘s going to happen, and I do, too.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Roland Burris says he‘s looking forward now to being seated as a U.S. senator, but the hurdles he still has to overcome—well, they ain‘t much.  And if he is seated, will this be a victory for Governor Blagojevich?

Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for “The Chicago Sun-Times” and Perry Bacon is with “The Washington Post.”

Lynn, I‘m telling you, it‘s the parable of the unjust steward.  It‘s the guy about to be sacked who figures out a way to make his future a lot nicer.  It looks to me like “B-Rod”—that‘s what I‘m going to call him, Blagojevich, Rod Blagojevich—has a friend in the U.S. Senate now, the guy he sent there.  Roland Burris is going to be a senator.

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  Every obstacle, every hurdle out there is surmountable, and you know, within a short time—unless—the only—the only question mark is if something comes up unexpected in the Illinois impeachment hearing tomorrow, where Burris is expected to be asked about all his relationships with the governor, some state contracts and donations, you know, stuff that‘s out there.  And I think the only thing that could stop him now is if something turns up.  No one knows, you know, that—I don‘t expect that right now because the wave is in his favor.  And yes, Chris, Rod Blagojevich apparently is going to pull this off.

MATTHEWS:  Amazing piece of work.  He‘s batting 1,000, Perry.  He wants to have one guy as senator.  He‘s going to get that one guy a senator, and nobody‘s going to stop him, not the Senate leader, the Senate whip, not the press, not the independent prosecutor...

PERRY BACON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... not the Supreme Court and not the legislature.  He‘s going to get who he wants.

BACON:  Chris, this is an amazing thing.  Last week, the newly elected president of the—you know, newly elected president of United States, Barack Obama, along with the Senate leaders and—you know, all agreed, along with, like, a lot of (INAUDIBLE) in Illinois, as well, all agreed, you know, anyone Blagojevich picked would be tainted, and therefore would not be picked.  And Roland Burris came to Washington without a lot of allies here and appears to have won this battle so far.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve got a little hot note here from inside NBC News that on Monday of this week, unbeknownst to us covering these stories, Barack Obama met with the Senate leadership—Harry Reid, and I believe Dick Durbin, as well—and he encouraged Reid and the others to find some resolution to this Burris matter.  It was a private meeting.  And they agreed on the need to an amicable resolution.

It looks like it‘s going to happen, Lynn...

SWEET:  Yes.  Actually...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s just going to...

SWEET:  Yes...

MATTHEWS:  To save their face, the leaders have to at least have him go through what they said was always the procedure, get a signature on the document, get something from the state legislature or the court or both in Springfield, Illinois, that justifies this appointment.

SWEET:  OK, first of all, I will report in “The Sun-Times” tomorrow the same, thing, too, that the Obama intervention was helpful.  You know, he just said, We have bigger things to do in this country, let‘s just solve this and move on.

You know, I would say that the senators didn‘t make a 180-degree turn here, it was about 40 degrees, because they always—you know, they‘re still going to go through their procedure.  I think the, you know, issue is now they‘re not going to slow-walk this forever.  They‘re not going to wait for Blagojevich to be impeached.  They‘re just going to, you know, put Burris in, who, after all, is going to be a good, dependable Democratic vote.  You know, the issue is whether or not he could win election on his own in 2010.  And for all the—you know, for all the heat they‘re taking, it‘s just not worth fighting that out now.  They could deal with it later.

MATTHEWS:  But Lynn and Perry, just a couple days ago, their position was he‘s not going to get seated, they‘re going to get somebody from the lieutenant governor when he ascends to the office, and they‘ll slow-walk it in Rules or whatever they had to do.  Now they have accepted—it seems to me they‘re going to have to eventually accept this fellow as the next senator without any condition that he not run for re-election or election.  Lynn, it looks like it is more than a 40-degree turn here.

SWEET:  OK.  What would you say, 70, 80?  I just don‘t think it‘s 180 because they always gave—they gave themselves pretty early on, when they said, We wouldn‘t take anyone, and then when they came—you know, then when position two came, when the name came out—remember, the position—that hard position came before there was a Blagojevich appointment, and no one thought the man would dare do it.  No one really knew Rod well enough to know that he of course would do it.  Probably now all these events just made him gleeful.

The other thing—you know, and they said that no one dreamed that the Democrats would totally turn down a special election option.  So I would just say it‘s not totally 180 because when they really got down to the weeds, what they were saying, Chris, and Perry—they always—you know, they pretty much said they would just kill it in Rules Committee, but now the only—you know, they‘re not going to kill it in Rules Committee, and yes, it will happen.

So, maybe you would score it, what, Chris, 90 degree, 120?  But I don‘t think it‘s 180. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I would say 135, actually. 

SWEET:  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Perry—Perry, I just did the math between 180 and 90. 

Perry, the African-American piece of this, we don‘t have any African-Americans elected to the United States Senate.  I consider that a scandal, just from looking at it, a country of 15 percent or so of African-American, and all kinds of diversity out there, and no representation of African-Americans in the Senate, except for this appointment. 

But is this an issue?  I noticed that Clyburn, the much-respected top leader in the House, and the Black Caucus has now come out and said it is basically an interest of the caucus.  Has this become, like some issues do, more of an identity-politics issue than it began as one? 

PERRY BACON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  It‘s become more than it began as one, because it began as a very legalistic matter, a matter about sort of Blagojevich being corrupt, to some extent. 

But I—I would—I think that you—you had—your interview with Bobby Rush a little earlier, I saw you talking to Bobby Rush.  And the comments he‘s making, where he‘s comparing the senators to segregationist, effectively, that‘s not been joined by the rest of the Black Caucus. 

They have been more careful and they have talked about this in legal terms.  And they only joined Burris, really, as a group today, when they could have joined him last week and helped him, probably, because Bobby Rush has been sort of an island—on an island, making this a very sort of sharp, polarized issue on race. 

But I think if you saw what Reid and Durbin said today, they were—they both—I think, at some point, Durbin mentioned one of the people opposing—one of the people opposing Burris is also black.  So, they—they both—they both seem to be very wary of the—the racial issue here.  But I think Rush has been unusual in sort of provoking it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think, Lynn?  Did the Senate Democratic leadership get jammed here? 

I know Democrats, and everybody in America, wants to maintain a very strong image of being open to all racial diversity and to be absent of any even taint or even suspicion of any kind of imbalance in the way they look at things, in terms of ethnicity or race. 

Do you think that—that it did come to play here, the race issue, it

in our post-racial world of Barack Obama?  Did it come back to haunt this divide—this debate? 

SWEET:  And it—it—yes, it did.  And I think the racial—the racial angle helped fuel the senators‘ desire to just get—you know, get Burris installed, get all the—you know, whatever objections or worries you might have, if he had a connection with Blagojevich, clear that up and get him in. 

I just want to point out one other thing here and what I hope listeners remember.  Illinois has been—is the state in the nation with the best record.  The only reason there‘s no African-Americans in the Senate right now is that Obama, an Illinoisan, is elected to the White House. 

Carol Moseley Braun, a woman who everyone knows was a senator from Illinois, OK?

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SWEET:  The good people of Illinois has the best record here.  Jesse White, the state controller, is an African-American.  You know, Roland Burris, who now looks like he‘s teed up to the senator, has won statewide election as controller and attorney general. 

Chicago has had an African-American mayor.  Chicago has more females -

I mean, Chicago, Illinois, has more female statewide officers.  So, when you listen to the big picture, it sounds different than when you look at what is involved in this situation. 

And, sometimes, you can be situational in assessing it.  What happened here is that it got out of control.  The Senate Democrats were backed into a corner, because this metastasized into a broader discussion about race in America.  And that‘s a tough one.  And that has, I think, helped fuel this decision to just seat Burris as soon as they can, in a way that makes them feel, you know, that they haven‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I think...

SWEET:  ... you know, violated themselves and just get it over with. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It became a hot potato.  And now the hot potato is now with the Supreme Court out in—in Springfield, Illinois, and the state legislature, with the impeachment committee, and ultimately back to the Senate as a whole.  The hot potato is out of the hands of Harry Reid and Dick Durbin.  This is a hot potato. 

Anyway, thank you, Lynn Sweet.

Thank you, Perry Bacon. 

Up next, remember Joe the plumber?  If you have to, he has another got gig now.  I think he thinks he‘s Ernie Pyle, because he‘s going over as a war correspondent in the Middle East fight between Israel and Hamas over there in Gaza.  God knows what is behind this whole thing, but there he is, Joe the plumber, enjoying his extra 15 minutes as a war correspondent. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up, from the campaign trail to the front lines.  The ‘08 election‘s biggest campaign prop—his name is Joe the plumber—is being called Joe the war correspondent right now.  He‘s being headed right now for Israel for 10 days to cover the fighting for conservative Web site PJTV.com. 

Joe told a local TV station that he intends to help Israel‘s average joes share their story—shades of Ernie Pyle. 

Next up, the Blair House mystery is solved.  The Obamas are staying at the lovely Hay-Adams Hotel across from the White House for these two weeks, because the White House had already booked the traditional guest digs over at Blair House. 

So, just who is the presidential guest that put out the Obamas?  Today‘s “Washington Post” reveals that it is former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.  That Bush pal and key Iraq war supporter will be staying in the 119-room mansion on January 12, the night before he‘s awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

So, let‘s get this straight: no room at the inn for the guy who gets chosen by the American people, Barack Obama; plenty of room in the inn for the Australian prime minister, the former one, who agreed with Bush‘s war policy. 

Now over to the Windy City for an homage to the hometown pol.  Kuma Corner, a burger joint in Chicago, has a new feature on its menu—there it is—the Bleeping Blagojevich Burger.  Its price, the restaurant says it‘s negotiable. 

“The Chicago Tribune” reports that among the burger‘s special touches are mustard squirted in the shape of a dollar sign, and—catch this—a hefty slice of baloney. 

So, say what you will about B-Rod.  That‘s Blagojevich.  He‘s got a new friend in the White House—I‘m sorry—a new friend in the U.S.  Senate, the guy he just sent there, Roland Burris. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Barack Obama has just 13 days before he takes over the reins from President Bush.  Thing is, for many Americans, new leadership on the economic crisis couldn‘t come soon enough. 

A new employment report out today estimates that 693,000 private-sector jobs were lost just last month.  That‘s a huge increase from November and much worse than expected -- 693,000 jobs lost last month alone, tonight‘s big, bad number. 

Up next:  When Howard Dean took over the Democratic National Committee, Republicans ran the Congress, the House, the Senate, and the White House.  As he prepares to leave the DNC, his party controls it all. 

Howard Dean is coming here for a victory lap.  That‘s next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A sell-off amid new worries about job losses and corporate profits.  The Dow Jones industrial average fell 245 points.  The S&P 500 lost about 28.  And the Nasdaq dropped 53 points—that sell-off in reaction to a private report showing that employers cut 693,000 jobs in December.  Those numbers from ADP show a number far more than economists had been expecting.  The government will release its own employment numbers for the month of December on Friday. 

Also putting pressure on stocks, computer chipmaker Intel issued its second warning in two months about fourth-quarter earnings.  Time Warner also issued a warning about its fourth-quarter profits. 

And oil prices tumbled, as U.S. reserves rose much more than expected last week.  In reaction, crude oil prices fell $5.95, closing at $42.63 a barrel. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to Chris and HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Back in 2005, Republicans had total control of the U.S. Congress.  That‘s both houses, the Senate and the House, and the White House.  Four years later, it‘s a different story. 

With us now, the outgoing chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Party itself, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. 

Governor Dean, I think that it was your initial idea, you have the power, your—your theme back in the campaign you ran in 2004, although you weren‘t successful, that populist ring, that clarion call seemed to have been something of an advent or a predictor of what was to come with Barack Obama.  Do you believe it was the case? 

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  It wasn‘t so much populist, although probably the campaign was somewhat populist. 

The real thing is—which I think President Obama capitalized on—is each individual has power over their own lives, much more so than—than they may think, day to day.  So, the whole idea behind our campaign was to make sure people realized that they had power over their lives, and that they could hire politicians that would make sure that they recognized what power the ordinary people had. 

So, this is a—this is not just a—this is a generational change, that President Obama is the first president of his generation.  It‘s a huge change in the—much the way that John F. Kennedy‘s election was a change for our generation.  But it‘s also an empowerment, that individuals do have power over their lives. 

They don‘t have to give it up to a big faceless government that doesn‘t care about them.  They are the government, and they have the right to petition their government.  And they will do that by using the tools that—that have been laid out for them by these camp—by our campaign and then by the—by the Obama campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this strange saga of Roland Burris?  He gets picked by a governor who is in terrible trouble, facing impeachment, almost definitely facing indictment.  He gets picked under the worst circumstances in the world. 

The Senate leadership, the president-elect, Barack Obama, both say he shouldn‘t be allowed to assume that appointment.  And here he is.  He shows up in Washington in the rain yesterday under umbrellas.  He‘s lawyered up.  He comes to do battle as a gentleman would, and he wins. 

It‘s so clear that this one guy with no friends except Rod Blagojevich was able to face down and, it looks to me, win an argument, that he has a right to take that seat. 

What does it tell you, as a political man? 

DEAN:  It tells me that Blagojevich should not be underestimated. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN:  You know what?  You wonder how a guy who got arrested for what he got arrested for could possibly be doing in the governorship.  Well, now we know. 

Look, just leaving—leaving aside the merits and demerits of all this nonsense that‘s going on here, you have got to hand it to Blagojevich.  What a maneuver.  What a maneuver.  Burris is a decent guy.  Look, this is not about Roland Burris.  This is about Blagojevich‘s credibility, which he doesn‘t have a great deal of right now. 

But he...

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN:  He—when his back was against the wall, he outsmarted a lot of people. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s got a friend in the U.S. Senate.  His name is Roland Burris.  That‘s for sure.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me...

DEAN:  Well, Roland Burris will do a good job. 

He‘s a—I...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DEAN:  I haven‘t seen any definite reports that he‘s going to be seated.  But I will admit to you that it looks more so like that than—than it did. 

But he‘s a good, decent guy.  He doesn‘t have a whiff of scandal about him.  It‘s just the manner in which this went down.  From a seriousness point of view, it was pretty bad.  An indicted governor was arrested for trying to sell the seat.  But, you know, the kind of—the politico in me kind of looks at this and goes, wow, you know, got to hand it to Blagojevich. 

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN:  He will probably end up in really bad trouble, but he‘s—he will have something to tell his grandchildren. 

MATTHEWS:  I think, not since Earl Long have we seen a candidate like this. 

What do make of this?  Moving right along here...

DEAN:  No, wait a minute, that‘s not fair.  The candidate—this is not on Burris.  This is about Blagojevich.  Burris is—you can‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, no, I meant Blagojevich. 

Not since Earl Long, the great...

DEAN:  Oh.  Oh.  All right.  OK.

MATTHEWS:  ... Louisiana governor, who was—who was played by Paul Newman, who had a few moves up his sleeve. 

Let me ask you about—you know, this isn‘t something we often talk about, but this country has a surgeon general.  And we don‘t remember the names of many of them.  But we have got one now, Sanjay... 

DEAN:  Oh, I disagree. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, they‘re famous, Doctor, but they‘re not famous. 

DEAN:  Oh, come on. 

MATTHEWS:  The only one that is famous right now is Sanjay Gupta, who has just been named over at—from CNN...

DEAN:  It‘s a great choice.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... and probably is more famous than—he is probably more famous than all the other surgeon generals put together. 

DEAN:  I think a lot of people remember Dr. Koop. 

MATTHEWS:  One.

DEAN:  I think a lot of people remember Joycelyn Elders. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do they remember Joycelyn Elders for? 

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN:  Well, they—for her being—being blunt and talking the way a smart grandmother should talk to her kids.  That‘s what.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, perhaps.  That would be a very liberal interpretation. 

But I‘m not getting into that one at all. 

You—you think he‘s a good appointment, Sanjay Gupta...

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN:  I think he‘s a great appointment.  I will tell you why he‘s a great appointment. 

The biggest job of the surgeon general is to translate health care and health care needs into plain English that—that people can understand, ordinary people can understand.  That‘s what Sanjay Gupta has been doing for a living for quite a while.  I think it‘s a terrific appointment.  And I think he‘s well-suited to the job. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk about you, sir, Governor Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. 

When you took office as chair, the Democrats had lost just about everything.  Now they have won just about everything.  Your 50-state strategy—I don‘t do many plaudits on this show, but your 50-state strategy did work.  You won a lot of surprising upsets.  You picked up, what, eight Senate seats.  You got 59. 

Everything has turned up roses for you.  What‘s going to be your

reward?  It would seem to me you ought to get at least special trade rep or

Commerce secretary, something, one of those plum jobs.  And, yet, there you

are, turning over your job to Tim Kaine tomorrow with no—what‘s the word

spoils? 

DEAN:  I didn‘t do this for the spoils.  I did this for the country.  I‘m very happy that Barack Obama is president, and I think he‘s picked a great cabinet.  And I‘m pretty happy.  I wouldn‘t trade my position for any other position right now.  I‘m going to go into the private sector, make a living making speeches, and do a lot of stuff on health care policy.  One of the reasons I got into health care a long time ago—I mean into politics a long time ago was to make sure we had a health insurance program in this country that was like some of the other ones in the rest of the industrialized democracies in the world. 

We have a president who wants to do that.  He‘s got a good bill.  I want to make sure that we get that and I‘m going to be a vigorous advocate for the bill, and try to make sure that the special interests in Congress don‘t undermine the bill. 

MATTHEWS:  Great work.  Thank you.  Congratulations, by the way.  This isn‘t Success Magazine here, but you did do a good job of putting the Democrats together.  Congratulations on a big victory for Democratic Chairman and former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean.  Thanks for coming on. 

Up next, an incredible picture from the White House today, where Barack Obama met President Bush and the other three living former presidents, Clinton, Bush Sr. and Jimmy Carter.  The current president told his successor he wants him to succeed.  Could time be the key to success?  A new poll shows that Carter and Bush 41, both bounced from office by the voters, are now more popular than ever.  They‘re up at 60 percent plus in terms of job approval. 

We‘re going to talk about today‘s meeting of the presidents club next.  It is absolutely stunning the way a couple of these fellows, Carter and Bush Sr. look so much better today than they once did.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  It‘s time for the politics fix.  Joining me is political analyst Michelle Bernard and WashingtonPost.com‘s Chris Cillizza.  Chris, you first.  Let‘s look at this, young fellow.  It used to be when you left the White House, you were unpopular, you stayed unpopular, like Herbert Hoover stayed unpopular for a long time, and Harry Truman for a very long time, until he made his comeback thanks to David McCullough. 

Look at these job approval numbers on the former presidents who met with President Bush, the young President Bush, the current President Bush, the former President Bush, Barack Obama, the incoming president, and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former presidents.  Look at those numbers, the former President Bush, 41 he‘s called, is now up to 60 percent job approval.  He was way down when he got beaten for re-election. 

Jimmy Carter, also beaten for re-election, is up to 64 percent right now in job approval, as seen by the American people.  President Clinton was always pretty popular.  He went from 66 up to 69, so he‘s gained a couple of points.  And of course the current president is down at 27.  He‘s not doing so well, but he has time to recover if you look at history, although he‘s got a long way to come back. 

What do you make of this, the high numbers for the exs? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Well, Chris, first of all, I was going to make the point you had two one-term presidents there.  So if people loved them so much when they were in office, they wouldn‘t have had that problem.  Look, I think what happens is when you‘re president, inevitably you‘re making decisions, lots of decisions, that are going to divide the American public.  Lots of people are going to agree with you.  Lots of people are going to disagree with you. 

You get out of office—look at Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush as examples—you‘re doing philanthropy work, raising money for the hurricane, that sort of thing.  You‘re doing humanitarian work that I think it‘s hard to sort of take issue with.  Most people would say, yes, it‘s a good thing, we should raise money and help victims of natural disaster.  So you‘re not in that partisan mix nearly as much.  As an example, you saw Bill Clinton‘s numbers dip down.  They have recovered but, dip down during his wife‘s presidential candidacy, because, again, he was seen through that partisan lens. 

And so I think, you know, it‘s hard to imagine now, but I think George W. Bush, his numbers are likely to tick up after he gets out of office.  It may not be immediately, but sometime down the road if he follows this trend line. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.  I just don‘t know.  I mean, I don‘t think he‘s going to do Habitat for Humanity like Jimmy Carter.  I just don‘t know. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I don‘t know what the president will do, but depending on what happens in Iraq, if 50 years, 100 years from now, Iraq turns out to be a resounding success story and is really truly a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, he might have pretty high approval ratings, and history might look at him differently than we do right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I agree with that.  Let‘s talk about something a little more troubling in our current politics.  That‘s the Fandango that went on at Capitol Hill involving Senator-Designate—we have to come up with new phrases all the time—Roland Burris.  He went in to meet with Harry Reid, the Senate leader, and Dick Durbin, the number two Democratic leader.  He‘s also the senior senator from Illinois.  And out they came.  And let‘s hear what Senator Harry Reid had to say about his meeting with the senator designate today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER:  I was very interested in his political career.  He went through that line by line.  It was extremely interesting.  He obviously is a very engaging, extremely nice man.  He presents himself very well.  He‘s very proud of his family.  He‘s got two PHDs and two law degrees, and he talked about how proud he was of everyone having those degrees. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You took umbrage at those comments.  Please explain. 

BERNARD:  I did.  It‘s sort of like a Supreme Court decision that was talking about pornography.  You don‘t really know how to describe it.  You just know it when you see it.  And this seemed very condescending.  I know that there is a generation gap in the way that we look at race and these type of issues.  But from my perspective and from someone in my skin, well, of course, black people love their families and, of course, we have degrees.  We‘ve been going to college for many, many years.  I think Harry Reid has fallen into the race trap and was so frightened of being labeled a racist that he went overboard in saying how wonderful this man is.  He is very clearly qualified.  It was just as bad as saying, every time you see a black person, they are articulate or clean.  What else would you expect? 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I don‘t agree.  But it‘s your point of view.  That‘s why you‘re here.  What do you think, Chris Cillizza?  I have a couple theories.  One of them is, that may be completely wrong.  He‘s simply saying something nice about the guy.  He didn‘t want to endorse him politically, but he will endorse him personally.  It‘s all possibly true. 

The other problem I have is suppose the Democratic leadership had acted like complete hacks and from the second they got Blagojevich‘s appointee, in this case a guy they never heard of, Roland Burris, they said, fine, we‘ll slap him into a seat.  We‘ll swear him in.  We‘ll put him aboard because Blagojevich is a Democrat and we‘re Democrats.  No problem.  They would have been considered hacks and bums, bums. 

No, because they objected to it, they‘re bums.  Sometimes in politics you‘re put in a position, no matter what you do, you‘re a bum.  Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate accepted him.  If they had accepted him they would have been bums.  Because they didn‘t accept him, they are bums.  What were they supposed to do.  Let me go to Chris on this one.  I‘ll go back to you.  What could they have done to avoid being blamed for this sag of absurdity here?

CILLIZZA:  There was nothing they could do, frankly, once Rod Blagojevich called their bluff.  That‘s my attitude.  Their best bet—when this thing went off the rails, if you think it went off the rails for Harry Reid—I happen to think it sort of did—was when he said, no, I don‘t think there should be a special election; I think we should have an appointment.  Basically, what they did then is dared Rod Blagojevich, thinking no one could have the gall in Rod Blagojevich‘s situation to think he could appoint someone. 

Well, along comes Rod Blagojevich.  He appoints Roland Burris.  If he had been picked by anyone other than Rod Blagojevich, I don‘t think there would be any issue there.  Then Harry Reid is stuck, because I do think—this is to Michelle‘s point—I do think Harry Reid, Dick Durbin are all very aware that they are currently or were currently barring the lone African-American senator who would be sworn into that chamber from getting that post.  Harry Reid and Dick Durbin both said, this isn‘t about race.  And Roland Burris told us it wasn‘t about race. 

That was not by accident.  They back themselves into a corner of their own making. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with Michelle‘s belief that using lines like he‘s a very engaging and extremely nice man; he obviously is a very engaging, extremely nice man.  He presents himself very well.  He‘s very proud of his family.  He‘s got two PHDs and two law degrees and he talked about how proud he was about having these degrees.  Was that condescending, ethnically, in any way?  I‘m asking you. 

CILLIZZA:  My take was that Harry Reid was essentially trying to lay the foundation so that he could back pedal and that Roland Burris would eventually be sworn in.  I didn‘t see it through a racial lense.  I thought it was just Harry Reid saying, this is a very credible guy.  We‘re going to have to go through the procedures that are required.  If, in the end, he passes those procedures, then he‘s more than welcome in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  And you‘re sticking to your guns. 

BERNARD:  I‘m sticking to my guns.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why you‘re here.  Michelle Bernard, Chris Cillizza with different takes.  I sort of agree with you and I sort of agree with them.  But a lot of it is—I hate to say generational.  Harry Reid is not much older than me.  But I‘ll tell you, sometimes the way words are said these days have a lot more power than they are intended to have.  When you really intend to say something right, you may make someone else feel you said something wrong.  We live in a complicated world in terms of lingo.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Michelle Bernard and Chris Cillizza for more of the politics fix.  This is pure candy here for political people, Chris.  You‘ve got to listen closely.  Here‘s the president, former President Bill Clinton, as I said, one of the smartest guys ever to be president.  But the things he chooses to focus on are so fascinating.  Here he is with the other former presidents saying, I love that rug.  Watch this scene.  It‘s a couple seconds here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I

love this rug. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there he was.  You had to see the picture.  It was just not quite synchronized there.  They‘re looking for small talk, Chris.  And the former president said, let‘s talk about the rug.  I don‘t know what it all means. 

CILLIZZA:  They had obviously already used the man, is it cold and rainy here in Washington line.  It reminded me of the “Big Lebowski.”  The rug really brought the room together. 

MATTHEWS:  I know that.  David Marinas (ph), the great biographer of President Clinton said that if he doesn‘t like you, he comes up to you and says, I really like that tie.  I don‘t know what the rug thing was about. 

BERNARD:  He could have been feeling a little nostalgic and wishing that he was back as the president in the White House or standing there with his wife. 

CILLIZZA:  Chris, and I said this during the campaign and I‘ll keep saying it, Bill Clinton has a way of making sure your eyes are on him in almost any political venue.  It is a unique gift.  Even when you‘re standing with three former presidents, one current president and the president-elect, he somehow manages to be the story. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I noticed about these guys?  Men don‘t like to stand too close to each other, and they were packed, like dense packed, like they were Temptations, some group.  Look at them, they‘re really tight together there, except for Jimmy Carter, as the camera pans to the right.  It probably won‘t pan now.  Jimmy Carter was a bit away from the rest of them.  I thought that was interesting.

What a great group.  It‘s a great country.  I love to see them all together.  You‘ll notice the Democrats are wearing red ties. 

BERNARD:  Only two of them, Carter and Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  And maybe that‘s—not red state people tonight.  But, you know, everybody talks race in America, as we have to because of our history, but I never thought of it for a second today when I saw him in the middle.  He seemed to be just right there, not the odd man out at all, Barack Obama.  He looks like our next president.  He is.  And great show. 

BERNARD:  And he‘ll make me proud. 

MATTHEWS:  It makes me proud to see former presidents all standing together.  Thank you, Michelle Bernard.  And they‘re not at a funeral.  That‘s a nice thing too.  Chris Cillizza, your analysis, by the way, a couple seconds ago about why former presidents are more popular than current presidents was skillful. 

CILLIZZA:  I try to bring my a game for you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not been condescending.  No matter what Michelle says.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  right now it‘s time for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster.

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

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