updated 1/28/2009 5:22:10 PM ET 2009-01-28T22:22:10

Guest: Lynn Sweet, Robert Wexler, Steve McMahon, Ron Brownstein, Perry Bacon, Todd Harris High: Embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich makes the rounds of television talk shows to plead his case.

Spec: Politics; Rod Blagojevich

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  B-Rod goes hot rodding—the best political story hits the Big Apple.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight, B-Rod hits the airwaves.  Rod Blagojevich, the battling B-Rod of national politics, swung for the circuit today, hitting the “Today” show, “Good Morning America” and “The View.”  All he missed was “Regis and Kelly.”

and the guy‘s got a message.  How come the Illinois senate, which is trying to kick him out of office, won‘t let him produce witnesses?  He‘s been elected twice.  Why won‘t his fellow Illinois politicians let him call people who he says can prove he didn‘t try to sell Barack Obama‘s Senate seat?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS:  You can conceivably bring in 15 angels and 20 saints led by Mother Teresa to come in and testify to my good character and my integrity and all the rest, it wouldn‘t matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Governor Blagojevich, who gives the best press conference since Jack Kennedy, made the rounds of the talk shows today in an effort to win the public opinion war against his accusers, who are as common in Chicago as Cubs fans.  He accused the senate trial of being fixed and repeatedly complained that the rules barred him from calling witnesses like White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

With a knowing shot, by the way, at a headline, he also said he had considered asking Oprah Winfrey to fill Barack Obama‘s vacant Senate seat, which could have, in one move, diversified and raised the collective IQ of the entire U.S. Senate.  More on B-Rod‘s media tour in a minute.

Plus, Republicans are mounting opposition to President Obama‘s stimulus package, but he‘s having none of it.  On Friday, he told complaining Republicans, “I won,” and said, “You can‘t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”  Actually, old Rush has got some serious objections to the Obama economic plan.  He says it‘s aimed at building up the Democratic Party by exempting the people at the economic lower end from paying any federal taxes for decades to come.  This is no joke, by the way.  We‘re going to talk about it.

And this morning, the president stressed the urgent need for his economic plan by pointing to the fact that 43,000 people just got pink slips today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘ve learned that Microsoft, Intel, United Airlines, Home Depot, Sprint Nextel and Caterpillar are each cutting thousands of jobs.  These are working men and women whose families have been disrupted and whose dreams have been put on hold.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Will Obama be able to explain the whys and hows of his huge spending and tax cut program in a solid way, or will his opponents do the job in the worst way?  And isn‘t he better off getting some Republicans to get on board with this thing?  Two U.S. congresspeople are coming here to debate that question.

And we‘ve got a new HARDBALL franchise tonight, the first 100 days. 

President Obama already rolled back Bush policy on Guantanamo, on torture.  He‘s changing policy on gays in the military.  And today, he broke with his predecessor, Bush, and took one step toward allowing states to set auto emissions standards that are tougher than the federal government‘s.  Will the new president win with these 180s from Bush?  Will any of them get him into hot water?  We‘ve got our dueling Democrat and Republican pair to punch that one out.

Also, in the “Politics Fix” tonight, could B-Rod, Rod Blagojevich, who isn‘t about to get off the national stage, end up undercutting President Obama?  And what‘s Oprah herself have to say about B-Rod talking up her chances of being a U.S. senator?  We‘ll have that in the “Sideshow.”

Let‘s begin with Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich‘s media blitz and his boycott of his impeachment trial, which he says is a stacked deck.  “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst.  Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief of “The Chicago Sun-Times.”

I want to start with Lynn.  Tell me about the rules of that senate out there in Illinois—Springfield, Illinois.  Is it true that Rod Blagojevich, the defendant, who‘s trying to save his governorship, can‘t bring in people like Rahm Emanuel and Jesse Jackson, Jr., who he says can prove he didn‘t try to sell them those Senate seats?

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  He cannot.  He‘s right on that, and that‘s why he‘s trying to get national sympathy on that, Chris, because it‘s a point that a lot of people understand.  This is not a court of law.  This is an impeachment proceeding.  The rules are set by the Illinois legislature.  And he‘s at a disadvantage because the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, doesn‘t want some of these witnesses to testify, and the legislature is going along with it.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Howard, you know what strikes me here, that that legislature out there is just a bunch of politicians trying to look good right now.  They‘re trying to impeach him now based upon the terrible publicity he got for being arrested, but they‘re not going after him on the grounds on which he was arrested.  In other words, they‘re going after him on old stuff now.  If they were going to impeach him on the old stuff, why didn‘t they do it in the old times?  Why are they doing it now?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s because Patrick Fitzgerald is on him in a new and very dramatic and public way over the couple weeks.

Knowing I was going to be on with Lynn, I was desperately phoning all my friends and sources in Chicago, and the best explanation I heard from one of them, Andy Shaw (ph), who I think is one of the best political reporters in town besides Lynn, said, Here‘s what the deal is.  Blagojevich is going to be convicted.  He‘s going to be out.  But what Blagojevich is aiming at is not saving his job but staying out of jail.  He‘s making this tour of the national media, where there‘s some residual sympathy, or at least curiosity about him, talking about himself as a martyr, a Robin Hood martyr, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, you name it, in order to curry favor with people who may end up on the federal jury.  All he needs is a couple of jurors who would vote to acquit to save him from jail.

He‘s going national because he has no credibility in Chicago anymore, so he‘ll go elsewhere to try to sell his story back to Chicago.  He‘s a caged animal here, but a very shrewd one.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask—let‘s take a look—here he is today on “The View,” very popular program on ABC, talking about—well, comparing himself to Nelson Mandela and—why not—Gandhi.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAGOJEVICH:  I thought first of my two daughters.  I thought of my wife.  And then I thought about some historic figures who had experienced a similar experience.  Under no circumstances am I comparing myself to Dr.  King or Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, though I must say all three of them were great men who have been an inspiration to me.  And I think about men like that always, but certainly during a difficult time like I‘m facing now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Lynn, he says he wants to bring in Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff to President Obama.  He wants to bring in Jesse Jackson, Jr., the long-time congressman from out there on the South Side of Chicago.  Is he doing that because he knows they don‘t want to come?  Is he doing that because they won‘t be called because of Patrick Fitzgerald?  Is he setting up a straw man situation, where he can‘t get what he wants to defend himself, therefore he‘s assumed to be innocent?

SWEET:  Also, he wants to—he wants—he keeps repeating the same names, Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett.  He throws in Dick Durbin, Harry Reid.  This has to do with the selling of the Senate seat, and he wants these people ostensibly to show that the conversations they had resulted in nothing happening.  And he wants to try and use them to clear him.

By the way, when he talked about Oprah, Chris and Howard, if he had only done that, if he had only—if he really thought that was something to do, it would have been an enormously popular pick.  One day, if she ever decides to go into public service, you know, she would probably be elected to whatever she wanted to in Illinois because she is a beloved figure back in Chicago.  But that he really didn‘t try, though, seems to cast a little, I don‘t know, cloud over what he said.  Now, having said that...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You don‘t believe him?  You‘re skeptical.

SWEET:  I‘m skeptical.  He said he didn‘t know how to get in touch with Oprah.  Well, he‘s the governor of the state of Illinois.  He would have—you know, he‘s the governor of the state of Illinois.  If he wanted to make an appointment of her, then that‘s what you call Rahm Emanuel, that‘s what you call contacts—I mean, he...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SWEET:  If that was what you needed to do, I could tell you a dozen people that could have helped him get in touch with Oprah Winfrey.  If he wanted a serious conversation, if he wanted...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

SWEET:  ... to treat her respectfully—as he said, he didn‘t want a Caroline Kennedy type of circus around it.  If that‘s what he really wanted, I think he could have figured that out.  He‘s throwing out all these names now...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s be honest here.  That would have been—I think—look, this is a nonpartisan statement.  Anybody doesn‘t think Winfrey would be a great senator from Illinois or anywhere is crazy.  She gets along with everybody.  She brings people together.  She finds common ground.  She‘s way past race politics 20 years ago.  She‘s so far ahead of most people...

SWEET:  It would be terrific...

MATTHEWS:  ... in human relations.

SWEET:  Absolutely.  I hope she runs...

MATTHEWS:  And she listens.

SWEET:  I hope she runs sometime in Illinois, or when she decides to go into public service, it would be terrific.  He‘s also using Oprah by bringing this up.  Diane Sawyer kind of had to drag it out of him a little bit, but then he—you know, he gushed all over this and he spilled his beans on it.

I think some of this is also to ride on Oprah Winfrey‘s enormous popularity and make him more of a sympathetic figure for the people out there in the Chicago area who will be part of this jury pool one day.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

FINEMAN:  It‘s the jury pool.  It‘s all about the jury pool, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Howard, I‘m a complete pol (ph).  Everything about this is the jury pool.  If he can get...

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s not just African-Americans, but if he can get people who watch...

FINEMAN:  I know.

MATTHEWS:  ... Oprah Winfrey every day and love her...

SWEET:  Seeds of doubt.

MATTHEWS:  If he can start—he started this about two weeks ago. 

He‘s looking out for working people.  He‘s looking out...

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s making this into a class fight, into a political fight.  It‘s the old Nixon trip that Pat Buchanan and those guys pulled.  If you can‘t win on the evidence...

FINEMAN:  No, but...

MATTHEWS:  ... you try to win on the politics.

FINEMAN:  Also—also...

MATTHEWS:  Right?

FINEMAN:  Also, Chris—also, Chris, I mean, a lot of what the legislature is angry at him about—and Lynn can correct me if I‘m wrong here—is that he did by executive fiat things that should have gone through the legislature that he will argue were done in the name of the working people—health care...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  ... legislation (SIC) that he did without legislation.  Those are among the charges against him.  And everybody there assumes he‘s going to be out as governor.  Pat Quinn will take over, if I‘m not mistaken.  And then Blagojevich faces Fitzgerald in a federal criminal trial.  That‘s what this whole national media tour is about.

SWEET:  Either that or...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a real Earl Long character, isn‘t he.  Howard?

SWEET:  Yes, I haven‘t...

MATTHEWS:  This guy‘s Earl Long, isn‘t he?  He‘s Huey‘s crazy brother. 

Don‘t you think, Lynn?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And he‘s going to—and he‘s going to play all the forces against him that are out after him as enemies of the people, just as the Longs did.  Exactly.

SWEET:  Right.  And he...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look, Lynn.  I‘m sorry, Lynn.  Let‘s take a look at him, the governor, hanging out there, talking about why he wanted to pick or would have picked or could have picked or thought of picking Oprah Winfrey as a U.S. senator.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAGOJEVICH:  My thought—it was an idea that a friend came—brought to me.  My thought was an African-American woman who probably by herself has more influence than 100 senators.  She was instrumental in electing Barack Obama president.  She clearly could use her bully pulpit to do good things for people.  The question was whether or not there was any chance at all she‘d be willing to do it.  And then, if so, how do you reach out to her?  Would she take the call of the governor of Illinois, for example, because Oprah is Oprah and I‘m just the governor of Illinois.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there he is on a talk show, talking about how he wanted to pick the talk show star of the times.  Howard, I‘m a cynic.  Lynn, you first here.  Do you think that was a cynical view to appeal to the “View” audience there, the women, mainly, who watch that show?

SWEET:  No, I think calculated more than cynical because I think

Blagojevich has an ability to believe what he‘s saying.  I don‘t think he -

and that‘s part of his mental ability to keep himself going here.  It‘s -

I think he believes that he really wanted to do this.  And he‘s bringing this up now because anything to change the subject of the criminal charges against him, anything to just have the conversation not go to the core (ph).

I mean, on that “View” interview, you see him on the couch.  Barbara Walters, I thought wisely, first grilled him in her segment alone, where it was Barbara Walters, the journalist that we all know, giving him—putting him through his paces.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SWEET:  You know, he didn‘t do as well there as on “The View,” and where Joy, by the way, at the end, hit the jackpot when she says, I hear you do a good Nixon imitation.  You know, Why don‘t you say, I‘m not a crook.  And you know, Rod almost, almost—he caught himself in time—I thought was going to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, don‘t give YouTube what they want.  But here‘s Blagojevich saying why he won‘t resign, final thought from Rod—B-Rod we call him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAGOJEVICH:  And for me to resign would be, in many ways, a way to disgrace my children.  My 12-year-old daughter and my 5-year-old daughter go to school and they hear things about their father.  For me to somehow give up because some of these politicians want me out of the way—because it‘s all about raising the income tax in Illinois before Memorial Day—would be to essentially say to my daughters that I did something wrong and that they shouldn‘t be proud of their dad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here he is, refusing the opportunity from Joy Behar to do a Nixon impression.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOY BEHAR, “THE VIEW”:  Now, wait a minute.  He does a fabulous Nixon impersonation.  Do it for us.

BLAGOJEVICH:  Who said that?

BEHAR:  Somebody told me!  Come on.

BLAGOJEVICH:  Well, no, I...

BEHAR:  Just say, I am not a crook.  Do it!

(LAUGHTER)

BLAGOJEVICH:  No, no.  I‘m not going to say that!

(LAUGHTER)

BLAGOJEVICH:  I‘m not going to say that.

BEHAR:  Come on!

BLAGOJEVICH:  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FINEMAN:  Bingo.

MATTHEWS:  Just leave it to Joy to put on a show.  She was right...

FINEMAN:  Bingo.

MATTHEWS:  She was going for the bingo there.  Here‘s my theories—here‘s my theories, guys, why he‘s doing the media tour.  He‘s, by the way, doing Rachel tomorrow night.  Here he is.  Fun.  He just loves this stuff.  Two, it‘s the book tour.  He‘s going to New York, to the home of New York publishing.  He‘s trying to get a lot of money for that book.  What a great way to pump up a book sale and get that advance.  Nobody will remember him a year from now, but what a sale right now perhaps.

And to go back to what Howard and Lynn are saying, the jury pool.  If he can get...

FINEMAN:  Yes, the jury pool.

MATTHEWS:  ... one or two people on the jury out there, that federal jury, he‘s off.  They come back and they offer him a plea bargain.  He gets a few months, right, Howard?  Isn‘t that it?  The second time around, he gets a better offer from the state.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Yes.  I think you got it exactly.  This is on a different level sort of like watching Matt Damon in escape after escape after escape in the—you know, one of the “Bourne” movies.  It‘s amazing to watch.  It‘s almost a textbook, as you mentioned Nixon—textbook example of watching a guy try to survive by using the media to get a version of his story out that makes him the victim.  He‘s playing the victim here.  He‘s always done that, the martyr victim, the Robin Hood character...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, why do people...

FINEMAN:  ... the guy who‘s protecting your taxes, giving you health care.  He‘s for the people.  Everybody else is against them.

SWEET:  And it‘s all, again, a major distraction.  I think, by the way, it‘s not as much about a book, Chris, as I think he would love a show.

(LAUGHTER)

SWEET:  And that‘s what part of this could be, too.  He needs money. 

He‘ll need a job.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know some people—I know some people—Lynn, I know some people he can talk to!  Thank you very much.  I was going to ask—and I don‘t know if he‘s guilty or not, but why do people with potentially criminal minds not use them for other things?  The guy‘s brilliant.

FINEMAN:  Good question.

MATTHEWS:  Why did he get in this kind of trouble?

SWEET:  He is.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a question.  You‘re so smart, why are you in such trouble?  Anyway, maybe—it‘s called brain soup.  It‘s who we are.  Howard—we know all about brain soup.  Thank you, Lynn Sweet.  Great reporting.

FINEMAN:  Thank you.

SWEET:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the clock‘s—you know, the prompter‘s not moving.  The clock‘s ticking, and key Republicans are coming out against President Obama‘s stimulus plan.  Will the president be able to sell the stimulus his way, or will Republicans define it for him?  He‘s got to negotiate this through the Senate.  He needs 60 votes to break that filibuster over there.  He needs to get some Republican help on the Senate side, at least.  We‘ll see.  We‘ll see what he‘s going to do to win this thing, and he has to win it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Check out what Rush Limbaugh told “The National Review‘s” Byron York.  Here‘s the quote.  “Obama‘s plan would buy votes for the Democrat Party.  It would allow a majority of American voters to guarantee no taxes for themselves going forward.  Put simply, I believe his stimulus is aimed at reestablishing eternal power for the Democrat Party, rather than stimulating the economy.”

With us now, two members of the U.S. Congress who will debate Obama‘s stimulus plan, Florida Democrat Robert Wexler and Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey.

Congressman Gingrey, you first.  Do you believe that this is a redistribution plan to basically take taxes completely off the backs of poor people by saying, Even if you have to pay payroll taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, we‘re going to give you an offset in terms of tax cutting, a refundable tax credit, so you never have to pay taxes again, and this is a political scam to get poor people to vote Democrat into the foreseeable future?  Is this the game?  Is Limbaugh right?

REP. PHIL GINGREY ®, GEORGIA:  Chris, I don‘t think that Rush Limbaugh is right on that.  At least, I hope he‘s not right.  And I‘m hoping and praying that President Obama will give us something that we can support on the Republican side.  He‘s coming to the Republican conference in the House tomorrow.  I‘m looking forward to hearing from him.

And you know, the big concern—of course, you mentioned some of these refundable tax credits—Something like $80 billion of this stimulus are going to end up going to people who currently don‘t pay any taxes.  And I think there are a lot of things in there -- $825 billion, and only 3 or 4 percent is going to be spent in the first year and 35 percent in the first two years.  That‘s not the immediate fix that we need. And I‘m—my great fear is, it will not stimulate the economy.  We will end up being just like Japan was 10 or 15 years ago, and have a lost decade. 

I—I think the downside risk is just too great.  I would like to help him.  I hope he will listen to us.  I think we can improve this.  The Republican Study Committee has an excellent program where—where we cut taxes for people who are paying taxes, not 95 percent, but 100 percent of them, 5 percent across the board, marginal rate cuts.

And we cut spending, too, Chris, by 1 percent.  Every—everything that doesn‘t pertain to defense and homeland security, we cut 1 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Wexler, what about that?  Do you like the way the tax cut is structured, so there‘s a big chunk of it that goes to people who don‘t pay income taxes? 

I mean, Rush Limbaugh thinks that is pure politics, that you‘re just party-building with poor people, saying no more taxes for you guys at all. 

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA:  The—the stimulus package is a proper balance of both expenditures, spending, on infrastructure, health care, education, alternative energy sources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. 

We‘re going to create or save between three million and four million jobs.  And we also are going to provide enormous tax relief, more than $300 billion.  About 60 percent of the stimulus plan is spending.  And about 40 percent is tax relief. 

And what the president has done is reach out.  As my very honorable colleague has said, he‘s reaching out to the Republican Conference tomorrow.  He‘s talked with a number of Republicans on the phone.  He met with the Republican leadership, as well as Democratic, of course, on a number of occasions.  He‘s offering a very prudent plan that I believe takes the best ideology from both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party and marries it together in a plan that I think, ultimately, a large number of Democrats, of course, will support it, and Republicans as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at what “The Wall Street Journal” reported Obama‘s meeting—it‘s coming up tomorrow with the Republicans—and it said, -- quote—“Challenged by one Republican senator over the contents of his big package, the new president, according to participants, replied, “I won.”

Now, Congressman Gingrey, is that a way for a president to negotiate? 

GINGREY:  Well, I‘m sure that may have been a slip of the tongue.  And I‘m sure he regrets saying that.

But, quite honestly, what—what we had envisioned was that we were going to have all this money going to states for infrastructure, roads, bridges, even repair of our public school system.  And my state of Georgia was excited about that.  In fact, we submitted a list of spade-ready, shovel-ready projects.

And now, all of a sudden, we find out that, what, 3 percent of the money is going to that.  And, so, much of it—and that‘s where I disagree with my good friend Robert Wexler from Florida—that it—it‘s not balanced.

I mean, we‘re throwing away—gosh, I think there‘s $200 million in there for family planning and contraceptives.  Now, indeed, that may stimulate something, but I don‘t think it‘s going to stimulate the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WEXLER:  Well, what—what...

MATTHEWS:  Well, Congressman Wexler, why isn‘t it—why isn‘t it just what we thought it was going to be, infrastructure, roads, bridges, stuff that everybody agrees on needs to be fixed, and creates real jobs for real people that pay decent salaries?

Why don‘t we spend all the money on that stuff that people can see, rather than all these odds and ends and cats and dogs?  I mean, the bill has so much stuff in it, you would think it‘s just a shopping list of the Democratic Party.  That‘s what it looks like. 

WEXLER:  No, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Everybody who wants something has something in here. 

WEXLER:  No. 

(CROSSTALK)

WEXLER:  What—what the Obama administration is arguing—and I believe they‘re correct—is that three-quarters of the money spent in this stimulus package will be out into the economy in 18 months. 

And I realize it‘s easy to find one item or this item, but even—let‘s talk about that family planning.  Family planning saves, if done correctly, an enormous sum of money down the road in the health care system. 

But, back to your original point, the—most of the money goes to building roads, bridges, infrastructure projects, like my friend Mr.  Gingrey says, as states will have designed them, as local governments as well will have designated them, also in terms of building schools. 

We desperately need to upgrade our education systems.  We have an enormous amount of resources devoted towards construction projects in public education, as we do in terms of alternative energy sources. 

We are going to invest enormous sums of money in creating green jobs, which have the benefit of employment increases, as well as relieving our dependence on—on foreign oil.  This is exactly what the country needs, combined with $300 billion-plus of tax cuts which affect 95 percent, positively, of the American family base. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know.  It sounds a little like China. 

I—I—Congressman Gingrey...

GINGREY:  Japan. 

MATTHEWS:  ... I think everybody should have family planning.  I have

everybody believes in birth control as a right.  I‘m for abortion as a right and all that.  It‘s all right.

But why should the federal government have a policy of reducing the number of births?  I don‘t know why the federal government has an interest in that.  They have an interest in freedom and people making choices.  But I just heard a case made by Congressman Wexler that it was in the national interest we have fewer kids.  I don‘t understand that.

(CROSSTALK)

WEXLER:  No, no, Chris, I did not say that. 

(CROSSTALK)

GINGREY:  Let me—you asked me...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What did you mean by that?  What did you mean by that? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why is it an economic stimulus?  Why are we talking about family planning as an economic stimulus program? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... what I don‘t understand.

GINGREY:  I don‘t we should be.  I clearly don‘t think we should be.  And I probably have already said enough about that one.  My wife will be on me about my comments in regard to that.  But...

MATTHEWS:  No, I understand.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Look, I‘m for family planning.  I‘m for all this.  I just don‘t think it‘s an economic stimulus plan. 

GINGREY:  No, of course not.

MATTHEWS:  These freedoms—these decisions should be family decisions, not federal decisions. 

What do you say, Congressman Wexler? 

WEXLER:  Of course...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why is family planning an economic stimulus element? 

WEXLER:  Chris, you are right.  Family planning is a personal choice. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WEXLER:  And, in order to make personal choices, people need to have both education and resources. 

(CROSSTALK)

WEXLER:  And when they lack that education or know-how or resources, in effect, then, their choice is negated.  And in terms from an economic analysis, to give people choices that, in some instances, based on personal choice, will reduce health care costs in the future, that, of course, then reduces the burden on federal taxpayers. 

This is not a new concept.  This is what we run the government on. 

(CROSSTALK)

WEXLER:  If we can reduce Medicaid expenditures by giving people more knowledge and choice and resources, I think most people, regardless...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

WEXLER:  ... of their ideology, will say, that‘s a good economic decision.

GINGREY:  Chris, I have heard Robert Wexler‘s explanation. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We will talk about...

GINGREY:  And I have heard Nancy Pelosi‘s.  And I still don‘t understand it.

But I will tell you, some of the money that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think we‘re getting—I think we‘re apples and oranges here.  I think economic development and economic opportunity and freedom are two separate issues. 

But we will talk about them later.  This is the kind of philosophical argument we have on this show.

Thank you, Robert Wexler.

WEXLER:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Congressman Gingrey. 

GINGREY:  Thanks, Chris. 

Up next: Oprah Winfrey‘s reaction to—her personal reaction to the news that Governor Blagojevich was thinking about her to replace Barack Obama in that Senate seat.  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, seeing what sticks to the wall.

During his media blitz today, Governor Blagojevich said he was considering naming Oprah Winfrey to Barack Obama‘s Senate seat. 

Here‘s her reaction to B-Rod‘s latest. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, “THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW”:  If I had been watching, as I normally—as watch from the treadmill, I probably would have fallen off the treadmill. 

(LAUGHTER)

GAYLE KING, EDITOR AT LARGE, “O”:  I know.  I thought that was so shocking. 

(LAUGHTER)

WINFREY:  I think I‘m—I‘m pretty amused by the whole thing. 

KING:  But I am sort of flattered that people think that you could be senator. 

WINFREY:  I think I could be senator, too.  I‘m just not interested. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s her with Gayle King, her buddy. 

I think she would be a great senator, myself, by the way.  She understands people.  She cares about people.  She knows how to listen.  She gets past this race thing and finds our common ground.  I think she is up there with Will Rogers and Bob Hope and some of our great public personalities of the last century. 

Up next: the shot heard round talk radio.  On Friday, President Obama urged top Republican lawmakers to move towards bipartisan, saying, “You can‘t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”

Well, here‘s the radio man‘s response. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”) 

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  This is the man that is going to unify everybody and usher in a new era of bipartisanship and love. 

And he‘s obviously more frightened of me than he is Mitch McConnell.  He is more frightened of me than he is of, say, John Boehner, which doesn‘t say much about our party. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you love the way he—he stretches out words?  Like, how many syllables are there in the word “me”?  Meeeeee.

Time now for the “Big Number.” 

Tomorrow, President Obama is set to meet with congressional Republicans and take a bipartisan look at that $850 billion economic recovery bill.  To put that in perspective, Bloomberg News reports that, in eight years, George W. Bush met with House Democrats precisely two times.  Just a week into office, Barack Obama is already halfway there. 

In his two terms, President Bush met with House Republicans—House Democrats twice—tonight‘s “Big Number,” two, not a very big number.

And that‘s not the only way President Obama is showing he‘s different than President Bush.  Up next, it‘s the end of the President Obama‘s first week in office, and, already, he‘s all about change, 180 from Bush.  We are going to talk about those 180s when we come back.  We‘re going to break down Obama‘s first 100 days next.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks rising, despite the massive job cuts announced today.  The Dow Jones industrials gained 38 points.  The S&P 500 picked up four, and the Nasdaq gained 12 points. 

Among the layoffs announced today, heavy construction equipment maker Caterpillar cutting 20,000 jobs, Sprint Nextel cutting 8,000, and Home Depot laying off 7,000, and General Motors cutting another 2,000 jobs. 

In addition, number-one drugmaker Pfizer announced it‘s buying rival Wyeth for $68 billion.  But the deal is expected to wipe out nearly 20,000 jobs. 

On the plus side, today, sales of existing homes rose in December by a larger-than-expected 6.5 percent. 

Also, the index of leading economic indicators rose unexpectedly in December.  The index forecasts future economic activity. 

Meantime, oil fell 74 cents today, closing at $45.73 a barrel. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We‘re first in businesses worldwide—now back to MSNBC. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Not quite one week into the job, President Obama is systematically undoing the Bush years.  Today, it was the environment.  The president ordered the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, to reconsider whether California and other states could have tougher car emissions standards to reduce greenhouse gases. 

NBC‘s chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, joins us now with more on that decision and what‘s ahead for the Obama administration in these first 100 days. 

They don‘t like the phrase first 100 days, Chuck, but it looks like they‘re trying to move this thing. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  They are moving quickly. 

And, you know, Chris, it wasn‘t just in actual actions when they were trying to show a 180 from Bush, whether it was on the closing of Guantanamo Bay, or this environmental action, the abortion decision on Friday.  There are some contextual things they‘re doing. 

Look at Obama today.  Obama opened the announcement about the emissions talking about all of these companies that are laying people off, all of the job news.  What it was a signal—it was a subtle signal of:

“Hey, I read the papers.  I‘m reading what‘s going on every morning, and I‘m not afraid to talk about bad news.”

The previous president, President Bush, he—he hated talking about bad news.  He wouldn‘t talk about it.  They had this—they—they—it got so bad, that they always kept saying those things, like the fundamentals of the economy are strong.  They had this obsession with spinning it so positively, that they lost credibility. 

And—and this is another 180 by Obama, trying to make sure, hey, I‘m not afraid to look at the realities of a situation now, to talk about the future. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

I think it always works with politicians when they talk in terms of brand names, too, like Home Depot, because we all live in brand names, you and I and everybody we know.

TODD:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t talk in generic terms. 

TODD:  No.

MATTHEWS:  We talk about companies, Coca-Cola, whatever we deal with.

TODD:  Starbucks, right.  IBM. 

MATTHEWS:  American Airlines.  That‘s how we live.

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And, when you talk like that, you—let me go through some of the big 180s, though: Gitmo...

TODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... Iraq, gays in the military, torture.  It does seem like it‘s easy to tell the difference.  They want it that way, right? 

They want—they want clarity in the importance of this election just out there, right? 

TODD:  What is interesting, they want—they get clarity in the headlines.

But, in all of these things, there has been a fine print.  Gitmo has been fascinating to me to watch, because I think it exemplifies exactly the type of presidency he wants to have when it comes to policy.  The headline is what?  Very clear, OK, shutting down Gitmo.  Then, you read the fine print.  And it says, well, we do acknowledge—you know, he didn‘t back himself into a corner, right?

He said, well, we may have to come up with an alternative—I think they called it interrogation protocol—for intelligence suspects.  So, that could change some interrogation techniques.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  He also talked about, there‘s a possibility we‘re going to hold people that have no rights to a trial, that aren‘t given rights to a trial, because you can‘t try them and you can‘t release them. 

So while, on one hand, the bright line headline is one thing for the left and maybe a message to the world, the fine print is just that, fine print where he gives himself that presidential leeway.  I just think it‘s emblematic of what he‘ll always try do, which is find what—find middle ground where he thinks he can find it.  And on Gitmo, for instance, I think he found it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I also think he likes to do what FDR did back in the ‘30s, find things like booze, when he got rid of prohibition.  Happy days are here again.  Those very dramatic steps like getting the beer hauling again into the bars.  It was a way of saying, this is going to be different. 

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd, from the White House.  Let‘s bring in our strategists tonight, Democratic Steve McMahon, who is a Democrat, and Republican Todd Harris.  Gentlemen, this big difference between what we‘re seeing from this guy, the smell of construction, the differences in these guys—if you were doing this, Chuck—Todd Harris.  I get my Todds mixed up.  Would you be so dramatic or would you look for a mellow shifting into a new administration, or would you say no, it‘s 180 from the other guy? 

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Obama has been dramatic throughout the whole campaign, not in his demeanor, but in terms of his sweeping policy announcements.  And I got to tip my hat to them.  I give them an A on optics and an A on rhetoric, but I give them a C on actual substance and record.  As Chuck Todd was just talking about, a sweeping ban on torture declaration, but then, in the fine print, they set up a task force to study when, in fact, we can torture people. 

A sweeping ethics reform to ban lobbyists—hold on.  Ban lobbyists from the administration, but then the next day a waver to put a Raytheon lobbyist in the Defense Department. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s stick with torture.  He said his people, Eric Holder the other day, going up for attorney general, said that water boarding, just to use an example where Dick Cheney liked water boarding—he believed in it.  He didn‘t like it; he relished the use of it.  He goes out like Dr. Strangelove.  This guy comes in and says, no, we‘re not going to do it that way. 

That is dramatic, isn‘t Steve?  They‘re really different on the issues of torture.  I disagree with being confused here.  What do you think?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I disagree, too, on a wide range of issues.  He is trying to show 180.  And on the torture thing, to say that we may have to find alternative ways to interrogate these people is a far different cry from saying, we‘re going to continue to torture them.  I don‘t think that‘s what they intended or said at all.  I think Todd is engaging in a little Republican spin here. 

HARRIS:  No, no, no. 

MCMAHON:  It is not unusual for Todd, because after all that‘s what he does for a living. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this—nothing below the belt here.  Let me go to Todd on this other question.  Today, Governor Schwarzenegger came out and said he is pushing for tougher emissions standards out in California, a green governor out there.  WE Know that.  Is this something where the Republicans are going to play ball with Barack, tougher emission standards? 

HARRIS:  I think they‘re typical government, where they‘re giving the auto industry a handout with one hand, and then with the other hand making life more difficult for these sweeping, new regulations.  I think the real pressure on Obama is not going to come from Republicans like John Boehner, who has already criticized this.  It‘s going to be those behind the scenes phone call that are probably already being made by the United Auto Workers‘ Union and other unions in Michigan and Ohio, who stand to lose real jobs because of the punitive measures. 

MCMAHON:  You know what? 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the unions will do that?  Do you think—do you think, Steve, the unions are going to buckle and say we shouldn‘t get serious about green cars? 

MCMAHON:  Listen, I think what‘s going to happen here is regardless of whether a car gets 15 miles a gallon or 35 miles a gallon, they‘re going to made hopefully in Detroit.  They‘re going to be made hopefully by American auto workers.  And I think this is a case where the public is way ahead of the politicians.  President Obama now, by signing this executive order, is giving Republican governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger the ability to move beyond what the federal government is willing to do or the ability to move faster.  That‘s what the public wants, especially in places like California. 

In Detroit and in other places, maybe they don‘t.  But this is a place where, you know, the governor of California has made this a priority.  And I think President Obama wants to get the government out of his way here in Washington. 

HARRIS:  But the problem is they‘re putting the government in the way of the auto industry by passing this new regulation.  What they‘re doing, in essence, is creating two different standards for the automakers, a higher standard in terms of emissions for states like California, and a different standard for everywhere else.  That is not the way to bring our crippled auto industry back on its feet. 

MCMAHON:  It is a way to get energy independence for America. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the 60 votes.  Gentlemen, we only have a half a minute.  Sixty votes to get something passed the Senate.  Will Barack Obama get 60 votes for his economic passage?  Will he get enough Republicans to offset the conservative Democrats, maybe the two Nelsons, Ben and Bill?  Will he pick up enough like Specter and perhaps pick up Olympia Snowe.  Can he get he needs to shell out the bait, Todd Harris? 

HARRIS:  I don‘t think he will as long as this stimulus package is as filled with as much frivolous pork as it is today. 

MATTHEWS:  Steve, will he get to 60? 

MCMAHON:  He is going to get to 60 because he‘s listening to the Republicans.  He‘s put in tax cuts for small business.  That‘s what they asked for.  They got it.  And they‘re going to give him the votes. 

MATTHEWS:  I say he gets to 60, because a lot of those Republicans would prefer to be senators than Republicans.  Thank you, Steve McMahon.  Thank you, Todd Harris. 

Up next, the Illinois Senate begin its impeachment of Governor Blagojevich and B-Rod hits the air waves.  We‘re going to talk about that.  By the way, can the governor‘s shenanigans hurt President Barack Obama?  This guy is very visible out there.  He‘s on every show.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time for the politics fix.  We‘re joined by Atlantic  Media‘s Ron Brownstein and Perry Bacon of the “Washington Post.”  Gentlemen, let‘s take a look.  Here‘s Governor Blagojevich coming out of—talking to “Access Hollywood” today on the way out of “The View.”  What a comment he made. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Have discussions of TV movies and stuff being made, who would play you?  Who would you want to play you? 

BLAGOJEVICH:  Is that right?  Have there been?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There have been some discussions.

BLAGOJEVICH:  I wouldn‘t mind playing myself.  I could probably use the job. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ron, he goes further in the further quote and says, I‘ll need the money.  Here‘s a guy who knows which way he‘s going.  What do you make of this Blagojevich story?  I have a theory that he‘s doing it to get to the jury pool.  He‘s trying to get a couple jurors.  He‘s working very hard the Oprah Winfrey thing.  He‘s worked the poor people‘s number.  He‘s playing the politics of if you can‘t win the case, you win the politics. 

RON BROWNSTEIN, “ATLANTIC MEDIA”:  So much of the point was made by the fact that he was talking to “Access Hollywood” on his way out from “The View.”  It gives you the sense of where he is aiming, as you say, at his audience. 

Right now, politically, it‘s a side show.  Obviously, his future is on the line.  But given the magnitude of things going on in Washington, I think this story doesn‘t combust as much as it would otherwise.  It is just a remarkable side show.  I can‘t—you have to go back to something like the earl of Louisiana—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I was thinking of Earl Lawn—

BROWNSTEIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it is Earl Lawn, the guy Paul Newman played in the movies.  This guy is so smart.  You wonder where were his brains when he was screwing around out there?  Why was he so corrupt, if he was corrupt, and so smart today?  Here‘s my question.  This guy‘s going to get a book deal.  This guy is going to go before a jury.  And this guy may be able to get a hung jury.  If he gets a hung jury, then he can plea bargain and be out in a few months.  It seems to me that he‘s pretty smart. 

PERRY BACON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I thought the Burris pick last month showed him being pretty smart about politics and how they work.  We think he‘s trying to affect potential jurors in talking about how he would have picked Oprah Winfrey, who is very popular in Illinois.  I‘ll be curious to see how that works going down the line.  It looks like he will be impeached though. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about John Conyers.  John Conyers just today

Hot story just out tonight.  John Conyers, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has called for the subpoenaing of Karl Rove.  He wants Karl Rove to testify under oath about the role he played in the firing of those U.S.  attorneys.  This is hot stuff.  Do we know whether executive privilege covers a guy once he has left the White House?  Perry Bacon?

BACON:  I don‘t actually know what the legal situation is.  Politically, I think this is something they probably want—I‘ll be curious what Nancy Pelosi says about this.  They‘ve been very reluctant—

Obama has been talking about not looking back too much, and sort of looking forward more, not being too focused on having Conyers look back into everything Bush did wrong or allegedly did wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you losing weight, Perry? 

BACON:  I‘m not sure, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to know your secret.  I‘m calling you after the show.  I‘m going to call you after the show and find out the secret.  Let me go to Ron Brownstein.  Ron, this is interesting.  John Conyers can be pretty wild.  But I think he‘s on to something here.  This has never been settled, the role the White House played in the firing of all those U.S.  attorneys.  It seems to me a legitimate question, whether there was political influence here and whether it came through Karl Rove. 

ROVE:  I think they are legitimate questions.  As Perry said, the over-arching political decision is looking forward versus looking back.  There‘s enormous pressure in portions of the Democratic party to look back across a broad range of issues, particularly those relating to the treatment of detainees and the legal strategies in the war on terror.  This, I think, is just one front in those large political decisions Democrats face. 

But it‘s not the last time I think you‘re going to see in particular Chairman Conyers pushing the Democratic leadership to re-open some of these issues.  It will be fascinating to see how it plays out in the months ahead. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s the late great Tony Snow.  What a nice guy he was in that picture.  Thank you—We‘ll be right back with Ron and Perry.  I want to talk to about Hillary Clinton and her attitude about Gillibrand replacing her in the Senate and bumping the Kennedy daughter aside.  We‘re going to bring in by tape Andrea Mitchell.  She has a thought on that this morning.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Ron Brownstein and Perry Bacon with more of the politics fix.  Let‘s listen to Andrea Mitchell this morning on “MORNING JOE” on Hillary Clinton‘s reaction to the Senate pick of Gillibrand for her seat in the United States Senate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, they are publicly embracing Gillibrand.  You saw that they had lunch yesterday at the Waldorf and that Hillary Clinton, even though the secretary of state went out of her way to endorse her.  People close to Clintons certainly say that they were happy it was not Caroline Kennedy, because there‘s still a lot of bitterness over the fact that Caroline and Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama at a critical moment in the primaries. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Perry Bacon, there we have it again, an account from Andrea Mitchell, who is as sharp a reporter as there is on this beat, pointing out that the Clintons still don‘t like the fact that the Kennedys backed Barack Obama.  They‘re not getting over it.  They‘re happy of the fact that Caroline Kennedy, for whatever reason, was bumped aside for U.S. Senate. 

BACON:  I think the Clintons are going to be frustrated with people who didn‘t support them in the primary for a long time is my guess.  I‘m not surprised to hear that. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron, this is interesting.  Maureen Dowd has this in her column this Sunday, this same point that the Clintons had bad blood toward the Kennedys.  They didn‘t like the fact that the Kennedys sort of treated the Clintons like seat warmers between the Kennedy era and Obama era.  They didn‘t like that treatment. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, if the Clintons are angry at everybody who supported Barack Obama, they‘re going to have a lonely corner in the Democratic party.  He is the president and he won 53 percent of the vote.  In New York, I think they have much bigger problems with this nomination than whether the Clintons are happy or unhappy.  It‘s really an incredible situation where David Paterson—you remember Blagojevich describing an open seat as a tangible asset that he wanted to maximize.  Paterson has handled this in a way that increases the likelihood of both him and his choice facing a primary challenge before 2010.  So this has not been smoothly handled.

MATTHEWS:  Couldn‘t you argue, Ron—Ron, couldn‘t you argue it‘s still an open seat?  She‘s not going to hold that seat?  She‘s going to face a tough primary opponent from New York City.  Some liberal in New York City is going to take her on? 

BROWNSTEIN:  She could be a strong general election candidate with her profile.  If I was --  

MATTHEWS:  Sorry, we‘ve got to go.  Please come back.  Ron—

BROWNSTEIN:  That opening is there. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s a good race for anybody from the city.  Thank you, Ron Brownstein.  Thank you, Perry Bacon.  Join us tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, let‘s join “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster.  David?

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

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