updated 2/4/2009 10:17:26 AM ET 2009-02-04T15:17:26

Time: 17:00

Guest: Pat Buchanan, Andrea Mitchell , Joe Trippi, Gov. Charlie Crist, Claire McCaskill, Jonathan Alter, Roger Simon High: Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle withdraws as President Obama‘s nominee for HHS secretary because of past tax problems.

Spec: Politics; Government

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Daschle ditches.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Daschle ditches.  In the end, which came at dawn, Tom Daschle needed to bring the plane down in the Potomac.  His engines were gone.  He was out of gas.  His choice came down to hanging up there for a few more days of flak and attack or ditch the effort in his own river and save the population.  A few more days of Daschle in trouble would have hurt the man he helped bring to the White House without helping his own cause.

So it‘s now one for three, three top appointees with tax troubles.  One, Tim Geithner, got through.  Two, Daschle and deputy OMB director Nancy Killefer did not.  She dropped out early this morning, three hours before Tom Daschle did.

Now for the upbeat news.  Judd Gregg, a Yankee Republican from New Hampshire, was named commerce secretary today, a job Bill Richardson was supposed to get.  Eric Holder got confirmed last night as attorney general despite that little pardon for Marc Rich back in 2001.  And oh, yes, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been sworn in at Foggy Bottom.

Want some more good news?  The president‘s pushing Democrats in Congress to dump some of the excelsior out of that stimulus package of theirs to make room for some Republican stuff.  Also, he‘s got some top-drawer Republican governors—Schwarzenegger, Charlie Crist, who‘s going to be here—punching for his big plan.  And Missouri senator Claire McCaskill has come down hard on Wall Street, most recently for packing its bags with billions in bonuses.  What will she think about the fact that Wells Fargo, which received a $25 billion bail-out from taxpayers, has planned Las Vegas casino junkets to reward their top mortgage lenders, whoever they might be.  She called the Wall Street bonus grabbers “idiots.”  We‘ll see what she calls those casino-headed people when we get her on HARDBALL tonight.

Also, in the “Politics Fix” tonight: can President Obama change Washington?  Can he change the country?  Can he be practical enough to lead but still be idealistic enough to inspire?  Boy, is that the question.

And finally, President Obama nominated Republican senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, as I said, to be his commerce secretary.  But what did Gregg want to do with the Commerce Department back when he had a chance?  Nothing nice.  That‘s for sure.  You‘ll appreciate this bit of irony in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

We begin with Tom Daschle withdrawing the nomination as HHS secretary.  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell has been reporting the story all day and joins us now.  Andrea, tell us about your personal call that you got from Tom Daschle right after he withdrew.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I called him, Chris.  And he was very emotional.  He said that he had read “The New York Times” editorial really slamming him today and realized that he could not be effective.  He was going to be in this critical role of health reform czar at the White House and also clearly running the Health and Human Services department.  But frankly, in long conversations I‘ve had with him over the course of many months, his interest was primarily in doing health care reform, carrying that legislation to the Hill, carrying through what had obviously failed back in 1993, in the Clinton years.

And that said, you know, Tom Daschle, who left the Senate because he was defeated, a rare time when a majority leader is defeated, and then came back in the role of key adviser and vote getter, one of the key players in the Barack Obama campaign effort to line up support from those superdelegates for Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton—here he was at this pivotal moment, the highlight of his political career, really, since leaving the Senate as majority leader in defeat, and clearly emotionally overwrought at the realization that he could not help this new young president who he‘s really very close to and was going to have to withdraw.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell, who‘s been covering this all day.

Let‘s bring in Pat Buchanan, who will have some interesting views, and Joe Trippi, who will have some opposite views, most likely.  Pat, he had to hit the rip cord, didn‘t he.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think he did, apparently.  He would know better than anyone else when he went up into that Senate committee, Chris.  But look, I‘ve debated Tom Daschle the last couple years on a number of platforms.  He‘s a nice guy.  He‘s a good adversary.  He‘s got a good sense of humor, takes kidding well.  Here he was, at the peak of his career, about to be the White House top guy on health care, the head of HHS, the author of universal health care and a guy who himself, because he was majority leader, could get it through the U.S. Senate.  He was going to get a place in history, unlike almost -- -- almost like LBJ on Civil Rights, and now it‘s gone.  It‘s a personal tragedy, but it really is—I mean, he made a real blunder, a serious mistake in not seeing that when you get all those free rides, $250,000 worth or whatever it was, that you got to pay taxes on it.

MATTHEWS:  You mean a car, he had a car and a driver...

BUCHANAN:  Car and drive...

MATTHEWS:  ... and didn‘t know that he had to pay taxes on it.  And all I can figure is—well, I can‘t figure it out.  He must have figured the guy who owned the car and the driver—hired the driver was paying the taxes.  He never explained it to anybody, what happened here.

Joe Trippi, is it better for the Democrats—just to put the bright side on this—that this guy quit today, Tom Daschle, took the it?  If he had hung in there for another week and jammed himself through the Senate, say 55-45, got through in a tough call, would that create more bad blood for this administration?

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It would have, but I don‘t think that was in the cards.  And I realized this morning when I saw “The New York Times”—I twittered about it.  This was on the Net that this was going to be a big problem and he was in trouble.

MATTHEWS:  Is that the boss?

TRIPPI:  Excuse me?

MATTHEWS:  Is “The New York Times” the boss?

TRIPPI:  Yes.  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m serious about this.

TRIPPI:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Is “The New York Times” the boss of the Democratic Party?

TRIPPI:  I think “The New York Times” and Peter Baker‘s (ph) article in “The Washington Post” today—both of those—when you have both “The Post” and “The Times” going after you in this town...

MATTHEWS:  But “The Post” defended him.

TRIPPI:  ... that‘s a problem.

BUCHANAN:  If true, that‘s terrible.  I mean, for heaven‘s sakes, a “New York Times” editorial...

TRIPPI:  Well...

BUCHANAN:  Reagan just dismissed them and laughed them off.

MATTHEWS:  What about “The Wall Street Journal”?  Did he dismiss that?

BUCHANAN:  Sure.  He‘d be more concerned about “Human Events” attacking him than those guys!  He didn‘t care about the press.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  Andrea Mitchell reported he told her that when he read “The New York Times” this morning...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... “Human Events,” the most right-wing magazine in the country...

BUCHANAN:  Sure.  I‘ve seen Ronald Reagan rage when they attacked him and just laugh off “The New York Times.”

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s (INAUDIBLE) Here‘s what “The New York Times” said this morning.  Quote, “In both the Geithner and the Daschle cases, the failure to pay taxes is attributed to unintentional oversights, but Mr.  Daschle is one oversight case too many.  The American tax system depends heavily on voluntary compliance.  It would send a terrible message to the public if we ignored the failure of yet another high-level nominee to comply with the tax law.”

That‘s “The New York Times.”  And I do believe it is dictatorial, in a sense.  I thing “The New York Times” is the engine of the Democratic Party.

BUCHANAN:  (INAUDIBLE) how Charlie Rangel survives writing the tax code for middle America when he‘s got far worse tax problems than Geithner had or Daschle had.

TRIPPI:  I think Daschle meant what he said.  He didn‘t want to be a distraction and he would have been a continued distraction had he moved forward.  Other things have to happen.  But more importantly, look, this administration has had the toughest standards on this stuff, on lobbying and the people who get in the administration.  They‘re paying some price for that because the high standards that they...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Richard Allen (ph) got a cheap watch and he...

MATTHEWS:  ... for taking a watch...

BUCHANAN:  ... threw it into a safe and he didn‘t do anything!

MATTHEWS:  ... he threw it in a safe...

BUCHANAN:  They threw him out as national security adviser!

TRIPPI:  No.  No one‘s had the rules that this administration has.

BUCHANAN:  Oh, come on!

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Come on.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go through the list.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Lets go through the list.  Here‘s the great irony.

BUCHANAN:  Yes?

MATTHEWS:  Geithner, tax—head of...

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  He‘s head of the IRS!

MATTHEWS:  ... hasn‘t been paying his taxes on them, when he was working at the IMF, wasn‘t paying Medicare or Social Security taxes.  Richardson—we don‘t know why he was bombed out, but he was going to be commerce secretary.  He‘s gone because of some investigation...

BUCHANAN:  Grand jury...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... something going on with some fat cat contributor out there.  Just a minute.  Let‘s keep going here.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Daschle now gone.  So this is treasury trouble, commerce trouble, OMB trouble...

BUCHANAN:  Killefer!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... because this woman, Nancy Killefer...

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  ... like it‘s a bunch of spaghetti and meatballs.  It‘s not. 

This is about context.  This is about how...

MATTHEWS:  OK, take a minute and explain it.

TRIPPI:  ... these guys—because what happened here is the—is it‘s a series of—any one of the people—Tom Daschle would have survived this if it hadn‘t been for the other two.  In other words, he‘s paying the price for...

BUCHANAN:  In other words, you got four.  But how does Killefer—she‘s got a lien on the house from the D.C. government for refusing to pay taxes on an employee—what was it, workmen‘s compensation?  You don‘t know you got a problem when they put a lien on your home?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What‘s interesting is every one of the people...

BUCHANAN:  And she‘s the efficiency czar!

MATTHEWS:  ... got in trouble for personal management of their personal finances.  OK.  You can call it corrupt, call it (INAUDIBLE)  It‘s interesting that the people we knew had troubles, potential troubles, at the beginning—we thought Eric Holder would have huge troubles.  I love irony.  He was supposed to have huge troubles because he put the pass—he gave the wave passed on the Marc...

BUCHANAN:  (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  ... the Marc Rich pardon and didn‘t stop it.  OK.  We know that Hillary Clinton had problems not because of doing anything wrong but because her husband has so many complicated business relationships around the world.  So the people with the public biggest potential challenges to overcome whizzed right through.

(CROSSTALK) The problems of this administration seem to be personal finances.

BUCHANAN:  No.  Here‘s the thing...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

BUCHANAN:  Both the ones that came through—their problem—you and I knew all about Holder and we all knew about Hillary.  We‘d all talked about Bill.  That was all public.  What happened on each of these was they get up there in this environment, and boom, explosions go off during the process.  It‘s just like a plane.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... if the plane‘s in a takeoff, it‘s far more vulnerable than if it‘s up at 30,000 feet and has trouble.

MATTHEWS:  And so the takeoff—here‘s Senator Ensign weighing in on

here‘s a serious comment he made about the chances for Tom Daschle to have gotten through, had he hung in there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA:  I think that there were some serious problems with Senator Daschle with his tax problems, but also the fact that President Obama has said that he wants to stop the revolving door, that he doesn‘t want lobbyists as part of his administration.  Well, I don‘t know how you get paid $2 million by a lobbying firm and not call yourself a lobbyist.  That just seems disingenuous to me and I don‘t think passes the smell test.  So I personally think that Senator Daschle, you know, was going to face some tough questions, and to stop an embarrassment from happening for this president—I think he saved the president from being embarrassed next week in a public hearing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is that right?

TRIPPI:  That‘s exactly the point...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a pretty solid comment from John Ensign there.

TRIPPI:  That‘s exactly the point I was making, that this administration set really high standards and they‘re paying a price for setting them.  But I think the outcome is the right one with—with...

MATTHEWS:  OK, which administrations...

TRIPPI:  ... Daschle pulling himself out.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) Republican or Democrat, has allowed somebody to come into office having not paid six figures in taxes?  Who‘s ever had a lower standard?

BUCHANAN:  A Republican would have been ripped to pieces.

TRIPPI:  It‘s not a—no, you‘re talking about the standards.  I‘m talking about is you can‘t lobby the administration...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... but that‘s not something...

TRIPPI:  They have really strict standards about...

BUCHANAN:  But the Republicans...

TRIPPI:  ... trying to...

BUCHANAN:  But the Republicans and Democrats wouldn‘t have knocked off, say, Bob Dole, who‘s in one of those firms, with this sort of thing.  It‘s—that‘s Obama‘s standards.  The big thing—I think the guy might have been able to get through.  He must feel that he‘s embarrassed Obama because it‘s Obama‘s standards that‘s a problem, not the Senate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Has this guy set the bar too high, Pat Buchanan?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Has Barack Obama promised...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Look, there are people in this town who have gone into lobbying who are bright, tough, people of character who know issues and things like that.  And if I were in the administration, or running one, I certainly wouldn‘t rule them all out for any position in government...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So Barack made a mistake?

BUCHANAN:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  The president made a mistake?

BUCHANAN:  I think his standards may be too high.

TRIPPI:  He set this standards high and that‘s why you‘re having—he‘s having to do some exemptions, because they were too high...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE)

TRIPPI:  ... and now you‘ve got somebody who—I think everybody in this town agrees that Tom Daschle‘s a good, honest person.

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t it seem like the Carter...

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  ... but he‘s got to leave because of...

MATTHEWS:  Remember the Carter expedition that opened up King Tut‘s tomb?  And everybody suffered some sort of miserable death that couldn‘t...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Caroline Kennedy was beloved and untouchable.  All of a sudden, she hit the chute.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Jim Johnson was one of his first top people, remember?

BUCHANAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  On the vice presidential (INAUDIBLE) Gone!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  All these people, Richardson, Daschle—it‘s unbelievable, the number of people who‘ve had problems in the last...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  This is the Little Bighorn!

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  There‘s something wrong when you sit here and say, Gosh, he set the standards too high.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just saying...

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  ... standards for honesty in government‘s a pretty good thing.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the question.  Is this going to get in the way of his being—doing the heavy lifting that matters to the people watching right now?  The people watching right now generally are Keynesian economics.  They believe that we got to do something to boost demand in this country through government spending, real—and tax cuts.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to get something substantially through, improved upon by Republicans, that we‘re all going to be proud of?  Yes or no.

BUCHANAN:  I think yes.  Ultimately, he‘s going to get through, but he‘s going to have to have it improved.  But he‘s been hurt badly, Chris.  This isn‘t a speed bump, he‘s hit a real rutted road already in his first two weeks.  And I do think—look, the stimulus package, the country‘s not for it.  It‘s below 50 percent already.  It‘s being ripped to bits...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re talking about the big spending program that...

BUCHANAN:  No, I‘m talking about the $817 billion...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You think it‘s in trouble?  I think people don‘t buy the connection yet because it hasn‘t been sold to them.  I have said...

TRIPPI:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  ... you got to get on television and explain why every dollar of this package is going to help reverberate—reestablish the American economy.

TRIPPI:  But that‘s why Daschle had to get out is because right now, the administration, the president‘s trying to make that case, and every day they get caught up in this—you know, in who‘s being appointed.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... bunch of interviews tonight, including with Brian Williams...

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think he can make the case.  I think it‘s already gotten away from him because the truth is it is not the stimulus package you and I talked about.  It‘s got all that Democratic social spending in there.  It‘s a combined of two things, and one of them‘s going to take it down.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I can tell you what I want to see.  I want to see tax cuts for people that are going to spend the money, especially people that need it...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

TRIPPI:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and number two, I want to see stuff being built.

BUCHANAN:  New economy!

MATTHEWS:  I like stuff that‘s built.  I don‘t want money played around with in bail-outs and financial reimbursements and all this crap that‘s going on with the banks.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I want people to get money who are going to do things, build things that we can look at.  That‘s what people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, Americans like...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Americans like people that—they don‘t like people that make money with money, they like people that build things...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Yes, they liked the TVA and they liked the Hoover Dam and they liked rural electrification...

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  That‘s going to happen.  And I think that‘s what the president‘s going to lead (ph) in working with...

MATTHEWS:  Bridge (ph) and block (ph), right?

TRIPPI:  Yes, but the...

(LAUGHTER)

TRIPPI:  Well, I think in the new economy...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... says you got to replace the smell of decay with the smell of construction.  And we know what the smell of construction smells like, dirt being moved.

TRIPPI:  David Garth (ph) is a really big media consultant, for those who didn‘t really know that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he matters to us.

BUCHANAN:  He would never pass the Obama test.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  And if you‘re watching, David, you‘re right the right one.  Anyway, Pat Buchanan, Joe Trippi.

Coming up: Congressional Republicans say they don‘t like Barack Obama‘s economic recovery plan, but some prominent Republican governors are on board.  By the way, I think they‘re going to get a deal here if they get this thing, get some of the junk out of there and put some heavy stuff in there.  One of them, by the way, is Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida.  He‘s going to be up here next.  He‘s a very popular governor down there.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama‘s reaching out to Republican governors to find support for his economic plan.  With us now, one of those Republican governors, Florida governor Charlie Crist.  Governor—I was going to call you Charlie because I like you so much, but thank you for coming in.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST ®, FLORIDA:  Charlie‘s fine.

MATTHEWS:  Why are you aboard the Obama bail-out bandwagon?

CRIST:  Well, I call it a stimulus for the economy, to try to help the people of my state.  And it‘s really that simple, Chris.  You know, you look at the kind of deficit that we‘re facing here in Florida—we just came through a special session where we had to cut over a billion dollars more as it relates to making sure that we stay in balance.  This program will help us with education, with health care, Medicaid specifically, infrastructure.  These are the kinds of things that produce jobs.  It could mean $13 billion to the “Sunshine State.”  It comes at a time when we need it.  People need jobs.  It‘s about jobs, jobs, jobs.  This will help us produce that, and I think it‘s important to move forward.

MATTHEWS:  If you were Franklin Roosevelt and you were on the radio tonight and you wanted to explain the budget—the stimulus package, it‘s called, how would you explain it to people in a way that would make them feel confident that the economy could come back if it were passed?  Explain it...

(CROSSTALK)

CRIST:  Sure.  I think so.  You know, this is a plan where your tax dollars that have already been sent to Washington—I‘m speaking to my fellow Floridians—you know, we have been a donor state for a long time, which means that every dollar we send up there, we get something less back.  This gives us an opportunity to get—this gives us an opportunity as Floridians to get more back, to invest in education, you know, to build schools, to build infrastructure, to improve our highway system, to have the opportunity to make sure that we have enough for health care for Medicaid for the poor, the most vulnerable in our society, and do it in a way that‘s fair to Florida and that Florida gets her fair share.  And that‘s my perspective, and I know that‘s what my fellow Floridians want, so long as it‘s done right, so long as the money is spent wisely and that tax cuts are included within it to stimulate small business throughout the “Sunshine State.”

MATTHEWS:  Are you confident there‘s no junk in this package?

CRIST:  No, I‘m not.  I mean, you know, as a governor, I‘ve never seen a perfect piece of legislation in my life, but I understand that there‘s a time when we‘re in need.  And our country and my state, we‘re all in need.  And people want us to work with each together in order to try to make this better and get through this difficult time. 

You know, somebody said to me the other day, Chris, we may have all gotten here in different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.  That is true of this economic situation.  And I think, in a bipartisan way, you know, the Republicans, I think, will help to improve this bill.

And I think that, you know, it has been reported that the president has reached out to Democrats in the Senate and say, work with these—these fine men and women on the other side of the aisle.  Listen to their ideas.  Let them incorporate, you know, some of their proposals in this plan to make it a better plan for our country.

And so long as we do that and work together, that‘s what the American people want.  I don‘t think they want to see, you know, Republicans and Democrats kind of going at each other.  They want to see them working together to try to do what‘s right to help this country get through this challenging time.

And I that‘s what I think they deserve.  And I know it will help my state.  And that is why I support it. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you think of the fact that, in the House of Representatives up here in Washington, not a single Republican voted for the stimulus package? 

CRIST:  Well, there are different perspectives. 

I mean, if you are a House member in the Florida House of Representatives...

MATTHEWS:  Not a single Republican. 

CRIST:  No, I understand that. 

MATTHEWS:  Not one.

CRIST:  You know, I—I read it last week, too. 

And that‘s OK.  I mean, I respect that.  People are going to have differences of opinion.  And that‘s what‘s great about our democracy.  But, if you‘re a member of the Florida State House or the Florida State Senate, you probably have a different perspective on this issue, because we know that we need the money.

And a lot of it that‘s going to come back to Florida are from our fellow Floridians who have sent it there.  It‘s going to help their children.  It is going to help their traffic situation.  It‘s going to help produce more jobs here in the Sunshine State.  That‘s a perspective that I have to have...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CRIST:  ... as, in essence, the CEO of Florida.  And that‘s why I support it. 

MATTHEWS:  How does spending a trillion dollars in federal money through tax cuts, which is not really spending, but giving back to people, tax cuts, and—and projects that spend money, how does that get banks to start lending money to people again, which they‘re not doing? 

CRIST:  Well, I think, you know, that‘s a whole different issue.  I think what I‘m talking about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But how does it work?  If it doesn‘t work, will we solve the problem?

Mitch McConnell says all this talk About stimulus package is not going to solve the country‘s economic problem, because it does not get to the housing problem.  And everybody knows the housing problem is this.  People bought $400,000 houses, even though their income only supports about a $200,000 house.  Now they‘re stuck with this house that is diminishing in value. 

They‘re losing the money they put in.  They can‘t get a re-fi, because the house is worthless.  They‘re afraid to get a reappraisal, because then they will owe money to the mortgage company they can‘t even afford to pay now in monthlies. 

So, I mean, it‘s a horrible situation for all these working poor people that own homes now they can‘t afford.  How does this stimulus package or anything else solve that basic financial crisis problem?  How does it work? 

CRIST:  By providing jobs—by—by providing jobs for people who need work.  I come from a state now where the unemployment rate, Chris, is at 8.1 percent.  That‘s above the national average. 

I want to do everything I possibly can to make sure that the people of this state, who want to work, have that opportunity to do so.  You give them a paycheck, you give them the chance to work, you give them the opportunity to have, not only that pride, but that money in a bank account, so that they can make the mortgage payment, you know, and month after month, they can have that for their family, they can produce the opportunity for their child to hopefully go to a community college or to college, that‘s—that‘s the bridge, I think, that we‘re looking for in order to give people hope, give them an opportunity, give them a good-paying job, an honest day‘s work, so that they can move their family forward, and understand that we‘re going to get out of this, but we‘re only going to get out of this if we continue to work together.

And I think that‘s what this can offer to people.  I don‘t think it‘s perfect, but I think...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CRIST:  ... we need to do something in order to help our country.  I really do. 

MATTHEWS:  Rush Limbaugh broadcasts out of Florida, I understand, down there in the sunshine.  And he thinks that the best thing America could do is beat—basically destroy Barack Obama‘s administration.  He wants it to fail.  He says so. 

Where are you on that?  Do you think that is a healthy view for a leading conservative voice?

(CROSSTALK)

CRIST:  I want the president to succeed. 

You know, I‘m—I think it‘s very important that—listen, I supported Senator McCain.  He is a great man, a great American hero.  I campaigned hard for him.  He didn‘t win.  So, my guy didn‘t win.  But President Obama is my guy now.

And I want to do everything I can make sure that my president succeeds, because this is about my country.  And I want our country to be successful.  I want us to move forward.  I want us to get out of this economic mess.  I want to make sure that we‘re doing everything humanly possible together, as Americans, to make sure that the administration is successful, because, if it is, then my country is successful.  And that‘s what I care about. 

MATTHEWS:  Well—well, the Republican Party is alive in Florida. 

Thank you very much, Governor Charlie Crist of Florida. 

Up next:  Five days after his removal from office, ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is still out there proclaiming his innocence.  - Rod‘s latest next in the “Sideshow.”  He‘s still out there.  It is still exciting to watch.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich—B-Rod to us—continued his post-impeachment media tour this morning.  Here‘s B-Rod sharing some choice words with Meredith Vieira about the Illinois State Senate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  I view what happened on Thursday as a hijacking by a legislature that removed a governor and prevented that governor from proving his innocence. 

This is America.  And I still believe this is a place where, as it‘s written in the Bible, the truth will set you free.  I—I‘m clinging to the truth, embracing the truth.  I will ride the truth and I will clear my name. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

Next up: when sports and politics collide.  Remember this shout-out from Steelers owner Dan Rooney after the Super Bowl? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN ROONEY, OWNER, PITTSBURGH STEELERS:  I would just like to thank President Obama and all of the Steeler nation for supporting us on through the years. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Rooney, of course, was an early supporter of Barack Obama‘s candidacy.  Now it looks like the president may return the favor. 

“The Irish Times” newspaper is reporting that Rooney tops Obama‘s short list to become the ambassador to Ireland.  Rooney, a well-recognized friend of Ireland and Irish America, says he doesn‘t expect any sort of payback for his support, but, if President Obama calls on him, he will do he can. 

It sounds like the perfect pick to me.

Next:  He voted to demolish.  Then he decided to lead it.  Today, President Obama‘s tapped Republican Senator Judd Gregg for commerce secretary.  But get this.  “Congressional Quarterly” reports that, back in the 1990s, Senator Gregg voted in favor of abolishing the Commerce Department twice. 

One Republican aide explains Senator Gregg‘s turnabout by saying—quote—“I guess, if you can‘t destroy it, go be in charge of it.” 

I remember Ronald Reagan, by the way, wanted to get rid of the Department of Education, then gave it to one of its most outspoken department heads, Bill Bennett. 

Time now for the “Big Number.” 

With it comes a warning that honeymoons don‘t last forever.  Just three weeks ago, 83 percent of Americans approved of the way Barack Obama was handling his job as president-elect.  Now, amid some tough decisions, President Obama is, in the new “USA Today”/Gallup poll, down to a still groovy, but not still heavenly, 63 percent job approval, which translates to a 19-point drop in three weeks. 

Message from Ben Franklin:  In order to get some things done, President, a stitch in time saves nine. 

Obama‘s 19-point approval rating drop says get going with your program.  That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Banking giant Wells Fargo took $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money.  And now we learn that Wells Fargo is planning a corporate junket to a Las Vegas casino to reward its mortgage lenders, this after Wall Street executives gave themselves a $18 billion package of bonuses after taking bailout money. 

What is Washington doing about it?  Senator Claire McCaskill joins us next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Health care and housing lending support to the market today, with the Dow Jones industrial average gaining 141 points, the S&P 500 gaining by 13, and the Nasdaq higher by nearly 22. 

The National Association of Realtors reports that pending home sales rose 6.3 percent in December from the previous month, that as buyers snapped up properties at deep discounts and with cheap mortgages. 

But more dismal news from U.S. automakers.  They were worse than expected.  Chrysler sales plunged 55 percent in January.  GM sales dropped 49 percent, Ford sales down 40 percent.  Meantime, GM and Chrysler are both offering a new round of buyouts to their hourly workers. 

And oil prices ended higher today, with crude rising 70 cents, closing at $40.78 a barrel. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, Wells Fargo, the bank, has become the latest bank to thumb its nose, if you will, at the American taxpayer.  The bank took $25 billion in bailout money from the government.  That‘s us.  And now it‘s planning a corporate junket at Las Vegas casinos to honor their top mortgage lenders.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri wants to cap salaries of banking executives at 400K a year.  That‘s 400,000 bucks, which is what the president gets.  She‘s a member of the Commerce and Armed Services Committee.

Senator McCaskill, I‘m a big fan of yours, but I have to ask you, do you really, really believe that you have the constitutional authority to cap salaries in the private sector? 

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI:  Only...

MATTHEWS:  Really? 

MCCASKILL:  Only if—in very limited circumstances, Chris—only if they are dependent on public money and only until they pay us back, the public money that we have given them. 

It‘s none of our business what people make in the private sector, unless the taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you pass this law?  Let‘s get to the fine details.  How do you get a law signed by the president, passed by both houses, that says employers, big shots at these big firms in New York mainly, can‘t give themselves more than $400,000 a year?  How do you get that into law and make it actually happen, not just talk about it? 

MCCASKILL:  I believe—I believe we have got a real—real chance of getting that done, Chris, because we‘re going to try to offer an amendment on this bill in the next few days which will basically say, going forward, if you want federal money, then you must agree, as a condition of getting public money, that everyone who works at your company must limit themselves to $400,000, $500,000 a year.

And, if you want to make more, if you want to have deferred compensation, that‘s fine, but you can‘t get it until you pay us back. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to get that past the big-shot senators from New York, like Chuck Schumer and the new senator up there in Gillibrand?  Are you going to get that past Chris Dodd and Lieberman, the ones who have all those Wall Street people in their states?  They are not going to go along with this, are they? 

MCCASKILL:  I don‘t need...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s their constituency.

MCCASKILL:  The good is, I don‘t need every vote.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCASKILL:  But I think there‘s wide support for this, Chris.  I really do.

My phones have not stopped ringing since we proposed this. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think President Obama will sign a bill that cuts the salaries of people that may be his contributors next time around? 

MCCASKILL:  I‘m optimistic that he will.  And I am busy trying to work with the White House as we speak to work out this—this plan. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

I‘m going to ask you the same question I asked Governor Charlie Crist, who was on.  He‘s from Florida.  He‘s a Republican.  I guess you would call him a moderate Republican, because he doesn‘t want Barack Obama to fail as president.  I guess that‘s a moderate these days. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He wants him to succeed, he said, which is refreshing to hear from any politician, especially one from the other side of the aisle. 

I want to ask you the same question I put to him.  You‘re on television right now.  Explain to the person watching how spending almost a trillion dollars in either tax cuts, because that‘s what in effect—you‘re not collecting the money—you‘re giving it back to people that gave it in the first place in most cases—or you‘re spending money on building things or whatever, how does that get banks to start lending money again?  How does that solve the housing problem?  How does it deal with the problem that started all this? 

MCCASKILL:  Well, what has happened is, because there‘s such uncertainty and lack of confidence in the market, there‘s this retraction. 

That‘s what a recession is.  What does this does, it puts money into the economy.  It causes growth in businesses.  If a business goes to a bank and says, hey, I just got a contract to build this building for the federal government, that bank is going to look at that loan application in a whole different light than they would today, without that kind of stimulative effect.

So this is, in fact, a way of injecting this money into the economy to put people back to work.  That—it is just that simple. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re counting on the checks that the government‘s going to write, either in tax cuts or in spending for jobs or in transfers through Medicare, Social Security, whatever, you‘re counting on those checks going to people right now who have mortgage problems? 

MCCASKILL:  I‘m counting on that—and I think...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I don‘t get. 

MCCASKILL:  I think there will be some housing provisions in this bill, too, Chris.  This is a work in progress.  We have got do three things in this bill. 

We have got to help the safety net, because that money goes right into the economy, food stamps, unemployment insurance.  We have got to make sure we‘re creating jobs in the infrastructure by spending money in a stimulative way on jobs.

And, then, finally we need to something in the housing sector.  And I think we are trying to find that way forward right now in a bipartisan way.  And I‘m optimistic we‘re going to get it done. 

The big stuff in this bill is so important.  If we do nothing, it is a disaster.  And the Republicans who are not honest about that really need to do a gut check. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this. 

Somebody buys a house for $400,000.  Their income doesn‘t justify that kind of an expenditure.  They got talked into buying a house with a balloon mortgage, an ARM, if you will.  It came due.  It got switched back.  They have realized they‘re facing higher interest rates.  Then they realize the economy is not growing.  They‘re not getting a raise, not getting a promotion.  They‘re stuck.  They can‘t make the payments.  They can‘t afford to live in this house.

Now they realize the house‘s value is going down, but they owe the money on a much more expensive house than it now is.  They‘re afraid of an appraisal.  They‘re afraid of a reassessment.  They‘re afraid of everything.  They‘re afraid the company, even going back to them for a re-fi. 

They‘re scared to death.  They won‘t even answer phone calls when they the mortgage company or the bank calls them.  What do we do about that problem?  Because people tell me that situation‘s in the millions right now and it‘s at the heart of our problem.  How do we solve it?  People that can‘t afford the house they live in; should the government bail them out?  Skip all the intermediaries, give them the checks.  I‘m just asking. 

MCCASKILL:  First of all, if we start just giving checks to everyone who can‘t pay their mortgage, then we‘re going to have a lot of people deciding not to pay the mortgage.  That‘s not the right answer.  We do need to do something about the housing inventory.  We do need to give people the tools to renegotiate their mortgages, which most of these companies want to do, Chris.  The people who are going to own these houses if people walk away, they don‘t want more housing inventory. 

Really, there‘s an impetus right there to get it worked out.  And the worst thing people can do is not answer the phone.  They need to be picking up the phone, calling the housing agencies in the community, calling all of the do-gooders that are out there helping people.  We have helped a lot of people in Missouri work through this crisis. 

At the end of the day, there are going to be some people that lose their homes.  And we can‘t fix every single problem in the housings sector.  But I think we can take some valuable steps in this bill. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother you that Tom Daschle didn‘t pay 140,000 dollars in taxes? 

MCCASKILL:  Yes.  But, you know, this whole situation kind of give me a stomach ache.  That is a good guy who has worked hard and has such respect up on the Hill.  I get the rules around here.  The rules are you live in a glass house.  And if you make a serious mistake like this, you pay the price. 

But it is too bad, because he had a lot to offer our country and I really admire him, because nobody made him do this.  This wasn‘t the White House.  This wasn‘t people in Congress.  He decided it was the patriotic thing to do, because he was a distraction to this president at a time of crisis.  He stepped aside and he deserves a pat on the back for that. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the bad blood between Obama and his crowd in the White House and Howard Dean?  Howard Dean is the chairman of the Democratic party.  He had a big hand in bringing this big victory you all enjoy this year.  He‘s a medical doctor.  He succeeds in so many ways in building your party up and raising money and doing everything right.  He began this whole populist thing back in the last election.  He didn‘t get there, but he helped Obama.  How come he‘s not HHS secretary?  He is getting squat from the president.  What is that all about?  I don‘t get it. 

MCCASKILL:  I don‘t know that he‘s getting squat.  I don‘t know—I think that—

MATTHEWS:  He is getting nothing. 

MCCASKILL:  I don‘t know that he wants anything, Chris.  I think there‘s a perfectly cordial relationship between Howard Dean and the White House.  I think he‘s respected in Democratic circles for the job that he did and I think he‘ll continue to play a role in our party.  I don‘t think there‘s any bad blood there. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s going overseas to Europe to help liberal parties do well in elections.  I can‘t believe that‘s his first goal in life.  It sounds to me like he didn‘t get what he wanted, which was a role in this administration.  Just asking.  He‘s a medical doctor.  It seems perfect to make him head of HHS.  You have an opening now, senator.  I‘m just curious why these things don‘t fit into place.  Anyway, just a thought. 

Thank you very much for coming on, Senator Claire McCaskill, a big Obama booster from Missouri. 

Up next, cabinet nominees withdrawing, a show down with Republicans over the economic recovery plan.  They want to have a bigger piece of it.  Is President Obama‘s first 100 days hitting a rocky patch or just a speed bump.  Pat Buchanan calls it something else.  I‘m not sure, not at all.  It may just be the usual bumpy road to greatness.  Anyway, the politics fix is coming up.  This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time for the politics fix with “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter, whose book, “The Defining Moment,” is out in paperback.  It‘s all about the Roosevelt administration, the first 100 days of that, what a great book.  I don‘t fall in love with that many books, but this one I definitely fell in love with.  And the “Politico‘s” Roger Simon, who is due for a great book these days.  We‘ll wait until you write some great books soon. 

OK, you guys are great writers.  Tell me the drama here.  Tom Daschle

I used the metaphor of the pilot who has to bring the plane down in the Potomac so it doesn‘t hurt anybody else.  I‘m being kind.  It is a bad day for him. 

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  I‘m not sure I can beat that metaphor,

but, look, this town sort to speak is full of people that came to do good -

-

MATTHEWS:  You need a—

(CROSS TALK)

ALTER:  You know you‘re in trouble when you use that.  But they came to do good and they stayed to do well.  And Tom Daschle is beloved by a lot of people here for good reason.  He is a good guy.  He‘s one of the good guys.  But he somehow got accustomed, when he left the Senate, after he was defeated—

MATTHEWS:  The cars. 

ALTER:  Yes.—to a certain life style and a certain sense of what was his due that just didn‘t fit when it came time to go back into government.  I think he probably never thought he would go back to government. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know whether he understood the tax law.  But if you have a car and driver at your service for 80 percent of the time, and you get up in the morning and there‘s a guy waiting outside for you—didn‘t take you to the airport.  It‘s not some particular thing he got a ride for.  He‘s always there.  You‘ve got to believe that‘s a service you are getting. 

ROGER SIMON, “POLITICO”:  Come on. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re getting an income. 

SIMON:  It was said he was naive.  Someone gives me a free limo for two years, I figure he wants something.  I‘m not naive.  I may not give him it, but I figure he wants something. 

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute. 

SIMON:  Daschle had things going for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SIMON:  As Jonathan said, a nice guy, well connected, would probably have made a great secretary of HHS.  But there was a fourth element; he didn‘t play by the rules.  And do you want to send a message that you only have to pay taxes in America when you get appointed to Obama‘s cabinet?  That‘s the only time these guys did pay their taxes, after their appointments were made. 

MATTHEWS:  They paid their income taxes, but they didn‘t realize their income taxes included this other income, which is a car and a driver.  And then the other case, you know, didn‘t pay—Geithner didn‘t pay—let me go through the pattern here.  I have a theory.  Every one of these people has gotten in trouble for personal finances, not something they did in public.  Geithner had a problem with not paying—when he was at IMF, not paying his Social Security and his Medicare, and apparently something else he wasn‘t paying, workers comp or something.  I don‘t know what it was. 

The fact is that this guy‘s in trouble because he didn‘t pay the taxes on a car and driver he had.  He had income.  What else?  The woman who is a deputy OMB director had a lien against her for not paying D.C. taxes or something.  You‘ve got—the only public case I guess that got in trouble was Richardson got in trouble with some outstanding investigation going on out in Santa Fe about a big contributor with a consulting deal with the state government out there. 

The big problems we came in with, we thought, were the Marc Rich pardon, where Eric Holder would have to pay the price for that, and Bill Clinton‘s international enterprise, which 90 percent philanthropic or whatever.   The big problems were dealt with smoothly.  The little problems are what‘s caused them all the trouble. 

SIMON:  It‘s not so little.

MATTHEWS:  I mean personal trouble.

SIMON:  This is a Leona Helmsley problem.  Only little people pay taxes.  Most Americans pay taxes. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re jumping on me when I am saying the personal stuff, not the big-picture stuff. 

ALTER:  Especially since Obama set this high standard.  If you go on the big pedestal, you‘re going to get knocked off more easily. 

MATTHEWS:  Did we put him on it? 

ALTER:  No, he decided himself.  He was warned by people that he was setting the standard too high.  I think it‘s good that he set a really high standard, but he had to know he was going to—

MATTHEWS:  Is there a lower standard that allows you to—

ALTER:  Absolutely.  There‘s a—

(CROSS TALK)

SIMON:  What is all this talk about a high standard?  You‘ve got to pay your taxes.  That‘s a high standard?  People get thrown in jail every day in America for not paying taxes. 

ALTER:  Wait a minute.  I‘m not disagreeing with you.  I‘m not trying

to minimize his mistakes.  But the “New York Times” had an interesting

story recently that if you want to pay all the taxes on your housekeeper,

for instance, it takes, like, 30 hours of paperwork, unless you want to

hire somebody, pay them thousands of dollars to do this.  Quite a number of

quite a number of better off Americans have these problems. 

Why is it that the Republicans—do you know in the Bush transition they had Ken Lay from Enron—

MATTHEWS:  Roger, by the way—

ALTER:  -- interviewing everybody.  I‘m not disagreeing.  Why is it the Democrats always get tripped up on this, and when Republicans do things that are pretty sleazy in their transitions, like having Ken Lay interview who the energy regulators are going to be, when he‘s at Enron, and nobody bats an eye?  All the people are confirmed anyway. 

So Democrats, because they set this higher standard, when they fall short, they get held more accountable and they should. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to my favorite guy, Dick Cheney here.  Get a conflict of interest.  One of the things that‘s been moving around the air the last couple days is that Tom Daschle not only had the big taxes he didn‘t pay, but that he is a lobbyist for the health industry.  Suppose a Republican were putting an energy lobbyist in as energy secretary.  A lot of us would criticize that. 

ALTER:  They wouldn‘t be stopped and they wouldn‘t quit. 

MATTHEWS:  You say they would be shameless about it.  Would they be stopped?  Here you have a health lobbyist headed towards the health bill. 

SIMON:  This is a case of President Obama setting a high standard, no lobbyist in the administration, but then failing to meet it.  No lobbyists in the administration, except the ones I give waivers to, and except faux lobbyists who weren‘t technically lobbyists, but worked for lobbying firms.  It is a high standard, but great, do it, meet it.  Meet your own standard in your first two, three weeks of office. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come back and talk about how we‘re going to deal with this politics, and what everybody out there cares about, I think, not judging it.  Is the economy still heading down hill?  The question is, is anybody in Washington really going to get something done that prevents it from going down hill any further and heads in back in the other direction by the end of the year? 

We‘ll be back with Jonathan Alter and Roger Simon.  I still want an explanation.  My problem is this—

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Jonathan Alter and Roger Simon, two of the best writers in the country.  I‘m going to ask them do the job that nobody is doing in Washington.  Roger Simon, again, fire-side chat—you got 20 minutes with the American people tonight on the radio—on the radio.  You‘ve got to explain to them how this president is going to get the job done of turning the economy around so it doesn‘t keep going downhill.  We keep losing jobs in every industry and every brand name we know.  It‘s going to begin to go up hill.  Explain how his bail out of the financial institutions, how his stimulus package, how those two work together to save our economy. 

SIMON:  I think the president has a mountain to claim in explaining that.  He‘s been trying to.  I think before passage, he may have to. 

MATTHEWS:  Reagan could do it.  Every cab driver knew what Reagan was doing, cutting taxes to release the American energy of economic energy or whatever. 

SIMON:  Reagan lived in an era where you could say it‘s morning in America and everyone said, oh gosh and gee, I love this guy.  It‘s morning in America.

MATTHEWS:  I think he was better than that.  He was the great communicator for a reason. 

SIMON:  Times were simpler.  We‘re facing a greater crisis than Ronald Reagan faced.  People are losing their jobs and they don‘t know why.  I don‘t think the administration and all financial geniuses that they‘ve assembled truly know what‘s going to work.  But they know they have to try something.  I think President Obama should be praised for that.  Some of it will work, some will fail. 

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re going to spend a trillion dollars—these numbers you‘ve got to use—a trillion dollars in tax cuts and spending, you better tell me what you‘re spending it on that‘s going to work.  How does that trillion dollar package that‘s going to come out—that this president is going to sign in a couple weeks, going to turn the economy around?  Somebody has to tell me how that‘s going to work. 

ALTER:  Couple things.  First of all, Reagan‘s budget and tax plans were dead on arrival in Congress until he was shot in March of 1981.  So Obama‘s prospects for his program are actually a lot better.  This stimulus package is going to pass.  But it isn‘t being packaged as well as it could be in PR terms.  They should call it a job‘s bill. 

Rahm Emanuel is trying to say this is about jobs, jobs, jobs. 

MATTHEWS:  If it doesn‘t have al this malarkey in it, condoms and Hollywood money and the stuff they put in there. 

ALTER:  That‘s what the president got upset about behind closed doors yesterday with the Congressional leadership.  He threw all the staff out.  He made them stay in the cabinet room.  He brought the Congressional leadership into the Oval Office and he said get all that junk out of this bill.  He‘s upset about precisely what you‘re talking about.  He knows it‘s hurting him.  It‘s a tiny percentage of the bill. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, look—

ALTER:  He hasn‘t conveyed that message yet. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he has a problem of pre-marketing, putting together the right product and then selling it.  The product‘s not refined yet.  Jonathan Alter, Roger Simon.  Right now it‘s time for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster.

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