updated 2/10/2009 10:31:41 AM ET 2009-02-10T15:31:41

Guest: Gov. Tim Kaine, Rich Masters, John Feehery, Rich Masters, John Feehery, Kevin Bacon, Michael Strobl, Harold Ford Jr., Bob Ehrlich, Richard Wolffe, Susan Page High: President Obama goes on the road to Indiana and Florida to try to sell his economic stimulus plan.  Should Obama continue to do battle publicly with conservative radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity?

Spec: Politics; Economy

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The president tries the hard sell.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: stimulating -

that‘s what the president was doing today, stimulating.  He went out to Indiana to a town called Elkhart right on the Michigan border, a hard-hit town where the jobless rate has tripled, leapt up from 4 percent to over 15 percent in a single bound.  It‘s a place where they used to make things, big things, RVs, and are now making applications for unemployment benefits.

Just to give you the situation out there in Hoosier country, 1,700 people crowded into that high school gym today to hear the president.  That‘s only a fraction of the 6,000 currently unemployed in Elkhart.  Maybe they didn‘t have a room big enough for all of them.

So here‘s what President Obama‘s doing.  He‘s pushing two giant buttons and hoping the lights up—the lights go up on Congress with them.  Button number one, the country‘s heading in a hellish direction.  We‘ve got 11 million unemployed, twice that number, 22 million, if you count people who‘ve either had their hours cut or have given up trying to find somebody out there who‘s actually hiring.  Button number two, the president‘s people are also pushing a new Gallup poll that has 67 percent of the country approving his efforts in this stimulus bill, that along with the grim economic numbers that suggest far greater joblessness is on the way.

Here‘s President Obama‘s pitching for big action now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I can say with complete confidence that endless delay or paralysis in Washington in the face of this crisis will only bring deepening disaster.  I can tell you that doing nothing is not an option.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  This is only the beginning of the sales campaign.  Tonight, the president holds his first primetime press conference.  Tomorrow, he heads down to Florida for another town meeting, this one in Ft. Myers, another hard-hit area.

Plus, Obama was supposed to be the post-partisan president, but what good is it doing him?  He‘s reached out to Republicans.  He‘s appointed three Republicans to his cabinet.  He‘s loaded the stimulus bill with tax cuts, the ones they wanted, and in the end, how many Republicans voted for the bill in the Senate?  Three.  How many in the House?  None.  Not one Republican in the House of Representatives.

Is it time for Obama to ditch bipartisanship and just go out there and dare Republicans, Go ahead and filibuster the bill, if you want.  And go out and campaign against—you want to campaign?  Challenge the president, if you want, on this $800 billion economic plan.  He should be challenging them.  That‘s the question.

And after being forced on the defensive over his economic plan and his appointments of tax-troubled cabinet members like Tom Daschle, what does President Obama need to say tonight, and who does he need to say it to?  Let‘s look at what President Obama faces as he readies himself for tonight‘s news conference in primetime.

MSNBC‘s got live coverage, of course, of the president‘s news conference tonight, beginning at 8:00 o‘clock Eastern.  That will be followed by “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN,” “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW,” and then at midnight, I‘ll be back with a late night edition of HARDBALL to size up how the night went for the new president.

There‘s a lot at stake tonight, not just for the president and for Democrats and Republicans in the Congress and for the whole country.  We‘re going to look at all the political implications in tonight‘s “Politics Fix.”

And an extra added attraction tonight, actor Kevin Bacon will be here right on this set, by the way, to tell the story of bringing our fallen service people back from Iraq, what a story, just of one Marine bringing another Marine home who got killed in Iraq.  What an amazing story.  I couldn‘t tell you the emotion of that story.  Kevin Bacon‘s going to be on the set to talk about the new HBO movie that‘s coming out the later this month.  It‘s called “Taking Chance.”

We start with Democratic Party chairman Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia.  Sir, at 5:30 tonight, the U.S. Senate‘s going to vote.  It‘s going to be a procedural vote, but it‘s going to tell us everything, 61 votes they‘re expected to get, 3 Republicans, 58 Democrats.  No Democrats against the bill.  By the way, Ted Kennedy, despite the bad shape he‘s in, is showing up to vote.  This is it.  This is big casino.

Why did no Republicans support the president?  Do you think the president made a mistake trying to get Republicans and not simply saying, Go ahead, make my day, like Clint Eastwood, vote against me and I‘ll destroy you?

GOV. TIM KAINE (D-VA), DNC CHAIRMAN:  No, the president did the right thing reaching out by to Republicans.  And I‘ll tell you, Chris, it‘s working outside Washington.  As I talk to people in Virginia, Republicans and independents are very supportive of this stimulus, the need to get the economy going.  So he may have had a hard time getting folks in the House on board, and they seemed to take pride, even called themselves insurgents who were trying to disrupt him, but it‘s not working out in the hustings.

People know that the situation‘s urgent, 1.2 million jobs lost in this country in the last two months.  They don‘t want to see a Washington that‘s about the old rules of gridlock and obstruction.  They want to see action.  And so the president has been right to reach out because even if he‘s had a hard time swaying folks inside the Beltway, he‘s got a lot of supporters outside the Beltway.  And I think that will enable him to go ahead and get those 61 votes tonight and then get a strong vote on the conference report when it comes out from the committees later this week.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re right on the numbers.  He‘s got the Democrats behind him.  He‘s got the independents.  He‘s got 67 percent of the country as a whole.

Here‘s the president today out there in Indiana.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Look, it‘s not perfect, but it is the right size, it is the right scope.  Broadly speaking, it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jumpstart our economy and transform this economy for the 21st century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, “The New York Times” had the numbers right today.  The unemployment rate rose, by the way, up to 7.6 percent, which works out to 11.6 million people unemployed.  But the underemployment rate, which includes, in addition to the unemployed, part-time workers who can‘t get full-time jobs, also jobless workers who‘ve given up looking for jobs.  That number is incredible.  That‘s up into the 20s.  It‘s 22 million people right now who are basically not fully employed -- 13.5 percent, 22 million people.

Do you think the president‘s gotten that point across, the real horror of what we‘re facing out here?  Maybe six months from now, a year from now, we could go into a depression.  We don‘t know that, do we?

KAINE:  Well, we don‘t.  And he is making this very urgent.  I mean, when you think about it, in the last three months, 1.8 million jobs lost, that‘s as if every job in the state of South Carolina disappeared just in the last three months.  And so we have got to do something.  These targeted tax cuts, infrastructure spending and helping people with unemployment and Medicaid so we can get this economy going again.  And I do think that the people have gotten message.

Chris, just in Virginia, which you know well, our unemployment rate is still a couple points below the national average, but in the last year, unemployment claims have tripled at the same time as declining revenues are causing us to have to reduce staffing in our unemployment comp offices.  This stimulus package has money to extend unemployment benefits and so we can start to hire workers back who can process all these application that are coming in.

And Americans feel this.  In fact, it isn‘t even so much a matter of the president telling them, they‘re seeing it in their own communities.  And then they watch Washington and they see, you know, one entire party in the House vote against stimulus without having a real idea about what should be done, and they just shake their heads.  They can‘t understand it.  We‘ve got to see action, and I‘m glad the president is out on the road getting that support from the American people to go ahead and make this thing happen.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of the fact that the president had a bad week last week?  What do you make of that?  You can‘t call it a good week.  Is he having a hard time?  Is this a shakedown cruise?

KAINE:  Well, you know what...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s going on here?  Because you make the point pretty well, but the fact is, we‘ve had a week of Tom Daschle and other problems, and it hasn‘t worked out in terms of getting that—I still have a hard time getting a crisp argument, what part of this stimulus package is relief, unemployment extension, COBRA, in other words, health care for people who are unemployed...

KAINE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... aid to the states and the cities, how much of it‘s actually going to create jobs in terms of real recovery...

KAINE:  Well, let...

MATTHEWS:  ... and how much of it‘s going to change things, like the green jobs?  He hasn‘t sort of explained, This is for relief, this is for recovery, this is for reconstruction.  He hasn‘t laid it out...

KAINE:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... like the way Roosevelt used to do it.

KAINE:  Well, let me tackle that one, and then we can talk about what kind of week it was.  I mean, the package clearly has three pieces, and it‘s been the same three pieces, a balanced approach that he‘s talked about from the start.  The first piece is tax cuts to working Americans.  If you‘re a working family and you‘re making less than $150,000, you‘re going to get a tax cut.  And there are also some tax credits so you can put your kids through college.  Those dollars will go into the economy so people can pay their bills, put food on the table, pay tuition and start to spend again.

I hear the Rs say that they don‘t like—you know, there‘s enough tax cuts.  I sometimes feel like it‘s not a tax cut to them unless it‘s going to one of the biggest companies or one of the wealthiest individuals.  Ninety percent of American families will get this tax cut.  That‘s a good thing.  That‘s number one.

Number two, we‘re spending on infrastructure, traditional infrastructure—roads, bridges—but also alternative energy projects, greening buildings so we can save on energy.  That will put people back to work immediately but build that longer-term platform for success.

And then, finally, let‘s make sure that we‘re taking care of these people who are getting hammered by these job losses with unemployment insurance and Medicaid protection.  Three basic elements, that comprises the overwhelming majority of the bill.  Each of these elements are things that Americans support and really need right now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the president playing defense on some other elements of the bill.  Here he is defending the bill against its critics, President Obama today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Understand, this bill does not have a single earmark in it, which is unprecedented for a bill of this size.  Does not have a single earmark in it.  So we may debate—we can debate, you know, whether you‘d rather have this tax cut versus that tax cut or this project versus that project.  Be clear, though, that there aren‘t individual pork projects that members of Congress are putting into this bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It does seem, Governor, that he‘s following what we call in football—and you know the term—a prevent defense.  He‘s saying, OK, we can argue about...

KAINE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... the yardage here.  We can argue about the details.  But don‘t tell me we don‘t need something big and we don‘t need it fast.  That seems to be his strategy today.

KAINE:  Absolutely.  It is.  And I think it‘s important.  My wife is the prettiest person I know.  She doesn‘t change if she puts on a color of nail polish I don‘t like, she‘s still a beautiful lady.  You know, people are picking out minor details and trying to use that to paint a picture of this bill.  But those three core elements—you know, tax relief for working Americans, infrastructure spending to get the economy growing again and Medicaid and unemployment insurance to help people get through these hard times—those are the basics of what the American public expects us to do.  And they expect us to do it right now.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Coming up: President Obama promised a new era of bipartisanship.  He tried to reach across the aisle on this big stimulus bill and he wound up with a bill with lots of tax cuts and no Republicans in the House and only three in the Senate.  So is bipartisanship paying off for the new president, or is he getting stiffed?  That debate‘s coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL.

By the way, the big vote in the Senate is coming up at 5:30 Eastern. 

We‘ll be covering that one live.

Coming up: What does the president need to do in his first primetime news conference tonight?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  A couple of weeks ago, President Obama told House Republican leaders, quote, “You can‘t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”  A couple days after that, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked about his boss name dropping the name of Rush Limbaugh.  Gibbs answered, Tell him I said hello.  Well—and here‘s the president today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  With respect to Sean Hannity, I didn‘t know that he had invited me for a beer, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  But I will take that under advisement.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  Generally, his opinion of me does not seem to be very high, but I‘m always good for a beer.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, this bothers me.  What‘s the president giving so many shout-outs to conservative radio talk show hosts?  All he talks about is Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.  Rich Masters is a Democratic strategist and John Feehery‘s a Republican strategist.  OK, I‘m envious.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Is this the only way you get this guy‘s attention is to whack him?  John Feehery, why is he building up the enemy, the political enemy?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think it‘s a brilliant strategy because any time now that Rush Limbaugh or—or—Rush Limbaugh especially says something that‘s outrageous, he can say, Well, this is what all Republicans believe.  And I think for the Republican Party, they have to be careful that they‘re not typified by Rush Limbaugh.  I mean, I love Rush Limbaugh.  I...

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t you being safe!

FEEHERY:  Well, no, but I think...

MATTHEWS:  Is this something you have to do?  You and that guy, you know, what‘s his name, that...

FEEHERY:  No, no, no...

MATTHEWS:  ... that congressman had to say that.  Every time you guys get on the air, you got to give him a kiss.

FEEHERY:  It‘s extraordinarily...

MATTHEWS:  Can you blow him a kiss on the air?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  John, can you blow him a kiss?  Come on, blow him a kiss. 

Go all the way here.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  It‘s extraordinarily entertaining, but by the same token, he‘s not a political leader, he‘s an entertainer.  I think that too often, people get that confused.  And for Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS:  Do you respect him?

FEEHERY:  ... for President Obama...

MATTHEWS:  Do you respect Rush Limbaugh?

FEEHERY:  Do I—I think he‘s a great entertainer!  Absolutely!

MATTHEWS:  Do you respect him?

FEEHERY:  Of course I respect him!

MATTHEWS:  Do you respect his political views?

FEEHERY:  Well, a lot of times, I agree with him.  Yes.  Absolutely.  (INAUDIBLE) listen to this guy, and you know what, I—he‘s entertaining, but you know...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re a dittohead.

FEEHERY:  I do not...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re a dittohead.

FEEHERY:  I wouldn‘t call myself a dittohead, but I would not—I would not—I would not vote...

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY:  But I would not vote for him for president or for any other (INAUDIBLE) office.

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s safe from that, anyway.  I don‘t think he‘ll be applying for that job.  Rich Masters, do you agree?  Do you subscribe to this theory that Rush Limbaugh is the best target for Barack Obama?

RICH MASTERS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I do.  I mean, President Obama has got a unique—he‘s trying to be post-partisan, right?  So as opposed to attacking Republican leaders in Congress, who are duly elected Republicans, he‘s decided to pick really high-profile flame-throwing targets to try to wrap the entire Republican Party around “Barack the magic Negro” and all of these other outrageous, ridiculous things...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MASTERS:  ... that Rush has done.  And I think, you know—what do they say, you have to pick your enemies.  And in this case, there was a lot of people saying they didn‘t know why he was giving him any kind of—the president giving Rush Limbaugh or Hannity any kind of, you know, props.  You know, but in this instance, if he can do that, he puts...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I will predict that a year from now, he will wish he hadn‘t built these guys up.  By the way, here‘s your—you did take something of a shot at Limbaugh.  You did this sort of satire in a letter today to “The Politico.”  You said, basically—you‘re challenging him to be a smart Republican, not just a flame thrower.  Here he is—a quote—“We would also like to see your plan, Rush Limbaugh, to help Republicans actually compete up in the Northeast, the upper Midwest, the West Coast, in Florida, in the big cities and in the suburbs.  Republicans have been pretty much wiped out in all those areas in the past two elections.  Another problem area is independent voters, who went with Barack Obama last time.  Not sure why.  Maybe they liked his saying he would govern from the center.”

In other words, you‘re being sarcastic.

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY:  Me?  Me being sarcastic?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... saying is if you really know how to lead a party, tell us how to win.

FEEHERY:  Well, that‘s (INAUDIBLE) For Republicans, they have to win.  And to win, they have to compete in the suburbs, they have to compete in the upper Northwest, they have to compete in the upper Northeast, and they‘re not competing...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, your pen pal had a response to you today.

FEEHERY:  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here he is on the radio, Rush Limbaugh, fresh from today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  All that‘s been laid down here, all because—why—why am I going to—why am I going to answer?  Because it‘ll be fun certainly and because it‘s a teachable moment!  I‘ve got a Republican leader in the House—what is his title?  Worked for the House Republican leadership ‘89 to 2005.  I have a golden opportunity to tell him why he and his merry band of Republicans are losers!  He has asked for my input and my advice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I love that guy‘s voice.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s outraged by this guy.

FEEHERY:  I think he did a great job, quite frankly.

MATTHEWS:  I think he called you out, Feehery.  I think he‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Barack built him up and he built you up.  I see the daisy chain here.

Rich Masters, I don‘t know how this helps, but I think the Democrats have a challenge here.  Do they continue along the line of the president, which is to try to win Republican support?  In the next  couple of minutes, he‘s likely to get three Republicans, Specter, Snowe and Collins, from the Northeast, who are obviously all in that area that votes for Barack Obama and the Democrats for president.

RICH MASTERS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But is he going to get any Republican support by playing nice? 

MASTERS:  I—you know, I...

MATTHEWS:  Any? 

MASTERS:  I doubt—I doubt it. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he only getting endangered people, basically? 

MASTERS:  He‘s getting endangered folks.

And what he has done is—what they finally did—and they lost their way last week.  They were putting out grass fires all over town. 

MATTHEWS:  I shouldn‘t say Collins is endangered.  She just got reelected against the strongest headwinds in history. 

MASTERS:  Right.  Right.  She really, really did. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, up in Maine.

MASTERS:  And she‘s solid, and solid as a rock. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.   

MASTERS:  And then there‘s other moderates.  There are moderate Democrats, my old—my former boss Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson and others.  And I think they made the package significantly better. 

And then what you have seen Barack Obama do—and I think it‘s wise -

he‘s gone back to what he‘s doing—done—does best.  He‘s out on the campaign trail firing up the base, the red-meat supporters, you know, in Elkhart, Indiana, today, talking about the direct impact on jobs.

And then, tonight, he‘s going to be professor President Obama, and you‘re going to see a very calmed, reasoned, back-it-out approach, where he‘s going to talk point by point by point on how the economic stimulus bill is going to create jobs, because, at the bottom, the only number that really counts is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do you know he‘s going to do that, because I don‘t think—John, do you—you‘re an expert in communications.  Do you believe the president—I mean, I have been tough on him because I want him to be clear. 

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  Reagan was clear.  Kennedy was clear.  Clinton had been clear many times. 

Tell us how what you‘re doing is going to fix the problem we have.  And I don‘t hear him actually saying how it‘s going to—he says, yes, we‘re going to give relief to some people who are out of work. 

How is this big trillion-dollar bill going to get the economy going upward, rather than downward? 

FEEHERY:  I think he‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Tell us how. 

FEEHERY:  I think he‘s going to make the same mistake that George Bush made when he tried to push the Social Security package.

And that is, do these big campaign rallies.  Don‘t really explain it, obfuscate the truth.  And the fact of the matter is, this is not a very good package.  The package coming out of the House was horrible.  Now the package coming out of the Senate is marginally better, but not too much better.

And the reason is, is, he didn‘t really negotiate.  He just—he left Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid construct the package.  And that‘s why he doesn‘t want to be too clear, because it is not a good package. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you would say he doesn‘t believe it or you don‘t believe in it? 

FEEHERY:  I don‘t think a lot of people believe in it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he believes in it?

FEEHERY:  I think he probably believes in the general perspective of it.  But he‘s not going to go through it piece by piece, because he doesn‘t like the specifics.  And he says that he doesn‘t like the specifics.  But he says, we need something done.  Anything is better than nothing. 

MATTHEWS:  But hasn‘t he changed the topic from, can—can you find something wrong with this bill, which everybody can, to, don‘t we need something big, and don‘t we need it now? 

FEEHERY:  Well, that‘s—that‘s all...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Hasn‘t he changed the subject today?

FEEHERY:  But that‘s the whole point. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that what he‘s trying to do? 

MASTERS:  Yes.  I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s called a prevent defense in football.  You just—you go—you hold the line on the key question, do we need this? 

MASTERS:  Right.  I think you are absolutely right. 

And what he‘s done and what he‘s going to do tonight is, he‘s going to lay out that the bill does exactly what he has been asking for, tax cuts right off the top.  We have immediate tax relief.  And then we‘re going to start investing in green jobs, in the environment.

And, I mean, with—under this bill, 75 percent of the federal buildings will become green.  That is going to create jobs in order to do that.  We are going to start rebuilding the infrastructure.  Just down the street from here two weeks ago, we had a sewer line bust and go.  We‘re going to start taking care of those.  It puts Americans back to work.

And he has got to explain that package.  He absolutely has to explain it. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know why he doesn‘t—excuse me—I don‘t know why he doesn‘t itemize and say, I have got six pieces of this bill.  This one is going to create a million jobs.  This piece is going to create 500,000 jobs—and just tell us how it‘s going to create those three million jobs, and it would be a very popular bill. 

FEEHERY:  This package is too big, it‘s too hard to explain, and there‘s too much crap in it.  And that‘s the bottom line.  And I think that‘s why Republicans feel very comfortable voting against it.

MATTHEWS:  I think you are talking like Rush Limbaugh here. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Good luck with that pen pal relationship. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to send him a scented letter, saying how sorry you are to have this fight with him?

FEEHERY:  No, I will not.  No, I will not. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Please, don‘t back down. 

FEEHERY:  I won‘t—I‘m not backing down. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You already threw him a kiss.  Go ahead.  Throw him one.

MASTERS:  It‘s Valentine‘s Day.   

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think he threw him a kiss here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ladies and gentlemen, John Feehery is not afraid of Rush Limbaugh.

FEEHERY:  I‘m not.  But I do like his program, though. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to throw any more encomia his way? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next, actor Kevin Bacon is going to be right here with us about—well, to tell a—a patriotic story like you won‘t believe.  I have never been so affected by a television show.  It is an hour about a guy, a Marine, a colonel, taking home a body of a fallen serviceman, fallen Marine, to his home out west in Wyoming.  What a story.  We have got to change pace for this one.  This is going to be different than HARDBALL. 

We will be right back with real America.  And you will never be more proud of your country. 

We will be back in a minute with HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER:  Back to HARDBALL. 

Few people know that, when an American service person, a Marine or a soldier, is killed, a military escort takes them home. 

An upcoming film, HBO film, called “Taking Chance” recounts the story of Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobl, who, in 2004, accompanied fallen Marine Lance Corporal Chance Phelps back to his home, back from his being killed in Iraq.  It is a story about honor and kindness and about being a witness. 

With me now, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobl and actor Kevin Bacon, who plays the lieutenant colonel in “Taking Chance.” 

Well, thank you for your service. 

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL STROBL, U.S. MARINE CORPS:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s make this official. 

And, Kevin, thank you. 

KEVIN BACON, ACTOR:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  I—I want to talk to you, Kevin.  Let me talk about what you discovered, because you‘re more like us.  You learned things. 

To me, I had no idea that, when somebody gets killed in Iraq, or anyplace, for our country, the care that‘s taken. 

BACON:  Yes.  I had no idea either. 

I mean, the whole process, in the way that the remains are treated, in the way that they find their way back to their final resting place, was a complete shock and surprise to me.  It is just—just something that I knew nothing about. 

So, there was that piece of it, which was, you know, an incredible kind of experience to—to research it and to learn about it.  And, then, there was also the opportunity to—to walk in Mike‘s shoes.  And that was a great, a great honor. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the film, a part of it. 

Here‘s a scene from the movie where Lieutenant Colonel Strobl, who is sitting to my left here, continues his journey to bring Lance Corporal Chance Phelps back home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TAKING CHANCE”)

BACON:  Hi. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hello.

BACON:  So, he can just stay here all night? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  yes.      

BACON:  There‘s no need to move him?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Don‘t worry.  No one is going near him.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  When you‘re ready, we have a taxi waiting to take you to your hotel.

BACON:  Actually, I will tell you, if I could just get a chair, I‘m all set.  I really don‘t want to leave him here alone.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  You want to sleep in here? 

I‘m going to need to check with my supervisor.  I‘m not sure we‘re allowed to do that. 

BACON:  Could you?  I know it‘s late, but I would really appreciate it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, except for that guy that wanted you to take your uniform off to go through, you know, a TSA check at an airport, everybody showed tremendous respect to you once they saw what you were doing. 

STROBL:  Absolutely, yes. 

And—and that‘s really what surprised me and moved me, to the point where I wanted to write this story, because I wanted to remember how ordinary Americans all across the country reacted to my trip with Chance.  It was just phenomenal.

MATTHEWS:  Once they saw you in a—in a dress uniform, once they saw you, and they just knew immediately what you were doing?

STROBL:  Well, I don‘t think everybody did. 

I—I think it‘s—it‘s not that uncommon to see a service member in uniform in an airport.  But the—the people who did, especially the airline employees, Northwest Airlines, they—they just went out of their way to make things as easy as possible for me and to extend their sympathy and gratitude to Chance‘s family. 

MATTHEWS:  What got to me was watching you, Kevin, and the reaction of

the flight attendant who gave you the cross, the crucifix.  The—the girl

cute girl sitting next to you on the plane, it was interested in just sitting next to you, but she also was very impressed by what you were doing. 

The civilian thing. 

BACON:  Yes. 

And what was interesting to me was that the—the process, in its own way, that I went through was, in some ways, similar to what Lieutenant Colonel Strobl went through, in that we would go, and we shoot the scene.  And there would be extras and actors.  And they were so moved by just watching the shooting of the scene.  They were so touched by what we were doing, even though it was all pretend.

And they would come up to me and say, thank you so much for making the movie.  And I was, you know, kind of embarrassed, because I felt like I‘m just actor boy, you know?

MATTHEWS:  Well, you said something at the movie about how you didn‘t know the guy.  But you knew what after bringing him home?  You talked about how you knew the way the country treated him. 

BACON:  Yes.  Yes. 

I mean, it‘s—it‘s—you know, he makes a comment that he never met Chance Phelps.  He didn‘t know—they had—they had no kind of connection, other than they were from the home—same hometown. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a picture, yes.

BACON:  And, yet, somehow they were completely kind of bonded, I think, by the end of this journey in a really, like, deep and powerful way. 

STROBL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, politically, it‘s always—we argue politics here, as you know.  And, you know, we have always argued, why don‘t they let people see this?

You know, former Senator, now Vice President Joe Biden said he was never—even though he represented Delaware in the United States Senate, he was never allowed to take anybody or show any camera crew or anything to Dover. 

STROBL:  Mm-hmm.   

MATTHEWS:  And you—and you were able to get through to do—your production was able to show it. 

But I think what comes across in the movie is that—that we don‘t like this war, a lot of people.  But the—the way you guys treat people, you kept calling him “he,” the body.  Did you know that in your book?  It was like, even though it‘s his—you could say his remains, you could say his body, it was like it was still him.

And you said, in the script—I guess you wrote it...          

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... that as long as he kept moving, I thought he was still alive.  As long as that body kept moving back to Wyoming, he was somehow still alive. 

(CROSSTALK)

STROBL:  Right.  Right.   

MATTHEWS:  That was a...

STROBL:  I—one of the other things that surprised me and touched me very much about this trip was how emotionally attached I felt that I became to Chance, to this Marine that I had never met.

And I—you know, it is interesting.  I have talked to other Marines and soldiers who have done escort duty.  And they say they had the same experience.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen up here. 

STROBL:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  This is one of the great scenes here.  He‘s—you are explaining who you are. 

Do you want to take a look at one of these scenes here?  Do we have another scene we can show?  OK.  That was just V.O.  I keep forgetting these terms.

That wasn‘t SOT, said on tape. 

(LAUGHTER)

BACON:  SOT, that‘s new to me.  I don‘t even know that.

MATTHEWS:  SOT.  SOT is when we show a taping actually of the sound. 

The—what do—what is your feeling, as a soldier?  You said during the—when you wrote the story, that you felt bad, because even though you had fought in Desert Storm, in the liberation of Kuwait, that you felt guilty, as a senior officer, for not going back and fighting in the Iraq war. 

STROBL:  Yes. 

Well, I think you have to understand, especially in the Marine Corps, it is such a small community.  And it‘s—six degrees of separation comes through my mind for some reason right now, but I felt like I knew so many Marines that were over there.  And I knew so many who were preparing to go.

And—and, yet, I was in a cubicle job, going home to my family every night.  And I—I do intellectually understand that my job and all of the jobs that are stateside are important, but there is that sense of, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STROBL:  ... a lot of people are doing a lot more of the heavy lifting than I was at the time. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you for your service, again. 

BACON:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Kevin, great to finally meet you. 

STROBL:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

And thank you both. 

Kevin Bacon is the star of this amazing HBO movie.  By the way, it‘s on later this month on Saturday night...

BACON:  Twenty-first, I think it is?

STROBL:  Twenty-first, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Twenty-first of February.  It‘s an amazing movie.  You have got to tape it, if you don‘t watch it.  You have got to watch it.  It‘s unbelievable.  If you think about the war in Iraq at all, the war in Afghanistan at all, you must see this movie.  If you care about our service people, you have got to see this movie. 

Up next:  The Senate is about to vote any minute right now on that cloture vote on the Nelson amendment, which is the key—there they are—the key test vote on whether the president has that 60 votes he needs to get through this huge bill he has to get through, the economic stimulus, economic recovery bill, whatever you call it.  It is big casino for the economy right now. 

Three Republicans have pledged to support it.  We will see.  It looks like they are going to hold together.  We will find out in the next couple minutes, as we follow the vote, plus talk about what President Obama needs to say at his first prime-time news conference. 

That‘s our little preview tonight.  We‘re going to pregame that tonight. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks closing little changed on Monday, with the Dow Jones industrials down nine points, the S&P 500 gaining a little more than a point, and the Nasdaq falling fractionally. 

Investors are waiting for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to unveil the Obama‘s administration plan to help out ailing banks.  He is expected to announce tomorrow that the plan includes cooperation between the government and private sector to buy troubled assets of banks. 

The announcement was postponed a day to allow the economic stimulus package under discussion in the Senate to take priority. 

Meantime, Japanese automaker Nissan says it will eliminate 20,000 jobs worldwide.  That‘s more than 8 percent of its work force.  Nissan also says it expects to report its first annual loss in nine years. 

And oil slipped 61 cents, to $39.56 a barrel.

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The Senate continues its cloture vote.  There you are watching them vote there.  It‘s live television right now.  They‘re coming down there around the well there to get the vote together.

They need 60 votes to, of course, cut off debate, under the rules they operate under in the Senate—I don‘t agree with them, but they operate under them—to whether they can even vote on the president‘s economic recovery plan. 

Strictly speaking, the vote they‘re on right now is on the Nelson amendment.  They‘re trying to cut off debate on that, which is, of course, the deal-maker, which is the moderate Democrats and Republicans, led by the moderate—or conservative Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine, who is a Republican.  They put the deal together.

This is, of course, the test, in the next couple of minutes, whether the president is going to win or not on this big issue of the economic stimulus package. 

Tonight, President Obama goes before the American people as a whole to make the case for his economic plan.  What does he have to say and to whom?  and do the lawmakers on the Hill—who‘s addressing himself to?  The Dems or the Rs? 

Harold Ford is a former congressman of Tennessee.  He‘s chair of the Democratic Leadership Council right now.  He‘s also a professor of public policy at Vanderbilt.  Bob Ehrlich‘s the former governor of Maryland.  He‘s a former—well, he‘s still a Republican.  Thank you, gentlemen.  Let me start with Harold Ford Jr.  Professor, who‘s he talking to tonight, the president of the United States? 

HAROLD FORD JR., DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL:  I think he‘s got to take this conversation bigger than the Congress.  I think he has to do two principle things as he speaks to that audience.  First is reassert him as the leader, the director, the author of not only this package, but the one who‘s going lead and guide us out of this. 

Two, remind people of the strengths in this legislation, the tax cuts immediately to middle class families, and how that will create jobs; the investment—or I should say the aid to states to avoid layoffs of cops and firefighters, and why that‘s important to communities.  And then pivot a little bit to talk about the long-term investments we make in energy and health care and why this package is important. 

And if I were him, I‘d finish by saying what he said all along, that we are in this together.  We find ourselves in a very, very difficult, if not an unprecedented moment, but not a moment America can‘t emerge from.  He‘s got to strike the right balance and veer more towards being positive and optimistic than he does talking about the fear and the challenge the country is facing. 

If he does that, I think he will be a great—he will be a success regardless.  But I think he focuses on the these three areas, it will allow him, as we move to this next debate on the Banking System Repair and Recovery Act, to be in charge of that from the outset. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Governor Ehrlich, we only have one president at a time.  We only have one economic plan on the table at the time.  How come your party‘s been so nervy and voting to the last man and woman against the bill in the House and only three joining up in the Senate?  How come they‘re willing to be out there saying, we don‘t want any plan?  This is the only plan on the table.  We don‘t want it.  How can they do that?  How can they risk that politically? 

BOB EHRLICH, FMR. GOVERNOR OF MARYLAND:  Chris, that‘s what the loyal opposition does.  That‘s our job. 

MATTHEWS:  At a time of crisis? 

EHRLICH:  Absolutely at a time of crisis.  His audience tonight is the American middle class and particularly philosophical moderates.  And those two folks—those two groups, I should say, have, if you see from the polls the last few days—have been less than enthusiastic about this pork-laden spending bill.  The American public wants stimulus, Chris, but they‘re not sold on this particular package.  That‘s the president‘s sell job tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  The Gallup poll, 67 percent support the president‘s work—performance with regard to the stimulus package.  What number are you looking at?  I‘m looking at Gallup. 

EHRLICH:  I‘ve seen a lot of opinion polls in the last couple of days. 

Now listen, his popularity number—

MATTHEWS:  What are you looking at?  Rasmussen?  What poll do you—governor, what are you looking at?  Some Republican poll?

EHRLICH:  Chris, what are we supposed to do—listen. 

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t see you sitting on your hands—

EHRLICH:  Chris, all he said last week was scare, scare, scare.  That‘s not leadership.  I think Harold‘s right.  He needs to change the tune here.  Obviously, talk radio bugs him.  Obviously, some of your competitors and other cable channels bug him.  And for some reason, he wanted it all their way. 

They have the votes to do it.  They‘re going to win tonight.  He‘s going to come out and claim victory.  We know that, because this is, quite frankly, the platform he ran on.  The problem is the American people have seen a lot of negligence on Capitol Hill.  They‘ve seen Tarp One not work.  They saw the last stimulus not work.  They know they‘re over-taxed.  They know Washington‘s negligent.  And they don‘t like the smell of this entire package. 

They want stimulus.  They just don‘t necessarily like this package. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m looking at the Gallup Poll, Congressman Ford.  I‘m looking at the Gallup poll and it shows two to one support for the president. 

FORD:  I think one thing—to Governor Ehrlich‘s point—I would agree with a lot, but I disagree with this point, that—the country‘s ready for a change.  And I think the numbers demonstrating support for the way that the president handled the stimulus really has at its genesis that people want a different direction.  I thought the most effective attack the president had or effective criticism that President Obama had of the former president and even some of the Republicans in the Congress and the Senate, is look, we have tried their approach and it‘s not worked.  It is time for a different approach.

And it‘s clear to two thirds of Americans—some may have some reservations about some of the language and the way the process worked.  But, by and large, people are ready for investments in health care, energy, in the long term are ready for tax cuts to find their way to middle class families.  And where I would agree with Governor Ehrlich 100 percent is the that message tonight has got to be directed to the American people and directly or specifically at middle class Americans, who are—who have been hurt the most the last few years, and who are hurting the most as we sit here this evening. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘ll be back later.  I have to go right back.  Thank you, governor.  I have to go right now.  Governor Bob Ehrlich, thank you.  Congressman Harold Ford.

Up next, huge stakes on all sides as the Senate gets closer to passing that 827 billion dollar economic recovery bill.  The politics of it all for the president, for Democrats in Congress and for Republicans coming up next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  Time for the politics fix with MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe and Susan Page.  We have some heavy weights here tonight.  Here the question is, Barack Obama, score it tonight before it happens.  What does he have to do?  I mean something you live by tomorrow and the next day. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  He has to say how this stimulus package is going to work. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  How? 

WOLFFE:  How it works.  Now how he is going to get the votes, but how it works.  He made a good start today.  But he has to do it tonight in prime time. 

MATTHEWS:  Why—Susan, here‘s the question.  It‘s such tinker toy question, but why doesn‘t he say if we do this, this will happen; this will create X many new jobs.  If we do this, this will happen; it will bring back economic prosperity, get the country moving again.  He never gives the functional explanation.  He‘s selling the car by what it looks like and what the goal is.  He never tells us it has wheels on it.  It has an engine in it that makes the wheels turn.  He never tells us how it works.  I don‘t understand why not. 

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”:  You know, I think part of it was a strategy to let the House write its own version.  Then—you kind of get a hand‘s off attitude.  They put some stuff in there he didn‘t really want to defend.  That‘s one problem. 

If you think about what he needs to do tonight, I think he needs to get back on offense.  He‘s been playing defense all last week, had a lot of bumps.  He needs to use the successful event he had in Elkhart, Indiana, say he went there, talked to Americans; he knows how worried they are.  You have to pass this package to fix the problems of Americans in places like Elkhart are facing. 

MATTHEWS:  By that theory, he doesn‘t have to fear the loss of the three senators he‘s picking up, Specter, Snowe, Collins.  He has them in the bag, you‘re arguing.  Then you‘re just—you‘re basically saying, he doesn‘t have to risk getting more Republicans.  He‘s not going to get any.  He can give that hope up and just go for holding the Democrats. 

I agree with you.  I think he has a real challenge holding that strong support of the House Democrats. 

PAGE:  I think, in the end, he‘ll hold them, don‘t you think?  I mean, House Democrats are not going to vote against the president on this first big bill out of the box.  I‘m sure the White House is pretty disappointed that everything he did for Republicans, you know, Super Bowl parties and private one-on-ones in the Oval Office—he ends up with three Republican senators who you—you know, you‘d expect to be with him, given their politics and their politic situation in their home state.  He‘s got nothing to show for all that outreach.—and their geography. 

Given the fact that Arlen Specter is running for re-election, how is he going to vote against this package?  He‘s just not.  The effort of bipartisan that marked the first week of his presidency, the first two weeks maybe, doesn‘t have very much to show for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it just seems like location, location, location.  If you‘re a Republican senator from the North East, you better get on board, because that‘s a vanishing breed, right?  He didn‘t really have to make too hard a sell.  But then again, Specter, for example—I know the guy‘s politics.  He has the option of going either way if he wants to.  The fact is, he did have to do a little wooing there, clearly.  

WOLFFE:  He did.  But it isn‘t just about the votes here.  It‘s about what it says to independents who actually supported this president and still do, still support his stimulus package.  It‘s not just about getting Republicans.  In fact, there weren‘t that matter Republican who switched sides for him in the general election.  Keep independents there.  Then this guy has a future. 

MATTHEWS:  Here it is.  We‘ve got the news.  The president has done it.  You‘ve heard it here.  That‘s Jeanne Shaheen, the new senator from New Hampshire, reporting the number from the parliamentarian, the clerk rather, the roll clerk, 61-36.  So Susan, he now has what he needs in this test vote.  It was a cloture vote on the Nelson amendment.  It means he has enough votes to carry the Senate.  It looks like he‘s in good shape to get this thing now.  The next test is can he get the conference through both house, the compromise? 

PAGE:  That‘s right.  Can he do it in the time period he set up?  He said he wanted it by Presidents‘ Day.  That‘s his deadline.  He‘ll need to do that.  Again, don‘t you think it‘s kind of—of course, dangerous to say this too early.  But having gotten here, he‘s gotten it through—he‘s going to get it through the Senate tomorrow.  It will go back to the House. 

The differences—there are differences between these two bills.  But the overall size of them is not that different.  The mix of tax cuts and spending is a little different.  It‘s all on the kind of margins that it seems like you ought to be able to split the difference and get a bill that will get through conference. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Richard Wolffe and Susan Page for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re become with Richard Wolffe and Susan Page for more of the politics fix.  We‘ve got a news bulletin, of course, late this afternoon: A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees, admitted to using steroids when he played back in his earlier career for the Texas rangers.  Here he is in an interview with ESPN. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX RODRIGUEZ, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER:  Back then, it was a different culture.  It was very loose.  I was young.  I was stupid.  I was naive.  And I wanted to prove to everyone that, you know, I was worth—you know, and being one of the greatest players of all time.  And I did take a banned substance and, you know, for that I‘m very sorry and deeply regretful. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So now in baseball, we‘ve got the Barry Bonds situation, this situation.  I guess it‘s fair to say—I‘ll offer a quick commentary here.  It does raise the question, who do you trust?  I think this is going to be part of it. 

To answer that question politically tonight, Richard Wolffe and Susan Page, the president of the United States is the only game in town.  This is not a partisan observation.  It‘s a fact.  There‘s no leader of the Republican party right now.  Rush Limbaugh is not a leader.  There‘s only one leader.  It‘s the president right now.  He‘s got the only bill on the table. 

If we don‘t believe in that, there is a national trust problem here.  He has a case to make for the country right now, which is what I‘m doing is what we‘re doing as a country right now. 

WOLFFE:  Look, he didn‘t sound like he was the only game—or he didn‘t look like he was the only game in town last weekend.  This is trying to reestablish himself.  But he‘s a story teller.  He loves narrating books and this country‘s amazing story.  What he has to do tonight is tell not just how his jobs plan is going to work, but how this recession is going to work out. 

He has to reassure people and say, this is what the next six months, 12 months, 18 months is going to be.  There are a lot of people out there who aren‘t going to plan based on whether they get a government job or not.  But they want to know, can I expect things to get better now or later or what?  He has to be the one to tell that story.  That‘s what he‘s going to try to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Confidence building.  I think that is the ambition tonight, to build confidence in what he‘s doing and that it will work, Susan, not just it will pass the Senate. 

PAGE:  And, of course, one thing you can say about Barack Obama, through the long campaign, was he would have a stumble and he‘d recover.  He would figure out what had gone wrong.  He would respond.  I think he recognizes that he needs to step up to the plate a little more in explaining exactly what‘s in this program and exactly how it‘s going to affect peoples‘ lives.  Then, I tell you, it better work.  If he says in six months we‘ll pass this, you better be able to see results in the lives of Americans when that time has passed. 

MATTHEWS:  We agree.  We agree.  He has to say how it‘s going to work and that it will work.  Thank you, Richard Wolffe.  Thank you, Susan Page.  I‘ll be back in an hour for a 7:00 edition of HARDBALL, leading into the president‘s news conference at 8:00.

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