updated 2/10/2009 10:33:09 AM ET 2009-02-10T15:33:09

Guest: Chuck Todd, Jim Warren, Ray LaHood, Dan Burton, Kendrick Meek, Bob Ehrlich, Michael Strobel, Harold Ford, Roger Simon, Kevin Bacon, Joe Trippi High: President Barack Obama is about to hold a prime-time press conference.

Spec: Politics; Elections; Government; Economy

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Big night for President Barack Obama. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight, the economic stimulus plan gets a boost.  Just over an hour ago the U.S. Senate gave President Barack Obama what he wanted.  It voted 61-36 to let the stimulus plan move forward to a final vote in the Senate.  Probably tomorrow.

Just three Republicans voted for the bill.  Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.  In just one hour from now, President Obama will hold his first ever primetime press conference where he‘s expected to make a hard sell to the public to support the big economic recovery bill.

The president‘s started the day by traveling to Elkhart, Indiana, right on the Michigan border.  A hard hit down with a jobless rate believed it or not has tripled in the last year leaping from four percent to over 15 percent in a single bound.  It‘s a place where they used to make 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 packed into that gym today hear the president.  But that‘s only a fraction of the 6,000 unemployed in Elkhart.  Maybe they couldn‘t find a room big enough to get all the unemployed in.

This country is headed into a hellish direction right now.  We‘ve got 11 million unemployed.  Twenty two million if you count people who have either got their hours cut or have given up trying to find somebody out there who is actually hiring.  A new Gallup poll out today, however, shows that 67 percent of the country approves of the president‘s efforts with this stimulus package.  That along with the grim economic numbers suggests far greater joblessness, by the way, to come.  Here‘s President Obama today in Indiana.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT:  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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tonight we expect to hear more about the urgent need for this recovery plan.  Obama, President Obama was supposed to be the post-partisan president.  But what good is it doing him?  You‘ve got to ask that question tonight.  He‘s reached out to Republicans.  He‘s appointed three Republicans to his cabinet.  He‘s loaded up his big bill with tax cuts.  The ones they wanted.  But in the end, how many Republicans voted for the bill this evening?  Three.  How many in the house last week?  None.  Not a single House Republican.

Is it time for Obama to ditch bipartisanship and go out there and just dare Republicans?  Go ahead, filibuster the bill if you want to.  Get on the wrong side of history if you want to.  Go ahead be against the $800 billion economic plan.  What‘s your plan?  He could take that approach.  We‘re going to ask about that tonight.  What does President Obama need to say tonight overall and who‘s he need to say it to?  MSNBC‘s got live coverage of the president‘s press conference.  In just one hour at 8:00 Eastern Time.  At midnight I‘ll be back with a late night edition of HARDBALL to size up how the night went.

And an extra added attraction tonight, one of my favorite actors, Kevin Bacon is here to tell the story of bringing our fallen service people back from Iraq.  It‘s a story you‘ve never heard told.  What happens to the dead when nay come home and how‘s it done.  A boy is it a beautiful story of how well the American military handles these very delicate situations.  Kevin Bacon is going to be on the set to talk about his new movie for HBO, “Taking Chance.”

Let‘s start with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former House member from Illinois.  Sort of a get a long, go along Republican.  He never looked for a fight.  He always tried to bring civility.  Mr. Secretary, I‘ve got to get the title right.  You used to have meetings on Capitol Hill, these getaways you organized where Republicans and Democrats would get together and try to be friends.  Where does that stand tonight?  At this press conference?

RAY LAHOOD, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION:  Well, look, Chris, you know this as well as I do.  The idea of bipartisanship was not a political slogan when President Obama was running.  He believes in it.  It‘s in his heart and he reached out to Republicans and I think he‘ll continue to do that.  I was with him in Elkhart today and he really believes the idea of people working together to put people to work is something the country ought to be doing.  I think we‘re going to see it happen when the Congress goes to vote on the conference report.  I really do.

MATTHEWS:  Do you expect any Republicans in the House to vote for this bill?

LAHOOD:  I think you‘ll see some republicans vote for the conference report, Chris.  I really do.  Because there are places in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, in these big industrial states where people are really hurting.  They‘re out of work.  And I think members of Congress recognize that and I think they have no other choice but to say to their constituents, this stimulus will help and this is a way to it help get you back to work this spring, summer, fall on building roads and bridges.  And so I believe there will be some votes in the House, Chris.  I really do.

MATTHEWS:  What does it feel like to be one of the Republicans in a Democratic Cabinet?  How does it feel?

LAHOOD:  Well, look, I‘ve had an exceptional relationship with President Obama when he was a senator and I was a congressman.  I have great affection for him.  You know, Rahm Emanuel is a very good friend of mine, Chris.  He and I have actually co-sponsored bipartisan dinners and we‘ve gotten along very well while we were both House members.  I feel very comfortable here.  Because what I‘m doing is trying to get people back to work.  What I‘m doing is trying to jump-start the economy.  And I think the bill that will pass the Congress and be signed by the president very soon will put a heck of a lot of people back to work.  And I‘m going to feel good about being part of an administration that jump-starts the economy and gets people starting to build roads and bridges and get our economy going again.  How could you not feel good about that, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Well, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, thank you very much for joining us, sir, tonight.  You‘ve given a rousing speech for this stimulus program.  In fact, you‘ve predicted that Republicans will join it when to goes back to the House for final passage, thank you sir for joining us.

LAHOOD:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Joining us now, U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek, a Florida Democrat and U.S. Congressman Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana.  You‘re laughing already Congressman Burton.  I guess you know my questions are coming at you.  Why don‘t the Republicans vote for something rather than nothing?  Why don‘t you have anybody in your entire party, not a single Republican voted in the house for the stimulus bill when we know it‘s the only game in town?

REP. DAN BURTON, ® IN:  Well, first of all, we do want to work with President Obama and we do want to have a stimulus plan that‘s going to be effective and work and get the people of this country back on the right track.  But that should include more in the way of tax cuts for business industry, as well as individuals, and less on pork barrel spending which is laden in this bill.  If we had a real compromise I think you would see the Republicans support it.  But the way it passed the House was just an abomination in most of our opinions.

MATTHEWS:  What about the Senate version?  You like it any more?

BURTON:  The Senate version still had the same problems.  I mean it has tons of pork.  It does not have enough in tax cuts.  And it is reminiscent of what Jimmy Carter did in the 1970s which led us into a huge recession with double digit interest rates, double digit inflation, double digit unemployment and interest rates that reached 21.5 percent.  Those things will happen if we pass the stimulus package in its present form in my opinion.

MATTHEWS:  So you say that Barack Obama is acting like Jimmy Carter?

BURTON:  I‘m saying the recipe that‘s been presented to the congress so far is very similar to what Jimmy Carter did back in the 1970s and it will not work.  Tax cuts to stimulus to the economy will help bring jobs back and we have a plan that would create about 6 million new jobs with about half the money if we had more tax cuts.

MATTHEWS:  I thought Jimmy Carter killed his stimulus package in ‘77 when he first came into office.  He didn‘t have a stimulus package.

BURTON:  I have it right here in front of me.  There was $17.5 billion in state and local aid.  $15 billion for highways.  $3.5 billion for water treatment.  Flood assistance, $600 million.  Right on down.  It‘s very similar to what we‘ve seen now.

MATTHEWS:  What bill is this again?  What bill is this you‘re talking about?

BURTON:  It was the 1977 Carter stimulus package.  I don‘t have the bill number.

MATTHEWS:  Which he withdrew.  He withdrew that, didn‘t he?

BURTON:  No, no, no.  This was the package presented to the Congress in 1977.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Congressman Meeks.  We‘ll get to checking on that, Dan.

Let me go to Congressman Meek.  What do you think the president should be doing tonight when he speaks to the American people on this press conference?

REP. KENDRICK MEEK, (D) FL:  I think the president should keep up efforts and reaching to Republicans in the Congress to try to come up with a compromise so we can have a bipartisan piece of legislation as we go into the conference committee.  My good friend Dan who I serve with every day, it‘s interesting of his dialogue here tonight about 1977 and Jimmy Carter and what happened then.  We‘re talking about what‘s happening right now.  The American people are losing.  We‘re losing jobs.  We‘re losing homes.  There are families now that want to send their kids to college that cannot send their kids to college.  This Washington bickering that‘s going on right now because the president has reached out and to say we want Republicans to be a part of this is not a part of the solution.

And I must say another thing, Chris, I think that the first step to bipartisanship is making sure we can tolerate the kind of incoming verbal attacks that Republicans have carried out here on Capitol Hill.  But I encourage the president to continue.  I encourage congressmen and congresswomen to continue moving forward on the behalf of the American people.

And you‘re right.  Almost 70 percent of Americans saying this stimulus package is important and when I board the plane tomorrow from Andrews Air Force base to fly down to Florida with the president to Ft. Myers, Florida, that is hit hard, too with foreclosures, job loss, that‘s what‘s happening right now, not what‘s happening in Washington.  So I ask the American people to stay in, stick in with those members of Congress trying to bring help right now.  And this package does have tax cuts and has projects there that governors and mayors are asking for.

BURTON:  Let me ...

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Burton, is your opposition to this bill what‘s in it or the fact that it‘s a big bill with big spending and big tax cuts?  Are you against the idea of a big sort of stimulus effort or are you against what‘s in it?  Which is it?

BURTON:  Let me just say we want to see a bipartisan approach to solving this problem.  But not one Republican was consulted in the House of Representatives.  This was written by the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, without any input.  There was no compromise.

MEEKS:  Dan, that‘s not true.  I‘m sorry, sir.

BURTON:  There was no compromise at all.

MEEK:  That is not true.  The president left the White House to meet with the Republican conference and before he can get down Pennsylvania Street there was a press conference by House Republicans saying we‘re going to reject a plan regardless.  He had that open arms.  And then he went to the Senate to make sure and met with senators and work with senators.

But I think it‘s important—I just want to make sure the truth is told here this evening.

BURTON:  I‘m going to give you the whole truth.  The whole truth is the president did come to our conference.  But the bill was never changed.  We had no input into it.  It was a Democrat bill written by the Speaker of the House.  We had nothing to do with it.  We would like to work with them, we‘d like to compromise, we‘d like to see this thing work.

MATTHEWS:  A point of information, point of information for Congressman Burton, then to you, Congressman Meek.  Did John Boehner, your leader, say the Republicans are going to vote against this measure to the last person?  Didn‘t he say that?  I know he did.  When did he say it?  Did he says that before or after the bill was drafted?

BURTON:  In our conference he said we had no input into the bill and he said he thought that the Republicans should not support a bill that did not have more tax cuts and less pork in it.  And since we had no input whatsoever we had really no choice.  We really want to work with the president.  This idea we don‘t want to work with him is just crazy.  We‘re all concerned ...

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Meek, let me check with you on that.  Let me check you on that.  Did the president say—did he go along with the Pelosi draft before Boehner said don‘t vote for this or after?

MEEK:  This was not a Pelosi draft.  It was a—let‘s remember, Chris, let‘s remember, Dan, there was a meeting at the white house.  A bipartisan leadership meeting on what should go in this stimulus package.  It was not a presidential plan.  It was not a Pelosi plan.  It was a plan taking the input of Republicans and Democrats.  That‘s also ...

BURTON:  Tell me what the republicans put in.  Tell me one thing—tell me what the Republicans were allowed to put in.

MEEK:  Dan, if you are going to allow me to speak I would appreciate it.

Let me also add what we‘ve been going through for the last week is speaking to Republicans and getting input.  There were three Republicans who came over to the Democratic side on the Senate side.  More tax cuts were put into the bill, more project money taken out of the bill to come back in the future.  But let me ...

BURTON:  Let me say ...

MEEK:  Dan, can I finish?  Can I finish?

BURTON:  Let me say one thing.

MEEK:  Sir, you‘ve been saying a lot.  I‘m just trying to be respectful to you.  What I think is important at this point is not what we‘re doing right now.  It‘s getting the stimulus package passed to the president‘s desk.  And we‘re going to be here in Washington for the next two years.  We can pass future packages that will be able to assist the American people.  This is exactly what the American people did not want is bickering in Washington, DC.  They want action and are going to get it.

BURTON:  Can I say one thing, please?  If you can give me one example of what the Republicans were allowed to put in this bill, I would like to know what it is.  Because we had no input whatsoever.  For you to say there‘s bipartisan ...

MEEK:  I‘ll give you a call in your office.  Won‘t waste Chris‘ time on this.

MATTHEWS:  What Republican aspect is in this bill, Congressman Meek?

MEEK:  Well there are a number of aspects.  Something we both agree on.  There should be more tax cuts to small businesses.  And that‘s already placed in the Senate bill and will be compromised and will come together during the conference committee.  There was also a number of projects as it relates to 95 percent of Americans which President Barack Obama talked about will receive a tax cut.  Couples will receive $1,000 tax cut.

So I think it‘s important we realize, Chris, that we don‘t allow this to be passed as though it wasn‘t a bipartisan issue.  It has been from the beginning.  That‘s the reason we‘re here.  George W. Bush never did what President Obama is doing now.

MATTHEWS:  Congressmen, we‘re on a live television show.  We have to stop right there.  We will look forward to more—we‘re live right now.  Congressman Kendrick Meek, Congressman Dan Burton.  We have to stop at this point.  Thank you, gentlemen.

Coming up, what does President Obama need to say in his first primetime news conference?  That‘s tonight, it‘s coming up soon.  What do Democrats and Republicans—well, it doesn‘t matter what they want to hear.  It‘s what he says to us, the American people.  I believe this one is for us.  The big event at 8:00 Eastern.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We can‘t posture, bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place.  That was what this election was all about.  The American people rejected those ideas because they hadn‘t worked.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The president set to give his first primetime press conference at 8:00 p.m. tonight.  Chuck Todd‘s NBC‘s chief White House correspondent.

Chuck it‘s clear to me as it is to everybody watching right now the president has what he wants.  He‘s got 61 senators backing his package.  He has a good chance to get a conference thing agreed to.  It‘s going to be hard but he‘s got a good chance.

Is he going on national television tonight to win this thing or to somehow put some body English into it to say, look, this is mine.  Watch what happens in the next year.  I own this thing.  And those who opposed it will pay.  What‘s he up to?  Is it about this week or about next year?

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I think it‘s a combination of the two.  Frankly I think this afternoon in Indiana and tomorrow in Florida is about this week.  Tonight is about making average Americans understand what this plan is supposed to do for them.  I think they‘ve had a very difficult time putting that together.  Clearly the American people are giving him the benefit of the doubt.  He‘s got a high approval rating.  The approval rating for the stimulus plan is fairly high, particularly if you put his name on it.

So there‘s a benefit of the doubt he gets but I don‘t think he has connected the dots for the average Americans.  And I think that‘s what he has got to do tonight.  He has to make them understand, the word stimulus, I almost think the president should never use it.  It‘s a horrible Washington word.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  I hate it.  I hate it.

TODD:  I hate writing it.  I hate saying it.  I—you know, I feel like, you know, when you say it you immediately are telling the American people blah, blah, blah, Washington.  Where he needs to figure out how ...

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

TODD:  ... to take that plan and connect it to, you know, you and I have plenty, I think, of family and friends who are out there who are hurting.  Maybe they own a small business, maybe they can‘t get a line of credit.  They‘re trying to understand.  What is this plan going to do for them this year?  Not just put money in their pocket but what‘s it going to do and what is our economy going to look like in the next six months?  It‘s a lot to ask.  You can‘t control this setting.  It‘s questions.  There‘s a combination something h wants to do tonight and frankly something he hopes to do, I think down the road when he might end up doing an Oval Office address after this thing when he actually signs the bill.

MATTHEWS:  Franklin Roosevelt was so good when he sold lend-lease, when he sold anything.  He‘d always have a logic and say, don‘t throw a 50 foot rope to somebody drowning 100 feet from shore.  He knew how to make a case.  It seems like this president, for all his gifts, has not been able to answer the how question.

How does spending almost $1 trillion in tax cuts or in spending, how does that get the economy moving again?  What is it that stops him?  You know the people over there at the White House.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Why haven‘t the staff people—do they know this or are they mad at us for raising this question?

TODD:  No, look, I think today in Indiana he did a good job of that.  What‘s interesting, what makes this stimulus, I think, so hard, there I go again using the word.  What makes this economic plan, I think, so hard to sell is it is pretty broad, right?  So when you‘re in Indiana and you can talk simply about the fact an RV manufacturing plant went under and this is how it‘s going to help create new jobs in Indiana, he can do that.

The problem is this plan is trying to do 50 things.  Right?  Which is what economists say has to be done.  You need a plan that needs to do all that.  And I think that‘s hard to sell in a small amount of time.

And in that‘s why - in many ways maybe he should have been on the road last week doing this.  In Indiana last week selling the manufacturing parts.  Maybe in California selling green jobs part.  Maybe Northern Kentucky or Cincinnati trying to play a little political hardball with Boehner and McConnell who are from that area.  And maybe in Florida where he sells the housing part.

Different parts of the country are hurting from different parts of the economy.  Maybe that‘s the easier way to sell it.  I think they‘re feeling it around and I think finding a rhythm.  At least he found a rhythm today.

MATTHEWS:  All right.  Thank you very much for the great insight. 

Thank you, Chuck Todd at the White House.

Harold Ford is a former congressman from Tennessee, he is chair of the Democratic Leadership Council and he is also professor at Vanderbilt.  Bob Ehrlich is former governor of Maryland.  I want to start with Governor Ehrlich.  It seems to me that Chuck has a situation here.  And I agree with him on it.  It‘s a problem.  I spent my life growing up around drugstores, whether it was Peoples or whatever it was back in Philly here and said “sundries and notions” on the outside of it.  And for the life of me I had no idea what sundries and notions were.  I thing this bill is filled with sundries and notions.  I think that‘s the problem, governor.

BOB EHRLICH, ® FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR:  Chris, you made my point, Chris.  You‘ve made my point.  You‘re right.  Interesting thing about the term stimulus is I guarantee it upholds well because stimulus is a positive term.  Spending, however, does not poll so well.  And, Chris, you also had to have context here.  Because the American public have been fed a stimulus last year, they‘ve seen a lot of the TARP dollars wasted.  They‘ve seen gross negligence from Washington.  The backdrop, context here is a lot of negligence concerning their dollars.

Now as you said, Chris, they‘re asked to buy into a trillion dollar spending package.  No wonder it‘s—Chris, by the way, do not confuse the poll numbers with the president‘s popularity on the one hand.  I agree.  He‘s a popular guy.  He won big.  With regard—but separate that from the stimulus package which has been losing steam over the past 10 days for the very reasons you articulated.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  But he is still—find the middle ground here.  The package is not selling as well as it did two weeks ago because of Republican attacks and media criticism.  But his handling of it notwithstanding that problem is still strong.  Congressman Ford, he‘s still at two-thirds support.  Maybe there‘s a disconnect, but when people still like the way the guy‘s handling something they haven‘t fallen in love with.  There it is 67-25 his handling of it.

HAROLD FORD, DLC CHAIRMAN:  Chris, you said it best and I would agree with what Bob said a few minutes ago but you said it best last week.

The package was never described as succinctly as it should have been.  This is a jobs package.  This is a growth package.  That type of terminology resonates and connects I think with middle class voters, voters beneath that class and in front of that class.  I think the president found a comfort level back out on the campaign scene, if I can borrow that terminology as we went to, obviously, Indiana, will go to Florida tomorrow.

He‘s probably going to probably have to employ the same kind of travel schedule to sell the banking system repair package that Secretary Geithner is going to outline tomorrow.  The president is at his best when he‘s around people.  His numbers demonstrate that people connect with him but they believe in him.  If you‘re a politician, and Bob and I can relate to this.  The one quotient, factor, the one thing you want more than your opponent, people are willing to listen to you and believe you.  I have not seen a politician in the last 20 years that possesses that as well as this president.  If he employs that he will be more successful.  If they retreat to the White House as they try to pass significant and big packages moving forward, they‘ll run into the narrative and some of the ownership challenges and some of the political problems that they‘ve encountered with this stimulus package.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We have to go.  Please come back, gentlemen.  Harold Ford, thank you.  Former Governor Bob Ehrlich of Maryland.

FORD:  Good to see you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, actor Kevin Bacon is coming here.  An emotional new movie on HBO.  One of the great movies I‘ve seen on television certainly.  It‘s about a marine colonel, lieutenant colonel bringing back a fallen marine from Iraq.  An amazing movie.  On HBO at the end of the month.  I think it‘s on Saturday the 21st.  He‘s going to come back with a preview, Kevin Bacon right here on HARDBALL in just a minute.  You‘re watching it only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.

Few people new that when an American service person, a marine or soldier a killed, a military escort takes them home.  An upcoming HBO film called “Taking Chance” recounts the personal story of Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobel who in 2004 accompanied fallen marine Chance Phelps back to his home back from his being killed in Iraq.  It‘s a story about honor and kindness.  And about being a witness.  With me now, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobel and actor Kevin Bacon who plays the lieutenant colonel in “Taking Chance.”

Well, thank you for the service.  Let‘s make this official.  And Kevin, thank you.  I want to talk to you, Kevin 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 any place for our country the care that‘s taken.

KEVIN BACON, ACTOR:  Yeah.  I had no idea either.  The whole process and the way the remains are treated and the way they find their way back to their final resting place was a complete shock and surprise to me.  It was just something I knew nothing about.  So there was that piece of it which was, you know, an incredible kind of experience to research it and to learn about it.  And then there was also the opportunity to walk in Mike‘s shoes.  That was a great honor.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look a the film, a part of it.  This is a scene from the movie where Lieutenant Colonel Strobel, who is sitting to my left here, continues his journey to bring Lance Corporal Chance Phelps back home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi.

BACON:  So he can just stay here all night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah.

BACON:  No need to move him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t worry, no one is going near him.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You want to sleep in here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  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:  Except for the guy who wanted you to take your uniform off to go through the—you know, TSA check at an airport, everybody showed tremendous respect to you once they saw what you were doing.

LT. COL. MICHAEL STROBEL, USMC:  Absolutely.  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 dress uniform, once they saw you, they knew immediately what you were doing.

STROBEL:  Well, I don‘t think everybody did.  I think—it‘s not that uncommon to see a service member in uniform in an airport.  But the people who did, especially the airline employees, Northwest Airlines, 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, the reaction the flight attendant gave you the cross, the crucifix.  The cute girl sitting next to you on the plane.  She wasn‘t just sitting next to you but she also was very impressed by what you were doing.  The civilian thing.

BACON:  And what was interesting to me was that the process in its own way that I went through was in some way similar to what Lieutenant Colonel Strobel went through in that we would go and shoot the scene and there would be extras and actors and they were so moved by just watching the shooting of this scene.  They were touched by what we were doing, even though it was all pretend.  They would come up to me and say thank you so much for making the movie.  And I was kind of embarrassed because I felt like I‘m just actor boy.

MATTHEWS:  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:  Yeah.  Yeah.  It‘s—you know, he makes a comment that he never met Chance Phelps.  They had no kind of connection other than they were from the same hometown.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s his picture.

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

MATTHEWS:  Politically it‘s always—We argue politics here as you know.  We‘ve 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, never allowed to take anybody or show any camera crew or anything to Dover, you were able to get through.  Your production was able to show it.

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

You said in a script.  I guess you wrote it, as long as he kept moving I thought he was still alive.  As long as the body kept moving back to Wyoming he was somehow still alive.

STROBEL:  Right.  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 I had never met.  I, you know, it‘s interesting.  I have talked to other marine and soldiers who have done escort duty and they say they had the same experience.

MATTHEWS:  What is your feeling as a soldier?  You said when you wrote the story that you felt bad though you fought in Desert Storm and the liberation of Kuwait.  You felt guilty as a senior officer for not going back and fighting in the Iraq War.

STROBEL:  I think you have to understand, especially in a Marine Corps, it‘s such a small community.  And six degrees of separation comes to 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, yet, I was in a cubicle job going home to my family every night.  And I do intellectually understand that my job and all of the jobs are important.  There is that sense of a lot of people are doing a lot more of the heavy lifting than I was at the time.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for your service again.

Kevin, fun to meet you.

BACON:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you both.  Kevin Bacon the star of this amazing HBO movie on later this month on Saturday night ...

BACON:  The 21st I think it is.

STROBEL:  The 21st.

MATTHEWS:  The 21st of February.  It‘s an amazing movie you‘ve got to tape it if you don‘t watch it.  You‘ve 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‘ve got to see this movie.

Up next, President Obama promised a new era of bipartisanship.  He tried to reach across the aisle on the stimulus bill.  He‘s fighting for it tonight.  And he wound up with a bill with lots of tax cuts and little Republican support.  Just three senators and no House members so far.

So is bipartisan actually paying off for President Obama?  That debate is next.  Should he keep trying to cross the aisle or stick with the Democrats?  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.  Here is what‘s happening.  Four American soldiers killed by a suicide car bomber in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.  It was the deadliest attack against U.S.  forces in more than nine months.

The death toll from a wave of wildfires near Melbourne, Australia has risen to 173.  And officials say more than 750 homes destroyed.  About 400 fires broke out over the weekend.

New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez now admits he used performance enhancing drugs from 2001 to ‘03 when he was with the Texas Rangers.  He told ESPN he did so when young and naive.  His admission came two days after “Sports Illustrated” reported that he tested positive for steroids in 2003.

And special honors at New York‘s City Hall today Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and for the rest of the crew of the U.S. Airways jet that splashed down in the Hudson River last month.  The mayor presented them with keys to the city.  Now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Listen to what President Obama said today about Sean Hannity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  With respect to Sean Hannity, I didn‘t know that he had invited me for a beer.  You know, but I will take that under advisement.  Generally his opinion of me does not seem to be very high, but I‘m always good for a beer.  So ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s it all about, Alfie?  I don‘t get this.  Anyway, does President Obama really care if he gets any Republican votes?  Why does he keep hyping up right wing talk show hosts?  Joe Trippi is the Democratic strategist.  He‘s hyped—this guy, you want him as your worst enemy.  Because all he does is promote you, Joe.  He promotes Rush, he promotes my Buddy Sean, promotes everybody.  As long as you disagree with him he‘ll promote you.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It works for him too.

MATTHEWS:  How does it help?  Explain this strategy here.

TRIPPI:  I think it shows that, you know, particularly when Rush Limbaugh said he hopes that Obama fails, look, the guy‘s got 67 percent approval rating.  People out there want President Obama to succeed.  I think it—he‘s pushing them off as far to the right.  And he keeps a center this way.

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s promoting these guys‘ ratings.

TRIPPI:  Win/win.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s good for both of them.  Interesting tactic.

Let‘s talk about something I raised last week.  I want your political intuition on this.  I question why the Democratic senators have agreed to the notion that they need 60 votes.  They don‘t need 60 votes to pass something.  They don‘t need any Republicans to pass something if they‘re willing to challenge the Republican Party.  If they‘re willing to say we have a bill, we have majority support for the bill.  We have 58 votes for it, Democrats.  If you want to beat it, fine.

But the way to beat it is you‘ve got to filibuster because we‘ve got a majority.  Go ahead and make our day.  Be the party of obstruction.  Stand in the way of—in the railroad tracks.  Out there in front of the railroad tracks and say, stop, go ahead, I dare you.  Why don‘t the Democrats in senate challenge the Republicans to be filibusterers?  Go ahead.

TRIPPI:  I think, one, the president wants to pass this thing as quickly as possible.  If you filibuster it and the Republicans carry it on day after day after day ...

MATTHEWS:  Do you realize what a spectacle that would be ...

TRIPPI:  I do.  It is actually a tactic I would urge.  I don‘t think that‘s ...

MATTHEWS:  You think sleeping in cots on Capitol Hill, holding up the only game in town though they couldn‘t beat it?

TRIPPI:  No, I don‘t think so.  The think the president‘s wish to pull people together and do this in a bipartisan way would be ...

MATTHEWS:  Three Republicans make it bipartisan?

TRIPPI:  No.  I think it to it to that, to force them out so you don‘t have them later on.

MATTHEWS:  Joe Trippi, we‘re not making it bipartisan.  We‘re simply getting three Republicans ...

TRIPPI:  I would do it.  I think we‘ve got the votes.  A lot of people fought hard for the votes and I would take it to the Republicans.  That‘s not in the president‘s thinking though and I don‘t agree with it on them.

MATTHEWS:  Something you have to explain about American democracy, the average person—popular vote doesn‘t work anymore for the president.  We have the Electoral College.  Then you have to explain the Electoral College.  The Supreme Court intervenes, that counts.  You have a situation where if you count Al Franken you get 59 Democrats.  That‘s a huge majority.

TRIPPI:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  You say that‘s not enough?  You‘ve got to get three Republicans to tiptoe over and do you the favor of letting you get a vote?  That‘s all they‘re doing.  They‘re letting you ...

TRIPPI:  Like I said, I would urge the president and the administration to say let‘s go for it.  Like I said, millions of people fought for these votes.  Fought for these Senate victories.  We‘ve got it.  Now let‘s go and do what needs to be done.  The Republicans aren‘t willing to meet us there, let‘s go.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s what I don‘t get.  Clarence Thomas does that—didn‘t get 60 votes.  He ends up on the Supreme Court.  It seems like it works sometimes.  You just let it go.  You don‘t obstruct.

TRIPPI:  Like I said, I think the administration still wants to try to carry out a bipartisan solution to the problems.

MATTHEWS:  Joe, it‘s not bipartisan ...

TRIPPI:  All you have to do is look at the first—oh, yeah, you‘re right.  Look at the first stimulus vote in the House to know that‘s not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  Anybody who says 58 Democrats and three Republicans—a horse and rabbit stew.  Have three rabbits aboard shouldn‘t change anything.  By the way, that‘s probably the right word for them.  Thank you Joe Trippi for sort of agreeing with me.  I think the democrats ought to do what they say they‘re going to do and not sit around and wait for permission of two or three Republicans to somehow make it official.

TRIPPI:  I think they‘ve gotten that.  That‘s why the president took it on the road today.

MATTHEWS:  You can call in your senator and tell him what you think.

Up next, the president‘s press conference coming up at the top of the hour.  We have a little more on that before it happens.  A little more pre-game here.  We‘ll be right.  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the “Politics Fix”.  With the Politico‘s Roger Simon and MSNBC contributor Jim Warren.

Start with Roger.  Is there going to be an R-Rod question tonight?  A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez has admitted to take illegal drugs back when he was a Texas Ranger.  Big, huge story tonight.  Will the president have to address it?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO:  I think it‘s inevitable.  He‘ll have to give his usual response about how terrible it is to have drugs in sports and all the rest.  The trouble with performance-enhancing drugs is they seem to actually enhance performance.  You look at A-Rod‘s record and his best years seem to be when he takes the things.

MATTHEWS:  Here he is.  Here he is.  Let‘s take a look A-Rod as he‘s called.  Here he is talking about what he did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX RODRIGUEZ, 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, 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:  Second question tonight, Jim Warren.  I think the president, check me on this, will be asked about Iraq, his commitment to remove troops in 16 months.  We lost four service people today in Iraq.  The war continues.  Will he end it?

JIM WARREN, MSNBC ANALYST:  He‘ll say he is going to say he is going to end it in a year, year and a half but will counsel patience.  He is going to listen to his military advisers.  I think it will be just interesting question of what he is going to get on what “Newsweek” I think tapped as Obama‘s Vietnam, namely the war in Afghanistan.  So figure a question on that, too.

Whether an A-Rod question is going be asked is interesting.  He is certainly going to probably get one in Tim Geithner just like a woman in Elkhart, Indiana asked today and he didn‘t have much more of a convincing answer than A-Rod did.  Well, I made a mistake.  Giving the seeming hypocrisy letting Geithner in there while you chide Tom Daschle for his errors.

MATTHEWS:  The question to Jim, I would ask, is was your mistake allowing him to go forward as a nominee knowing what you knew about his tax problems.  Not whether you picked him in the first place because you didn‘t know the situation.  Isn‘t the question to the president, once you knew the situation was it a mistake to go forward?  That is the tough one, isn‘t it?  Because it was Daschle who pulled the rip cord.

WARREN:  He is not going to answer it honestly.  He is not going to say, no, that guy should not be in the Treasury Department.

SIMON:  He‘s never been pressed on what he meant by I screwed up.  If he screwed up and Geithner shouldn‘t be secretary of the treasury would he like Geithner to resign and if he screwed up and he knew he was a flawed candidate why did he press forward with the appointment of Geithner.  The whole status of Geithner and what the mistake was ...

MATTHEWS:  I thought he used the I screwed up in Brian Williams interview in regard to Tom Daschle, but it was with Geithner.

SIMON:  He said it in Elkhart, we can‘t be perfect but we want to show the people we don‘t have two standards.  If Geithner remains secretary treasury don‘t we have two standards for regular people and people part of the club?

MATTHEWS:  What about the prissy answer from Andy Card, the former chief of staff to President Bush that they show disrespect for the Oval Office by not wearing suit coats do you think someone will bring that up just for fun, Jim?  I would do it and see if the president will do push backs on the criticisms.

WARREN:  I suspect not.  I suspect you‘ll get a whole host of questions on the economy.  What we saw in Elkhart was really a road test of what is going to happen.  And I think what is really tricky going to be tricky and was underscored, Chris, in the Elkhart experiences, is how he is going to deal with counseling us to be patient.  On one hand he is going to tell us it is a horrible crisis and he is going to tell us to be hopeful but there is no immediate relief on the way and that we have got to judge success not by weeks or months but by years.  I think it is going to be interesting to see how he navigates that in the coming year or two.

MATTHEWS:  All right we‘ll be right back with more of Roger and Jim with more of “Politics Fix”, more of the pre-game of tonight‘s big press conference.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Roger Simon and Jim Warren for more of the “Politics Fix.”  I‘m trying to speculate on the mandatories tonight.  Won‘t someone ask him do we have to catch bin Laden?  Isn‘t that the question that comes up?

SIMON:  I think someone will.  Someone is going to ask him if Afghanistan, as Jim said, is his Vietnam.  A more apt metaphor is that the economy is his Vietnam, not something of his making but a quagmire that is going to take all of his time and suck all the energy out of this administration.

MATTHEWS:  Jim Warren, what do you think—give me predictions as to what will be asked that won‘t be on the usual list?

WARREN:  Well, I think he‘ll be asked about Geithner.  Most of these questions will be predictable, four or five about the economy.  A couple about the inability to get many Republican votes, a question about getting out of Iraq, a question about the mess in Afghanistan, a question about the seeming hypocrisy in dealing with Geithner in light of Tom Daschle‘s departure.

And overall, he is going to somehow have to convince folks that there is some seamless melding of a sense of crisis, a sense of hope and a need to be very, very patient.  This is a country that is not very patient.  He is going to be telling us immediate help—Your life is not going to turn around in the next week or two.  And I think that is the true trick for Barack Obama in the next year or two in counseling us on patience at the same time he is going to have to be going around the country proving in some way this stimulus package is indeed working.

MATTHEWS:  He wants to own this stimulus package.  It seems to me that is his goal tonight.  He said I‘m going to make the Republicans own the disaster of the last eight years.  He wants to own this thing tonight.  He wants credit if the economy turns around.

SIMON:  These are performances.  He has to show he is presidential.  This is just another opportunity to do it.  After all, it has been a rough week or two for him.  The Cabinet thing didn‘t go well.  Wooing the House Republicans was a disaster.  He may have spent his time better wooing the House Democrats not to pack the bill with spending.

He has to show he is the steady hand at the tiller.  And while scaring us to death he has to calm our fears.

MATTHEWS:  We are watching the door he is going to come in from.

SIMON:  He has to be pragmatist and cheerleader.  Tough job.

MATTHEWS:  He also has to say this stimulus package, we don‘t like the term but the stimulus package is essential.  It is necessary, but it may not be sufficient.  There may be other steps we have to take.  I think that is going to be the hard one, the nuance.

Thank you Roger Simon, thank you Jim Warren.  Join us again at midnight for a special late night edition of HARDBALL tonight.  President Obama‘s news conference is next with Keith Olbermann.

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

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