updated 2/17/2009 9:56:31 AM ET 2009-02-17T14:56:31

Guest: Joe Madison, Lars Larson, Michael Scherer, John Heilemann, Rep.  Brian Bilbray, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chris Cillizza High: Some Obama aides are fighting back against former Vice President Dick Cheney‘s comments in favor of keeping Guantanamo open. The House of Representatives passes the final economic stimulus bill without a single Republican vote.

Spec: Economy; Barack Obama; Politics; Guantanamo Bay; Terrorism;


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  President Obama closing the deal.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Sold America.  Amid the crowd noise of a rousing country auction, President Barack Obama is selling Congress on his gigantic economic recovery bill.  The House has passed the humongous $787 billion confection of new spending and fresh tax cuts.  The vote was 246 to 183, with not a single Republican among that 246.  With the Senate ready to vote on the bill in half an hour, we‘ll hear from two members of Congress, one a Democrat who voted aye, the other a Republican who said and still says nay.

Plus: He decided to dance with the one that brung him.  That was Judd Gregg last week, just this week, but that makes him the latest of strings of embarrassments suffered by the White House all in the personnel department.  It‘s denied President Obama another chance to build bipartisanship.  What‘s it all about?  Is it just the usual choosing of sides the way American politics has worked since Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went at it?

And here‘s a story we introduced yesterday.  Should the U.S.  government investigate allegations that the Bush administration tortured terrorism suspects?  Six out of ten Americans in a new poll say yes, but President Obama says no.  That‘s a hot debate tonight.

And speaking of top Bush administration officials, recent criticism of President Obama from the fallen Karl Rove and former vice president Dick Cheney, who presided over the Republican loss of the House, the Senate and the White House, drew some tough words from top Obama adviser David Axelrod.


DAVID AXELROD, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I‘ve seen, you know, what I consider tasteless comments by the vice president, amazing comments by Karl Rove...


MATTHEWS:  Well, Axelrod said of the president, President Bush, was gracious to the incoming administration, but his top people behaved in bad form.  We‘ll have more of what he said in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And finally, I found a worthy new recipient of the HARDBALL award and we‘ll present him with the appropriate honors here on this program.  If you‘d like a hint, it‘s a guy who had the courage to stand with his convictions, even if that meant losing out on a great job.

But we begin with two members of the House of Representatives, Florida Democratic congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Congressman Brian Bilbray of California, a Republican.

Sir, what‘s this, a shutout?  Why ever single Republican?  Were you grabbed in the cloakroom?  Were you grabbed in the bathrooms of America?  How come every single Republican congressperson voted against the president‘s only game in town, the economic stimulus plan?

REP. BRIAN BILBRAY ®, CALIFORNIA:  Because I was awakened at 10 minutes to midnight last night and said they finally are letting us what they‘re going to force us to vote on in a few hours.  The fact is that we got it 10 minutes to midnight.  We were told we were going to come in at 9:00 o‘clock and start debating the issue.  Rather than doing the 48 hours, the period that—you know, even Debbie voted for it.  Everybody voted that we should have a waiting period to be able to look and so that people know what they‘re voting on.

MATTHEWS:  But you‘ve had access to 95 percent of this bill for weeks now.

BILBRAY:  It was a moving target from the Senate right along.  I mean, little things that a lot of people couldn‘t be concerned about, things like taking out the e-verify, where Americans are saying, Do you want Americans hired or do you want Americans...

MATTHEWS:  So your position, Congressman, is you didn‘t have enough time to vote for this.  Had you enough time, you might have voted for it.  But then you have to argue that every single Republican voted against it on that basis.

BILBRAY:  Absolutely.  Because what happened?  It‘s the same old Washington tactic of take a crisis and turn it into a Christmas tree.  When you‘re talking about things all over the place, stuff like a train between Las Vegas and LA—we‘re going to run from Fantasyland to Sin City with American taxpayers‘ dollars.  And first of all, let‘s talk about it, another trillion dollars of debt that we don‘t even know how we‘re going to pay for.  In reality, when it all comes down to it, it was the same proposal of spending a trillion dollars and not knowing...

MATTHEWS:  So there‘s going to be a train?

BILBRAY:  I think there...

MATTHEWS:  So you and I can take it.

BILBRAY:  Hopefully, see it in...


MATTHEWS:  You mean Washington produces something.

BILBRAY:  This is something that won‘t break ground within two years, when you say that it‘s crisis that you have to do it right now.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  Congresswoman, let me ask you about the Democrats because there‘s a flip side to this, tremendous party unity on your side.  Only a handful—I figured out 97 percent of the House members voted with the president, with your leadership.  The Senate was unanimous.  Even recalcitrant Democrats—I was going to call them Republican—like Joe Lieberman were aboard.  Bernie Sanders was aboard.  Conservative like Mary Landrieu and the Nelsons, Ben and Bill, all aboard.  What held everybody together on the Democrat side?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA:  What held everybody together on our side was the key elements of this plan, which is that it is a jobs creation bill.  We will create or save 3.5 million jobs with this legislation.  You know, with all due respect to Mr. Bilbray, you know, this from the party that presided over the downward spiral of our economy, took us from a record surplus at the end of the Clinton administration to a record deficit, and it was all...

MATTHEWS:  All true?

BILBRAY:  Chris, I voted...

SCHULTZ:  Of course it‘s true.


MATTHEWS:  ... what congresswoman just said is true.  You mean your party took us from—conservative party—took us from a budget surplus to a budget deficit.  Your did that?

BILBRAY:  And that is why the...

MATTHEWS:  Your party did that?

BILBRAY:  ... Republicans are not in the majority now.  That‘s why you know I came back.  And that‘s why the Democrats shouldn‘t be doing exactly what George Bush did before.

SCHULTZ:  When he was here, he...

MATTHEWS:  Something‘s letting my chair come down here.  Just a second here.  OK, somebody help me with this chair!

BILBRAY:  But Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

BILBRAY:  We‘re looking at another trillion-dollar debt being put on with the new administration, adding onto what the old administration did, and neither one of them...


SCHULTZ:  You‘re going to tell me that you didn‘t support the tax cuts for the wealthiest...

BILBRAY:  I wasn‘t—I did not...


SCHULTZ:  ... time and again.

BILBRAY:  I did not—excuse me.  I was not in Congress at the time those proposals were coming in.

SCHULTZ:  When you were campaigning for reelection...


SCHULTZ:  ... you didn‘t—you didn‘t (INAUDIBLE)

BILBRAY:  I do not—I do not support the expansion of taxes during an economic time, and I don‘t expect—talk about expanding...

SCHULTZ:  You supported $12 billion a month on a misguided war in Iraq that the American people don‘t support.

BILBRAY:  I supported the troops (INAUDIBLE) along with the great majority of Democrats...


SCHULTZ:  Well, now it‘s time to support the American people.

MATTHEWS:  ... the Republicans—the party of fiscal responsibility -

had none when they were in power.  And now they have it.

BILBRAY:  Well, they...

MATTHEWS:  You have it in opposition...


BILBRAY:  ... and that‘s why people like me ran against the administration when they were making a mistake.

SCHULTZ:  Look, Chris, this bill...

BILBRAY:  That is why the Democrats ran against Bush and why they‘re in.  They‘re doing exactly...


MATTHEWS:  ... this bill, and I want you to lead the way.  Here‘s a breakdown of the $787 billion bill, the humongous economic recovery bill that passed the House tonight.  Today‘s “Wall Street Journal,” 24 percent is for government spending on energy, roads, bridges, infrastructure and other projects, 38 percent is aid to states or individuals for education, unemployment benefits and other programs, 38 percent, about $2 in $5, for tax cuts.

Let‘s take a look at what President Obama said about the package.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  To truly address this crisis, we will also need to address the crisis in our financial sector to get credit flowing again to families and businesses.  And we need to confront the crisis in the housing sector that‘s been one of the sources of our economic challenges.  I‘ll be discussing that extensively soon.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s him talking about what‘s to come.  So now that you‘ve sold this—you‘ve bought it, I should say—the Democratic members have passed it, you guys are betting on failure here, right?

BILBRAY:  Oh, we hope it doesn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you do...



BILBRAY:  We hope it works.

MATTHEWS:  So if the economy turns around...


BILBRAY:  ... got to remember, our grandchildren...

MATTHEWS:  ... you‘re going to say, I was wrong, he was right, it worked.

BILBRAY:  I would hope that, but I will say this.  There will be another trillion-dollar bill coming down the pike.  We‘ve got three or four more of these to go (INAUDIBLE)

SCHULTZ:  What Brian did—what Brian did by voting no today is he voted against creating 385,000 jobs in his own state, 8,000 jobs in his own district, aid to his state to help...

MATTHEWS:  Did you look this up?

SCHULTZ:  Yes, I sure did.

MATTHEWS:  You looked at his district?

SCHULTZ:  Eight thousand jobs in his own district...

BILBRAY:  Chris...

SCHULTZ:  ... avoiding layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police officers.


SCHULTZ:  The bottom line is that this bill is designed to create jobs, turn the economy around, avoid layoffs, move us towards energy independence.  And the Republicans have just said no.  He can say all he wants that he doesn‘t want this bill to fail.  This vote for them was all about 2010.  They‘re hoping that this doesn‘t work so that they can blame the continued poor economy on the Democrats.  That‘s the bottom line.

MATTHEWS:  OK, were you—were you—I just want to ask you a question...

BILBRAY:  No, absolutely not.

MATTHEWS:  Did Mr. Cantor or Mr. Boehner whip the guys...


BILBRAY:  Excuse me, Deborah!


MATTHEWS:  ... voting with the party?

BILBRAY:  I was not whipped one bit.  And Deborah—Deborah...

SCHULTZ:  You didn‘t have to be.

BILBRAY:  We‘re talking about the country, but if you want to talk...

SCHULTZ:  You were already there.

MATTHEWS:  We know Boehner—we know Mr. Boehner...


BILBRAY:  ... but you‘re talking about California...

MATTHEWS:  ... we know he told you people to vote against this bill.

BILBRAY:  Absolutely not!

MATTHEWS:  It‘s on the record!


BILBRAY:  I didn‘t have to be asked at all on this.  I‘ve been a mayor.  I‘ve been a county chairman.  I looked at this from a budgetary point of view.  Deborah, you want to talk about it?  California‘s getting less than 50 percent of their fair share per capita on this!  So don‘t talk to me about my district or my state!


MATTHEWS:  ... Republican leader today, talking about...

BILBRAY:  This is about America.

SCHULTZ:  Your Republican governor, my Republican governor...

MATTHEWS:  ... the bill that the party voted against...

SCHULTZ:  ... are both in favor of this bill.

MATTHEWS:  ... to the last person.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER:  I‘ve just got to say the

president made clear when we started this process that this was about jobs

jobs, jobs, jobs—and what it‘s turned into is nothing more than spending, spending and more spending.  American families, small businesses deserve better from their Congress.  I said on the opening day we wouldn‘t be the party of no, and we haven‘t been.


MATTHEWS:  You haven‘t been the party of no?  It seems to me you are.

BILBRAY:  Well, we‘re a party of...

MATTHEWS:  You all said no.

BILBRAY:  We‘re the party of no to...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s 183 nos, frankly, here.

BILBRAY:  ... out of control spending and the fact of—let‘s just say this.  When the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan budget office, says when you look at this long-range, we‘re hurting the economy with this...

SCHULTZ:  What was your solution, more tax cuts?


BILBRAY:  ... that it was actually more...

SCHULTZ:  More tax cuts?

BILBRAY:  ... more resources going into ready projects now that you know you can pay for, but not uncontrolled—you got to remember, Chris, we got into this fiscal crisis by individuals taking on more debt than they can afford, taking on debt they didn‘t...


BILBRAY:  ... and now Congress is doing the same thing.

MATTHEWS:  ... disagree, obviously.  You‘re for and he‘s against.  But

let me ask you both.  What is—who‘s governing the country?  It seems to

me who‘s governing the country right now is this horse and rabbit stew, the

horse being the Democratic Party and the rabbit part of the stew being

three Republican senators from the Northeast, a part of the country that‘s

becoming increasingly Democratic and increasingly not Republican.  They‘re

fighting for their lives, you might argue.  Is this how we‘re going to

govern the next four to eight years, Democratic legislation backed by a few

three, in this case—Republicans?

SCHULTZ:  President Obama...

MATTHEWS:  Is that how we‘re going to govern the country?

SCHULTZ:  If we have to.  President Obama reached across the aisle, had—made an unprecedented effort at reaching across the aisle and trying to get bipartisan cooperation, and got completely rebuffed by the Republicans because...

MATTHEWS:  In your House.

SCHULTZ:  In my House.  He came in front of the House Republican conference.  An hour before he got there, John Boehner said that his caucus should vote no, even before they had an opportunity to talk to the president.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I heard.  You said that didn‘t happen.

BILBRAY:  I didn‘t—I didn‘t—he didn‘t say it to me.


SCHULTZ:  I understood it.  Everybody else in the caucus...

BILBRAY:  I‘m just saying the president—the president said to us—and I‘m going to tell you something.  I said one thing to him.  He said, There are no long-term commitments in this bill.  I said, Major increases in Medicare is no longer a long-term commitment?  There are all kinds of long-term commitments here...

SCHULTZ:  You have to stop arguing process...

BILBRAY:  ... that are not being talked about.

SCHULTZ:  ... process, process and get down to creating jobs, helping states avoid layoffs, making sure that we can provide a quality education to American kids.

BILBRAY:  Bipartisanship is a...

SCHULTZ:  That‘s the bottom line.

BILBRAY:  Bipartisan means that leadership...

SCHULTZ:  Reach back across the aisle.  We‘re ready.

MATTHEWS:  Means what?

BILBRAY:  Bipartisanship means being willing to sit down and work with someone.  The fact is, the leadership of the Democratic Party met in a back room...

SCHULTZ:  Oh, that‘s not true.

BILBRAY:  ... and didn‘t even allow the public to know—well, the people going to the conference...

SCHULTZ:  Anyone who wants to...

BILBRAY:  ... walked by the press conference.

SCHULTZ:  ... can go on line and download this bill on www.House.gov/appropriations.  This is the most transparent piece of legislation...

MATTHEWS:  Sure, but it‘s a Democratic bill.

SCHULTZ:  ... in American history.  It‘s a jobs bill.

BILBRAY:  Couldn‘t even wait 48 hours...


MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, a Democrat, and U.S. Congressman Brian Bilbray of California, a Republican.

Coming up: With Judd Gregg‘s withdrawal yesterday, President Obama‘s now 0 for 2 picking commerce secretaries, and he‘s had some other top picks fall through.  So is someone not on the ball inside the Obama White House?  Could be a theme here, or are these just bumps on the road?  I think there may be a theme.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



OBAMA:  We‘ve had a spirited debate about this plan over the last few weeks.  Not everybody has shared the same view of how we should move forward, and at times our discussions have been contentious.  But that‘s a good thing, from my perspective.  Diverse viewpoints are the lifeblood of our democracy, and debating these viewpoints is how we learn from each other‘s perspective and refine our approaches.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  So what did President Obama learn this week?  Did he overreach trying to put a conservative in his cabinet?  Did he spend too much time trying to get House Republicans to vote for his recovery plan?  Chuck Todd‘s NBC News chief White House correspondent, as well as political director, and Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix” for The Washingtonpost.com.  Gentlemen, it‘s great to end the week.  It‘s been a wild week.

Let‘s me you both to look at this quote.  This is Robert Gibbs today. 

Let‘s listen to Robert Gibbs.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The president‘s not going to stop reaching out to Republicans because one Republican he respects decided to change his mind and continue to serve and represent a state in the U.S. Senate.  The president—the president will continue to work and reach out to folks to move the agenda of this country forward.


MATTHEWS:  What a difference a day made there, Chuck Todd.  Yesterday, he was putting out terse little memos sort of trashing Judd Gregg.  Now it‘s a man he respects, a Republican he respects.  Did he get the message a little late, Robert Gibbs, to be a little nicer to the guy who didn‘t want to be commerce secretary, Judd Gregg?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR., CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think a little bit had to do with the tone that Senator Gregg also took in his presser yesterday.  But the White House was annoyed that they had to find out via a press release.  They knew he was getting cold feet.  They knew this was a concern.  It was a possibility.  But they didn‘t know for sure.  And to find out via press release I think annoyed them.  Probably, they wished they had taken a breath.

But Chris, you‘re right.  What a wild week.  And I think, ultimately, of all the things that happened this week, the story we will talk less about a month from now, or even remember, is the Judd Gregg situation.

MATTHEWS:  Well...

TODD:  It was sort of almost a bizarre sideshow in a week that gets—look, this stimulus package—they‘re getting it.  It is with amazing speed that they‘re getting it.  As much of all of the back and forth and everything that we‘ve been talking about, about bipartisanship, they got a gigantic bill out of Congress in three weeks.

MATTHEWS:  Well, excuse me for living, Chuck, but I just want to dwell one more minute or two on something you say will evanesce into the morning dew or something.  But let me go to Chris and try him, if he wants to grab onto this baby.  We like this stuff on HARDBALL, Chuck.  You know, you‘re at the White House now...

TODD:  I love it!  Whoa, whoa, whoa!

MATTHEWS:  ... it‘ a bigger picture.  We‘re still at the small picture here.

TODD:  I love it!


MATTHEWS:  You‘re much too grand for us over there now.

TODD:  Oh!  Oh!


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask—let me ask—seriously, Chris Cillizza—

Chris, it does seem to me that there was an interesting thing there, where he did tell Emanuel, Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, on Monday he was getting cold feet, to use the phrase.  And then by Wednesday, apparently, he met with the president.  Why was the president‘s team surprised that by Thursday, the senator from New Hampshire said he wanted to stay senator from New Hampshire?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Well, I think they had a sense—to Chuck‘s point, I think they had a sense that there were some cold feet, there was some doubts creeping in here, but I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  I thought he said he was—he wasn‘t taking the job.

CILLIZZA:  I think they didn‘t know the extent of it, Chris.  That‘s my understanding, is that they understood that there was some level of concern on Judd Gregg‘s part but that they didn‘t know that it would be like this.

And remember, they were informed by press release, by and large—not everybody, but by and large, that‘s how they found out.  That is not how, ideally, you find out that your commerce pick is leaving.

The one thing I would say is it does show—though I agree with Chuck, it does—that this is probably not nearly the story that the huge passage of the economic stimulus is, it does show the perils of trying to reach out in terms of putting someone in, Judd Gregg, who is, by and large, a down-the-line conservative, into a fairly liberal cabinet with a fairly liberal president of the United States.  They don‘t agree on everything.

Now, Judd Gregg probably should have realized that before he said yes and then he said no again.  I‘m not sure that‘s President Obama‘s fault, but I do think it highlights the danger involved in the practical thinking out of what this theoretical bipartisanship means.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let‘s go back to what—to Chuck on this other question.  Do you see a pattern down at the White House, covering it down there, of this Judd Gregg walkaway, the Bill Richardson—he had a—he had to leave, Nancy Kellifer, of course, deputy at the OMB, and of course, Tom Daschle, the most graphic example?

Is there a sense on the inside they need to be more careful in who they pick now to run HHS and to run Commerce? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I think it‘s about at a the whole package here, biting off a little bit more than they can chew.  They‘re still trying to set the government up.  They‘re still trying to put people in place.

And they were sitting here trying to concentrate on getting the stimulus plan through.  And, oh, by the way, they have to deal with possible troop deployments to Afghanistan. 

I know that you had a candidate Obama talk about all the time that this, you know, job is about walking and chewing gum at the same time.  And they‘re—they‘re trying to do it.  But I think is the perils of, while you are in the midst of trying to deal with policy, you‘re letting maybe some of these transition—notice, most of these transition problems have crept up ever since they got here to Washington and started doing the policy legwork?

All of this was fine when only—when they were only concentrating on transition.  All of the problems crept in when they got here and started having to do the real job. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is this the first time there‘s been criticism that

they lost control of the message?  In fact, the observation by journalists

Jonathan Martin, in “The Politico,” with Mike Allen, they wrote—quote

“White House aides say they have concluded that Obama too frequently lost control of the debate this week and his own image during the stimulus battle.”

Have they had a sense down there, Chuck, again, that they lost control? 

TODD:  Yes. 


MATTHEWS:  They wanted to focus on what they could do to save the economy.  Instead, it was all about how bipartisan this is going to be, all that stuff.

TODD:  Look.  They knew last week they were losing the message war, even though they were going to win the—the message battle, even though they were ultimately going to win the war.

That‘s why you had all of the—the prime-time press conference announcement.  That‘s why you had the additions of going to Indiana for a town hall, going to Florida for a town hall...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TODD:  ... going out to Peoria. 

They planned all these events to take control of the message again, because they thought—that‘s exactly right.  They have this huge megaphone, and they weren‘t using it.  And then, all of a sudden, this week, they almost tried to use it—maybe they used it almost too much.  They probably had one event too many.

Yesterday‘s event, not—frankly, they are lucky that—that the Gregg news stepped on it, because yesterday‘s event had the president go to this Caterpillar headquarters and say:  We‘re going to get this stimulus package passed, and Caterpillar is going to hire people back. 

And what happened?  The CEO gets up and says, you know what?  Not yet. 

I have got to lay more people off.  Then I will start hiring. 


TODD:  You know, it was—it messed up their message. 

But that‘s what—you are right.  They knew last week they were losing.  And that‘s why they planned all these events. 

MATTHEWS:  Chris Cillizza, your surmise of the week.  How well were they at communicating what they wanted to communicate this week at the new White House? 

CILLIZZA:  Better this week than last week, Chris, certainly.

I think you won‘t ever see—in a big legislative battle again, you won‘t ever see Barack Obama staying in Washington for an extended period of time.  To Chuck‘s point, you know, a week-and-a-half ago, Robert Gibbs was asked at the press conference whether Barack Obama had any travel plans. 

And he said, no, you know, there‘s a lot of work to be done here in Washington. 

Well, they were very quickly out on the road once it was clear that the plan wasn‘t selling in the way that they wanted. 


CILLIZZA:  Barack Obama is at his best, the president is at the best when he is casting Washington as the problem and him as an outsider problem-solver. 

They didn‘t do that last week.  They did it better this week.  The problem that they have is, just as they were coming on for their big victory, their momentum-builder, the Judd Gregg announcement comes, which, again, it doesn‘t eclipse the package of the economic stimulus by any means, but it does step on the news a little bit. 


CILLIZZA:  The first question today at the White House press briefing

I know Chuck was there—was about Judd Gregg, not about the economic stimulus plan. 

TODD:  Right. 


TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But I think they had a good week in terms of making new friends, not making any new enemies.  I think this president is a very good pool player.  I he thinks about the next shot.  That‘s what I‘m watching.  I think they have had a good week. 

Thank you, Chuck Todd. 

TODD:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  And thank you, Chris Cillizza. 

CILLIZZA:  Sure.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, I have a new winner of the HARDBALL Award tonight. 

It‘s the politician with the courage of his convictions, the man who stayed

true to himself, who gave up a pretty good job to stick with his own ideals

the winner coming up after this. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  



We have given out three HARDBALL Awards to date.  Each, in his own way, the winner has displayed the caliber of personal moxie, savvy, street smarts—you get it—that separates the distinctive individual from the run-of-the-mill, the autonomous, thinking, self-aware person from the lemmings, who spend their lives being herded off the cliff.

So, tonight, I bring your attention one such worthy who had the mental wherewithal—OK, it took him a few days to show it—to rediscover who he is, what he believes, and where he belongs and where he doesn‘t belong.

U.S. Senator Judd Gregg is a Yankee conservative Republican.  He was euphoric, he said, at the idea of joining the new Cabinet of Barack Obama as secretary of commerce.  He was impressed with President Obama and was excited about being part of the new team. 

But that was the rub: being part of a team that he disagreed with on the aims of the Democratic Party, on the Democratic Party‘s notion of what government should be, on the whole philosophy of the new team around President Obama, about the thinking of the new president himself—a square peg in a round hole. 

It took him a while to get it, but he got it.  That‘s what Judd Gregg would have been, standing before a bunch of Republican business people some day defending the latest word from President Obama and Rahm Emanuel, trying to seem excited by policies and a philosophy and a partisan agenda that ran against everything he, Judd Gregg, believes in. 

To thine own self be true, wrote Shakespeare.  And, this week, Judd Gregg decided—and said so—that this, sitting in a president‘s, a Democratic president‘s Cabinet, wasn‘t for him, wasn‘t his cup of tea, wasn‘t what he was put on this earth for. 


SEN. JUDD GREGG ®, NEW HAMPSHIRE:  You know, I have been my own person for 30 years.  I have been—I have been a governor, and I have been a congressman, and I have been a senator, made my own decisions, stood for what I believe. 

You know I‘m a fiscal conservative, as everybody knows, fairly strong one.  And it just became clear to me that it would be very difficult, day in and day out, to serve in this cabinet or any cabinet, for that matter, and be part of a team and not be able to be 100 percent with the team, 110 percent with the team.  You know, you can‘t have a blocking back who only pulls out for every second or third play.


MATTHEWS:  So, to the Honorable Judd Gregg, we‘re proud to present the HARDBALL Award for savvy, for moxie, for knowing who Judd Gregg is. 

Up next:  A new poll shows more than three in five Americans want—

Hear this? -- want an investigation of this Bush administration and its tactics when they were in office.  Will the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress get going with that investigation? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  



We continue to follow breaking news involving the plane that crashed near Buffalo, New York, last night.  The NTSB says the cockpit voice recorder recovered from the wreckage earlier today shows the crew discussed significant ice buildup on the windshield and on the wings.

However, the cause of the disaster is still under investigation.  The NTSB also says the flight data recorder shows the plane went through a severe pitch and roll.  Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark, New Jersey, dropped out of the sky and slammed into a house just six miles short of the Buffalo Airport. 

All 49 people on the plane and one person inside that home were killed.  The plane went down in light snow and fog. 

Meantime, another plane incident in London—authorities say a British Airways jet carrying 71 people crash-landed at London City Airport.  Officials say the plane‘s nose wheel failed on landing, but just four minor injuries are reported—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  The U.S. Senate has begun voting tonight on that big economic stimulus bill, with 59 senators expected to vote in the next several minutes.  And then they will be joined by a 60th vote, that of Sherrod Brown, the senator from Ohio who‘s flying back from his mother‘s funeral.  He‘s expected to vote much later tonight.

Moving on to a hot debate, here‘s what President Obama said Monday on whether President Bush, the officials of the Bush administration, should be investigated for possible crimes. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Nobody‘s above the law.  And if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted, just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I‘m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that “but” is a big word.

But, in a few poll, nearly two-thirds said—two-thirds of the American people said there should be some sort of investigation into whether the Bush administration did commit war crimes.  Nearly 40 percent say it should be a criminal investigation—investigation, which means, of course, people could go to prison.  So, what should be done? 

Joe Madison and Lars Larson are radio talk show hosts who differ on the answer. 

I want Joe, who is with me right now, to give me your thoughts and what people are saying on this topic. 

JOE MADISON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I will start with what people are saying. 

I have had John Conyers, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, on my show twice.  And he wants and an investigation.  He wants a full-fledged committee hearing on this.  And that is why he subpoenaed Karl Rove to be there. 

What people on my show are saying is, is, yes, they want an investigation.  But I will be honest with you.  I think Lars is going to win this one.  I don‘t believe it‘s going to happen.  And I think that...


MATTHEWS:  Well, don‘t throw in the towel yet, Joe. 


MADISON:  Well, I‘m not throwing in the towel, but that “but” was a big but. 

MATTHEWS:  Big but.



MADISON:  Right.  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  I just drew—Lars, you didn‘t see it.  I just drew a gigantic “but” on my notes here.   



MADISON:  But you asked me what—you asked me what my people—what people are thinking.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MADISON:  And—and I agree with the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president‘s got his thumb on the scale, and he doesn‘t want it to happen. 

What‘s your opinion?  And back it up, Lars.

LARS LARSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Hey, I have got to tell you something.  If they want to have an investigation, the way the president said, the way everybody else is prosecuted, he has got an attorney general, he has got a Justice Department.  Do it that way. 

But I don‘t think the president has the guts to say to his attorney general, seek prosecution of the former president and his staff. 

The fact is, is that most of my listeners are saying, the American government has enough problems on its plate, the economy, two wars, all these other problems.  To go off on some kind of witch-hunt after the former administration is ridiculous. 

And a congressional approach to it is also ridiculous.  If you want it prosecuted as a regular crime is prosecuted, then assign it to the Department of Justice and have them assign professional investigators. 


I was caught by your premise there: if he has the guts.  Are you—are you out there, Lars, deciding where to set up these tests of courage for the president?  I mean, I have never heard it put like that. 


LARSON:  Hey, Chris, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was a question of wisdom here, not guts. 


MATTHEWS:  What is this, a macho thing for you?


MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t like that. 


MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t like the way he said that. 

Go ahead, Lars.  Explain yourself, please.

LARSON:  It would take—it would take a lot of guts for the stimulator in chief to tell his attorney general, begin an investigation of a former president. 

You know the kind of firestorm he would get.  So, instead, the Congress is going to carry water for a guy who can‘t decide whether he wants prosecution of Bush or not to...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, OK.  So, you‘re saying he wants the investigation, but he won‘t say so? 

LARSON:  Exactly.  And he wants Congress to do it. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what you‘re saying.

How do you know that? 

MADISON:  He doesn‘t.

LARSON:  Does Congress have any expertise?  Well, I‘m just...

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that? 

LARSON:  I know that, because if the president wanted an investigation, he would have answered that question by saying:  I‘m planning to tell my Department of Justice to begin an investigation on Monday. 

He didn‘t do that. 

MADISON:  Well, let me tell you what I do know.  And that is that Eric Holder, the new attorney general, has said very clearly that no one is against the law and that he is looking into the possibility of prosecutions. 

LARSON:  He‘s looking into the possibility. 


MADISON:  Wait.  Well, that‘s what an attorney general does.  You can‘t...

LARSON:  What does that mean, though? 

MADISON:  It means, he is researching it.  Lars, you just don‘t wake up in the morning and say, oh, let‘s prosecute.  You have got to build a case. 

LARSON:  Chris, Chris, he‘s looking...

MADISON:  That‘s what prosecutors do.


MATTHEWS:  ... cases here.


LARSON:  He‘s either investigating or he‘s not. 


MATTHEWS:  Lars, I want you to talk cases here. 

LARSON:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get down away from the theory here. 

LARSON:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose, now that we have a new administration, there may be whistle-blowers out there who were afraid to come forward under the past administration.  It‘s logical.  We can assume this.  And now they‘re ready to crawl out say, look, I saw something I don‘t think was legal. 

What would you do in that case, if a person came forward and told a local U.S. attorney or a military court, I saw something I believed was wrong, and I want to testify to that effect? 


MATTHEWS:  What would you do? 

LARSON:  Have it investigated by the proper authorities, which is not Congress.  Congress has no expertise.  Congress is not the appropriate body. 

We have investigators.  That‘s the Department of Justice.  But I think Eric Holder is too busy planning how to ban guns from American citizens than he is to pursue an investigation. 

MADISON:  Oh... 


MADISON:  Well, first of all, I know Eric Holder.  And he is a straight-up law and order kind of guy.  So, don‘t talk about people you really don‘t know...

LARSON:  Gun-grabber.  He‘s a gun-grabber...

MADISON:  ... especially sitting of the presence of people who know him very well. 

Secondly, John Conyers...

LARSON:  Tell me he‘s not a gun-grabber, Joe.

MADISON:  Wait.  Will you let me finish?  My God.

John Conyers...


MADISON:  John Conyers, are you kidding me?  This is a man who was there at Watergate. 

LARSON:  It doesn‘t matter. 

MADISON:  He has more—he has more experience...

LARSON:  He is not an investigator. 

MADISON:  I—gee whiz.  I think I‘m talking. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I don‘t know where... 


MATTHEWS:  Lars...


MADISON:  Where I‘m going is—where I‘m going is, John Conyers has more experience than anybody in Washington at this kind of investigation. 

LARSON:  Nope.  Nope.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you.

Is it your belief, Lars, as a critic—fair enough. 

LARSON:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a critic of this decision. 

LARSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think John Conyers will be kept from beginning an investigation?  He‘s chair of that committee, with tremendous seniority.  And inside the House, he is a heavyweight, whatever you think of him.  Do you think he is going to be swayed by the president and not go ahead with an investigation? 

LARSON:  No, I think he‘ll go ahead with an investigation.  Like I said, I expect that he‘ll carry water for the president and go out and do the kind of work to try and trash the prior administration, and provide a little bit of distraction from the current problems of the United States, which, again, I don‘t think that President Obama‘s doing a very good job of handling. 

MADISON:  Well, first of all, John Conyers doesn‘t carry anybody‘s water but his own.  Number two, I don‘t understand conservatives.  Law and order; we are supposed to be a nation of laws.  If anybody broke the law, should they not be prosecuted?  The answer to that by a conservative or a liberal is yes.  And that includes if it‘s a past administration.  Would you agree with that? 

LARSON:  Joe, everybody who breaks the law should be investigated by the appropriate agency.  And the last time that I read the federal statutes and the Constitution, the appropriate agency for federal law breaking is the Department of Justice.  Eric Holder can begin an investigation.  The reason I was dismissive of him is that he comes out and says, I‘m thinking of considering looking into it.  You‘re either investigating or you‘re not.  He sounds about as indecisive as Obama. 

MADISON:  He just got there.  Well anyway, then I guess Robert Kennedy and his brother should never have investigated the Mafia decades ago in a Senate hearing. 

LARSON:  As attorney general, you should investigate.  As the head of a Senate committee—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back—I think we have to go back to first principles here, Lars, before we move on.  Do you believe that the practices of this administration, as you know about them, without any investigation, simply through public information so far—do you believe they broke the law? 

LARSON:  No, I don‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that water boarding is torture? 

LARSON:  I believe that water boarding is appropriate.  And if you want to call it torture, fine.  But it‘s appropriate—

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  I‘m asking you.  What do you think it is? 

LARSON:  Is it torture, yes.  I think it is appropriate, as well. 

MATTHEWS:  What other means of torture do you accept? 

LARSON:  You want me to list them all today?  How about loud music?

MATTHEWS:  Whatever you think is appropriate. 

LARSON:  How about cold temperatures, warm temperatures, music you don‘t like, playing Barney endlessly. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a soft liner.  I thought you would be further towards the thumb screw end of this thing.  You are not for any kind of real torture then.  I‘m asking.   

LARSON:  Come on.  Chris, if you want an extreme, if they think they have a guy in hand who knows where there‘s a bomb in an American city, pull his fingernails out. 


LARSON:  Tell me you wouldn‘t do that so save your family. 

MATTHEWS:  Your view is the Dershowitz (ph) theory, which is basically no limits. 

LARSON:  I think—

MATTHEWS:  If you have to. 

LARSON:  This country has a right to defend itself against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

MATTHEWS:  And the end justifies the means? 

LARSON:  No.  I‘m saying that when you have to defend yourself—if somebody comes into my house tonight to hurt my family, I‘ll kill them. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And—


MATTHEWS:  If you think they‘re coming in your house, you‘ll kill them, too. 

LARSON:  No, if they present—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what this administration did.  It was called the Iraq war. 

LARSON:  That‘s right.  If I—but see, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  If you think I might come in your house to kill you, you kill them first, right? 


MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking. 

LARSON:  I‘m going to tell you, Chris.  Listen.  If someone comes into my house, before they hurt my family, if I believe they present a threat, I stop them with whatever it takes.  I don‘t wait until they hurt my family. 

MATTHEWS:  We went to Iraq and took over the country and the purpose of—

LARSON:  We liberated it.  By the way, here‘s the comparison, Chris, if you are looking for it.  I don‘t have to wait until they—

MATTHEWS:  This is the reality.  It‘s not the comparison.  It is what we have done in the interest of national defense. 

LARSON:  You don‘t want to hear the answer, do you?  If I think somebody is about to hurt my family, I don‘t have to wait until they hurt my family before I stop them. 

MATTHEWS:  Under that theory of preemption, we have gone to war with Iraq.  You think it‘s a good idea. 

MADISON:  I won‘t interrupt.  I‘m going to simply—well, to say—

I‘ve been here patiently to simply say that it‘s a bad policy preemptive strike. 

LARSON:  Baloney.   

MADISON:  It is a bad policy because you tend—because you tend to make mistakes. 



MADISON:  When you make a mistake, you create—yes, go ahead. 

LARSON:  If somebody comes into your house tonight and you believe that that they intend to hurt your family, do you have a right to stop them before they hurt your family, or do you have to wait until they‘ve hurt your family? 

MADISON  That is not a preemptive strike. 

LARSON:  Sure it is. 

MADISON:  Excuse me.  When somebody walks into my house uninvited, I‘m going to make the assumption.  But let me say something, if somebody who is a stranger in my neighborhood walks by my house, who I don‘t think should be in that neighborhood, I don‘t have a right to go out and shoot them. 

LARSON:  You‘re right.  And I wouldn‘t shoot them in my neighborhood either.  But if hay come into my house—

MATTHEWS:  The problem is we used to use the word aggressor back in the ‘60s against Communism when they took over countries.  Now we can‘t use it anymore.  Think about it.  Joe Medicine—Joe Madison.  There‘s a Freudian slip.  Lars Larson, thanks for joining us. 

Up next, President Obama‘s top political strategist tells the Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove and Andy Card to butt out.  It is getting interesting.  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time for the politics fix with John Heilemann of “New York Magazine” and “Time Magazine” White House correspondent Michael Scherer.  Thank you gentlemen for joining us.  I guess I‘m going to ask you, Heilemann—you‘re the best in the business these days.  What exactly is the worth of the success of Barack Obama passing this huge piece of legislation, the economic recovery bill? 

JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK MAGAZINE”:  Well, I mean, it is a big victory, Chris, obviously.  I mean, you start off an administration and you are looking for quick wins and you‘re looking for big wins.  And this is a big one by any measure. 

I do think that, look, the president set out a set of goals at the beginning.  He wanted this bill to be bipartisan.  It‘s not going to have really any bipartisan support in the end.  I think that‘s a blow in the long term, because I think that Obama understands that for a lot of the larger—even larger than the stimulus, the things he wants to do down the road, whether it‘s on energy or on health care, he‘s going to need to get some Republicans to get those things through, because those are the kind of bills that don‘t pass with just Democratic votes. 

I think it‘s a big win, but it also carries a hint of warning for the future. 

MATTHEWS:  So he has to do it differently next time, Michael?  He has to build a true bipartisan coalition to get health care through, for example?

MICHAEL SCHERER, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  What he‘s laid out on his plate is enormous.  It‘s an enormously ambitious set of things he‘s trying to get done.  He keeps saying, we‘re going to start all of this this year. We‘re going to do it this year.  We‘re going to do it this year.  So yes, it‘s a huge task ahead of him. 

MATTHEWS:  Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, told us yesterday on this program, they want to be judged on the progress, not just on the economics, turning the economy around by next year, but education, energy, health care.  She‘s willing to live by that score card.  They are all talking, let‘s get it done. 

SCHERER:  They can do that in the House.  They can force things through in the House.  The problem is in the Senate.  And the problem is it‘s very clear they‘re facing a Republican party that has very little political incentive to cooperate right now.  A lot of these arguments we‘ve been hearing—you played a banner clip earlier in the show.  They‘re not very serious arguments.  You know, we wanted a jobs bill, but we got spending instead.  Well, spending creates jobs.  That‘s the whole point of the stimulus.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re a little tongue tied right now, the Republicans.  Take a look at President Obama today, talking about—well, having a little fun with the little discombobulation of the Commerce secretary job, which he can‘t seem to be able to fill.  Here he is. 


OBAMA:  In 1854, Lincoln was simply a Springfield lawyer, who had served just a single term in Congress, possibly in his law office, with his feet on a cluttered desk, his sons playing around him, his clothes a bit too small to fit his uncommon frame.  Maybe wondering if somebody might call him up and ask him to be Commerce secretary. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, he reminds us that Lincoln was a Republican.  John Heilemann, they didn‘t have phones back then of course.  A little anachronistic reference there.

HEILEMANN:  It‘s all—self parody is always a winning virtue in politics, Chris.  But it‘s getting a little embarrassing on this Commerce secretary thing.  And it‘s interesting to look back on it now, because we thought—a month ago, I think most people would have said that Obama had run one of the smoothest, most professional, and most successful transitions in anybody‘s memory.  And now he‘s running into some serious problems on more than one occasion.  He has had four or five different problems now.  It‘s starting to look a little bit like there‘s some staff problems here and some incompetence that‘s uncharacteristic for him and his team. 

MATTHEWS:  Picking a commerce secretary has gotten about as hazardous as opening King Tutt‘s tomb for this guy.  Everybody‘s dying along the way there. 

SCHERER:  The president in that clip is sticking a knife in.  Both Gregg and Harry Reid have said it wasn‘t Gregg who came to the White House.  That‘s the White House story.  It came out yesterday.  They said there were intermediaries.  Reid has admitted or a spokesmen admitted presenting the idea to Gregg.  But Obama‘s here trying to stick it to Gregg.  There‘s bad blood there. 

MATTHEWS:  My sense tells you that Gregg showed an opening for the job or they wouldn‘t have gone after him.  You don‘t go around asking Karl Rove if he wants to be secretary of Commerce.  We‘ll be right back with more with John Heilemann and Michael Scherer for more of the fix.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with John Heilemann and Michael Scherer for more of the politics fix.  One of the interesting things in the last couple of weeks has been the back biting or the rear guard shooting, perhaps, by Dick Cheney, the former vice president, and Karl Rove, the former political ram rod of the Bush administration.  They‘ve been taking real shots at Barack Obama.  Here is senior Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod responding. 


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  I was disappointed in the vice president‘s comments, not because he stated the obvious, which is that there are threats that are grave, but that he suggested that somehow the president‘s decisions on torture in Guantanamo would increase the likelihood of that. 


MATTHEWS:  Michael, what do you think of this interesting by play here, this back and forth? 

SCHERER:  I think if you‘re Axelrod‘s right on the substance.  But also, if you‘re David Axelrod and you‘re guy‘s at 63 percent approval rating and you‘re talking about a guy like Dick Cheney, who maybe, what, 10, 15 percent of the country likes, you‘re going to win.  Every time you talk about it, you win. 

MATTHEWS:  One of the producers here thinks that the smart politics of Barack Obama is pick your enemies wisely.  Don‘t go after John Boehner or Mitch McConnell or people you may need, certainly not Arlen Specter or Olympia Snow.  You‘ll need them down the road to get health care and entitlement reform.  Pick off these people out in side show land, the Rush Limbaughs of the world, the Sean Hannitys, the Dick Cheneys, the Karl Roves.  Pick off the people who don‘t have any clout in terms of actual law making. 

HEILEMANN:  Didn‘t you love that expression of disappointment on David Axelrod‘s face?  David does disappointment very well, doesn‘t he.  Look, Chris, you remember in the third presidential debate, John McCain made this comment about how if Barack Obama wanted to run against George W. Bush, he should have run four years earlier.  Well, you know, there was a reason Barack Obama was running against George W. Bush.  And I would say on election day, as much joy as there was in the Obama nation, there was great sadness also about the passing of the opportunity to continue to stick the boot in George W. Bush.  David Axelrod‘s a happy man every time Karl Rove or Dick Cheney pops his head up and makes a nasty comment about his boss.

MATTHEWS:  Here he is, Axelrod again, going after Karl Rove. 


AXELROD:  The last thing that I think we‘re looking for at this juncture is advice on fiscal integrity or ethics from Karl Rove.  I mean, anyone who‘s read the newspapers for the last eight years would laugh at that.  So I appreciate that President Bush has been so classy during this period.  And I‘m disappointed that some of the folks who work for him don‘t share that. 


HEILEMANN:  Disappointed, again, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he is.   

SCHERER:  Governing is really hard.  Not being Bush is really easy.  Every time Obama comes out and says, I‘m not going to be Bush, I‘m not going to be Bush, he wins a news cycle. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to think Lois Romano of the “Washington Post” for that great series of interview, great series of comments from Axelrod.  What a great guy he is to be commenting.  I like his soft manner. 

Anyway, thank you John Heilemann.  Thank you, Michael Scherer.  Join us again Monday at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster. 



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