updated 2/17/2009 10:16:34 AM ET 2009-02-17T15:16:34

Guest: J.D. Hayworth, Larry Sabato, Douglas Brinkley, Jim Durkin, Lynn Sweet, Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson High: How smart is it for the Republican Party to place all its chips on the failure of President Obama and the American economy?  Illinois senator Roland Burris now admits he did talk to Rod Blagojevich‘s brother three times before being appointed to Obama‘s Senate seat and that he was asked for fund-raising help.

Spec: Politics; Government

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The greatest president in history?  Go ahead, name him.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Party of Hoover?  That‘s what Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter said the Republican Party risks becoming if they are seen as just saying no to any economic recovery plan put up by President Obama.  Specter was one of only three Republicans to vote for the economic stimulus bill.  The Democrats hope to take credit if the economy improves.  The Republicans plan to say, I told you, if it doesn‘t.  So how smart is it for the Grand Old Party to place all its chips on the grand defeat of the American economy?  That hard question tonight.

Plus: Whom do Roland Burris talk to—whom did he talk to and when did he talk to them?  We learned over the weekend that Burris now admits he did talk to Rod Blagojevich‘s brother not once, not twice but three times and that he was asked for fund-raising help.  Here‘s Burris trying to defend himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS:  I did not donate one single dollar, nor did I raise any money or promise any favors of any kind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is this about his wording?  Is this about obfuscation?  Is this about the credibility of a U.S. senator?  Good questions.  We‘re going to ask them.

Also, who‘s the greatest president of all times?  How‘s Bill Clinton doing on that list?  How bad is George W. Bush doing?  Sixty-five historians and other presidential watchers ranked the presidents in order of greatness.  Does anyone really think, by the way, that this list could be valid?

Well, what lessons did Obama get from the tussle over his economic recovery bill this past week?  Will he have to go to a totally different route for health care and energy and to save Medicare?  That‘s all coming up in tonight‘s “Politics Fix.”

And how much should President Obama spend on his new helicopters?  Does a half billion apiece strike you as a tad pricey?  Well have that in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

We begin, however, with the politics of the economic stimulus bill with former Democratic congressman Harold Ford, Jr., and former Republican congressman J.D. Hayworth.  Gentlemen, thank you for joining us, both.  The Republicans seem to have a plan.  J.D., by the way, welcome back to HARDBALL.

J.D. HAYWORTH ®, FMR. U.S. CONGRESSMAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  We have a question for you, sir.  Are the Republicans smart to bet all their money on the failure of the American economy to recover in the next two years?

HAYWORTH:  Well, that‘s not what we‘re doing at all, Chris.  I think if you take a look at the plan offered by House Republicans, it was a pretty good one, take the economic assumptions of President Obama‘s own economic advisers and put together a plan that would have created twice the jobs at half the cost.  No, I don‘t think they‘re rooting for the defeat of the economy.  They‘re just saying, Look, here‘s a better way to get it done and have genuine bipartisanship.

I got to tell you, Chris, the evaluation of many Republicans on the Hill is that bipartisanship, the Washington definition, is conservatives caving in to what Democrats and their cheerleaders in the media want to see.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you the question.  If Barack Obama‘s economy—if this economy in the next several months and over the next year improves, doesn‘t he make his case, and isn‘t your party in trouble?

HAYWORTH:  Well, I think it‘s going to be very tough for him to make the case.  I got to tell you, this package is not stimulative.  And if he really wanted bipartisan support, he could have done any number of things.  He could have been more JFK than FDR for the 21st century, meaningful capital gains cuts, some housing relief right there in the stimulus package that would have torn the Republican conference apart, at least philosophically, and he could have really reached out to both the Republicans and 9/11 (ph) Democrats with military spending.  Had he done those things, I think he could have had genuine bipartisan support.

But it‘s not a matter of saying, Gee, we hope this tanks, it‘s a legitimate concern for the country that he‘s headed down the wrong path.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  J.D., you‘ve just defined it the opposite way.  You

criticize the Democrats for wanting conservatives to climb aboard their

train, and now you‘re asking Democrats to put together a stimulus package -

it‘s already done, by the way—that is basically a Reagan program of big defense spending and tax cuts.  That sounds like Ronald Reagan to me.  Let me go to...

HAYWORTH:  It sounds like JFK to me.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s more recently Ronald Reagan, if you look at history.  Let me go—let me go to Harold Ford...

HAYWORTH:  Sure.  Bipartisan.

MATTHEWS:  Big defense spending—big defense spending and tax cuts sounds like the Reagan mantra to me.

HAROLD FORD, JR., (D), FMR. U.S. CONGRESSMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: 

They‘re philosophical differences.  It‘s good to see J.D.  I‘ve not seen him in a while, either.

There are philosophical differences between the parties.  The president of the United States won a national race, received a mandate from the country to move forward on the things that he promised.  He did three things in this bill which are important.  One, he‘s taking care of those who need money right now to survive, extending the safety net, unemployment benefits, food stamps and so forth.

Two, the aid to the state and local governments will allow states like Arizona and Tennessee, our governors, to avoid having to raise taxes, which, as we all know, certainly won‘t help create jobs, and not only in our states in which J.D. and I are respectively from but across the country.  And three, he began to lay the groundwork for some long-term investments in energy and health care.

Is it a perfect bill?  No.  The president himself admitted that.  But it‘s curious, the Republicans made a big bet here, and their philosophical bet is that the country will not punish them if President Obama‘s right.  And the flip side of it is, if President Obama turns out to be wrong, they hope to win.  Now, it puts them in the unenviable position, as you stated at the outset, Chris, of rooting for the economy to go bad if they want their political fortune to turn around.

The stimulus bill is now behind us.  I hope Eric Cantor, who‘s a friend, and John Boehner, who are friends, will now look to how they can help the president with a banking recovery bill.  I‘ve heard Lindsey Graham and John McCain say how they want work with the president.  They will have another opportunity to do that.

But I hope they wouldn‘t hold it against President Obama fulfilling what he promised to do in this campaign, which was to invest in health care, energy, to provide relief to state and local governments across the country and extend unemployment benefits and food stamps for everyday Americans who are hurting the most and who face the most severe hardship throughout this recession.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to J.D. Hayworth again about this question.  The

Democrats are going into a quandary.  I want you to take your Republican

hat off for a split second here.  Are they wrong to try to get Republicans

they got Specter, Snowe and Collins to pass it in the Senate.  They got no help in the House.  Are they wrong to keep thinking that that‘s the standard, that they should always try to be bipartisan, or is it smart to use the guns you got, push it through, jam it past the Republicans and live with the consequences?  What‘s the smart move here?

HAYWORTH:  You got a couple of different things going on.  Quite frankly, you had a charm offensive by President Obama.  That‘s fine, inviting guys in for the Super Bowl, going to visit the respective Republican conferences.  That‘s, I think, smart politics.  But when it comes right down to it, the old saying is, If you‘ve got the votes, you‘ve got the votes.  And in terms of majorities on both the houses, they‘ve got them, so they‘re using them.

FORD:  Chris, can I make one point...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking—I guess I‘m asking a moot point here because it seems like the way both parties read the rules now, they don‘t believe in majority rule in the Senate anymore.  They don‘t even bother, they just give up if they don‘t get three fifths of the membership.  What do you think, Harold, Congressman Ford?  It seems like you have to be bipartisan, whether you want to be or not.

FORD:  Bipartisanship is not a substitute for leadership.  I think the country is interested in the president doing what the last president didn‘t do, which—I think President Bush, to his fault, many times did not seek Democratic support in the most genuine of ways, as much as he may have wanted it.  This president‘s attempting to do this.

I‘d remind J.D. and I would remind all watching, the last time a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, passed an enormous budget that was controversial because of its tax increases and other spending cuts, was back in ‘93.  Not one Republican voted with that ‘93 budget.  If I recall correctly, that was the beginning—however we want to debate it, it was the beginning or the start point of the largest peacetime expansion of our economy.

I know we all hope, whether we voted for this package or not (INAUDIBLE) or not that that‘s what this package begins the process of in this country again.  And if Eric Cantor...

HAYWORTH:  With all due respect...

FORD:  ... and John Boehner want that—want to be on the opposite side of it, they have every right to be.  But don‘t root against economic success.

HAYWORTH:  Harold, we‘re not doing that.  With all due respect, you might recall, if memory serves, 41 Democrats voted with those Republicans.  They had legitimate concerns about the largest tax increase in American history.  And what turned the corner, of course, was my election and a Republican majority in 1994, where we worked with President Clinton and balanced the budget and had tax cuts, and that led to the wave of prosperity.

As for President Bush, remember how hard he worked on bill number one, education, Leave No Child Behind?  George Miller, Ted Kennedy, a variety of Democrats he reached out actively...

FORD:  Including me.

HAYWORTH:  ... to try and rewrite history.  Yes.  So you were there, too, in the room.  So the fact is that what we really ought to be looking for is nonpartisanship, not bipartisanship, but saying, These are American priorities.  We have some disagreements.  Let‘s take a couple from column R...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well...

HAYWORTH:  ... and a couple from column D and work it out.

FORD:  In fairness, J.D., more than 30 percent of this bill was made up of tax cuts.  There were things that this president conceded and negotiated, and for whatever reason, many of my former Republican colleagues decided not to vote along with him.  They had every right to do that.  There‘s a philosophical...

HAYWORTH:  Harold...

FORD:  ... gamble that‘s been made here.  And all I ask is that if you‘re on the other side of that ledger, saying you were against this bill, don‘t root against the country.  And I‘m not suggesting you are...

HAYWORTH:  I‘m not rooting against the country!

FORD:  ... but in a lot of ways...

HAYWORTH:  What I‘m saying...

FORD:  ... you‘re rooting against the economy.

HAYWORTH:  No.  No, you‘re making—you‘re making a tragic mistake confusing the welfare of the president with the overall welfare of the country.  And speaking of welfare, when you take out all the welfare reforms, again, a bipartisan triumph for both the Clinton administration and the then Republican Congress—when you take that out of the way, when you redefine tax cuts as payments to people who don‘t pay taxes, I got to tell you, it‘s a legitimate philosophical difference.  That‘s not a tax cut, that‘s Welfare!

FORD:  People who go to work every day deserve a tax cut.  And we—that‘s—again, that‘s a philosophical difference.  I hope what President Obama pushed through the Congress works.  I know you do, as well.  If it doesn‘t work, I hope they all have the ability and temerity to come back to the table and work on a package that will work.

But I got to believe $800 billion almost finding its way to states and to education, to energy and health care is going to have a positive impact on this economy.  And if it doesn‘t, J.D., you‘re right.  All I ask is that my friends in the Congress, Republicans, don‘t root against this president, don‘t root against this economy and don‘t root against this package.

HAYWORTH:  Do you think the Congressional Budget Office was rooting against the president or the administration when they said it would not have the effects desired?  There are legitimate philosophical differences.  And please let‘s not make the mistake right out of the gate of saying because we disagree, one side is hoping the worst for America.  Look everybody understands this is a tough job.

MATTHEWS:  Would we be better off...

HAYWORTH:  And we appreciate that.

MATTHEWS:  ... J.D., if we had eight more years—would we be better off if we had eight more years like the eight we just had under Republican rule?.

HAYWORTH:  I believe, although I‘ve got my differences—although I‘ve got my differences with John McCain, I believe he would have done a better job...

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no.  No, no.  Eight more years of the policies we‘ve had for the last eight years.

HAYWORTH:  Eight more years of...

MATTHEWS:  Same policies.

HAYWORTH:  ... the policies we had?  Well...

MATTHEWS:  The same policies that you guys had the last eight years...

HAYWORTH:  Tax cuts to promote jobs?

MATTHEWS:  ... in Congress.  Eight more years of that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, the economic policies...

HAYWORTH:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... that led us to where we are right now, we should have eight more years of that, we‘d be better off?  To where we got now.

HAYWORTH:  We should have—we should have had—look, the tax cuts I fought for, that I worked on in the Ways and Means Committee...

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no, no.  I‘m asking you a simple question.

HAYWORTH:  ... that revitalized—that‘s part of the eight years!

MATTHEWS:  The Republicans in control of the White House for eight years.  Would we be better off having eight more years of that policy of the Republicans for eight more years?  Would we be better off?

HAYWORTH:  Low taxes, strong national defense and good economic growth?  Yes, I‘ll take that.

MATTHEWS:  But no, that‘s not what we got.  We have an economic catastrophe on our hands...

HAYWORTH:  Look—look, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... after the last eight years.

HAYWORTH:  You know, maybe...

MATTHEWS:  We have nobody buying anything.  We have nobody selling houses...

HAYWORTH:  Wait, wait, wait a minute!

MATTHEWS:  ... nobody selling cars.

HAYWORTH:  If you want—if you want to get...

MATTHEWS:  Stock prices are going through the floor.

HAYWORTH:  If you want to get into the whereases and...

MATTHEWS:  You think this is good?

HAYWORTH:  ... go back and take a look—no, I‘ll tell you what was bad.  The sneak attack on our economy, the dress rehearsal that was the debacle of Indy bank, when Chuck Schumer helped get that started and the guy in the background, George Soros, manipulating all the currency!

MATTHEWS:  What?

HAYWORTH:  You want to keep that going?  That‘s what‘s gone on here! 

The fact is, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  You mean the economic situation...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... we face right now...

FORD:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... is the result of...

HAYWORTH:  Go take a look at what...

MATTHEWS:  ... not the administration policies...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  J.D., you can talk fast, but I don‘t know what you‘re talking about.

FORD:  This is why the country‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying the Bush economic policy...

HAYWORTH:  You don‘t want to listen!

MATTHEWS:  ... isn‘t where we got today?  I don‘t understand what you‘re...

HAYWORTH:  What I‘m saying is...

MATTHEWS:  George Soros?  What are you talking about?  You‘re not talking about the fiscal...

HAYWORTH:  Well, go take a look at what Paul Kanjorski...

MATTHEWS:  ... and monetary policy of this administration.

HAYWORTH:  Go back and take a look at Paul Kanjorski said on C-Span a couple of weeks ago about how the economy got in the mess it was in.  I will tell you this, on balance, six of the eight years were strong years.  Did we have a meltdown?  You bet.  Do I want to see a meltdown continue?  No.  No American want to see that.  But to have you set up a narrowly defined area where you say, Aha, I got you—and I really should be running for the Senate against Arlen Specter—is a moot point, Chris.  I‘m trying...

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  I don‘t know what...

(CROSSTALK)

HAYWORTH:  Maybe that‘s why Specter went for the package...

MATTHEWS:  J.D....

HAYWORTH:  ... after all!

FORD:  But Chris, this is why Barack Obama won.

MATTHEWS:  J.D., I think it‘s a—let me go back to Harold Ford.

FORD:  This—this is why...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a reasonable question, when someone criticizes the president‘s policies today, to ask them would they prefer the policies of the last eight years.  I think that‘s a good question.

FORD:  The country answered resoundingly no.  They wanted a different course in November of 2008.  As much as I like and respect J.D. as a friend, I‘m like you, Chris, I‘m puzzled as to what George Soros, or for that matter, Chuck Schumer has to do with the challenges we find ourselves in today.

The reality is this.  We need more Republicans and Democrats, I might add, like Charlie Crist of Florida, who stood with the president in Florida not long ago saying, Look, we want your help.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FORD:  We need some way to stimulate our economy, to slow this housing debacle down and ensure we‘re able to create jobs here.  Don‘t force us to raise taxes.  Provide aid to the state and local governments.  This bill does that.

I take back, J.D., everything I said about rooting against the economy.  I know you‘re not.  I‘d say this, though.  Don‘t allow your Republican friends in the Congress to find fault with this president, because he‘s trying to deliver...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

FORD:  ... trying to deliver on what he campaigned on.  That‘s all this president‘s doing.  And if it works, the country will reward him.  And President Obama himself said if it doesn‘t, he bears responsibility, just like President Bush must bear responsibility for the last eight years of the inept leadership we‘ve enjoyed.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re running—now we are out of time.  Thank you, Harold Ford.  Thank you, J.D. Hayworth.  Gentlemen, thank you both.

Coming up: More trouble for the man who replaced Barack Obama in the Senate.  Boy, Roland Burris has got some problems explaining himself.  New allegations that Senator Burris lied to an Illinois state panel investigating Rod Blagojevich.  Some Republicans are calling on him to resign.  We‘ll get to that next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  On January 5th of this year, Roland Burris swore in a statement that he had no contact with then Governor Blagojevich‘s camp about that vacant U.S. Senate seat, other than his late December meeting with B-Rod himself.  Two days later, “The Sun-Times‘s” Lynn Sweet asked him this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  Do you think that anyone on your behalf might have talked to—and that—this wasn‘t covered in the affidavit.  Do you—I don‘t think.  Do you think anyone ever actually talked to the governor?  Are you concerned that it might be with the wiretap, you know, that some conversations that might surface...

BURRIS:  I have no knowledge of that, Lynn.  And if they did, it‘s certainly no “pay to play” involved because I don‘t have no money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The next day, Burris testified to the impeachment committee in Springfield, Illinois, where Republican state representative Jim Durkin asked him this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM DURKIN ®, ILLINOIS STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  Did you talk to any members of the governor‘s staff or anyone closely related to the governor, including family members or any lobbyists connected with him, including—let me ask—throw out some names—John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, Doug Schofield (ph), Bob Greelee (ph), Lon Monk, John Wyma (ph)?

BURRIS:  I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Burris went on to describe only a chat he had with Lon Monk, who was then B- Rod‘s chief of staff—actually, it was his former chief of staff—about his interest in that U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Barack Obama.  But this past weekend, “The Chicago Sun-Times” reported that Senator Burris submitted another affidavit on February 5th in which he recalls conversations with the other men named by Durkin, including details of fund-raising solicitations to Burris by B-Rod‘s brother, Rob Blagojevich, pitches for money that Senator Burris says he declined because of his interest in that U.S. Senate seat.

Here‘s Senator Burris last night explaining why he didn‘t disclose that during the impeachment hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURRIS:  The “Yes” was for the names!  Please, media people, you all (INAUDIBLE) the “yes”—I said I talked to my friends, and yes.  The “yes” was for all of those names.  And so then he raised a question about Lon Monk, and that‘s how we got on Monk.  And he didn‘t go back to Blagojevich after we talked about Monk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, did Senator Burris perjure himself? 

With us now, Illinois State Representative Jim Durkin. 

I want you to respond to that.  What do you think?  Do you have a hard belief, Mr. Durkin, that he lied under oath? 

JIM DURKIN ®, ILLINOIS STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  No, I believe he did. 

I did not bring up Lon Monk.  He brought up Lon Monk.  We have a changing of his testimony going back from his first affidavit, which he voluntarily submitted, two cover letters from his attorneys attached to it, his testimony before the committee, in which he dances around and states, “Oh, I—I did speak to Lon Monk,” after I went through a long list of names.

And, last Friday night, I received from “The Chicago Sun-Times” this latest affidavit that:  Oh, by the way, I did speak with the governor‘s brother, his current chief of staff, John Harris, and co-defendant, and also John Wyma, Doug Scofield, and a few other individuals.  I forgot to bring that up before the committee. 

I don‘t believe that that was just a lapse in memory.  I believe that it was intentionally withheld. 

MATTHEWS:  Could you argue that this is a dispute about what the meaning of the word “friends” is, when he says, “I spoke to some friends”?

DURKIN:  Well, I guess...

MATTHEWS:  And I agree.  His inflection was not that of an acknowledgment. 

He said friends as if they weren‘t those people on your list.  But he‘s now saying that..

DURKIN:  That‘s...

MATTHEWS:  ... the word “friends” in his response did acknowledge the names you gave him in that—in that question under oath. 

DURKIN:  I mean, he‘s—this is Clintonesque, the way that he is responding right now, what‘s the definition of is and whatnot. 

This is parsing of the words, hair-splitting.  But I was there.  I asked the very specific question of Senator Burris.  He responded, you know, that:  I spoke to Lon Monk.

And he forgot the other individuals.  He was under oath.  I gave him an opportunity to explain his answer.  We moved on. 

But the fact is, he was not interfered with.  He was not prohibited from giving further explanation.  I took him at his word.  And now the latest filing is completely inconsistent with his first affidavit and also his testimony before the committee. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Durkin, I have Lynn Sweet here of “The Chicago Sun-Times,” who is on top of this story. 

Your—your witness. 

LYNN SWEET, “THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  What was—what was Senator Burris‘ responsibility, in your view, to just volunteer the whole story when you asked that very specific question? 

DURKIN:  I asked him point-blank, did you speak to any of these individuals, Rob Blagojevich, Lon Monk, John Wyma? 

I wanted to know, because those individuals, we all believed, were part of that affidavit and complaint.  They were referenced to by number and also by letter.  I wanted him before the committee to explain to people in the state of Illinois why he accepted the appointment. 

He had previously, two weeks before the appointment, stated that: 

Governor Blagojevich was incapacitated.  I applaud Lisa Madigan, the attorney general‘s efforts to have him removed. 

I wanted him to explain to the people why he took it, what is his the with the governor, and the circumstances upon which he accepted the appointment. 

SWEET:  The—the—the legislature has a certain number of limited options.  What do you think is going to happen? 

And everyone out there should know that the Republicans are in the minority in both the Illinois House and Senate.

What options do you think you have right now? 

DURKIN:  Correct.

Well, you know what?  I think that this requires a referral to the state‘s attorney in central Illinois‘ Sangamon County to determine whether or not Mr. Burris committed perjury, the same thing that happens in Washington when Major League Baseball players are being charged left and right with committing perjury for the very committees that Mr. Burris sits on. 

There shouldn‘t be two sets of standards, one in Washington, and a lesser standard in Springfield.  I think it needs to be prosecuted.  This is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you, Mr. Durkin.  I want to get to—let‘s get to the materiality of this whole question.

Do you believe—and I mean really believe—that Mr. Burris, the—now the United States senator from your state of Illinois, purposefully dodged, obfuscated, didn‘t give you an honest answer, because he knew at the time that, if he gave an honest conversation and admitted to conversations which had occurred now, on the record, with those associates of the governor—of the former governor, he would not have been accepted by the Democratic majority, that—that Harry Reid, and Dick Durbin of your state, would have said, no way are you going to be a United States senator now, if it‘s clear that you have had conversations which involved what looks to be play-to-pay conversations?

DURKIN:  That‘s my belief, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Is that what you—why you think he didn‘t give you a straight answer? 

DURKIN:  That‘s correct.  I believe that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, just give me a little more formality of this.

You believe, in other words, that he gave you a dishonest answer because he knew an honest answer would have kept him from being a U.S.  senator? 

DURKIN:  That‘s correct. 

SWEET:  Hey, Jim, I have a political question, too.  I know that you ran for the Senate a few years ago on it.  Does this create...

DURKIN:  2002. 

SWEET:  How many Republicans now -- 2002.  And I—and I just wonder, what kind of political opening do you think the Illinois Republicans have now in 2010? 

DURKIN:  Well, there‘s—there‘s going to be political openings in the statewide offices.

But I have asked for Senator Burris to resign.  And that clearly doesn‘t give an advantage to Republicans.  I believe that what we have in Illinois, with the worst ethical investigation and—and episode, that we need to have somebody truthful in office, particularly in the United States Senate.  And I don‘t believe Mr. Burris...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

Can you beat him?  Can you beat him in—can you beat him in ‘10, Mr.

Durkin?  Can you beat Burris in ‘10 statewide? 

DURKIN:  You know what?  Oh, I can—I could.  But I‘m not running against him.  I‘m never running for a federal office again the rest of my life.  And Lynn can—will confirm that. 

(LAUGHTER)

SWEET:  Well, it was a good race.  It was a tough—you had an uphill battle.  But, in all seriousness...

DURKIN:  Well, it was.  Federal money...

SWEET:  It‘s tough. 

By the way, this—this episode will probably make it very difficult for Burris to raise money in a—in a 2010 bid.  And he is starting from zero.  But...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

So, basically, do you believe that Senator Burris is a dishonest man? 

DURKIN:  I believe that his testimony before the committee was dishonest.  And we will deal with it appropriately.  He was not truthful to the committee. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thanks very much, James Durkin, the...

DURKIN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  ... state representative in the state of Illinois.

He‘s going to be working on this down in Springfield. 

Lynn Sweet, thank you for your expertise.

Up next—and, by the way, we need print reporters. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so great to have you still there, even though Jill Zuckman is moving to the Department of Transportation to work with Ray LaHood.

SWEET:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We will miss her a lot.

Up next:  So, what did Bill Clinton get Hillary for Valentine‘s Day, if you care?  Well, if you don‘t care, come on back.  We have got some other stuff, too.  By the way, he‘s given her some nice gifts.  He‘s a good hubby. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, Dan Aykroyd—the great Dan Aykroyd—was back on “SNL” this Saturday.  He played John Boehner this weekend in a mock Republican leadership meeting behind closed doors over the economic rescue bill. 

It was pretty good stuff. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

DAN AYKROYD, ACTOR:  All right.  Here‘s the deal.  Pelosi says the Democratic House and Senate members want to work out their version of the bill, and then show it to us for our input. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  So, basically, we‘re being cut out.  

AYKROYD:  Looks that way. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  All right. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  That‘s great. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes.  This is perfect.  They‘re not letting us participate at all. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Like we don‘t even exist. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  We‘re totally powerless. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I love it.  I think Aykroyd has got that John Boehner down well, the way he has of lowering of his voice, Boehner does, by talking into his chin.  Watch him next time. 

Next up:  Love was in the air this weekend.  On Saturday night, the Obamas ventured to Chicago‘s Table Fifty-Two restaurant to celebrate Valentine‘s Day. 

And not to be outdone in the romantic husband department, here‘s

former President Bill Clinton sharing his plans for the secretary of state

that‘s his wife—with MSNBC‘s Luke Russert. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I got her three things.  And the third thing I have not given to her yet. 

LUKE RUSSERT, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  OK. 

CLINTON:  So, you can‘t—because she and I had to leave.  I sent her a bunch of beautiful red roses.  And I got...

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  I got her two funny little Raggedy Ann dolls singing, “I got you, babe.”

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  The old Sonny & Cher one.

RUSSERT:  That‘s great.

CLINTON:  And I got her a piece of jewelry, which I have not yet delivered. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Hillary Clinton was busy this weekend kicking off her first overseas trip.  She landed in Tokyo this morning. 

Time now the “Big Number.” 

Today‘s “New York Times” reports that President Obama is wrestling with his own executive cost-cutting decision, at stake, a new fleet of Marine One helicopters.  While plans for the upgrade were put in place by the Bush administration, President Obama has yet to decide whether to continue the project. 

Why?  The cost of the new fleet has skyrocketed to $11.2 billion.  But that‘s not our “Big Number” tonight.  Guess how many helicopters you get for that, which will be at the president‘s disposal?  Twenty-eight -- 28 Marine Ones coming right up for $11.8 billion.  Who knew? 

By the way, they will each cost more than the latest Air Force One jumbo jets.  Plans are in the air for a new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next: ranking the presidents.  Who‘s number one?  Who makes the top 10?  And where do Clinton, Reagan and Bush 43 finish?  The debate over the new rankings next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger. 

Here‘s what‘s happening.  The NTSB says investigators have recovered the engines and other significant pieces of Continental Connection Flight 3407, which crashed into a house near Buffalo, New York, last Thursday.  They will be sent to Washington for examination. 

Meanwhile, families of those killed toured the crash site today.  All 49 people on board that plane died, along with one person in the house that it hit. 

A South Carolina sheriff says he will not charge Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps, after a photo allegedly showing him smoking pot.  The sheriff says there was not enough evidence to prosecute him.  Phelps said he used bad judgment.  And he has been suspended from swimming for three months. 

And a powerful winter storm is battering California, dumping heavy snow on mountain areas.  Other parts of the state are being drenched by heavy rain, including Southern California, where there‘s a fear of mudslides in areas ravaged by wildfires last year—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In honor of George Washington‘s birthday, which is today, which is informally known as Presidents Day, a group of presidential historians have ranked all the U.S. presidents, all our American presidents, from first to last. 

And here to break it down are two of those presidential experts, Douglas Brinkley, and Larry Sabato, who is also the director of the University of Virginia‘s Center For Politics.  And, of course, Doug Brinkley‘s at Rice. 

So, here we go.  OK? 

Lincoln, Washington, FDR, the top three.  And no one contests that, I don‘t think.  We will get to our experts in a minute.  Then it gets interesting, Teddy Roosevelt on the current list, then Harry Truman, JFK way up there in sixth place, then Thomas Jefferson, who is on Mount Rushmore, then Ike, then Wilson, and then Reagan. 

So, we have some very recent presidents, Kennedy, Ike and Reagan, all in the top 10. 

Let me now show you the bottom five, which is just for comedy purposes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Warren G. Harding, who had a little problem with corruption. 

William Henry Harrison had a little problem with going president.  He was sick and died after the—getting pneumonia in the parade.  Franklin Pierce, who was in from 1852 to ‘56, without effect, Andrew Johnson, who looks worse every year I think about him, and James Buchanan, the bachelor president from Pennsylvania, all in the bottom five.

And now I want to go our experts, before we move on. 

Doug, what did you think of the top 10?  Was that your list, the top 10 we mentioned?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Well, Chris, there are some variations on it.  I think most people know it‘s either Lincoln or Washington number one.  And I think the rest fall in pretty good line. 

There may be some inflation with Kennedy there.  And Dwight Eisenhower, it‘s a big moment for Eisenhower.  People are starting to recognize that he is the president that got us out of the Korean war, won two terms, and had domestic prosperity in the 1950s.  So, it‘s pretty good news for Eisenhower. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BRINKLEY:  And the rest of them seemed to fall into place.

MATTHEWS:  Who is going to write that book? 

Stephen Ambrose didn‘t quite do it.  He tried to bring him back.  Who is going to be his David McCullough and brink Ike back?  Because I have a theory.  It is infrastructure.  He built the interstate highway system.  Just like Lincoln is getting credit now for the land grant colleges, we‘re starting to get very domestic and almost mundane in how we treat these guys and their successes. 

Let me go over to Larry, just to even it out. 

What did you think of the top 10, Larry? 

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS:  I

basically agreed with it.  It was pretty much my top 10. 

Actually, Fred Greenstein, professor from Princeton—and Doug knows him well—wrote a wonderful book called “The Hidden-Hand Presidency” about Eisenhower. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SABATO:  And I, frankly, Greenstein‘s analysis had something to do with Eisenhower moving up.  And that was a good thing.  Eisenhower deserved it. 

Chris, remember, two of these presidents—and this is a real lesson for us—Truman and Eisenhower, when they left office were rated quite low by the historians and other political observers of the time.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SABATO:  And now Truman is near great or great, and Eisenhower has moved into the top 10. 

We need to remember that these things can fluctuate over time. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

SABATO:  And every generation reevaluates the presidents. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree. 

Well, let me go back to Doug on that.

And then—and then you come back, Larry. 

It seems to me that conservatives have a hard time on this list.  And I wonder if that‘s an institutional problem, because you don‘t really change things if you‘re a conservative. 

On this list, the only true-blue conservative, I guess—well, I guess you could go to—Washington was a Federalist.  I guess you could say he was a conservative—and Reagan.  And, outside of that, you have the middle-of-the-road Eisenhower.  He was an activist Republican.

And, yet, you have in this list so many liberals.  You have got Lincoln, of course, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, who‘s a reformer, Truman, JFK, Jefferson, and Wilson, all pretty much liberals who were progressives. 

Is that the standard; you have to be a progressive to be a great president? 

BRINKLEY:  Well, I don‘t know.  I mean, what we did at C-Span was try to tap the best presidential scholars in the country.  We brought a lot of conservatives into the mix.  There‘s some feeling that Reagan should maybe be higher than say Woodrow Wilson by some conservatives.  Eisenhower was—defined the modern Republican party, brought it back after FDR.  There he is on the list. 

We try not to make this partisan.  We‘re getting—I‘m getting a lot of e-mails today that some people on the left feel that George W. Bush is ranked too high, while the right feels that the scholars have been beating up on him.  But the people we asked to participate in this poll, people like Larry, were trying to be objective. 

It wasn‘t just ranking them.  We broke it down into categories of who was good in foreign affairs, who had a good legislative relationship, et cetera.  I think it‘s a pretty good list. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you have got the president, George W. Bush, down in 36th, near the bottom.  I guess that‘s not close enough to the bottom for some people.  Let‘s go to Bill Clinton, who is moving on up here.  Bill Clinton is now—where is he now?  Up to 15th.  That‘s pretty high.  That‘s in the top league of presidents.  How did he do that, Larry?  What is going on with Bill Clinton? 

SABATO:  Well, a lot of it, again, in the modern presidents, I think they‘re compared to one another.  So Clinton presided over a good economy.  Whether he generated it, you can debate that forever.  But he presided over a good economy.  That looks especially good right now. 

And Chris, just to back up what Doug was saying, I think that‘s a pretty fair list.  You can argue about this one and that one.  I think John Tyler was rated too lowly.  But all in all, if you look at it, the top ten, you‘ve got four Republicans out of ten, and Jefferson‘s counted as a Democrat, but when you look at his philosophy, it was more Republican than Democratic.  So I don‘t see a big bias in that list. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, here. 

SABATO:  George W. Bush is the most recent president.  That‘s different, you know?  He just got out of office.  Feelings are running very highly about him.  And there you go, he is 36th out of the 42. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, my problem with these lists is it reminds me of when

they ask you to pick the top ten movies of all time, and inevitably, seven

of the top ten came out in last five years.  Peoples‘ memories are so short

and terrible in that regard, and so skewed to the present.  Look how many -

we‘re basically saying our times are the best times: Reagan, Eisenhower, JFK and Kennedy—three very recent presidents out of the whole list of presidents.  It just seems like we are picking—count with FDR, Truman, Ike, it seems like a lot of recent presidents have made this list, Doug, a lot of them. 

BRINKLEY:  I think that‘s a great point, Chris.  I think that‘s a real key point.  I think that‘s what does happen some.  He mentioned Tyler should have been higher.  I‘m an admirer of Benjamin Harrison, who doesn‘t get credit very often.  I would think if I were—had a presidential legacy to float, I wouldn‘t want to be below William Henry Harrison, who was only in office a month.  That means you were a sub zero president and that—those are the presidents that really have no legacy or actually a negative legacy. 

MATTHEWS:  Larry, it‘s a riot.  They even graded him—you guys graded him on the basis of his foreign policy.  He was in bed the only month he was president.  What kind of foreign policy did he have back in the 1800s?

SABATO:  I refused to rate Harrison.  I refused to rate Garfield, because they just weren‘t in office long enough.  You can turn that around, though.  I could claim Harrison was one of the most successful presidents because he never made a mistake, other than maybe giving a long inaugural address in cold rain.  But, you know, it all depends on your perspective. 

MATTHEWS:  From the old Dominion, who was the greatest Confederate president, Larry? 

SABATO:  The greatest confederate president?  There was only one. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what—he was the worst of the—just a joke. 

LARRY:  He was the worst and the best, and I hope we turn the page. 

We turned the page on that one, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, thank you, gentlemen.  It‘s great sport.  And it‘s going to be replayed as long as we live and as long as we have a presidency, we‘re going to decide every once in a while—I like Mount Rushmore because it never changes.  And Teddy is always going to be up there and people are going to say—you and I, Doug, have talked about this.  Once you are on Mt. Rushmore, you can‘t be taken off of it. 

Thank you very much, Doug Brinkley, Larry Sabato. 

Up next, how did the fight over the economic recovery plan become so partisan?  With Obama soaring in the polls right now, does he even need help from the Republicans?  Well, I think he does.  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix on George Washington‘s Birthday, not Presidents‘ Day.  It‘s George Washington‘s Birthday.  With “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson.  Both are MSNBC political analysts. 

I want to get on to the presidents as fast as I can.  I find it an absolutely delightful conversation.  But is there a real debate here, Gene, about whether—how Barack learned or didn‘t learn his lesson?  He got everything through.  He‘s going to sign it tomorrow out in Denver.  He got through almost a trillion dollar stimulus package, biggest tax cut practically in history, biggest spending program certainly in history.  Huge success legislatively.  Anything he learned that he doesn‘t want to do again or wants to do different?

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Sure, there are things you learn.  I think he learned how the Republican minority, especially in the House, but also in the Senate, is going to deal with his presidency for the foreseeable future.  So I think that will change. 

MATTHEWS:  Just say no. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  I think that will change his approach to bipartisanship.  At least, he will go into these meetings not really expecting them to—

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that a little unfair, because he came at them with a liberal program basically drafted by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, and said sign on.  Maybe there‘s another model, which is sit in a room and plan a true bipartisan measure. 

ROBINSON:  One thing he did, he came in with 300 billion dollars in tax cuts, which I think he assumed the Republicans would like and would appreciate and would see as a gesture of bipartisanship.  And, in fact, they said, yes, that‘s very, very nice, but we don‘t like your plan.   

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE”:  He said—he‘s already said what he learned, which was not to put the goodies for the Republicans in the bill to begin with.  Don‘t put them at the front end.  That‘s negotiation 101.  Save them and put them in and give them a sense of victory later on, and try to buy them on board.  Obama was thinking this is the Chicago Board of Alderman or some place.  You do the deal in advance.  Everybody‘s happy.  Everybody gets their piece.

This is Washington.  There are Ideological divisions that matter.  The bill that he put forward provoked ideological—

MATTHEWS:  Ron Stankowski (ph) could have taught him this one.  Don‘t put the $300 billion worth of tax cuts—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t he have do—two different models that he didn‘t follow.  If he‘s going to fix the problems we have historically, like Medicare, which there is just not enough money to give people what they‘ve been promised, doesn‘t he need to come up with a model of a commission, for example?  Do something like energy, doesn‘t he have to come in with something where—or health care, generally, doesn‘t he have to sit down with Republicans and say, let‘s take the Massachusetts model, the California model.  Let‘s try to do something business wants, instead of going to the left and then moving toward the center?  Doesn‘t he have to go a different route the next time for these big wins. 

FINEMAN:  First of all, he‘s got to be careful not be a government of czars and commissions.  OK, they got a lot of czars that they‘re putting in the White House.  They set up a lot of commissions.  There‘s a reason that Congress exists, one would hope.  So he still has to deal with them. 

Yes, he‘s got to try again.  I think other things will not necessarily be as ideological as this first vote was.  It was a lot of spending, a lot of big government. 

MATTHEWS:  To win, we agree, he has to go bipartisan in a different way. 

FINEMAN:  Some of the other things like mortgage bail outs, and even bank regulations, some of these other things, they‘re not obviously so easily divided red, blue. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s where I question whether he will—

ROBINSON:  -- talking about nationalizing banks, so—

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘ll get any Republicans—back to your initial point, Gene.  Do you think he will count on any Republicans for really unpopular measures, where you have to do things like bank bail outs that are so unpopular? 

ROBINSON:  Yes, I think he might get some Republicans on things like bank bail outs and solving the housing crisis.  I do think it‘s less obviously partisan and ideological than the stimulus. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘re going to come back and talk the real fun stuff.  The candy‘s coming now.  Howard‘s going to come back and Eugene.  We‘re going to talk about why JFK, who passed away—he was shot, obviously, in 1963 is coming back in history.  Why is Eisenhower coming back?  I have a theory.  Why is Reagan doing well?  It‘s very interesting why these guys are doing—Bill Clinton is doing very well.  Howard Fineman and Gene Robinson will be the masters of the cloth ball when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Howard Fineman and Eugene Robinson for more of the politics fix.  Let‘s go to the history of the presidencies.  Let‘s go, in ranking them, to George W. Bush.  He was ranked 36th over all on this list, among 42, of course, presidents, because you have to count—what‘s his name—

FINEMAN:  Grover Cleveland.

MATTHEWS:  -- only gets counted once.  Here is, the best ranking was 24th on pursuing equal justice, 25th when it comes to crisis leadership.  That‘s out of 42.  But on moral authority, he is down to 35th.  Near last when it comes to—well, economic management, he‘s only, what—he‘s 40th.  On international relations, he‘s 41.  He‘s only ahead of William Henry Harrison, who got sick in the Inaugural Parade and never was able to get out of bed.  He is only—do you think—this has got to be—

I didn‘t like the war.  I haven‘t agreed with the war in Iraq.  I‘ve said it a million times.  But isn‘t this unfair liberal prejudice to make him 41 out of 42? 

ROBINSON:  If this is supposed to be non-partisan and everything.  The fact is presidents sometimes—look at the way Truman looked when he came out of office.  He would have ranked really low.  George W. Bush ranks lower than I think ultimately—

MATTHEWS:  But 30 some percent of this country agrees with the war in Iraq.  They think his foreign policy decisions did make sense.  

(CROSS TALK)

ROBINSON:  He‘s not going to climb to the top of the charts. 

FINEMAN:  When I saw this ranking, I went back and refreshed my recollection, as we say, about presidents like James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce and Millard Filmore, who are always at the bottom.  They‘re at the bottom because of slavery.  They‘re at the bottom because they refused to recognize the moral challenge of slavery and they punted on the run-up to the Civil War.  They did not challenge the South.  So there‘s a reason why they‘re at the bottom for weakness in the face of a grave moral question. 

Now, you have to be able to argue that George Bush is the same kind of weak character, who failed to address a great moral question like slavery.  I think George Bush was a terrible manager.  I think he had a fatal lack of curiosity.  I don‘t know that you can argue, necessarily—there‘s an argument to be made—that he failed to recognize a great moral challenge.  We were—we were attacked.  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  General Grant has come up well as president.  He‘s come up ten places.  I‘m a huge Grant believer, for the same reason you have.  Grant fought the Civil War because he believed in it.  He became much more concerned in believing in black equality.  He hated the end of Reconstruction.  He thought it should have continued until black men were given true freedom and opportunity in this country.  Grant looks better all the time. 

FINEMAN:  That‘s why he moved up ten places here, because we approve -

in this new Reconstruction, what some people are regarding now as a third Reconstruction—

ROBINSON:  Grant did what Churchill did, he wrote the book.  He wrote the history book. 

MATTHEWS:  Jack Kennedy said something really smart 30 years ago.  I read this.  He said, could it be that the radical Republicans after the war were the good guys?  I have rethought that over—I think Thadeus Stevens was the good guy.  I think these guys were the right guys, Chase and the rest, the ones who really wanted the Civil War to matter were the good guys.  Andrew Jackson was weak. 

FINEMAN:  It‘s appropriate in the age of Obama that these rankings are affected the way they are.  That‘s the point. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I agree.  I don‘t agree with Trent Lott.  We wouldn‘t have been better off with Andrew Johnson all these years.  Thank you—

Who‘s your favorite president? 

FINEMAN:  Well, my favorite has to be Kennedy, just because he fired my imagination for the business I‘m in.   

MATTHEWS:  Whose yours? 

ROBINSON:  FDR. 

MATTHEWS:  What made him special? 

ROBINSON:  His—the vigor and the—it‘s the fact that he—that he transformed the country.  He transformed the way the country thought of itself. 

FINEMAN:  In the memory of people we still know, in a sense in our time. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m moving more and more to FDR.  Thank you Howard Fineman.  Thank you Gene Robinson.  Right now it‘s time for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster.

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

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