updated 3/5/2009 2:41:23 PM ET 2009-03-05T19:41:23

Guest: Julia Boorstin, Michael Smerconish, Pat Buchanan, Lois Ramano, Jonathan Martin, Trent Lott, John Breaux, Jennifer Granholm

High: Governor Sebelius is likely to face a tough fight but be confirmed as HHS secretary.


Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: It‘s the economy, stupid.  Suddenly, with the clang of the dropping Dow, now headed down towards 6,000 points, the American political debate focuses on one issue and one issue only, the economic security of our country.  People have more to fear than fear itself.  They see the value of their prime asset, their home, dropping.  They see banks holding out, businesses rushing to the sideline.  They see themselves joining the race for cash.  And they know it‘s rational.  If the prices of everything are dropping, the best place to be is in cash.  Money held is money rising in value, so why not hold onto it?

So speaking of a rush to cash, how about the rush to Rush?  Suddenly, the man on the road, the man on the radio is the next voice you hear, the oracle waiting for you in your car, waiting for noon Eastern to tell you what‘s happening, who the bad guys are, what matters in the fight.  Rush Limbaugh says it‘s about money, about the rich betting—rich being punished with higher taxes, the poor benefiting from the Great Society programs that linger, Wall Street getting unfairly blamed for it all.  That‘s what he‘s selling, the old-time religion of capitalism.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  What is so strange about being honest and saying, I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation?  Why would I want that to succeed?


MATTHEWS:  That‘s it.  The more (ph) the White House is happy about this, they think it‘s great that he‘s the leader of the opposition, based on the reception his speech got, the one we just saw at the Conservative Political Action Conference this Saturday.

Here‘s President Obama‘s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, late this afternoon.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  And watching a few cable clips of Mr. Limbaugh‘s speech, his notion of presidential failure seemed to be quite popular in the room in which he spoke.


MATTHEWS:  Wow.  So is Rush the de facto leader of the Republican Party now?  It‘s what Rush wants and it‘s what some on the right seem to accept.  It‘s what the Obama people want.  Is it what the Republican voters really want?  That‘s our question tonight.

Plus, President Obama announced the second choice for Health and Human Services secretary today.  It‘s Kathleen Sebelius, the blue governor from ruby red Kansas.  She‘s a skilled politician, as we‘re going to hear on HARDBALL from her fellow governor, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan.

And what the hell‘s wrong with majority rule in America, this land of democracy?  We‘ve got the Electoral College to protect us from real democracy.  We‘ve got super-delegates to make sure the elected delegates we choose don‘t get carried away.  So why do we need a minority of senators able to keep the majority that we elect from doing what we want?  If the opposition wants to filibuster, let‘s bring in the cots.  Let‘s go to the mattresses.  That‘s what I say.  We‘re going to talk to two former senators, Trent Lott and John Breaux, about why we can‘t get what we want.

Also, what exactly did Defense Secretary Gates mean when he said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that President Obama was—hold your breath—

“more analytical” than his previous boss, former president Bush?  Did he mean more curious, more intellectual, more serious?  Just what was Gates getting at when he made that comparison?  That and more in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

But first: Who‘s the leader of the club that‘s made for you and me? 

MSNBC political analysts Pat Buchanan and Michael Smerconish are with us.  That was a joke, about the Mickey Mouse Club.  No harm intended.  People my age get it.


MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh has come back.  This guy is a bear out of the cage.


MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s bigger than everything.

BUCHANAN:  All right.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s—he is the leader of the right.  Is that right?

BUCHANAN:  I would say he‘s the principal loudest voice on the right, sure.

MATTHEWS:  Is he respected as the leader of the right?

BUCHANAN:  No.  I would—I mean, the leader of the conservative movement?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, yes.

BUCHANAN:  No, I don‘t think so.  I think there‘s a lot of leaders of the conservative movement.  Rush is a radio voice...

MATTHEWS:  How would you compare you with him?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think...

MATTHEWS:  Are you bigger or smaller than him?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, I think I‘m smaller than Rush right now.


BUCHANAN:  At one point, I was larger, I think.


BUCHANAN:  But look, what Gibbs and Rahm are doing is a clever political ploy, but it‘s almost ninth grade.  And to see Republicans and conservatives fall into it—they come out—they used to announce it‘s Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are the intellectual...


BUCHANAN:  ... leaders of the party.  And then all the reporters would say, Are they?  Are they?  And you just—I mean, the way they ought to answer it—Rush is a valued ally and a voice of conservative movements and Republican Party.  He deals on a certain level.  Magazines deal on another level.  Politicians deal on another level.

But the real leader of the conservative movement in the Republican Party, Chris, like 1965, when we were in the same shape...


BUCHANAN:  ... he will emerge from the campaign of 2010 either a big winner or the guy who carries the Nixon hod (ph) from ‘65.  And I think the three leaders, I would say, of potential are Palin, Romney and I would say Mike Huckabee at this point...

MATTHEWS:  So you consider Mitt Romney one of the conservatives?

BUCHANAN:  I think Mitt Romney has moved into the conservative movement.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think so.


MATTHEWS:  In fact, he came in number one in the voting down there in the CPAC convention.  Michael, I was so impressed that Mitt Romney came out on top on the right.  I want to ask you that question.  You‘re the man of the suburbs.  You represent that sort of purple state suburb of Pennsylvania.  You know where those voters are that really decide most elections and went with Barack last time, Barack Obama.  Are they open to Rush Limbaugh as their leader, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin?  Who‘s the boss?


Probably none of the above.  And I don‘t think that conservative and Republican are synonymous in this conversation.  I would say that Rush Limbaugh is the titular head of the conservative movement in the country, but he is not the Republican leader.

And Chris, the Republican Party, like the Democratic Party, exists for one reason, to win elections, not to be an ideologically-driven entity.  And I think that‘s the disconnect here.  And Rush is playing to a hard-core audience, but it‘s a relatively small audience that cannot win an election...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Say that if you...

BUCHANAN:  ... unless they have moderates and this alienates...

MATTHEWS:  Say that if you want to, but FDR was a liberal.  Ronald Reagan was a conservative.  Barack Obama is a liberal.  Sometimes people of strong belief win nominations and go on to win the election.

Here‘s Rush Limbaugh on Saturday.  Not every pragmatist wins.  Here he is on Saturday.


LIMBAUGH:  Sometimes I get livid and angry.  We do have an organizational problem.  We have a challenge.  We‘ve got factions now within our own movement seeking power to dominate it, and worst of all, to redefine it.  Well, the Constitution doesn‘t need to be redefined, conservative intellectuals.  The Declaration of Independence does not need to be redefined and neither does conservatism.  Conservatism is what it is, and it is forever!  It‘s not something you can bend and shape!


MATTHEWS:  There‘s that guy.  Is he dressing like Johnny Cash or what? 

I noticed the new style.

BUCHANAN:  Rush has put on...

MATTHEWS:  When you‘re a real celebrity, you wear the black shirts. 

Go ahead.

BUCHANAN:  Rush put on a lot of weight again, as you can see.  I think there he‘s talking about the neo-cons and the folks who—I believe, I‘m not sure—who sought to redefine conservatism (INAUDIBLE) big government...

MATTHEWS:  And he‘s against them.

BUCHANAN:  We got to drop all the social issues.


BUCHANAN:  We‘re all—we‘re out for this and that.  And I think he‘s a border security guy.  But I disagree with Rush on some areas, on the war, for example.  A lot of conservatives do.  And so there‘s a lot of houses in the conservative movement and in the Republican Party.  And the only thing that unites them is a great leader like Reagan who came in...


BUCHANAN:  ... and really united them all.

MATTHEWS:  Did you hear his speech on Saturday?

BUCHANAN:  I‘ve seen...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I listened to every word of it.  And Michael, what stunned me was this.  He didn‘t talk about the hawkish foreign policy of the Bush administration, the neo-conservative thing, whatever you want to call it.  He didn‘t talk about Iraq, Iran or any of that stuff.  He didn‘t talk about the Schiavo case or abortion or stem cell or any of those issues of cultural value to people.

He talked about the economy—We got to stop taxing the rich, we got to stop giving money to the poor and we got to stop blaming Wall Street.  It was a capitalist appeal, pure and simple.  And that struck me that that‘s where they think the votes are right now in this terribly damaged economy.  Michael?

SMERCONISH:  Well, but the way in which he goes about saying it, this whole semantic issue of, Do we want the president to succeed or do we want the president to fail I think is a losing argument.  Rush I think is in his correct venue to say, you know, This is a time for less government, less taxes and so forth.  That strikes a cord with me and a lot of other folks.

But Chris, this whole business about, We want the president to fail if this is what he represents—forget it.  Are you kidding me?  You showed today‘s Dow, which is down another 300.  People are getting crushed, their 401(k)s.  They‘re losing jobs.  And they don‘t want to hear anybody praying for failure of the president of the United States!

MATTHEWS:  Oh, so well said.

SMERCONISH:  I mean, my goodness...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s 6,768, by the way—everybody watching right now thought the floor was 8,000 points.  It‘s 6,768 and plunging 300 points again today.  You are so right.  If you hear somebody talking down the economy right now, they‘re ripping the hell out of your 401(k) until there‘s nothing left of it.

BUCHANAN:  You‘re right, Chris.  And I agree with Michael.  But this is also true.  The Republican Party and the conservative movement are going to be totally united against this $3.55 trillion budget, $1.75 trillion deficit.  That is a unifying force, quite frankly, because everybody believes that Barack has overloaded the circuits.  Where on Iraq, he‘s a center right figure, on the budget, he has come out of the closet as the most liberal Democratic senator.


BUCHANAN:  And they are going to war on this issue, and Rush...


BUCHANAN:  ... is on the right track if he focuses on this.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s—well, you answer this.  Here‘s Rahm Emanuel, who‘s a tough ramrod politically for the White House.  Here he is, basically picking the enemy, saying, We want it to be Rush Limbaugh.  Here he is designating who he enemy is, I believe, on CBS this Sunday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who do you think now speaks for the Republican Party?

RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  You just named him.  It was Rush Limbaugh.  I mean, he has laid out his vision, in my view, and he said it clearly, and I compliment him for that.  He‘s been very up front, and I compliment him for that because he‘s not hiding.  He‘s asked for President Obama and called for President Obama to fail.  That‘s his view.  And that‘s what he‘s enunciated.  And whenever a Republican criticizes him, they have to run back and apologize to him and say they were misunderstood.  He is the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party, and he has been up front of what he views and hasn‘t stepped back from that, which is he hopes for failure.


MATTHEWS:  This is Chicago politics.  This is where you pick the enemy as someone who‘s dysfunctional, who‘s not really a government executive, who‘s not capable of running anything, who‘s just a radio voice, so that you‘re the only game in town.  I think it‘s smart Chicago politics to say there‘s only one governing official and that‘s President Obama.  The other guy‘s just a talker on the radio.

Your thoughts, Michael, picking your enemy here, a non-government, non-political figure as your enemy.

SMERCONISH:  Well, I think it‘s a back-handed compliment.  I think what Emanuel is doing is trying to anoint someone as the leader of the opposition that he knows can‘t build sufficient bridges...


SMERCONISH:  ... to pose a threat in the mid-term election.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Pat, same thought.  Do you believe that?  He‘s picking somebody who can‘t run.


MATTHEWS:  Can‘t run anything, either.

BUCHANAN:  ... not only can‘t run, but he minimizes the opposition.  But I‘ll tell you, this is a ploy, and it‘s a good strategy and they‘re having a great time, Gibbs and Rahm are.  They‘re probably laughing their heads off right now.  But he is going to run into—I‘ll tell you who‘s also going to (INAUDIBLE) -- I don‘t—Chris, I don‘t think the president‘s going to get a single vote for that budget from any Republican in the House...


BUCHANAN:  ... And I think those three Republican senators may stand up and vote no on it, as well.  That is gigantic war coming...


BUCHANAN:  ... and the Rush Limbaugh thing...

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the leader of the Republican Party...

BUCHANAN:  ... is going to be yesterday.

MATTHEWS:  ... at least, the head of the party campaign committee—here‘s the chairman of the party, Michael Steele, on Saturday.


D.L. HUGHLEY, HOST, “D.L. HUGHLEY BREAKS THE NEWS”:  We don‘t need incendiary rhetoric.


HUGHLEY:  Like Rush Limbaugh, who the de facto leader of the Republican Party...

STEELE:  No, he‘s not.


HUGHLEY:  Well, I‘ll tell you what.  I‘ve never heard anybody...

STEELE:  I‘m the de facto leader of the Republican Party.

HUGHLEY:  Then you know...

STEELE:  Just put it in the context here.  Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer.  Rush Limbaugh—his whole thing is entertainment.

HUGHLEY:  He influences the Republican Party.

STEELE:  Yes, it‘s incendiary.  Yes, it‘s ugly...


MATTHEWS:  You know, he called him ugly.  You know, I have to tell you, that takes more nerve than—cojones, I might say, than any Republican has shown so far, Patrick.  No Republican has the nerve to go on against Rush Limbaugh.  Here he calls him an incendiary, he calls him an entertainer—nothing wrong with entertainer—but he calls it ugly, what he says on the air.

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think Rush Limbaugh is ugly.

MATTHEWS:  Why would he say that?  Why did Michael Steele say that?

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t—I don‘t know why—I think Michael Steele is a bright guy.  He‘s a good leader.  He‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why did he call him ugly?

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t know why he said that, Chris!  I think that was an extraordinary statement from the leader of the Republican Party to say something...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, here he is...

BUCHANAN:  ... about somebody who‘s been an ally of the party for years and years and years.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is responding.  Here‘s Rush Limbaugh today.


LIMBAUGH:  Michael Steele, you are head of the RNC.  You are not head of the Republican Party.  Tens of millions of conservatives and Republicans have nothing to do with the RNC, and right now, they want nothing to do with it.  And when you call them asking them for money, they hang up on you.

I hope that changes.  I hope the RNC will get its act together.  I hope the RNC chairman will realize he‘s not a talking head pundit, that he is supposed to be working on the grass roots and rebuilding it and maybe doing something about our open primary system and fixing it so that Democrats do not nominate the candidates!

It‘s time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do, instead of trying to be some talking head media star, which you‘re having a tough time pulling off.  I hope you figure out how to run a primary system.  But it seems to me that it‘s Michael Steele who is off to a shaky start.



MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you love the way he uses inflection, and he stretches out these words—Michael Stee-ele...


BUCHANAN:  I think Michael Steele is punching above his weight there!


MATTHEWS:  Michael Smerconish, radio star, this guy is the champ, isn‘t he, Rush Limbaugh, just in terms of performance value.  Entertainment may be the right word.  The guy knows how to—his righteous indignation is so good.

SMERCONISH:  Somehow, to call him an entertainer, a gifted entertainer, is now perceived as being derogatory.  I don‘t think so at all.

MATTHEWS:  Not by me.

SMERCONISH:  I think he‘s a gifted entertainer.  But listen, let me say this, Chris.  What you have here is a personality conflict between some of those that you‘ve just shown, but it masks a philosophical divide in the party.  You know what I want to hear?  I want to hear somebody respond to Rush by saying, You‘re right, the primaries are what we need to concentrate on, and we need to dilute the influence...


SMERCONISH:  ... of the conservatives in the Republican presidential nominating process because we are nominating people who can‘t get elected.  That‘s the issue.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, every party listens every once in a while.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Michael Smerconish.  I love this debate because it‘s about who speaks for who.

Coming up: President Obama says he‘s ready to fight.  The American people are behind him, he says.  So should the Democrats let the Republicans filibuster every damn thing that comes along?  Former senators Trent Lott and John Breaux are coming here in a minute.  I don‘t like this 60-vote requirement.  I like majority rule.  Let‘s see if they can defend this system.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  In passing President Obama‘s historic economic recovery bill, three Republican senators wound up holding the keys to its success.  But as the process was unfolding, many people asked, Why do Democrats need 60 votes?  Why can‘t they just force Republicans to filibuster if they disagree?  It‘s been years since we‘ve seen a good old drawn-out filibuster.  Perhaps the most well-known is Jimmy Stewart‘s portrayal of Senator Jefferson Smith‘s epic 23-hour filibuster in one of the great movies of all times, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”


JIMMY STEWART, “MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON”:  Just get up off the ground, that‘s all I ask, get up there with that lady that‘s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty!  Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something!  And you won‘t just see scenery.  You‘ll see the whole parade of what man‘s carved out for himself after centuries of fighting!


MATTHEWS:  That was the great Jean Arthur there, rooting for him.  Why aren‘t we seeing more filibusters now?  And what are the political perils of staging a real, live “bring out the cots,” “sleep (SIC) all night,” “keep talking” filibuster?  Two veterans of the United States Senate join me now.  From the world‘s greatest deliberative body, I bring you Trent Lott, the former leader of the Republican Party, and one of the great deal makers of all time, Senator John Breaux of Louisiana.

I want to go to you because I don‘t understand this.  It seems to me if somebody wants to make a fool of themself filibustering, it ought to be over something that really, really, really matters, a matter of principle.


MATTHEWS:  If it‘s just over how much to spend on the budget, keep

quiet.  So why did this whole debate begin where the leader of the Senate -

he‘s supposedly a tough guy, Harry Reid—immediately accepted the validity of a 60-vote requirement?  Why‘d he do that?  Why didn‘t he just say, I can‘t believe the Republicans would veto—would filibuster a bill that‘s so important to the country in an emergency?  Go ahead and make my day!  Why didn‘t he do that?

Why didn‘t he just say, I can‘t believe the Republicans would veto a -

would filibuster a bill that is so important to the country in an emergency; go ahead; make my day?

Why didn‘t he do that? 

LOTT:  You know, conservatives used to ask the same thing about me when I was a majority leader and we had a majority of Republicans in the Senate. 

It‘s easy to say.  It‘s very hard to do.  First of all, you can‘t make senators filibuster.  Secondly, right after I came in, I decided I was going to, you know, sort of show my macho, and I decided I was going to break a filibuster by one very capable senator, Ted Kennedy.  John Breaux remembers it, because we were on the same side of the issue against Ted. 

I started fighting him like on a Thursday, and it was the end of the session in 1996.  A week later, I got it done.  And he could have drug it out another week.

One determined, capable senator can...


MATTHEWS:  But why didn‘t you make Ted Kennedy, when he was really fit to do this...

LOTT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... make him stand there and talk around the clock? 


MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you do that? 

LOTT:  You cannot do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not? 

LOTT:  The rules are—there are so many different rules.

For one thing, all he had to do—what he did first, on Thursday night, he would have said, read the bill.  All stop.  The rules are, unless you get unanimous consent, you have to read the legislation. 

And I said, OK, read it.  And I went on down to the dining room and eating.  About two-and-a-half-hours later, he said, well, we will let that go.  There are so many procedural hurdles. 

Now, we‘re getting down in the weeds.  Here‘s the point.  Every now and then, I think a majority leader should show that, if it‘s really important to the country, I will break a filibuster.  I will take however much time it takes.

But you need most of the time to try to find a way to get agreement, get things done. 

MATTHEWS:  I have got to tell you, the public is going to—you know, I—I haven‘t seen the Senate—excuse me—do a whole lot in 35, 40 years. 

You did voting rights.  You did civil rights.  And people can remember those.  Now, maybe somebody—one of the producers made the exception.  Yes, you did—you did welfare reform.  That was an important bill. 

But, generally, if you need 60, it means you get nothing done. 

Well, Senator, you were in the middle politically.  Wouldn‘t we do better with majority rule?  Look, we don‘t have free elections—nominations.  We have something called superdelegates, one of the biggest jokes in history, because we don‘t trust elected delegates. 

We have the Electoral College, because you don‘t trust popular vote.  And now we have got a 60-vote requirement in the Senate because we don‘t trust majority rule in the United States Senate.

When are we going to trust and say, OK, now it is time to let the majority rule, so we can get health care, we can get energy, we can get a better education system? 

We‘re not getting anything done this year, probably, because of the 60-vote rule.  That‘s my bet, in the end.  My bet, in the end, is, the system will bring down Obama, not the Republicans, the system.

JOHN BREAUX (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Well, Chris, the rules say that it takes 60 votes to stop a filibuster.

MATTHEWS:  Change the rules.  Change the rule. 

BREAUX:  Wait a minute.  It says 60 votes to stop a filibuster.

It doesn‘t say it takes 60 votes to stop the threat of a filibuster.  What is happening now is, just the threat of a filibuster, and just having some members say, we‘re not going to vote it, make them show they‘re not going to vote for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

BREAUX:  Make them get on the floor.  Make them give a speech, so the public can see why they‘re opposing health care or whatever.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why didn‘t Harry Reid do that?  Why didn‘t Harry Reid do that?  Bring in the cots.  Stay all night. 

BREAUX:  Make them stand on the floor. 

MATTHEWS:  And then you know what the media would do?  The media would go nuts. 

They would say, we have a chance to do something about this falling economy right now.  And, right now, we would doing a show called the Dow is down to almost 6000, and the Republicans are still on the floor talking? 

You guys would be dead. 

BREAUX:  Make them talk.

LOTT:  Well, first of all...

MATTHEWS:  You would be dead right now. 

LOTT:  You know when the last time we had an occurrence like that, where you actually had a filibuster overnight? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

LOTT:  It was over a filibustering federal judges, judicial nominations. 


LOTT:  Frist, the majority leader at the time...


LOTT:  ... in 2006, made that happen.  They went all night.  The next morning, you know, a couple of Democrats were around.  Nothing happened. 

MATTHEWS:  Here are the cots.  We have got the pictures. 


LOTT:  But here‘s the other side of it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is wrong with that? 

LOTT:  Look, when you—now we have the—the White House, the House, and the Senate all under the same control. 

The last vestige to make sure that things are carefully considered, thoroughly considered, is the Senate.  And, so...


MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You have got three Eastern Republicans scared for their lives, and they voted with you, I mean voted with the Democrats.  So what?


MATTHEWS:  What did that accomplish? 

LOTT:  They got 60 votes.

MATTHEWS:  What did it accomplish? 

BREAUX:  The problem is, they‘re not even filibustering.  It‘s just saying, we may filibuster. 

I say, call their bluff, say, all right, if you‘re going to filibuster, get on the floor and do it. 


MATTHEWS:  You mentioned judges.  The most controversial judge we have had, besides Bork, who was Borked, was Clarence Thomas, right?

You know, he got 52 votes?  He didn‘t get 60. 

LOTT:  Right. 


MATTHEWS:  Why would are we making it tough every year? 

LOTT:  Well, because the Democrats did not insist that he get 60 votes. 

BREAUX:  They should. 


LOTT:  Like—like was...


LOTT:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Now you‘re switching. 


BREAUX:  No, no.  I‘m saying, look, make them filibuster.  If they are going to filibuster or threaten it, they have to get out and speak...


MATTHEWS:  We have the world‘s greatest democracy, but it‘s not a

democracy, because we have all these obstacles to majority rule.  And what

they‘re going to do—I can see this happening between now and Christmas -

we‘re not going to get anything done.  Everybody is going to sit around and complain.

BREAUX:  I think you are wrong. 


MATTHEWS:  Oh, we got 58.  We may get 59.  Al Franken is finally here. 


LOTT:  The Republicans cannot filibuster every issue.  They are going to have to pick and choose. 

There will be some issues where they will lay down the gauntlet and they will filibuster.  They have to. 


LOTT:  But, like, on education, I don‘t know.  Are Republicans really going to go to the mat and filibuster an education bill? 

BREAUX:  No.  They just say they will.  They don‘t have to do it.


MATTHEWS:  See?  See?  It‘s the threat of the 60 that has ruined this thing. 

BREAUX:  That‘s right. 


MATTHEWS:  We have nothing to fear but fear itself. 

LOTT:  You know what the—you know what the one thing the majority leader of the Senate does not have?


LOTT:  Time. 


BREAUX:  Well, if they want to waste the time filibustering, I think you will show them what are for what they...


MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you, the modern media like speed and action. 

LOTT:  Yes.  They like—they like...


MATTHEWS:  They like action. 


MATTHEWS:  They don‘t like a bunch of guys standing there reading the Bible.  You are out on the floor reading the New Testament for four or five hours, they will know who the good guys are. 

BREAUX:  Yes. 


LOTT:  And, by the way, if you don‘t have these delays, you wind up with a stimulus bill which nobody read, nobody knew what was in it.  It raises spending.  It‘s going to raise taxes.  It‘s going to wind up cutting defense. 

This is good? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is better than what your crowd left us with. 

Anyway, thank you, Trent Lott.

Thank you, John Breaux. 

We got a Dow dropping down to 6000, based on the economic policies of the last eight years.  I wouldn‘t brag.

Up next—with great respect, sir. 

LOTT:  Yes. 


LOTT:  You didn‘t hear me bragging.

MATTHEWS:  Karl Rove offers a defense for one of the dark spots of the Bush administration, the response to Hurricane Katrina.  Karl Rove can defend anything.  The “Sideshow” is coming next to prove it. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.  



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

First up, B-Rod‘s book deal—The associated Press reports today that disgraced ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois has signed a six-figure deal to write about the topic that led to his ouster, replacing Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

The book‘s publisher says Blagojevich won‘t pull any punches and will

reveal new information that will—quote—“be embarrassing to himself” -

closed quote. 

I‘m sure he will have plenty of material to work with.  Look for the book in October. 

Next:  What‘s in a name?  Here‘s Republican Bobby Jindal explaining to CBS‘ Morley Safer on “60 Minutes” how he came to be known as Bobby. 


MORLEY SAFER, CBS NEWS:  When you were a boy, you were named Piyush, correct? 


SAFER:  Where does Bobby come from? 

JINDAL:  Every day after school, I would come home, and I would watch “The Brady Bunch.”  And I identified with Bobby.  You know, he was about my age.

And Bobby stuck. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, good for him.  This country was built by people who came here and made a life for themselves, many of them, from Benjamin Kubelsky, who became Jack Benny, and Archibald Leach, who became Cary Grant, who changing their names.  I‘m with him on that one. 

Next up:  Let the rewriting begin.  Yesterday, at a taped segment in ABC News‘ green room, Karl Rove defended perhaps the most indefensible of Bush administration fiascoes—that‘s if you‘re not counting the case they made for the war with Iraq—Hurricane Katrina. 

Here he is, alongside pollster Stan Greenberg and “The Nation” magazine‘s Katrina Vanden Heuvel. 


KARL ROVE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  With all due respect, the federal government‘s responsibilities were met under Katrina, which were to provide the immediate assistance to pluck people off of the roofs. 

The people in charge of calling the evacuations are the state and local official, who didn‘t.  The people that were in charge...


STANLEY GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER:  The voters have made their judgment, change, after Katrina.


ROVE:  Knowing what the reality of the situation is, it may be—may be fine.  The policy-makers set the laws in a certain way.  And then the policy-describers, the scribblers, observers and commentators, ignored what the law did, and ascribed the problems of the locals to the federal government.


MATTHEWS:  And where, Karl, was it written in the federal policy, as you put it, that the president of the United States should be so unaware of what was happening in the country that some staffer had to pull together a DVD of news reports to let him know the horror story he had managed to miss, that of a major American city under water?

Time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Say this for—say this for Illinois state politics; it‘s anything but routine.  Consider the special election to fill Rahm Emanuel‘s vacant House seat.  With no endorsement from either the Democratic Party or his honor, the Mayor, Richie Daley, the race has become open season for politics hopefuls.

According to “The Wall Street Journal,” how many candidates are vying for Rahm Emanuel‘s seat in tomorrow‘s special primaries?  Twenty-three candidates.  That includes six Republicans, five Green Party members, and 12 Democrats -- 23 candidates in the mix for one House seat, that of Rahm Emanuel—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next:  President Obama picks Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be health and human services secretary.  Can Obama and Sebelius get universal health care done this year?  And can Sebelius weather the criticism from anti-abortion activists coming her way?

More on both of those fights coming next here on HARDBALL.

You‘re watching it, only on MSNBC. 


JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Another major sell-off, with the Dow closing 7000 for the first time since May 1, 1997.  The Dow plunged 299 points, finishing at 6763.  The S&P 500 fell 34 points, finishing just above 700, its lowest close since 1996.  And the Nasdaq dropped almost 55 points, but managed to stay above its closing low from last November. 

The sell-off came after troubled insurance giant AIG reported the largest quarterly loss in the U.S. corporate history, $61.7 billion.  The government also agreed to give AIG another $30 billion in taxpayer bailout money. 

The government has already provided the company with $150 billion. 

And with little to suggest energy demand will recover as the global economy deteriorates, oil prices plunged.  Crude fell $4.61, closing at $40.15 a barrel.

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Obama has nominated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be his health and human services secretary today.  Governor Sebelius, a two-term Democratic governor in a Republican state, has never lost an election.  Prior to serving as governor, she worked as the state‘s and was elected as the state‘s insurance commissioner for eight years. 

She was an early supporter of President Obama‘s campaign, endorsing him a week before Super Tuesday.  She was considered at the time a dark horse for vice president alongside President Obama.  The daughter of a former Democratic governor of Ohio and the daughter-in-law of a former Republican congressman, Governor Sebelius is considered skilled at working across the aisle.

But when it comes to health care policy, her efforts has largely been met with frustration.  She failed to persuade state lawmakers to raise tobacco taxes for an expansions of health care coverage in the state.  And she lost this fight for statewide indoor smoking. 

Governor Sebelius is a Roman Catholic, also known for clashing with abortion opponents in her state.  She is a staunch supporter of abortion rights and has drawn fire from abortion—anti-abortion activists out in Kansas. 

So, can she lead.  Can she get the president‘s campaign for health care to succeed this year? 

Governor Jennifer Granholm is with us right now.  She is the Democratic governor of Michigan. 

Governor Granholm, this is one of the toughest fights.  Harry Truman couldn‘t do it.  Ted Kennedy couldn‘t do it all these years.  Senator Clinton couldn‘t—Hillary Clinton couldn‘t do it.  And she worked the hardest to do it. 

How can Kathleen Sebelius win on health care, universal coverage? 

GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), MICHIGAN:  Chris, the stars are aligned. 

And, if anybody can do it, she can. 

She was named one of the most effective governors in the country by “TIME” magazine.  She has—she is known for reaching across the aisle.  You know, you talked about her bipartisan experience.  She has appointed Republicans to run with her as lieutenant governors for her two terms.  So, she knows the importance of reaching across the aisle.

But she also knows that this year is the year where the Chamber of Commerce and labor organizations and health care and everyday citizens are demanding that this be a part of our economic recovery.  So, I‘m excited to see that they have bought—that he has selected somebody who‘s so effective to be able to lead this. 

MATTHEWS:  We have heard the liberal case for health care:  People who work hard and catch the bus in the morning and work every day don‘t get health care.  I‘m with them. 

There‘s another case.  It‘s the business case.  Tell us about the auto industry.  I have heard this argument.  You are the expert.  How much does it cost for each American-made car, in terms of health care, that we‘re paying right now? 

GRANHOLM:  It‘s between $1,200 and $1,500 in every vehicle. 

And, Chris, I can tell you that, last year, for the first time, more cars were built in Ontario than in Michigan—Ontario.  And, believe me, those automakers were not going there because of taxes.  They weren‘t going there because of regulation.  They were going there because of health care. 

This has become not just a moral issue.  The moral issue is very important.  But it‘s become an economic issue.  And this is why the national Chamber of Commerce is all over this. 

We had the head of Wal-Mart come talk to the National Governors Association, Lee Scott, and say, we need a uniquely American solution to the cost of health care, because it is driving us underground.  It is making the cost of doing business in this country too competitive, when you compare with what other countries are able to provide to their companies. 

MATTHEWS:  Why will it be cheaper for health care per worker per car produced if it is done through a national system, rather than through a UAW contract? 

GRANHOLM:  I think it is—what it is going to be is a shared responsibility.  You are going to have personal responsibility, but you‘re also going to see more investment in primary care and in prevention, in health care IT, which will drive the cost of health care down.  There will be a shared responsibility. 

So individuals may have to contribute, depending on their income level.  You will see business contribute and government contribute.  It won‘t just be a single payer system, probably, although certainly they‘re going to go around the country and listen to what people have to say.  But the bottom line is we need a uniquely American solution and I think Kathleen Sebelius is the perfect choice to make that happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk turkey here, let‘s talk politics.  You had

Tom Daschle was knocked out because of a tax embarrassment, a big one, over six figures.  And now you‘ve got Kathleen Sebelius.  Her dad was governor of Ohio.  I know her a bit socially, very little.  I know that her father-in-law‘s a Congressman.  She‘s a pol. 

What do you know about her as a politician that would suggest she knows how to get this thing jammed down by—well, in some reasonable amount of time? 

GRANHOLM:  Well, she certainly knows that you need to listen to people and you need to understand how important it is to include all perspectives, that you are not going to get everything you want.  And she has been an expert at that in Kansas.  Certainly, she hasn‘t gotten everything she has wanted as a Democratic governor with a Republican—in a Republican state.  But she‘s gotten an awful lot done and that is why she has so much respect. 

She knows this area.  She knows health care.  She came as the insurance commissioner.  And she certainly will have the backing of the president, which is obviously very important.  She‘s got a lot of respect among governors.  And the governors want to be partners in making this happen.  The National Governors Association has already appointed a bipartisan task force of Democrats and Republicans to help inform and work with the Obama administration on shaping this health care policy.

So I think that, if ever before, especially because of the crisis, this is the time to get it done.  And I think she is really the one to bring it on. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Governor Jennifer Granholm, in today, pushing the case for Governor Kathleen Sebelius for HHS secretary.  That is going to be one hot set of hearings up there on Capitol Hill. 

Anyway, big story, sad story tonight; Paul Harvey left us over the weekend.  I think I know a little bit about what it was like for him to be who he was, but a very little bit.  This American guy was more than an institution.  He was a reliable friend to so many millions of his fellow citizens.  He was like that geyser, Old Faithful, always there.  His distinctive old-style voice reliable always to the listeners and to his country. 

He was an independent conservative, who broke with President Nixon over the Vietnam War.  “Mr. President, I love you, but you‘re wrong,” he told his friend.  We love our institutions because they keep coming around like college football and the fall, like Thanksgiving, like the Fourth of July, and Paul Harvey.  And now we have one less. 


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix, with “the Washington Post‘s” Lois Ramano, and “The Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin.  I am stunned.  Here is Rush Limbaugh, more of Rush Limbaugh on the radio today.  He is hot. 


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Sad to say, but I am the most prominent voice for conservatism in America today.  I don‘t mind being a prominent voice, but it‘s a shame that my political party wants to throw it overboard. 

So many people who campaigned for office and got elected on it are now wimping out in our party, out of fear, fear born of mainstream media criticism, fear born of not being critical of somebody because of the color of their skin, or just plain fear for whatever reason. 


MATTHEWS:  God, he does righteousness indignation better than anyone I have ever met.  Lois, he‘s so good at being upset at what seems to be the unfair attacks on him. 

LOIS RAMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Right, but he has had the same schtick now for 20 years. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you know how rich he is? 

RAMANO:  Well, I mean. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s working.

RAMANO:  Is it?  I don‘t know—

MATTHEWS:  He said he has 20 million listeners.  I think he probably has a lot.  I‘m just guessing. 

RAMANO:  Michael Steele is taking a chance at—

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t he ugly?  Called him ugly. 

RAMANO:  He‘s maybe taking a chance that maybe these listeners don‘t want to hear the incendiary right now. 

MATTHEWS:  I think Pat Buchanan called him fat earlier on the show. 

This guy calls him ugly.  They‘re getting rough. 

JONATHAN MARTIN, “THE POLITICO”:  I love the crocodile tears that Limbaugh is shedding.  I hate to be dragged into this.  I‘m not sure that Steele‘s comments were somehow intentional or well thought out.  I think this may have just been a sort of off message appearance. 

RAMANO:  Oh, come on.  Oh, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to join the apology tour? 

RAMANO:  He knew exactly what he was saying. 

MARTIN:  We‘ll see tomorrow at noon.

MATTHEWS:  I wouldn‘t be surprised if he joins the apology tour.  They all seem to.  These Republicans are scared to death of this guy. 

MARTIN:  How many phone calls, Chris, will the RNC get tonight or tomorrow morning?

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s why I think he is smart.  I‘m not a Rush Limbaugh guy.  I am not a ditto head.  I don‘t think anybody should ever be a ditto head to anybody else, by the way.  You should think for yourself, which I‘m not sure Rush believes in.  Here‘s the question, isn‘t he right?  He‘s not talking the war anymore.  You never hear him say Iraq or Afghanistan.  You never hear him say abortion or stem cell.  All the old cultural and foreign policy arguments are gone.

What he‘s focusing on now—I‘m talking like Rush—he‘s talking about higher taxes.  And taxes cut at the heart of that traveling salesman out there that‘s listening in the car.  That guy hates the idea of pushing this progressivity, higher taxes—I mean, higher income, screw the rich.  He hates that stuff and Limbaugh‘s playing that. 

MARTIN:  It‘s conservative bread and butter.  They‘re going to take away more of my money to give it to somebody else.  If you‘re a Republican, that‘s sort of the central tenet of your party.  

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re a traveling salesman, you don‘t want to hear this. 


MATTHEWS:  You got to believe in making more money. 

RAMANO:  I think—I think the American people have to trust somebody.  And the question is—Rush is gambling that‘s going to be him, that he‘s going to pound this message.  Obviously, the Obama administration believes it‘s them. 

And I have to say, I think it‘s going to be the Obama administration in the end, because—at least right now.  In the short term, I think it‘s going to be the administration.  In the long term, it might be Rush and he‘s going to hit the point home. 

Right now, I think people want to hear we‘re moving forward, trust me a little longer; I‘m going to get this done. 

MATTHEWS:  One reason why, what somebody said a while ago, Michael Smerconish on this show: we had a Dow that we thought couldn‘t get below 10,000.  Now it‘s below 8,000.  Today it‘s below 7,000.  People‘s 401(k)s, people‘s hopes, their desire to retire one day, their tuition costs, 67, 68 today and dropping by 300 points a day.  That reflects the value of your house is going down.  The value of everything you own is going down.  The only thing of value right now, increasingly of value now, is cash.  Don‘t spend. 

If you attack the economy, if you attack Barack Obama, you may be accused of bringing down the economy. 

RAMANO:  Right, exactly.  People don‘t want to have split loyalties right now.  Now, where Rush always does well is he stays on this message for the next nine months, and if Obama doesn‘t turn stuff around and we don‘t start seeing uptick in the Dow, then finally people are going to say, well, maybe that guy‘s got a point. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s jumping up and down. 

MARTIN:  He should be happy.  Look, he‘s—he‘s right now on the center stage, Chris.  There‘s a reason why Democrats—

RAMANO:  Again. 

MARTIN:  There‘s a reason why Democrats in Washington are trying to tie Rush Limbaugh to the GOP, making him the face of the GOP. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the mutual interest in making him the hero? 

MARTIN:  More Limbaugh, more listeners, more buzz.  It‘s only upside.  For Democrats, it‘s trying to sort of—this Back to the Future strategy, trying to make the GOP the sort of angry white male party again, sort of this retro attempt to bring back folks like Newt and to try and portray them as the party of angry folks who want their president to fail, at a time when most folks in this country are rooting for President Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they also smart enough to believe that it‘s smarter for them to present themselves as the only governing office in the field, that the opposition is not another governing party.  It‘s a bunch of talkers on the radio.  You don‘t have a choice of who to elect.  You only have a choice of whether to root for the current guy or root against him. 

MARTIN:  Right, exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the only choice you have. 

RAMANO:  It‘s Obama saying, I have the legitimacy now; let me run with it a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back with more of this.  I want to talk about this thing with Secretary Gates, the new guy—he‘s still the old guy too.  He was former secretary of defense, now current secretary of defense, comparing basically the I.Q. of the two presidents he has worked for.  He uses different language.  He calls it their analytical ability.  I think that‘s called IQ.  We‘ll be right back with Lois Ramano and Jonathan Martin.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Lois Romano and Jonathan Martin with a real Sugar Plum for you.  Here‘s Defense Secretary Robert Gates on “Meet the Press.”


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  It‘s really hard to say.  I think that—I think that probably President Obama is somewhat more analytical.  And he makes sure he hears from everybody in the room on an issue.  And if they don‘t speak up, he calls on them. 

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  A marked difference from his predecessor? 

GATES:  Yes.  President Bush was interested in hearing different points of view, but didn‘t go out of his way to make sure everybody spoke if they hadn‘t spoken up before. 


MATTHEWS:  You can see that David Gregory knew he had struck gold right there.  I saw my colleague‘s face light up with that funny look.  He knew he had the guy—

RAMANO:  Body language—

MATTHEWS:  First, David certainly knew what he had there, which was a live one.  Here—here is Robert Gates, inherited from George W. Bush, saying that the new guy on the block is more analytical.  That is a nice way of saying more curious, more serious, dare I say it. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you think of—former President Bush is down in Crawford, putting back the near beers or whatever he is doing down there.  I‘m with him on.  Trying to relax.  Here‘s his secretary of defense is jabbing him. 

RAMANO:  Tired of writing those executive summaries.  That‘s all he had to do was executive summaries. 

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, what do you make of this?  Amazing, he trimmed, as we say in politics.  He trimmed the guy.   

MARTIN:  President Bush probably isn‘t that surprised, given his experience for eight year.  Look, it‘s a fascinating thing to watch.  It says a lot about who his current boss is and who his old boss was. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he that fashionable that he‘s that transparently—this is transactional politics at its worse.  You like the new guy because he‘s smarter than the old guy, because you say he‘s more analytical. 

MARTIN:  Let‘s give Gates benefit of the doubt. 


RAMANO:  No, I think he was trying to send a message, too, that I‘m a good soldier. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to something really tough.  Kathleen Sebelius, a very likable, very impressive—when I think of the woman who becomes the governor in “Mr. Holland‘s Opus,” remember, the one that comes back, who becomes the governor, the woman governor—she looks like her, in fact.  Is she going to get through the terrorism of the anti-abortion people? 

RAMANO:  Yes.  I think she‘s going to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean verbal terrorism. 

RAMANO:  Yes, she‘ll get through that. 

MARTIN:  I think she will for one important reason.  Sam Brownback, her hometown senator, an ardent Catholic, pro-lifer, Chris, has said kind things about her, signalling that he will not stand in her way.  So if that‘s any sort of indication, I think that bodes well for Sebelius.

MATTHEWS:  But are we going to have days and days of hearings about what she did about this guy who was a late term abortion doctor? 

RAMANO:  I‘m sure it will come up. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you.  I want you to be analytical, here, Jonathan, you too.  Why did they allow this fight to come?  They know it‘s coming.  Why did the Obama people say, we‘re willing to take on the fight? 

MARTIN:  She was an early supporter of the president, a loyal supporter, someone I think he thought about for vice president.  They wanted to get her in the administration.  She has—This is a pretty plum gig.  She took it.  They wanted to give it to one of their allies, after Tom Daschle withdrew, someone they can trust. 

RAMANO:  Because abortion is not on the front burner now, and they know it.  The opposition can yell all they want, but people care about the economy.  When times are this bad, they don‘t care about—

MATTHEWS:  What‘s on the front burner right now is not Iraq, not Afghanistan, not abortion.  It‘s the failure of the American economy, which is happening in front of us.  There‘s nothing else to talk about. 

MARTIN:  For her, on that topic, health care. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Lois Ramano, my friend.  Thank you, Jonathan, increasingly my friend.  Join us again tomorrow night 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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