updated 4/2/2009 11:54:26 AM ET 2009-04-02T15:54:26

Guest: Richard Engel, Charlie Cook, Pat Buchanan, Harold Ford Jr., Toby Harnden, Ron Brownstein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Barack plays the palace.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Barack rocks in Britain.  Bustling through history, our president held a joint news conference today with British prime minister Gordon Brown.  He then met and planned visits with President Medvedev of Russia and President Hu of China.  He kept things locally (ph) cool (ph) over in Britain by meeting with David Cameron, of Britain‘s Conservative Party.  Then with first lady Michelle, he got an introduction to the queen of England.  Later, a grand reception for the all-important G-20 leaders, topped off by a working dinner tonight.

It was almost as exciting—I‘m kidding here for April Fool‘s—as what Obama was doing a year ago, answering questions from the students of Westchester University and me at the HARDBALL “College Tour.”  What a year a difference makes—or what a difference a year makes.

Anyway, not everyone was cool with today‘s excitement, as you can see from those pictures.  Outside the buildings, protesters decried corporate greed.  They clashed with riot police and stormed the Royal Bank of Scotland, a big symbol of Britain‘s banking crisis.

Early this morning, the president stood side by side with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and answered some tough questions, like whether our U.S. economic leadership in the world is being challenged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think that there is no doubt that at a time when the world is fearful that there is a strong tendency to look for somebody to blame.  And I think that given our prominence in the world financial system, it‘s natural that questions are asked, some of them very legitimate, about how we have participated in global financial markets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to talk to Richard Engel, who‘s in London, also a top British journalist, about the hurdles this president, our president, faces as the world places much of the blame of the global economic crisis here in the U.S.

Also, not since, as President Kennedy famously put it, he accompanied his wife, Jackie, to Paris, has there been so much European intrigue about an American first lady as there is right now tonight on the continent over Michelle Obama.  Will she help the president be the leader that the world needs?

And too close to call.  The congressional election up in New York state was supposed to be a big win for Republican national chairman Michael Steele and a big comeback for his party.  Guess what?  With thousands of absentee ballots yet to be counted, the Democrat leads by 65 votes.  Will his lead hold?  Well, that‘s the big question.

A loss would be a huge blow to the Republican Party‘s comeback hopes, but Chairman Steele seems to be happy, saying, Don‘t worry, just be happy.  He says his fellow Republicans need to be more like him, quote, “unconventional, unpredictable, and to do from time to time the unexpected.”  That‘s all in quotes, by the way.  That and more in the “Politics Fix.”

And the president clearly knows his NCAA brackets, but he‘s keeping cool on soccer.  Watch him on the World Cup tonight.  That‘s in the HARDBALL “SIDESHOW.”

But first we begin with the president‘s whirlwind day in London.  Toby Harnden is U.S. editor of “The Daily Telegraph” and Richard Engel is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, who just won a Peabody Award for his reporting from Afghanistan.  And that‘s about as good as it gets in journalism.  They both join us from London.

I want to start with Toby first, Toby Harnden.  Thank you, Toby, for joining us.  Well, take a look with us, Toby—we‘ll watch Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, first of all, then we‘re going to run through some of the meetings and comments made by these world leaders in their meetings with our president.  First of all, the PM in London.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  President Obama, you have given renewed hope not only to the citizens of the United States of America but to all citizens in all parts of the world.

President Obama and I are agreed about the significance of this week‘s G-20 meeting, that the world is coming together to act in the face of unprecedented global financial times.  We have some tough negotiations ahead.  It will not be easy.  But I know from my talks this week and from my discussions with President Obama today that the world does want to come together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president of Russia was equally supportive.  He said, “I can only agree that the relations between our countries have been adrift over the past years, as President Obama just said.  They were drifting and drifting in some wrong directions.  They were degrading to some extent.”  So here he is, the president of Russia, joining the prime minister of Britain.  We also have China‘s President Hu, who said, quote, “The Chinese side is willing to work together with the U.S. side to secure even greater progress in the development of the China-U.S. relationship.  And I‘m willing”—this is the president of China talking—“to establish a good working relationship and personal friendship with President Obama.”

First to Toby, and then to Richard.  It looks to me like these guys want to be friends with our new president and they like his message of hope, Toby.

TOBY HARNDEN, “DAILY TELEGRAPH”:  Yes, that‘s certainly right, Chris.  I mean, if you look at Gordon Brown, this is a man who‘s really struggling in the opinion polls here in Britain.  He‘s facing an election next year.  He‘s more than 10 points behind.  And he‘s hoping, if you like, that a little bit of the Barack Obama stardust will wear off.  And there were very warm words from Gordon Brown to President Obama, as we saw, but even warmer, if you like, in return from President Obama.

He talked about the prime minister‘s integrity.  He gave him a little bit of political advice, saying that good policy is good politics.  And he was effusive about the queen, and he even made a little joke about soccer, calling it “football,” which is correct.  You know, he showed that he was ever the diplomat.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s not correct over here.  It‘s correct over there. 

But what did you make of the fact...

HARNDEN:  Exactly, but he was over there.

MATTHEWS:  ... he called him Gordon—eight times, he referred to the PM, his new friend, as Gordon, sort of ladling on that personal love?

HARNDEN:  Yes, and that‘s something we didn‘t see when Gordon Brown was in Washington recently.  And that was a visit where the mood music wasn‘t kind of quite right.  There was lots of hilarity back here in Britain about the DVD gift.  Some of that was a bit of froth, but they didn‘t seem to have much of a degree of personal chemistry.

But today, the two men were much more relaxed in each other‘s company.  I think President Obama was sort of laying on the charm, rather than the cool, as he did when Brown was in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Well, here he is, laying on the charm, our president to your prime minister over there.  Here he is, President Obama doing the job of diplomacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  There‘s one last thing that I should mention that I love about great Britain, and that is the queen.  And so I‘m very much looking forward to...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  I‘m very much looking forward to meeting her for the first time later this evening.  And as you might imagine, Michelle has been really thinking that through...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  ... because, you know, I think in the imagination of people throughout America, I think what the queen stands for and her decency and her civility, what she represents, that‘s very important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they were meeting, obviously, in a flag factory there.  Richard Engel, thank you for joining us.  That was a gushing commentary from our president, certainly non-controversial, saying how much he like the queen of England, not exactly a big issue in our country.  Let me ask you, how is he doing over there in regard to these meetings?  Apparently, he‘s going to meet with—in July, he‘s going to Russia.  He‘s going to China in the fall.  He‘s setting up a lot of world diplomacy all in one day.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Certainly, this is the start of a major diplomatic push, even just over the next several days, going on to Turkey and the NATO summit.

I spent today on the streets ever London.  I was in those demonstrations—not taking part, covering them—that were in London‘s equivalent of Wall Street.  And what was very interesting is that although this was an anti-capitalist demonstration—people were angry about corporate greed and there were some scuffles, smashing up the Royal Bank‘s of Scotland, some of their windows—it was not an anti-American sentiment in any way.  There were no American flags burned.  It was targeted primarily at British bankers.

And I think had this been a—even a few months ago or a year ago, we certainly would have seen other kind of effigies being burned.  And I spoke to one of the anarchist leaders and he was actually—which is not something you‘d expect from an anarchist leader.  You‘d expect him to hate almost everything.  He was welcoming Obama‘s trip here and hoping that this could be a new start of relations.  And that‘s even from a fringe community.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Richard, you‘ve covered a lot of dangerous spots.  And by the way, congratulations on winning a Peabody Award, the highest award in broadcast news journalism.  Congratulations on that, buddy.  And you show a lot of guts.

ENGEL:  Oh, thank you very much.

MATTHEWS:  This riot today in Britain, I mean, there was...

ENGEL:  This was not a riot.

MATTHEWS:  ... one guy who painted the blood on his face with some fraudulent material.  It was kind of a piss-ant event, compared to the dangerous spots you‘ve been in, I think.  What do you make of it?

ENGEL:  This was not a riot.  This was a symbolic action.  There were a few scuffles, but generally, most of the people there were having a good time.  There was a lot of people drinking beer.  There were some people dancing.  The people—the young people who were wearing face masks, afterwards—there was a Starbucks around the corner that was open the entire time with people sitting outside and drinking coffee.

(LAUGHTER)

ENGEL:  So it may have looked rough and tough, but this was a cappuccino crowd of anarchists.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Toby.  What do you make of the crowd out there?  I thought they were buttoned-down for a dangerous group of anarchists today.

HARNDEN:  Yes, I saw some funny stuff on Twitter about people getting on the tube at Hampstead, which is very well-to-do part of London, and going down to the protest.  And I think one of the interesting things is the people at the protest included kind of upper-middle-class types in jackets and ties, who maybe wouldn‘t be part of the anti-capitalism crowd normally.  But they are generally very angry at the economic crisis and they do blame principally the British government.

But I think what‘s going to happen in time is the Obama honeymoon is going to end, just as it‘s going to end in the United States, it‘s going to end around the world.  And there was a Republican congressman I was speaking to the other day said, you know, You got to remember that Barack Obama isn‘t a European in drag.  He‘s the president that you wanted, but he is the American president and he is going to stand up for American interests.  And there are big differences between—not so much with Gordon Brown at the G-20, but certainly, the French and the Germans.  And we‘ll see how he can handle that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go back to Richard.  Richard, it seems to me the battle is over who to blame.  Barack Obama‘s made a point of not really being a witch-hunter.  He hasn‘t gone around looking for who the bad guy is.  He‘s really focused on the need to reinflate the American and world economy by boosting federal spending, cutting taxes, really putting some juice into the economy that‘s deflating even now, whereas the Europeans seem to be focusing more on finding the central bankers and hanging them.

ENGEL:  They certainly weren‘t looking for blame today.  They know exactly who it is.  And a lot of this anger is focused on the Royal Bank of Scotland, the bank that was—that had its windows smashed today.  It‘s fairly similar or comparable, I think you could say, to the outrage that people felt in the United States over the AIG crisis.  Here it was over retirement benefits.  As the bank was about to take on—about to be bailed out by the government, the former CEO gave himself a multi-million-dollar retirement package.

And there is—what we haven‘t seen in the United States is that people were taking to the streets.  They may not have been large, violent mobs, but people were nonetheless out on the streets expressing their displeasure, which is something that is different and which could be a watershed moment as people in this country are feeling the pain.  There are more than two million people out of work here, and this is a serious economic crisis.

So while the people who were leading the protests today may have been students, radicals, environmentalists—you mentioned people in drag.  There were some people in drag out there today.  But it does represent what could be a larger movement of people who don‘t necessarily want to come out and break windows.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  Toby Harnden, it‘s good to have you on.  And Richard, as always, you deserve every award you can get.  Congratulations again on winning the Peabody Award today.

Anyway, coming up...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

ENGEL:  Chris—Chris, before you go, I just want to thank the producer who was involved in that, Madeleine Haeringer, and the cameraman, Bredun Edwards.  So it‘s not right that I take all the credit.

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you for that.

Coming up: The results are in from last night‘s special congressional election in New York state.  But it was a win, a loss or a draw, we don‘t know yet.  We‘ve got the latest numbers to share with you.  But once again, we got to look at those absentee ballots.  But this can be said, the Republicans don‘t yet have the win they claimed a couple weeks ago, Michael Steele still looking for that first W.  We‘ll be right back with that and the Minnesota race, what‘s happening in the Senate with Al Franken.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Last night, we told you about the big special election to fill that vacant House seat, congressional seat in upstate New York.  It was seen as something of a referendum on Barack Obama to a proxy fight between the Democrat and Republican parties.  And it‘s too close to call right now as I speak.

The candidates both spoke last night.  Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MURPHY (D), NEW YORK STATE CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  You know what else we said tonight?  We said that after three months, people do appreciate what President Barack Obama is doing to get this economy moving!

JAMES TEDISCO ®, NEW YORK STATE CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  Despite the millions spent by Speaker Pelosi and her special interest allies in false, misleading, negative ads, I believe that when the smoke clears, we will have won a tremendous victory!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Politics goes on.  The spinning began in earnest.  Here‘s the Republican take from National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Pete Sessions of Texas.  “Jim Tedisco has closed the gap in a district that has come to exemplify Democratic dominance in the Northeast in recent elections.”

And from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee‘s Chris Van Hollen—he‘s from Maryland—“Scott Murphy‘s strong showing in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans.”

And in the other race that‘s still too close to call—by some standards—Norm Coleman and Al Franken out in Minnesota, a court dealt Coleman a setback yesterday.  Will he take his case to the Supreme Court of the United States?

Joining me right now to answer those questions, NBC News political analyst and editor of “The Cook Report,” Charles Cook, and “The National Journal‘s” Ron Brownstein.  Let me ask you, Charlie, sir, this question.  Will this election in upstate New York eventually, because of these thousands, perhaps 12,000 absentee ballots, go Republican?

CHARLES COOK, “COOK POLITICAL REPORT,” NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  This race is basically a tie.  I mean, you could—there were competing arguments for each one—you know, for each one winning.  And you know, going into yesterday‘s election, we were saying, Look, this race is really close, and unless somebody wins it by a lot, like 5 points, it‘s like kissing your sister.  There‘s just nothing there.  And I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happens if the Republicans lose a district where they have a 70,000-vote registration advantage?

COOK:  Well, yes, they have a 70,000-vote advantage, but there are a

lot of districts in the South that have huge Democratic—huge Republican

or huge Democratic advantages that Republicans routinely win.  The thing is, starting—this was a district, and it‘s like a lot in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and the West Coast that were Republican, and then starting in 2004, a Democratic Senate candidate carried it.  In 2006, a House candidate and a Senate candidate carried it.  In 2008, Barack Obama carried it narrowly and a Democrat won it.

Where—it‘s not fair really to say that this is still a solid Republican district.  It‘s now a swing district.  And you had basically a tie election.  So to me, somebody is going to get the seat, but there‘s no real winner here.

MATTHEWS:  But what‘s going on here, I will argue and protest what Charlie said—what‘s going on is what‘s happening in a lot of counties around big cities, whether it‘s around Philadelphia, Chicago, better off economically, better educated in terms of more four-year college people.  They tend to be elite, let‘s face it.  They read the big newspapers, “The Journal” and “The New York Times” and the local papers, and they‘re moving toward Barack Obama and his party and away from the Republican Party.

That is a factor. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Then Gillibrand had that victory. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Huh?

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.  But that isn‘t entirely this district, as Charlie was going to say.

Look, your—your basic point is correct.  In 1984, Ronald Reagan won 82 of the 100 counties in America with the highest proportions of college graduates.  In 2008, Barack Obama won 78 of the those same 100 counties.

MATTHEWS:  And you wrote a big story on that in “The National Journal.”

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, that‘s right. 

But this district is a more rural district. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  It isn‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s not elite?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I take it back then.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I thought it fit that pattern. 

BROWNSTEIN:  No.  Even if the Republicans win this district, it doesn‘t suggest that they have solved the broader problem that you have identified on the—in the Northeast and on the West Coast, which is the realignment of these upper-middle-class suburbs toward the Democrats, which has obliterated...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I thought Dutchess County was pretty elite.

BROWNSTEIN:  There is some of that, but there is also a more rural—and I will defer to Charlie—but this is a more rural element of this as well.

I agree with him.  It‘s hard to construct anything too elaborate in terms of meaning on this foundation.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Charlie, I concede that point.  Touche.  it‘s not that classic sort of Montgomery County suburban area of the big cities.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But let me ask you this.  Michael Steele was jumping up with giddiness a couple weeks ago about how this was going to be his big coup.  He was going to win up there and set the tone for a Republican comeback.  Is he still in position to do that? 

COOK:  Well, I—frankly, I don‘t think Steele really knew a whole lot about this race at that point.

(LAUGHTER)

COOK:  I think he was just becoming the RNC chair.

But the thing about it is, you started out with the Republican 21 points ahead, yes.  But the thing is, nobody has ever heard of the Democrat.  And, so, once the Democrat got better known, once the race engaged, a swing district got real close.

And so I think that the 21-point lead was—it was a false lead.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COOK:  And, so, this was basically a swing district that ended up with basically a tied election result. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Interesting dueling spin today.  Both of the directors of the campaign committees were at a forum that our “Hotline” publication was doing. 

And the Republicans say, look, there are more absentee ballots out there from Republican registered voters than Democrats...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  ... by about 700 more.  So, therefore, we‘re going to win.

The Democrat says, we wouldn‘t have gotten that close unless a lot of registered Republicans were voting for the Democrat.  And, therefore, you can‘t judge by that.   

They have a model that says they win. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Luckily, we get to let the voters decide.

MATTHEWS:  Why does it take so long to count ballots, if you don‘t count them Election Day.  There aren‘t enough volunteers around or what, Charlie?  Why does it take a couple weeks to do something that you can‘t do... 

COOK:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  If you have all the ballots in hand, count them.

COOK:  Well, you don‘t, because they have got absentee ballots that don‘t have to be in until like the 7th or so.  And then it was extended for overseas.

So, you could have ballots coming in as late as the 13th of April that haven‘t been counted yet.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COOK:  So, it‘s like that in a lot of races, but they‘re not close enough to make any difference.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

COOK:  Well, this one, it does.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me talk about the election everybody has been following. 

Norm Coleman, the incumbent Republican in Minnesota, United States senator, pretty well known guy—isn‘t he a cousin of somebody who used to be on “Imus,” you know, the sports guy, Rosenberg?

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And now he‘s challenged by Al Franken, who everybody knows who watches television from “SNL” and from his books. 

Al Franken seems to hold that small lead over and over again through all these tests.  He‘s now going to get, what, another few hundred votes counted.  It looks like he can‘t be touched.  Is this going to be decided, decided soon? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, it will. 

I think that the question here, the one remaining question is, does Norm Coleman want to take this case to federal court?  This initial state court decision, by saying that only 400 ballots can be counted—I was trying to do the algebraic equation last night to figure out how many.

And it does turn that Coleman would have to win 314 of the 400 to overcome Franken.  It seems unlikely.  It seems further unlikely that the state Supreme Court.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you like using algebra again?

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.  It‘s great with my son.

MATTHEWS:  X plus X plus...

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, exactly right.  I was trying to figure out how to solve it.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  And it seems also unlikely the state Supreme Court is going to overturn this. 

So, the real issue, I think, at this point is do they want to have a Gore v. Bush kind of argument in federal court...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BROWNSTEIN:  ... that says, the counties violated due process by having different standards for counting these ballots?

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me, Charlie, that, as Jesse Jackson in the old days would say, the question is moot, because, if—if Norm Coleman loses at the state court level—and it looks like he will—and says, I‘m going to the U.S. Supremes, the minute the Supremes hear that, they are going to expedite this case in about a week or two. 

They‘re not going to let this work its way up through the district and the circuit courts all—you know, month after month after month, will they?  Won‘t they feel a responsibility to end this baby?

(CROSSTALK)

COOK:  Well, I think—a candidate, I think, as long as they have any realistic chance of prevailing, owes it to his supporters and to his party to continue fighting.

But I think we‘re past that point.  There‘s very, very, very little chance—I mean, Republican-appointed judges have looked at this.  There‘s very, very, very, very little chance, virtually no chance, of Coleman prevailing on this.

And after a certain point, it‘s not realistic.  And what it is, is, it‘s politics.  And it‘s keeping the other side from getting a Senate seat.

And then I think there‘s one last factor.  And that is that Republicans so detest Al Franken that they just have a really hard time, just because of him, throwing in the towel, where, if it had been somebody else, maybe they would have by now. 

But this thing is done.  Put a fork in it.

BROWNSTEIN:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that?  They haven‘t even met this guy yet. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  But, oh, look, I think he could decide to pursue it in federal court, but, largely, I would agree with Charlie. 

(CROSSTALK)  

BROWNSTEIN:  It‘s going to be very hard for him to overcome the lead.

And, also, don‘t forget, in the Gore vs. Bush decision, the Supreme Court indicated it was not meant to be a precedent for any other decisions.

MATTHEWS:  I will tell you.  You know who...

BROWNSTEIN:  So, he would be starting from a blank piece of paper.

MATTHEWS:  You know who likes Al Franken?  The service people overseas that he‘s entertained all these years with the USO troops. 

Whatever you think about his politics—well, I like his politics—but the fact is, this guy has stuck his neck out in dangerous situations for years going over there with the troops and really doing a great job.

They love Al Franken over there.  Check with the service people he has entertained over the years. 

Thank you very much, Charlie Cook.

Thank you, Ron Brownstein.

Up next:  In tonight‘s “Big Number,” see if you could guess how many presidents Queen Elizabeth has met.  Hmm.  Check the Tudors.  Tonight‘s meeting with President Obama, that‘s next in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  Sarah Palin‘s husband is out there saying now that all that criticism about her highly priced wardrobe during the campaign was out of the family‘s control, that it was the work of the McCain campaign itself.

Quote—this is her husband talking—“She never went to Saks, or any of that stuff,” he told the national “Men‘s Journal” in his wife‘s defense—quote—“You come into a campaign late.  You put all your trust into the team.  We‘re just focused on debate prep.  I couldn‘t give a rat‘s ‘expletive‘ about clothes.”

I like the guy already.

Anyway, speaking of the Grand Old Party, this morning, Republicans in Congress descended the steps of the Capitol to hold a rally about their budget plan.  The actual details were put forward later in the day by U.S.  Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is the ranking member on the Budget Committee.

This version, unlike the scanty outline revealed last week from the Republicans, contained what he heartily offered were—catch this—a spreadsheet of real numbers to reduce spending. 

Anyway, the Obama administration, sticking to its strategy of denying there even exists an alternative governing party, had this to say.  Here‘s Treasury‘s Austan Goolsbee. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER:  I thought it was most appropriate that this thing came on April Fools‘ Day, because this thing is the biggest April Fools‘ joke and the cruelest that we have had in years. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Rough treatment, but you get the point.  The Obama message to the public is quite blunt and delivered quite relentlessly:  There is only one governing party in this country.  That‘s the Democratic Party of Barack Obama.  Everything else you hear, whether from Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney or some faceless guy in Congress, is just noise and to be treated as such. 

Moving now to the story of the hour, the president this morning held a joint press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as I said, where he wisely declined to comment on England‘s upcoming World Cup soccer game chances, instead, using the occasion to display his wit and affability.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have had enough trouble back home picking my brackets for the college basketball tournament that‘s taking place there—called March Madness—stirred up all kinds of controversy.  The last thing I‘m going to do is wade into European football. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  That would be a mistake.  I didn‘t get a briefing on that, but I sense that would be a mistake. 

(LAUGHTER)

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  England—England will win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, he picked UNC to win here at home, and that‘s still a pretty good bet. 

I suppose the Brits, by the way, would call what he just did there, avoiding a call on the World Cup, good form. 

Which brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number.”

We saw today President Obama and his wife meet with the queen of England.  But how many American presidents in total have met with Queen Elizabeth?  This is a great “Big Number.”  Eleven.  This woman is amazing.  Eleven U.S. presidents.  Just take a look at these amazing photos.  In over a half-century as head of state, the queen has met every U.S. president, except Lyndon Johnson.

If you ever doubt that language, by the way, is everything in this world, just look at these pictures.  There is nothing that unifies people more than speaking to each other with the same words.  That‘s why we get along with the Brits so well.  We speak the same language.  Anyway, that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number” -- 11 American presidents the queen has met with personally. 

Anyway, we go on. 

By the way, the Associate Press—Associated Press was our source for that. 

Up next:  Yes, she can.  First lady Michelle Obama‘s approval rating is even higher than her husband‘s.  And now Mrs. Obama is winning over London town with her classic American elegance and style—more on the first lady‘s soaring popularity in a minute. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks start the second quarter with a rally.  The Dow gained 152 points.  The S&P 500 climbed 13, and the Nasdaq picked up 23 points.

Stocks got a boost from better-than-expected reports on pending homes sales and on manufacturing. 

Also, auto sales in March, they were not as bad as expected.  However, GM sales plunged 45 percent from a year ago.  Ford sales, they fell 41 point.  And Chrysler, Toyota sales, they were down 39 percent.

Meantime, a report on the private sector jobs shows the economy shed a larger-than-expected 742,000 jobs in March.  The report comes two days before the government reports official employment figures for March.

And federal authorities in Florida seized jailed swindler Bernard Madoff‘s luxury yacht and a small boat.  It‘s part of the effort to recover assets to pay back investors.  And the 59-foot yacht, it‘s worth an estimated $2.2 million. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We‘re first in business worldwide—now back to and HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

During the 2008 presidential campaign, some of Barack Obama‘s opponents and even some of his supporters saw wife Michelle as a potential liability.  Much of that thinking stemmed from this comment by Michelle over a year ago. 

Here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 18, 2008)

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA:  And let me tell you something.  For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country, because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, some critics—underline the word some—still point to that comment as grounds for not liking the first lady.                      

But these days, her critics are few.  A new “Washington Post”/ABC poll

finds 76 percent of this country now has a favorable impression of Barack -

well, Michelle Obama.  That‘s up 30 points from last June.

Just hold on those numbers.  How many people in American life have gone that high so—in such a short time, from 48 percent to 76 percent?  What a dramatic hike. 

I want to talk about that with Lois Romano of “The Washington Post” and our own Michelle Bernard, although Lois is also somewhat our own anyway.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You wrote this long piece the other day.  We wanted you on last night.  We got you on now, after we have seen a bit of her.

Why has she come up? 

LOIS ROMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Why‘s her poll numbers up? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROMANO:  I think there‘s something to be said about winning.  People started to look at her closely.

And I think that comment that you showed defined her throughout the entire campaign, until the night of the Democratic Convention, when she was able to address people directly, smile. 

MATTHEWS:  Killer speech. 

ROMANO:  Exactly. 

So—and I think, when you were looking at her coming up to that time, the cameras were always catching her not smiling.  And even in that clip you showed, she wasn‘t smiling.  And, then, all of a sudden, you know, they won, and she‘s smiling all the time.  And I think that becomes contagious.  And I think that‘s part of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I always wonder about this country, white America, if you will. 

After 200 or 300 years of slavery, followed by 100 years of Jim Crow, and 50 years of god-awful not so great, people wonder why you might have an attitude about the country.

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, where did you get that attitude from? 

Well, I got it from living here. 

BERNARD:  Well, you know, I...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he didn‘t—he came in as sort of an immigrant kid.  And he didn‘t have it. 

But she had it.  And it‘s not so hard to figure out why, but I guess you have to put on a happy face. 

BERNARD:  Well, you know, it‘s interesting, because I never saw it as an attitude. 

I think, for any black person and any black woman who looked at that comment...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BERNARD:  ... they understood what she meant.  And it wasn‘t an indictment of the country.  It didn‘t mean that she...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Attitude is a negative term. 

BERNARD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  How about point of view? 

BERNARD:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BERNARD:  Exactly, point of view. 

And I think we were—you know, we are in—were in uncharted territory at the time.  People had to get used, number one, to just the—the role of the first lady changing, or the prospective first lady changing. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

We have been—we have gotten serious here, and we will stay serious.

But I have got to go to a point of glamour. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here is our old hero John F. Kennedy describing what it was like to go to Europe that first time accompanied by his spouse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I do not think it altogether inappropriate to introduce myself to this audience.  I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.  And I‘ve enjoyed it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Just think how well he would have done during the age of color TV.  That guy looked great in black and white.  Nobody looked good in black and white.  Glamour point here.  Is she just going to wow Europe? 

ROMANO:  She‘s every mom.  She‘s every woman.  Here she is juggling the kids, juggling the family, and showing up looking fabulous in J. Crew, of all things. 

MATTHEWS:  J. Crew is sporty, youthful. 

ROMANO:  Sporty, youthful.  She‘s not breaking is the bank.  She‘s not out there with the high-priced designers. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, don‘t go to J. Crew if your belt size is more than 38.  It‘s a great reason to lose some weight, get down to the mid 30s, you can go to J. Crew.  Your thoughts, Michelle, on the glamour front here? 

BERNARD:  She‘s young.  She‘s different.  It‘s not the image that we have seen of a first lady in a very, very long time.  As some people have said, Jackie O 2.0.  That‘s what we‘re seeing in Michelle Obama.  She‘s intriguing. 

MATTHEWS:  Jackie O 2.0?  Explain. 

BERNARD:  Like the new Internet, new everything, 2.0. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m so hopeless. 

ROMANO:  The sweater she had on today, that crystal number from J.

Crew, it‘s sold out already.  The woman is becoming an icon. 

MATTHEWS:  The sleevelessness and all that is always a big point of concern and discussion. 

ROMANO:  Who cares? 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just saying, I read the paper. 

BERNARD:  You‘ve still got your—some women in the older generation, particularly African-Americans, who don‘t like it.  But it‘s a new day. 

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t like the fact that she‘s too daring. 

BERNARD:  That she is sleeveless. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Let‘s talk about the real confrontation, the real summit, her and Carla Bruni.  She‘s a lawyer.  Carla Bruni, let‘s face it, is a model, can I say babe.  Sarkozy is not probably the coolest guys in the world, but one of the prizes of office was to get to marry the model of the year.  Michelle is a serious person.  She happens to be beautiful.  That‘s an accidental quality god gave here.  Here we go, the meeting.  What‘s it going to be like?  I have to do this.  It is going to be the picture of the week.  It will be on the cover of all the weeklies.  I know it will, those two.

BERNARD:  I have absolutely no idea what it will be like.  It‘ll be interesting.  Everybody will be watching it.  They‘ll both be fashion plates.  It will probably be a—

MATTHEWS:  Dressed for success, Lois, you think on both sides? 

Dressed to beat the other? 

ROMANO:  I think women are going to be rooting for Michelle, because you can‘t—I mean, you can look at Carla Bruni and wish you were her.  But you don‘t identify with her. 

MATTHEWS:  She is a good singer, by the way.  I shouldn‘t knock her. 

We were listening to her CD.  She‘s a good singer. 

ROMANO:  Michelle, you think, well, you know, she‘s the real thing. 

BERNARD:  I can be like her. 

MATTHEWS:  Francois Hardy, that kind of French. 

ROMANO:  She‘s not a prop. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s not a prop? 

ROMANO:  Michelle. 

MATTHEWS:  Nobody has called her that.  But there is something cool—

there‘s a nice ‘60s term.  When they were both walking to the helicopter

the other day, Marine One, there was something like when he looked at her -

you could just tell he said, isn‘t this something?  You could tell they were experiencing the—I‘m getting old here.  The grooviness, the excitement of being this first American couple heading towards Marine One, which is cool in itself, heading from there to Air Force One, for a quick flight across the Atlantic, on your own plane, and to meet with the world leaders as like the center piece of the world. 

I get—I‘m saying it again.  I‘m getting a thrill.  Go ahead.  I can‘t say these things. 

BERNARD:  You look at them, watching them go to Marine One, and he so clearly loves his wife.  I think people like looking at that also.  It‘s nice. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great stuff.  I think George Bush liked his wife.  I think it‘s pretty common.  It‘s just very glamorous with these two. 

ROMANO:  One woman I was interviewed in the story said what she liked about them is they look like they just won the Lottery. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, yes!

ROMANO:  Look at each other and say, thinking this is so exciting. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re going to Disneyland.  You‘re great.  We girls are right.  I don‘t mind saying I‘m excited.  I‘m thrilled.  I like it all.  I like the picture.  I like the substance.  Lois, thank you for that piece in the “Washington Post” yesterday.  Michelle, thank you as always. 

Up next, the Justice Department has asked a judge—what a story this is—to drop the federal charges against former Senator Ted Stevens.  Here‘s a guy who was going to win re-election until he was charged and convicted on a whole number of felony counts.  Now it turns out the charges should have never been made.  There should never have been a prosecution.  He‘s just not a senator anymore.  Talk about injustice.  This is HARDBALL, coming back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time for the politics fix with political analysts Pat Buchanan and Harold Ford, who is also a former Democratic member of Congress.  Mr. Ford, you can start here about this miscarriage of justice.  The United States Senate, a senior Republican in the Senate, was convicted of seven felonies eight days before the November election.  He lost his re-election by one point. 

The U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today dropped the case entirely, said it was totally mishandled; it shouldn‘t have been prosecuted the way it was.  Now the guy is left without his career.  You know, when a guy gets sent away by accident, we usually find a way of compensating him.  How do you compensate Ted Stevens? 

HAROLD FORD JR. MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he‘s compensated largely because the justice was served here.  I think the ethics of this White House and of this Justice Department is on full display here.  Attorney General Holder recognized this represents a miscarriage of justice and he did the right thing. 

I think the fact that a Democratic administration did this, you can‘t ignore the politics of it.  The law is above politics and should transcend all of that.  I think sometimes Americans, and certainly the last eight years under Bush‘s rule, we saw the Justice Department play politics.  I think this is a prime example of Eric Holder‘s integrity.  And although there‘s no way to—you can‘t give him his seat back, the reality is you have to—he‘ll have to roll with those punches.  I‘m sure he‘s happy today he will not have to serve any time in jail. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  As Ray Donovan said, secretary of labor under Reagan, got a rotten prosecution.  Where do I go to get my good name back?  Stevens forever is going to be a fellow who came out there and was convicted of seven felony counts. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, I disagree.  He did get off now. 

BUCHANAN:  They overturned it.  At the same time, apparently the prosecution knew there was an FBI guy who had exculpatory material.  Another FBI guy had a relationship with this fellow Allen.  This fellow Allen knew that the amount, 250,000, was way outsized in terms of what he had done.  They did not turn this over to the defense. 

I think this ought to be investigated as prosecutorial misconduct and potential corruption in that area of the Justice Department.  I command holder for doing this.  I will say this, this morning we got it that Holder, himself, on this D.C. Voting-rights thing, he got an argument that says, look, this is unconstitutional.  He says, go back and get me another one. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a good argument you‘re making.  That‘s going to be decided in the Supreme Court.  You‘ve got a very good case there, Pat.  Let‘s go back to Ted Stevens and what looks like really a miscarriage of justice in politics.  Quote, here‘s what Senator Stevens said toady after the AG, as you point, Eric Holder, a Democrat, attorney general, representing the people and the government dropped the case.  Quote, this is Ted Stevens tonight, “I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed.  That day has finally come.  It‘s unfortunate that an election was affected by proceedings now recognized as unfair.” 

And to make the point that Pat made in this case—and we‘ll talk about that D.C. voting rights, because you‘ve got a case there.  This point, it terms out that the prosecutors, today, Mr. Ford, are so determined to get a conviction that they withheld this information and above—part of the information was a note written by Ted Stevens, directed to the person who was his chief witness against him, saying please make sure I‘m fully billed for this project, so I don‘t get into the trouble that Bob Torcelli got into several years ago, another senator for not paying his bills.  He said, make sure I pay for this.

So you‘ve got this evidence that doesn‘t make its way before the jury.  It stinks.  It looks like the good guys here are trying to win a conviction and the guy who gets screwed here and loses his career, all he‘s got is to say, now I have my freedom, I don‘t have my Senate anymore.  Your thoughts, Harold.

FORD:  I think you laid it out clearly there.  I think Pat‘s point of an investigation into this misconduct and to see if it was rampant in other investigations is probably warranted at this time.  My prayers go out to Senator Stevens and his family.  And those prosecutors that were involved in this, even those FBI agents, should be hauled before the Justice Department and maybe charges brought against them. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what, I think the Justice Department should pay for this guy to tour the state of Alaska in a victory dance right now.  The people ought to applaud this guy now.  By the way, he got applauded by his colleagues after this hell went on.  We‘ll be right back with Pat Buchanan and Harold Ford to talk about what happened in Europe today.  A huge day for America.  We‘re under fire a bit because of our central banking, because our banking up in New York.  The president seems to be wowing them.  We‘ll talk about that mixed bag.  It‘s probably a much more positive bag for Barack and Michelle Obama than we‘ve seen in a long time in American foreign relations. 

We‘ll be back in a minute with more HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with MSNBC political analysts Pat Buchanan and Harold Ford for the politics fix.  You first, Harold.  Your picture of the president of the United States in the last couple of days in London, how does it hit you? 

FORD:  He‘s been strong.  He‘s been forceful.  The appearance and certainly the images have been compelling.  I hope the compelling images translate into some progress there on the ground, and trying to find some larger cooperation and consensus, particularly with Germany and France.  I‘m excited about the China and Russia bilateral talks that were announced.  The president has got to be able to translate some of that goodwill and some of the good pictures into results. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got the Japanese on his side, in terms of fiscal stimulus, because they believe in it big time.  The Germans have animus toward any kind inflation because of what happened to them in the ‘30s, Vimar.  They don‘t want to even hear about inflation.  So he‘s got a tough one to go against with those European people, with their mindsets. 

BUCHANAN:  I heard this morning—I got up at zero-dark 30 and watched this whole press conference.  Convergence, consensus, common ground; we‘re talking about, yes, we need regulation.  They‘re doing a good job on stimulus, everything they‘re doing. 

The key thing is what he did for Gordon Brown.  Gordon Brown is a politician in trouble, probably on the way out.  I thought Obama reached out to this guy, great job, Gordon, first named him, compensated for how he handled the situation here in Washington, where I thought he dissed him a bit.  He really gave Gordon Brown the kind of lift the guy needed. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he take back the Churchill bust? 

BUCHANAN:  He said get out of my house. 

MATTHEWS:  Took back the bust—a lot of us took umbrage at that, Pat.  Why do you think he‘s helping a British leader? 

BUCHANAN:  I think because it comes out of his elemental decency of the guy.  He‘s a nice guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he‘s a liberal. 

BUCHANAN:  Not just that.  I think he realized he made a mistake here, and over-compensated for it.  But it was very gracious.  It helped Brown over there.  Brown walked out beaming.  He was eight feet high when he walked out of the room. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to be overshadowed by Michelle, Harold Ford? 

FORD:  He certainly has a beautiful and striking wife and intelligent wife and she‘s a good mom.  But this trip is about the president.  One of the most telling and maybe the line that I think captures his approach to this whole thing, he said I‘m here not just to lecture but to listen.  Hopefully that will win over support for what we‘re trying to do, trying to find coordination amongst a larger stimulus in some of the European nations. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did they meet with miniatures of the royal family, not the royal family, itself?  I‘m just kidding.  Look at the size of the king and the queen.  They‘re the smallest people.  Every time you see them in the movies, a big, tall guy here. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  The Duke of Edinburgh was gigantic in that movie “The Queen.”

MATTHEWS:  Look at them here.  Look at these guys.  It‘s like they‘re meeting with their miniatures.  Anyway, I don‘t know.  I think Michelle and Barack are about average height.  Thank you, gentleman.  I have to end on a fun note.  Thank you, Harold Ford for joining us, Pat Buchanan as always.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. for more HARDBALL. 

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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