updated 4/10/2009 10:52:22 AM ET 2009-04-10T14:52:22

Guest: Mark Benjamin, Brian McGough, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Jonathan Martin, Chris Cillizza, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Pat Buchanan

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Stress tests for the Army, and look who‘s paying the price.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in tonight for Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight, pressure cooker.  A disturbing new report in “Salon” magazine says the Army pressured doctors not to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans who return from Iraq and Afghanistan exhibiting symptoms of the condition.  The story came to light just as the president put the spotlight on the country‘s military veterans today and proposed an increase in funding for veterans‘ health care, including post-traumatic stress disorder.  We‘ll have more on this investigation with the “Salon” reporter who broke the story in just a moment.

Plus: We said yesterday that we might be in for a new round of culture wars, and now comes this, word that President Obama is preparing to push for comprehensive immigration reform and wants a legal pathway for illegal immigrants already in the country.  Republicans are ready to pounce.  They‘re outraged at the thought of legalizing 12 million immigrant workers at a time when millions of Americans have lost their jobs.  This one has all the markings of a 15-round fight that could threaten the president‘s top priorities, like health care reform.

And few things President Obama has done or is promising to do have caused as much controversy as his planned commencement address at Notre Dame next month.  Opponents of abortion are furious that anyone who favors abortion rights would be allowed to speak at a Catholic university.  Fasten your seat belts, our parochial school segment is coming up with Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O‘Donnell.  They‘ll weigh in on opposite sides of that issue tonight.

Also, is Barack Obama really the most divisive president in recent memory?  Conservatives are pointing to a new Pew poll, but there‘s something they‘re leaving out.  That‘s in the “Politics Fix.”

And here‘s a question for you.  What article of men‘s clothing seems to be a very good indicator of how the economy is doing?  Here‘s a hint.  It will be brief.

But first: In Iraq on Tuesday, President Obama assured U.S. troops he‘ll make sure they‘ve got support, and today he took a step toward that, announcing a plan to improve veterans‘ health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Because the nightmares of war don‘t always end when our loved ones return home, this budget also meets the mental health needs of our wounded warriors.  Untold thousands of servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or other serious psychological injury.  Sometimes the deadliest wounds are the ones you cannot see, and we cannot afford to let the unseen wounds go untreated.  That‘s why this budget dramatically increases funding for mental health screening and treatment at all levels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Joining us, “Salon‘s” Mark Benjamin, who reports that pressure to not diagnose PTSD has left some veterans getting inadequate care, and Brian McGough, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran diagnosed with both PTSD and traumatic brain injury, TBI.  He‘s not a legislative adviser to Votevets.org.

Mark, tell me about the story.

MARK BENJAMIN, SALON.COM:  Well, my partner, Michael De Yoanna, and I obtained a tape recording made—it happened to be done at Ft. Carson, Colorado.  There was a soldier who came back from his second tour in Iraq, and he was told by doctors that he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.  However, when he went through the disability process—in other words, the process where the Army is figuring out how much they‘re going to pay the guy perhaps for the rest of his life in disability payments—all of a sudden, he didn‘t have PTSD anymore.

He asked his doctor why, and in a moment of candor, this doctor said, Look, I‘ll deny it if you ever tell anybody I told you this, but all the doctors up here are under serious pressure not to diagnose PTSD.  And then he listed some other symptoms that would result in fewer benefits.  It was a shocking tape.

MATTHEWS:  Brian, first of all, thank you very much for your service.  We appreciate it.  Tell me, what hoops did you have—tell me about the process of being—of getting—you know, going to doctors and getting PTSD certified in order to get benefits to have it treated?  Tell me about that process.

BRIAN MCGOUGH, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERAN:  The process is confusing, to say the least, especially when you throw in multiple doctors with the DoD and the VA.  For me, I had it kind of easy.  I got my PTSD diagnosis early, so mine was in 2003, when there wasn‘t the influx of troops coming home with problems.  So for me, it wasn‘t as much of an issue to get the diagnosis.  It was an issue for me to go to the doctor.  I had nobody making sure I was making these appointments and taking care of myself.  I was pretty much on my own, and that‘s a whole different story.

But I hear stories every day from veterans telling me that they‘re getting diagnosis of PTSD from private doctors and that the DoD and the VA is not—they‘re not taking it seriously.  They‘re telling them, Look, you have adjustment disorder.  And this is a major problem.  There‘s a big stigma with PTSD as it is.  If you tell a guy that he doesn‘t really have it, he‘s fine, that‘s just going to create more of a stigma for these men and women to get help.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re not surprised by the “Salon” story.

MCGOUGH:  I‘m not surprised at all.  I‘m a little concerned because we thought this was going to be over.  We uncovered an e-mail—at Votevets, we uncovered an e-mail from the VA in Texas, in Temple, Texas, saying they were putting pressure on doctors not to diagnosis PTSD because there was an influx of troops there.  So we thought they were going to investigate it and it was going to be over with, and now we‘re seeing all—you know, this case right here that Mark brought up.  It‘s horrible.

MATTHEWS:  An internal e-mail sent by a VA employee to staff reads, quote, “Given that we are having more and more compensation-seeking veterans, I‘d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out.  Consider a diagnosis of adjustment disorder RO—rule out—PTSD.”

Mark, I guess this looks like on the surface just a question of money.  It‘s an odd way to save bucks by the federal government, but that‘s what it looks like, at least to me.

BENJAMIN:  That‘s certainly what it looks like.  And the other thing is that if you talk with people, Army folks or former Army folks, the latest Rand study shows that 30 percent of the Army has either symptoms of PTSD, probably PTSD, or has traumatic brain injury -- 30 percent.  We‘re fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The sort of—you know, the conventional wisdom is that what‘s happening here, particularly with the Army, you can‘t fight.

Now, that means 30 percent of the Army has no business carrying a gun.  You can‘t fight two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and let 30 percent of the guys out.  And so what you‘ve got is this incredible institutional pressure to deny that this problem exists.

In addition to that, if you deny the problem exists, you also save a lot of money, billions and billions of dollars of payments going out to soldiers who are diagnosed with PTSD for potentially the rest of their lives.  So there are these problems out there, particularly when it comes to the Department of Defense, these reasons why the Department of Defense, or the Army, which is what I‘ve been looking into, would not want to admit this really serious problem.

MATTHEWS:  Brian, if you are diagnosed with PTSD, and you‘ve come back from Iraq—you‘ve come back from a couple tours, one in Iraq, one in Afghanistan or wherever, and you‘re diagnosed with PTSD and you seek private employment, is it a hindrance?  Is it—are you discriminated against?  Does it show up on application forms for employment?

MCGOUGH:  It does not show up on application forms at all, but there is a stigma out there that returning veterans—you know, there‘s always that stigma that there are these crazy veterans that come back.  And that stigma needs to go away.  It doesn‘t show up and it doesn‘t hurt, but at the same time, if you‘re not getting treatment, you‘re not going to be in a place where you can get a job and keep a job.

And that‘s a problem that a lot of these guys I talk to have.  They cannot get jobs.  They cannot keep jobs.  They‘re losing their family.  They‘re losing control of themselves, and they‘re being told, You‘re fine, there‘s no problem, you have adjustment disorder, it‘ll go away in six months.  And some of these guys have been dealing with these issues for two and three years.  And that‘s just not right and it‘s the wrong answer.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Brian, a lot of the veterans I‘ve encountered—not a lot of them, but many of them live in rural areas, you know, a distinct difference from places where they are afforded treatment, VA hospitals in major metropolitan areas.  Is this a big issue, getting to a treatment center?

MCGOUGH:  It is a big issue, and the president announced today he is, you know, putting $25 million in the VA over the next five years.  And one of the things that that‘s going to be paying for is vet clinics in rural areas so that rural veterans can get the care they need.  But there has to be an investigation to make sure that these people aren‘t being pushed out and that they get the right diagnosis because if there‘s vet centers out there but they‘re still not diagnosing PTSD, it‘s just going to be a hassle for them to go there and be told that they‘re fine and they don‘t need help.

MATTHEWS:  We invited a representative of the Army onto the show to respond to the “Salon” article.  We got an e-mailed response that reads, in part, “The Army does not pressure health care providers in their determination of a diagnosis, nor does it condone such activity.  A 2008 Army investigation, in fact, concluded that commanders were not influencing health care providers.  The investigation did, however, note that the requirements for a PTSD diagnosis were too cumbersome, making it difficult for soldiers to complete the physical evaluation board process.  The Army responded making it easier for psychiatrists to diagnosis PTSD by changing the requirements for boards to assign PTSD as a diagnosis.”

Mark, this gets to Brian‘s earlier reference to, you know, the difficulty of a diagnosis, getting the diagnosis done.  He was lucky, he had a private doctor do it.  But in terms of manpower, I mean, how is it for veterans seeking a diagnosis, just seeking treatment?  How difficult is it for them?

BENJAMIN:  Oh, it‘s very, very difficult, and I have health care workers that work for the military bases around the country tell me they‘re absolutely overloaded, despite what the Army says otherwise.  I was talking to a health care worker at a base, a Southern military base, the other day.  She said to me, Look, I got a guy, you know, in my office today.  I should be seeing him a couple times a week.  I‘m seeing him once a month.  I mean, that‘s a real problem.  She described her operation as a garage where all the slots are full, and you know, the cars are waiting down the street.

Other thing that you mention which I thought was interesting is Brian

and I were talking about perhaps—you know, the Army keeps doing these

investigations, like the one that they e-mailed you about.  These

investigations keep coming up saying that nothing‘s wrong, but the closer

you look at these investigations—and that‘s what we did today in “Salon”

I think a reasonable person would say that these investigations are not very thorough.

And nobody‘s minding the store.  You know, the Senate is not holding hearings, or at least good hearings, on this.  I mean, this—the Army just continues to investigate itself and continues to find that it does nothing wrong, and we continue to hear the stories where soldiers are not getting the right diagnosis so they don‘t get the right treatment, they don‘t get the right benefits, and then they end up homeless or worse.

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Brian, can you break it down for me, not by platoon—that‘s too many soldiers, but take it by squad, squads in Iraq, squads in Afghanistan, people you served with.  What percentage would you think of people you served with would be affected by PTSD?

MCGOUGH:  That‘s definitely difficult for me to guess.  I‘ve lost contact with a lot of people I served with.  That may be because of PTSD and it may just be because they‘ve moved on.  But I think it‘s affected a lot of people.  I know I have a large number of friends that I served with that are having issues and are reluctant to get care for these reasons alone.  They don‘t want to go in there and tell somebody that they think they have a problem.  And it‘s a huge thing for them to say, like, There might be a problem with me and then be told, No, you‘re fine.  So I know there are guys that are reluctant to do it and they‘re still serving today.

I mean, we helped “Time” break an article called “Medicated Military,” where we were sending men and women over to Iraq and Afghanistan on, you know, antidepressants because they were showing signs and symptoms of PTSD.  One of the problems with the DoD is if you give a guy a PTSD diagnosis, he has to get out of the military or he cannot deploy.  So it‘s a manpower issue right now for them, they need all the manpower they can.  So that‘s one of the reasons that they‘re kind of trying to skirt around this issue.

MATTHEWS:  How does it affect you, if it does, on a daily basis in your life, the life that you lead right now?

MCGOUGH:  Well, I don‘t like crowds, first of all.  That‘s the biggest thing.  I don‘t like crowds.  I don‘t like situations where I‘m not in control.  Every room I go in, I need to see the exit.  I‘m always a little hypervigilant and very jumpy.  I don‘t like loud noises and stuff like that.  But I‘ve gotten over it and I‘ve had help from good doctors, and you know, I‘m making a comeback, I guess you could say.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re one of the fortunate few.  And again, we appreciate your service, Brian McGough.  Mark Benjamin, thanks very much.

Coming up: With so many big issues to deal with, President Obama is set to tackle one of the touchiest domestic topics around, immigration.  The president wants to make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens, but will that gin up a backlash from Republicans he needs to get his big budget agenda passed?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama has a pretty full plate, with two wars and plans for health care, education, and energy.  Today‘s “New York Times,” though, reports he‘s got plans for another tough issue, immigration.  According to “The Times,” the president plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer, he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin talking possible legislation for as early as this fall.  So the question: Can President Obama finish what President Bush started?  And what‘s different this time out?

Joining us now, two members of Congress, Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords and California Republican Darrell Issa.

Congressman Issa, what is different, if anything, now?

REP. DARRELL ISSA ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well, the president gets a fresh start.  He gets to see if he can strike the right balance, one that does real enforcement, one that has opportunities for guest workers, but quite frankly, one that does not give a pathway to citizenship as a reward for being already here illegally.  That‘s probably the middle ground that at least Republicans would be willing to come to.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, let me ask you a transportation question here now.  We have supposedly up to 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, maybe more.  How do we get them out?

ISSA:  Well, first of all...

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), ARIZONA:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

ISSA:  I‘m sorry.  You said congressman.  I apologize.  Many are already leaving because of a bad economy, and more may need to leave because there aren‘t enough jobs for Americans already here that Americans will do.  That‘s probably less of a problem than saying, Here is the law, and we expect it to be obeyed, which is something that the previous administration wasn‘t very good at.

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Giffords, I‘m sorry, I interrupted you.  What were you going to say?

GIFFORDS:  I want to first talk about how those immigrants are coming into the country because almost 50 percent that enter from Mexico come in through southern Arizona, through the Tucson sector, and securing the border has to be the president‘s first priority.  We have such an inundation—in fact, just last year 317,000 apprehensions, which was down from the previous year, about 380,000.  So first and foremost, border security absolutely.

No one‘s talking about amnesty.  Amnesty is what President Ronald Reagan granted back in the 1980s, and we‘re talking about a realistic plan to deal with the millions of people who are here, bringing people out of the shadows, making sure that there‘s some form of documentation for those folks.

But also, we have to address the tougher sanctions for employers, those businesses who are knowingly hiring people who are here illegally.  President Bush—I believe this was a priority for him, and I got to give him credit for that—was not able to pass meaningful legislation, and now it‘s fallen on the shoulders of the Obama administration.

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s going to make his chances any better than President Bush‘s chances of dealing with this issue that incites rage whenever it‘s mentioned coast to coast, not just in Arizona or California?

GIFFORDS:  Well, because we don‘t have an immigration system that works, it‘s not good for border security.  It‘s not good when you think about just in the last year‘s time, 7,000 homicides because of drug cartel violence, that narco-insurgency we see now brewing up north, affecting cities like Phoenix, other places around the country, as well.  So inaction is simply not an option.

But the reality is that the president‘s smart.  He says he can multi-task.  He‘s not presenting any specific legislation.  He‘s being thoughtful.  He‘s talking about going around, talking to Democrats and Republicans, people on all sides of the issue, to see if we can forge some common ground.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Issa, what break, if any, is President Obama going to get from the Republicans on this issue that President Bush may not have gotten, or is he going to get any?

ISSA:  Well, I think if he starts off, quite frankly, where Gabrielle is saying, enforcement, no amnesty, but dealing with people that are already here, dealing with a system that has been in denial as to the amount of people that are here and what they‘re doing, working on a bipartisan basis and then taking the art of the possible, something that people in the House and the senator are used to, then there probably is middle ground, because what‘s been described is exactly what needs to be done. 

We can‘t tell everyone to go home overnight, particularly when we don‘t have secure borders and we don‘t have a plan for what to do with whatever amount of those jobs really would be need to—needed to be picked up by a legitimate guest-worker program. 

That‘s where I think immigration reform fell flat under the Bush administration.  It wasn‘t that he didn‘t try.  It‘s that he didn‘t get buy-in before he announced his solution. 

BARNICLE:  Congresswoman, how do we secure the borders?  How do we keep people from coming in illegally from south of Arizona, from across that border, and how do we prevent guns from going south across the border back to Mexico?  How do we secure the borders? 

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), ARIZONA:  Well, there was a systematic approach many years ago where California, with Operation Hold the Line—excuse me—Operation Gatekeeper...

ISSA:  Gatekeeper.

GIFFORDS:  ... Texas, Operation Hold the Line, there was a funneling of illegal immigrants through southern Arizona, because the idea was, this was the most dangerous and perilous part of the border, and people wouldn‘t cross. 

Well, they continue to cross.  And, of course, hundreds die every single year.  It‘s—it‘s a catastrophic situation.  You talk to the ranchers and the farmers out in Cochise County, the far north—southeast corner of my district, and they‘re heavily impacted. 

I mean, I talked of some numbers earlier.  I mean, really, it is staggering.  The Tucson sector handles almost 50 percent of all crossings.  Yet, when you look at the staffing levels for our sector of the Border Patrol, frankly, we‘re about 17 percent. 

So, I think, right—at this point, we can take some of the other assets that are in California or in Texas or other parts of the country, and focus on the area that needs it the most, which, of course, is the Tucson sector of the Border Patrol.  That‘s important. 

Now, I just had a border violence summit with 60 officials from the federal level, state, and local level just a couple of days ago here in Tucson.  And what came out from talking to all of those levels of law enforcement officials is that we have to make sure that we do a better job and the Mexicans do a better job checking southbound traffic. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

GIFFORDS:  Those guns are traveling south in cars, in—in trains, and—and, you know, in tractor-trailers.  We have to make sure that the enforcement happens going both ways. 

BARNICLE:  Hey, Congressman Issa, next week, the president is going to Mexico.  In the unlikely event that he ever called you and said, “What do you think I ought to tell the president of Mexico?” what would you tell him to say? 

ISSA:  I think the most important thing for him to say to the president is, thank you.  Thank you for making a difference between yourself and President Fox. 

This president has taken on a problem that the—Mexico was in denial on, the fact that 6,000 or 7,000 -- actually, 7,000 people have died in violence south of the border.  The amount of police that are everyday being killed is, in a sad way, a tribute to what this president is doing, and President Fox didn‘t. 

And I think President Obama is going to have to say, like Plan Colombia, America will be with you in support of what you need, whether it‘s Predator aircraft at the—near the border or it‘s actual direct help well into Mexico to round up and to break the back of these cartels.

And I think you—you heard, quite rightfully so, we have to do our part.  We have to make sure that guns do not go south of the border to the narco-terrorists operating in Mexico, because, ultimately, violence will cross our border. 

We need to help the Mexicans win their war against drugs, which we are the purchaser of drugs, but they are presently the harborer of these people. 

BARNICLE:  Congressman Darrell Issa, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, thanks very much.  We appreciate it. 

Up next:  Who won the NCAA basketball tournament pool at the White House?  Well, here is a hint.  It was not President Obama, but it was a name you know—the answer next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

BARNICLE:  Back to HARDBALL. 

And, incidentally, that HARDBALL theme is the Boston Pops‘ most requested song to play. 

It‘s time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up, hitting below the belt.  According to HuffingtonPost.com, longtime Fed Chair Alan Greenspan has a very quirky way of gauging the state of the United States economy: men‘s underwear.  Since sales of the unmentionables tend to be steady—you can‘t do without them—any sort of decline is a surefire sign that personal finances are being hit hard. 

So, how are we looking now?  Just take a look at this chart.  After big sales in 2007, 2008, 2009 looks to be a down year—no pun intended—for boxers, briefs, and what have you.  My advice?  Suck it up, men.  Wal-Mart five to a pack for about three bucks.  Get out there right now. 

Speaking of clothes, remember the reports of Sarah Palin‘s $180,000 campaign wardrobe last year?  Well, the Republican National Committee has filed its final report on the expenditures.  Drumroll, please.  For the record, folks, it was only $173,000 in campaign donations used to clothe the governor and her family.  There you go. 

Moving on, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on “The Daily Show” hot seat last night.  Her interview, in some ways, highlighted the classic divide we see between the two parties today. 

Here is Jon Stewart miming the conservative take on things. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  The Pelosi-Reid-Obama trifecta will run roughshod over America‘s liberties and bankrupt our nation, enslaving our nation to a history of debt, and thus bringing a tyrannical, fascist rule to the people...

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  That‘s a reaction. 

STEWART:  ... that—in your mind, that‘s not what you‘re discussing privately?

(LAUGHTER)

PELOSI:  No, it isn‘t. 

What we‘re discussing privately—and publicly—is a budget which is a blueprint for the future which creates jobs, which educates our children, which provides health care for all Americans, which takes our deficit down, which gives a tax cut for 95 percent of the American people. 

STEWART:  It sounds incredibly realistic. 

(LAUGHTER)

PELOSI:  Well, let me tell something.

(LAUGHTER)

PELOSI:  No, it is. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Wow.  You can‘t blame Mr. Stewart for being a skeptic on that one. 

Finally, we have got another first for the Obama team.  Tonight, there‘s going to be a Passover seder in the White House to celebrate the Jewish holiday, the first ever hosted by the president himself.

It‘s actually the fulfillment of a campaign pledge made last year during the Pennsylvania primaries.  Back then, Barack Obama, candidate, and his Jewish staffers held an impromptu seder in the basement of a Sheraton Hotel, and closed out the prayer with the traditional promise, next year in Jerusalem.

The president promptly followed that up with a quote: “Next year at the White House.”

Speaking of those Obama staffers, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

The president has made no secret of his love for college hoops.  So, it‘s no surprise that, this year, there was a White House pool for the NCAA tournament.  Who won, and how much did they rake in?  According to Politico.com, it was senior adviser David Axelrod with 320 bucks. 

And guess what?  President Obama chipped in his own $10, too, to the pot. 

White House basketball fans cough up $320 to David Axelrod—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  President Obama is set to give the commencement address at Notre Dame, but some at the nation‘s premier Catholic university—one of the premier Catholic universities—say he shouldn‘t come.  That‘s because they don‘t like his stance on abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research. 

Is President Obama polarizing Catholics?

That‘s our debate—when HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks ending the shortened trading week with a rally.  The Dow Jones industrials soared 246 points and climbed back above 8000, the S&P up 31 points, and the Nasdaq up 61.  Stocks have now posted gains for five straight weeks. 

Triggering today‘s rally, a surprise announcement this morning by Wells Fargo, the nation‘s fourth largest bank.  It said it expects record first-quarter earnings of $3 billion. 

Also helping stocks, first-time jobless claims fell more than expected last week.  However, the number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits rose to more than 5.8 million, setting a record for a 10th straight week. 

Retailers reported smaller-than-expected sales declines in March. 

Some, including Wal-Mart, even raised their quarterly earnings outlooks. 

And oil prices rose sharply.  Crude gained $2.86, closing at $52.24 a barrel. 

That‘s it for CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Obama set off a storm of controversy within the Catholic

community when he accepted the University of Notre Dame‘s invitation to

deliver the commencement address there next month.  Abortion opponents are

outraged that the country‘s premier Catholic university—or one of them -

chose to honor a president who supports abortion rights. 

So, should President Obama be allowed to speak at Notre Dame, or does his record on abortion clash with the university‘s core principles? 

This is the parochial school segment. 

We have Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O‘Donnell both joining us. 

Gentlemen, you‘re both smart guys.  I am going to say one thing, and then I‘m going it get out of your way.  And it is this. 

I am a parochial school product, as I believe the both of you are.  I have never met anyone who is pro-death.  I am a Catholic.  I buy into the entire range of social justice programs that are the foundation of the Catholic faith, including a respect for all life at each and every level.

So, Pat Buchanan, let‘s start with you. 

Why is it that I am in favor of President Obama—and people might want to yell at me for that—going to Notre Dame? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I wouldn‘t yell at you for that. 

I—here, let me tell you why—it‘s not Obama—why I think Father Jenkins, whom I know, I think, made a terrible mistake here. 

Mike, Notre Dame is an embodiment and a transmitter of Catholic values, teachings, doctrine.  It stands for certain uncontradicted truths.  Abortion is an intrinsic evil.  It is the—the slaughter of the innocent unborn.  And 50 million have perished in the United States. 

Catholics have fought for 35 years to turn this around, to reverse Roe v. Wade.  And the premier Catholic university—or one of them, as you said—invites to the campus someone who is militantly pro-abortion, for partial-birth abortion, federal funding of abortions abroad, federal funding in the United States, Freedom of Choice Act, which would eliminate all restraints.

It is a sign of moral befuddlement and confusion on the part of Notre Dame, which stands for life, to have someone there who, admittedly, is president of the United States, but someone who so contradicts their fundamental values.  And people who love the church and love Notre Dame say, you should not be doing this. 

BARNICLE:  Lawrence? 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, in my Catholic school, we pledged allegiance to the flag every day, and the president‘s picture was right behind that flag that we were pledging allegiance to.

This is the same university that invited George W. Bush.  This is the same religion that stands in adamant contradiction to the department.  This is the same religion whose head, the pope, pled personally—pled personally with George W. Bush not to launch an unprovoked invasion and war in Iraq, that same President George W. Bush who used the death penalty more than anyone who has ever been in the Oval Office. 

That president was welcomed at Notre Dame, with none of these objections.  And, Mike, the only thing I would disagree with in your introduction is, this has not divided the Catholic population of the United States. 

When we get the polls, you are going to find that well over 90 percent of Catholics think President Obama should go to any university to address them at any time, including Catholic universities. 

This is a fake controversy run by religious fanatics.  And no one else is involved. 

BUCHANAN:  Well—all right, well, let me talk to that.  Polls don‘t tell you the truth.  They tell you what prevailing opinion is.  I don‘t know what they will be nationally.  But I will tell you this.

Ten Holy Cross fathers at Notre Dame have challenged their own president.  The vast majority of the alumni, I presume all of them predominantly good Catholics, are saying, don‘t do this.  Students have stood up.  The bishop of Fort Wayne has stood up.  Other pro-life bishops have stood up, because...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Why did they let George W. Bush come there, after killing all those individuals...

BUCHANAN:  All right. 

O‘DONNELL:  ... he individually decided to execute in Texas? 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  I will tell you.

O‘DONNELL:  Why did they let George W. Bush step foot there, Pat?

BUCHANAN:  Can I tell you that?  Can I tell you that? 

O‘DONNELL:  Go ahead. 

BUCHANAN:  All right. 

Here is why.  George W. Bush allowed the death penalty to go ahead. 

A, he didn‘t execute them.  B, every single one of them was a...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  How many abortions has Obama performed? 

BUCHANAN:  Keep quiet and let me talk here.

Pat, this is nonsense.  This is nonsense. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  You‘re saying, because—because Bush didn‘t kill them with his own hands, that‘s what you‘re saying the difference is. 

BUCHANAN:  No, he let it go forward. 

O‘DONNELL:  Are you saying that Obama is killing fetuses...

BUCHANAN:  I‘m saying...

O‘DONNELL:  ... with his own hands? 

BUCHANAN:  I‘m saying he let it go forward.

O‘DONNELL:  This is nonsense, and you know it. 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s not nonsense—

(CROSS TALK) 

BUCHANAN:  The reason you‘re hysterical here, Lawrence, is because this cuts to the core, and you know the hypocrisy here.  Every one of those that went to their death in Texas was guilty of premeditated murder.

O‘DONNELL:  The Catholic Church opposes the death penalty.  The Catholic Church and every cardinal, every cardinal, opposes the death penalty. 

BUCHANAN:  That is complete nonsense. 

O‘DONNELL:  Do you have a theological principle—can you identical the theological principle in which you believe—

BUCHANAN:  If you will shut up, I will. 

O‘DONNELL:  -- that the Catholic Church knows that the killing of a fetus is worse than the killing of an adult? 

(CROSS TALK)

BARNICLE:  Lawrence, Lawrence, let Pat respond. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  The response is this: every unborn child is totally innocent.  And in the United States, everybody who goes to execution is guilty of murdering someone, taking innocent blood.  If you can‘t understand the difference between the two—

O‘DONNELL:  The catholic church does not distinguish.  You are lying about what the Catholic Church‘s position is.  You have to agree with me right now that the Catholic Church is opposed on moral grounds to every single use of the death penalty that this country has ever done.  It is opposed to it. 

BUCHANAN:  Can I give you a fact? 

O‘DONNELL:  It is equally opposed to it as it is opposed to abortion. 

Now tell the truth about your religion, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  My religion is the Vatican had the death penalty on its books until 1969.  How do you like those apples? 

O‘DONNELL:  Tell me why they allowed George W. Bush, after killing all of those people in Texas, not to mention—

BUCHANAN:  They were murderers. 

O‘DONNELL:  Wait a minute.  The Catholic Church says governors are not allowed to kill murderers.  They find that—

BUCHANAN:  Where does—

O‘DONNELL:  They find it a moral equivalent of a doctor performing an abortion. 

BUCHANAN:  Why did the priest go into the death chambers with criminals when we were growing up?  Are you kidding?  It has been the—

O‘DONNELL:  They still do it.  They don‘t approve of it.  The priests go in there.  They do not approve of it.  The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty. 

BUCHANAN:  Not every Catholic is opposed to the death penalty. 

O‘DONNELL:  Why did they let Bush go to Notre Dame?  Why did these same people let go to Notre Dame?

BUCHANAN:  Look, people—

O‘DONNELL:  Not every Catholic is opposed to abortion.  Most Catholics are in favor of abortion, just like most Americans.  They poll identically to the rest of the population. 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t care about polls, buddy.  Listen, the—

O‘DONNELL:  You just said most Catholics are in favor of the death penalty. 

BARNICLE:  Let me—

O‘DONNELL:  You‘re the one that brought that one up. 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t care whether they are or aren‘t.  It is moral to take a life after someone has shed life.  It‘s been moral for 2,000 years.  Pope John Paul II said I don‘t like it, I don‘t want it—

O‘DONNELL:  Is the Pope wrong about the morality of the death penalty? 

Tell me the Pope is wrong—

BUCHANAN:  If he said—

O‘DONNELL:  -- about the morality of the death penalty. 

BUCHANAN:  If he said the death penalty is immoral in every case, he would be mistaken.  He never said it. 

O‘DONNELL:  Then he is wrong.  Then can the Pope be wrong about abortion, if you just declared him wrong about the death penalty? 

BUCHANAN:  No, you cannot kill innocent people.  Do you understand the difference between innocent people and murderers?  You would kill people in wartime. 

O‘DONNELL:  Talk to the pope.  The pope doesn‘t appreciate your distinction.  He disagrees with it.  He is opposed to the death penalty and abortion.  He‘s opposed to both of them.  Are you opposed to both of them, Pat? 

BUCHANAN:  No, I am in favor of the death penalty for premeditated mass murderers.  However, I do think it ought to be restricted.  We kill solders in wartime.  Death can be used in life, but you cannot kill innocent civilians in war.  You can kill enemy soldiers. 

You want to know the moral distinctions here, the lack of clarity is incredible.  Where did you go to high school? 

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m talking about the Pope‘s position not mine.  I‘m not giving you my position, Pat.  I‘m talking about the Catholic Church position is a moral opposition to the death penalty and a moral opposition to abortion.  It is morally opposed to both.  That is the Catholic Church position.  Your fight—Pat, your fight is with the Pope, not me. 

BUCHANAN:  The Catholic Church—

BARNICLE:  Let me break into this discussion between you two eminent theologians. 

BUCHANAN:  Discussion? 

BARNICLE:  And get back to something that truly bothers me about the furor that‘s building up around President Obama‘s commencement speech at Notre Dame, Pat.  This is directed to you.  I firmly believe in social justice, as preached by the Catholic Church, and the idea that given what he stands for, a healing of racial divisions, reaching out to the third world, expanding America‘s voice across the globe, the idea that people would want to exclude that voice or prevent that voice from being heard at one of our preeminent Catholic institutions bothers me.  Should it not bother me? 

BUCHANAN:  I understand your concern on this thing, because—I mean

we‘re all First Amendment folks.  But here is the basic point.  I am a

Rerum Navarum Catholic.  I am with the Quadragesimo Anno.  A lot of these

teachings, I‘m pretty probably closer to you than I am some of my

libertarian conservative comrades.  And on social policies and these areas

but here is why: it is not just—he obviously has a right to speak, a First Amendment right.  He has a right to speak at Notre Dame if Jenkins invites him. 

The problem that people have there is he is coming and he‘s being given an honorary degree, which says we should emulate and admire this man at the same time he holds views—he condones and approves what we believe is mass murder of unborn children.  It is an abomination.  It is the greatest horror in my lifetime in this country. 

I think it is a dreadful scar on America.  And what the Catholics who are devout are saying out there is, look, he‘s the president of the United States.  We respect him.  He‘s got a right to speak, to be heard, et cetera.  But please don‘t honor him here at this Catholic University, where our stand for these values is so contradicted by what he is doing. 

BARNICLE:  Well, we have to go.  We have to get back to this with both of you guys.  But right after this program, Pat Buchanan, Lawrence O‘Donnell, I will be dispensing absolution to both of you. 

O‘DONNELL:  I need it, mike.  Thank you. 

BUCHANAN:  Take it easy, Mike. 

BARNICLE:  Up next, is Barack Obama really the most divisive president of modern times?  That‘s what a lot of conservatives would have you believe.  But they‘re not giving you the whole story.  We‘ll get into that next in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, believe me, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with the politics fix, with the “Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza, WashingtonPost.com, and Jonathan Martin of “Politico.”  Gentlemen, it‘s easy to follow Pat and Lawrence. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Jonathan and I can fight like that, Mike. 

JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO”:  Absolutely. 

BARNICLE:  Well, you know, the issue, obviously—let me ask you both about the issue we were talking about here, President Obama going to Notre Dame to speak at the commencement, and the specter that has been raised—

I guess you could call it a specter of some real upheaval within the Catholic community in the country over President Obama speaking at a Catholic university. 

A, we‘ll start with you, Chris.  Do you think it‘s a real upheaval? 

Do you think it‘s potentially explosive? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, let me first say I‘m still baffled by why the president wouldn‘t speak at the preeminent Catholic university, Georgetown.  But put that aside. 

BARNICLE:  I‘m with you. 

(CROSS TALK)

CILLIZZA:  From a purely political perspective, I do think that it may be—I don‘t want to say much ado over nothing, because I do think this is a very important issue to a lot of people.  But I hearken back to the 2004 campaign, the whole debate over whether John Kerry should be allowed to receive communion or not.  This seems to me more of a side issue than it is an issue that‘s going to be on the minds of your average American. 

As I said, is it important to a certain segment of voters in America?  Absolutely.  I just don‘t know that that segment is wide enough that Barack Obama is going to fundamentally reconsidering whether he should go or not. 

BARNICLE:  Yes, I thoroughly agree with you.  Jonathan, off of what

Chris Cillizza has just indicated, you know, I know many, many Catholics

who are outraged at the way the Catholic church handled—and they handled

it very poorly—the sexual abuse scandal.  The idea that the church will

be able to dictate to them on something like the president ought not to get

to me is preposterous, what do you think? 

MARTIN:  As the lone Protestant here in the group, Mike, I‘m going to stay away from the theology of this whole matter.  But I will say that Chris is right, in the sense that the people who are upset about this issue I think are the sort of Catholics who probably would never vote for Obama in the first place.  If you are voting on the abortion issue and you come down on the anti-abortion side of it, you probably never could have voted for Barack Obama, anyway, or at least that‘s the vast majority of folks. 

So I‘m not sure politically it is going to hurt him all that much.  The abortion issue seems to have been somewhat stalled out politically.  It was not very resonant last fall.  We haven‘t heard much this year at all either. 

BARNICLE:  We‘re going to dump that.  We‘re going to take a break.  And we‘re going to come back with some real stuff, with Chris Cillizza and Jonathan Martin, for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with Chris Cillizza and Jonathan Martin.  Gentlemen, semi-prominent columnist Karl Rove wrote today in the “Wall Street Journal”: “no president in the past 40 years has done more to polarize America so much so quickly.  Mr. Obama has not come close to living up to his own standards.  It took him less than 11 weeks to achieve the very opposite of what he promised.  That, in its own regrettable way, is quite an achievement.”

Chris Cillizza, can you answer the question for me, what is Karl Rove talking about here? 

CILLIZZA:  He‘s referencing this Pew Poll that came out earlier this week, that said there was a 61-point gap between Democrats approving of Barack Obama and Republicans approving of him.  Part of this is cherry picking a little bit, because Barack Obama‘s number among Democrats are extremely high, higher usually even than Republicans had under George W.  Bush.  You‘re seeing an inflated gain there.

That said, Republicans believe, in their heart of hearts, and are using this empirical evidence to prove it, that choosing Rahm Emanuel as the chief of staff, some of the other things that Barack Obama has done internally, in terms of staff decisions, are much more partisan.  That is why he‘s not getting the support of Republicans. 

BARNICLE:  So my question to you, Jonathan, off of Chris‘ response, why don‘t Republicans get a life and get real about the way things work in Washington? 

MARTIN:  Well, I think because they‘re seizing on the rhetoric that Obama used during the campaign, that he was going to be more of a unifier and change the way things are done in Washington.  The fact is Barack Obama is someone who does enjoy some support from moderates in this country, even some Republicans.  But increasingly, we‘re seeing what happens with almost every president, and that is partisan alignment. 

He‘s enjoying, like Chris said, broad support from his own party, increasingly less so from the GOP. 

Now, the good news for Barack Obama and Democrat is that the GOP is incredibly diminished.  As a party right now they‘re at an historic ebb.  So for him politically, it‘s not that much of a problem.

But look, this is what happens.  Obama is a Democratic politician, who is practicing politics, increasingly so.  And therefore his numbers among Republicans are falling. 

BARNICLE:  Chris, do you think Washington, Congress, the Senate is less polarized today than it was, say, three or four years ago?  Is it equally as polarized?  Is it more polarized? 

CILLIZZA:  I would say equally, Mike.  And I would probably give you that answer back as long as you could ask it.  I know you can cite examples, Ronald Reagan and Tip O‘Neill—I know there are examples of times in history when Congress and the president worked together, or Congress worked within itself together. 

But look, as Jonathan points out, we‘re in a very partisan political environment.  It‘s easy to forget, Barack Obama ran as a post-partisan politician.  I think that is why he won in a lot of these red states.  But when he governs, as John said, he is a Democrat.  And therefore Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, who make up the base of the party, aren‘t going to like the decisions. 

BARNICLE:  Chris, Jonathan, we have to go.  I‘m Sorry.  Tomorrow, though.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for the pride of Fargo, “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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

END   

Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED.

No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.

User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s

personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,

nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion

that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or

other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal

transcript for purposes of litigation.>

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,