updated 4/16/2009 2:08:09 PM ET 2009-04-16T18:08:09

Guest: John O‘Hara, Mike Pence, Heidi Harris, Mark Green, Howard Dean, Ron

Christie, Eugene Robinson, Clarence Page

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Protest or politics?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews.  He‘s going to be back tomorrow tonight.  Leading off tonight, though: Teed off.  When angry colonists dumped British tea into Boston Harbor in 1773, their cause was pretty clear, to protest big government and taxes on imported tea. 

What‘s happening today, however, is less obvious.  In all 50 states today,

people have been gathering for so-called “tax day tea parties,” protesting

well, protesting something—tax rates, bail-outs, President Obama. 

You name it, they‘re protesting it.

The tea parties have been funded by conservative groups, hailed by the Republican National Committee and promoted by Fox News.  What‘s behind the protests?  And could they wind up backfiring on the GOP?  We‘ll talk about that in a moment.

Not entirely unrelated is this story, word that Homeland Security has determined that the current economic and political crisis may be used by right-wing extremist groups to recruit members.  That seems pretty straightforward enough, but the reaction from conservatives has been fierce.  Rush Limbaugh called it, quote, “nothing more than a partisan hit job filled with lies and innuendo that portrays any conservatism as right-wing extremism,” unquote.  We should note here that the Homeland Security report says nothing about conservatives.  But that‘s been the reaction just the same.

Also, that never-ending Minnesota Senate race.  If you‘ve been waiting for the Democrats to say, Enough is enough, well, today‘s your day.  The Democratic National Committee is running an ad in the Twin Cities saying it‘s time for Norm Coleman to concede.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Franken won the election in November.  He won the recount.  And now he‘s won a legal challenge filed by Norm Coleman.  Yet Coleman and national Republicans who want to thwart the will of the voters have vowed to file more appeals and hopeless legal challenges that will only result in more delay.  Enough is enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  The Republican response: Make all the noise you want, Democrats, we‘re appealing and raising questions about the recount.  So stay tuned for that one.

And if you want to know how silly vote counting can get, check this out.  In New York state‘s neck-and-neck congressional race to replace Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who‘s now a senator, the Republicans are challenging—get this—Gillibrand‘s absentee ballot.  Please!  Stop the madness.  That‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

Plus, when President Obama heads to Mexico tomorrow and the talk turns to drug trafficking, what‘s to blame, our guns or their drugs?  That‘s coming up in the “Politics Fix.”

But we begin with the tea parties.  Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana is chairman of the House GOP Conference and is on his way to a tea party in Indianapolis this evening.  John O‘Hara an organizer for today‘s Chicago tea party.

John, let‘s start with you.  What are you protesting?  Are you protesting high taxes?  Are you protesting the bail-out?  Are you protesting Wall Street?  Are you protesting just in general the Obama administration, all of the above?  Specifically, what are you protesting?

JOHN O‘HARA, ORGANIZER OF CHICAGO TAX DAY TEA PARTY:  Great question, Mike.  Much like the people that make up this grass roots movement, the problems people have are broad.  There‘s no one particular bill or one particular politician that people have a grievance with.  It‘s the general expansion of the federal government and the state and local governments and overspending.

BARNICLE:  Congressman Pence, you have consistently been opposed to government spending, more government spending.  So I‘d like to ask you, isn‘t it somewhat—well, not inconsistent, but somewhat odd that today we have this big protest coast to coast?  Why not a protest last year or the year before?  Government spending has been on the increase for several years now.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE:  Well, you know, I think it‘s a fair question, Mike.  But candidly, now I know how the old settlers back in the West felt when the cavalry came riding over the hill.  Those of us that have been fighting deficit spending, the growth of government over much of the last decade under Republican administrations, and continuing to fight it under a Democrat administration, are heartened to see people like John stepping forward, millions of people across this country today that know we can‘t borrow and spend and bail our way back to a growing America.

And this grass roots movement—there‘s a rally going on here in Indianapolis as we speak.  I‘m headed down to the small town I grew up in, Columbus, Indiana, for a rally at a park later tonight.  It really is a movement by Americans who are deeply concerned about the enormous weight of debt we‘re putting on our children and grandchildren and the inevitability of tax increases that will follow.

BARNICLE:  You know, lookit, I agree with you.  I think any time you get citizens involved in almost anything, it‘s a good thing.  And yet this growth in government spending did not start at noontime this past January 20th.  So again...

PENCE:  That‘s right.

BARNICLE:  ... the question is why now?  Why this year?  Why not last year or the year before?  I mean, the Bush administration ran up huge deficits, very un-Republican-like deficits.

PENCE:  Well, as I said...

O‘HARA:  That‘s a fair question...

PENCE:  You know, when I came out against the Wall Street bail-out last fall, I thought I‘d be in a distinct minority in the Congress.  And then in one week, Mike, after I came out against it and a majority of House Republicans opposed our own president on the Wall Street bail-out, I got 10,000 e-mails in five days.  And that‘s just what got through.

You‘d have to ask John, who‘s one of the leaders of this grass roots movement in the country, what motivated him.  But I really think something happened last fall when the American people saw the prior administration and the Democrat Congress willing to get out our grandchildren‘s credit cards and bail out bad decisions on Wall Street.  And the stimulus bill and the budget that was just passed are all adding steam to that anxiety.

BARNICLE:  There you go, John.  It‘s teed up for you.  What‘s your response?

O‘HARA:  Mike, you‘re absolutely right.  This didn‘t start January 20th.  And Congressman Pence hit the nail on the head.  It started last year.  Some Republicans lost their way.  The previous administration started this bail-out nonsense.  But it‘s been boiling up.  We‘ve seen the deficit triple just three months into President Obama‘s administration.  And it‘s been boiling up in people and people are sick and tired of it.  It just happens to have happened—gotten to a boiling point under a Democratic administration.

BARNICLE:  So John, I mean, you know, clearly, you‘re a young guy.  I mean, I can see you on TV, you‘re a young guy.  What got you actively involved in this?  Give me a little bit about your background.  Who are you, and why are you involved in this?

O‘HARA:  Absolutely.  I work at a free market think tank, the Heartland Institute here in Chicago.  In my spare time on weekends and nights leading up to the February 28th tea parties, my good friend, J.P.  Ferrer (ph), who‘s been on this network, at “The American Spectator” invited me and asked me if I could get—help him get some momentum going behind having a tea party in front of the White House.  We did.  We had over 300 people show up.  And there were concurrent tea parties across the country on that day.  And ever since then—you had thousands come out in Orlando, Cincinnati.  And then today in Chicago, we had over 5,000 and many more in cities across the country.

BARNICLE:  How many people, Congressman Pence, do you estimate will be at the tea party rally you‘re going to tonight?  In Indianapolis, right?

PENCE:  Well, there‘s one going on right now, Mike, in Indianapolis.  And some of the estimates of the crowd there were in excess of 8,000 going into today.  So we‘ll see what the news reports.  But down in my small town of Columbus, Indiana—I‘ve got to tell you, at my last town hall meeting, just to give you some idea of what John was talking about—this is a building movement in this country.  You know, my town hall meetings usually draw about 30 or 40 people.  We had over 300 just  come out on a Monday afternoon to talk about their concern about spending a few months back.

I‘m thinking there may well be over a thousand people at Donner (ph) Park in Columbus, Indiana, tonight.  At least, it wouldn‘t surprise me if there was because I think there are many Americans, like John is saying, that are deeply concerned about the sense that Washington, D.C., is—with its massive increases in spending and bail-outs and borrowing and more taxes, is out of step with the values of Republicans, Democrats and independents across this country.

BARNICLE:  OK.  So Congressman, the people you know, the people in your district, the people who you will see this evening, they‘re driven to these rallies by more than just spending.  It‘s an amalgam of things.  It‘s the class warfare aspect, the Wall Street bail-outs, the inequity, the seeming inequity, I think, that a lot of...

PENCE:  Yes, Mike.  I think it began with the bail-outs.  John confirmed that in his case.  But you know, when President Bush responded to the economic crisis last year by transferring $750 billion in bad decisions on Wall Street to Main Street, I think Main Street got a jolt.  And what‘s happening today, what‘s been happening at the grass roots ever since, I think, is a growing tidal wave of discontent in this country that knows we can‘t borrow and spend and bail our way back to a prosperous America.  And they‘re seeing this administration, this majority in Congress continuing along that vein.

And what you‘re seeing today in all 50 states, Mike, are Americans, good, decent, hard-working Americans that are taking time out of their everyday lives to take a stand for fiscal discipline and fiscal sanity.  And I commend John and commend every one of the good people in Indiana taking that time, as well.

BARNICLE:  But Congressman, you still run into what I hear, the

refrain that I hear a lot—and it‘s not just on the coastal elites saying

it.  It‘s ordinary people saying in reference to what you just pointed out

But both parties do this.  The Republicans ran up a huge deficit and now the Democrats are running.  So you know, do you link it...

O‘HARA:  Mike...

BARNICLE:  Yes.  Go ahead.

O‘HARA:  Mike, let me jump in here.  You‘re absolutely right.  Two wrongs do not make a right.  But it has been boiling up in people.  And I think you‘re going to see politicians reacting to this and say, If we don‘t listen to the will of the people, if we don‘t rein in big government, if we don‘t rein in spending, many politicians will find themselves out of a job come the next election cycle.

BARNICLE:  Congressman, do you think...

PENCE:  Yes—Mike, here in Indianapolis, for instance, there are no elected officials of either party that are speaking at the biggest rally here in our state.  I think the fact that I‘m from Columbus, Indiana, the local organizers asked me to come down and bring some closing remarks, but I‘m mostly going down there to listen.  This is really about the American people speaking to our national government through the peaceful process of protest and demonstration, and I think it can be rightly understood in that vein.

BARNICLE:  Congressman, let me ask you this question, play devil‘s advocate here.  It seems to me, driving around a couple of days last week, listening to talk radio, that nearly everything that President Obama does engenders an automatic knee-flex response from the conservative wing of the Republican Party, and more than just that, but basically, the conservative wing of the Republican Party.  No matter what he does, you get a reaction from it, and the reaction is, No, we don‘t care what he does, it‘s bad because it‘s Obama.  Do you buy into that?

PENCE:  Well, it may be true in some cases, Mike.  But I‘ll tell you, you know, I think, you know, Rush Limbaugh, who gets talked about a lot—

I know he was mentioned earlier—I think Rush Limbaugh actually praised President Obama for the decisive leadership that got our ship captain back off the Somalian coast.

So you know, I think the objection here is not kneejerk.  I think people like John, commentators around the country, those of us who‘ve been fighting on the House floor for fiscal discipline—this isn‘t about just opposing a Democrat president and a Democrat majority because of Democrats.  It‘s about opposing runaway federal spending and a mountain range of red ink that‘s going to have to be dealt with with either higher taxes on this generation or higher taxes and a lower standard of living on the next.

BARNICLE:  John, do you see any one particular party benefiting from these rallies moreso than another political party?

O‘HARA:  Absolutely not.  These concerns transcend partisan politics.  As I said, the last administration—and there are plenty of Republicans that have lost their way when it comes to fiscal responsibility.  But what we‘re seeing now is an unprecedented expansion of the national debt, expansion of the federal government into sectors like GM and AIG that they have no business being involved in.

I think—today at the rally in Chicago, we had a Democrat Hillary supporter speak.  We had libertarians.  We had independents.  And the crowd reflected our speaker line-up, as well.  I think it‘s something that a lot of Americans are frustrated about, and politicians on both sides of the aisle need to listen up.

BARNICLE:  Congressman Pence, what have you—I mean, you‘ve been very consistent throughout your career.  I mean, your record is very consistent.

PENCE:  Thanks, Mike.

BARNICLE:  What kind of a chance do you think you have of being heard within Congress from the administration largely?  Have they reached out to you?  Do they listen to you?  Do you speak to them?  Do they call you?  What‘s the deal there?

PENCE:  Well, the first conversation I had with President Obama was on inauguration day.  He came by our table at the luncheon and he said to me very sincerely that he respected the stands I‘d taken in the past and was anxious to work with House Republicans.  I haven‘t seen the cooperation that I think the president was calling for in either the stimulus bill or the recent budget debate.

But I‘ve got to tell you, you know, I often say to people, a minority in Congress plus the American people equals a majority.  There‘s no question in my mind, Mike, that as you see these rallies in all 50 states that—John will probably be the first to say—this isn‘t over today.  I mean, I think what you‘re seeing happen on tax day today with these tea parties is just the latest iteration of what is going to be more public expression, more public frustration about runaway federal spending in Washington, D.C.  And if that continues, that wind continues to blow, I really believe that we can see the course and direction of government in our nation‘s capital come together and turn in the direction of fiscal sanity.

BARNICLE:  Congressman Mike Pence and John O‘Hara, thanks very much to both of you.

Coming up: The threat of right-wing extremists.  The Department of Homeland Security says they‘re on the rise because of bad economy, immigration and the first African-American president.  How dangerous is the threat, and how can it be neutralized?  That‘s ahead.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Is it possible that the recession and the election of Barack Obama can be used as a tool to recruit members to right-wing extremist groups?  Well, according to a new report by the Department of Homeland Security, the answer is yes.  It reads, in part, quote, “Many right-wing extremists are antagonistic toward the new presidential administration and its perceived stance on a range of issues, including immigration and citizenship, the expansion of social programs to minorities and restrictions on firearm ownership and use, unquote.”

Are right-wing groups simply upset that they are losing control of the country, and are they an imminent threat?  Let‘s ask Air America‘s Mark Green, who‘s also the editor of “Change for America,” and radio talk show host Heidi Harris, who‘s joining us from Las Vegas.

I‘d like you to listen to a cut from Rush Limbaugh, Heidi and Mark. 

Listen to this.  We‘ll get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  This is the Democrat Party Department of Homeland Security.  Janet Napolitano put this together.  There is not one instance they can cite as evidence where any of these right-wing groups have done anything because this thing, this department of homeland services report, is nothing more than a partisan hit job filled with lies and innuendo that portrays any conservatism as right-wing extremism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Heidi, do you buy that?

HEIDI HARRIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Yes.  I talked about it on my show this morning, and a lot of the things that Rush had said I have to agree with.  I mean, there—what are they basing these allegations on?  And I got to tell you, the right wing—we‘re not upset about it because we didn‘t expect Barack Obama to do anything other than what he‘s done for the economy.

And when they talk about how bloggers are worrying everybody about the economy and jobs and everything else—wait a minute.  That‘s what Barack Obama focused on throughout his campaign, how bad the economy is, how bad the jobs are.  That‘s what he focused on.  The right wing is no different from the left wing from this perspective.  So I‘m not even sure where they‘re getting a lot of this information.  It doesn‘t even make sense to me.

BARNICLE:  Well, Heidi, the report, if you look at it, it refers to right-wing extremists.  I mean, do you refer to yourself as a right-winger or a conservative?

HARRIS:  No, I‘m a conservative.  But they refer to anybody who‘s concerned about the economy as a right-wing extremist.  And I had to laugh, once again, when they mentioned people blogging about the economy and jobs and that kind of thing.  Yes!  Well, that‘s what the Obama campaign did, try to panic everybody about jobs and the economy.  So I don‘t understand where they‘re making that a right-wing issue as opposed to a left-wing issue.

BARNICLE:  Mark Green, you‘re smiling.  What are you smiling at? 

MARK GREEN, PRESIDENT, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Well, I‘m smiling because Rush Limbaugh is a—is skilled at filling time.  They‘re exaggerating molehills into mountains. 

Now, they didn‘t make allegations against individuals.  They didn‘t infiltrate groups.  They didn‘t silence protesters.  They‘re not sicking the FBI on people, as J. Edgar Hoover did with COINTELPRO in the 1970s against anti-war protesters.  That was wrong. 

And, if the Obama administration had done anything remotely like that, that would be wrong, because, in this country, we allow antagonistic speech, ideological speech, hate speech, not hate crimes. 

So, apparently, what Homeland Security did was a think piece.  I read a summary of it.  And they said, without naming names, which would be improper for a law enforcement agency to do publicly, they said, look, there are conditions that happened before in the ‘90s, and, if they keep going, you know, we had a Timothy McVeigh, who was incited by hate speech into an enormous crime.  We had someone who killed Dr. Slepian in—in Buffalo.  Let‘s watch out for it. 

One last point, Mike.  It‘s not ideological, because the report itself says that left-wing groups—their phrase—might use cyberspace to commit crimes in the next decade. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

GREEN:  So, they split it. 

BARNICLE:  Hey, Heidi, I have—I have listened to your program.  I know—I know you can be thoughtful.  I have heard you be thoughtful. 

So, let me ask you this.  I‘m going to read you two sentences from the summary of the Homeland Security report, OK?  Here are the two sentences:

“Despite similarities to the climate of the 1990s, the threat posed by lone wolves in small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.  In addition, the historical election of an African-American president and the prospect of policy changes are proving to be a driving force for right-wing extremist recruitment and radicalization.”

Do you buy that? 

HARRIS:  Well, no. 

I mean, when they are talking about terrorist groups, are they talking Islamic terrorist groups?  That‘s a...

BARNICLE:  You don‘t buy that?  You don‘t buy that?  You don‘t buy what I just read there? 

HARRIS:  No, no.  No, I don‘t.  I will tell—no, no.  I will tell you why. 

I read the report, of course.  And, as you mentioned, I talked about

it on my show.  I know what the report says.  They‘re going to—they‘re -

as you mentioned in your previous segment, they‘re doing Tea Parties all over America today, protesting how upset they are with the government and some of the things that have been done. 

BARNICLE:  Heidi...

HARRIS:  Nobody is bringing out guns. 

BARNICLE:  Heidi, Heidi...

HARRIS:  Nobody is shooting anybody.  They‘re just protesting. 

BARNICLE:  Heidi, lone wolves in small terrorist cells. 

Unfortunately, two weeks ago, you had an absolute nutcase in Pittsburgh, a lone wolf, a classic lone wolf, shoot and kill three Pittsburgh police officers because he was upset at the direction of the country. 

HARRIS:  You can find a lone wolf anywhere with any kind of ideology.  That‘s not a right-wing thing vs. a left-wing thing.  You want to go through all the people who have shot up colleges and talk about their ideology? 

This isn‘t a lone wolf right-wing thing.  I don‘t know where you glean that.  Just because it says that in the report?  It doesn‘t make sense to me.  Conservatives don‘t expect anything better than government and conservatives don‘t expect government to take care of them. 

I think the government is at less risk from conservatives than liberals, who think Obama is going to pay their mortgage, fill up their gas tank, and basically take care of them cradle to grave. 

BARNICLE:  Well, what...

HARRIS:  They will be more disappointed. 

BARNICLE:  So, in other words, this whole thing revolves around an obsession with Barack Obama?  That‘s what I‘m hearing from you.

HARRIS:  Well, no, I‘m not obsessed with Barack Obama.  My point is that the right—people on the right aren‘t expecting anything else from Barack Obama. 

The people on the left who voted him in, who have talked about the fact that they literally think he‘s going to pay their mortgage, he‘s going to do everything for them, they‘re going to be more disappointed by his administration than I am. 

I don‘t expect Barack Obama to do anything for me.  I don‘t expect government to take care of me and put a Band-Aid on my rear end if I lose my house or anything else.  The left wing is more upset, or going to be, than the right wing, frankly. 

GREEN:  Mike?

BARNICLE:  Yes, go ahead, Mark.

GREEN:  Heidi and I have appeared before.  And we have healthy debates.  And, of course, she didn‘t vote for and is opposed to Obama.  That‘s fine. 

When she says the left wing who elected Obama—it‘s called a majority of Americans.  Three times the number of Americans gave Obama the majority that Bush won in ‘04.  Elections have consequences.  And you don‘t agree with his economic policies.  And, by and large, I do. 

When—that‘s not the basis of the Homeland Security report.  You can have all the Tea Days you want, the wars on Christmas.  I regard all of these as kind of contrived, faux populism. 

What the report said, though, is there is kindling.  There are hate groups.  There are neo-Nazi groups.  That‘s true.  We have returning veterans who have access to guns and like them and may be frustrated.  We have laws locally, ordinances, that are—have more firearm controls, which can set off some people who are anxious. 

This is a very contingent if, if, if.  So long as the government doesn‘t violate privacy, as it did 30 years ago, when I didn‘t hear any conservative complaints, when they infiltrated and disrupted liberal groups against the war, so long as they avoid that, it‘s prudent for law enforcement officials to say, to what extent did all this add to—I don‘t know the answer—the—the person that Mike cites in Pittsburgh who set a trap for and killed three cops?

That‘s not common. 

BARNICLE:  Well, Mark, let me...

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  But it‘s something to watch out for. 

BARNICLE:  Let me ask you this, though, Mark. 

I mean, you know, the—the specter of the double standard here, if the Bush administration, if, under—under their Homeland Security Department, if they had issued a similar report talking about the G-20 protesters in Seattle and left-wing extremists, I mean, do you think it would—what do you think would have happened in this country, in terms of its coverage? 

GREEN:  Not much, because...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  Really? 

GREEN:  Well, let me point out left wing, so-called, or progressives, believe in the right to protest without violence. 

And, if the government says we have to watch out for something, so long as they don‘t inhibit the battle—you know, people who protesting the G-20, for example, I think most people would shrug. 

However, as I pointed out, if Bush tried to do what happened under Hoover and use the...

BARNICLE:  Right. 

GREEN:  ... FBI to disrupt nonviolent protests, that‘s crossing the line. 

And Heidi and Limbaugh have to agree we‘re not even and won‘t and shouldn‘t be—and won‘t be under Obama—remotely close to that.  We have a constitutional law professor as president.  He‘s the last of 44 presidents who would do that. 

BARNICLE:  OK, Heidi—Heidi, last word. 

HARRIS:  I‘m just going to say that, you know, ultimately, they‘re worried about even things like people stocking up guns and ammunition and food?  What, are they against all the Mormons who stock up food?  And who cares how many guns I have or how much ammo I have in my house?  Why is that a threat to the government? 

That‘s the stuff that is very scary in this report to those of us who are conservative.  And we‘re very concerned about it, and we should be.

GREEN:  Well, Timothy McVeigh was a threat to the government.

BARNICLE:  Someone—someone—someone is going to break into your house, Heidi, steal your guns.

HARRIS:  Oh, come on. 

BARNICLE:  And they‘re going to end up in Mexico.  That‘s where the guns are going. 

Heidi Harris...

HARRIS:  No, listen, if someone breaks into—no, someone...

BARNICLE:  Yes, what?

HARRIS:  If somebody into my house, they‘re going out on a gurney. 

I‘m telling you that. 

BARNICLE:  Yes.  No.  When they—if they break into your house, that‘s what they do for a living.  You don‘t shoot people for a living.  That‘s the big fallacy of people with a lot of guns in their house. 

But, thanks, Heidi.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Heidi Harris, Mark Green, thanks for being here tonight. 

HARRIS:  Thank you. 

BARNICLE:  Up next:  Stop the madness. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  The counting continues in that House race in Upstate New York.  And now the Republican candidate is challenging the ballot of Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democrat whose appointment to the Senate created the opening in the first place.  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

BARNICLE:  You know, if you play that theme backwards, what you hear

is, “Don‘t forget to watch ‘MORNING JOE.‘” 

Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.”

First up: the latest kerfuffle in that House race to replace Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, now a senator in New York.  Republican Jim Tedisco has  a new target in his quest for victory.  He‘s challenging the senator‘s own absentee ballot. 

“The New York Times” reports that the lawyer for Tedisco‘s campaign say—quote—“He was told”—unquote—that Senator Gillibrand was in the district campaigning for Democrat Scott Murphy on Election Day, so she should have voted in person. 

Gillibrand‘s spokesman says the senator wasn‘t in the district until after the polls closed.  Gillibrand, for her part, posted a piece in “The Huffington Post” last night titled, “Let My Vote and Every Vote Be Counted.” 

Now, as of this morning, Tedisco was down by just 168 votes, proof that, in this late hour, every ballot does count. 

Next up: the governor that keeps on giving.  Rod Blagojevich, who

pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal corruption charges, is now in talks

to star in a reality TV show.  He‘s already cut a tentative deal with NBC -

that‘s right, us—it‘s us, NBC—our own bosses are signing him—to appear in a new show called “I‘m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!”

That does not mean he will try to break out of prison.  It‘s more like “Survivor” with famous and, in Blago‘s case, infamous characters.  The only hitch?  Blago surrendered his passport to the court, so he will need permission from a judge to travel to the show‘s location in the jungles of Costa Rica. 

Good luck, Blago. 

Now, in case you doubt this guy is made for reality TV, here are some of his greatest hits over the last few months. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  I don‘t believe there‘s any cloud that hangs over me. 

QUESTION:  Governor, Governor...

QUESTION:  Well, getting back to that, can we...

(CROSSTALK)

BLAGOJEVICH:  I think there‘s nothing but sunshine hanging over me. 

I can‘t wait to begin to—to tell my side of the story and to—and to address you guys, and, most importantly, the people of Illinois.  That‘s who I‘m dying to talk to. 

I will fight, I will fight, I will fight until I take my last breath.  Please don‘t allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man. 

Under these rules, I‘m not even getting a fair trial.  They‘re just hanging me. 

You can conceivably bring in 15 angels and 20 saints led by Mother Teresa to come in and testify to my good character and my integrity and all the rest.  It wouldn‘t matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Why exactly are you here?  Honest to God, what...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(LAUGHTER)

BLAGOJEVICH:  Well, you know that I have been wanting to be on your show in the worst way for the longest time. 

LETTERMAN:  Well, you‘re on in the worst way, believe me. 

BLAGOJEVICH:  I sure am.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAGOJEVICH:  To the people in the Latino community (SPEAKING SPANISH)

(LAUGHTER)

BLAGOJEVICH:  Si, se puede. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  The guy is great.  He‘s got great hair, everything.  He‘s made for TV. 

That brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number,” which is a bit of a reality check for Blago.  As he hopes to head to the tropics, just what kind of legal trouble is he facing here in the states?  Sixteen counts of corruption, a reminder to the former governor that you‘re up against 16 felony criminal charges in federal court. 

That‘s tonight‘s HARDBALL “Big Number.” 

Up next:  The Democrats are ratcheting up the pressure on Norm Coleman, telling him to drop his legal challenges in the Minnesota Senate race, now that a three-judge panel has ruled Al Franken won the election.  How long will Coleman fight?  And when will Franken take his seat in the Senate? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks climbing on some better-than-expected economic news.  The Dow Jones industrials gained 109 points.  The S&P 500 was up 10, and the Nasdaq finished up one point. 

Stocks erased earlier losses, after a Federal Reserve report showed that the steep economic decline may be starting to level off.  In the Fed‘s latest Beige Book survey of business conditions nationwide, five of its 12 regional banks reported hopeful signs that economic activity was starting to stabilize. 

Meantime, consumer prices fell unexpectedly in March, dipping a tenth-of-a-percent.  And, for the first time in over 50 years, the prices consumers pay for goods and services are lower on average than they were a year ago.  But analysts say the threat of deflation, a destabilizing period of falling prices, they say that‘s remote. 

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

HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

This week, a bipartisan Minnesota appeals court ruled Al Franken the winner in the never-ending Minnesota Senate race.  Today, a new development in the contest between Franken and Norm Coleman:  The Democratic National Committee says it‘s airing a new radio ad in the Twin Cities calling on Norm Coleman to concede. 

Take a listen. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)

NARRATOR:  Franken won the election in November.  He won the recount.  And now he‘s won a legal challenge filed by Norm Coleman.  Yet, Coleman and national Republicans who want to thwart the will of the voters have vowed to file more appeals and hopeless legal challenges that will only result in more delay. 

Enough is enough. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  But will pressure from the Democratic Party push Coleman to drop his legal challenges?

Howard Dean is the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.  And Ron Christie is a Republican strategist.

Ron, what do you figure Norm Coleman does not understand about the phrase, “You lose”? 

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  Well, it‘s not over yet. 

And I put my—I put my lawyer hat on and say that Senator Coleman has alleged that there are certain irregularities that are in place that are not allowing all the ballots to be counted. 

And I think he‘s had his day in court at the appeals level, and I think he‘s going to have his day in court at the Supreme Court level.  Only then, I think, can the serious calls come from those who say that he‘s been dragging this on for too long to have him remove himself from the race. 

But, again, I think it‘s only fair, Mike—it‘s only fair, given that the United States is based on the rule of law, and we have equal protection under the law, that he‘s allowed to exhaust all his legal remedies before people say it‘s time for him to pack it in. 

BARNICLE:  Were you referring to the state supreme court or the United States Supreme Court? 

CHRISTIE:  The state supreme court. 

BARNICLE:  OK, thank you.  Governor Dean, you think we‘ll still be talking about this in June, July, August?  I mean, this is—it just goes on? 

HOWARD DEAN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF VERMONT:  You might be. 

BARNICLE:  Really?  You think so. 

DEAN:  It‘s a problem.  He can appeal to the supreme court.  Then he‘s talking about appealing to the federal courts.  My guess is that voters in Minnesota see this as a stalling tactic.  And I think the DNC has been really smart, because the legal niceties aside—we‘ve gone through a lot of legal niceties since the election day.  The people of Minnesota don‘t have a senator that they ought to have.  What the DNC is doing is tagging all the Republican party with this.  And it‘s a very smart thing to do politically, because I think that‘s how Minnesotans are going to see it. 

Republicans are saying no in Washington, and the Republican ex-senator is saying no in Minnesota.  And it‘s hurting average voters.  And I think that‘s a bad place for the Republicans to be. 

BARNICLE:  Ron, do you get the sense from people who are not as deeply immersed in politics as you are that this whole thing might be a stalling tactic to prevent the Democrats getting to the number 59 in the United States Senate? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, I‘ve heard that.  And I know Senator Coleman and I know that‘s not his strategy here.  I think what he‘s trying to say is that he wants to make sure that all the votes are counted.  And I think it‘s a matter of fundamental fairness.  Obviously, if he does not have his day in court, and he does not prevail in the supreme court in Minnesota, I think there are going to be a lot of people also in the Republican party who say, are we dragging this out for political advantage? 

But, again, I think fundamental fairness dictates that we allow him to present his evidence, to have his say before the supreme court.  Then, if there are not any procedures in place that the supreme court determines that it would be proper for him to continue, then I think that the chorus will grow louder for him to pull out.  We haven‘t reached that point yet.  Again, Senator Coleman is entitled to his day in court. 

BARNICLE:  Ron, if the Minnesota supreme court, the state supreme court says, out of here, get out of here, go home, to Senator Coleman, would you, too, go along with that?  Would you say enough is enough? 

CHRISTIE:  I‘d want to see what their opinion is.  I would want to see how—

BARNICLE:  If their opinion is it‘s over, you lost, would you, as a Republican, be in favor of saying to Senator Coleman, it‘s time to end this, it‘s time to leave this? 

CHRISTIE:  I‘m a lawyer.  I‘d want to read the opinion and see how they based it.  Was it based on a matter of law or was it based on a matter of fact?  If there‘s a factual dispute, that‘s one thing.  But if there‘s a legal remedy that allows Senator Coleman to pursue the case, I‘d want to read it.  But I‘m not going to sit here and judge and prejudge until we see what the Supreme Court has to say. 

BARNICLE:  Thankfully, you‘re a doctor, governor. 

DEAN:  That‘s actually true, not that I have anything against lawyers, of course. 

CHRISTIE:  Of course not.  We‘re good, though. 

DEAN:  The fact of the matter is this is a huge political problem for the Republican party and the Democrats realize that.  That‘s exactly what they‘re doing when they put up these radio ads.  This looks like more Republican obstructionism. 

Again, this has been going on almost six months since the election.  The people of Minnesota deserve a second senator.  The people of Minnesota know that.  I think every day this goes on from now on is going to be harder for any Republican to succeed in Minnesota. 

BARNICLE:  Ron, off of what the governor just said, Texas Senator Jon Cornyn, the NRSC chairman, he sent out a fund-raising e-mail Tuesday.  Here‘s part of it, “It‘s frankly shocking that many of the same Democrats who so loudly decried voter disenfranchisement during the Florida recount in 2000 have so quickly run away from that principle when it no longer fits their political agenda.  Nonetheless, Republicans, and the NRSC in particular, remain committed to a full and fair resolution of this election contest and stand firmly behind Senator Norm Coleman.” 

Now, Ron, I know where you‘re coming from on the rule of law.  We‘ve heard that.  But we—this country installed a president of the United States in 2000 after six weeks down there in Florida, with the Florida supreme court and then the United States Supreme Court.  This has now gone on for six months.  Now, I don‘t know about people in the rest of the country, but I think people in Minnesota have basically thrown up their hands and saying, what is the deal here?  You‘re just stalling this thing.  The other guy won.  Norm Coleman lost.  Do you not agree with that? 

CHRISTIE:  No, I don‘t agree with that.  You‘re talking about an election where over three million ballots were cast.  The number we‘re talking about that the lead Al Franken has is 312.  I think fundamental fairness dictates that when over three million people go to the polls and have had the opportunity to cast the lever and have such a narrow, razor-thin margin of 312 votes, I think we need to determine whether or not those absentee ballots should be counted and whether or not it‘s the final result. 

BARNICLE:  Governor Dean, Dr. Dean, quick last thought. 

DEAN:  This could be a national pattern.  We have a very close election, special election in District 20 in New York.  The Republicans went into court yesterday to try to put off the count on that one.  I think it‘s awfully close.  We don‘t know who won that one yet.  But this looks like a national attempt by the Republicans to keep people out of office if they have a D after their name. 

I think the best way to solve these things is get these people in office when the vote is settled, and the vote has been settled in Minnesota. 

BARNICLE:  Governor Dean—

CHRISTIE:  And of course, Mike, the Democrats want all the votes counted, except when comes down to be politically advantageous for them. 

DEAN:  All the votes counted, including the votes in Florida, which weren‘t counted because of the Supreme Court. 

CHRISTIE:  Of course the governor knows that all the votes were counted.  In fact, the margin went higher for President Bush. 

BARNICLE:  Got to go.  Got to go.  Governor Dean, Ron Christie, thanks very much. 

Up next, so what do today‘s tea parties really mean for Republicans? 

And will they actually help the GOP against the Democrats in the long run? 

The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back.  Time for the politic fix with two fountains of wisdom, the “Washington Post‘s”, Eugene Robinson, who is also an MSNBC political analyst, and the “Chicago Tribune‘s” Clarence Page.  Gentlemen, it‘s always a pleasure seeing both of you. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  It‘s good to be here, Mike. 

BARNICLE:  Eugene, today, tax day, tea party day, as you look out across the country from your vantage point there in Washington, D.C., what do you see when you see all of these protests?  What do you think? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I‘m shocked, shocked to learn that people don‘t like paying taxes, and that April 15th is not their favorite day. 

What I actually see is something of a striking of a nerve, in that if you look at the Republican party right now, you ask, what have they got?  What have they got to organize people around and get people excited about?  So while these demonstrations were not like the height of opposition to the Vietnam War, they did get people out.  They did kind of create an event.  And I think if you were running the Republican party right now, or the conservative movement, you‘d say that‘s a step forward.  It‘s a good day for them. 

CLARENCE PAGE, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  That one problem, though, this is kind of an orphan movement.  There‘s no leader out there, a distinctive leader to kind of galvanize it all.  I see a lot of pent up frustration out there, since the Obama victory, that Republican, conservatives in general haven‘t had really good rallying points or a really strong agenda.  Tax day has provided that for them.  It‘s just not Grover Norquist any more or a few other tax protesters.  It‘s every kind of conservative cause, now pulling together.   

BARNICLE:  Eugene and then Clarence on the same question here, last night David Letterman had a little skit about tax day and the Republicans.  And it ended like a commercial, a political commercial, and it says, “the Republican party, we‘ve got nothing.”  And—which that leads to my question, where is the Republican party?  What do they have?  Is this it?  Is this who they are now?  Is this what they are trying to become? 

ROBINSON:  Well, they don‘t know at this point or they haven‘t worked that out.  I mean, if I were giving advice, I would say there‘s a populist critique out there to be made of the way the Bush administration handled the financial crisis, the way the Obama administration handled it.  The question of are we showering the financial sector and the bankers with money at the expense of the regular guy? 

You could—that‘s something to work with, I think, for the Republican party.  But as a party, they are not really doing that. 

BARNICLE:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  You see it happening more or less organically today.  But you don‘t see the party doing that.  So I don‘t know what they‘ve got. 

BARNICLE:  Clarence, last night, I attended a book party here in Manhattan.  And there were a lot of very wealthy people there.  A lot of wealthy business men.  Fairly conservative. 

PAGE:  You hang out with a good crowd there, Mike. 

BARNICLE:  I was working.  I can balance a tray like that.  What would you like?  Water or wine?  But in speaking with several of these titans of industries, they were all impressed with Barack Obama‘s ability to articulate a problem.  They were talking about his speech yesterday on the economy.  They were impressed with his ability to explain and articulate an issue.  Which leads my question to you, which is, are the Republicans in danger of becoming such a party of automatic opposition to the president that they are ignoring the fact that some of their own natural base might be departing them because of the negativism? 

PAGE:  That‘s the danger when you have an orphan movement, a movement in search of a leader.  I think really Newt Gingrich was the last really strong leader that Republicans, conservatives had back in the ‘90s, a real galvanizing force, who could articulate a platform, a plan.  He‘s a fascinating guy regardless of political leanings, because he‘s so full of ideas all the time.  Whether you agree with the ideas or not, at least he‘s thinking of something new.  And the Republicans were the party of ideas back in the ‘80s.  They haven‘t had that lately.

I think they are really in search of that kind of leadership.  Until they get it, it‘s kind of an open field.  The auditions are open. 

BARNICLE:  We‘re going to be back with the wisdom twins, Eugene Robinson and Clarence Page, in a moment for more on the politic fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with Eugene Robinson and Clarence Page.  The president is off to Mexico tomorrow, gentlemen.  Rising violence in Mexico, a lot of guns imported across our borders into that country, rising anger about immigration in this country, people pouring over the borders of several states.  What does he have to do, Gene, to come back with something that might improve either situation or any situation? 

ROBINSON:  Well, neither situation is going to get fixed in a—from a one-day visit to Mexico.  If there‘s more of a commitment from the Mexicans to try to work on immigration from that side, perhaps they make some sort of agreement on border violence, guns versus drugs, to work on that.  I don‘t see anything that concrete or that final coming out of this meeting. 

BARNICLE:  What does he do, Clarence? 

PAGE:  I think, first of all, he sends off the Americans who wants us to send troops down there.  That‘s not the way to do it.  That‘s not what the Mexicans want.  They do want cooperation and assistance from our crime-fighting technology, the DEA and lots of equipment.  They are going to get that.  They are starting to get it all ready. 

The question is, in these border towns, these drug wars, the violence going on, it‘s going through cycles.  Right now it‘s in Tijuana and Juarez.  Hopefully it will stabilize over the next year. 

BARNICLE:  Gene Robinson, Clarence Page, thanks very much.  Chris returns tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  His special guest, Tom Tancredo.  Right now, it‘s time for THE ED SHOW with Ed Schultz.

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