updated 6/1/2009 12:26:23 PM ET 2009-06-01T16:26:23

Guests: Howard Fineman, Chuck Todd, David Shuster, Susan Molinari, Tom Tancredo, David Corn, Terry Jeffrey, Ron Brownstein, Susan Page

DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST:  President Obama dives into a controversial Sotomayor speech, as the politics on the right and left now become even more intriguing. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening, everybody.  I‘m David Shuster, in for Chris Matthews. 

Leading off tonight:  Late this afternoon, President Obama addressed a controversial choice of words by his nominee for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. 

In a 2001 speech, Sotomayor said, a wise Latina woman, with her experiences, would more often reach a better conclusion than a white male. 

The president spoke about that remark a short time ago with NBC‘s Brian Williams. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m sure she would have restated it.  But if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what‘s clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through that will make her a good judge. 


SHUSTER:  Still, this is the concession by the Obama White House. 

We will talk about it with MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman and NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd in just a minute. 

And you can watch more Brian Williams interview with President Obama tonight on “NBC Nightly News.”  It‘s all part of our NBC News special airing next Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 9:00 p.m., “Inside the Obama White House: Brian Williams Reports.”

Later here on HARDBALL: the civil war in the GOP.  Several prominent conservatives have resorted to calling Sotomayor racist, combative, and an intellectual lightweight.  And Rush Limbaugh today compared her to a notorious bigot. 


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  How can the president nominate such a candidate?  And how can a party get behind such a candidate?  That‘s what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke. 


SHUSTER:  Moderates are begging their fellow Republicans to please stop the madness. 

Former members of Republican Congress Susan Molinari and Tom Tancredo, who fall on opposite sides of the GOP debate, will be here in a couple of minutes. 

Plus, remember how former Vice President Dick Cheney said that, if certain classified documents were released, they would prove that harsh interrogation—or torture, if you prefer—saved lives?  Well, Senator Carl Levin says, he‘s seen the documents, and it just isn‘t so.

And, while we‘re on the subject of truth in advertising, did Karl Rove just get caught in a lie when talking about Judge Sotomayor?  We will go to the videotape in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

And, finally, have you seen the Republican Web ad comparing Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the “James Bond” character Pussy Galore?  The RNC is so embarrassed by it, they have taken it down.  But we have got it. 

But we begin with a dramatic White House concession in the Sotomayor Supreme Court confirmation battle. 

Let‘s turn to MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman and NBC News White House correspondent Chuck Todd. 

Chuck, let‘s start with you.

It may be too much to say it‘s a dramatic concession, but the fact that they are walking this back even slightly, that is fairly dramatic news.  Explain what‘s going on at the White House. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  It is, because, you know, the last two days, you had supporters of Sotomayor and the White House themselves today—Robert Gibbs quoting Samuel Alito during his confirmation hearings talking about how his own life experiences can serve to influence his decisions in some of the cases that come before him. 

So, it was a way—there was a lot of attempts of Sotomayor supporters to do that.  And they have—I have even some quotes of Clarence Thomas in trying to use the empathy thing. 

But I think the White House realized that—what she said, that that

that a Latina woman would be better than a white male, that, by itself, no matter how you slice it, it just came across poorly.  So, clearly, there was a decision made to do some damage control. 

We saw it a little bit today with Robert Gibbs at the press briefing, and then the president just now with Brian Williams. 

Look, my guess is, the next thing you will see is Sotomayor herself will be telling this privately to senators.  And it probably means, at the confirmation hearing itself, she will say the same thing, “That isn‘t what I meant.”  And she will put it all the way back to having her own life experiences and this or that. 

But they realize it was taking on a life of its own, no matter how

poorly it was being attacked by some on the right.  I mean, I think the way

the choice of words, obviously, had created a—a toxic situation for the Republican Party.  It still was something they realize wasn‘t playing very well. 

SHUSTER:  Howard, this is a cave of some sorts to the Republicans.  Even if you hate the language they‘re using, the Obama White House is now caving the point, to a certain extent. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, and it‘s for the reason that Chuck said, because she wasn‘t just saying in that quote:

“I can add something to the court.  I can add something to justice because of my background.”

She was saying: “I am better than—because I am a Latina, with my experiences, I am better than a white man.  I will make better judgments and decisions.”

That became indefensible.  And it‘s true that a lot of the Republican attacks were crude, but the conventional wisdom around here, including right here in—and with me, too—until last night, was that these attacks were having no effect.  The administration was doing a pretty good job defending them. 

Well, they realized that they weren‘t, and they were going to walk back this quote.  And it is a—and it is a victory for the—for the conservatives. 

SHUSTER:  Well, let‘s—let‘s actually show the quote.

This is from an October 26, 2001, speech, in which she‘s talking about sexism and discrimination.  And she says: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn‘t lived that life.”

And, in the context of this speech, discrimination and sexism, one could make an argument that she‘s right. 

But, again, let‘s now play—here‘s what President Obama said in this exclusive interview to NBC‘s Brian Williams late this afternoon.  Here‘s what the president said about that very quote and speech. 


OBAMA:  I‘m sure she would have restated it.  But if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what‘s clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through that will make her a good judge. 


SHUSTER:  He uses six words to walk it back and about 30 words to essentially defend it. 

FINEMAN:  Well, if—but if she had—if she had said what he said, no problem. 

Now the question is going to be, as we go forward, was this quote somehow a window into her judicial soul, or was it just an overstatement and, I think, perhaps a little bit tongue-in-cheek to make the point, to exaggerate to make a point?  She‘s going to have to explain the context of it. 

I don‘t think this is a major stumble on the road to the—to her confirmation, by any means.  But it is important that the administration had to get her to take it back, essentially. 

SHUSTER:  Chuck, any sense?  I mean, there are other things that Republicans have pounced on, including where Sotomayor, at a panel, talks about the way that courts sometimes make law. 

TODD:  Right. 

SHUSTER:  Again, that has been taken out of context.  But that‘s also something the White House is getting pounded on by the conservative right.  Is there now a temptation to try and clarify or explain away that remark? 

TODD:  Not to my knowledge, and—and—and in my discussions with these guys, not at all.  In fact, they get more emphatic. 

You know, you can tell the difference when they know they‘re on solid

ground and when they know they‘re on shaky ground.  And, this week, you

could tell they knew they were on solid ground—at least in their minds -

on this idea of what she said about policy-making and the—and the federal appeals court area.  They felt pretty strongly there that that was a—that that was an argument that they could push back on very easily. 

They knew they were on shakier ground with this speech from 2001, because you could tell, just by the way they were defending it even on background or behind the scenes.  So, I don‘t think you will see a walk-back of that. 

But I want to go to something that Howard just said.  And, look, we don‘t know a lot yet about Judge Sotomayor personally.  You know, none of us have sat down and really interviewed her.  Maybe a few people have.  I certainly haven‘t.  I don‘t think Howard has. 

But we are learning that I think she does have a little bit of a—a tongue-in-cheek mentality when she‘s doing public appearances.  Look at that one YouTube video where she sits there and says, “Oh, I know I‘m not supposed to say these things.”

FINEMAN:  Right.  Exactly. 

TODD:  I mean, she certainly seems to have a lively personality and is willing to do—and if—and if that‘s her defense on this, I think she will be fine, when—if she goes to the confirmation hearing and says:

“Look, that‘s just—I wanted to make a point.  I went over the top, maybe, in some of my words.  But I was trying to make a point about discrimination.”

FINEMAN:  Chuck, Chuck, that‘s—that‘s the—that‘s the “I‘m from the Bronx” defense. 

TODD:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  And it might work.  It might work. 



TODD:  There you go. 

FINEMAN:  It might work. 

SHUSTER:  Well, here‘s the problem, though, with President Obama now, is that, now, doesn‘t the president‘s own parsing of this come under fire? 

When the president says, as he did in that sound bite, “I‘m sure she would have restated it,” Howard, what does that mean?  Would she have had an opportunity to correct her speech?  Would she have restated it in some formal fashion?  What is he getting at? 


FINEMAN:  Well, this was—as I understand, this is a transcript of a discussion that ended up in a legal journal out of Berkeley, a La Raza legal journal. 

If she had gone over it and thought about it more, I‘m not sure she would have wanted to say—and I don‘t know any other places where she does say—that somebody of her background would make better decisions. 

As a matter of fact, if you read that colloquium—and I read a lot of it—she says there‘s no such thing as perfect justice, there‘s no such thing as perfect wisdom.  In other words, everybody contributes, in a democracy, to the idea of what justice is. 

That‘s really all I think she meant.  In this case, she overstepped the bounds when she used the word “better than”—when she used the words “better than.”

SHUSTER:  And, Chuck, on that point, that there is a set of life experiences that can help you as a judge...

TODD:  Yes. 

SHUSTER:  ... is the White House willing to still defend that point of view, because even that point of view has gotten under the skin of so many conservatives?

TODD:  Well, I think they absolutely are. 

I mean, you know, the first part of the word judgment is judge.  So, I think that there is certainly—you know, that‘s the whole point sometimes of a judge.  They have to use sometimes their own life experiences, others‘, whatever.  I mean, that—it—it is all subjective at the end of the day. 

But I want to point to something.  Our own Pete Williams, NBC justice correspondent, he came across an analysis that was done of Judge Sotomayor‘s rulings on discrimination cases, and found that she did not side very often at all for the person that was calling for—you know, that said they were discriminated against. 

So, you know, it—there isn‘t going to be a lot of facts to back up some of these attacks that are coming from the right on this very issue. 

SHUSTER:  Howard, fair to say that the political play here for the Obama White House is to further separate those Senate Republicans who haven‘t taken some of the language that Rush Limbaugh and others have said, and essentially further separate the distance between the hard right and some of the Republicans who have taken a wait-and-see approach to begin with?  Now they‘re less tempted to even go towards the right on this. 


No, I think the key is—you know that—that Senator Roberts of Kansas came out already against her.  But I think there are 10 other Republican senators who were in the Senate who voted against her in 1998 when she went to the court of appeals who haven‘t taken a position yet. 

If I were the White House, those are the people I would focus on now and say, hold your fire. 

And, by the way, if, as Chuck says—and I think he‘s right—Judge Sotomayor is going to have to talk to individual senators and explain away that remark, the first people she should go to do that are those 10 Republican senators who voted against her last time and who haven‘t said anything yet, or anything definitive. 

That‘s the line of defense that the White House should build, because they don‘t want her just to be confirmed by a narrow majority.  They want her to win an overwhelming majority, which she still has a chance to do. 

SHUSTER:  Howard Fineman...


TODD:  Well, what‘s overwhelming?  I will...

SHUSTER:  Go ahead, Chuck.

TODD:  What‘s overwhelming?  I mean, I think, look, I had talked to

one Senate vote-counter who said a ham sandwich proposed—you know, any -

any ham sandwich that the president sent up there would automatically have 25 votes against him. 


TODD:  So, I think you‘re looking at an over/under here of about 70 to

75 votes max, even on a—on a really good—on a really good appointment

by the president. 

SHUSTER:  I agree.  And, you know, the one thing about it is, there‘s blood in the water, whether the Democrats want to acknowledge it or not.  And we will see what—what that does.  And it‘s a fascinating debate on the other side as well. 

But, in any case, Chuck Todd and Howard Fineman, thank you very much. 

And, again, you can see more of President Obama‘s interview on “NBC Nightly News” tonight.  And don‘t forget our NBC News special airing next Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 9:00 p.m., “Inside the Obama White House:

Brian Williams Reports.”

Coming up:  Now that the president has acknowledged Judge Sotomayor‘s controversial comments, will the Republicans dial back their rhetoric against her?  We will talk to two former Republican House members with very different opinions about how the GOP should approach this nomination fight. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


SHUSTER:  Coming up:  Dick Cheney says the release of classified documents will prove that torture saved American lives.  The chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee says Cheney is dead wrong.  Who is right?  HARDBALL returns after this.


SHUSTER:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The president‘s Supreme Court nomination has triggered a fight within the Republican Party.  High-profile conservatives have decided to open fire, accusing Sotomayor of being a racist, temperamental and an intellectual lightweight. 

But moderate Republicans say the rhetorical flamethrowing has to stop. 

Let‘s turn to two former House members, Susan Molinari and Tom Tancredo.

And, to you both—and, Susan, we will start with you—the president reacted to this controversial speech that—controversial remarks that Sotomayor gave.  He said that she—he‘s—he‘s sure she would have restated it.  But then he defends the context. 

Your reaction? 


I think everybody‘s reaction should be, let‘s wait and see. 

This is a woman who has a life that I think should be celebrated by the United States.  She has lived the American dream.  She is not an intellectual lightweight by anybody that I can call and I know who has served with her in—in New York. 

On the other hand, she has some—some controversial decisions that I think we need to hear from.  I think the whole point of this process is to wait for a fair hearing.  These are not answers that can be determined as to whether someone can fit the realm of Supreme Court justice in a lifetime appointment in 30 seconds, or based on two sentences that someone makes. 

So, I—I think we‘re making a mistake until we give her time to explain who she is, what she is, and what her decisions are.  Look, what the Democrats did to Miguel Estrada was an absolute same.  And—and I would hate to see the Republicans do this to this woman. 

SHUSTER:  Mr. Tancredo, first on what President Obama said, that she would have restated those controversial remarks in 2001, your reaction? 

TOM TANCREDO ®, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Polling must have told them it wasn‘t working very well, right? 

They—and I‘m sure, by the way, that they have had the discussion with her.  It‘s not going to be something they‘re going to do.  They have had a discussion with her.  She‘s going to do exactly what the president says.  She‘s going to say, “I would—I wish I could have rephrased it,” or whatever, because they have tested it.

And they figured out, you know what?  We haven‘t been able to actually defend her, as—as we thought we were going to.  So, it was politically not working for them.


SHUSTER:  Mr. Tancredo, do you know that they have actually done testing?  Do you know that they have actually done polling on this? 

TANCREDO:  No, no, no, I—no, it‘s my—no.



TANCREDO:  Totally—totally my—totally my conjecture.  That‘s all.

SHUSTER:  Well, then let‘s—let‘s move on.  Let‘s—let‘s focus on something that you said.

You have been one of her harshest critics.  Let‘s listen to something

a charge that you made.  Watch. 


TANCREDO:  If you belong to an organization called La Raza in this case, which is from my point of view, anyway, just nothing more than a Latino—it‘s a counterpart—it‘s a Latino KKK without the hoods and/or the nooses. 

If you belong to something like that, you have to explain that in a way that‘s going to convince me and a lot of other people that it‘s got nothing to do with race, even though the—the logo for La Raza is, all for the race, nothing for the rest. 



SHUSTER:  Mr. Tancredo, La Raza is the largest national Hispanic civil rights organization in the country. 

Susan Molinari has even gotten some awards from them.  You called them a Latino KKK.

Would you like to take this opportunity to apologize? 




TANCREDO:  Why should I? 

SHUSTER:  So, you believe that they‘re—you believe that they‘re like the KKK.


TANCREDO:  Susan...

SHUSTER:  Wait.  So, let me follow up, because...

TANCREDO:  Susan...

SHUSTER:  Let‘s just follow up right there. 

You believe they‘re like the KKK.  But here are the companies, Mr.

Tancredo, that are either on the board or are donors to La Raza.

TANCREDO:  Remember what I said.  I said without nooses.  I said without nooses. 

SHUSTER:  Johnson & Johnson, Allstate, AT&T, Coca-Cola, McDonald‘s.

TANCREDO:  So what?

SHUSTER:  They have a conference coming up talking about strengthening the Hispanic American family. 

How is that any of that anything like the KKK? 

TANCREDO:  That‘s not. 

But how about this?  And I‘m glad to know Susan got an award.  They—they gave an award to somebody else, by the way, not too long ago.  His name is Jose Angel Gutierrez.  Mr. Gutierrez was the founder of the Brown Berets.  He was given the National Council of La Raza‘s Chicano Hero award in 1994. 

Here‘s what he said, one of the things that he said led up to this award: “We have got to eliminate the gringo.  And what I mean by that is, if the worse comes to worst, we have to kill him.  We have to kill him.  We have to kill him, and never apologize.”

SHUSTER:  You know, Mr. Tancredo, if you and I want to get into a war of words and awards, we could go back to a lot of stuff that you have said over the years as well.  But here‘s the issue.

TANCREDO:  Are you going to let me finish this? 

Now, they gave him an award.

SHUSTER:  We‘re talking about a comparison between La Raza and the


TANCREDO:  Don‘t try to—don‘t try to excuse him.  Don‘t try to excuse this away. 

They gave this racist an award.  If that isn‘t an indication of where their head is, then you tell me what is. 

SHUSTER:  OK.  So, everybody who gets an award is a racist.


TANCREDO:  And if that isn‘t that a KKK type of activity, tell me what is. 

MOLINARI:  I think...


MOLINARI:  ... we need to discuss the qualifications of the Supreme—the standing Supreme Court justice... 


TANCREDO:  Well, I wasn‘t asked about that.


MOLINARI:  ... as Republicans. 

No, no, no, I‘m not—I‘m—I‘m just discussing this with David. 

I think that, as Republicans we have a woman whose—whose—whose life story should be celebrated.  It‘s a great reflection on the United States.  She‘s made some decisions that I think need to be explored and debated and—and given a full hearing.

SHUSTER:  But, Susan, how do we explore and debate that, when people like Mr. Tancredo are making accusations that this organization... 

MOLINARI:  I guess that—I guess...

SHUSTER:  ... is like the KKK?

MOLINARI:  I guess I‘m here to just say I would hope that the majority of Republicans, as most United States senators have done, will just wait, hear this woman, ask some difficult, discerning questions, get some very important answers...

TANCREDO:  Susan...

MOLINARI:  ... and then come to a deliberative decision.  That‘s what this is supposed to all be about.

TANCREDO:  Of course they will!

MOLINARI:  Sometimes, you know what?  The Democrats did not do that for Republicans, including the president of the United States with Sam Alito.

TANCREDO:  OK.  Thank you.  Listen, Susan is absolutely right.  That is the process that will unfold.  But it is certainly not unprecedented to have discussions of politicos leading up to the appointment and/or—I mean, the actual hearings in the Senate for lots and lots of people...

SHUSTER:  Well, Mr....

TANCREDO:  ... who have come before them for Supreme Court nomination.  There‘s nothing new about this.  And when you have a candidate this controversial, saying the kinds of things she says, and judging the kind of cases she has judged, especially on the 2nd Amendment issue and in the Connecticut issue on discrimination—these are very, very high-profile cases.  There‘s things that are certainly out there in the public domain...

SHUSTER:  Mr. Tancredo, that‘s fine...

TANCREDO:  ... for us to discuss...


SHUSTER:  And that‘s a totally valid and legitimate argument, as you say, but that‘s very different from suggesting that an organization is the KKK.  But here‘s what Rush Limbaugh said...

TANCREDO:  Well, we‘ve got two different things going on here...

SHUSTER:  ... along that vein—no, here‘s what Rush Limbaugh—here‘s what Rush Limbaugh said about Sotomayor.  Watch.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  How do you get promoted in a Barack Obama administration?  By hating white people, or even saying you do, or that they‘re not good or that—put them down, whatever, make white people the new oppressed minority.  And they‘re going right along with it because they‘re shutting up.  They‘re moving to the back of the bus.  They‘re saying, I can‘t use that drinking fountain?  OK.  I can‘t use that restroom?  OK.  That‘s the modern-day Republican Party.


SHUSTER:  Mr. Tancredo, do you agree that the Obama administration hates white people?

TANCREDO:  I don‘t know.  But I‘ll tell you this...

SHUSTER:  You don‘t know?

TANCREDO:  ... and I certainly agree that...

SHUSTER:  In other words, they might?

TANCREDO:  No, I have no idea if they hate white people or not.  But I will tell you...

SHUSTER:  Do you have any idea that they do hate white people?

TANCREDO:  I‘m sick of having people suggest that because I am Caucasian, I cannot—and that‘s the suggestion here, is that if you are white, Caucasian, male, you cannot comment on this sort of thing.  That‘s ridiculous!  You know what?  It is—this is a matter for all of us.  We‘re talking about the highest appointment in the land and on the judicial system.  Of course we should discuss it.

And I‘m appalled by, quote, “moderate Republicans” who are—I don‘t know who they are, when you were earlier saying they‘re out there saying, Don‘t say these things.  Listen, it‘s you guys who got us into the situation we‘re in, where we are in a minority status in the Congress.  We‘ve listened to you way too long.  If you want to do something...



MOLINARI:  I think that‘s a whole new HARDBALL show there, Tom, in terms of what got us here!

SHUSTER:  Is the Republican Party being helped or hurt by the likes of Tom Tancredo and Rush Limbaugh and...

TANCREDO:  Well, let‘s do it!  I‘d love to do it!


TANCREDO:  I had to serve with George Bush.

MOLINARI:  I think that this country is not served well until we get to a point where we discuss—and I will agree with Tom on this—some very important decisions and issues that this woman has made.  And I think that...

SHUSTER:  But Susan, how do we...

MOLINARI:  ... we are served as a party...

SHUSTER:  Absolutely, but how do we...

MOLINARI:  ... where we keep it on those topics...

SHUSTER:  But...

MOLINARI:  ... and reserve judgment until...

SHUSTER:  But how do you...

MOLINARI:  ... we have hearings.

SHUSTER:  ... get to that discussion when you‘ve got Rush Limbaugh saying that the Obama administration hates white people and you‘ve got Tom Tancredo saying he‘s not even sure?

MOLINARI:  Well, again, we do what was not done in some cases with regard to Bush appointees to lower courts, and that we have a full hearing, we allow the nation to pay attention.  We all just hold our fire and our judgment, and again, celebrate this moment in this woman‘s life, which I think you can do and still vote against, once you hear what the answers to her stories are.

I guess I would just hope that we all presume and proceed respecting her, respecting her life, and respecting her ability to make a legitimate and logical argument.  And then fair game to vote against her, if you think she is not up to the mandates of being a Supreme Court Justice.

SHUSTER:  Tom Tancredo, I want to be fair here and give you another opportunity...

TANCREDO:  I would love to be able to be here...

SHUSTER:  I want to be fair.  Do you regret anything you‘ve said on this segment, whether it‘s not knowing whether the Obama administration hates white people...


SHUSTER:  ... or about La Raza being like the KKK?

TANCREDO:  Do I regret it?


TANCREDO:  Do I regret it?  Do you regret anything you‘ve said so far in the implications that you‘ve thrown around on this program?  I don‘t think so.  Neither do I.


TANCREDO:  But I‘ll tell you this.  I certainly agree with Susan Molinari.  I certainly agree with her about the fact that we have—we‘ve seen this before.  I wish I could be here defending Miguel Estrada, which I would certainly do, I would love to do, because all of this discussion, at least from my point of view, about the appointment process has never—in my past, certainly nothing I‘ve ever said has anything to do with race.  I was quoting what somebody else has said who is now up for an appointment, and it had something to do with race, and also her affiliation with La Raza, “the race.”  It is something I think that deserves questioning.  I think it‘s absolutely legitimate for us to do so and it doesn‘t mean anybody‘s a racist if they ask the question.

SHUSTER:  Well, for the record, La Raza say that the La Raza they say means “the community,” not “the race,” that there‘s several meanings to it.  But in any case, it‘s a whole ‘nother issue.

TANCREDO:  Yes.  Right.  I know.

SHUSTER:  Susan Molinari and Tom Tancredo...

TANCREDO:  La Raza...

SHUSTER:  ... thank you both.

TANCREDO:  The race.  The race.



SHUSTER:  As always, we appreciate you both coming on.

Up next: Karl Rove gets caught in a lie about Judge Sotomayor.  Plus, how much would you pay for a cruise with Rove, John Bolton and other big-name conservatives?  Stick around for our big number next in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SHUSTER:  Back to HARDBALL, and time for the “Sideshow.”  First stop, a lesson in media etiquette courtesy of New York mayor Mike Bloomberg.  Last year, Mayor Bloomberg pointed to the tough economic times as he pushed through an amendment to the city‘s term limit laws allowing him to run for a third term in office.  So yesterday at a news conference, when Bloomberg said he‘s now very optimistic about New York City‘s economy, watch what happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If the economy is turning around, as you said, does that mean that the rationale for extending term limits, which was the fiscal challenge...

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY:  I don‘t know where you—why don‘t you just get serious questions here and we‘ll...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, but the question is...

BLOOMBERG:  The rationale for extending term limits is the city council voted it, and the public‘s going to have a chance on November 3rd to say what they want.  And I don‘t think we have to keep coming back to that.  When you have a serious question about the economy, I‘d be happy to answer it.  Anything else?  Thank you very much.  Nothing else?



SHUSTER:  “You are a disgrace,” he said at the end.  Oh, that‘s classy, Mayor Bloomberg.  And by the way, you had your spokesman apologize to the reporter on your behalf?  Talk about cheap.

Moving on.  When it comes to attacking President Obama‘s pick for the Supreme Court, former Bushie Karl Rove is relying on the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach.  Check out what he said about Judge Sonia Sotomayor earlier this week on FOX News.


KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  We know from her record on the second court of appeals that she‘s not a particularly effective colleague.  I first got wind of this when Sam Alito who was her colleague on the court.  While we were reviewing his record, it—you know, people who were familiar with the workings of the court said that she was combative, opinionated, argumentative, and as a result, was not able to sort of help create a consensus opinion on important issues.


SHUSTER:  So let‘s get this straight, Karl.  Sotomayor was just awful and you learned this from reviewing the record of her former second circuit colleague, Sam Alito.  Hey, Karl, Sam Alito was on the third circuit.  Alito was on the third.  Sotomayor is on the second.  They didn‘t serve together!  And you know what that means, Karl?  Your pants are on fire in a big way.

Speaking of Karl “never mind the facts” Rove, it‘s time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”  The Holland-America Noordam is sailing out in the Mediterranean later this year and it‘s got a rather interesting cast of entertainers.  According to “The Washington Post,” its guest speakers include Mr. Karl Rove, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who needed a recess appointment from Mr. Bush to become an ambassador, and another FOX News favorite, disgraced political strategist Dick Morris.

Anyway, how much will the top suite on this love boat cost you?  $14,000.  At that rate, maybe Rove will actually do some fact-checking before the cruise.  And perhaps Bolton won‘t engage in revisionist history.  Yes, I know, dream on.  $14,000 for the top ticket on the conservative love boat.  Tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next, Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he‘s seen those classified documents that Dick Cheney wants released, and Levin says they don‘t prove torture worked.  Who‘s right in this fight?  Stick around for that debate next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



SHUSTER:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  There appears to be a difference of opinion on those classified Bush-era torture documents and what they will show about the success of enhanced interrogation.  First, former vice president Dick Cheney.


RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth.  The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the memos in question.  Other memos laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted apparently were not even considered for release.


SHUSTER:  Senator Carl Levin, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, has a different opinion.  Watch.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIR:  Mr. Cheney has also claimed that the release of classified documents would prove his view that the techniques worked.  But those classified documents say nothing about numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of abusive techniques.  I hope that the documents are declassified so that people can judge for themselves what is fact and what is fiction.


SHUSTER:  So who‘s right?  David Corn is a columnist for CQPolitics and Washington bureau chief of “Mother Jones” magazine.  Terry Jeffrey is executive editor of Cyber News Service, also known as CNSnews.com.

Terry, your reaction to Senator Carl Levin?  He‘s looked at the same documents that Vice President Cheney wants released.

TERRY JEFFREY, CNSNEWS.COM:  Well, he‘s just flat wrong.  I‘ll give you information that all your viewers can check for themselves.  They can go to the Web site of “The New York Times,” which I did, and they can download the actual Justice Department memos.  May 30th, 2005, memo, page 10 quotes information from one of the CIA effectiveness memos, and what it essentially says is that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, was not cooperative.  They decided to use enhanced interrogation techniques against him, which included waterboarding...

SHUSTER:  A hundred and eighty-three times.

JEFFREY:  ... which—which included waterboarding.  And according to the information that the CIA gave the Justice Department, which President Obama made public, what happened then was he revealed the second wave attack, which was to hijack a plane, fly it into a building in LA.  They were able to use information they got from KSM to get Humbali (ph), who‘s a guy—an Indonesian terrorist.  From him, they were able to get Humbali‘s brother.  They were able to track down a 17-member al Garaiba (ph) terrorist cell that was tasked with carrying out this task.

And David, when this became an issue, I did a very simple thing.  I called the CIA and I said, Do you guys stand behind the factual information in this memo that this attack was stopped?  They said yes.

SHUSTER:  But it wasn‘t under oath.  And secondly, under oath we do now have testimony from an Ali Soufan, an FBI interrogator, who the first person who was waterboarded clammed up when he was waterboarded—wait a second—and the information he provided came from sugar cookies, giving him traditional cookies and whatnot at the beginning of the...


SHUSTER:  So how do we know the same information might not have been provided another way?


DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES”:  Let me—I actually have, believe it or not, the page from the same document, and above that paragraph, the line quoting an inspector general report from the CIA.  It says, quote, “There is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness in talking about the enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Now, I will say this.  To be fair to Dick Cheney—did I say that?  To be fair to Dick Cheney, I agree, I think those documents should come out.  I think the president has the authority to declassify them.  I‘d like to see them.  But we do have on the record Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, saying everything balanced out, it‘s wrong to use these measures.

We have FBI Director Robert Mueller also saying that no, you know, use of enhanced interrogation techniques led to the stopping of any plot.  So we have a lot of contradictory evidence right now.  And of course, you just heard Carl Levin say the documents don‘t say what Dick Cheney said they did.  We have contradictions on this one page.  We have contradictions from people who have seen the documents. 

JEFFREY:  We have this in black and white.  This information on this page is not being widely reported in the establishment press.  Like I said, it‘s from the “New York Times” website.  Everybody can look it up, read for themselves what they say.  The CIA says now they stand behind these facts.  I agree with David, let‘s release the memos. 

SHUSTER:  But Terry, the point is the president had said—he‘s looked at the memos.  It‘s not clear whether the information could have been gleaned other ways.  The fact of the matter is, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water boarded 183 times.  Obviously, the water boarding didn‘t work the first 182 times. 

JEFFREY:  For the sake of argument, let‘s assume they could have talked nice to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and he would‘ve told them about the second wave attack.  The fact of the matter is this memo says an attack that intended to hijack an airplane, fly it into a building in Los Angeles, and a 17-member cell that was tasked with carrying it out were rounded up because of information they got from using enhanced interrogation techniques against KSM. 

CORN:  What happened—these memos come from—written by the CIA when they‘re trying to justify the use of these techniques.  The inspector general report, which is sort of internal investigation of the use of these practices, says, wait a second, it‘s not so clear that these techniques led to anything.  So in the same page, you have two different accounts coming from out of the CIA. 

So that‘s why, I think—I understand what you‘re arguing here and in that paragraph, it does make a case for you.  But the whole case is much more unclear, which is why it‘d be good to have not just these memos, that Dick Cheney wants, but there are probably more than two memos related to this issue.  I would like to see the full inspector general report and have some sort of independent investigation, which Dick Cheney has not yet called for. 

JEFFREY:  This memo is a Justice Department memo.  The facts in here were given to the Justice Department—

CORN:  No, no—

JEFFREY:  Wait a minute. 

CORN:  It quotes—

JEFFREY:  The facts in here were given to the Justice Department by the general council of the CIA.  The CIA stands by those facts.  Now, I agree with—

SHUSTER:  Terry, were there other attacks in the second Bush term that were thwarted because of intelligence? 


SHUSTER:  Then explain to me, was the nation put in danger because water boarding stopped at the beginning of the second Bush term.  It didn‘t continue.  For whatever reason, they decided to stop water boarding.  So in other words, you‘re telling us that attacks were thwarted, that the nation was in danger, but Dick Cheney and George W. Bush put our nation in danger because they stopped water boarding in their second term. 

JEFFREY:  One fact everybody knows, there wasn‘t another al Qaeda attack against the United States after September 11, 2001, because the Bush administration succeeded.  What about who was water boarded and why?  Wait a minute, fact, there were exactly three people water boarded.  Who were those people?  They were Nasiri, who was the guy who did the USS Cole attack. 

SHUSTER:  And he was water boarded when he refused to make any connections between Iraq and al Qaeda.  And he made false allegations. 

JEFFREY:  Three people were water boarded. 

SHUSTER:  Let‘s start in order.  Abu Zubaydah. 

JEFFREY:  Let me get these facts out.  MSNBC doesn‘t like to report these facts.  Now if you can—

SHUSTER:  Just lay it out. 

JEFFREY:  Number one was Nasiri.  He was the guy who did the USS Cole, killed 17 U.S. sailors.  He was water boarded by the CIA.  The second guy was Abu Zubaydah.  He was the number three or four guy in al Qaeda.  He  ran the training camps that trained the terrorists for al Qaeda.  The third guy who was water boarded, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the guy who master minded the 9/11 attacks.  There were criteria for why those were the only three people water boarded—


SHUSTER:  Can I put some other facts you left out.  Hold on and I‘ll give you a second.  Some other facts.  First of all, Nasiri, he was water boarded when he refused to make a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.  He made a connection and it turned out to be false information. 

Abu Zubaydah provided information before he was water boarded and then he clammed up.  The issue now is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and whether the information he provided, presumably while being water boarded, could have been obtained in another fashion. 

JEFFREY:  You would have allowed the attack in L.A. to take place because you would not have poured water on this guy‘s face. 

CORN:  Terry, you have the FBI director himself.  You can take issue with him saying that no attack was stopped because of the use of torture.  That‘s the FBI director.  I assume he‘s in a position to know. 

JEFFREY:  Maybe he wasn‘t. 

CORN:  Well, you know better than he does? 

JEFFREY:  No, I‘m saying maybe he wasn‘t.  We don‘t know that.  He was in a position to know the information the CIA was getting here. 

CORN:  I assume he was. 

JEFFREY:  This was all outside the United States. 

CORN:  Yes.  But when it comes—

JEFFREY:  He doesn‘t have jurisdiction. 

SHUSTER:  Here‘s the bottom line, we all agree on, the Obama administration should release these documents.  This idea that there was an executive order in the Bush administration that prevents it, the president can over-ride that with his signature.  The president ought to release these documents so all of us can figure out -- 

CORN:  The idea of Dick Cheney saying, my god, we need more transparency, release documents.  I mean, what‘s good for the goose is good for the gander. 

SHUSTER:  We‘ve got to wrap.  David Corn, Terry Jeffrey, we‘re going to continue, I promise.  This debate is not over. 

Up next, President Obama dives into the controversy surrounding the comments of his pick for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor.  He says that she would‘ve restated her words.  Where‘s the story headed now?  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


SHUSTER:  We are back with the politics fix.  Susan Page is the “USA Today‘s” Washington bureau chief, and Ron Brownstein is the Atlantic Media political editor.  I‘ll get it right one of these years.

Susan, first, the president addressed the controversial speech from Sonia Sotomayor in 2001.  What do you make of how the president is handling it? 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”:  I think the White House spent a day or two thinking maybe they could just slide through this, not really address questions about this comment she made.  And they decided today they couldn‘t do that, that President Obama said she would have restated it.  Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, also said in a briefing that she wished she had used other words, an unartful statement. 

I think they felt they had a little bit of a problem there.  And they didn‘t want it to go on without her addressing it for months until the Senate hearings.  I think the White House is very happy with the way this debate over the nomination is going.  But this was one little problem which they tried to fix today. 

SHUSTER:  Is it a victory for Republicans, Ron, or does it, essentially, make this GOP civil war even more difficult?  Because now there really is a question—essentially, you‘ve taken off the table, the White House has, something that conservatives can attack? 

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  Well, certainly there‘s a sharp divergence in tone and emphasis.  You have the people on the outside, the Gingrich, Limbaugh, Tancredo, going after her really vitriolic language, kind of continuing a pattern we have see from some of the conservative Republicans since Obama took office. 

Then in the last few days, you have had people like Session, Hatch, and Cornyn all expressing alarm at that kind of a tone. 

Look, what‘s clear in the broader sense is that conservatives see the principle vulnerability here, this whole nexus of identity politics, racial politics, affirmative action, charges of reverse discrimination.  That is going to be front and center.  But I think the elected officials, if they are going to be able to press that case, have to kind of wrestle control of this argument back from the non-elected officials, who are presenting it in a way that it is so inflammatory it‘s going to be very for the elected officials to ever make their case. 

SHUSTER:  And the White House would love nothing more than for their inflammatory rhetoric to continue, because, again, that marginalizes the GOP. 

PAGE:  I think this debate is framed.  I think it‘s very hard to get back to some of the legitimate questions you could ask Sonia Sotomayor about the New Haven fire fighters case.  I think what has happened is the inflammatory rhetoric—you know, the White House would have paid for you to air the debate you just did between Tom Tancredo and Susan Molinari, because it‘s—his comments are so incendiary that it takes away the possibility of having a debate about some of these more substantive matters. 

SHUSTER:  Well, we‘re going to talk about something else that is also incendiary after our next break.  That is some people suggest that some of these attacks are now borderline sexist, if they haven‘t already crossed the line.  Ron Brownstein, Susan Page from “USA Today,” stay with us.  We‘ll be back with the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SHUSTER:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  There have been some criticisms of Sotomayor that she has a temperament issues.  Some Democrats suggest that‘s sexist.  They point to what they say is a pattern in the GOP.  Let‘s put aside Sotomayor.  Here‘s an RNC ad that compares House Speaker Pelosi to Pussy Galore, the female villain in the film “Goldfinger.” Watch. 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA:  The famous lead us all the time. 

But my statement is clear.  Let me read it again.  Let me read it again.  I‘m sorry.  That‘s the wrong page. 


SHUSTER:  Never mind going after a Democrat, they‘ve also gone after a moderate Republican, the GOP, at least in Texas.  They went after Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.  She is running for governor in the GOP primary against conservative Governor Perry.  Wayne Slater asked Perry political consultant Dave Carney about welcoming new voters to the GOP.  Here‘s what he said: “that doesn‘t mean you take your principles and throw them out the door and become a whorehouse, and let anybody in who wants to come in, regardless.” 

Does the GOP have a sexist problem? 

PAGE:  I think women of various political views have had the experience of having men be condescending about their intellect, or call them bullies, where a man in the same situation would be called forceful.  So the Republicans in this debate are not only running the risk of putting off Hispanics, which is the nation‘s fastest growing ethnic group, but also women, who actually make up a majority of the US electorate.

I think this is a very risky approach for the Republicans to take. 

BROWNSTEIN:  A couple points.  First, among women, there is a sharp difference between college educated women, who are predominantly Democratic, and non-college, the waitress mom, working women, who were—remained overwhelmingly Republican, culturally conservative, pretty hawkish on foreign policy.  They voted pretty strongly for Obama.  So there is that cleavage.

This kind of language, I think, is probably most dangerous for Republicans with those upscale women.  I guess I would put this less in the context of a problem specifically with women, than a problem that Republicans have had, as I mentioned before, since the election and speaking to the country at large.  Too many Republicans seem overly focused on speaking to the base.

When Rick Perry is talking about secession, and Tom Tancredo is comparing La Raza to the KKK, and the RNC is approving a resolution saying the Democrats want to reconstruct the country on socialist lines, not to mention the bigot comments from Gingrich and Limbaugh; you have a party right now that is overly focused on talking to itself, on its core base. 

They are losing track of how you speak when you‘re not on Hannity or Limbaugh‘s show.  And the danger is that the party looks extreme to that big middle in the country.  Obama‘s approval rating among moderates is 70 percent.  Among independents, it‘s 60 percent.  Those are the kind of voters Republicans have to speak to in order to regain competitiveness.  Right now, they don‘t seem to be doing it.

SHUSTER:  Yet, there may be legitimate issues that are worth probing with Sotomayor.  But where is the line? 

PAGE:  I think certainly there‘s substantive issues about her judicial policy, the decisions she‘s made in the past.  There‘s no question you could have a debate over her qualifications, but that‘s not the debate we‘ve had so far.  When Dan Carney says, you don‘t want to take in everybody who is going to walk in through the door.  Actually, if you‘re running office, you‘re pretty much in favor of getting votes from anybody who is willing to walk through that door.

BROWNSTEIN:  That‘s right.  And look, quickly, yes, in fact, these issues of racial preferences have been volatile in the past in American politics.  They‘ve kind of been submerged for the past 20 years.  But for four decades, it‘s been pretty consistent, about 80 percent of whites oppose the kind of program that New Haven was pursing.  So there is potentially some vulnerability there.  But can you get back to it after this kind of rhetoric? 

SHUSTER:  Ron Brownstein, Susan Page, thank you both very much.  We appreciate.  Chris Matthews will be back Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  I‘m David Shuster.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.



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


Discussion comments