updated 6/23/2009 11:23:18 AM ET 2009-06-23T15:23:18

Guests: Chuck Todd, Eugene Robinson, Mark Huckman, Chuck Todd, Rep. Russ Carnahan, Rep. Mike Coffman, Lisa Mascaro, Chris Cillizza, Jeanne Cummings, Joan Walsh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is the president too cool to believe?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in New York.  Leading off tonight:

President Obama versus Howard Beale.  The Republicans seem to be holding a Howard Beale contest these days—you know, the guy in the movie “Network” who told people to open their windows and yell out, “I‘m mad as hell and I‘m not going to take this anymore.”  Well, that‘s what Republicans are challenging each other to do on Iran, yell as loud as they can, in fact, demand that the president of the United States yell as loud as he can as, if he were Howard Beale, their new Republican standard of what a modern American head of state should be.  We‘ll have two members of Congress debate this point.

Also, President Obama needs to win on health care, not just not because he thinks it‘s the right thing to do but because winning itself is important.  He needs a big “W,” a win, not an “L,” on his inaugural presidential year.  If the president loses this early fight the way Clinton lost on health care, Republicans who want him to fail will smell blood and threaten his entire agenda.  Losing leads to more losing in politics.  Chuck Todd joins us later to talk the HARDBALL politics of health care.

Plus: Why Senator John Ensign‘s affair may have repercussions far beyond Nevada, since today, every sex scandal reminds people of every other sex scandal, in Louisiana, for instance.

Also, how much trouble is Senator Chris Dodd in up in Connecticut?  Enough that he got some big help over the weekend from a very heavy hitter, Senator Ted Kennedy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA):  Quality health care as a fundamental right for all Americans has been the cause of my life, and Chris Dodd has been my closest ally in this fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And President Obama proved once again he‘s got the timing of a big room comedian.  A highlight of his nighttime—well, his late night monologue on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

We begin tonight, however, with Republican criticism, and it‘s getting louder, of the president‘s measured reaction to the horrible events over in Iran.  Democratic congressman Russ Carnahan is from Missouri.  He‘s a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  And Republican congressman Mike Coffman of Colorado is a member of the Armed Services Committee and also a man who served his country in uniform.  I always like to say thank you, sir, for your service, to start tonight.

Here‘s what Senator John McCain, another man who served his country, said about the president on “Face the Nation” yesterday.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FMR PRESIDENTIAL CND:  I‘d like to see the president be stronger than he has been, although I appreciate the comments that he made yesterday.  I think we ought to have America lead.  When you look at the statements by President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Brown, have been much stronger—we should lead.  And I also think he should point out that this is not just an Iranian issue.  This is an American issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Congressman Coffman?  What do you mean, it‘s an American issue?  It‘s Iran.  It‘s their election.  Why is it an American issue?  Maybe I‘m being a devil‘s advocate here, but explain.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R-CO), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE:  Well, you know, the president really set the stage for this in his Cairo speech, when he talked about the need for these regimes to move toward democracy, to move toward freedom.  And I think that the president certainly could have been stronger in his statements.  And when we look at what President Sarkozy of France has said, when we look at what Chancellor Merkel of Germany has said, much stronger comments.  I think that the Iranian people on the streets are looking for this president to be stronger on this issue.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think would the significance of one of those people on the streets of Iran were to carry a small American flag?  What would be the significance, Congressman?

COFFMAN:  Well, certainly, I think we‘re not inciting that.  But...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know what would happen.

COFFMAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  You know what would happen.

COFFMAN:  What we know, though...

MATTHEWS:  If there‘s any sign that we were involved in any way with that Iranian—well, it‘s a silent revolution, in a way, but if we were involved in that in any way, wouldn‘t it kill it?

COFFMAN:  You know, we have to be careful.  No, you know what I think that the people on the streets understand what—you know, there are people there that love us or hate us.  I think Ahmadinejad, you know, is no friend of the United States, no matter what we do is not going to be our friend.  But I think for the president of the United States to make the same statement that President Sarkozy has made, that Chancellor Merkel has made about the need for at least a recount of this election, to make sure that we have a legitimate regime in place to deal with.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s what the president said in his statement on Saturday.  “The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching.  We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost.  We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people.  Universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected.  And the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.”

Congressman Carnahan, do you subscribe to those words?  Do you think they‘re enough?

REP. RUSS CARNAHAN (D-MO), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE:  I think the president has struck on the right balance here.  You know, we‘ve gotten Iran wrong for a long, long time, and he‘s had a chance to get it right with a fine balance.  He‘s trying to acknowledge those that are putting their life at risk to speak out there.  He wants to, I think, encourage them, but also, what we do can also be used against them if we get it wrong.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this?  Congressman Coffman, you seem like a smart fellow.  I‘m not being condescending because you sound like it.  And here‘s the question.  Don‘t you know the history of the United States in Iran and how we sort of suck, in their eyes over there?  They don‘t like us.  They saw what we did when they tried a democratic process back in the ‘50s and we pulled a coup with Kermit Roosevelt.  The CIA went in there and put the Peacock Throne in charge.  They saw us side with Saddam Hussein against Iran, and some of them believe we‘re responsible for the weaponry he used, the WMD which we now used as a reason to go into Iraq, which I know you opposed that war.

But we have such a terrible rap sheet when it comes to the people in the streets of Iran.  Wouldn‘t we be better to engage in a little benign neglect in terms of our words?

COFFMAN:  You know, I think that—I think the president...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, really, if you were a Democrat, wouldn‘t you be saying this?

COFFMAN:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t this a partisan assessment you‘re offering us right now?

COFFMAN:  I think this is...

MATTHEWS:  Because wouldn‘t you be more respectful of a president if he was in your party right now?

COFFMAN:  I think that this is an extension of the president‘s speech in Cairo, and I think it was a brilliant speech and this is merely following through, taking that next step for what the president said.  And I think that the people of Iran that are demonstrating in the streets today expect the leadership from this president.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you know that?

COFFMAN:  I think that if we look at the Iranian people, I think that the—that the younger people, the educated people tend to be much more pro-American.  When we look at some of the ruling elite of Iran, they tend not to be pro-American.  And so I think that—that—you know, the people who are our enemies today are going to be our enemies tomorrow.  The people who are our friends today we want to keep as our friends tomorrow.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t seem to—you don‘t have any squeamishness about our need not to intervene in their politics.  You don‘t have any sense of nationalism on their side.

COFFMAN:  The down side...

MATTHEWS:  One problem I‘ve had with the neo-conservatives and the Republican Party lately is this almost public ignorance of nationalism.  We‘re nationalistic as hell in this country.  We call it patriotism.  Don‘t we know that every other country in the world has something like it, a sense of, Stay out of our rhubarb.  Don‘t mess with our business.  It‘s our election.  Would we want anybody involved with our very tricky, sticky 2000 election in this country, and you could argue, our Ohio results back in 2004?  Would we want the French or Sarkozy or Merkel putting their nose in our business?  Would we?

COFFMAN:  I think when...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you have a sense of projected nationalism and understand that the people of Iran have good reason not to have our nose in their business?  It‘s always been negative.

COFFMAN:  I think in this instance, it could be positive.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

COFFMAN:  And I think it could be positive because—and the worry is this.  If we have a regime that doesn‘t have legitimacy, then—then—regimes like that tend to be more aggressive, tend to focus more on external threats.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COFFMAN:  And so I think we are—our own national security interests are on the line on this particular issue, and I think we ought to be on the side of the people on the street.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we could knock off this government by pushing for a new election?

COFFMAN:  Well, for one thing, I don‘t think we should overtly ever talk about regime change, but I think we should talk about a fair and honest recount of this election.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go back to Congressman Carnahan.  Your sense of the president‘s handling of this from A to Z?  How‘s he doing?

CARNAHAN:  I think he‘s struck a very difficult balance.  But I think that we‘ve got to look for a leadership in this country that we can engage with on some serious matters, like their nuclear ambitions.  We‘ve got to engage with this two thirds of their population that are under 30 and use technology—that‘s the amazing part of this revolution—and to do that in a way that—they‘re finding their voice.  They‘re finding they can make a difference in their lives, and we need to support that effort.

It‘s going to be tricky, but I think the president has done well in terms of his public comments, starting with Cairo, the way people look at us from the Arab world.  I think this is an important step in the right direction.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Coffman, explain to me again how we use our public diplomacy right now and the tougher language you propose to get so we don‘t have to choose between going to war with Iran and letting them have a nuclear weapon.  How does it actually—I know you say it‘d be nice to take the side of the—Mousavi, rather than Ahmadinejad.  Who wouldn‘t?  Of course, we‘re on his side, rather than the other guy.  The other guy‘s our enemy.

But how does opposing the other guy at this instance help us get to a point where we don‘t have to choose between war and that country having a nuclear weapon?  How does it get us there?

COFFMAN:  You know, I don‘t think we need to talk about taking sides between the candidates.  I think what we have to talk about is that natural extension that the Iranian people are looking for based on the president‘s Cairo speech, and that is he will support emerging democracies wherever they occur.

And so his way of supporting this in a very diplomatic tone—because first ever all, I think he ought to use condemnation, the word.  And secondly, I thought ought to join with President Sarkozy, join with Chancellor Merkel and talk about the need to have a recount and provide that leadership to coalesce international support to place pressure, diplomatic pressure, on Iran to hold a recount so that we are dealing and negotiating with a regime that has legitimacy among its population.

MATTHEWS:  And how does a recount, if they‘d ever agree to it, which might be far-fetched—but if they did agree to a recount, how would that get us closer to not having to face war with Iran or them having a nuclear weapon?

COFFMAN:  Well, if we have a recount, we have—or we have a new election and we have a...

MATTHEWS:  A recount.

COFFMAN:  ... a regime that‘s seen as being legitimate by its people...

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute.  How does a recount get us that—get us there?  I just don‘t see how it gets us to avoiding a war or nuclear weapons in the hands of that guy.  How does it get us there?

COFFMAN:  No, it does influence that process because if, in fact—I believe that if, in fact, you have an election that is seen as legitimate by its people—the reason why the people are on the street today is because they think that—they feel that this election was stolen from them and...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but how does this...

COFFMAN:  ... it wasn‘t legitimate.

MATTHEWS:  ... get us to avoiding a war or that guy having nuclear weapons?  I don‘t care about—I care about U.S. interests here, us.  How do we get...

COFFMAN:  When regimes...

MATTHEWS:  ... better off by asking for a recount?  How‘s it help us?

COFFMAN:  When regimes are insecure in their power, when they are unstable because of their legitimacy, they tend to be focused on external threats, whether it‘s North Korea or it‘s Iran, and they tend to be more aggressive, more militaristic.  And so a way to bring down the temperature is to make sure that we have regime in place that has legitimacy among its people.

MATTHEWS:  Well, couldn‘t you argue even more strongly that the more we look like we‘re trying to interfere with their politics, the more they have a right to build a weapon to use to protect themselves?

COFFMAN:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  That seems to me more commonsensical.  If we start butting into their business, then this little creep over there, whatever you want to call him, Ahmadinejad, he gets to say, Hey, we need weaponry to fight this big brother who wants to come after us.

Your thoughts, Mr. Carnahan.

CARNAHAN:  Exactly.  That‘s the problem here.  There‘s a fine line.  If we appear to be meddling too much, that will be used against these reformers, and again, make any efforts for us down the road dealing with whoever the legitimate government is—it‘s going to make our progress harder.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I just used this as an example for years, and I‘ve supported it.  We‘ve gone after Castro and we‘ve waved the saber at him for what, 60 years, practically.  And it‘s only made that guy more popular among the commies who are still behind him over there, Congressman Coffman.  You just make these little guys look bigger by spending all your energy trashing them.  It just seems to work that way.

COFFMAN:  You know, they‘ve had a political process in Iran that‘s been established, that is...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COFFMAN:  You know, it‘s a theocracy, but they had elections, and I think there‘s a legitimate concern among the population that the rules weren‘t followed in this election.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COFFMAN:  And so it‘s merely telling, you know, Iran that they ought to follow their own processes.  And is it meddling at some level?  Absolutely.  But you know, there are real concerns about the stability of this country, about a country that is probably going to emerge to have nuclear weapons capability.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what we‘re trying to avoid.  It‘s great to have you on again.  Thank you for your service...

COFFMAN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  ... Congressman Coffman.  And thank you, as always, Congressman Russ Carnahan...

CARNAHAN:  Good to be with you.

MATTHEWS:  ... of Missouri.

Coming up: President Obama may be in jeopardy of not having the votes to get his health care plan reform through.  Of course, the reason I say that is one of the real grown-ups in the Senate, Dianne Feinstein of California, says so.  Let‘s analyze that thought by her as an observer, in fact, a player in this fight.  Does she want something?  What‘s that all about?  This is going to be a tough fight for health care.  It‘s going to come down to 60 votes.  If they don‘t get the 60, they don‘t win.

You‘re watching HARDBALL—and by the way, if the president doesn‘t win, he loses—only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  To those who here in Washington who‘ve grown accustomed to sky is falling prognoses and the certainties that we cannot get this done, I have to repeat or revive an old saying we had from the campaign—Yes, we can.  We are going to get this done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, we can.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Obama today giving his assurance that health care reform would pass this year, but some in his own party aren‘t so sure.

Here‘s, as I said, a real grown-up in the party, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  To be candid with you, I don‘t know that he has the votes right now.  I think there‘s a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What are the political stakes for Obama get health care passed this year?  Does the success of Obama‘s presidency ride on it?  Chuck Todd is NBC News chief White House correspondent and NBC News political director, as well.  Eugene Robinson‘s an MSNBC political analyst, and of course, lest we forget—I never will—Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, let‘s start and I want to start with Chuck, our guy on the beat.  One thing we‘ve learned, it seems, from presidents is you better win that first year.  Reagan won the first year.  Bush won the first year.  If you win the first year, you really get it going.  If you don‘t win on your big issue, your pet project, if you will—and it‘s more important than that—you really set a standard for defeat and you go down to further losses down the road.  Your thoughts on this.

CHUCK TODD, NBC CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, no, you‘re—

A, you‘re absolutely right.  And B, it‘s, like, people that are familiar with the way Rahm Emanuel thinks on trying to strategize when it comes to a legislative agenda and getting these big things done, you know, this is the lessons he feels like he learned the hard way in that first two years of the Clinton administration, ‘93, ‘94, when a lot of their big things went down.  Sure, they got their big stimulus package, but they never did get health care.  And that is what defines those first two years when you look back on it.  Fair or unfair, that‘s what it‘s seen as.

And you‘re right, Chris.  Think of a major—you know, he got Welfare reform.  That was probably the only other big legislative reform he got done after that.  And so you‘re absolutely right.  This first year is critical.  That‘s why they want to push it.  And that‘s why, frankly—and remember, early on, they were talking about getting both energy and health care done.  And while we‘re going to hear a little talk on energy this week coming from the president because they believe they‘re getting some momentum in the House, I don‘t think that they‘re ready to fight energy in the Senate, which is going to be a heavier lift than what this health care push is.

MATTHEWS:  What I‘m stunned here, Gene, why the president felt he had to be his own Knute Rockne here.  Why‘d he have to give a pep talk in his own locker room?  He‘s the guy that has to win.  Why‘s he giving the pep talk to who?  And why‘s he concerned enough?  If he‘s Mr. Cool, why‘s he worried?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he may or may not be worried about the actual votes, but I think he would—he would properly be worried about folks like us and about a buzz out there that...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  ... well, maybe this thing is in trouble.  Maybe this isn‘t going to get through, you know, that—that sort of thing, if it were to take on its own momentum, it clearly wouldn‘t help his—his efforts to get it through. 

MATTHEWS:  Explain that, why that would work, why a bunch of column writers like you saying, this thing is in trouble, would that give a permission slip to certain wobbly Democrats, like Ben—Ben Nelson of Nebraska, would it give them a permission slip to get off base on this? 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  I think it—I think it does give something of a permission slip.  And it certainly takes away the feeling that this is absolutely the moment, it is inevitable, just it‘s going to find a way through.

And I think he wants to kind of reestablish that sense as the conventional wisdom in Washington.  Now, what we‘re going to go through, I think, is a period of unattractive sausage-making. 

Dianne Feinstein‘s objection, as far as I understand it, concerned a provision that she thought was unfair California. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  There‘s a certain inference there one could draw that, well, if you give her a better—give California a better deal, you got her vote. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is she shopping, Gene?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Say it.  Say it.  Say it.  Is she shopping?  Is she shopping for something she wants?

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Yes, I mean, absolutely.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I like that.

ROBINSON:  She talked about a provision that she thought too took much money away from California...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ROBINSON:  ... and didn‘t give enough.

And—and the clear inference that I drew was that, well, if you kind of change that around, then she would be more disposed to look favorably on the bill.  So, now do you have to do that 50, 60 times to get your 60 votes?  I don‘t know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Well, he may have to.  It‘s called retell.

Let‘s take a look at the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll -- 76 percent say choice of a public and a private health care is important.  So, the American people constantly getting polled by “The New York Times,” by us, Chuck—and you trust our poll more than any—keep being asked, do you want a public option?  Do you want one of the plans?

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Sort of like, is there going to be a general hospital in town?  That‘s a public option, not a Catholic, Jewish hospital, sectarian hospital, or a private one.  But most of these tend to have a general hospital. 

I think people intuitively say, I want some option that isn‘t in the profit system.  What is the reason you think is the reason why people want a public option?

TODD:  Well, it‘s the safety net issue, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TODD:  When you talk—it‘s this idea—and this is what makes this so difficult. 

It‘s—when you see some of this other polling, you say, well, people don‘t want to pay more taxes for health care, and people don‘t want this for more health care. 

I had a Republican spokesperson say to me, well, everybody loves ice cream, but not everybody loves rum raisin, right?  So, everybody wants more health care coverage, but nobody is sure, you know, which type that they want.  The public option, you ask them that, yes, they want that.  But then, if you tell them, well, it‘s going to cost more in taxes, or you might not be able to go to the doctor as much, well, suddenly, they‘re not going to like it.

And that is where this thing gets so difficult to do.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  But I—look, for—Chris, my sense is this.  A public that has been dying for health care reform, why do they want it?  It‘s a fear issue.  It‘s a safety net issue.  They think they‘re going to lose their job.  They want to know how they‘re going to have health care coverage. 

They know that their parents are living longer.  They know they are living longer.  They don‘t know how they‘re going to cover all this.  They‘re worried about insurance.  So, this is about a safety net. 

If a major health care legislation gets passed in Congress, and there

isn‘t this instant feel by the public that something has changed, then I

don‘t know if it ends up a political winner for the president.  That‘s the

I think the frustration the White House has on—on this public option debate vs. what the lawmakers have on Capitol Hill. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you gentlemen a preview of what‘s coming up in the next segment.  We have got the betting odds coming out of Ireland, which I always love these Dublin betting odds, Gene. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Maybe it‘s the luck of the Irish.  But these are not bad. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  These are betting on Intrade.  You can all write these contracts yourself right now, if you bet.

I think it‘s a good bet.  Now, you guys have to be careful, I know.  Well, Gene, you can be a little more loosey-goosey here than—than—than my friend Chuck can, since he‘s an objective reporter from the White House. 

But the betting odds right now is about 43 percent chance we will get an actual bill through.  I think it‘s a little better than that.  What do you think on the betting odds in Ireland right now that we will get a health care bill, per se?

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Right. 

Oh, I think it‘s better than that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  I think it‘s—I think it‘s certainly better than 50.

I—look, I think there‘s—there‘s always wiggle room in health care.  I think this is a different atmosphere from ‘93.  I think—you know, one thing I‘m pretty sure of in the polling, if you go out and ask people, “Well, should we just leave health care alone; should we not try to fix it?” you‘re—you‘re not going to get a very good response on that question.  That‘s not what people want.

And—and—now, I think Obama has got some work to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  And a lot of it is bully pulpit kind of work that he‘s been trying to do.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ROBINSON:  And he‘s got to break through this kind of...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ROBINSON:  ... wave of negativism if he wants to—to actually succeed. 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, it seems to me, if the president gets within range, he ought to be able to pick off a couple Republicans to offset a couple Democrats.

TODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe Ben Nelson will be a problem, or Blanche Lincoln might be a problem, whatever.

But I think—I think he can get—reach people, four or five Republicans on this—that‘s my hunch—by talking to them and listening to their concerns.  I think—I think he can negotiate his way to 60 votes on this.  Do you think that is true?

TODD:  I think that is true.

And I am surprised.  I think those Intrade guys always seem to underestimate Obama a little bit.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  I noticed it during the campaign and even now. 

So, I—you know, I‘m surprised those odds—not to get way to in the weeds on gambling—but I‘m surprised those contracts aren‘t for—aren‘t for higher.  But I want to pick up on something quickly...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take advantage of that myth.  Maybe we‘re right, they‘re wrong, we make some money, Chuck.  I mean, this is possible.

TODD:  There you go.  I tell you, it‘s always been tempting. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  I want to pick up on something Gene said.  You know, tomorrow, the president is having a news conference.  And it has this feeling—you know, he‘s a big fan of basketball. 

And when you watch a basketball game and you see—you see your team

you‘re watching a game, and you see one team suddenly in a slump and one team on a run, maybe they score three or four points in a row, and the good coaches know when to call a time-out and say, OK, we have got to slow—we have got to stop this game here for a couple seconds.

MATTHEWS:  Change the pace. 

TODD:  And change the pace. 

That‘s what tomorrow‘s news conference—you know, it‘s funny.  When

when I saw the e-mail come over that they‘re holding it, you know, we didn‘t have a hint that it was coming.  They claim that they have been planning this for weeks.  Fine.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, gosh.

TODD:  But I will tell you, it couldn‘t be coming at a better time. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  He needs to reset things when it comes to Congress and health care.  He needs to get a little more—reset things on Iran, reset things on the deficit, take control of everything a little bit. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, at the rate you‘re going, by the time you‘re as old as me, you‘re going to be a freaking genius. 

TODD:  Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You are so smart.  That is exactly what is going on here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Slow down the pace.  The other team is scoring.  They got a hot hand.

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t let them feed the hot guy. 

Thank you so well, Chuck Todd, Gene Robinson—Pulitzer Prize-winning Gene Thomas (sic).

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Gene Robinson. 

And brilliant Chuck Todd.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Donald Rumsfeld takes revisionist history to a new level.  You have got to catch this guy, Rumsfeld.  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.”  What a strange fellow he is.  It‘s hard to dislike him.  He‘s so—I love the new word we‘re using all day now—opaque. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: new guy in the showroom.

Over the weekend, at a black-tie dinner in Washington, President Obama spoofed his new role at General Motors, the car company that taxpayers now, like it or not, have a three-fifths interest in. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have no ambition to run an auto company.  I‘m not the salesman in chief.  And GM will rise or fall on the quality of its products—like the taut, athletic design of the new Buick Enclave. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  It‘s French-seamed leather and warm wood tones make the Enclave more than transportation. 

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  It‘s a modern driver‘s retreat!

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  Come on, work with me here. 

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  I have got cars to move, people!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  God, I‘m thinking of Ricardo Montalban and rich Corinthian leather.

Anyway, that was the president at the annual Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner, the event most known because I met my wife there.  Look at her.  What a gorgeous creature and wonderful wife she‘s been.  Our anniversary yesterday, by the way, 30 years—well, 30 years next time -- 29 years.  But I met her 31 years ago at that event. 

Next up: a reminder to think before you hit the send button. 

You have all seen what‘s happening in the streets of Tehran, how people are getting beaten, getting hit with tear gas, getting shot.  Take a look at what Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio of Florida posted on his Twitter page after watching those scenes that we have been watching.

Quote: “I have a feeling the situation in Iran would be a little different if they had a Second Amendment, like ours.”

Wow.  Think would be different if the protesters had the constitutional right to bear arms, to fight back against the Iranian guard?  I hadn‘t thought of that.  Then again, it wouldn‘t really be a nonviolent protest, would it, Mr. Rubio, if the nonviolent protesters were walking around with guns? 

Finally, a little dose of revisionist history, courtesy of Donald Rumsfeld, by his own rules.  A new book about the former defense secretary by Bradley Graham, which is coming out tomorrow, has Rumsfeld with a bone to pick with us, the media.

He, the former secretary, believes it‘s wrong that the blame for selling the WMD case for our invasion overthrow and occupation of Iraq wasn‘t spread around sufficiently enough.

Quote: “Rumsfeld noted accusations that Bush and Cheney had lied about

Saddam Hussein‘s possession of weapons of mass destruction, ‘They‘”—

that‘s the media—that‘s us—“‘never say Colin Powell lied.  They don‘t

say Condi lied.‘”

Well, according to the book, Rumsfeld has several large three-ring binders he‘s keeping, one for members of Congress, another for foreign dignitaries, still another for U.S. military personnel, still yet another for former associates, still another for friends, containing the letters of support he got after he was sacked by President Bush.

I will never forget the day Mr. Rumsfeld told me that President Bush never asked him if we should invade Iraq.  Here‘s a reminder of that scene. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, APRIL 29, 2006)

MATTHEWS:  Did you advise the president to go to war? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Yes. 

He did not ask me, is—is the question.  And, to my knowledge, there are any number of people he did not ask.

MATTHEWS:  Did that surprise you , as secretary of defense?

RUMSFELD:  Well, I thought it was interesting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it was—he was never asked as secretary of defense whether we should go to war?  I would say that was interesting.  And that‘s a strange way to put it.

Time now—he‘s a strange kind of guy. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

The president has got a big task ahead of him, as we have been talking about, trying to sell health care to a nervous U.S. Congress.  So, what are his chances of getting through a health care plan that includes a government-run program? 

Well, according to the betters over at Dublin, at the Dublin-based Intrade.com, as I noted a moment ago, 43 percent.  That‘s what the oddsmakers say the president has got, a 43 percent chance of getting health care reform through, a little less—substantially through—a less than 50/50 chance.  I think it‘s at least 50/50.

But that‘s my bet.  The Irish over there say it‘s less than 50/50.  That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number,” 43 percent chance of getting health care through.

Up next:  Republican Senator John Ensign is taking a hit in the polls, a little bit of a hit, after admitting he had an affair with a campaign staffer who was the wife of a—well, a Senate employee of his.  Well, forget running for president.  Will Ensign be able to run for reelection?  And who‘s the biggest and losers in this saga?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  That‘s coming up, by the way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Mike Huckman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

And a major sell-off on Wall Street today, the Dow plunging 200 points, the S&P 500 falling 28, and the Nasdaq dropping 61 points. 

This sell-off came after the World Bank lowered its global economic forecast for this year and next, saying the recession will be deeper than previously forecast.  The bank now predicts the world economy will shrink almost 3 percent this year.  That is a sharp reduction from the previous forecast of a 1.7 percent slowdown.  The bank is still predicting economic growth next year, but less than previously estimated. 

Also hurting stocks, late in the session, the White House said double-digit unemployment is coming sooner than previously acknowledged.  Spokesman Robert Gibbs said, President Obama expects the nation‘s unemployment rate will hit 10 percent over the next few months or so. 

And, finally, some breaking news:  CNBC is reporting that Apple CEO Steve Jobs returned to work today, after receiving a liver transplant about two months ago.  He went on a medical leave of absence back in January.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, one week into the John Ensign affair, we have the first numbers from Nevada on what voters think about him and his political future.  Can the senator survive?  Can the Republican Party shake off another sex scandal?  Can Democrats use it to their advantage?

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix” for the TheWashingtonPost.com.  And Lisa Mascaro is the Washington correspondent for “The Las Vegas Sun.” 

Thank you for joining us, Lisa.

A new Mason-Dixon poll for “The Las Vegas Review-Journal” finds a 14 percent drop since May in Ensign‘s favorable rating.  His unfavorable rating doubled.  That‘s the unfavorable went up.  On the question of whether they would vote for him in 2012, it‘s a three-way split.  Thirty-one percent say they would vote for Ensign.  Thirty-one say they would consider voting for someone else.  Twenty-eight percent say they would not vote for Ensign.

And this is the big number, I think.  Sixty-two percent of likely Nevada voters say that Ensign should not resign because of the affair.

Lisa, thank you for joining us.

I read that as a number that puts him in kind of—well, in limbo a bit, but better off than people feeling he should quit.

LISA MASCARO, “THE LAS VEGAS SUN”:  Yes, I think that‘s definitely right, Chris. 

I mean, I haven‘t heard really much today at all about folks wanting him to quit.  You know, he has been a very popular figure in Nevada, and has been one of the most popular elected officials there for some time. 

You did hear one Republican in Washington suggest that he should quit, but I haven‘t heard a—a widespread sense of that at all.  I think there‘s a—a sense that it‘s a long way between now and 2012 and when he would be up for reelection. 

That said, the Democratic congresswoman did suggest Friday that she—

Shelly Berkeley—that she might be thinking about joining that race. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she could beat Ensign really? 

MASCARO:  That‘s a really hard question.  I think, you know, we would have to see.  The state has certainly grown its Democratic numbers.  We saw that with the double digit margin that President Obama was able to win the state by, which was, you know, something for Nevada.  You know, that said, the state is still—you know, still got that real independent streak.  And, you know, she Shelly Berkeley, Congresswoman Berkeley, has represented the southern part of the state and there‘s still that really big north divide.  So winning state-wide is still a challenge. 

MATTHEWS:  My hunch is to stick with Ensign.  Let me tell you, Chris, we‘ve been saying for years now, it‘s not the crime, it‘s the cover-up.  The fact that he seemed to have gotten ahead of this, that he‘s gotten out there, and he got to do the conference.  He didn‘t bring his spouse along, which I consider the new standard of class.  Your spouse didn‘t mess up.  You did.  Your private relationship with your wife is very important to you, but it‘s not part of the scandal.  To bring you wife out and make her have to stand there, like Pat Nixon or somebody, and put up with this, seems to me making it worse. 

I thought he handled it as well as possible.  I don‘t know the whole story.  But what I know suggests to me is probably going to get through this, my hunch. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Chris, I agree with you unless something else big comes out.  You‘re right, so far nothing big has come out.  The important thing, remember, this was announced in June 2009.  John Ensign isn‘t up until November 2012.  Voters in Las Vegas or anywhere, frankly, have a relatively short memory.  We‘ve seen that any number of ways. 

And look back, David Vitter in 2007 admits that, yes, his name was in the D.C. Madam prostitution ring scandal; 2010, we would have thought, I think, that he would be dead meat for reelection.  He‘s at least a 50/50 chance, maybe a little better. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s dead meat.  You‘re wrong.  He‘s dead meat.  He‘s definitely dead meat, because he broke the rule.  He put his wife out.  Let‘s take a look here at how this scandal helps and hurts.  And please analyze this because you‘re very good at this.  I love your Monday morning recaps, by the way. 

CILLIZZA:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Lisa, join us in this if you can.  This is looking at it locally, but also nationally.  It‘s probably unfair to do this, but we‘re doing it.  Who does this hurt?  It hurts John Ensign a bit.  Obviously, he‘s got trouble he didn‘t have before and he deserves it.

Number two, it hurts the Republican party, because here you got, on top of Mark Foley, on top—I hate to use the phrase on top of, but on top of Mark Foley, on top of Larry Craig.  What the hey?  They got problems on all fronts here.  And, of course, David Vitter, the guy who was involved in that situation with a professional in Washington, and apparently one down in Louisiana. 

Let‘s go to who it helps, which is always the bright side of things.  Who does it help?  It helps the Nevada Democrats, because they have a shot at beating this guy.  Then Harry Reid, of course, he doesn‘t look like he‘s going to face any more of a tough opponent than he looked like he was going to.  And maybe it‘s easier for him.  By the way, I want to ask Lisa in a second whether he handled this well.  I think he did.

It helps John Thune because he got Ensign‘s job when Ensign had to step down from that number four leadership position in Washington.

Lisa, I have a sense that Harry Reid handled this very well.  He‘s a members of the LDS church.  He‘s a very religious guy, whatever you think of his politics.  He handled this as a good guy, a friend of Ensign.  He didn‘t jump on it.  He said give the guy a break.  I‘m rooting for him and his marriage.  What do you think? 

MASCARO:  Yes, I think you‘ve portrayed that pretty well.  Senator Ensign and Senator Reid have this long standing non-aggression pact, where they don‘t criticize one another in public, and they really try to work together.  I think you really saw that in this case.

I will say, to go back to who it hurts, on a more parochial level, perhaps, it does really hurt the state party in Nevada.  The state party in Nevada has been really struggling, and was really, I think, looking to Senator Ensign, who said he wanted to spend a lot of this year growing the state party, the way Senator Reid had grown the Democratic party in the state, as we saw in the ‘08 election, the results of that. 

Anyway, just to go back to that, I think Republican party really lost a potential champion. 

CILLIZZA:  And, Chris, just to Lisa‘s point, look at that same poll, Jim Gibbons, the Republican governor of Nevada—

MATTHEWS:  I love that number he‘s got.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ten percent favorable.  I think he earned that baby.  Chris Cillizza, sir, thank you.  Thank you, Lisa.  It‘s nice to meet you tonight.  By the way, I always think of Reno and Vegas as places that are very forgiving. 

MASCARO:  Yes, I think that‘s absolutely right.  Yes, OK, thanks. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  Up next, what should President Obama say about the crisis in Iran during his press conference?   He‘s, by the way, going to face the lions tomorrow at  noon.  And it‘s apparently timed, people think, to go to Iran, not so much here.  Is this going to make him stronger?  Is he going to say something stronger?  The Republicans want him to get a little angry.  We‘ll see tomorrow. 

We‘ll talk about it in a minute.  The politics fix coming up next.  We‘ll talk about the president‘s press conference coming up tomorrow at noon East coast time.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back in time for the fix, with “Politico‘s” Jeanne Cummings, and the Salon.com‘s Joan Walsh.  You were laughing, Joan, because you‘re laughing because a Republican governor has disappeared.  I am always skeptical of being caught off base.  If the guy turns up in a couple days and says, I was just clearing my head, as he‘s claiming to be, we‘re all going to look like jackals. 

But it is odd for a governor from any state, especially a guy being talked about for national office, to just disappear.  That‘s the story we‘re bringing you right now tonight.  Sanford‘s spokesman—he‘s Mark Sanford, the guy who has been on this show a number of times.  He‘s the governor of South Carolina.  This is what he says when asked where the governor is.  The spokesperson for the governor says, “that gets into security arrangements which we‘re not going to discuss.”  And then you‘ve got the South Carolina Senate Democratic leader, of course, the opposition leader, John Lain III (ph), who says, we‘ve been concerned by the governor‘s erratic behavior for some time.  We‘re praying—

Oh god, the sarcasm in this business, the hypocrisy.—We‘re praying for him and his family.  I hope he is safe and that he contacts the first lady and his family soon.  There‘s layers of sarcasm in that statement.  What do you make of it, Joan?  Is this the South Carolina governor‘s missing or much ado about nothing?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  I think it‘s still a pretty interesting story, Chris, because even if what they‘re saying now holds true, that he went to get—take some time for himself to work on something he‘s writing, well, why didn‘t he say that in the first place?  Why didn‘t his wife know where he was?  Also, why didn‘t he clearly leave state government in somebody else‘s hands? 

Because all the accounts that I‘ve read, nobody could reach him, not his wife, not his staffers.  And that‘s why people started getting alarmed today.  So there‘s protocol.  When Arnold Schwarzenegger had surgery, you turn things over to your lieutenant governor.  You do not just disappear.  The question is what was he writing? 

The best possible explanation is still pretty terrible, which is Mark Sanford is totally distracted from South Carolina by the business of running for the 2012 nomination.  So he‘s trying to become a national leader.  He‘s working on maybe a book or some—

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve raised the issue of misery, of Steven King disappearing for a few days and trying to finish off his book, Like James Caan did in the movie, when Kathy Bates got a hold of him.

WALSH:  I hope that didn‘t happen.

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne Cummings, do you think it‘s possible that he‘s off writing a book, thinking big thoughts, or something more weird is happening here? 

JEANNE CUMMINGS, “POLITICO”:  I don‘t know what he‘s doing.  Maybe he‘s writing a book, maybe he‘s not.  But it‘s definitely weird, I‘ll give you that much.  I mean, it‘s just odd that—the talk is that maybe his chief of staff actually does have some kind of contact with him.  But the idea that his family does not know where he is truly odd, even if you‘re not a governor, if you‘re just an average person.  That‘s unusual. 

But you know, Chris, the rub behind the scenes against Sanford, even among Republicans, has long been that he‘s a bit of an odd duck.  And that was going to be something that he would have confronted in 2012 anyway.  And now he‘s just handed them something that they can attach those kinds of accusations to. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we have anything hard to report about his past behavior that would give him the justification of being called an odd duck?  Has he given us odd duck behavior before, besides this disappearance? 

CUMMINGS:  I think it was when he also served in the House, that he didn‘t get along all that well with some of his colleagues.  I just think he didn‘t fit in a way that they were all comfortable with.  And so you know how these behind the scenes topics go.  They aren‘t very specific.  But then you see something like this and you think, well, what else is there that‘s odd like this, that might be creating those qualms?

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Joan. 

WALSH:  It was also Father‘s Day.  I mean, you disappear on Father‘s Day.  I don‘t know.  I think the whole thing is weird.  I think we will be talking about it for a while.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess they don‘t believe in French Fries in Republican party.  They just believe in French leads.  We‘ll be right back with Jeanne Cummings and Joan Walsh for more of the politics. 

As we go to the break, some breaking news to report, two Metro subway cars have collided in Washington, D.C.  The crash came at the height of rush hour tonight near the Maryland border.  That‘s where I live.  The D.C.  Fire Department says one person‘s been killed in that collision.  We‘ll continue to follow that story as it develops here on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  A sad update on that Subway collision in Washington, D.C.  Our NBC affiliate, WRC, is reporting that several people are dead now, and up to 55 people have been injured in that collision of the two Metro cars right outside of Washington, in Maryland.  We‘ll be back, by the way. 

We‘re back right now with Jeanne Cummings and Joan Walsh to talk about the question of the president‘s press conference tomorrow.  Joan, the president‘s going before the lions tomorrow, people like us, to answer the question Republicans are posing: why not toughen up the language with regard to what‘s happening in Iran.  This is a tough one for him.  it‘s hard to be subtle and diplomatic when you‘re talking to the American people on an issue that‘s gotten a lot of people red hot. 

WALSH:  You know, it is, Chris.  But I watched the beginning of your show, as I always do, and I was struck when you read the president‘s last statement, how much clearer it is than anybody is really giving him credit for.  He condemns the unjust behavior of the government.  He asks the government to allow people to exercise their free democratic rights of assembly and protest.  He said the United States with those people who are exercising those rights.

I‘m not sure how much farther he can go.  He will get a question tomorrow about whether he‘s seen that horrific video of Neda, the woman who died, shot in the street, which I did watch, and which breaks your heart and, which is galvanizing public opinion.  You also asked Representative Kaufmann, what more can he say and do?  I was also struck by, well, he can demand a recount.  That‘s silly.  They recounted the votes in 50 cities.  The Guardian Council came out and said, we actually do see that there are more voters than there were people in these 50 cities, but we‘re not going to invalidate the results.

So I don‘t think there‘s that much more that Obama can do or say that‘s going to change the equation in Iran.  I‘ll be watching tomorrow to see what he does say. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the red meat side of this debate, Jeanne, clearly is building its case.  People apparently want an “ich bin ein Berliner” type speech from the president and they want it soon. 

CUMMINGS:  They may want that and they probably aren‘t going to get it.  I agree with Joan that—and the statement that you read, Chris, that he issued over the weekend is a much stronger statement than what we have heard from him.  I think what‘s different is he hasn‘t said it before a camera, so that it can be rolled out on these shows and the nightly news, and so it can get disseminated in a broader fashion. 

I think one of the priorities for the White House will be, at a minimum, to have him say before the cameras the statement that he issued over the weekend.  And he may go a little further than that, but I think, at minimum, they want to get that much out, that he stands by the protesters and believes that Iran should stop the violent behavior towards those protesters.

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne and Joan, it will be on at tomorrow noon.  We‘ll be there covering it live on MSNBC.  I‘ll be anchoring.  Join us again tomorrow night here at 5:00 and 7:00 for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” With Ed Schultz.

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

END   

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