updated 6/24/2009 10:56:13 AM ET 2009-06-24T14:56:13

HARDBALL

June 23, 2009

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Guests: Mike Huckman, Chuck Todd, David Corn, Richard Wolffe, Kay Bailey Hutchison, David Axelrod,

Roger Simon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The man in the arena.

Let's play HARDBALL.

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

Facing the lions. President Obama does what he did best today, he wrote the story. After weeks of restraint on the protests in Iran, he dictated the narrative himself-We respect Iran's sovereignty, we're not interfering in that country's affairs, but we must and will bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people and deplore the violence against them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some in the Iranian government in particular are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others in the West of instigating protests over the election. These accusations are patently false. They're an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran's borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won't work anymore in Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, we were watching that press conference closely today, and tonight we've got it covered with White House senior adviser David Axelrod, NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd and "Politico's" Roger Simon. And for an opposition response, we've got Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

And I've got some color for you, too, on a guy who got his start in my hometown, a man who was the regular guy sitting there those legendary 30 years on the "Tonight" show, Ed McMahon.

Let's begin with one of the man in the president's inner circle, White House senior adviser David Axelrod. David, it seemed to me that the president today was taking advantage of the fact that he's been restrained for these several days now, when everyone else has been clamoring and fishing in troubled water, and because he was restrained, he was able to offer his narrative of what's going on there.

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Well, I think, Chris, what happened today was the president had an opportunity to respond to escalating events in Iran. As you know, he's been concerned, and he said again today, that we not be used as propaganda foils for the Iranian leadership, who are, in fact, in a dispute with their own people, not with the United States in this instance.

So he's been very careful about how he's chosen his words. But there's no doubt that every American, citizens of the world, are shocked and appalled by what they've seen in terms of the repression and the violence of the last few days, and the president felt strongly that he wanted to speak to that today.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's watch him going back and forth with NBC's Chuck Todd. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIR.: You have avoided twice spelling out consequences. You've hinted there would be, from the international community, if they continue to violate-you said violate these norms. You seemed to hint there are human rights violations taking place.

OBAMA: I'm not hinting. I think that when a young woman gets shot on the street when she gets out of her car, that's a problem.

TODD: Then why won't you spell out the consequences that the Iranians...

OBAMA: Because I think, Chuck, that we don't know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not, OK?

TODD: But shouldn't-I mean, shouldn't the world...

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: I answered the question, Chuck, which is that we don't yet know how this is going to play out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: David, you know things we don't know, and you're probably going to keep some things from us, but this question looms right now. It seems to me that this president of ours is looking at this from a longer duration than we're looking at it. He sees something, a continuum between what's going on right now and the scenario we face, which is the scenario from hell, where somewhere down the road, we're going to have to choose, if we blow it, between blowing up their nuclear facilities and them having those nuclear facilities.

How does what he's doing now relate that larger threat, the way he's playing this?

AXELROD: Well, let's separate out the issues, Chris. I think, as is generally the case, he said what he meant, and what he meant was let's see how this plays out because events are very dynamic in Iran. It's not at all clear how this is going to work out. There's a powerful force astride the country in terms of public opinion and mobilization. There's obviously a division among the clerics in the country. And I think the president is saying let's see how this plays out before we start being-before we start being proscriptive.

That's a different issue than the nuclear issue, which continues. It's the same today as it was yesterday, as you know. It's the supreme leader who dictates foreign and defense policies there. So the situation is pretty much the same as it's been, and we're going to pursue every avenue we can to try and forestall Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

MATTHEWS: You say they're not related, but isn't there a concern-well, you tell me. Is there a concern in the White House that if Ahmadinejad gets his back up and is able to convince everybody the world's coming at him, including us, we're coming at him, trying to interfere in his affairs, he's got more justification to build a weapon?

AXELROD: Well, I don't know that the Iranian people are buying that justification. Again, I think the president's been very careful not to hand the Iranians a propaganda tool. That's one of the things that has-that's one of the things that has motivated him over the last week. But at the same time, I think Ahmadinejad's problems are not with us, they're with his own people. And that's what he's going to have to deal with.

MATTHEWS: Here he is asking-being asked a question whether he's been influenced by his Republican critics. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you influenced at all by John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing you of being timid and weak?

AXELROD: What do you think?

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I think John McCain has genuine passion about many of these international issues. You know, members of Congress, they've got their constitutional duties, and I'm sure they will carry them out in the way that they think is appropriate. I'm president of the United States, and I'll carry out my duties as I think are appropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: How does he feel toward McCain?

AXELROD: I think he feels fine. I think he actually said what he believes, which is he understands McCain's passion. And look, he shares a sense of shock and dismay about what's going on in Iran, but he is choosing the words that a president should, so as not to worsen the situation, so as not to give the regime a propaganda tool to use against-immobilizing (ph) their own people and to justify even harsher actions.

So you know, I think he made the point, which is he's got certain responsibilities as president of the United States that no one else has, and he has to exercise good judgment in executing those.

MATTHEWS: Do you think McCain's operating differently than he would have had he won?

AXELROD: Gee, I don't-I don't know, Chris. And I'm not going to disparage Senator McCain. I know that he's a very passionate person, and you know, I'm sure he's speaking his mind on this. But I think there's a difference in strategic thinking and in-and there's a difference in their positions, and I'd just leave it there.

MATTHEWS: You know, I keep watching this from an historic perspective and I keep watching our president because I'm looking at him like I looked at Jack Kennedy as a kid and in history. And you know, you and, looking back on it, every time there was a problem, like the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy was always thinking of the strategic president because as president, you can't be tactical. He has to be thinking, Hey, if we go to war with Castro, the Russians will move on Berlin. The trip wire will be broken and we'll be in a nuclear situation. So he's got to always think like a chess player, not a checkers players.

AXELROD: Well...

MATTHEWS: Congressmen and senators can be playing checkers all day. They can be the guy down in the park. But the president's got to be a chess man. Now, is your guy-is the president thinking about Iran's nuclear potential as the real game here? You say they're not connected. Do you mean that?

AXELROD: Well, obviously, you always have to look at the whole picture. I think-as I said, I'm not sure that the situation relative to their nuclear weapons is much different or their nuclear aspirations is much different today than it was yesterday. It isn't Ahmadinejad who's been driving that. And so that's all I'm saying.

But as to your other point, I think what he said to Chuck was actually more profound than perhaps it appeared, in the sense that-you've mentioned Kennedy-presidents have to think long. When they're doing their job, they have to think long. They can't react to the provocation of the moment in ways that might have a really disastrous impact down the line. And I think this president is very sensitive to that and he's-and therefore very considered about what he says and when he says it.

MATTHEWS: Let's hope so. I mean, that's what his job is.

Let's take a look at a little tiff that went on here today. I was struck by Major Garrett's performance today. I want you to review it. Here's Major Garrett of FOX asking the president a question with a little attitude attached. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR GARRETT, FOX CORRESPONDENT: In your opening remarks, sir, you were-you said about Iran that you were appalled and outraged. What took you so long?

OBAMA: I don't think that's accurate. Track what I've been saying. Right after the election, I said that we had profound concerns about the nature of the election but that it was not up to us to determine what the outcome was. As soon as violence broke out-in fact, in anticipation of potential violence-we were very clear in saying that violence was unacceptable, that that was not how governments operate with respect to their people. So we've been entirely consistent, Major, in terms of how we've approached this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Did you hear a little Dan Rather in that question, a little Rather redux in that?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You're laughing, David. I heard a tonal thing of a little towel snap toward the president in that question. Your thoughts?

AXELROD: Well, yes, I don't-I don't think it was a warm embrace.

(LAUGHTER)

AXELROD: I'll concede that. But you know, the reality is, and I'll say it again, I think that what we had when the story began were questions about the legitimacy of an election. What we have now are people dead in the streets and awful repression, and so obviously, you're going to respond differently as a story unfolds. And you know, there's-there are-again, just as the president and the Senate have different responsibilities, so does the president and the correspondent for Fox News.

MATTHEWS: We got a big question on health care, which I think is the driving issue of this year domestically. It seems to me that if you listen to what Kennedy's said over the years, Ted Kennedy over the years, you listen to the words he apparently speaks in private, you listen to Bill Clinton and the words he tells people, a sense of regret on the part of both of them that when they had a bite at the apple on health care, they tried to get the whole apple and couldn't get it, and they wouldn't take what they could get.

Is there a sense on the inside of the White House that it's better to get some bill on health care this year than none?

AXELROD: Well, I wouldn't say that because I think as the president made clear, if we don't have health care reform that genuinely cuts costs, that preserves choice for people, and that ensures the tens of millions of working Americans who don't have health insurance now or gives them a chance to buy affordable insurance, then that will have been a failure. I think under that umbrella, there are many permutations that we're willing to consider.

The hallmark of Barack Obama, as long as I've known him as a legislator and senator and now, is he's about the art of possible. He wants to move the ball forward. And that requires being able to listen to what's on the table and decide where you're going to draw the line and preserve the integrity of what you're trying to do. I'm sure that's what he'll do here.

MATTHEWS: There's no way he can claim a win if he loses, though, right? He has to win to win, right? He can't lose and say it was a moral defeat or a moral victory of some kind.

AXELROD: Well, listen, Chris, I mean-and I know-I just want to say this-and he made this point today. I don't think-if he loses on this issue, I don't think the loss will just be his. The loss will be the loss for all the tens of millions, hundreds of millions of Americans who are suffering now, concerned about the unbelievable soaring costs of health care and worried about the future, and I think that the responsibility for it will be shared widely.

We don't want to lose this moment. Everybody needs to step up. This is something that threatens not just families and businesses, but the solvency of the government. We think we have to act now.

MATTHEWS: I think the objective statement he made today was that "Do no harm" no longer means do nothing. Thank you very much, David Axelrod.

AXELROD: OK.

MATTHEWS: Coming up, an analysis of the president's press conference today from NBC's own Chuck Todd and "The Politico's" Roger Simon. We got two of the pros coming here.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Only I'm the president of the United States, and I've got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "Only I am president of the United States." Welcome back to HARDBALL. For more on President Obama's press conference this afternoon, let's bring in Chuck Todd, who's NBC News chief White House correspondent and political director, and Roger Simon, who's chief columnist for "Politico."

Chuck, the mood in there was tough. I had a sense that you folks in the press corps there were looking with an edge towards the president. Towel snapping was prevalent at least three or four times, a sense of you're on the-well, you're going to press him, press him hard today.

TODD: Well, I think that that's been the sense over the last couple of weeks. I mean, I've noticed a change in the tenor of coverage. I know it's weird for me to try to, you know, look through the looking glass here since we're all part-I'm part of the coverage sometimes, but there is that sense.

But you know, the other thing that I might add just-is, you know, everybody in that room is comfortable in their own chair. You know, that was where everybody-all the reporters are normally there...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: ... where the East Room or even the Rose Garden would have been more of a formal setting and you probably would have had a press corps that may have been, you know, more rigid or formal because it would have been a different setting.

So if you're looking at it that way, I might throw that in also as a way that, you know, we're all comfortable in our own seats, you know?

MATTHEWS: Yes, it doesn't sound like...

TODD: It's just like, Are you more comfortable interviewing the president in the Oval Office or on the set of HARDBALL, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Well, yes. It seems like you weren't sitting in his Louis XIV seats. Let me go to Roger on this. Watching this thing, Roger, I did notice a tonal change. Garrett's question was tough. You know, fair enough, it was a snapper, let's be honest, about, you know, What took you so long, but fair enough. What did you make of it?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: I thought it was a tough question. It was within the bounds of fair comment, though. I mean, you know, it's not enough anymore for the president to say the right thing. He has to say the right thing soon enough to satisfy everybody. And at least Major Garrett was admitting that what the president said was finally correct, in his opinion. He was appalled and outraged by the actions in Iraq, and he was just upbraiding him a little bit.

I think the press corps-I think Chuck makes a good point about them feeling more comfortable in their seats. I think with each press conference, the White House press corps has shown that it's not only the White House is in charge of this game. Reporters get to ask questions the way they want to ask the questions. The president clearly wants to take one question from each reporter he calls on, and no follow-ups. Chuck very properly took two bites of the apple today. Major Garrett did. I think Jake Tapper did. That's the way it used to be with presidents, and I think the press corps should assert itself.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's look at one of the questions that came out of left field. Here's the question about the president's smoking, which there's been some buzz about. This brought it out in the open.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: There you are laughing, but this is where it is. Talk about a home court advantage. Let's hit him on smoking. Here he is-she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many cigarettes a day do you now smoke? Do you smoke alone or in the presence of other people? And do you believe the new law would help you to quit? If so, why?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, the new law that was put in place is not about me, it's about the next generation of kids coming up. So I think it's fair, Margaret (ph), to just say that you just think it's neat to ask me about my smoking, as opposed to being relevant to my new law.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: But that's fine. I understand. It's an interesting human interest story. Look, I've said before that as a former smoker, I constantly struggle with it. Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, what's the next question, Chuck?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: How many drinks did you have at the party last night?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, this is getting...

TODD: Yeah. No.

MATTHEWS: ... close to the bone here, isn't it?

TODD: Look, it is. And it...

MATTHEWS: I mean, I'm all for it. It's all, to me, color of the game. He's the president. He's in the arena. You guys are the lions, you know?

TODD: Well, there's-there's sort of that. I mean, look, in this smoking situation, I think it-everybody is looking for that anecdote for the book that they may write that says, you know, and the president, making a tough decision...

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: ... stepped outside the Oval, took a drag on the cigarette, and said, all right, this is what we're going to do.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: You know what I mean? You can almost picture the-the way people want to write these things...

SIMON: But...

TODD: ... going forward.

But, you know, look, that's-you-at these press conferences, I think we all hope, those of us that are there and those of us that cover it, that you do get that occasional offbeat question, because it give us a sense of him as a person, how he responds to it, how he reacts.

You do learn a little bit of something, I think, from a president on every question.

MATTHEWS: Right. Go ahead, Roger.

SIMON: I think...

MATTHEWS: This is a-this is a-I think it was a test of his cool, because I'm always thinking, watching these guys, that there's that window next to the cartoon character, what they're really thinking in those dotted-lines balloons, you know, not what they're saying.

What's he thinking of her?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And what's he thinking of you all you guys?

SIMON: Well, to me, what the interesting thing about President Obama's answer was is that he didn't mind the question. He mind-he minded the window dressing and the fig leaf that went with the question...

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: Right.

SIMON: ... of saying, oh, I'm asking it because of your new law.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SIMON: And, basically, Obama said, just have the guts to ask the question.

TODD: Right.

SIMON: You don't need to dress it up and pretend this has anything to do with-and he said "my new law." He meant the country's new law, I think.

MATTHEWS: I know.

SIMON: So, I think that is where Obama was sort of twisting the knife a little bit...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SIMON: ... and showing that he-he could command the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

TODD: Yes. I mean...

MATTHEWS: Let's go back to the big picture. We have got to go to the big picture. Here is the question that matters to a lot more people than his smoking habits.

TODD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And that is the health-the public option. People in the polling keep saying they want a public choice for a health care plan. They want to be able to pick among the commercial insurance plans. But then they want a public plan as well.

Here he is talking about that, the president. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I take those advocates of the free market to heart when they say that, you know, the free market is innovative and is going to compete on service and is going to compete on, you know, their ability to deliver good care to families.

And if that's the case, then this just becomes one more option. If it's not the case, then I think that that's something that the American people should know.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, but what about keeping your promise to the American people that they won't have to change plans even if employers...

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: Well, no, no, no.

I mean, when I say, if you have your plan and you like it, and your doctor has a plan-or-or you have a doctor, and you like your doctor, that you don't have to change plans, what I'm saying is, the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Chuck, did Jake Tapper catch him there when he asked him, what happens if your employer, GE in this case, our case, decides...

TODD: Sure.

MATTHEWS: ... well, this public plan is a better deal for the corporation; we're going to go with that? Then, you don't get to keep your plan.

And didn't he have a good question there that the president really didn't answer? He threw-he...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: It is.

And I have to-and I have to say that I thought that if in designing this-making the decision to have this news conference today, if one of their goals was to get control of the health care debate, well, then they failed in that goal on health care, because I thought, both in the answer to this question, in the answer to the original question about whether, you know, there is a red line about a public option or this or that, you know, he made a-a case for the public option.

But, then, you know, he didn't-I don't think he convincingly-he was able to convince anybody who is skeptical and who is worried about what you just brought up. What if a company decides the public option is the way to go and drops a plan that people are happy with?

He didn't have a good answer on that yet. That's something he's going to have to improve. Look, the public is with him on this idea of a public option. He has public support. But he needs to be able to convince Congress that-and-and convince people that even-you know, that are for the idea of it, that, when they hear the details, they will still be for the idea of it.

And I think he's still-frankly, they-they must still be working on their talking points...

MATTHEWS: OK.

TODD: ... on this one, because I don't think he had it.

MATTHEWS: Chuck Todd-I think it was a split doubleheader. I think they had a problem on health, but they won on Iran today.

Anyway, Chuck Todd, Roger Simon, gentlemen, thank you.

We will have Republican reaction to President Obama's news conference today from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who has been pretty tough on the president on this issue.

But, up next, playing tribute to the ultimate side kick, Ed McMahon. I have got some stories about this fellow who was so familiar to us growing up for 30 years there on the couch of "The Tonight Show," as the second banana, he was called, to Johnny Carson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Well, we lost Ed McMahon last night. The country knew has a Johnny Carson's sidekick on "The Tonight Show," where, night after night, he opened with that trademark.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON")

ED MCMAHON, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON": And now here's Johnny!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, talk about an iconic bit of Americana, that whole bit there, him doing that and Carson coming out.

I first saw Ed riding around on the hood of a car. That's what he did every night in the commercials growing up in Philadelphia, a grown man in his suit with his butt on the hood of a brand-new automobile. That was our own Ed McMahon on his nightly advertisement for, guess what, McCafferty Ford up in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

Actually, Ed had a more humble beginning in show business. He was the clown on the "Big Top," the big circus show that came out of Philadelphia on national television back in the '50s. It was all part of the work a person does to break his or her way into the business on which you, if you're lucky, set your heart.

Ed had fought for his country in both World War II and Korea. He was once on HARDBALL with Senator John Glenn. And he told us about it and the lesson he had learned back then in the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your advice. I know it's a while ago for you, Ed, in World War II.

MCMAHON: Yes.

Sure. Well, both Senator Glenn, Colonel Glenn, and I, World War II and Korea, we flew in both places, fought in both places.

The advice is the same. Do what you're trained to do. Look out for your comrades, the guys next to you. Take care of the guy that's right beside you. In the-in the military flying element, you have a wingman, and you would think as much about that wingman as any other person in life.

I mean, that was your closest, closest possible buddy. And anything you do, whatever it is, in a tank or on the ground, you respect the guy beside you, but you do your job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ed McMahon's dream, which he reached, was a big-time TV announcer's job, where he could get into the act.

His pot at the end of his rainbow was working as wingman, as he put it, for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."

I think his job there was more important than people figured. Ed McMahon, regular guy, was our connection with that witty, cool, aloof Johnny Carson, who could be very charming, but also very distant, cool to the point of, does he really care about people like you and me, the people he's entertaining, the people he's being company for?

Ed McMahon was our connection. If Carson could hang out with a guy like Ed, who was, for many of us, a guy like us, he might just hang out, if the opportunity arose, with that big "us" out there.

It's sort of the job that Joe Biden has now with Barack Obama.

Anyway, that's a different story.

Good for Ed. He got where he wanted to get. That's not bad in any life.

And, so, tonight, let's say good night to the man who made "The Tonight Show" what it was all those legendary years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Mike Huckman with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

And stocks closing mixed today after yesterday's major sell-off, the Dow shedding just 16 points, the S&P 500 gaining two points, and the Nasdaq losing more than a point.

Existing home sales rose 2.4 percent last month. That was less than expected, but it was the second straight monthly increase. Meantime, prices dropped almost 17 percent from a year ago.

Boeing shares tumbled, as the aircraft-maker again delayed the first test flight of its long-awaited 787 Dreamliner, this time because it found additional stress areas where the wings attach to the fuselage. It's the fifth delay. And the plane is now two years behind schedule.

Still, this 250-seat Dreamliner is Boeing's bestselling model, with more than 850 orders.

And the Federal Reserve began a two-day meeting on monetary policy today. No change in interest rates or other major new action to bolster the economy is expected.

That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to

HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Welcome back, because we're going to have some Republican reaction now to President Obama's press conference which he held today.

Let's turn to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Senator Hutchison, what would you like to see President Obama do that he's not doing with regard to Iran?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS: Well, I thought the beginning statement that he made today was a better statement than we had heard in the beginning.

Basically, Chris, we have Great Britain, we have France, we have Germany stepping up and saying peaceful protests should be allowed in Iran. I mean, everyone is speaking with a very bold voice. And I think America, which is a beacon of freedom to the world, should not be timid in a situation like this.

MATTHEWS: Do you think we have credibility when it comes to democracy in Iran, having stifled it back in the '50s, having supported Iraq against Iran? Do you think that we're credible when we argue we really want the willing-the people's will to-to win out in Iran?

HUTCHISON: I think the image of the American people is always that we stand for democracy. And, yes, we have credibility, always.

MATTHEWS: In Iran?

HUTCHISON: Everywhere.

MATTHEWS: In Iran?

HUTCHISON: Well, yes. I mean, have we made mistakes there? Yes.

Did we get involved probably too heavily? Yes.

But that doesn't mean that we don't have credibility standing up for people being killed on the street protesting an election where they feel that their voices were not heard.

MATTHEWS: Well, do you think we should get involved in-in telling them what to do, in terms of another election or anything like that?

HUTCHISON: Well, no, I don't think it's our place to tell them what to do, except to stand in solidarity with people who are fighting for freedom.

I-I would-you know, I would say that maybe some of the freedom-loving countries could come together and suggest to mullahs what might be a way out of this that would show a concern for the people of that country.

But, no, it isn't our place to tell them what to do, except to say these are human beings. They are trying to peacefully protest. And it has been turned into a-a crackdown that is killing people.

MATTHEWS: Are you worried at all about us facing a terrible situation, where we have to choose between supporting an Israeli strike or joining an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, or letting them have a nuclear weapon? Are you worried about that down the road?

HUTCHISON: Oh, of-of course. I think that that would be a terrible situation, where we would have a weapon that is there, a nuclear weapon.

But I-I will say, Chris, that I would not shy away from trying to destroy a nuclear weapon that might be used to destroy Israel or some other country in the area, or be in some way-having export of nuclear power somewhere else. It would be a terrible thing.

MATTHEWS: But you wouldn't rule out any-a strike on-supporting an Israeli strike on Iran?

HUTCHISON: Well, I can't say that.

You would have to know the circumstances and what is the evidence that there is a weapon. And, again, I think that the countries that were actually put in charge of trying to make sure that Iran was not getting a nuclear weapon are the countries that have leverage.

They have embassies in Tehran. And that would be France, Germany, perhaps England. Those are countries that could step up. And we-we ought to be more forceful. Russia and China should be more forceful with Iran.

They have leverage. And-and they have relationships. And, if we could get them to be more cooperative on the Security Council, and America and the rest of the world could speak together with one voice, it would be so much more powerful than what we're seeing now, which is some countries speaking out boldly, America being equivocal, and Russia and China not even saying a word.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

I guess what concerns me-and I think you may be right on this completely, Senator-it's not for me to say whether you're right or not, but I think you might be-about a need to be more forceful.

My concern is, when I read the op-ed pages of the major newspapers, they are chockful right now from the people of the American Enterprise Institute. The neoconservative hawks who got us into Iraq are now out there beating the drum to raise hell against Iran. They look like they want to create, once again, the war footing we were on before, create a hellish situation, vis-a-vis our relations with some country in that part of the world. And they wouldn't mind a war one bit.

That's what scares me. The hawks are back flying around over the Capitol of the United States, urging on what they call an aggressive foreign policy. And we've been there, senator. We went into Iraq under false pretenses. I get the feeling the same crowd, the same list are out pushing it again. It is easy to talk aggression. It's tough to bury the wounded-bury the dead, which is what we've been doing over there.

HUTCHISON: Chris, I do think that if you go back to when the run up to Iraq came, it was post-9/11 and there was the concern that there were chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction, that could be delivered out of Iraq into America. And that had to be the only legitimate reason to go into Iraq.

Everything else, in my opinion, is not relevant except for that, and that was the reasoning that was used. I think you can legitimately question it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HUTCHISON: And just taking out a bad dictator is not enough reason for me to put American lives on the line either. But if he had weapons of mass destruction, which it has been proven the intelligence was to us and to Great Britain, then that was to protect America from being able to have delivered to us another weapon of mass destruction, as we had already seen tear this country apart at 9/11.

MATTHEWS: Can a reasonable person like you-and you certainly are, and I don't mean to be condescending. I'm looking up to you, senator. I've always looked up to you. Can a reasonable person like you of moderate conservative views, centrist conservative views, win a Republican primary in Texas for governor against a candidate, a character like Rick Perry, who's talked about secession from the union, who now enjoys, if that's the right word, the endorsement of Sarah Palin, who for whatever crazy reason has gotten herself involved in Texas politics?

HUTCHISON: Oh, Chris-

MATTHEWS: I'm asking a double question. A secessionist who has the support of Sarah Palin; can you beat somebody with those attractive features?

HUTCHISON: Yes. Well, no, I'm not mentioning or talking about Sarah Palin. But I'm talking about running for governor of Texas. And I do think it is so important that we send out the message that Ronald Reagan sent out. I'm a conservative. I want the party to be growing and building and bringing people into our ideas by welcoming them into the party, by holding to our principles, while we say here are what we believe. We know you can't agree on 100 percent of everything. But we can form a party around basic principles of freedom, of lower taxes, of entrepreneurship and the American spirit.

We can build a party around that. And we can argue about differences that we might have. But we should not repel people from the party. And that's what I think has happened with Governor Perry in some instances and why I am committed to trying to make sure that the Texas Republican party does stay vibrant and open and willing to try to bring in new people that believe as we do.

MATTHEWS: Good luck. Thank you very much, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. Thanks for coming on HARDBALL tonight.

HUTCHISON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next, President Obama needs a full-court press to get health care reform through. Let's talk about it. He has some high-profile help, by the way. One of his big allies is going to be-here she is-first lady Michelle Obama, who apparently, we're told, wants to play a major role in selling the president's health care plan once its developed fully. How much of a difference can she make? Does she have the star quality to add a few senators' votes to this fight? This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: There are going to be tough choice that have to be made, and no system is going to be perfect, which is why my side of the equation, the wellness side, is to me one of the true keys of changing the health paradigm in this country. If we are healthier people, then we won't need the health care system that we think will put us in a position that is unrealistic, you know. We're in charge of our own health ultimately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL on a big day. The president had a big press conference today. There was the first lady this morning talking about health care and how the White House will deploy her in selling health care, we think. Joining us now is MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, with a best selling book that's right at the top, "Renegade." You got to read it. It's all about how the guy won the presidency. He had some interviews, I think, with Michelle. We'll get to that. And David Corn, Washington bureau chief for my favorite magazine. That's going to cause some trouble, "Mother Jones." I better take that-I got to take that back. Anyway-

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES": No.

MATTHEWS: I got to be careful. Anyway, people will really mark me on that one. Let me go to Richard, my buddy. Michelle, she's not Hillary Clinton in terms of any kind of job description, because she's a more of a traditional first lady. She hasn't gotten a portfolio, if you will, the way that Senator Clinton got as first lady. But what role do you think she could play in squeezing out a couple more senators to get to 60 that they need to pass this thing, whatever it is when it's finished, the health care bill?

RICHARD WOLFFE, AUTHOR, "RENEGADE": It's a very small move to have her out there talking about policy. Never mind what she wants to do, which is to deal with policy anyway. But, look, her turnaround in her popularity is really one of the most extraordinary stories over the last six months or so. Remember, this was someone who caricatured as being, let's face it, the angry black woman through the campaign. And now her popularity numbers are way up there with Laura Bush.

And yet she's been doing stuff, edging into this policy area. As you say, not in a Hillary Clinton way. She's not defining policy, but speaking out on public service. She told me before the election she wanted to do that and to talk about family issues. But having her weigh in on health care reaches an audience that the West Wing is never going to reach. That's why you see her on "Good Morning America."

She's going to hit the sort of "People Magazine" crowd, who actually will move public opinion. And that's how you reach the senators ultimately.

MATTHEWS: You condescending guy, the "People Magazine" crowd. "Good Morning America."

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS: You're aloof intellectual. I get your point. Let me go to a man with a little more heart, Corn. Let me ask you this, it seems to me that the reason that Michelle Obama-and I don't know her-I met her like twice-may have changed her mood or attitude, in terms of her militance, if that's the term, her attitude about America, is what she actually said in the campaign. Take her at her word. She's never felt so proud to be an American. She's got to have been affected personally by the fact that her husband, a fellow African-American, was elected president.

Her assessment of this country must have changed dramatically by that success and acceptance, if you will. Of course, she has a different attitude now that she had a year or two ago. Common sense would say that. Your thoughts? A role in possibly being a leader in winning the president's pet project, health care.

CORN: Well, I don't think-I'm not sure she deserved the angry black woman caricature that she got. But now she's very popular. But on the health care front, she is taking, to be fair here, the easy side of the equation, wellness, prevention, nutrition, organic food, all things that are rather important, and that, perhaps-you know, that are removed from the political grind that we're going to go through-that we are going through in terms of producing a health care bill.

Today at the press conference, the president tried to dodge a question, but finally was forced to concede that he might sign a bill without a public option. He said it was not a deal breaker if it's not in the bill. There's a lot of real grind to go through here.

But when she gets out there and goes on "Good Morning America" and talks about wellness, that's certainly a great message. I'm not sure it's going to win over too many senators, who have their own interests at stake here. But it certainly rounds out the picture of what the White House is doing on health care. And it's not just, you know, these sausage-making details that you don't read about in "People Magazine."

MATTHEWS: Let me excite us all a little more here. It's not just about the details. It's about that millions and millions of Americans work every day, and aren't covered for their health. And when they get sick and their kids get sick, they can't do anything about it. And they have to think about whether they go to the doctors ever. And so that question would seem to me she might be able to take on in terms of making that, well, emotional appeal to the country to be a little bigger than it's been on health care.

CORN: That's an interesting point, Chris. That's an interesting point, because so far Barack Obama is primarily selling health care reform as a way to keep costs down, as a way to improve the economy. Back in '92, Hillary Clinton talked about what you talked about, the need to cover more people.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: Now, Michelle Obama hasn't moved in that direction yet, but maybe that's where she's aiming for.

WOLFFE: But listen, guys, it's much harder to demonize the Obama plan as a government takeover when you've got cuddly Michelle Obama talking about things like keeping your family healthy. I mean, really, that becomes-it's hard to present her as a government takeover when she is talking about warm and fuzzy stuff.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about Governor Sanford when we get back. I find it fascinating. Not since Judge Krader (ph) has there been talk so much of a missing official. We'll be right back with the politics fix.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with Richard Wolffe and David Corn. Richard, you're a hell of a writer, number four on the "New York Times" best-seller list. Tell me the story of Mr. Sanford, the governor, who went off. I mean, last weekend was naked hiking weekend, I learned. I don't know why there is such a thing or even what it constitutes. I guess you wear hiking boots.

WOLFFE: You didn't know that?

MATTHEWS: I didn't have that on my list, but I assume they wear hiking boots, at least. He's gone. He's back. He took French leave. Is that-does that put him in the odd fellows or what, in terms of a possible presidency? Does it make him too odd, too off-beat, take an offbeat trail?

WOLFFE: I think, first of all, this is the curse of 2012. All those rising stars like Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford was another, you know, none of them have really got through the first couple of months. Look, it's actually-it's easy to make fun of this. I mean, there's something very strange. Maybe he suffers from pressure that makes a candidacy actually going to be very difficult for him to endure.

Hard to get inside someone's head at this point. But I will say that one thing that struck me about Sanford when I first encountered him in 2000 was in South Carolina, with Lindsey Graham and John McCain-these are outliers in the party. They were running against the establishment, as represented by the Bush campaign in that period. They may be loners, in one way or another, politically, personally, and I guess socially, too.

MATTHEWS: What a strange crowd, I have to say. I mean, there's Palin who's-well, she's obviously very compelling as a figure. We talk about her all the time. You know, we don't know her reading list lately. We haven't had Katie Couric to ask her. You had Palin who did that Tennessee Williams performance at the time of the State of the Union, coming past that-Bobby Jindal, rather, that strange performance down there in New Orleans, or wherever it was.

CORN: Chris, it's kind of like there's a spell-

MATTHEWS: They're strange people, these people.

CORN: Look, you had Jon Huntsman, who was the Utah governor.

MATTHEWS: He was the normal one.

CORN: He took a job with Obama. But then you have John Ensign, he went over to the wild side. And you have Sanford. And what was strange here-you know, everyone's entitled to a few days off, but his staff didn't know where he was, and his wife didn't know where he was. It's like they were competing with Jon & Kate for the weird married couple of the week.

You know, I think at some point if he's serious about 2012, he may have to explain this. But I don't-I don't know if we should even believe that he took a hike.

MATTHEWS: This is "Ten Little Indians." They keep getting knocked off.

CORN: And then there were none.

MATTHEWS: Strange. Thank you, Richard Wolffe. Thank you, David Corn. Good luck and congratulations, Richard Wolffe, David Corn, as always, with what I referred to briefly, but not forever, as my favorite magazine. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern 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

Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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

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

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

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

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

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

transcript for purposes of litigation.>

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

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,