updated 8/18/2009 12:02:23 PM ET 2009-08-18T16:02:23


August 17, 2009

Guests: Rep. Jim Cooper, Rep. Phil Gingrey, Charles Cook, Brett Lieberman,

Susan Page, Clarence Page



CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: To be or not to be.

Let's play HARDBALL.

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

Death to the public option. Is it dead? Over the weekend, President Obama said the public option, quote, "is not the entirety of health care reform." He had two of his lieutenants, his secretary of health and his press spokesperson, both imply it was dead. Then he wrote a 1,200-word op-ed piece for "The New York Times" and never once mentioned the words "public option." And then Sen. Kent Conrad said yesterday that there aren't enough votes in the Senate for a public option to pass.

So what happens now? Senate Republicans won't vote for a plan with a public option. Will enough House Democrats vote for one without one? That's the "to be or not to be" question right now. Will there be a health care bill or won't there?

August has been a cruel month for President Obama. Republicans are

making the case he's going too far in expanding the role of government in

our lives. Liberal Democrats and the folks on the netroots-they say

he's not going far enough. Well, the party in power generally loses many

seats in the mid-term elections, and Nate Silver, who's a pretty smart guy

he's on 538.com-he's saying that there's ample reason for Democrats to be very worried about next year's elections, perhaps deeply so about those 2020 (SIC) results.

He calls it a 1 in 4 or perhaps 1 in 3 chance that the Dems will actually lose control of the House of Representatives and that a Republican will be elected Speaker of the House. Could the prospect of losing their seats next November cause many Democrats this November to vote against health care?

And we have a very American story to tell you tonight about a true patriot named William Cahir. As his friends describe him, he always wanted to be out there defending his country. That's why he became a journalist. That's why he ran for Congress. And that's why he became a Marine. It was as a Marine that William Cahir died last week while out on patrol, another terrible loss in a war being fought largely under the radar. We'll look at William Cahir's life and at the war he died fighting.

Also, I think one story that's been overlooked recently is Hillary Clinton's terrific work in Africa. We're going to give her the credit she's due in the "Politics Fix" tonight.

And dancing with the hammer? Can you believe Tom DeLay is going to be "Dancing With the Stars"? That's right, Tom freaking Texas two-step DeLay. That's in the HARDBALL "Sideshow."

But we begin tonight with the fight for health care reform. U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee is a Democrat and U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey is a Republican from Georgia. They're both members of the all-powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

I want to start with Jim Cooper. Jim, I watched you over the years be the moderate Democrat from the middle part of the country, from Tennessee, and I watched the role you played back in '94, trying to craft a more moderate version of health care up against the Clintons. I saw the Clintons go down to terrible defeat. They lost dozens and dozens of House seats, as you know, in '94. They blew it, you could say. I watched Ted Kennedy blow it back in the '70s when Nixon wanted to push through a complete employer mandate, a much more radical health care bill than we're even talking about right now.

Democratic liberals keep saying, We want it all. They keep losing it all. What's going to happen this time?

REP. JIM COOPER (D), TENNESSEE: I think we can get a good health reform bill done this year on the president's timetable. I think this dispute over the public option really depends on how you define it. I think we can get a good public option through that even the U.S. Senate would think is a good reform.

But it's very important that we define it carefully so that it appeals to folks in all 50 states. There's a lot of unnecessary concern about it today because a lot of folks think there would not be a level playing field. It's very important that the government plan not have any unfair advantage. I think we can construct one that does the key thing, and this is the most important issue and President Obama stressed it again and again, keep the insurance companies honest. We can put together a good public option that does exactly that.

MATTHEWS: And you believe it could pass with 51, or rather 60 Democrats in the Senate, perhaps 60 including a couple Republicans, and get 218 in the House? Could we get a bill?

COOPER: I think we can.

MATTHEWS: This fall?

COOPER: This fall. The key hurdle, though, is 60 votes in the Senate because reconciliation will not apply to any real health care reform bill, so you've got to really be aiming, as Tom Daschle said in his confirmation hearings, for 70 or 80 votes, but you at least have to get 60. and that means it's got to be bipartisan to have a health care reform bill become law.

MATTHEWS: Well, you're talking against Kent Conrad, who's chairman of the Budget Committee. He ought to know on the Senate side. He says you can't get a public option through the Senate.

COOPER: But it depends on how you define it. He's said that a co-op might work, and that's a real public option if you define the co-op carefully so that it protects consumer rights. And the key thing is not only keeping insurance companies honest but also benchmark pricing, so you know what a fair deal is on a good health insurance policy. Today, a lot of Americans don't know that.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Gingrey. It seems like the Republicans talk alternatives when the Democrats have a health care bill, but you don't get anything through when you guys are in charge. What's the story?

REP. PHIL GINGREY ®, GEORGIA: Well, Chris, I can tell you this...

MATTHEWS: Is there a free-standing Republican approach? Is there a Republican plan for health care?

GINGREY: There is definitely a plan for health care, and I can list about six items that we are in favor of, and I think the Democrats, I'm sure Jim Cooper, a strong Blue Dog and a good fiscal conservative, would agree with our plan. But the one thing that we do not agree on is this idea of a public option, and that is what the American people are telling the president, telling Democratic members across the country, you know, We don't want this. We do not want the government taking over health care.

And why do we have to have a government option keeping the health insurance industry honest? We want the same thing for the automobile industry or every industry across this country, the government's to be in there to keep corporate America honest, the steel industry, for an example? You pick one and name one.

But the American people are saying, You know, we want health care reform. The Republicans are saying, We want health care reform, but we don't want a government takeover. We don't want socialized medicine and national health care.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Those words are frightening to a lot of people. Let me ask you this about a moderate form, what Congressman Cooper just mentioned. What do you think of a co-op?

GINGREY: Well, Chris, I'm not sure we know what that co-op is. I mean, Kent Conrad has talked about it. All the machinations going on in the Senate Finance Committee, it's all been kept close to the breast (SIC). I don't think the American people really know what this co-op would look like. I mean, I want to look at it closely. And certainly, I will take-just like Senator Shelby said on Sunday, let's take a look at it and let's make sure. I think anything is better than this government option that's in there...


GINGREY: ... competing with an unfair advantage on an unequal playing field.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask Mr. Cooper, Congressman, would you try to sell Mr. Gingrey right now on live television on a co-op, some sort of modified public plan that would not offend people concerned about socialism?

COOPER: Well, Phil is a good friend of mine, but he's tough to sell on these things. A co-op is really used over three-quarters of the land area of America so we buy our electricity that way. It's a creature of the New Deal. It's worked really pretty well over all of the country for 70 or 80 years. It's owned by the customers, it's not owned by the government. It works. It works real well.

There are good ways to solve this problem. I think the key is to be open-minded, to not use alarmist rhetoric, to focus on the real problem of 47 million uninsured Americans today, unaffordable health care for virtually everybody, and really, a runaway health care system that's not providing the quality that we deserve here in America.

So we can solve any problem we want to in this great country. Let's put our minds together and let's calmly and rationally solve this health care problem. It's eluded every president for 60 years, but we can do it and we can do it without a big-government solution.

MATTHEWS: OK. Mr. Gingrey, your response?

GINGREY: My response is that I agree with Jim. I mean, things like association health plans, equalizing the tax treatment, making sure that people that get their insurance through a small employer or individual market get the same tax benefit, tax break, discounted insurance, making sure that we create statewide high-risk pools so that people that have pre-existing conditions don't pay-certainly don't pay more than one-and-a-half to two times the standard rates, and they also get an opportunity to get a subsidy, if they need that, from the federal government if they're low-income, say below 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

MATTHEWS: Any chance, Congressman...

GINGREY: So I really do believe...

MATTHEWS: Do you think there's any chance of a compromise? I mean, seriously, if we get something that's-if it's just something that's-suppose the bill has the following elements, gentlemen. It basically tells young people who are healthy, Hey, you got to get some health insurance. You got to share some of the costs and risks of health insurance. Employers, you'll get some encouragement to do-have a health care benefit. You won't be forced to, but you'll get some encouragement. Poor people have to do their bit and kick in what they can afford for health care, but you'll get some kind of subsidy. Some general approach that basically gets everybody on the road towards coverage.

Congressman Gingrey, could you support that, or would you still basically take a free enterprise approach and not really want the government even to go that far?

GINGREY: Well, Chris, I could support that. And quite honestly, I believe I could sit down with Jim Cooper, people like us on a bipartisan basis and we could work this out. You talk about young people, wanting to encourage them to have health insurance, but at the same time, why would we do something like destroy these high-deductible low-premium policies combined with a health savings account, the very thing that the young people want and need so they have catastrophic coverage. According to HR 3200, we would actually be destroying that and creating more in the ranks of the uninsured, not less.

MATTHEWS: OK. You know, I understand there's a left and I understand there's a right, and I understand people really disagree, Mr. Cooper, but let me ask you this. You spoke about it this weekend. You come from the center part of the country. We know the issue of the 2nd Amendment. It's part of our law. It's part of our Constitution, part of our heritage. We live with it. It can be dangerous, but we prefer rights over control of people's lives.

OK, that given, why has the gun issue come into this? Why are people toting firearms to these-in a couple of cases, more than a couple cases now, people are bringing loaded revolvers to these town meetings. One showed up the other day-we had him on the show-at a meeting with the president in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You mentioned it this weekend. Why do people who care about gun rights, which seems to me somewhat separate from this issue, getting involved in the health care debate?

COOPER: Well, Chris, it's a free country, and under our Constitution, the 2nd Amendment is just as important as the 1st Amendment or any other amendment in our Bill of Rights. So that's the way that it is, and we need...

MATTHEWS: But why are they bringing it up here in this health care debate? Why are people showing up armed and ready...


MATTHEWS: And I'm serious. It's not funny. It is-because one of these times, somebody is going to pull one of these guns out. I don't know what their rules of engagement are, but if you bring a loaded gun somewhere, sooner or later, somebody's going to use one because they're going to get provoked. And I just wonder what you think the connection is between the 2nd Amendment, which we accept under the Constitution, it's there, it's a right in the Bill of Rights-why is that an issue in the health care debate?

COOPER: Well, all I know is there's a lot of emotion right now, and if everyone would just be calm and rational and fair to each other and listen to both sides, we can solve this problem and any other problem. The key is clear communication. America is the greatest country in the history of the world. We just got to allow our great citizens to talk clearly to each other, and we can do that.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Gingrey, the same question to you. What's the connection between the 2nd Amendment and health care? I mean, this happened again today. This isn't something cooked up by us. This is people bringing guns to these public meetings. Why?

GINGREY: Well, Chris, they have every right to do that. These may be...

MATTHEWS: We know that.

GINGREY: ... off-duty police officers. They...

MATTHEWS: Well, that's...

GINGREY: You don't know. But if they've got a permit to carry, then absolutely, they can show that and prove that they have the right. If they're coming into a...

MATTHEWS: But why would you bring a gun...

GINGREY: ... school, they may...

MATTHEWS: ... to where the president was speaking? Why would you bring a gun-anybody-I know it's a right. But why would you do it? Under what conditions would you choose to use it? You don't bring a gun somewhere...

GINGREY: Well, I...

MATTHEWS: ... you don't intend to ever use it, so why would you bring a gun into a situation like a public meeting? I've never seen this in my life before, people coming armed to public debates about health care?

GINGREY: Chris, it just so happens these very people would take that same weapon anywhere they go, anywhere where they're permitted to carry a concealed weapon. They have the right to do that, and I agree with Jim...

MATTHEWS: They're not concealed.

GINGREY: ... the right under the 2nd Amendment...

MATTHEWS: We're looking at it right...


MATTHEWS: OK. OK, look, we're looking right now, gentlemen-I have an advantage on you. I'm looking at gentlemen here that have guns on them, on their holsters. They're not concealed. They're basically displaying their weaponry, armed weaponry at these public meetings. I'm just asking why is it going on? What do you think? You're political experts. What's going on in the country? You first, Congressman Gingrey, then you, Congressman Cooper, then we got to go. Why are people coming armed to public meetings?

GINGREY: Well, Chris, if they have the right to do that, I have no fear of it. And I've had already five town hall meetings. I have six more planned. I don't plan on wearing a bulletproof vest. In fact, I usually get standing ovations...


GINGREY: ... when I come into these meetings...

MATTHEWS: Would you discourage...

GINGREY: ... so I have no fear.

MATTHEWS: OK, how about this. Would you discourage Americans, regardless of race, color, creed, or political identification, not to come armed to public meetings? Would you discourage them from doing that?

COOPER: My answer is yes.

GINGREY: No, I would not-yes.

MATTHEWS: OK, Congressman Cooper says-he's a moderate. I guess by today's terminology, a moderate is somebody who says, Please don't come armed to public meetings. Mr. Gingrey, your opportunity. You can say what you want. Do you think people should come armed to public meetings to discuss health care or not?

GINGREY: I would think that they should exercise their rights under the 2nd Amendment.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much. You made yourself clear, Congressman Gingrey. Good look, Mr. Cooper.

COOPER: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Last time around, you played a big role. I hope you can find a compromise. I think nothing is worse than doing nothing. That's my view.

Coming up: Should Democrats be concerned about the 2010 midterm elections? Wait'll you see-we think they do have something to worry about, and maybe that worry will cause some of them to vote no on this health care bill just out of fear.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Ever since World War II, the new president's party has lost seats in Congress the first time out in the congressional elections coming up the year later. Some notable years, 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson lost four Senate seats and 47 House seats. In '94, Bill Clinton lost eight Senate seats and 52 House seats. Will the trend continue for President Obama come 2010 next year?

Joining me to look ahead to next year, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and "The National Journal's" Charles Cook, who's editor of "The Cook Political Report." Well, this is a bit for political junkies, but we have some who watch who just want to know what's going on. The reason I think it's topical, I think a lot of members of Congress, especially from swing districts who managed to get in by 52 percent, 53 percent, are thinking next year and they're thinking how they should vote.

So Charlie Cook, are you along with this-are you with those who think that there's a real possible chance, 1 in 3, 1 in 4, that the House could go Republican next time?


MATTHEWS: They'd have to lose about 30, 40 seats.

COOK: Forty seats.


COOK: I think that's too high. I mean, it's-obviously, it's possible. I mean, we saw it in 1994, but I think it's pretty unlikely. But I think the odds of them losing, say, 20 seats, getting their margin cut in half is-that's a very real possibility. What political scientists...

MATTHEWS: Well, that would still give them control. That would give them 236 seats with about, you know, an 18-seat majority.

COOK: Yes...


COOK: And arguably the people they would lose, a lot of those are some of the Blue Dogs...

MATTHEWS: Who are not voting with them anyway.

COOK: ... who are not voting with them anyway. But the thing is, it's-you know, you like to have that cushion, and it would reflect on the president.

MATTHEWS: What's your gut tell-I know you don't like to make too many predictions, but at this point, nobody's going to remember you made it, so...

COOK: Well...

MATTHEWS: Is your sense this is going to be a typical off year?

COOK: Yes, I think it's going to be fairly typical. I mean, right now, we have Democrats losing about nine seats. But my guess is it'll get up to, you know, 20 or so.

MATTHEWS: George Bush, Sr., lost 9.

COOK: Yes.

MATTHEWS: So that's about an average.


MATTHEWS: And he was pretty popular.

BUCHANAN: Reagan lost 26 in bad economic times in '82, but I think George W. Bush...

MATTHEWS: I had a hand in that one!

BUCHANAN: George W. Bush gained seats in 2002...

COOK: In 2002.

BUCHANAN: ... which is astonishing.

MATTHEWS: Well, because...


MATTHEWS: ... he did a brilliant job-I don't like it. It's realpolitik. He forced the Democrats to vote on the war before we went to the war.

BUCHANAN: I agree with Charlie, though. I think you're talking 20 to 25 seats. I think Obama's in trouble. He's got a couple of problems, Chris. The tremendous black turnout, 13 percent, is going to fall back. The white turnout, which was depressed last time somewhat, I think is coming out. You got these populist folks out there very angry. I think that's going up...

MATTHEWS: So anger drives the voters.

BUCHANAN: Yes, anger drives the-also, Bush was a tremendous weight on the Republican ticket. He's going to be gone.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he's forgotten in terms of-you don't think the Democrats can drag out the wet cat again and try again...

BUCHANAN: No, no. People...

MATTHEWS: ... and whack them again?

COOK: They can try.

BUCHANAN: I think that's-they'll try. They'd be very foolish. I think their real-they got real problems. Chris, I think people have handled these-these crowds out there terribly. Do you know 40 percent of Democrats say they think these protesters are behaving properly, 64 percent of moderates think? These are the swing voters. They're the Hillary Democrats that Obama...


MATTHEWS: OK, let me-let me-let me ask. Television can be selective, as you know, in the pictures we take. But you've seen the pictures we've seen, not just the guys, the few guys with guns, but these people really manically yelling at congresspeople.

BUCHANAN: Some of them are very angry, but most folks-you know what most folks are saying? By almost 2 to 1, they identify with them! People are angry, especially the white working middle class in particular.



don't condone the way they do it, the screaming, the yelling, the getting in the face, the waving the fingers, and all that.

But the thing about it, for the Blue Dogs, those are their constituents. I mean, you know, this was giving, I think, the left of the Democratic Party a little window into the lives of these...


MATTHEWS: But they never get that lesson.

COOK: Well, I'll tell you what.

MATTHEWS: They never learn. I have worked with politicians.

The trouble is, the guys from the big cities and the women from the big cities, the minority congresspeople, don't know what a general election looks like, do they?

COOK: No, I...


MATTHEWS: The suburban guys, the guys from rural areas, who manage to squeak in with 52 percent, are always thinking about that 3 percent they need to hold.

COOK: I think it will be easier for President Obama to dump the public option because of those town meetings, because it will be easier-

I mean, it's sort of like it's a-it's a dose of-it's a bucket of ice water on the heads of the liberal Democrats.

MATTHEWS: That's pretty smart.

Pat, do you agree with that? That's pretty smart.

BUCHANAN: I-I do. And I also think dumping the physician counselors, AKA death panels...

MATTHEWS: That's gone. That's gone.

BUCHANAN: It's gone. I also think...


MATTHEWS: Because of the way it's been interpreted by its enemies.

BUCHANAN: Look at Specter. Look at Specter up in Pennsylvania. There's going to be no provision for health insurance, free health insurance for illegal aliens. All these things...

MATTHEWS: Did he say that?

BUCHANAN: Yes, he did. All these things set those folks off. If you're get something, get all of that out there. And I think the way you were talking...


MATTHEWS: Well, let-well, let me tell you one thing.

One reason you and I-we don't agree on many things, but one thing you can say about national health insurance, if we can have it, you have got to have an I.D. card. You got to claim-you have got to be who you claim you are.


MATTHEWS: The idea a person is going to get free national health insurance without identifying themselves personally is crazy.


MATTHEWS: There's not going to be a door where you walk in...


COOK: ... immigration reform.

MATTHEWS: I mean, that's right. There's going to have to be some identification of people.


MATTHEWS: They can't come in and B.S. their way into free health care.


MATTHEWS: They have to be here legally or not.

BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: So, this idea that you're going to free...


MATTHEWS: But, Pat...


BUCHANAN: ... bring in the driver's license they get in all these states.


MATTHEWS: But, Pat, but-well, that's the point.


MATTHEWS: I don't think most people believe you should get anything free if you're here illegally. Your kids do.

BUCHANAN: You should have your Social Security card.


BUCHANAN: And then you should run the card through the system.


COOK: Verify.

MATTHEWS: But you have a sense-listen, here is my sense. The president is sitting there with Rahm Emanuel right now looking at next year's election, looking at what we're talking about now, saying, look, it's time to drop the baggage, and go with what we need to get across the finish line, some kind of individual mandate that says young people have got to be part of it. We have got to get everybody in health insurance in some way, some kind of encouragement to employers, not a law, but some kind of-not like Nixon wanted to go, with a-a mandate, but something that gets employers to kick in.




MATTHEWS: And, third, some kind of subsidy for working people...



MATTHEWS: ... who are willing to do their bit, but don't have enough to pay health insurance, all right, and then clean up this crap about preexisting conditions and portability and all that stuff.

A bill like that, to me, would be historic. And that could pass the Senate. And I think it could pass the House.

COOK: And I think Obama would be tested. Can he sell that as-as a victory?

MATTHEWS: Who does he have to sell it to?

COOK: Or will it come across as a loss?

MATTHEWS: Who does he have to sell it to?

COOK: Well, the thing is, the conservatives will...


MATTHEWS: Who won't take that as a victory?

COOK: A lot of people will say it wasn't for a lack-he tried to get government control. Now he's scaling back. It wasn't for a lack of trying.


MATTHEWS: The people who say that wouldn't vote for him in a million years.


BUCHANAN: Chris, I agree with you. Look, I agree with you.


BUCHANAN: And I can't see how liberal Democrats, if that rolls over there...


BUCHANAN: ... are going to vote against something like that, which does 60 percent of what they want done. How can you vote against this?


COOK: Oh, I think the left...


MATTHEWS: What's this 100 votes that are going to vote against the bill that doesn't have the public option?

COOK: Oh, that-that's-that's baloney.

MATTHEWS: I think it's posturing. And we saw Jim Cooper on today.

He's a moderate.


MATTHEWS: He was positioning himself as a guy who wants the public option, because you know why?


MATTHEWS: If they don't get the public option, he won't be blamed for it.

BUCHANAN: He's going to call the co-op public option. That was what that fellow's doing.

MATTHEWS: Did you notice that?



MATTHEWS: Isn't politics amazing?

BUCHANAN: And he...


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you. You-you don't like making predictions, but I have to do it here.

COOK: No, I'm...

MATTHEWS: Will there be a health care bill?

COOK: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: Will there be a health care bill?

BUCHANAN: I think there will be one.

MATTHEWS: We will have a signing ceremony, and will it change anything?

BUCHANAN: Let me say I'm not sure.

MATTHEWS: Will it be good for the country?

BUCHANAN: I'm not sure, because I think the Republicans got the taste of blood. And I think they're really going after this. And I think things are-there's so much rage and anger. And this co-op is so confusing, there might not be. But I think any Republican who thinks...


BUCHANAN: ... this thing is completely dead is mistaken.

MATTHEWS: OK. I think Kent Conrad is right. Sixty votes are hard to get. You can't get it from public option.

You are going to end up getting 61 votes, probably, for health care in the senator, because Senator Kennedy is ill and can't make the vote.

COOK: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Bobby Byrd is always tricky, but he will make the vote. I think they're going to get Olympia Snowe and they're going to get Mike Enzi from Arizona.

And that's going to be enough to get 61.

COOK: Wyoming.

BUCHANAN: Wyoming.

COOK: Wyoming.


COOK: Wyoming.

BUCHANAN: Wyoming.

MATTHEWS: In Wyoming.

COOK: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And I think that's going to do it.

In the House, they're going to end up getting 218, because they can lose-you know how many they can lose? They can lose about 40 and still win it. So, you get to 218 in the House.


MATTHEWS: You get to 61 in the Senate, and you pass the thing.


MATTHEWS: That's what I think. Don't you agree?

BUCHANAN: That's my feeling, that they can do it.

MATTHEWS: Is that your feeling?

BUCHANAN: I'm not saying they will do it.

COOK: It will.


COOK: And the thing about it is, it will be seen as a fraction of what he tried...

MATTHEWS: OK. Look, I think we're going to...

COOK: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I think politics work. I think these crazy town meetings help. I think you're right.


MATTHEWS: That was a brilliant assessment, Charles Cook. It's why you're so good. In a weird way, the guys even with the guns have probably helped them. They have shown the virulence of the critics.

COOK: Which will make them suicidal.

MATTHEWS: OK. We will be back.


MATTHEWS: Well, I give it-I take it back. You're not that brilliant.


MATTHEWS: Pat Buchanan, Charles Cook.

Up next: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been called the Hammer,

for good reason. Now he's the dancer. Can you see this guy do the cha-cha

cha, the tango? It might be the Texas two-step. But we're looking at this guy. Does everyone want to be-everybody want to be on the stage?

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

Mr. DeLay is coming back.


MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."

First, a sugar plum for the ages. Guess-go ahead, guess-who has just joining the cast of "Dancing With the Stars.? Mr. Tom DeLay. That's Tom DeLay to you. The former House majority leader, the 62-year-old Texas hard-as-nails congressman and soddy-buster to the nth degree, a guy so tough they called him The Hammer.

DeLay says he's been working out like crazy to compete next month with 15 other reality contestants. He will be on HARDBALL tomorrow night to talk about it. We are going to ask him how that Texas two-step is coming. I dare not even talk about his possible cha-cha-cha.

Next: the blooper heard around the world. That's what "New York Times" Paul Krugman is charitably calling this latest piece of misinformation from the right-wing editorial board over at "Investors Business Daily."

The newspaper was looking to make an example out of physicist Stephen Hawking, who is paralyzed. In an editorial entitled "How House Bill Runs Over Grandma," the business daily took a shot at the government-run British health care system, writing-quote-catch this-"People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

Well, here is the skinny. Hawking was born in the U.K. and has lived his entire life with health care from the National Health Service in Britain. So, now the newspaper has printed a correction. And Hawking put out his own statement praising the British national health system for what he called its high-quality treatment, saying he wouldn't be here today without that health care system in England."

Well, isn't the truth breathtaking?

And, finally, a shout-out today to the mayor of Milwaukee. Mayor Tom Barrett was leaving the Wisconsin State Fair this weekend when he heard the screams of a woman he discovered was trying to protect her baby granddaughter from a young man in what's being described by police as a domestic dispute."

After Mayor Barrett tried to help the woman protect her granddaughter, the man involved hit him with a lead pipe. The mayor fought back, and the guy fled the scene. Result: The woman and baby are fine. The guy was arrested. The mayor, now a hometown hero, is recovering with just a fractured hand and other injuries at a local hospital.

Time now for tonight's "Big Number." And it has got some bad news for the president.

In a new "USA Today"/Gallup poll, how many people say they don't believe the stimulus package is working? Fifty-seven percent, a solid majority. Fifty-seven percent of Americans don't believe their stimulus dollars are going to work for them. That's tonight's "Big Number."

That said, as my hero, Winston Churchill, put it, there are two kinds of success, initial and ultimate. Let's see how this recovery works out.

Up next: the story of a true American hero whose changed-whose life changed on September 11, a journalist who joined the Marine Corps with the hope of making a difference. He just died in Afghanistan-when HARDBALL returns.


AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Amanda Drury with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

Analysts have been saying the markets are due for a correction, and that may be exactly what we're seeing today, all the major markets losing at least 2 percent, the Dow Jones industrials down 186 points, the S&P 500 finishing more than 24 points lower, and the Nasdaq falling more than 54.5 points.

Well, financials led the way lower today, despite indications that the number of credit card defaults is stabilizing, after a sharp climb.

A disappointing earnings report from the nation's second-largest home improvement retailer, however, was no help. Profits at Lowe's fell a worse-than-expected 19 percent in the second quarter, and Lowe's shares down more than 10 percent on the day.

Investors also shrugged off some encouraging data on the manufacturing sector. The New York Fed says they're seeing regional growth there for the first time since February of 2007.

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



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said, when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead. The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight, and we won't defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy.

But we must never forget, this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Obama this afternoon talking about the war in Afghanistan at the VFW's convention in Phoenix. And, of course, his warning of difficult days ahead ring true for the family of Sergeant William Cahir who was killed in Afghanistan last Thursday.

Sergeant Cahir enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves after 9/11. And it hit him so hard, 9/11. He served two tours of duty in Iraq before his deployment to Afghanistan. Sergeant Cahir was also a journalist. And, last year, he was a Democratic congressional candidate up in Pennsylvania, his state college. That's where Penn State is. His wife, Rene, is expecting twins. There she is.

Brett Lieberman is a close friend of Sergeant Cahir. They both worked together at the Newhouse News Service.

You know, you-we don't do this enough. This guy was like us, in a way, but better. I mean, he was a journalist. He was-ran for office.

Tell me about your friend, this guy who just got killed in Afghanistan.


I mean, Bill wasn't like us. You know, he-in the sense that he didn't like to be on the sidelines, because, everything he did, he wanted to change something, be involved. He didn't want to just cover the news at a school. He went to work on the Hill. He wanted to change things. He worked for Harris Wofford, Ted Kennedy there. He became a journalist.

He serves his-the communities-he really cared about the communities he covered. He was just completely dedicated to the facts. After 9/11, like a lot of people, he was touched by the-what happened, wanted to make a difference. But he didn't want to just cover it. He wanted to be-actively make a difference, and felt the best way to do that was join the Marines. And he was 34 at the time.

MATTHEWS: He had to push the age thing, didn't he?

LIEBERMAN: Yes. He needed to get a waiver. He needed to get permission. And, you know, he had to give up a career.

I mean, he was able-he was a reservist. He was able to go back, but, at age 34, he was in there with kids half his age. Drill sergeants, you know, gave him a tough time. He was a college graduate. He really gave up a lot, but that was part of the commitment that Bill had.

MATTHEWS: Did he know-I mean, nobody knows going into battle what the outcome is going to be. Did he know what he was facing?


This past time, before he deployed, I got an e-mail. And my wife actually just reminded me about it this morning. He wrote that, a lot of people say, oh, no, when they heard you're going for a third deployment. And he said, you know what? I knew what I signed up for it. This is what I committed to.


MATTHEWS: And he was like 40, right, the last...


LIEBERMAN: He's 40 -- turned 40 last December. But he felt like, you know what? This is an honest job. He actually wrote that in the e-mail. And he wanted to make a difference. And he felt this is the best way he could do it.

MATTHEWS: And he left his beautiful wife behind and pregnant with two

with twins.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, twins are due later this year.

MATTHEWS: Look, I don't usually do this, but this isn't the usual situation. What should we do about this?

LIEBERMAN: We started a fund. It's the Bill Cahir Memorial Fund.

It's just launched online today, billcahirmemorial.org.

Anything you can do to help out the family, just, you know, whether it's, you know, later on, baby gifts or stuff like that.



And it's Bill Cahir.

MATTHEWS: So, this will help pay for their kids growing up.

LIEBERMAN: Growing up, college, you know, clothes, you name it. It won't make up for, you know, the loss, but it will help, and it will help them keep the memory alive.

MATTHEWS: Well, I hope everybody sees that.

We don't do this enough. We talk about wars around here, and we talk about politics of wars. And we disagree with some wars. And I think Afghanistan has been recognized as a war of necessity by everybody. And that's where the enemy came from on 9/11. That's where he went and fought, and that's where he died.

LIEBERMAN: That's why Bill felt it was important to go.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Brett Lieberman.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What a pal you are. What a good guy you are.

We're going to come back and talk politics. We have got a lot to talk about today. We're going to talk about-there it is, by the way-thank you-the fund that's been set up for Sergeant Cahir's family. Donations can be sent to Bill Cahir-C-A-H-I-R-Memorial Fund at Burke & Herbert Bank, care of Mark Ragland at P.O. Box 268, Alexandria, Virginia, 22313.



KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HHS SECRETARY: They have been more focused on a co-op, not for profit co-op, as a competitor, as opposed to a straight government-run program. And I think what's important is choice and competition. And I'm convinced, at the end of the day, the plan will have both of those, but that is not the essential element.


MATTHEWS: Well, back-time for the politics fix, with "USA Today's" Susan Page, who is elsewhere in Washington. And there she is. And the "Chicago Tribune's" Clarence Page.

Let me ask you both about these headlines. Here is today's front pages, of course, it's the "New York Times." Quote, public option in health plan may be dropped. That's right at the top.

The "Washington Post," key feature of Obama health plan may be out.

Of course, Susan's paper, "The USA Today," public insurance gets iffy.

Well, Susan, it seems to me that these are the ways that the administration has chosen to do this. They're going with what they believe they need, I think, an individual mandate, people have to participate in health care, a subsidy for working people, some kind of push for employers to insure people, and reform in terms of pre-existing conditions and portability.

In other words, they're going for a health reform bill rather than a big, big bill that would have a big public program involved, a public option. It looks like it. Still a possibility of a co-op. What do you think is going to happen?

SUSAN PAGE, "THE USA TODAY": You know, I thought it was surprising this morning when we heard about Tom Delay being on "Dancing with The Stars." I thought it was not surprising that the administration is backing away from the public option. There's been a lot of signals that that is not what they consider to be critical. That's not something that they go to the mat for. And it's probably not something they can hold onto if they want to get the support, not just of Republicans, but of some conservative Democrats.

So I thought we saw this was kind of a reality check on what the final package is likely to look like.

MATTHEWS: Clarence?

CLARENCE PAGE, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": That's true. They never had the votes in the Senate for the-

MATTHEWS: They never had the 60.

C PAGE: Exactly. And I think the administration decided it's time to let everybody know what reality is, especially on the left, because they are going to get hammered for that. Some folks already-some of the Congressional Democrats are already saying, well, what's the point if you haven't got a public option?

But nobody knows what is a co-op is exactly. I think they're going to try to package something that comes close without being government-run. A co-op is run by the members. But, you know, it's a nice squishy concept right now that they're hoping will cushion the blow they're going to get.

MATTHEWS: Maybe, Clarence, my friend, you might be to my left on this one. But that's a safe place for me to be. And Susie, you don't take any position, but it seems to me, if you can walk away at Thanksgiving time, if you're president of the United States, and say, for the first time in American history, young people, healthy people who think they're immune to sickness, are now going to have to participate in the health care system, to share the costs and risks of high health care with everybody, you're going to have a system of subsidies for working people, to help them afford health insurance, you are going to encourage employers to pay for health insurance, and you're going to solve these problems, like portability and pre-existing conditions, you get all that and you sign it, that's better than nothing.

C PAGE: If they can get all that, that's better than nothing indeed. Nobody knows how it's going to work. That's the question. It's not as simple of a concept as the public option, which would be in general something like Medicare for everybody. That's easier to say and explain than something that's going to be kind of a hybrid between Medicare and a rural co-op or-

MATTHEWS: Medicare is free. Medicare is absolutely free for the richest people in America. It's still absolutely free. Once you have worked after a couple years of retirement, all the contributions you have made. It doesn't take long. Then the rest of it is free for life. No plan is ever going to be that good, is it?

C PAGE: No plan is perfect.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Susan.

S PAGE: I was going to say, the hospital portion of Medicare is free. But you do pay for Medicare Part B and you pay a premium for Medicare Part D. So it's not entirely free. But it certainly is a system that seniors are pretty happy with. I actually think that one helpful thing for the administration from these raucous town halls we've seen is that, you know, liberals who might be very upset by losing the public option may think that health care is in some trouble, because it is getting a lot of push back, and may be more willing to accept, you know, a co-op instead of a public option, as opposed to getting nothing at all.

MATTHEWS: So it's kind of like a rope-a-dope situation, in a weird way-without stretching the comparison between Mohammed Ali getting hit until the other guy finally runs out of juice. The idea he's getting hit so hard teaches the left, if you will-the left is a good enough term for me-that maybe they're lucky to get a bill.

S PAGE: And, of course, Democrats really want to get a bill. Think how-think what a big issue this was last year in the campaign and how long Democrats have been trying to do this, since the Clinton years, since the Truman years. Pretty close now-I think this is the argument President Obama is trying to make. We're pretty close. We just need a little bit more to get us over the finish line, for some kind-

The bill they're going to get this year is not going to solve every single health care problem. What they're aiming to do is get something you can build on, that has maybe an individual mandate. That would be a critical part-

MATTHEWS: I think he is going to be George Akin and declare victim. Take a look at this. Here is the president's poll numbers as this debate has heated up. His approval is going down. Look at that black line. His disapproval's going up. They're about to converge.

Here's the question. Is it better for him to get a health care bill or not?

C. PAGE: He's got to do it. I wouldn't call it the Waterloo, but this is a defining issue.

MATTHEWS: Susan, you agree that he has to get it?

S. PAGE: He's got to get it. To lose on his biggest initiative, that would be really bad for him.

MATTHEWS: Here's the question. You're a rural Democrat. I imagine you're a Congress person from, oh, Iowa, anywhere in the country, anywhere besides the big cities where people tend to be automatically Democrat, anywhere outside that safe Democratic zone. Are you better off with a bill that you have to defend or better off with a bill that's going down?

S. PAGE: If you're a Democrat in a rural area? I think if you're a Democrat, you're better off with a bill that says we promise to tackle this issue and we did this. I don't see where any Democrat gets an advantage if they don't succeed. For goodness sakes, they've got 60 votes in the Senate and a big majority in the House, and the White House and they can't get a bill through on their top priority? That is not a great selling point for a Democrat to be making.

MATTHEWS: Let's take a look at the president, and then Clarence. I want to see if you agree with it. If that's true, then they ought to all vote for it. We don't know how they think. Here's the president today. Let's listen.


OBAMA: Since there's been so much misinformation out there about health insurance reform, let me say this: one thing that reform won't change is veterans health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That is the plain and simple truth.

We're expanding access to your health care, not reducing it.


MATTHEWS: Clarence, Susan and I crafted the question. If you're better off having voted for a bill and the bill having passed, why wouldn't most Democrats, in fact almost all Democrats, vote for it? It's better for them politically.

C. PAGE: Most of them will. The Blue Dogs are the difficulty here. They don't want a bill that's too far to the left. But the fact is a majority of the public-

MATTHEWS: They ain't going to get it.

C. PAGE: Obviously not. Most of the public does want some kind of health care reform. How do you define reform? That's the question. It's better to have a specific bill to defend than what they've got now, which is just a lot of rumors floating around.

MATTHEWS: I'll tell you, back at '46 when they passed the Employment Act, and they committed this country to full employment, so we would at least try every year to do that, that was a plus. You got to do that with health care, at least get the commitment.

We'll be right back with Susan Page and Clarence Page-that's interesting.

C. PAGE: Married, but not to each other.

MATTHEWS: You are both happily married, separately. I have to tell you, I want to talk about Hillary Clinton. No jokes. Let's get serious about Hillary Clinton, what she did over there, because I think it is important. We're watching HARDBALL. In fact, we're doing HARDBALL here on MSNBC. Come back and watch about Hillary and what happened to her in Africa.


MATTHEWS: Clarence page and Susan Page with the politics fix. Let me start with Susan. It seems to me that Secretary of State Clinton went to Africa and spent 12 days in some unpleasant countries, countries at war, countries that have dangers posed, in fact, to her as visitor, talked about blood diamonds, talked about women's rights, which are not honored in that part of the world, many places.

She got no credit for it. All she got is the cheap shot because of

what she got when she lost it a bit with that question from that kid about

what she thought was a question about her husband's thinking, not hers.

What do you make of all of this?

S. PAGE: I'm sure it was very frustrating for her, because it was a long trip focused on issues that Americans and American diplomats often don't pay that much attention to in places like Congo. But it is true that it was-her husband was getting a lot more attention in North Korea, and that one incident at a news conference sort of is the thing that the public will-the information the public got about the trip that she made. I'm sure that's disappointing.

MATTHEWS: You know, I was just over there on a family trip with my wife. I have to tell you, I met a kid out in the middle of nowhere who was totally consumed with Michael Jackson. Just to make the point-the papers are covered by Obama stuff. There are always-these millions and millions of Africans are watching us all the time. They want us to show some respect and interest in their concerns. They know they got them.

Here's a person, the first person in a long time, who says, I'm going to give you 12 days.

C. PAGE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Your thoughts?

C. PAGE: Well, she was very-well, for one thing, the Clintons are very much respected, very much liked in Africa. That particular place where she was where that incident occurred, she was getting more pointed questions and comments there than in most places. But they were right on point, for the most part, dealing with women's issues especially, which she's very strong on. As you know, problems, rape, AIDS, et cetera, have been very serious in Africa. And she was raising the profile on that. But then she got upstaged.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but it's serious business. You've got the blood diamond trade, where the whites of the world are involved in it too. A lot of people-the money over there, the bloodshed that goes on, the killing; the old tribal disputes have always been there, but they're getting worse because of the fight over diamonds. The AIDS thing isn't going away. Thank god George Bush took an interest over there, Susan, and he gets credit for it over there.

But I'll tell you, the American people-a lot of us Americans came from that part of the world, and we all ultimately came from there, no matter what the anti-evolutionists think. We all come back to Lucy in some day. You're thoughts again? Hillary Clinton, how's this shaping up? What I call the coalition between the Clintons and the Obama faction.

S. PAGE: You see a little bit of a coalition with Bill Clinton as well as with Hillary Clinton. You saw him not just do the North Korea trip, but also go to a Netroots convention the other day in Pittsburgh, where he advocated strongly for the Obama health care plan.

You know, there's a certain amount of scar tissue from last year's campaign between the Obamas and the Clintons. But Bill Clinton does offer Barack Obama some credentials with some more conservative Democrats, maybe some Democrats in the south, that-where Obama could use maybe a little bit of a boost.

MATTHEWS: He's going to need a bigger boost next year. My theory is that the Clintons are really going to be necessary to this coalition come next November, when Bill Clinton's got to help with the white working class.

C. PAGE: Notice how often the Clintons are important to Obama in the clinch. During the campaign last year, against McCain; now at this point, Bill Clinton speaking out for the health care reform last week. And Hillary Clinton-they've both been very good soldiers.

MATTHEWS: I think it's a hell of a coalition, a strong phalanx within the Democratic party. Thank you, Susan Page. Thank you, Clarence Page.

Join us again tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

Right now it's time for "THE ED SHOW" with Ed Schultz.



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