updated 9/11/2009 10:32:20 AM ET 2009-09-11T14:32:20

Guest Host: Mike Barnicle

Guests: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Sen. Bob Corker, Cynthia Hardy, Ron Reagan, Roger Simon, Ceci Connolly, Ron Reagan, Cynthia Hardy, John O‘Connor, Chris Cillizza

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  The insult heard ‘round the world.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: The gift.  When Congressman Joe Wilson shouted out “You lie” at President Obama last night, he gave the Democrats a gift they hope just keeps on giving.  Wilson was forced—and that does seem to be the word, forced—to apologize today, and his Washington office has been mobbed, mostly by right-wing supporters.  Democrats hope to turn Wilson into the Cindy Sheehan of the anti-health care reform movement, a clownish figure of ridicule who hurts his own side more than he helps.

Partly lost in all the fuss over Wilson was the president‘s speech itself.  Did he regain control of the debate?  We‘ll deconstruct the speech and see where the debate is headed next.

Plus, it seems like a South Carolina kind of day.  Governor Mark Sanford today defended his decision to stay in office, but can he survive the groundswell of calls for his resignation this week by the state‘s house Republicans?

Back to health care for a moment.  Could Bill Clinton become President Obama‘s secret weapon to keep Democrats in line when reform comes to a vote?  That‘s in the “Politics Fix.”

And we all know it‘s a bad idea to text while driving.  Well, it‘s not much smarter to text while you‘re on national television.  Virginia‘s Eric Cantor learned that lesson last night, and we‘ll have it on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But we begin with President Obama and where the health care debate goes from here.  Senator Jay Rockefeller is a Democrat from West Virginia and a member of the Finance Committee.

Senator, Congressman Joe Wilson from South Carolina—it‘s like a mandatory question being asked by every politician in Washington today.  What was your take on it?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  My take was that it was a very small, I thought rather rude, interruption in a very important speech about health care to the American people, and I don‘t even think about it anymore.

BARNICLE:  We‘re going to play it, Senator, for those few Americans left out there who haven‘t heard it.  Here is President Obama being called a liar by South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK Obama, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants.  This, too, is false.  The reforms...

(SHOUTING)

OBAMA:  The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

REP. Joe WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  You lie!

OBAMA:  Not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Senator, before we get into the specifics of last night‘s speech and what you thought about it, let me ask you, off of what Congressman Wilson said, off of a summer where the birthers have been running around the country saying President Obama wasn‘t born here, off of the last week, where we had such a furor over a president of the United States speaking to schoolchildren, what‘s going on?  What do you think is going on?

ROCKEFELLER:  It‘s—incidents build other incidents.  Rudeness creates more rudeness.  Inappropriate behavior, you know, recreates itself in many forms.  I just think for those of us who are worried about policy and getting a health care bill, the focus on that fellow from South Carolina isn‘t productive.  So I—you‘re just—Mike, I think you‘re great, and I think you love baseball, so that‘s all I need to know.

(LAUGHTER)

ROCKEFELLER:  Then I‘m just not going to think about Mr. Wilson. 

You‘re not going to get me to talk about him.

BARNICLE:  All right.  I‘m with you.  I‘m with you, the Red Sox and the American League East.  But let me ask you about policy.  Could you clear up—there are constant back-and-forths on what is in this bill with regard to the idea of illegal immigrants being covered by a health care reform bill.  Can you clear that up?  Are they—will they be covered?

ROCKEFELLER:  I‘ll do my best.  It‘s very, very simple.  First of all, there is no bill on the Senate side.  There is on the House side, and it specifically says illegal immigrants are not covered, will not be covered, cannot be covered under any circumstances.  That language, or language very close to it with the same force, will appear in whatever Senate bill emerges.  And I can guarantee you that.  So it‘s something that people should not worry about for a moment.

BARNICLE:  Well, the Republicans seem to be putting out—House Minority Leader John Boehner continues to refer to the fact that, you know, they will not—we can‘t ask them whether they‘re here illegally unless they would be able to be covered.  What do you say to that contention?

ROCKEFELLER:  That I would really love to hear what Mr. Boehner has to say in terms of health care policies that he thinks would be useful for the American people.  I mean, this is the whole question of what—where have the Republicans been on sort of actively engaging in public policy?  They‘re actively engaging in nitpicking, where they‘re wrong and where they end up saying untruths to the American people.  And unfortunately, because of the way it‘s always picked up and people always dive right into those controversies, a lot of the American people believe it.  And that‘s very frustrating for those of us who really care about the policy and have been working on this for a long, long time.

BARNICLE:  What is your sense of the situation in your state, West Virginia?  You‘ve just come back from August recess.  West Virginia‘s a state hard hit by the crippled economy over the past few years, actually, historically.  Is there in West Virginia more of a concern about jobs, or more of a concern about the need for health care reform?  How does that work in your state?

ROCKEFELLER:  Well, you know I hate saying this right at this point, in the middle of the health care debate, but there will never come a time that there‘s anything in West Virginia—there will never be an issue that‘s more important than people having jobs because West Virginia‘s always had to struggle that way.  Only 4 percent of our land is flat.  It‘s hard to get industries to move in, build highways, and all the rest of it.  But health care is tremendously important, but jobs trump everything.

BARNICLE:  You know, as you seek a middle ground in the Senate, and as you would seek a middle ground in the conference committee between the Senate version and the House version, do you think you‘re going to get the 60 votes in the Senate?  Where do you think that stands?  The president had, I believe, 17 Democratic senators down at the White House today.  There seems to be a growing feeling among some Republicans that the Democrats, the Democratic Party, the Democratic president are going to just go it their own way and railroad whatever they can right through the Senate and right through the House.  What‘s your sense of it?

ROCKEFELLER:  Mike, I have this feeling about—I was in the state legislature.  I‘ve have been around here about 25 years.  And I was governor for eight years.  So I—I know how these rhythms work.  I think that in legislation, particularly controversial legislation, there‘s a kind of a rhythm.  And people take—they really dig their heels in on something, let‘s say public option or something about insurance or how, you know, providers are reimbursed under Medicare.  They dig their heels in.

And then the closer you come to the fact that you are actually going to vote on or mark up a bill, people become more fluid.  So the word I use for the place where we are now and why I think the president was wise to wait as long as he did to make that good speech is that it‘s a very fluid situation.  It could go a lot of different ways, and I think that bodes well for health care‘s being passed as a bill that gets enough votes.

BARNICLE:  Senator Jay Rockefeller, thanks very much.

ROCKEFELLER:  Thanks, Mike.

BARNICLE:  Senator Bob Corker is a Tennessee Republican who sits on the Banking and Aging Committee.  Senator, mandatory question of the day.  Congressman Joe Wilson, South Carolina last night, “You lie”—what do you think?

SEN. BOB CORKER ®, TENNESSEE:  Look, that was very not good.  It was the wrong thing to do.  The office of president should be respected.  Against protocol.  My understanding is he apologized formally afterwards and realized himself that he certainly stepped across a line.

BARNICLE:  Senator, let‘s take the word “lie” out of the equation, but you‘ve had some reservations and several comments about the senator‘s (SIC) speech last night and about the health care proposal that the president is advocating.  So do you think—is he fudging the facts?  Is he tripping around the truth?  What is he doing, in your mind?

CORKER:  Yes, look, first of all, I think there are things that we need to do to reform health care, and I think the White House knows that I believe that.  I‘ve said that in every town hall meeting I‘ve had.  And I hope that we can reach a middle ground and do some things that are pragmatic, that really move the ball down the field and don‘t do any harm.

I thought last night‘s speech was a little bit more like a—say, a primary speech in Iowa or something like that that was rhetorical.  And for that reason, I today e-mailed over to the White House chief of staff, to Nancy DeParle, that‘s handling the health care issues, a request for some text so that we could actually put some meat on the bones and understand more specifically what the president was saying.

I left there last night really with more questions than I did answers.  And so anyway, I‘d like—I think for this debate to be advanced, we really need to understand what was said in its text form, what he means by these types of solutions, and I think that would advance the debate, if they would actually come forth with that.

BARNICLE:  So you used the phrase, It sounded more like a primary speech in Iowa.  And today the president of the United States had 18 or 19 Democratic senators down the White House to discuss this.  Do you get the impression that they‘re just going to go right forward with a Democratic bill?  And are they going to really leave you on the sidelines, if that‘s what they have to do?

CORKER:  I felt like—look, in fairness, I know that I‘m viewed as somebody who wants to solve this problem.  I felt like last night, the train left the station, that in essence, it was about consolidating the base, if you will, behind the president.  And I really did feel like that we reached a fork in the road last night with that speech.  I don‘t think that is best for the American people.  I think that that‘s going to be very problematic for all involved.  I hope that that‘s not the case, but that was my sense as I listened to what was said last night.

BARNICLE:  So what‘s your biggest reservation or reservations about the proposal that‘s coming out of Max Baucus‘s committee?

CORKER:  Well, there are a number of things.  Let‘s move policy aside.  I really—as it relates to what happens at the end, I personally believe we do need to have things like exchanges.  We need to deal with the issue of preexisting conditions.  We need to have cross-state line competition.  I think all of those things need to be addressed.  I think we need to have some tax code changes so that people can in a more affordable way purchase health insurance.

What worries me is how this is being paid for, among other things on the policy side.  But for instance, taking $410 billion out of Medicare—and I‘m not saying that that‘s cutting services, but what it is doing is making sure that Medicare is not solvent, that we‘re not dealing with the issue that Medicare‘s going to be insolvent in the year 2017, and we‘re not even dealing with the issue of making sure that next year, we don‘t have a 23 percent cut with physicians and nurses.

Secondly, pushing off the cost to states.  I can‘t imagine us considering pushing off the cost of raising Medicaid levels off to states.  That to me makes no sense.  So there‘s numbers of things.

What‘s happening here in Washington right now is that we are playing with the 10-year budget window game.  In order to finance this, the Finance Committee is looking at 10 years‘ worth of revenues but seven years‘ worth of costs.  And what that means is we‘re going to have deficits into the future.

So there are numbers of pieces to this that I don‘t think will pass the common sense test for the American people.  I don‘t think Republicans and Democrats or independents are going to like the outcome if we go through this reconciliation process, which I fear is the direction that we‘re headed.

BARNICLE:  Now, see, as I listen to you and your nice, soft Tennessee accent, I‘m thinking to myself, Now, here‘s a moderate, congenial guy.  He‘s making sense here.  So let me ask you, how many times have you been invited down the White House to talk to the president in these tones?

CORKER:  I went down and met with the president right—maybe a week or week-and-a-half before recess, which I appreciated.  And in that meeting, Mike, I said exactly what I just said to you—concerned about taking money from Medicare savings and not using it to extend the Medicare program, concerned about pushing Medicaid off to states, concerned about the budget window.

And the fourth thing I would say is, the fact is that there‘s a lot of tough sledding that needs to take place to really solve this problem.  And it‘s going to take leadership at HHS and CMS.

But I‘ve been down there once.  I‘ve had conversations with Nancy DeParle.  I‘ve talked to Rahm Emanuel over the weekend.  I‘ve talked to Max Baucus numerous, numerous times.  I‘ve probably been to 50 or 60 meetings.

But my sense is that there‘s a—that we‘re stuck, that we‘re in this mire that instead of reaching a middle ground, I feel like we‘re heading towards the path I just mentioned.

And again, I don‘t even think that‘s going to be good for the Democratic Party, should that occur.  My concern certainly is not for the Democratic Party but to make sure that we have a policy that will stand the test of time.  And I‘m just afraid that that‘s not where we‘re heading, especially as I listened to the speech last night.

BARNICLE:  Senator Bob Corker, thanks very much.

CORKER:  Thank you, sir.

BARNICLE:  Coming up: President Obama has accepted an apology from South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson, who called him a liar during last night‘s speech.  Wilson‘s opponent has already raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of the outburst.  But did Congressman Wilson‘s outburst do something even more damaging?  Did it expose the Republicans‘ true colors in this health care debate?  That‘s ahead.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  This is the segment where we tell you, you can‘t make this stuff up.  We‘re going to recap this Joe Wilson episode.  Here‘s what happened last night in the United States House of Representatives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK Obama, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants.  This, too, is false.  The reforms...

(SHOUTING)

OBAMA:  The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

REP. Joe WILSON ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  You lie!

OBAMA:  Not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Now, here‘s Congressman Wilson this morning outside his office on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON:  I last night heard from the leadership that they wanted me to contact the White House and state that my statements were inappropriate.  I did.  I‘m very grateful that the White House, in talking with them, they indicated that they appreciated the call and that we needed to have a civil discussion about the health care issues.  And I certainly agree with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Poor guy is almost crying there.  And here‘s President Obama today reacting to that apology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m a big believer that we all make mistakes.  He apologized quickly and without equivocation, and I‘m appreciative of that.  I do think that, as I said last night, we have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big, important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name calling, without the assumption of the worst in other people‘s motives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Cynthia Hardy is a radio host in Columbia, South Carolina.  That‘s Joe Wilson‘s district.  And old friend Ron Reagan is the host of “The Ron Reagan Show” on Air America radio.

Cynthia, first-time caller here.  What have you been hearing today from his constituents, your listeners?

CYNTHIA HARDY, SOUTH CAROLINA RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, it‘s very

interesting. 

You know, I—I heard you say, as you were looking at his rebuttal, or his comments this morning, and it‘s—you said, poor guy.  It seems like he‘s almost crying. 

Well, he‘s in a lot of trouble.  Joe Wilson embarrassed himself and embarrassed his entire constituent base, everyone who voted for him.  And many people feel as if he didn‘t just lose himself; he actually was himself. 

And let me tell you what I mean.  In South Carolina, Congressman Wilson has enjoyed the invitation of a number of African-American leaders, particularly in the faith-based community.  And many of them today are wondering who is Joe Wilson, as if he‘s somehow now been unmasked. 

And, so, for his future politically, it will seem to be problematic here on out.  And I fear that we‘re headed toward a very racially polarizing climate in this country.  And Joe Wilson‘s comments serve to further define that divide. 

BARNICLE:  Before we get to Ron Reagan, what—what do you mean unmasked? 

HARDY:  Well, you know, we—as I mentioned to you, a number of African-American leaders have felt very comfortable inviting Congressman Wilson to their church congregations to speak to groups.  He was very palatable to them. 

When I mention racial polarization in this country and the fact that we appear to be moving in that direction, keep in mind the climate we have just come out of, the climate of, I want my country back from these health care forums.  And these were not people of color, people who said, I don‘t want the president indoctrinating my children, when, heretofore, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush, George W., Bill Clinton, and—and now Barack Obama—well, they all have something in common, but then they all—then there‘s something very different, too. 

And what is the difference?  So, it doesn‘t appear to be about policy.  It appears to be about race.  And, so, where there was a comfort level with Congressman Wilson in the past among the African-American community, there appears to be a tear in that comfort level. 

BARNICLE:  Ron Reagan, out there in Seattle, Washington, you have sat through and heard more than your fair share of State of the Union speeches, and your dad, the president of the United States, addressing joint sessions of Congress.  Were you stunned last night when you heard that? 

RON REAGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Yes, I was—I was a little surprised. 

You know, Mike, you, too, have sat through a number of these sorts of speeches before.  In my life, I have never, never seen anybody vault over the bounds of decorum the way Joe Wilson did. 

Now, Cynthia‘s right that Joe Wilson may have unmasked himself, but I think he also unmasked the Republican Party, to a large extent.  A great number of Republicans, I think, are really in the Joe Wilson camp, if you will.  They may be urging him to apologize now, but they‘re not really—they‘re not really refuting what he said. 

HARDY:  Yes. 

REAGAN:  And what he said, of course, was a lie in and of itself.  Barack Obama is not proposing that illegal immigrants be covered.  There‘s no legislation that proposes that. 

HR-3200, coming out of the House, specifically mentions that illegal immigrants can‘t be covered here.  And Joe Wilson ought to know that, and maybe he does.  So, he‘s either ignorant or he himself is a liar.  But, as I said, it‘s emblematic of a large chunk of the Republican Party right now.  And that‘s not doing them any good.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  ... public sees that.

BARNICLE:  So, let me ask both of you, and stick—let‘s stick with Ron. 

You answer this.

And, then, Cynthia, you pick up on it. 

And the question is, we have had the birthers for the past four or five months, people who don‘t believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.  We had what I regarded as a truly depressing several-day period where people were protesting a president of the United States speaking to schoolchildren. 

And, in my mind, it had less to do with ideology than it was just depressing to see this occurring in this country.  And now we have this intemperate behavior last night in the House of Representatives.  We have the increased polarization in politics. 

Ron Reagan, what do you figure is going on here? 

REAGAN:  Well, have you to wonder, is this disrespect for the office, or is this disrespect specifically for this man? 

And I tend to think—and maybe Cynthia‘s better positioned to comment on this than I am, but I do think that there‘s an element of race here.  I do think that Joe Wilson may—may have held his tongue if a white president was up there behind that podium. 

I think it‘s—it‘s almost creepy, if I can use the word, the lack of respect that the Republicans show to this man, who is, after all, all of our president.  He—he is our president.  And he deserves a certain amount of respect, just based on that.   

And the fact that he‘s not getting it, and so obviously not getting it from Republicans, I think is very disturbing. 

BARNICLE:  Cynthia, go ahead.

HARDY:  In addition to that, I think that is very disturbing, too, that he‘s not getting it from many members of the Republican Party. 

But, when you take into account as well that a number of people in certain segments of the population pick up on that behavior and then they take it to the next level.  So, what you get is this blatant disregard for the office of the presidency, which is extremely un-American. 

And, so, where is the outcry for that?  Now, I have seen and heard a number of people decry it today, but I think that that depressing period that Ron mentioned, when people were fearful about indoctrination and what the president of the United States would say to schoolchildren, I mean, we need to stop at this point, and, regardless of anybody‘s political ideology, recognize the dangerous position that we are in, in terms of racial polarization, and what that can mean for further—to accomplish anything else in this country. 

And, so, do you throw the baby out with the bathwater, I mean, or do you realize where you are and what your responsibility levels are?  People elect individuals, not just to protect a certain—a certain political slant, but to do the right thing for the American people. 

And I think, somehow, that‘s getting lost. 

BARNICLE:  Right. 

HARDY:  The audacity of any member of that body to disrupt it in that way, for Christ‘s sakes, it made us appear a Third World country.  This is the United States of America. 

BARNICLE:  Well, Great Britain, they do it every week. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  But, Ron Reagan, let me ask you, did you ever hear your dad express any resentment or any—any feeling at all about the reception, the hissing that would sometimes occur when he spoke before joint sessions of Congress? 

REAGAN:  No. 

I mean, you know, we‘re used to a certain amount of shenanigans that go on in these—these sorts of addresses, the competing standing ovations, the...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

REAGAN:  ... you know, the sort of sarcastic applause and things like that, the—you know, the guffawing and shuffling of feet and all that sort of thing.  You know, you put up with a little bit of that stuff.  That‘s—that‘s to be expected. 

But this went way beyond that.  And it‘s just one element in a—in a lot of—a lot of disturbing behavior—and you have cited some of it—at the town hall meetings and this—this business about, you know, President Obama speaking to schoolchildren, and that suddenly being indoctrination. 

This is getting—this is going off the rails.  And I think that we who work in the media, it‘s incumbent upon us to—to point that out to people.  This isn‘t just a political disagreement.  This isn‘t just business as usual in Washington and the usual back-and-forth. 

Something very wrong and disturbing has been happening out there in the country, and we need to try and put our finger on it. 

BARNICLE:  Ron Reagan, thanks very much. 

Cynthia Hardy, thank you very much. 

Up next:  Never mind the shouts of “You lie” last night.  Why was it so important for Republican Whip Eric Cantor to be on his BlackBerry during the president‘s speech?  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

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

First up: a lesson in manners.  Guess who was messaging on his BlackBerry last night during the president‘s speech?  House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.  Note:  It wasn‘t a quick sort of text either. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Now—now, part of the reason I faced a trillion-dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for, from the Iraq war...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

OBAMA:  ... to tax breaks for the wealthy. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  You see, 30 seconds later, he‘s still going at it, as the president called out Republicans in Congress.  Congressman Cantor later gave an interview saying he was aghast at some of the claims in the president‘s address. 

Was he listening?  I don‘t know. 

Next up: another sugarplum from the speech.  Now, I have got to admit, if you‘re a Republican, sometimes, it‘s hard to figure out when to applaud during an address like this and when to fold your hands.  That‘s a dilemma evidently faced last night by Senator Lindsey Graham.  Watch what happens after this line from the president on reform. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  ... and would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities. 

Now, it is...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Did you miss that?  Check it out again.  Here it is again.  Talk about a tricky maneuver from Graham.  But nobody saw that?  It was too easy, right? 

Time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Last night, President Obama soundly dismissed claims that health care reform would lead to so-called death panels for the elderly.  That line got a standing ovation from Democrats and some Republicans, too. 

In fact, how many Republican senators cheered on that debunking from the president? 

Well, according to “The Hill” newspaper just four, but they‘re a telling crowd of moderates, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Judd Gregg, and Bob Bennett.  Could they be the key to bipartisan reform?  Well, we‘re going to see.  Four Republican senators stand with the president in striking down death panels—that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Can South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford survive, now that most Republicans in his state want him to resign? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Another day of moderate, but steady gains on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrials up 80 points.  The S&P gained 10.  The Nasdaq added 23. 

Investors were pleased in part today by a healthy treasury auction.  It showed there‘s still strong foreign demand for U.S. assets.  Traders also liked the look of an updated forecast from Dow component Procter & Gamble.  They are projecting increased sales in earnings on price cuts and also new value-oriented product lines. 

Health care sector moved higher, as analysts dissected President Obama‘s address to Congress.  Wall Street is now anticipating a watered-down version of health care reform that could be beefed up over time. 

And late word this afternoon that Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack is stepping down in January.  He will be replaced by one of the bank‘s co-presidents, James Gorman.  That‘s it from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Pressure is mounting for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford to resign.  The state speaker of the House and 61 House Republicans called on the embattled governor to step down in separate letters sent to his office this week. 

And here‘s how Governor Sanford responded today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I would say there‘s amazing

disconnect between where working people are in South Carolina and the

degree to which they would like to move on and are attempting to move on,

and where, at times, the political world is, which, for different reasons -

·         and we saw those two actions of this week—people believe it to be in their best interests to raise this and to elevate it, and, with all due respect to some in your field of work, even some in the media thinking it‘s an interesting story that we will keep alive and keep nudging along. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, can he survive the growing calls for his resignation? 

John O‘Connor has been covering the Sanford story for “The State” newspaper, and Chris Cillizza is with WashingtonPost.com. 

John, South Carolina, we‘re sorry for your trouble. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  What‘s going on with the governor?  What‘s the deal?  Is he going to be able to last this thing out?  What‘s—what‘s going to happen here? 

JOHN O‘CONNOR, “THE STATE”:  Opinions differ on that, but I think the short answer is yes. 

It depends on this ethics commission panel investigation that‘s going on right now.  They are looking into his use of the state plane, into use of business-class airfare.  If they release a report that says that there‘s nothing there, potentially, he could survive. 

But you still have the other issue that a lot of lawmakers have latched onto, which is, he disappeared for five days, he didn‘t tell his staff or Cabinet where he was, where he was going, and that a lot of folks feel that‘s a dereliction of duty. 

BARNICLE:  Well, let me ask you, you—you hear—not in South Carolina, obviously.  I haven‘t been in South Carolina in about 20 years.

But you hear on the edge of this story the hints that part of Governor Sanford‘s strength in terms of staying in office is the perceived inability of his lieutenant governor, who would succeed him.  Is there anything to that? 

O‘CONNOR:  I think that‘s absolutely true. 

You know, we—we hear—hear it when we talk to people on the streets, that, you know: “I would like to see him go, but I don‘t like the alternative.  I don‘t like to see Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer step in.” 

He was on the radio earlier this week with a local talk show host here, and a number of people said that when they called in.  So, that‘s an issue. 

The other issue is that the lieutenant governor is—is considering a run for governor next year.  And, so, other folks who are in—in some form of authority here who are running for governor are concerned about what that might do to their chances. 

BARNICLE:  Chris Cillizza, I mean, you watch every state‘s politics.  South Carolina is more interesting than most lately, given Congressman Wilson last night, Governor Sanford today.  What does this do, if anything, to the—to the Republican Party nationally? 

CILLIZZA:  You know, this Sanford thing I think has done some level of damage over time, simply because it‘s distracted people from other things that the Republican party would like to be talking about, most notably health care.  Joe Wilson‘s comments, again, I think feed into that same thing, Mike.  The last 24 hours, and my guess would be the next 24 or maybe the next 48, at least, are going to be dominated by talk about Joe Wilson.  Why did he do it?  Did he get pressure to apologize?  Did he mean it?  All of these things. 

And, again, the Republican party wants to talk about the fact that the White House had a very hard time in August selling health care to the American people.  What are we talking about instead?  A Congressman who clearly breached protocol in the House, and did something that crystallized for a lot—certainly a lot of liberal Democrats, why they ultimately should be behind President Obama, because they agree with him a heck of a lot more than the alternative. 

BARNICLE:  John, can you tell us about Congressman Wilson‘s district?  And can you give us a sense—I don‘t know whether you can, because it‘s been less than 24 hours since he shouted out in the House of Representatives.  Can you give us a sense of what kind of damage may have been done to him in his district? 

O‘CONNOR:  Yes, the district stretches from Lexington County, which is suburban Columbia, kind of south and east to the coast.  The heart of the district is Lexington County.  That‘s where most of the district population lives.  But the reason why it‘s an issue is that the coastal population is growing.  So a lot of the folks that are moving in there are coming in from other parts of the country, maybe a little bit more moderate voters. 

As to whether he did some damage, the answer is probably yes.  Enough to kill his chances?  Who knows yet.  But his opponent hadn‘t really—Rob Miller, who‘s a former Marine, ran against him two years ago, hadn‘t really gotten his campaign going, hadn‘t gotten the fund-raiser going.  All of that got super-charged today.  He is probably going to be up over half a million dollars by the time we‘re speaking right now.  So he‘s a candidate who‘s got some money now. 

CILLIZZA:  Mike, just to put a point on that, remember two weeks before the last election, Michele Bachmann came on this show and insinuated that the president and Democrats were un-American.  Huge uproar.  Her Democratic opponent, Elwin Tinklenburg—love that name—raised vast amounts of money, very similar to what we‘re seeing.  That happened two weeks before the election and she still won.  Now, Bachmann‘s district is probably a little bit more Republican than Wilson‘s.  But we have to be careful.

I think John‘s right.  You have to be careful not to overblow.  We‘re still talking about a long time before an election.  Is Rob Miller going to benefit from this?  Yes.  He already raised 500,000 dollars that he probably wouldn‘t have raised if Joe Wilson kept his mouth shut.  Does that mean Joe Wilson is going to lose?  Don‘t assume it does. 

BARNICLE:  Give me that name again. 

CILLIZZA:  Elwin Tinklenburg. 

BARNICLE:  That‘s a fabulous Minnesota name. 

CILLIZZA:  I love it.  State senator. 

BARNICLE:  Chris Cillizza, John O‘Connor.  Thanks very much.  We appreciate it. 

Up next, back to health care.  Could Bill Clinton be President Obama‘s secret weapon to keep the Democrats in line when it comes time for a vote?  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  The first question President Obama was asked following his cabinet meeting today was whether he accepted the apology of Congressman Joe Wilson.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m a big believer that we all make mistakes.  He apologized quickly and without equivocation.  And I‘m appreciative of that.  I do think that, as I said last night, we have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big, important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name calling, without the assumption of the worst in other people‘s motives. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  OK, folks, we‘re going to play pretend TV now.  We‘re going to pretend that Joe Wilson had strep throat last night and never said what he said.  And we‘re going to ask the “Politico‘s” Roger Simon and Ceci Connolly from the “Washington Post” what they think the story would have been?  What would we be talking about tonight?  What would we be reading in print and electronic about the speech last night?  Ceci, if Joe Wilson had strep throat? 

CECI CONNOLLY, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I think we would be spending much more time trying to figure out if the speech actually moved the public or moved those members of Congress, because, as you certainly recall, Mike, it was a pretty rough August season for Obama and health care reform.  And the whole idea behind that joint address to Congress last night was to try to change the dynamic and shift the agenda. 

The other thing that, frankly, I‘ve been doing all day today is trying to ask more about what exactly is this 900 billion dollar Obama plan that he now is calling his plan? 

BARNICLE:  Roger, what do you think we‘d be doing? 

ROGER SIMON, “THE POLITICO”:  I think Ceci‘s exactly right.  I think the first question he would have gotten after that cabinet meeting—in fact, it was the only question he got—is how are you really going to pay for this thing?  Now that we‘re in the after-glow period of a very emotional and elegant speech, there are some hard questions left unanswered. 

He has promised to have a 900 billion dollar plan that doesn‘t add a dime to the deficit, and apparently will not raise anybody‘s taxes.  Does that strain credulity?  Would this be the time to ask him about that?   Apparently not, because we got to ask him about Joe Wilson for the next 24 or 48 hours instead.

BARNICLE:  Ceci, I don‘t want you to step on your lead here.  But you mentioned you‘ve been working all day on the 900 billion dollar question.  What have you found out? 

CONNOLLY:  Not a lot.  This is the interesting thing.  You go to WhiteHouse.gov and there‘s about three pages of bullet points.  Most are things we‘ve been discussing in health care reform for quite some time, the insurance market reforms, having an individual mandate, where everybody is required to have insurance. 

But there‘s very little detail on his new idea about medical malpractice.  There‘s very little about a McCain idea that he‘s embracing on high risk pools.  There‘s very little, as Roger states, about how to come up with that 900 billion dollars to pay for an expansion of coverage.  We don‘t know at what income level people would get these tax credits.  We don‘t know what small businesses would be eligible for tax credits. 

These are really good, serious, meaty questions we ought to be diving into.  Right now, the White House is not really coming up with the answers. 

BARNICLE:  Roger, in addition to all of those questions, without answers, there still is out there this whole question about are illegal immigrants eligible for coverage under this health care reform.  The president and many, many respected institutions, Politifact, print and electronic, say no, that‘s not in the bill.  But you keep hearing that‘s because we can‘t ask people if they are here illegally.  What are you hearing on this? 

SIMON:  I think you‘re right.  All those neutral organizations that do fact checking now say that the president is right; there‘s nothing in the bill that would give free health care to illegal aliens.  But you also have to deal with the reality of the situation.  If you‘re walking across the street and you have a stroke or a heart attack, you don‘t want the first thing that the emergency medical technicians do is check your pockets for a Passport or proof that you‘re a citizen.  You want care immediately and save your life. 

So, in that respect, everybody is going to get emergency health care.  But there‘s nothing in this bill that sets aside any money to give free medical care to illegal aliens. 

CONNOLLY:  Mike, if I could chime in here.  As Roger points out, it‘s the law of the land right now in this country that hospitals can‘t turn away anyone who is in need of emergency care.  That‘s always going to continue.  But there‘s an interesting kind of health care pickle here when you talk about undocumented immigrants.  And that is they are getting some of that medical care today.  We‘re all helping pay for that cost.  In a way, you could make a policy argument that you might save money if you brought them in for more of the primary care and prevention. 

I know that politically that is a very volatile issue.  But if you‘re talking about how to give smart medical care and when to do it, at an affordable price, it‘s generally on the front end of care.  So we‘ve got a very strange kind of dynamic unfolding here.

And I also just want to point out that what we‘ve learned in a good number of studies is that while those immigrants are indeed getting some care at the emergency room, overall they access much less medical care than the rest of us do.  They just are not inclined to go and seek much care. 

BARNICLE:  Right, out of fear.  Out of fear.  But your other point, you‘re absolutely right.  Any Friday night in any big city hospital emergency room proves your point.  Ceci Connolly, Roger Simon, we‘re going to be right back with more on the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m just telling you, we need to pass a bill.  It needs to be the best bill that we can get through Congress.  But doing nothing is not only the worst thing we can do for the economy and health care, it‘s the worst thing we can do for the Democrats.  Don‘t you think the Republicans don‘t know. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with Roger Simon and Ceci Connolly.  That, obviously, was former President Bill Clinton speaking at a Democratic fund raiser.  Could Bill Clinton help President Obama sell health care reform?  There‘s that question and lumped it into is this question, in the very few minutes we have left.  Let‘s start with you, Ceci.  I get the sense he may have moved the meter, President Obama, publicly last night.  Do you get the sense that he moved the meter at all in terms of votes in the House and the Senate? 

CONNOLLY:  You know, that‘s very hard to say today, Mike.  I can tell you that, just released, Senator McCain, who of course Obama made a big deal out of embracing a McCain idea around high-risk pools last night—

Senator McCain has put out a very harsh letter asking people to sign a petition against an Obama-type health care plan.  So that was really an unexpected slap from somebody who, at times, has tried to have sort of cordial relations between those two rivals. 

You also still have a lot of division on exactly what President Obama might do when push comes to shove over this idea of a public insurance plan.  Last night, he left it very up in the air, and that‘s enabled liberals and conservatives to right now say, oh, he‘s leaning more in my direction.  But eventually, somebody is going to have to make a call on this. 

BARNICLE:  Roger, does Ceci‘s news about John McCain surprise you? 

SIMON:  Not really.  I don‘t think President Obama is going to get any Republicans in the Senate for this, except the possible exception of Olympia Snow, who would be a good get, and maybe Susan Collins.  The speech last night really wasn‘t about bipartisanship.  It was about unifying the Democratic party and getting the Democratic party behind one plan. 

But, as Ceci says very accurately, we still don‘t know where the president‘s line in the sand is when it comes to the public option.  This is possibly where Bill Clinton could be a help.  Bill Clinton understands health care, first of all.  But he understands the fiscal conservatives of his party.  And he understands the progressives in his party. 

SIMON:  And he can try to bring them together on this. 

BARNICLE:  Roger Simon, Ceci Connolly, thanks very much.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, what you‘ve been waiting for, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz. 

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