updated 2/16/2010 10:08:38 AM ET 2010-02-16T15:08:38

Guests: Chaka Fattah, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Susan Milligan, Peter Canellos, Bruce Fein, Jack Rice, Ron Brownstein, Steve Kornacki.

HOST:  Democrats frustrated.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Domestic disturbance.  Do you hear the sound of loud bickering and crashing dishes coming from the Democrats‘ house these days?  “Politico” reported this morning that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not happy at all with President Obama on a number of counts—his attempt to force-feed the House on the Senate health care bill, to exempt the Pentagon from the budget freeze, and his plan for tax breaks for small businesses.  Oh, yes, and don‘t forget having the House pass the cap-and-trade bill, then leaving them hanging when the Senate has no chance at all of doing the same.  Is there a family feud brewing in the Democratic Party?

Also, the end of the line?  Congressman Patrick Kennedy has decided not to seek reelection to Congress in Rhode Island.  Except for the two years just after John F. Kennedy was elected president, there‘s been a Kennedy in the U.S. Congress every year since 1947.  Will Joe Kennedy have to run in 2012 to win back Ted‘s seat?

Plus, Republicans say that military tribunals for suspected terrorists are more effective than civilian trials.  But only three terrorists have been tried by tribunal, and two are now free.  Let‘s get the real facts on this argument.

And you think Sarah Palin‘s just a novelty act and not a real presidential contender?  Well, some big-name media types are now giving her respect.  We‘ll look at who‘s saying nice things and what that says about her actual chances in 2012.

Finally, I don‘t think stories get much crazier than this one.  Republicans are pushing bills to prevent the government from, quote—well, from implanting microchips in human beings.  You know, like the disturbed person who thinks had‘s got a transmitter in his teeth?  Well, they‘re up to that, the Republicans.

Let‘s begin with the family feud between Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and President Obama.  I‘m joined by two Democrats, U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania, he‘s a Democrat, and U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a fellow Democrat from Florida.  Thank you, lady and gentleman.  Thank you.

First of all, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, this new poll out is fascinating.  “The New York Times”/CBS poll asked, “Do you think most members of Congress have done a good enough job to deserve reelection or do you think it‘s time to give new people a chance?”  While 8 percent said most members of Congress deserve reelection, 81 percent said it‘s time for new people.  Does that hurt the Democratic majority, that poll?

DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA:  Well, fortunately, voters don‘t actually vote for generic members of Congress, Chris.  They vote for real, live, flesh-and-blood members of Congress, and voters decide whether they like the job their member of Congress is doing on election day.

And we have members of Congress all over this country in all kinds of different districts who are reaching out and communicating with their constituents about the job we‘re doing to move this country in a new direction.  And they‘re doing an effective job at that, and their individual polling shows that they‘re getting support from their constituents.  So the generic ballot never really means too much when it comes—compared the head to head.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why—well, help me out here.  Why do people say they don‘t like Congress, they don‘t like most members?  Why do they keep saying that?  Like, 81 percent say they don‘t like the Congress people.  Why would they keep saying that if they don‘t mean it, or it‘s meaningless?

REP. CHAKA FATTAH (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Chris, because they keep hearing...

SCHULTZ:  No, I‘m not...

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman Fattah.

FATTAH:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman Fattah.

FATTAH:  Chris, that‘s because you keep hearing from people who are saying that we‘re not getting anything done.  Now, the truth is, you take someone who knows the Congress, a congressional scholar like Norm Ornstein, who says that this Congress has had a greater level of productivity than any Congress in the last 40 years, that the 125 bills we passed into law, the stimulus, the children‘s health care bill, on and on and on, that this president has had a greater legislative success in terms of significant legislation than Lyndon Johnson or Ronald Reagan.

But nobody hears that.  What they hear is the constant back-and-forth about we‘re not getting anything done, and mainly that we haven‘t gotten health care done yet.  Now, we do know that it‘s taken 100 years, seven presidents, and that this is the closest we‘ve ever been, and a lot of us believe we‘re going to get it done.  But there‘s this constant harping.  And because the public is misinformed, their judgments are reflected in these polls based on wrong information and bad information.

MATTHEWS:  Well, who‘s this Democratic official...

SCHULTZ:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  ... who is quoted—Congresswoman, let me ask you this.  There‘s a Democratic official—I don‘t know what that means—quoted in “The Politico” today that says that some Democratic House members actually believe that the White House wouldn‘t mind at all having a foil.  In other words, a Republican majority in the House that would serve their political purposes going into 2012.  In other words, they‘d like to see what happened with Bill Clinton back in ‘94 and ‘96.  He lost the House in ‘94, but he won reelection in ‘96 running against the Republican Party Congress led by Newt Gingrich.

Is there any talk like that on the Hill, that they think the White House people—might be Rahm Emanuel (INAUDIBLE) Clinton White House—might be thinking, Hey, it‘s smarter to run against Congress than have to defend it?

SCHULTZ:  There really isn‘t.  I mean, that‘s just absolutely ludicrous.  That sounds like a staff person who‘s a bit power hungry, who likes to draw some attention to themselves and curry favor with reporters.

As you know, I‘m the vice chair of the DNC, spend a lot of time talking with the folks in the executive branch.  As the vice chair of the DCCC, I spend quite a bit of time talking with my colleagues.  There really isn‘t the frustration that is being hyped in the media.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SCHULTZ:  We obviously—you know, the Founding Fathers, Chris, set up three branches of government, naturally, where there is some friction.  And we‘re not going to agree on everything.

But I mean, Chaka is absolutely right—Congressman Fattah is 100 percent correct.  I mean, add to the list that he went through of “Cash for clunkers,” which gave folks $4,500 back on purchase of a new car.  You had a $700,000 jump in car sales.  You‘ve got additional funding for veterans.  We have—in addition to the Recovery Act, we have statutory pay-go, which ensures—which was signed by the president today, ensures that the government can‘t pay—can‘t spend more than we take in.  And that was shunned and actually allowed to lapse under Republican administrations.

So you know, now we‘re going to be able to be in a position functionally and fiscally...

MATTHEWS:  So...

SCHULTZ:  ... to get back on our fiscal footing.

MATTHEWS:  So Congressman Fattah...

SCHULTZ:  That‘s what people want to see...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  ... the House, when you get in the cloakroom and you‘re talking before—the congressmen and congresswomen on the House side, the Democrats, are not frustrated by the fact that you were forced to try to—force-fed the Senate bill on health, that you passed cap-and-trade only to know that the Senate wasn‘t going to do it, that you‘ve been left hanging, having voted for these tough measures that do have their enemies in the industry, and you took the steps of voting for health care, for cap-and-trade and things like that only to see those bills die in the Senate.

You‘re saying there‘s no frustration with that on the part of the Speaker.

FATTAH:  No, I think what you heard when the president gave the State of the Union, he consistently applauded the House passage of the jobs bill, of the pay-go rules, on and on.  If you go through the speech, there are probably a dozen times where he complimented the House for stepping forward.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FATTAH:  And that‘s what actually took place.  See, some of these reporters, because of the snow, they‘ve had to kind of create stories.  The notion that the House...

MATTHEWS:  You guys are unbelievable!

FATTAH:  ... or the Speaker—that the Speaker...

MATTHEWS:  The staff people and the press and the ignorant masses that are guilty of all this misperception.

(CROSSTALK)

FATTAH:  Now, Chris, Norm Ornstein is one of the greatest...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FATTAH:  ... congressional scholars.  He wrote “The Broken Branch”...

SCHULTZ:  But see, this is...

FATTAH:  ... which went through the problems in the Congress.  He‘s not someone who‘s uninformed.  When he says we‘ve been the most productive in decades, I think everyone has to...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FATTAH:  ... take another look...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

FATTAH:  ... at this notion that we‘ve done nothing.

SCHULTZ:  You know, I mean, I think, though—Chris, I think House

Democrats recognize that our constituents are frustrated, though.  It‘s not

I do understand that Norm Ornstein is a respected individual and his opinion is valued.  But our Democratic members have their fingers on the pulse of their constituents, and whatever frustration they have is directly related to the fact that we really feel an urgent need to focus on creating jobs and turning the economy around.

And you know, the—any frustration on the part—that is sensed on the part of the executive branch or the Congress is a result of that sense of urgency that we want to get there.  We‘ve got light at the end of the tunnel.  We had, you know, unemployment at 9.7 percent...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

SCHULTZ:  ... under 10 percent now, 5.7 percent growth in the GDP.  We‘re moving in the right direction.  But it is obviously frustrating because we have a long way to go.

MATTHEWS:  So “The Politico” report stated as follows.  Tell me this first, Chaka Fattah, and then—then Debbie.  Let me ask you both these questions.  This is what the report said finally.  Quote, “What you‘re seeing now in public has been building in private, said a top House Democratic official.  House members did their work.  They did everything the president asked of them, and it gets stuck in the Senate or the Senate screws it up.”

Is that accurate, Mr. Fattah?

FATTAH:  I think there‘s been a lot of frustration about the pace in the Senate.  But it‘s because, as the president said, the Republicans have used the filibuster more times in one year than they‘ve done over the last 30 years.

We understand the bottom (ph) there.  We just want the Senate to maybe go to something kind of more American, like a 51-vote majority process, where they can move this...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FATTAH:  ... move these issues along, versus a filibuster that allows the minority to stop even the simplest of measures to be able to move through the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman...

SCHULTZ:  But Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... Wasserman Schultz, do you agree with that, we should get rid of the filibuster rule and let simple majority rule make decisions on important things, even important things like health care reform?  Should that be open to a majority vote?

SCHULTZ:  I think the Republicans‘ abuse of the process of the filibuster in the Senate definitely gives me cause for concern, enough to say that it should be reviewed and maybe only used for certain kinds of votes because they‘ve absolutely abused the process, gone way beyond what the Founding Fathers...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK.

SCHULTZ:  ... envisioned when they set up the legislative process. 

But at the end of the day...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

SCHULTZ:  ... you know, we‘ve gotten a lot done all the way through to the president, and signed into law.  So as frustrating that it might be that the Senate isn‘t doing everything we want the way we want it, we have gotten a lot done for this country and we‘re going to go out and talk about it.  And I think House Democrats will be rewarded for it in November.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re hard-working guys.  Thanks so much for coming on this late Friday night in a week that everybody...

FATTAH:  We need to play a little hardball!  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re both great people.  Thank you, Congressman Chaka Fattah.  Thank you...

SCHULTZ:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Coming up: It‘s the end of an era.  Patrick Kennedy, the Rhode Island congressman, calls it quits.  He‘s the son of Ted Kennedy.  He says he‘s not running for reelection this year.  And by the way, historically, he‘s the last Kennedy in Congress after years and years, going back to ‘47, almost uninterrupted service by the Kennedys in the U.S. Congress now ends at the end of this term.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PATRICK KENNEDY (D), RHODE ISLAND:  My father instilled in me a deep commitment to public service, whether through elected office like he and his brothers, or non-profit advocacy, like my Aunt Eunice‘s work with Special Olympics.  Now having spent two decades in politics, my life is taking a new direction, and I will not be a candidate for reelection this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy announcing he will not seek reelection.  Earlier today, he gave an interview to Providence station WJAR.  Here‘s part of that interview today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  I had a good conversation with my dad about what was meaningful in my life, what was important.  He and I talked about my, you know, feeling comfortable doing other things in my life, his not having any judgment of me in choosing whatever I wanted to do in life, his feeling as if he wanted to tell me, essentially, that whatever I chose to do, he, you know, loved me through and through and he just wanted the best for me, so...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That must have been very rewarding to be able to have that conversation.

KENNEDY:  You know, I feel like I‘ve been so blessed to have had the 15 years I had with my dad serving in Congress, and especially the last two years, to have gotten as close as I did with him, and to know that, ultimately, it‘s personal relationships that matter the most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a loving son.  Joining me right now is “Boston Globe” reporter Peter Canellos and Susan Milligan, who are co-authors of the Ted Kennedy biography, the great one they‘ve put together called the “Last Lion.”  Susan, thanks for coming in.  And thank you, Peter.

Let me ask you about this decision.  It sounds like it‘s very personal.  It‘s got nothing to do with anything else but him.  But Patrick Kennedy has finally made a decision that Patrick Kennedy had to make.

SUSAN MILLIGAN, CO-AUTHOR, “LAST LION”:  I think that‘s absolutely true.  He‘s always been kind of sensitive, and here he‘s in a situation where his sister had cancer, his father died of cancer, he has his own struggles with addiction.  And I think...

MATTHEWS:  His brother had cancer.  He lost a leg.

MILLIGAN:  Yes.  Exactly.  And I think that it was just at a point where, especially with everything going on on the Hill right now, it‘s such a poisonous environment and it‘s not a good environment for him.  And I think he‘s looking to do one of those Kennedy kind of service roles, where he‘s in the private sector and doing something as an advocate.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Bobby, Jr., once told me that the reason he does what he does on River Keepers, Peter, is because he gets to do what he wants to do, fight to protect the environment, the Hudson River, et cetera, the whole thing.  He‘s able to go out there and fight to protect the planet, if you will.  He doesn‘t have to do all the other stuff and play all the defense you have to do on issues like abortion and all the stuff that you have to do.  I wonder whether Patrick Kennedy would just like to pick his shots.

PETER CANELLOS, EDITOR, “LAST LION”:  Yes, I think that the younger generation of Kennedys, or now the current generation of Kennedys, has certainly had a lot of foibles in their lives.  They‘ve been the target of a lot of criticism, the ones that tried to enter public life.  And Patrick has been one of the most successful ones so far.  But they‘ve had their problems, and a lot of them have found refuge in the private sector, where there isn‘t as much scrutiny of their personal lives and their personal problems and there isn‘t that kind of celebrity spotlight as—at least as intensely as it is in elected office.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you can‘t—you can‘t do what Joe Kennedy does on the commercials we run and say, Thanks to our friends in Venezuela...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... Hugo Chavez—I mean, you can do that in the commercial world, right, Susan?  It‘s very hard to run for Congress and say, Let‘s hear it for Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, right?

MILLIGAN:  Well, I think that‘s true, although a lot of people in Massachusetts wonder why their own government isn‘t giving them discounted oil.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well...

MILLIGAN:  But the thing that‘s with Patrick, I don‘t even think it‘s that he needs to be out of the public eye.  I think that, actually, the entire environment of Washington, D.C., right now, particularly without his father, is really not good for his health.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I completely understand anybody that chooses not to run for public office these days.  I completely and utterly sympathize with them!  Here‘s a bit of Patrick Kennedy talking about his decision and his future.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  I think of this as kind of a sabbatical now.  I mean, there may be a time in the future where I might choose to come back and seek elective office again.  But right now, you know, I want a chance to experience another part of life.  And I‘m very fortunate to have had the chance to serve.  And I still have, you know, eight months left in my term and I have a lot of work to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, he‘s had problem with addictions, Peter, you know, drank too much, had other problems with pills and all.  And he‘s been fighting that.  His mom had a history with that.  You know, he seems like his mother‘s son in that regard.  A lot of this stuff you get stuck with in your genes, you know?  And he‘s had to fight all that, plus the pressure of being a Kennedy, plus the pressure of having that archbishop, or that bishop up there in Providence going after him on the abortion issue.  It‘s part of the reality of our life with church and state issues all the time.  It‘s a lot to deal with.

CANELLOS:  It‘s a lot to deal with.  I also think that Patrick was especially close to his father.  And you know, one of the things we saw at Ted Kennedy‘s funeral was just how dependent that family was on him and what a patriarchal rock he was for them.  And I think that goes double for Patrick, who really relied on his father‘s support, not just personally but in Congress.  And clearly, you know, you can see from his emotional outpourings and everything that, you know, he‘s really coping with a lot of loneliness right now.  So it‘s better for him.  I agree with Susan, it‘s better for him to be out of Congress.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a sense, Peter, that, if you‘re a Kennedy guy, once Ted passed, you were vulnerable?  I mean, Greg Craig getting shot at the White House by who knows who, Patrick getting a lot of heat from the church, all this seemed to be coming after the passing, the loss of Ted. 

I mean, it‘s almost like the Carter expedition with King Tut‘s tomb. 

All of a sudden, everybody that was a Kennedy guy is getting targeted. 

CANELLOS:  Well, it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Am I wrong? 

CANELLOS:  No, you‘re not—you‘re not—you‘re not wrong. 

But Ted Kennedy had a lot of power.  You know, he had a large group of people, some of them dating back to his brother‘s administration, many of them, though, you know, sort of—sort of coming up through his Senate office who were major, major figures.  And Kennedy was an enormous fixed point on the American political landscape. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CANELLOS:  And, with him gone, they have—they have lost their patron. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go back to the romance, Kennedy romance.  Ready? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘m willing to do it.  OK?  I want to do with you, Susan.  Let‘s talk. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Joe Kennedy runs next time.  He‘s looking good.  He‘s grown up.  He‘s looking very grown-up in these ads.  We have run them here on MSNBC. 

MILLIGAN:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s getting all over the working people of Massachusetts, delivering the goods, maybe more than congresspeople are doing, right, as you alluded to a moment ago.

Can he come in there and catch this new guy, Scott Brown, voting the wrong way on a couple of—somewhere along the line in the next two years, Scott Brown is going to vote like a winger, a right-winger. 

MILLIGAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘ll find a couple times he‘s got to go along with the right-wing guys, with Mitch McConnell, and he will get nailed in Massachusetts.  A Kennedy could be there to nail him.

MILLIGAN:  Yes, I think that‘s entirely possible.  And I also think that Scott Brown is in a position where he thinks he‘s this big celebrity, and he comes in and...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, until he starts voting. 

MILLIGAN:  Well, exactly.  And it‘s going to be a situation where either he—if he‘s Mitch McConnell‘s lapdog, he‘s not going to get reelected in Massachusetts.  So, I think that...

MATTHEWS:  I like the way you talk. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to this—lapdog—let‘s go.  Here‘s Congressman Patrick Kennedy on Scott Brown‘s election to replace his dad and the media criticism—cynicism, as he puts it.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PATRICK KENNEDY (D), RHODE ISLAND:  I had made the comment that the moving-up of that race, of that swearing-in, in order for him to vote against, as he did, the president‘s choices, especially for fair labor standards, for workers trying to form a union to protect their rights, basically obviated, you know, changed his whole mantra that he was an independent voice, and made that whole campaign that he was an independent people‘s choice, made that a joke. 

But, of course, they made the headline that I called his campaign or his candidacy a joke, which was the furthest thing from the truth.  I said that his having represented himself as an independent and then had the Republican Caucus move his—his swearing-in up, that made his thing a joke. 

And, of course, the two are very different when you put them in context. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY:  And, of course, that shows the cynicism of media coverage these days.  And you can‘t do much about that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did he get screwed on that?  Did somebody write a headline that made it sound like he was knocking a democratic election of a Republican up in Massachusetts, rather than knocking a vote in the Senate, which is a totally different issue? 

MILLIGAN:  I wasn‘t there for that particular interview, but... 

MATTHEWS:  Is this “The Herald” work, your competition at work? 

(LAUGHTER)

MILLIGAN:  They‘re not my competition.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Or is this your opponent newspaper distorting the truth up there?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Is this “The Herald” doing its usual right-wing number...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... on a Kennedy? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Is this Howie Carr‘s column?

(CROSSTALK)

CANELLOS:  I‘m not going to...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, what are we talking about here? 

(LAUGHTER)

CANELLOS:  I‘m not going to say anything about...

(LAUGHTER)

CANELLOS:  ... “The Herald” there. 

MATTHEWS:  You guys...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CANELLOS:  I think that there‘s a lot of blame out there for the media.  And we will—we will—we will take a pass on attacking “The Herald.”

MATTHEWS:  Well, I love “The Boston Globe.”  I love “The Boston Globe.” 

MILLIGAN:  Thank you.   

MATTHEWS:  And I love Boston. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tommy Menino, Mumbles, love you up there. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, keep it up. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s where politics begins and ends.  You are the hub of the universe when it comes to politics.

Peter Canellos, congratulations, both of you, on that great book on Ted Kennedy. 

CANELLOS:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  What‘s going on when Republicans in two states are pushing bills—no joke—to ban the implantation of microchips in human beings?  You know the guys you meet at the Port Authority?  They‘re talking about the teeth transmitting messages?  Republicans are very close to those people.  Check out the “Sideshow” next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

Now to the “Sideshow” and more craziness on the right. 

Exhibit A, Wednesday, a member of the Virginia state legislature, Republican Mark Cole of Fredericksburg, introduced a bill to ban the practice of forcibly implanting microchips in human beings. 

You might ask, why?  The answer, the Virginia Republican said, comes from the book of Revelations—quote—“I‘m not a theologian, but there‘s a prophecy in the Bible that says you will have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times.  Some people think these computer chips might be that mark.”

Think he‘s alone with this stuff.  His ban on planting microchips in human beings passed the Virginia House Wednesday by a vote of 88-9.  So, the next time a disturbed person tells you that the enemy out there is transmitting frightening information into his teeth, you know that he is being well represented in the Virginia state legislature. 

Anyway, here‘s more hysteria from the right, exhibit B.  Arkansas Republican Curtis Coleman is looking to unseat Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln this November.  Catch what Coleman says about federal funding for stem cell research. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CURTIS COLEMAN ®, ARKANSAS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Embryonic stem cell research is basically the concept of creating a life and using it to conduct experiments, so that we can temporarily extend somebody else‘s life. 

Let me tell you what I just described.  I just described what the Nazis did to the Jews in the—in the—in the death camps of World War II. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, don‘t you love it when people who don‘t like something compare it to Nazi Germany? 

Sarah Palin remains, meanwhile, the gift that just keeps giving for late-night comedians.  And, last night, David Letterman noted the former governor‘s 46th birthday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  John McCain knew it was Sarah Palin‘s birthday.  And he did something very nice for her.  He bought her a Toyota. 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  So, that‘s...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Senator Arlen Specter is fighting hard to keep his Senate seat, switching to Democrat after running for and serving in office as a Republican for the past half-century.  But, tonight, a tip of the hat to a man who won‘t quit.  Senator Arlen Specter turns 80 today—Arlen Specter, 80 years young—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Anyway, up next:  President Obama is considering new options for where to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, after Republicans hit him hard for wanting to try him in criminal court.  But now we‘re learning that those criminal courts have a better track record convicting terrorists than military tribunals. 

Let‘s get to the real facts, not the P.R., not the politics, coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks struggling today, as China taps the brakes to try to slow down its economy, the Dow Jones industrials sliding 45 points, the S&P 500 dipping three points, the Nasdaq actually adding six points. 

China catching the market off-guard with a surprise tightening of lending standards—worry that Chinese banks will have to keep more reserve cash on hand leading investors out of riskier investments—that, combined with lingering concerns about the economic health of the euro zone, sending the dollar to its highest level in nine months. 

Technology stocks seen as a safe bet today—Palm, Motorola, and Research In Motion among the top gainers. 

And the retail sector finishing flat today, despite a better-than-expected January sales report.  Retails sales rising half-a-percent, showing consumers are a feeling a bit more comfortable spending.  But analysts say the recent bad weather could break that trend in February. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Pentagon officials say U.S. and Afghan forces have launched a major offensive against the Taliban stronghold of Marjah. 

NBC‘s Jim Miklaszewski joins us now with more on the front. 

Mik, thanks. 

What‘s going on today in Afghanistan? 

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you know, Chris, this is the largest military operation launched against the Taliban in the entire Afghanistan war -- 25,000 to 30,000 U.S., NATO and Afghan forces are advancing tonight on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah and other Taliban targets throughout Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. 

The—the initial objective is to drive out the hard-core Taliban fighters and insurgents.  And then, once that‘s done, the U.S. and Afghan military are just—are simply going to settle in and hold the area for as long as it takes. 

Afghan government services are then going to flow in to try to establish some basic services to the people of Southern Afghanistan.  And, at the same time, the U.S. military is going to have some walking around money.  They have got money that‘s been appropriated by Congress to hand out to some of the Afghans in the south, pretty much to help them recover from whatever damage is done, but also pretty much, Chris, as you know, to help buy their allegiance. 

Now, there‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  ... one very interesting aspect to this particular offensive.  This relatively small area of southern Afghanistan produces 60 percent of the world‘s opium. 

Now, that provides drug lords with $4 billion a year annually.  Four hundred million of that goes to the Taliban.  And it‘s interesting, Chris, because this offensive is occurring just at harvest time.  So, for those drug lords to try to harvest that crop when the place is infested with U.S.  military is going to essentially deny them and the Taliban some badly needed revenue, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

And I‘m reminded of Charlie Wilson through all this.  Thank you so much, Jim Miklaszewski...

MIKLASZEWSKI:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  ... reporting on the Afghan front. 

Attorney General Eric Holder is reconsidering right now trying the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in federal court, after coming under intense Republican pressure to try him in a military commission. 

But former FBI Special Agent Ali Soufani who—or Soufan, rather—was a government witness in the two military commission—commissions—says civilian courts are the more effective venue. 

He wrote—quote—“Of the three terrorists tried under military commission since 9/11, two are now free.  In contrast, almost 200 terrorists have been convicted in federal courts, criminal courts, since 9/11.  It‘s been a venue for international terrorism cases since President Ronald Reagan authorized them back in the 1980s.”

So, is this proof—or evidence, at least—that federal courts, criminal courts, are the better venue than military tribunals for trying terrorists? 

Jack Rice is a former CIA special agent.  And Bruce Fein is a former associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan.  He‘s also author of the book “Constitutional Peril.”

I want to go to Jack Rice first and then to Bruce Fein.

Gentlemen, I want to learn something right now.  All the P.R., all the noise has been, you have got to go to military tribunals to get real judgments on these guys for all kinds of security and expeditious reasons.

What‘s your view, Jack?  Should we go to military or stay with the criminal approach? 

JACK RICE, FORMER CIA OFFICER:  Stay with the criminal approach.  The facts are very, very clear here. 

More than 200 trials, more than 90 percent of them have been prosecuted and convicted.  Richard Reid is a perfect example. 

MATTHEWS:  The shoe bomber. 

RICE:  He will—he will spend the rest of his life in a maximum-security federal facility in Colorado.  This is what they do.  They do it very well.  It‘s not just about them, though.  It‘s also about the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.  We want transparency.  We want the world to see that we believe in our system. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you believe that the—the man in the street in the

Arab world, the Islamic world, will like to see a trial in New York, rather

and it will mean something to that man or woman in terms of fairness? 

RICE:  I think it will.  I‘m just back from Afghanistan.  I know that‘s true.  I think it‘s true when I have been in Iraq or just about everyplace else.  And I have been to most of them.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Bruce Fein, your view, your view on the justice aspect of it.  Are we more likely to get justice done, if you see it from the American perspective, certainly, under a military or a criminal approach? 

BRUCE FEIN, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW EXPERT:  Well, it‘s obvious that the civilian approach has the due process of law, which the military commissions do not.  Indeed, they combine judge, jury and prosecutor, which the founding prosecutors defined as the very definition of tyranny. 

And then, if you look at the actual results, the military commissions have proven an inkblot in the war against international terrorism, three cases, one sentence of five months, and the individual‘s back in Yemen.  He was the driver of—of Osama bin Laden.  Another, David Hicks, is sort of a Che Guevara who ended up in a training camp in Afghanistan. 

The third one is someone who made a video, like Leni Riefenstahl, and he was—and she wasn‘t at Nuremberg.  And this has no business being in military commissions.

They tried the same crimes that the civilian courts try.  And if you want to take a—sort of a dress rehearsal for Sheikh‘s case, look at Zacarias Moussaoui.  He was prosecuted in civilian courts.  He‘s got a life sentence.  He was possible death sentence, but the jury rejected it.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s the 20th hijacker, so-called. 

FEIN:  The 20th hijacker.  The same arguments, same indictment, and there weren‘t any difficulties in trying him. 

And, moreover, I agree that, by making it transparent, we underscore to the Arab world, to the Muslim world that we have due process of law for everyone. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FEIN:  We don‘t try to change the scales just because you‘re—you belong to Islam. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go to the easy argument, the NIMBY argument, not in my backyard. 

Michael Bloomberg, a sound individual, a smart politician, very smart, doesn‘t want this in New York.  He‘s mayor.  He just got reelected, closely, but reelected—says, don‘t do it in my backyard.  Don‘t have it at Foley Square.

What do you say to him? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He has got a police responsibility for protecting the court, protecting those around it, protecting the bailiffs, the clerks, the court reporters, everybody else.  He says he can‘t do it, or at least it would be too expensive. 

RICE: I think that‘s ridiculous.  First of all, in lower Manhattan is the perfect place to try them.  I think the argument that somehow if you try them in New York, they‘re, all of a sudden, going to use New York as a target?  Al Qaeda‘s now going to target New York?  Come on. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the question.  You think, Bruce, it‘s safe to do it in New York? 

FEIN:  Of course it‘s safe to do it in New York.  It was safe when Mr. Moussaoui was tried, very near the Pentagon, very near the White House.  We‘ve got the security and ability to do this.  By backing down, we embolden the terrorists.  We make them feel like they‘re stronger than they are, and enable them to recruit even more than they are able to do at present. 

MATTHEWS:  Al Qaeda seems to have a focus on New York.  We saw it in ‘93, when they tried to blow up the World Trade Center.  We saw it in 2001 horribly.  Bruce first this time, don‘t they seem to have an iconic focus on New York.  And wouldn‘t that be intensified over a long trial, where they could have weeks and weeks, months and months, perhaps, to plan something, and then to do something horrible? 

FEIN:  Well, I think it‘s ridiculous to think they‘re not planning something all the time.  We have defenses to take account of that. 

The fact is they didn‘t just focus on New York.  You know, some of those planes were headed—one hit the Pentagon.  The other looked like it was going to Congress or the White House.  And, therefore, insofar as they are targeting New York, so what.  If we back down, we display cowardice.  We give them more encouragement by suggesting they can frighten us into doing things with shouldn‘t do. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the question of justice here.  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is probably going to plead guilty.  We don‘t know but he says he did it.  He‘s the mastermind of 9/11.  Most people would say that deserves, in any kind of moral sense, capital punishment.  Can he get capital punishment from a military tribunal, Jack? 

RICE:  Yeah, I think had could.  Do I think—

MATTHEWS:  Could? 

RICE:  Well, in the end, that‘s the bottom line. 

MATTHEWS:  Some people argue that if you plead guilty—you take this up, Bruce.  If you plead guilty in a military tribunal, it‘s not clear, apparently, that you can be executed?  Is that the case? 

FEIN:  It may be ambiguous there.  It seems to me, however—it‘s obvious that in a civilian situation, you can get the death penalty.  That‘s what Mr. Moussaoui had a whole trial on that score. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

FEIN:  It‘s true you do need unanimity on the military commission side.  But that certainly shows, in my judgement, how ramshackle the military commissions have been established, that leave this in a state of ambiguity. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll try my idea by you.  I think military justice is an odd term.  I think we execute spies.  And yet spies—you were a spy—is the most courageous thing you can be in military, spying for your country.  If you go overseas, behind enemy lines, and you get executed because you‘re not in uniform.  That‘s just the rules of the game.

When an army is on the advance, it doesn‘t take prisoners.  When an army‘s in retreat, it doesn‘t take prisoners.  It‘s a lot of luck involved in surviving a war.  Some people have a good war.  Some people get killed.  Some people get maimed.  The idea of justice in war seems to be almost out of place.  So when you catch a bad guy, by our definition, we execute him because he did something we—he‘s on the other side.  Is there such a thing as military justice? 

RICE:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, that‘s what I keep getting at.  So we just want to—a lot of people say Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did it.  Execute him.  Do it quick.  Have a trial, whatever it is, and get it over with.  Why do we have to have juries impaneled, weeks and weeks of perhaps showing off jurors that want to make a case or become famous.  Who wants all that? 

RICE:  You see, that‘s the ultimate problem.  If what we‘re really going to do is we‘re going to guarantee that he‘s going to be convicted and he‘s going to be shot—if we‘ve decided that, why don‘t we take him out in the front of the courthouse and do it. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of people say, if we‘ve already decided, yes, why are we going through the pretense of having something called a trial?

RICE:  That‘s about the transparency concept.  If what we‘re trying to do is tell the rest of the Muslim world and the rest of the world that we believe our system is the best in the world, and we will prove that he is guilty—I like that idea. 

MATTHEWS:  We impanel a bunch of New Yorkers, very of whom are Islamic people, probably, maybe one.  Bruce, do you think the rest of the world is going to say that‘s a fair trial?  I‘m just wondering, the Arab world?  Your thoughts? 

FEIN:  If it‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Or is it vengeance. 

FEIN:  If it‘s an opportunity for defense, then the answer I think is yes.  But the other element here that‘s Catch-22 is that even if there‘s an acquittal, Sheikh Mohammed will stay at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere for life because he‘s an enemy combatant. 

The last thing I will say, you can get it wrong, even in war time.  Tokyo Rose was convicted and sentenced for treason, and then she was pardoned because they got it wrong there.  We need to ask ourselves—

MATTHEWS:  They got it wrong on Tokyo Rose.  There‘s a number of Tokyo Roses, apparently.  Yes, that‘s the problem, yeah. 

Here‘s the problem.  You just pointed out the great redundancy here, the absurdity.  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, OK, he gets convicted in a court.  He gets charged with capital punishment, goes through all the appeals.  Month and month and month, years and years, he finally gets off.  Then you put him in a stockade, right? 

FEIN:  He‘s an enemy combatant.  He is going to be there for life, no matter what happens with this particular trial.  If you ask, why are we going through this charade here—

MATTHEWS:  Bottom line, you guys, both of you—you first.  You were in the agency.  You‘re an expert on this.  Are you afraid he might use this, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to give sort of a John Brown‘s Body sort of speech in New York that rallies al Jazeera and everybody else in the Arab world?  You‘re not afraid of that?

RICE:  No, I‘m not afraid of that.  Why should we be? 

MATTHEWS:  Are you afraid of that, Bruce?  He has months to write that speech.  Are you worried about that or not? 

FEIN:  No.  He‘s not fighting to liberate anyone from slavery like John Brown was.  If you look like that parallel opportunity that Mr.  Moussaoui had, I think it fell flat. 

MATTHEWS:  From from his point of view—just remember—as hard as it is to get to, from his point of view, he‘s the good guy, right?  Don‘t underestimate his ability to give a moralistic speech. 

RICE:  Yes, but in the end, if he‘s going to say “Death to America,” is America going to fall as a result?  I think we‘re a little stronger than that.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll see.  To me, it‘s a great question.  I‘m not sure where I stand.  Thank you, Jack Rice.  Thank you, Bruce Fein.  I think I disagree with you guys, but I‘m going to hold my thought for a while. 

Some breaking news now from Alabama.  Police say multiple people have been shot on the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and they confirm they have a female suspect in custody.  Paramedics say two people needed an ambulance.  But the initial call said as many as ten people were shot.  Police described the shooter as a woman wearing a pink sweater and a black and white shirt. 

We‘ll have more information on this breaking story as it becomes available. 

Up next, never mind the new polls that say people don‘t think Sarah Palin‘s qualified to be president.  The big question is, could she actually win the nomination?  Some insiders are now touting her prospects.  That‘s coming up next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got an update on that shooting at the University of Alabama down at Huntsville.  A university spokesperson now says that—tells NBC News that three people are dead and one wounded in that shooting.  Police say a female suspect is now in custody. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL now.  Time for the politics fix.  Between her keynote speech at the Tea Party convention and her interview on Fox News this Sunday, Sarah Palin has been front and center this week.  Here is part of the interview with Chris Wallace.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA:  I‘m never going to pretend like I know more than the next person.  I‘m not going to pretend to be an elitist.  In fact, I‘m going to fight the elitists because for too often, and too long, the elitists have tried to make people like me and people in the heartland of America feel like we just don‘t get it, and big government is just going to have to take care of us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Such finesse.  Joining me is Atlantic Media political director Ron Bernstein and Salon.com‘s Steve Kornacki.  Let‘s talk about your theory about what you‘ve been able to discover about the Republican primary voter, and how this person, Sarah Palin, having quit the governorship, could still be a real player and win this thing.  

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  Right.  She wouldn‘t start off as the front runner.  But she has real assets here, one of which is reflected in that last comment.  Just as Barack Obama‘s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2008 revealed the changing class bases of the Democratic Party, as it moves more upscale, I think a Palin candidacy would show how increasingly dependent Republicans are on blue collar, non college, working class voters. 

In 2008, Chris, a cumulative analysis of the entire exit poll showed that 51 percent of all the votes cast in Republican primaries were by non-college voters.

MATTHEWS:  Is that rising?

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.  Think of the Republican party as the party of the corner office.  And Palin in that argument—the argument she made there is one that Republicans have used against Democrats going back to Adlai Stevenson, egg head intellectuals who are distracted and unattached from the kind of real world heartland wisdom.  When we listen to her saying that, you can imagine her using it against Barack Obama, but you can also imagine her using an argument like that in a Republican primary, particularly against someone like Mitt Romney, where she basically says, look, I‘m the voice of this kind of blue collar, average beer track America, and kind of running on that theme.  And I think she has a demographic base in the party for that kind of argument, if she wants to pursue it. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Steve, your thoughts on this?  I agree.  I thought the best way to predict where Barack Obama would win in caucuses and primaries last time was to see what percentage of the electorate, the primary voters or caucus attendees work for your college people.  If it was high, he won.  If it was low, he lost to Hillary. 

In this case, Ron‘s got a counter-theory that‘s kind of parallel to it, which is if you want to pick the Republican winner, look at each caucus state, each primary situation, and see what percentage are working whites.  And if that‘s high, she could win.  Your thoughts? 

STEVE KORNACKI, “SALON”:  We could make the parallel to Barack Obama, but you never had a poll in 2008 that showed that a plurality of Democrats believed that Barack Obama wasn‘t simply qualified to be president.  We now have a poll.  I think the most important thing to mention is that yesterday, there was a poll that came out that actually showed that more Republicans think Sarah Palin is not qualified to be president than think she‘s qualified. 

The second thing you have to look at is—we can say that there‘s a vast pool of voters out there that, potentially, her message could appeal to.  But I think she‘s going to have competition for that.  She‘s going to have probably a Mike Huckabee in the race.  There could be Rick Perry in the race.  So she‘s not going to be able to simply corner the market on that.

I think if you look at that poll that came out yesterday, what that tells me is there‘s a big segment of that pool that she would like to draw on, that, yes, they sort of do like her; they sort of like that message.  But they don‘t even think that she‘s qualified to be president.  They‘re going to look for other options.  I see her as a factor like Pat Robertson was a factor in 1988. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the debates can be very important.  She‘s going to have to hold her own in the debate, not just on the stump, if she runs. 

We‘ll be right back with Steve and Ron.  We‘re going to talk about Patrick Kennedy, the Kennedy era, actually.  The long span of Kennedy participation in Congress has—is about to end this year, which is very important to note.  We‘ll be right back with that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Atlantic Media‘s Ron Bernstein and “Salon‘s” Steve Kornacki.  Steve, let me ask you about the Kennedy thing.  You‘re a young fellow, but the fact is you‘ve lived your whole life with Kennedy in Congress, pretty much. 

KORNACKI:  I grew up in Massachusetts, where you had Ted Kennedy in the Senate and Joe Kennedy in the House.  You were talking to the guys from Boston earlier.  This—Patrick‘s move today really does remind me of when Joe Kennedy left congress in 1998.  Very similar age.  Joe Kennedy was 46, I think.  Patrick Kennedy is 42.  Very similar circumstances, where Joe Kennedy‘s brother had just died.  He had been through this terrible divorce, and he sort of seemed to realize there was a life outside of politics that he wanted to live. 

And the interesting thing is we spent the next 12 years wondering what office he‘s going to run for.  He had the chance.  He has passed on it over and over.  I think we‘re going to do a lot of speculating now about what Patrick does in Rhode Island.  I wouldn‘t be surprised if he passes too.

MATTHEWS:  You were talking about class politics a minute ago.  You‘re and expert on it.  The working people of Massachusetts, who basically went and voted for Scott Brown, may well come back for a guy that got him cheap oil. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t have a war with Hugo Chavez.  They have a war with expensive oil prices. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Joe Kennedy has made some notes of regret about not running. 

MATTHEWS:  He said so. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Right, he has said so.  As you go towards 2012, I think there‘s going to be a lot of interest in Massachusetts. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you think that the Democrats are going to coaless around the fact that this ain‘t going to be easy.  You can‘t run a Capuano, or a Martha Coakley.  You better run the best guy you‘ve got? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Look, just—you can imagine the kind of conversations inside the family, Ted Kennedy‘s lifetime dream derailed by Massachusetts after—

MATTHEWS:  Health care. 

BROWNSTEIN:  -- after no Kennedy would put their hat in the ring. 

MATTHEWS:  Here we‘re boosting it right now.  But it seems to me it‘s a smart thing for the Democrats to do to say, Joe Kennedy, spend the next two years getting ready to watch the voting record of Scott Brown and take it away back for the family.  Your thoughts? 

KORNACKI:  I agree there‘s going to be a lot of pressure.  I‘ll tell you what, we‘ll do some Monday morning quarterbacking.  I really believe if Mike Capuano had been nominated, Mike Capuano would have beaten Scott Brown.  I think those blue collar voters that Martha Coakley lost when the spotlight was on in the last ten days—I think it would have been close.  But I think Capuano—he‘s got the skill to hold on to them. 

MATTHEWS:  He would have Curt Schilling.  He would known the Sox.  Eddie Markey would have beaten them all.  Thank you very much, Ron Brownstein.  Thank you, Steve Kornacki.  Remember, Valentine‘s day is Sunday.  So pick up those cards, candy, and flowers, and keep somebody happy.  Join us again Monday night at 5:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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