updated 3/9/2010 11:41:19 AM ET 2010-03-09T16:41:19

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Steve Kornacki, Joe Sestak, Ethan Bronner.

HOST:  Shalom from Israel.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Jerusalem.  We‘re traveling with

Vice President Biden, who‘s here to enhance good will for the Obama

administration, highlight the start of indirect talks between Israel and

the Palestinians and strengthen Israeli support for the U.S. policy of

pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran and to help deter Israel from

taking military action against the Iranian nuclear threat.

I‘ve got the big story back in Philadelphia, where the president

arrived today with Senator Arlen Specter aboard Air Force One to begin his

final campaign for health care, which now faces its final huge test with

the vote in the House of Representatives on the Senate bill facing a do-or-

die deadline of March 18th, which is the Thursday after this.

Let‘s start with the president in full campaign mode today in

Philadelphia.  Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak was at the president‘s

event today.  He‘s challenging Senator Specter in the Democratic primary.

Congressman Sestak, you‘re up there in Philadelphia, my hometown, and

I‘m over here in Jerusalem, and I want to know if we‘re going to have a

health care bill in the next two weeks, before Easter.  Are we going to

have one?

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  We are going to have one.  There‘s

no question about it.  I just came from listening to the president talk at

Arcadia.  And he‘s out there, but he also made it pretty clear that this is

gut-check time for Congress.  They better stand up and be courageous and do

the right thing for principle and forget about this political calculation

that really set us off track.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the Democratic Party right now having a

problem, where people on the left are giving the president a hard time,

people on the right are giving him a hard time?  Is he having a problem

getting people to realize that if you lose this health care bill,

everybody‘s going to be branded as a loser?  Is he going to get that

message across in the next two weeks?

SESTAK:  Chris, I don‘t think that‘s the right message he should get

across.  This isn‘t about scoring a political victory.  These Democrats,

me, we were sent to Washington with an opportunity to lead, not with a

mandate.  And it got off track because Ben Nelson grabbed a goody bar. 

They thought with the 60th vote from Arlen Specter that political

calculation would achieve the health care bill.  It got us nowhere.

No, what the president‘s message has to be is, This is the right thing

to do, Democrats.  Stand up and work for working families.  And that

message better come through, not about politics.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s hear him today.  Here he is in Philadelphia

today.  You were there, and so was Specter.  Let‘s hear the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   I don‘t know how

passing health care will play politically, but I do know that it‘s the

right thing to do.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  It‘s right for our families, it‘s right for our businesses,

it‘s right for the United States of America!  And if you share that belief,

I want you to stand with me and fight with me, and I ask you to help us get

us over the finish line these next two weeks!  The need is great.  The

opportunity‘s here.  Let‘s seize reform!  It‘s within our grasp!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Sestak, how do you tell a person who has health

care already in their union contract or at their government job or wherever

that the person out there doesn‘t have health care—how do you tell them

it‘s in their interests that that other person get health care?

SESTAK:  Because if you‘re in a family of four and you‘ve got a

private health care plan today, you are paying $1,100 more for the

uninsured when they go into the emergency room.  Hospital doesn‘t eat it,

they pass it to the insurance company, they pass it to you.  You‘re paying

for it anyway.  Second, 700 Pennsylvanians today lost their health care

plan because no action has been taken.

This president has it right.  We seized the White House through

audacity, doing the right thing, not political calculation.  No.  If he had

only had a better group of senators down there who actually would have done

this for the right thing, we wouldn‘t be where we are today.  This is,

Chris, as I said, gut-check time.  What do we stand for, ourselves or for

people who are hurting, and therefore, we‘re a less productive society, and

harder to compete with China and India?  This is the right thing to do. 

Let‘s do it.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m watching a film there of the president get off the

plane in Philadelphia there with Senator Specter walking behind him.  You

seemed to imply a couple of minutes ago that by waiting to get Specter when

he joined the Democratic Party and switched over, that that going for 60

votes in the Senate was a—almost a delusion, a grand delusion, if you

will, that they should have just gone for a majority vote and it would have

been better off not having Specter become a Democrat.

MATTHEWS:  No, I—what I said was, when all of a sudden, a deal was

made because Arlen Specter ran from the Democratic Party, that he gave

2,000 votes to George Bush for, and Democrats thought we had a deal, what

they did is found—fell into the same abyss that‘s always been bad about

Washington, and that Massachusetts said, Wait a moment, pox on both your

houses.  We asked for a change in policy, yes, but also a change in

politics.

So that deal which got us nowhere, as he lost all his seniority, is

97th now, actually was the beginning of not being out there, as the

president so wonderfully did today about saying, This is right, and now,

you Democrats, stand up.  It‘s time for you to stand for what‘s needed. 

No.

Look, it‘s not about walking down the plane with the president.  It‘s

about being down there, willing to lose your job over what‘s right for the

working family.  Yes, we got off track.  And this president, with

courageous leaders in Congress, will get us at least back on, not as well

as we could have done if we had stood strong at the beginning.  Ted

Kennedy, if he had been there, would have shaped this bill differently.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about—let‘s talk about the deals that were

made, the “Cornhusker kickback,” the “Louisiana purchase.”  You‘re putting

the Specter deal as one of them.  You‘re saying that was part of the dirty

deal-making that led to the problems of the last months and not getting

health care until now.

SESTAK:  I said it‘s part of that political calculation, where they

were in an echo chamber down there, thinking you could do another deal,

rather than being out on the hustings in your district and explaining

what‘s right, like the president did today.

Look, if there‘s anything I learned in the United States Navy during

those 31 years, it‘s that as a captain, you sat down with your crew and had

captain‘s calls and explained what was going on, let them get the cut of

your jib.  They may not agree with you, but they learned to trust you.

And they‘re not trusting deals with another Republican like Arlen

Specter to say, We forgive you for derailing Clinton‘s health care plan,

now come on over, or for those other deals Ben Nelson and others did.  No. 

This is about pure leadership, being willing to stand up as this president

did today.

And if he had stronger titans in the Senate—because it‘s the Senate

that needs reform, not America—if Senator Ted Kennedy had been there for

principled compromise, not a compromise of principle with all these deals,

we would have shaped that bill better and explained it to the public and

had been farther down the road with a much better bill today.  That‘s what

being a public servant is about.  Politicians, no.  Public servant, yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The president of the United States was in Philadelphia

today with two Democrats, both running for the United States Senate from

Pennsylvania.  And my question to you is, the kind of campaign you‘re

fighting against Specter—he‘s accused you of being AWOL.  He says you

should have been court-martialed, if you were still in the service, for the

numbers of votes you‘ve missed in the Congress.  What do you make of that

language, you should be court-martialed, that you went AWOL?  Is that a

smear?  What would you call that kind of campaigning?  Your own words,

please, not mine.

SESTAK:  He has used language that has made me appear to people as

though I‘m a criminal, you know, and as though I‘m breaking the law.  And

you know, that‘s the kind of politics that people are saying, We‘re tired

of that negativity.  Yes, he brought it from the Republican Party

leadership.  And he‘s doing it again, as he‘s done it in a dishonest way

for many, many times against opponents.  But people aren‘t going to put up

with that.

Look, here‘s the deal.  It‘s a little silly, actually, because he

can‘t defend his 2,000 votes with George Bush, so he has to try to make it

and distract attention.  We all know, though, it‘s about right here in

Philadelphia, where they lost 100,000 jobs the last 30 years, to where 50

percent of our youth aren‘t graduating from high school, and to where 66

percent of those uninsured are actually working and they‘re less

productive.  No.

Let‘s go ahead, Chris.  Let‘s talk about the policies that are needed. 

And that‘s the kind of campaign that I‘m running.  But I‘m also saying I‘m

in it for conviction.  I‘m willing to lose my job over what‘s right.  And

you know, just like Massachusetts showed to Washington, D.C., pox on both

your houses down there, we wanted principle to triumph over politics. 

That‘s what‘s going to happen in good old Pennsylvania.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak, who

is challenging Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination for the Senate.

Let‘s go right now to Richard Wolffe, who‘s also up there watching the

president in Philadelphia do his—I guess you‘d have to call this the

last hurrah for health care.  Richard, it seems to me that we‘ve had a lot

of lost horizons over the last several months, lots of deadlines that

disappear.  This one, Easter, Passover, the holidays coming up, this seems

to be the real one.

Do you buy the fact that if the president can‘t get the House of

Representatives to come up with a majority vote for the Senate bill by the

break coming up on the 18th of March, it‘s dead?  Do you buy that?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, it‘s dead or the

resurrection.  I mean, look, everyone‘s willing to write this guy off in

his presidency.  If he gets this, everyone‘s going to have been proved

wrong.  I think this is a very firm deadline, and it‘s do or die right now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about what‘s changed now.  Does he

have—is it just turning the screws by Nancy Pelosi?  And how does she

avoid cutting those kinds of deals that Joe Sestak was talking about that

were cut in the Senate?  Can they afford to have more “Cornhusker

kickbacks,” more “Louisiana purchases,” more Arlen Specter‘s cross-the-

aisle type things?  Do they have to keep it really clean as they grab those

last votes necessary to pass health care in the House?

WOLFFE:  Yes, they do have to keep it clean, and they have to make it

transparent.  And there‘s a recognition inside the White House and among

the folks who advise President Obama that those kinds of deals really hurt

him.  It hurt his brand.  It hurt what drove him to Washington in the first

place.  So the deal-making—look, it‘s not really a factor in the House,

is it, and it‘s not going to be a factor in the Senate when you‘re talking

about the fixes through a reconciliation.  But the deal-making did not help

them.  The focus on process didn‘t.  And what you heard from the president

today was really a forceful argument about principle, about the injustice,

about taking on the insurance companies.  It was a very feisty performance.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s listen to more of the president today.  Let‘s

listen.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  How many years—how many more years can the federal budget

handle the crushing costs of Medicare and Medicaid?  That‘s the debt you‘re

going to have to pay, young people.  When‘s the right time for health

insurance reform?  Is it a year from now or two years from now or five

years from now or 10 years from now?  I think it‘s right now, and that‘s

why you‘re here today!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Richard, you covered the campaign.  You wrote the book on

it.  Do you think the crowd today was back to the old campaign level?

WOLFFE:  Oh, yes, very much so.  And his performance was.  I think

that was the (INAUDIBLE) difference.  There are lots of people out—you

go to Pennsylvania or any number of other states, who want to relive the

whole campaign rally thing.  But he seemed to want to.  And that energy, I

think, has been missing from a bunch of these town halls, from his big

speeches.  This was the campaigning Barack Obama, and I think that‘s a

conscious effort from him and from his team.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Richard Wolffe in Philadelphia.

Up next, we‘ve got—we‘ve got the big story in the Middle East.  I‘m

over here with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill.  They‘re going

over here to try to make a deal, it looks like.  We‘re trying to get the

Mideast peace talks going again.  We‘re going to have the vice president on

tomorrow night to talk about it.  We‘re going to talk about that in just a

moment when we come back, the chances for peace in the Middle East and

trying to avoid a war with Iran.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here we are in Israel.  As I said, we‘re over here

with the vice president‘s trip here.  He‘s over here to jump-start, if you

will, the Mideast peace talks and also to try to avoid a war with Iran on

the part of Israel and to perhaps to push the sanctions efforts against

Iran.

Let‘s go right now to Ethan Bronner.  He‘s Jerusalem bureau chief for

“The New York Times.”  Let me go to the first question, this Iran war.  We

in America, as you know, sitting at home, we think, Where might there be

the next war?  Israel might strike at Iran because they‘re building nuclear

weapons.  What‘s the word over here?

ETHAN BRONNER, “NEW YORK TIMES” JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF:  Well, Israel

might strike at Iran because they‘re building nuclear weapons.  There are

certainly serious preparations under way.  But what has been the steady

drumbeat for several months now from the United States, the chief of the—

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the CIA head, the national security adviser,

now the vice president, all coming to say, Don‘t shoot, work with us on

sanctions.  And the Israelis are essentially going along with that for now.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the trip wire?  If you‘re Bibi Netanyahu, the prime

minister, and you‘re sitting with this cabinet and his very, you know,

hawkish foreign secretary, Lieberman, and you‘re thinking what we won‘t put

up with.  What won‘t Israel live with here in this small country,

vulnerable, close to Iran?  What won‘t they put up with?

BRONNER:  In theory, what they won‘t put up with is a clear ability of

Iran to build nuclear weapons in a short time.  But nobody really knows

when that trip wire is hit.  And actually, the failure to know where that

is, is one of the reasons that the United States is able to say to them,

Work with us on sanctions.  There is daylight growing between the regime

and the people in Iran.  There are reasons to make this work.  And you

yourselves don‘t know if this is going to work.

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t know whether Ahmadinejad has got his head on the -

you know, on earth.  He makes statements like there was never a

Holocaust, which could just be fiery rhetoric just to flame up the people,

or it could be some demented belief on his part.  Is there a sense that

he‘s got his head together, that he‘s a rational person?

BRONNER:  It‘s a very divided view on that, in this country anyway. 

There are people who see him as essentially a messianic, irrational

individual, and there are others who watch Iran—and there‘s a whole crew

of people who watch Iran here, as you can imagine—who think that

decisions are made on a much more rational basis...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And the mullahs control the—control the bullet,

basically.  They will keep it back.  Let me ask you about these peace talks

over here.  You and I have spent our lives hearing about peace talks in the

Middle East.  These are very strange.  They‘re called “proximity talks”

because George Mitchell, who brought peace to Northern Ireland, at least in

the near term, is over here.  Now he‘s going to be like a ping-pong ball. 

He‘s going to go back and forth under this new arrangement between here and

Jerusalem and his hotel, and then over to Ramallah across the Allenby

bridge, then back and forth every day with a message from the Arab side to

the Israeli side.  What kind of—is this for real?

BRONNER:  Well, it‘s for real for a period of months.  I mean, the

truth is that between Ramallah and Jerusalem, the distance he‘s going to

have to travel, when he travels in his motorcade, it‘s about 15 or 20

minutes.  So it won‘t be too bad a problem.  Remember, Kissinger did this

kind of shuttle diplomacy.  It‘s not unheard of.

The idea is that the Palestinians will refuse to sit down at the same

table with the Israelis as long as settlements are continuing to be built. 

They‘re continuing to be built.  We do have a right-wing government in

power in Israel.  And this was a way to get them to some form of a table,

even though it‘s not a direct talk.

MATTHEWS:  Do you expect any hope?  Will they ever agree to move the

land—the border around so that there‘s some claim to the capital on the

part of the Palestinians that doesn‘t offend Israeli notions of sovereignty

over Jerusalem?  Is there any way to cut a deal?

BRONNER:  I think there is a way to cut a deal.  I mean, I think that

the way the deal should be structured is fairly clear.  The problem is that

neither side seems willing to make the sacrifices to make that deal work.

MATTHEWS:  Bill Clinton came very close, didn‘t he?

BRONNER:  We think he it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about politics.  Who‘s more popular over

here, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden?  Put them in

order.  Who‘s the most popular figure over here in Israel?

BRONNER:  I would say Bill Clinton is the—Bill Clinton is the most

popular of those four.  And I would say...

(CROSSTALK)

BRONNER:  Hillary‘s probably next.

MATTHEWS:  The secretary of state.

BRONNER:  That‘s correct.  And then I would say Joe Biden and then

President Obama.

MATTHEWS:  OK, that tells you a lot.  So tell me why the president of

the United States is so far at the bottom?  Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER:  I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the

fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather.  But I

think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year

ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States

and the Muslim world.  And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was

to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. 

And that made people nervous.

I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to

be perfectly honest. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  They—because they see it as a black man—you

know, let me ask you an ideal question. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It seems to be the great American presidents—and Clinton

would be one of them in terms of the Middle East—have been able to wear

two hats at the same time: great friend of Israel, trusted as a friend of

Israel, going back to ‘48 with Harry Truman, and also have that credibility

as a peacemaker, as a deal-maker, you know, as an honest broker. 

BRONNER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Can this president play those roles, both those roles? 

BRONNER:  I think he can. 

I mean, but the—that the trouble is that each failed effort over

the last decade or two has made it much harder for the next person to try

to make the deal, because there‘s so disillusionment over the failed deal,

so that each side now comes to the table, or the pseudo-table in these

proximity talk, with enormous cynicism about the other side‘s actual

interest in peace. 

MATTHEWS:  Would a middle-of-the-road American, if they were living

over here in Israel, would they be optimistic about peace...

BRONNER:  I don‘t think so.

MATTHEWS:  Somebody without ideology?

BRONNER:  I really don‘t think it‘s a matter of ideology.  I think

it‘s a matter of understanding that you can‘t square the circle very

easily.  The most Israel has ever offered and the least that the

Palestinians have ever wanted to take have never met.  And they‘re getting

further apart. 

MATTHEWS:  And the population bomb over here, with so many more Arabs

being born every day than Israelis? 

BRONNER:  Well, that‘s, of course, the reason that there‘s the strong

demographic argument for why Israel should want to have a—in order—to

have a two-state solution in order to maintain a Jewish democracy. 

But the difficulty is that security issues continue to get in the way

and make it very, very difficult for the Israelis to accept the legitimacy

of the other side‘s claims. 

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s hard to find a strong person on the other side who

can keep the deal. 

BRONNER:  There‘s also a leadership crisis on both sides... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Right.  Thank you. 

BRONNER:  ... as well as in the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Ethan Bronner, I think you have told us how tough it is. 

Thank you very much for joining us...

(CROSSTALK)

BRONNER:  ... pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  ... as the vice president comes over here.  We are going to

have him on tomorrow night, Vice President Biden, to tell us what hope

there is for peace over here, how we avoid a war with Iran, and, of course,

how President Obama is doing over here in Israel.  That‘s all tricky

questions we will get to tomorrow night.

Coming up next: a little lighter subject, the big news out of the

Oscars last night.  My predictions were right, but most people had it

wrong.  We have got a woman as best director.  What a breakthrough.  That‘s

also going to be part of our “Sideshow” coming up next.  History was made

last night.  We‘re bringing it to you in the “Sideshow.” 

Come on back and watch.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL from Jerusalem. 

Now time for the “Sideshow.” 

Last night, a low-budget film blew away a blockbuster.  “The Hurt

Locker,” the Iraq war drama, beat “Avatar,” winning best picture.  Jeff

Bridges won best actor for playing an alcoholic country singer in “Crazy

Heart.”  And everyone in Washington was rooting for our hometown girl,

Arlington, Virginia, native Sandra Bullock. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN PENN, ACTOR:  And the winner is Sandra Bullock from “The Blind

Side.”

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SANDRA BULLOCK, ACTRESS:  Did I really earn this, or did I just wear

you all down? 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Now for the “Big Number.” 

The Oscars made history last night when Kathryn Bigelow, the director

of “The Hurt Locker,” became the first woman to win best director for best

film.  And it seemed fitting that Barbra Streisand, who has directed three

films, announced the winner. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBRA STREISAND, ENTERTAINER:  And the winner is—well, the time

has come.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

STREISAND:  Kathryn Bigelow.  

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

STREISAND:  Whew!

KATHRYN BIGELOW, DIRECTOR:  This really is—there‘s no other way to

describe it.  It‘s the moment of a lifetime. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, the film community made history last night.

And the “Big Number,” the “Big Number” is one, as Kathryn Bigelow

becomes the first woman in Academy Award history to be named best director. 

Coming up next:  President Obama tells his staff to stop paying

attention to news reports about themselves and start doing their jobs. 

That‘s coming up next on HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC

“Market Wrap.”

Investors taking a breather after last week‘s rally, stocks ending

mixed right around the break-even point—the Dow Jones industrial average

slipping 13 points, the S&P 500 off just a fraction-of-a-point, and the

Nasdaq gaining nearly six points. 

Networking giant Cisco Systems leading the Dow on reports that it‘s

about to unveil new suit of tools for its high-speed clients.  Shares in

health insurers finishing mostly lower after President Obama‘s speech in

Philadelphia, Humana, WellPoint, and Aetna all ending the day in the red. 

But MetLife and AIG seeing big gains on a deal to sell AIG‘s foreign

life insurance unit to MetLife for around $15 billion. 

McDonald‘s also moving sharply higher on strong overseas sales—U.S.

sales taking a hit from bad weather and a poor economy. 

3M finishing at the bottom of the Dow, after signing a deal to buy a

Canadian aerospace insulation maker. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Obama has told his staff to stop paying attention to all

those news stories about who‘s doing their job and who isn‘t. 

We‘re joined right now to talk about it with Chuck Todd, who is White

House correspondent for NBC News, and Howard Fineman, who is with

“Newsweek” and our political analyst.

Let‘s go to Chuck. 

What kind of a meeting was that, where the president had to tell his

staff, don‘t read the newspapers when it‘s about you; get off the—get

off the issue of yourselves and start thinking about the job?

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, it‘s my understanding

this happened actually a few weeks ago after the very first column about

this that appeared in that “Washington Post,” that Dana Milbank column, and

that the president went to all of these senior aides, almost individually,

and said, look, stay off of this.  Don‘t get focused on it.  Don‘t get

bogged down on it.  And I don‘t want to see any more of this. 

He was not questioning the motives of anybody, but it was just like,

knock it off. 

You remember no drama Obama from the campaign.  That was a perpetual

sort of slogan.  They were very proud of it, David Plouffe, David Axelrod, 

Robert Gibbs.  And so here was the drama popping up. 

And—well, of course, he gave that warning, and since then, the

problem is these articles, they almost—they reproduce themselves in many

cases, and the intrigue.  And—and it‘s inevitable that the White House

staff starts talking again. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I wonder about the readership of most newspapers

and TV programs.  They don‘t really care about staff.  I know that‘s a bad

blow to a lot of people like myself, who have been staff people. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But they just don‘t care.  They don‘t elect you.  They

don‘t think about you.  And when the history books are written, you‘re not

even in the book. 

Do you think these newspapers are creating a story that is of no

interest to readers?  Or is there a real story there?  “The Washington

Post,” for example, ran three stories recently about Rahm Emanuel and the

people around him.  And I just wonder whether it‘s a real story or not. 

Do you think it‘s a real story, covering every day?  Is there a

problem in the White House as to how it‘s being run?  And is it a staff

problem? 

TODD:  Well, I think health care will tell us.  You know, if health

care gets done, they will get through this.  As one staffer told me almost

in those therapist tones, you know, oh, we will get through this.  We will

get over it.  It‘s a speed bump. 

But, if they don‘t get health care, then they‘re going to be—

they‘re all going to stand up and say, OK, what are we doing here? 

Obviously, this whole legislative, you know, big bang theory isn‘t working

anymore.  It can‘t be done. 

So, then you actually do have to lift up and do an entirely different

strategy for governing going forward, because, if health care goes down, it

means that whole idea of that big bang theory of getting legislation

through Congress is dead. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, I—I—I

think that...

MATTHEWS:  You know, Howard, I guess it‘s like...

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... a car.  Nobody—nobody looks under the hood, car—

Howard, nobody looks under the hood of a car unless there‘s something wrong

with the car.  And if the car‘s not moving, that‘s when you check under the

hood.  Is this time to look under the hood of the White House and see

whether it‘s...

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... what‘s wrong or not? 

FINEMAN:  Well, to—to stick with the automotive analogy, Chris, the

car is—the car is still moving, but we‘re hearing the muffler dragging

on the pavement, and the—the engine is knocking, and the windshield

wipers aren‘t working. 

I mean, my first sense of what was going to happen here came right

after the Massachusetts Senate race, where there was all kinds of gnashing

of teeth about how Scott Brown pulled off that upset in Massachusetts.

Big announcement made—was made about how David Plouffe was going to

come back in.  He‘s not in the White House, but he‘s going to take over

more of the political operation.  That was the first sign I saw that—of

the fissures here inside the White House. 

Chuck‘s right.  During the campaign, it was unbelievably disciplined

and internally consistent.  But, number one, Rahm Emanuel was not part of

that campaign team.  There‘s always been the distinction between Rahm and

all the people who were in Chicago with the campaign. 

And, after the Massachusetts debacle, and after their stories were

leaked about what the reelection campaign was going to look like—and

Rahm Emanuel‘s name was conspicuous by its absence—I understand he‘s

chief of staff, and he‘s doing substance, not politics, but his name was

conspicuous by its absence. 

I think this thing has been brewing for a long time.  And I think it‘s

real to the people and of interest to the people who care about Barack

Obama‘s agenda.  Barack Obama has lost a lot of altitude in the polls, but

there‘s still a good 40 percent of this country, at least...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  ... who are rooting for him, rooting for him strongly, who

read the blogs, who read the Web pages, who watch cable TV.  They want to

know the mechanics of how he is or is not getting things done.  And they‘re

looking for people to blame, because they don‘t want to blame Obama

himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to that question with Chuck Todd. 

Here‘s the question.  When it—it was said of Adlai Stevenson,

another fellow from Chicago many years ago, that he talked over the heads

of people.  He couldn‘t connect with real people, the way that Eisenhower

could, the—the man who beat him back in the ‘50s.

I read a piece in “The New Yorker” today, a big story today about a

congressman in Southern Virginia who does know how to connect on issues

like the stimulus package and creating jobs at the local level.  Is there a

sense that this president and his machinery are not able to make tangible

what he‘s doing? 

TODD:  Well, I think that is—that is among the critiques that I

have heard for months, that—this idea that, you know, they have been so

busy trying to push some agenda items through Congress, whether it is the

stimulus, whether it is health care, whether it is climate change,

financial regulatory reform, that they have—they have missed the feel-

your-pain moments of this economy a little bit. 

And that‘s ultimately what this is about, right?  This is the fact

that at the gut of the country right now is this pain over the economy. 

And while you can sit here and look at what the White House has done and—

and make a plausible argument in their defense to say, hey, they‘re trying

to tackle this from a number of different directions, some of it‘s long-

term, some of it‘s short term, the translation of it, from as simple as the

backdrops that are used at their campaign events—right now, everything

is getting nitpicked at, because it does seem as if there is this

disconnect between the public and the president on how he sells these

things. 

And that‘s why we saw him out today.  I will say this.  This is about

the—the sixth time I have—since the president took office that I have

heard from staff that says, hey, you know what?  We‘re going to be

traveling more.  We‘re going to get out on the road more.  We‘re going to

do these things more. 

And every time they have tried to do it, something has kept them from

doing that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  Chris, it‘s not the—it‘s not the backdrops, and it‘s—

it‘s not the staging, and it‘s not whether he‘s on the road or he‘s in

Washington.

With health care, the problem is twofold.  Number one, they want and -

and Obama wants to expand coverage by 30 million people, which is a very

worthy goal.  But it‘s going to take subsidies to some people to get them

coverage, and it‘s going to take direct federal payments to others to get

them coverage.  That‘s 30 million people. 

The question that undecided or antagonistic Democrats that I have

talked to on the Hill ask is, can we really cover those 30 million people

and save money at the same time?  If so, please explain that to me in

clear, simple terms. 

That is something that Bill Clinton would have mastered from the get-

go, but that I think Barack Obama has still never successfully explained,

that plus the federal financing of it, aside from how you control costs

overall. 

You know, what about all the cuts in Medicare?  What about the tax on

Cadillac plans?  These are real issues for people.  And I think, sometimes,

Barack Obama merely wants to invoke the word reform, and the idea of

forward momentum, without the kitchen table explanation of how the thing

actually works that the American people want to hear. 

There was an op-ed page—piece in “The Washington Post” on Friday by

Peter Orszag, the budget director, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, who is in charge

of health care policy at the White House.  Read that piece.  I defy you to

explain to me how it explains clearly how this plan will save money. 

That‘s what the undecided and antagonistic Blue Dog Democrats are worried

about and what Obama has not explained. 

MATTHEWS:  Very well said, Howard, and very well stated, as well,

Chuck.  It seems  to me what Howard is saying is, it‘s like the president

is offering himself as almost like a savior who can take the loaves and the

fishes, and have a few fishes and few loaves of bread, and feed thousands

and thousands of people.  And there‘s only one guy that could do that.  And

he‘s not president of the United States.  I guess that‘s the problem. 

Thank you, guys. 

FINEMAN:  And you‘re in Jerusalem, right. 

TODD:  I was going to say, you‘re clearly in Jerusalem. 

By the way, would that guy have been able to pull it off in this day

and age and the Internet?  But that‘s OK. 

FINEMAN:  Good question. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, 24/7 is a real bad news case.  Thank you, Howard

Fineman.  Thank you, Chuck Todd.

Up next, the Republican party‘s criticism of President Obama we‘re

going to get back to that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH:  I don‘t agree with that type of stuff. 

And the way I understand it, some junior guy there, raising funds, tried

that as a fund-raising tool. 

DAVID GREGORY, “MEET THE PRESS” MODERATOR:  I don‘t know how junior

he was.  He was a finance director. 

HATCH:  That‘s junior to me.  But the fact of the matter is that it

shouldn‘t have happened. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, junior to me.  MSNBC political analyst Eugene

Robinson joining us now.  He‘s a Pulitzer Prize winner with the “Washington

Post.”  And Steve Kornacki also joins us from Salon.com. 

Let me ask you about that comment.  I thought that was a great

exchange between David Gregory and Orrin Hatch the other day, Gene.  This

guy is finance director of the Republican National Committee.  There you

have a senator from Utah just saying he‘s some kid over there at the RNC. 

I‘m not responsible for him when he puts out this white face on Barack

Obama.  And they‘re trying to walk away from it. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Yeah, I think it

illustrates the disarray that the Republican party is in right now,

ironically, at a time when the party is actually doing quite well compared

to the Democrats, in terms of making gains, at least in party registration,

and in the polls. 

But it‘s a mess.  Who‘s in charge?  A lot of the senior officials—

the senior Republican officials in Congress don‘t have much regard for the

RNC that Michael Steele is running, and don‘t consider themselves to answer

to what‘s happening over there.  I guess Chairman Steele doesn‘t exactly

take responsibility for the white face ad either.  So who‘s doing it? 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s that ethnic piece to it, Steve.  And there‘s also

this larger question of the Republicans are doing very well in the polls as

the no party.  People are unhappy with the economy, unhappy with the

direction of the country right now.  So Republicans are benefiting in terms

of poll numbers.  But then when you get to the reality of the Republican

party, you get sticky business.  Sarah Palin is an extreme polarizer.  I of

people think she‘s nowhere near the weight you have to be to even be

thought of as presidential material.  And then you have  other people in

the party who think she‘s just dandy. 

It seems like there‘s a difference between how popular they have

become, because of the unpopularity of the Democrats, and yet they‘re not

ready for prime-time.  Steve? 

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM:  Yes, I think what we‘re seeing is the

Republicans are really in danger here of falling into a trap.  There‘s a

certain reality about midterm election years, especially when the White

House party also controls both chambers of Congress.  That is what‘s going

to define, you know, a midterm election is buyer‘s remorse.  The only

question is always how much buyer‘s remorse will there be?  When you‘ve got

10 percent unemployment and when you‘ve got the president controlling, you

know, both chambers of Congress with significant majorities, there‘s

probably going to be a lot of buyer‘s remorse. 

In that atmosphere, parties can do well in spite of themselves.  I

think that‘s the thing you have to look at with the Republican party.  The

party of Sarah Palin, the party of Glenn Beck, the party of Rush Limbaugh,

the party of these mailers you‘re showing, can win in 2010.  But that same

party can‘t turn around, I believe, and win in 2012. 

And the trap for the Republicans is, if they have a very good

November, if they pick up 25, 30 House seats or more, if they pick up five

or more Senate seats, they‘re going to take it as vindication for their

strategy for 2009, 2010.  And that‘s going to set up for real trouble in

2012. 

MATTHEWS:  Gene, do you think the negative aspect of the far right

will cut as deeply as the antipathy people have in the middle toward taxes

and big government?  That‘s hurting the Democrats.  Will the Republicans be

hurt as badly because of their association with the wacko element? 

ROBINSON:  I think ultimately that will hurt the Republican party. 

I think the bigger danger right now for the Republicans is the whole party

of no business.  Again, an irony, that‘s what‘s got them to where they are

now.  And they‘re doing pretty well with it.  But my sense is that

inaction, failure to solve problems that are evident to people across the

country, who want results—I think ultimately that‘s not a smart way to

play their hand. 

And until they come up with ideas for health care, ideas for

financial reform, ideas for getting the economy started again, that start

to make sense to people, I‘m not sure what sort of long-term momentum they

can possibly build. 

MATTHEWS:  One of the new ideas that Dick Cheney‘s trying to sell

right now is his daughter, Steve.  He reminds me of that Marlon Brando

character in “Superman” up on Crypton.  The planet‘s about to blow up.  So

he puts his little kid, in this case Superman, in a little capsule and

sends him to Earth.  It‘s like Cheney knows his whole world is blowing up,

so he put his daughter in a capsule and is sending her to us.  It just

seems like he‘s spending all his time as kind of like a booster rocket,

building one for his offspring.  What‘s going on with this family? 

KORNACKI:  She‘s clearly trying to assume the mantle here, you know,

the political voice of the Cheney family.  He is almost 70 years old now. 

He just, you know, had another heart attack.  Obviously, he is sort of

going to be I think fading from the political stage, although we thought

the same thing two years ago, when he left office. 

But the funny thing to me about Liz Cheney, the talk, all of a

sudden, is she wants to run for the US Senate, maybe, they say, in

Virginia, maybe in Wyoming.  It is tough to see exactly where she could fit

into the mix in either state.  Boy, I look at Virginia and I say, there is

something here about sort of disgraced, you know, figures of former

Republican administrations turning to Virginia to try to, you know, launch

political careers. 

Wasn‘t—Virginia was where Oliver North came in 1994.  You

remember Oliver North.  In the best year ever for Republicans against the

worst possible—the worst Democrat that the party could have fielded,

Chuck Robb, all the scandals he had, North still couldn‘t win with.  I look

at Liz Cheney and I say, go ahead, you can run in Virginia in 2012, maybe. 

I don‘t think the odds of her winning are all that good. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking—speaking of Virginia, gene, a lot of your

erstwhile colleagues are over at “Politico,” over in Virginia right now.  I

swear the Cheneys—Mr. and Mrs. Cheney get up every morning with their

daughter and they cook up an e-mail to send to “Politico” and get some news

for the family.  It‘s this little cottage industry children of Cheney—

Cheney creation news over there.  What do you make of that, how they just -

they have reforested the country with news from the Cheney family? 

ROBINSON:  I know.  It is like the Daily Cheney Report.  You came up

with the image, a while ago, of the basement and cranking the mimeograph

machine.  I can‘t get that out of my head.  I really think she is kind of -

kind of stepped in it this time, though, with those—those vicious and,

you know, actually baseless attacks on these Justice Department officials

who had the temerity to defend unpopular defendants.  I—you know, she is

getting the criticism from the right and the left. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Yes, Gene, I agree.  Let‘s take a look at her. 

Let‘s look at the video.  This has been put out by Liz Cheney, the daughter

of the former vice president.  And it‘s about Eric Holder, the current

attorney general.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, who did President Obama‘s attorney general,

Eric Holder, hire?  Nine lawyers who represented or advocated for terrorist

detainees.  Who are these government officials?  Eric Holder will only name

two.  Why the secrecy behind the other seven?  Whose values do they share? 

Tell Eric Holder Americans have a right to know the identity of the “al

Qaeda Seven.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Gene, haven‘t we been here before?  Wasn‘t there a word

for that back in the early ‘50s? 

ROBINSON:  There was. 

MATTHEWS:  When you got people and you accused them of bad things

for associations? 

ROBINSON:  Yeah, it‘s called McCarthyism, and that‘s exactly what I

call it in my column for tomorrow.  That‘s an appropriate word for that—

including the—this time, I guess, it is updated with the ominous music

in the background, which just adds a kind of creepy touch to the whole

thing. 

One of—she is attacking the idea—an idea that is one of the

fundments of our legal system, which is that even unpopular defendants

should have representation.  It‘s older than the nation, that idea.  John

Adams defended the British soldiers who were accused in the Boston

Massacre.  But I guess what was good enough for the founding fathers isn‘t

good enough for Liz Cheney when she wants to try to score political points. 

MATTHEWS:  And even the great Edward Bennett Williams defended Joe

McCarthy.  Even Joe McCarthy had to have a lawyer at some point.  And

Steve, you‘re a young fellow.  This is—this is a rerun, this one.  This

is a rerun of bad news from the past, where you go after lawyers and accuse

them all of being terrorists because they defend people accused of

terrorism. 

KORNACKI:  Well, you know—

MATTHEWS:  Why have courts if you can‘t have lawyers?  Your thought? 

KORNACKI:  I mean, Gene is saying what is good enough for the

founding fathers isn‘t good enough for Liz Cheney.  Also, what was good

enough for her father, apparently, isn‘t good enough for her, because there

were actually lawyers in the Bush administration Justice Department who, in

former lives, before coming aboard, you know, DOJ, had actually represented

Yemeni detainees. 

So the Bush administration actually had the same standard, and we

didn‘t have, you know, any talk about the al Qaeda seven in the Bush

administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I will go back to my image of the planet of

Krypton, where Dick Cheney is sending his offspring off to be saved from

the coming explosion.  Anyway, back to Earth here.  Here I am in the Holy

Land.  I have a thought to finish tonight with, as always, the cause of

peace here in the holy land.  We all hope for it, all from our different

religions.  We want this place to be a peaceful land in the end. 

Back from Jerusalem, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight on a topic of war and peace.  I‘m

sitting here tonight in Jerusalem, the holy land, just weeks before Easter

and Passover.  I love this city and have loved it ever since I lived here

for a month after getting out of the Peace Corps many years ago.  It is a

wondrous place, rich in history, the very home of my religion and of

course, of so many other people‘s in the world. 

There‘s a calm here that you can feel in the air.  And yet—and

yet, we know that peace is precious for the very reason that it is so hard

to attain, especially here, where religion is the cause of strife and has

been for all these centuries. 

Well, we have got a new peace initiative under the way, as we have

announced tonight, and the Palestinians have agreed to meet with the

American negotiator.  The Israelis agreed to meet with them as well.  The

American, George Mitchell, is a good, even great man who helped bring peace

to Northern Ireland.  Perhaps he can do some great good here in this land,

where religion also divides. 

Whatever comes of this latest effort, we have to hope, as Shimon

Peres the president of this great country of Israel, said, the only way to

be a realist in this part of the world is to be something of an optimist. 

Tomorrow night, we have got Vice President Joe Biden joining us to

tell us what is going on here in terms of peace, and how we can avoid a war

with Iran, and how Barack Obama‘s doing here in Israel.  Lots of news

tomorrow night with the vice president.  We are here with him in Israel. 

See you tomorrow night. 

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

BE UPDATED.

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