Guest: Mark Potok, Brian Levin, Ken Blackwell, Chris Cillizza, John Heilemann, Susan Page, Josh Gerstein
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bad vibes.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Fire on the right. Is the right wing losing it? In the last week, we‘ve
seen threats at Democratic members of Congress, bricks thrown through
Democrats‘ office windows, a skinhead pleading guilty to plotting to kill
then presidential candidate Barack Obama, and now the arrest of nine
militia members in Michigan. What‘s driving this stuff?
The acts of violence, real and planned, are the most violent example
of the loss of political good will across the country. And here in
Washington, President Obama admitted on the “Today” show this morning that
he‘s failed to become the post-partisan president he‘d hoped to be. The
question now, should he concede that the main body of Republicans are
simply not going to do anything to help him and just try to govern with
either Democrats alone or with the few Republicans he can recruit for
Plus: The Republicans may be getting the long knives out for Michael
Steele. The sex club scandal is the latest embarrassment for the
Republican National Committee chairman. Having won big races in Virginia,
New Jersey and Massachusetts, can Republicans call Steele incompetent? Can
they afford to let the drumbeat of bad stories continue?
Also, President Obama‘s poll numbers are up, but only a bit. Tonight,
why the president still has a lot of health care selling to do.
And I‘ll finish tonight with some thoughts on the assassination
attempt on President Reagan, hard to believe, nearly three decades ago
Let‘s start with the fire on the right. Brian Levin is the director
of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State
University at San Bernardino. And Mark Potok is with the Southern Poverty
Mark, I want you to start. There‘s been some things happening. I
want to run through them now. Here‘s what‘s happened just in the past
couple of days. Nine members of the Michigan-based militia were charged
with plotting to kill a police officer and then to kill dozens more by
setting off improvised explosive devices at the funeral, all in the hopes
of igniting an uprising against the federal government.
A Philadelphia man was charged with threatening the life of House
Republican whip Eric Cantor and his family in a YouTube rant that has since
been taken down. This video is from an earlier message. FBI agents
arrested the man Saturday, and he‘s currently being held without bail
pending a psychiatric evaluation.
Perhaps most troubling, just yesterday, a white supremacist from
Tennessee pleaded guilty to plotting to kill then presidential candidate
Barack Obama in 2008. It was to be the grand finale of a cross-country
killing spree aimed at African-Americans. His co-defendant pled guilty in
Well, there you have it. What is going on right now, Mark, in this
country? Because it‘s not all right wing. Much of it is.
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: I mean, I think we are
seeing out there a real explosion of rage, of fear, of frustration, and I
think a great deal of it is being stoked not only by groups and ideas of
the radical right, but by many people on the ostensible mainstream who are
kind of feeding the flames.
POTOK: You know, it‘s good to see—people like John Boehner coming
out and criticizing some of the talk, that it is very much a day late and a
dollar short at this point. You know, and there are many things going on
out there that have people extremely upset.
MATTHEWS: Do you think those Republican members of Congress who waved
the Gadsden flag, the “Don‘t tread on me” flag, which is a symbol of
fighting tyranny, is good or bad in terms of calming things down? That was
a flag that was used to fight an enemy imperial nation, London, the British
empire, which basically had us under its hoof. Now it‘s being used to
attack our own government.
POTOK: Yes. I mean, I think it‘s very symbolic of the sorry past
that we have come to as a nation in terms of our political discourse. You
know, the Gadsden flag is very much also in contemporary society the flag
of the militia movement. It‘s to, Don‘t mess with us, you know? And it
really implies, Don‘t mess with us at the point of a gun.
So no, I don‘t think they should be waving the Gadsden flag. I don‘t
think they should be talking about watering the tree of liberty with the
blood of patriots and tyrants. I don‘t think they should be talking about
death panels and secret invasion plans by Mexico. You know, I think all of
these things merely stoke up the fear out there, and fear leads quickly to
frustration, and ultimately, to rage. I think that that rage is reflected
in some of the events that you mentioned in your introduction.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, to follow that thought, Brian, I‘ve heard the
lingo, too, and I‘m schooled in this. When I hear Bill McCollum running
for office down in Florida talking about, you know, what‘s he saying,
things like—well, anyway, the language of this thing is just continuing.
He‘s talking about—I‘m sorry—that the health care bill is an invasion
of the sovereignty of Florida. You have the Texas governor running for
reelection, renomination, saying he‘s for secession, the language of
nullification. These are the words used in the Civil War days, before the
Civil War. Your thoughts?
BRIAN LEVIN, CTR. FOR THE STUDY OF HATE AND EXTREMISM: I think you‘re
absolutely right. Look, 51 percent of Republicans said that President
Obama wants to turn the country over to a one-world government. Twenty-two
percent said he wants the terrorists to win. This is very disturbing.
This is not the give-and-take that we saw back when you were involved in
politics on Capitol Hill, where Tip O‘Neill and Ronald Reagan would have a
drink together after a legislative tussle.
What I‘m worried about is that folks are looking at legislative losses
not as a natural part of the ebb and flow of the political process but a
levying (ph) of war. And this is a problem when you hook in a combination
of this intense division, sprinkle some contorted view of faith and
religion in there, and then look at the enemies not as being some foreign
communists, but indeed, our political institutions and leaders ourselves.
And by the way, almost a similar number of folks on the left said that
President Bush, for instance, could be or is the anti-Christ to those who
on the right say that President Obama is or could be the anti-Christ...
LEVIN: ... almost 20 percent!
MATTHEWS: ... here‘s the president along those lines, Brian. Let‘s -
and Mark. Let‘s listen to the president because he‘s not quite talking
about the far right, but he‘s talking about some of the problem here on,
say, pretty far right. Here he is. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There‘s some folks who
just, you know, weren‘t sure whether I was born in the United States,
whether I was a socialist, right? So there‘s that segment of it, which I
think is just dug in ideologically. Then I think that there‘s a broader
circle around that core group of people who are legitimately concerned
about the deficit, who are legitimately concerned that the federal
government may be taking on too much. And so I wouldn‘t paint in broad
brush and say that, you know, everybody who‘s involved or have gone to a
tea party rally or a meeting are somehow on the fringe. Some of them I
think have some mainstream legitimate concerns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, Mark, that‘s not fanning the flames.
That‘s trying to understand, to disaggregate the people in those crowds. I
mean, a lot of them are just there because they‘re upset about big
government. That‘s an old Republican and old American concern, getting
government too big. It‘s very homegrown and very normal, and I think
healthy, to be skeptical about the power of government.
But then there are people who‘ve taken up arms. There are people who
are worried about the black helicopters. There are people that think now
not that government‘s a problem but government‘s the enemy, that it‘s
foreign, that it‘s almost like the old Kremlin wall, you know? They think
of it as hostile. When did that start, Mark?
POTOK: Well, I think one could make the argument that that really
began with Ronald Reagan and the description of the federal government as a
kind of enemy. And it was very much ginned up through the decades by talk
radio, and so on. And we saw the first iteration, it seems to me, of real
focused rage against the federal government in the 1990s, when the militia
movement took that standard and brought it to new heights, or really
depths. You know, and that, as we all know, culminated in the murder of
168 people in Oklahoma City back in 1995.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Brian. You‘ve not been on the show
before, so tell me what you think is coming. I do believe there‘s dangers
when the zeitgeist gets very nasty. People from the left begin to operate
even if the right win were the ones who stirred things up. You saw that
with the threat against Mr. Cantor from Virginia by that Philadelphia guy.
Now, maybe he‘s disturbed. We‘ll find that out as the psychiatric report
is given. But it seems like, you know, so Lee Harvey Oswald shot Jack
Kennedy, a man of the far left, a Castro guy, killed Kennedy at the time
that the right wing was the big danger. So the zeitgeist gets stirred up,
and all kinds of bad things happen. That‘s what I wonder about. Your
thoughts as an expert?
LEVIN: I think you‘re absolutely right. And let me just compliment
what my friend Mark said. I think you can trace this back to the 1790s
with the Whiskey Rebellion. In fact, the law that‘s being used to
prosecute these militia members from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, with
seditious conspiracy, that was—that was enacted back in 1790.
But yes, I think for the most recent history, Mark is right. And I
also think President Obama is right. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans
say that he‘s a socialist. I think you have hit a very important point
here, and that is this is not merely a splintering of the right. And by
the way, there are many, many people of good will, as you pointed out, who
are conservatives who have plausible and legitimate reasons for being
concerned. The problem is, is the folks who opt out.
And I think you also and President Obama hit an important note, as
well, and that is we don‘t classify the tea party movement as an extremist
movement because it‘s so diverse. Do you have extremists within the tea
party movement? Absolutely. But you also have people who are legitimately
concerned about the growth of government and deficits.
What I think is important here is that once the atmosphere is changed,
as you suggested, this can really become a license for people on all sides
of the spectrum, whether it be animal liberation people on the left...
LEVIN: ... or these militia folks on the right, to take—say, You
know what? We don‘t have a stake in this together. Let‘s divide and
conquer. And I don‘t mean in a political sense. I mean in a violent
sense. And that‘s why I‘m really worried...
LEVIN: ... about people taking this to a new level.
MATTHEWS: I do worry about it. I think it‘s a national—it‘s
Here‘s the attorney general on the Michigan militia people that have
just been indicted. “Thankfully, this alleged plot has been thwarted and a
severe blow has been dealt to a dangerous organization that today stands
accused of conspiring to levy war against the United States.”
You know, Mark, that‘s the question. When we go to law breaking, when
we go to violence, when we go to people who‘ve organized together and go
beyond parties or sitting around talking or having a beer together and
crankily—you know, angry words are thrown around and nasty attitudes are
there, but then you go beyond that to, Well, let‘s do something about it.
Where are we at on that?
POTOK: Well, I think we‘re seeing increasing manifestations of that
kind of criminal violence. You know, it‘s worth remembering that since
Obama was nominated—you know, you mentioned Daniel Cowart, the white
supremacist who pled guilty today in the plot to assassinate Obama.
MATTHEWS: Right, the skinhead.
POTOK: Well, you know, there was another racist skinhead plot, albeit
very half baked, that came out of Denver during the Democratic national
convention. There was a man very shortly after Obama was elected, before
he was inaugurated, who was found to be building a dirty bomb in Maine to
set off at the inauguration.
POTOK: There was yet another man who, the day after Obama was
inaugurated, started to murder black people in Boston because he felt that
the white race was being subjected to a genocide. He had read this on
white supremacist Web sites. You know, we see now the Hutaree militia. We
see, you know, the assassination of the guard at the Holocaust Museum, the
assassination of George Tiller, the physician in Kansas.
I think—look, I mean, I can only show this anecdotally. I don‘t
think there are real statistics to prove it.
MATTHEWS: No, I know what you mean, but...
POTOK: But it absolutely feels like domestic terrorism is on the
uptick, and certainly attempted domestic terrorism is.
MATTHEWS: You know, guys, I can remember exactly the zeitgeist of the
fall of 1963. I‘ll say no more. I felt it. I know what it feels like.
We‘re not quite there, but that spitting on people—we‘ll get to more of
that on the show today. Spitting on people like Adlai Stevenson and
members of Congress is the first step towards real violence. Thank you
very much, Brian Levin and Mark Potok. I wish you weren‘t here on such a
Coming up: The Republican National Committee approved a $2,000 payment
at a sex-themed nightclub. It‘s another embarrassment for party chairman
Michael Steele. However, Steele has a pretty good winning record this
year. Can he stay along as chairman with his winning record, despite these
embarrassments? It‘s an interesting choice for the Republicans, to do—
well, to be or not to be for that fellow. You‘re looking at him right now,
You‘re watching HARDBALL, and he‘s coming up here—well, as the
topic, when we come back on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The Republican National
Committee has fired that person responsible for approving a reimbursement
to a California consultant for a nearly $2,000 tab at a Los Angeles sex-
themed nightclub, the latest embarrassment for the RNC during the reign of
Michael Steele. Our friend, Jonathan Martin of Politico, sums it up pretty
well. Quote, “It has become almost routine. There is some controversy
surrounding Steele. Republican professionals are embarrassed. Some of
them gripe about the latest episode. And then they move on until it
Well, Ken Blackwell‘s the former secretary of state in Ohio. He‘s
currently the chairman of the redistricting committee for the RNC. Well,
you got to look at this one of two ways, Ken. He‘s either—he has the
patience of Job and he just has bad luck, or he‘s—you know, he‘s a—as
somebody once said, a bull that carries his china shop around with him.
But Michael Steele just gets into these stupid problems and they just
Here‘s some other stuff that‘s happened under Steele‘s leadership,
just to let you know this isn‘t the only problem. He called abortion a
choice, which Democrats believe but Republicans as a party don‘t. He
called Rush Limbaugh “incendiary” on CNN, something Democrats, again, may
well agree with but Republicans don‘t generally. He told Sean Hannity
Republicans would probably not take back the House this year, something you
don‘t want to tell your team. And he had to defend having the RNC‘s winter
meeting in Hawaii during a tough economy, and he had to disavow RNC fund-
raising material that depicted the president as the Joker—you know, that
whiteface number they do on him.
This stuff keeps happening. Is it his fault?
KEN BLACKWELL, RNC VICE CHAIRMAN: Well, look, it‘s happening on his
watch. In January of 2009, the 168-member Republican National Committee
chose Michael Steele to be its chairman for a two-year term. I don‘t think
that anything is going to change in terms of the chairmanship until next
January, if it changes at all. As you know, he has some wins under his
belt, and there is a real issue of whether or not this is another
distraction from what the RNC is in business to do.
Chris, we have over 3,400 counties across this nation. They have
precincts within those counties. And our job or the RNC‘s job is to
rebuild the party from the grass roots up in all 50 states. We got our
clocks cleaned in the last presidential election because we were playing
catch-up. And so the senatorial committee, the congressional committee,
they‘ll take care of political and legislative affairs. It is the RNC‘s
job to rebuild the party, to make sure that we have strong precinct
executives, county chairmen, state chairmen and so that we can start
We have a historic opportunity to win over 50 seats this time around,
and we can‘t blow it because we are apologizing or explaining—our
leadership is explaining this sort of nonsense.
MATTHEWS: Ken, that sounds very compelling. It‘s what I would say if
I were applying for the job. Is that what you‘re doing?
BLACKWELL: Absolutely not.
MATTHEWS: It sounds like you‘re applying for to be Michael Steele‘s
BLACKWELL: No. That‘s what you would like for me to do. The fact is
MATTHEWS: No, it sounds like you‘re doing it verbatim (ph).
BLACKWELL: Look, no. I am the co-chairman of the RNC‘s redistricting
committee. My job is to work with John Ryder, the chairman, to make sure
that we‘re in a position of keeping the pens that will draw the maps of the
congressional district in our party‘s hands for competitive advantage.
Pure and simple. That is a full—that is a full plate.
You asked me a question as someone that is intricately involved in the
party, and I gave you an honest answer. We must make sure that we are not
distracted from the business at hand and the charge of the Republican
MATTHEWS: Right. Is Michael Steele a distraction?
BLACKWELL: I can tell you what is a distraction—having to explain
these weird expenditures, having to explain that we are not high rollers
and high flyers and duplicitous leaders. That is a distraction, and it is
Michael‘s responsibility to make sure that we do away with those
distractions, and we do away with incompetence, and we do away with those
who would spend money unwisely. That‘s what we need to take a step forward
MATTHEWS: Bob Woodward of the Watergate fame once said, “follow the
money.” Let‘s follow the money. He started with $22 million at the RNC.
He has got $9 million now, so that‘s down about 10. Big problem. It‘s not
that just he‘s down around 10. He brought in 96 during that period, so he
lost $106 million that have gone out the door, have been burned in the last
year because it has been spent—
BLACKWELL: Chris, Chris—
MATTHEWS: Has it been spent wisely?
BLACKWELL: Chris, let‘s go back to what you said just in your last
segment. The fact of the matter is, is that success has a thousand
fathers. So I‘m sure that Michael will take credit for Virginia, New
Jersey and Massachusetts, at least part credit. So as a consequence, there
has been success.
The RNC is not a bank. We have to spend money in order to win
elections. The question is, how are we spending the money? That‘s why
this is such a distraction. Because, one, there‘s no way that you can
explain that a stripper club expenditure is help building a grassroot
organization in any county in the country.
MATTHEWS: Do you understand the responsibilities as the RNC chairman,
is it to make sure—does he have a fiduciary responsibility? In other
words, if somebody writes a check and turns it in and says, I just paid
$2,000 to go to the Voyeur Club in L.A. where they have bondage and S&M and
all that stuff going on, is it the chairman‘s responsibility to have people
in place who will see that bill and say, no way in hell should this RNC,
should the donors that kick into this party have to pay for that? Is it
MATTHEWS: OK. So it‘s Michael Steele‘s responsibility to make sure
this kind of (inaudible) doesn‘t happen.
BLACKWELL: Look, but this—
MATTHEWS: Yes or no?
BLACKWELL: This is nothing—Chris, can you hear? I said yes.
BLACKWELL: And I said—but this is not unique to Michael Steele.
Any executive officer, chief executive officer is responsible for the
processes and the personnel that he has in place to maintain the fiscal
integrity of his or her organization.
MATTHEWS: Ken Blackwell, you have a tough situation to be in. I made
it worse for you, but sir, this is a tricky matter for your party. And I
do like Michael Steele, but I don‘t know—if somebody‘s on his path or he
just keeps screwing up. I‘m not sure which it is. Maybe it‘s both. Thank
you very much.
Up next, what does Karl Rove think about the latest gaffe?
BLACKWELL: Thank you, sir.
MATTHEWS: Good to see you again. What‘s happening at the RNC?
What‘s the latest gaffe over there? We‘ve just been talking about it. Jay
Leno asked Karl Rove what he thinks of this 2,000 bucks for this sex club
paid for by your Republican contributions. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only
MATTHEWS: We‘re back to HARDBALL. Now for the “Sideshow.”
First, Rove—that‘s Karl Rove—on the loose.
Yesterday, we learned that the RNC reimbursed, as I said, a political
consultant for $2,000 in charges at a sex-themed nightclub in Hollywood.
What does Karl Rove, the Republican mastermind, think of all this?
Well, last night, on Jay Leno, we got the answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)
JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”: I have been waiting
to get your opinion.
Michael Steele and this $2,000 at the bondage nightclub, what was that
KARL ROVE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Somebody ought to
lose their credit card, their RNC credit card. Pull that.
ROVE: Find that pervert and get his card. I mean, it‘s...
LENO: Have you been to that club? I‘m curious.
ROVE: Look, man, come on, no.
ROVE: Come on.
LENO: Karl, let‘s go tonight, Karl, you and I. Karl, we will go to
ROVE: No, no, no, no, no.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: God, “that pervert?” Nice language, Karl.
Anyway, Mr. Rove, however, did find excitement of another sort.
Yesterday, in Beverly Hills, an activist from the left-wing group CODEPINK
tried to make a citizen‘s arrest of Karl Rove for being a war criminal.
Rove called it evidence of what he called the totalitarianism of the
left. Well, Karl knows he‘s just lucky it was just a citizen coming to
Next, a backhand congrats for—here‘s what French President Nicolas
Sarkozy told students at Columbia University about last week‘s historic
passage of health care reform in this country—quote—“Welcome to the
club of states who don‘t turn their back on the sick and the poor.”
Well, he said it in French, but I think we could hear the smirk.
By the way, France‘s first couple took time this afternoon to enjoy a
Washington, D.C. staple, Ben‘s Chili Bowl. You can see Sarkozy there with
his wife, the glamorous Carla Bruni, and the French president‘s two sons.
Not exactly nouvelle cuisine being offered at Ben‘s. Anyway, it‘s hot
dogs smothered in chili. I will bet Carla is going on a fast for a week.
Finally, credit where credit‘s due. Right now, Mitt Romney is doing
everything he can to distance himself from the national health care reform
bill. President Obama doing everything he can to tie him to it.
Here he is with Matt Lauer, the president, on “The Today Show.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you actually look
at the bill itself, it incorporates all sorts of Republican ideas. I mean,
a lot of commentators have said, you know, this is sort of similar to the
bill that Mitt Romney, the Republican governor and now presidential
candidate, passed in Massachusetts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Yes, lay it off on some commentator. Did you notice the
twinkle in the president‘s eye as he made that tweak of Romney? And that‘s
Up next: President Obama admits he has not solved the problems of the
political culture in Washington yet. No Republicans voted with him on
health care bill in the final vote. And John McCain now promises no
cooperation for the rest of the year.
Of course, McCain is running in a tough primary out there. So, should
the president give up the goal of grand partisanship? We will see when we
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As we all know, President Obama pledged on the campaign trail to usher
in a new era of post-partisanship. But he conceded on “The Today Show”
this morning in that very important interview with Matt Lauer that he
hasn‘t been able to conquer the polarization here in this nation‘s capital.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)
OBAMA: There‘s something about the political culture here in
Washington that is a chronic problem. I haven‘t solved it yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the president went on to say that he does think it‘s
possible to overcome the political divide. But here‘s what Senator John
McCain said just last week after the health care reform bill became law.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: There will be no cooperation for the
rest of this year. They have poisoned the well in—in what they have
done and how they have done it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
So, should President Obama credit Republicans for being
obstructionists and abandon the pursuit of grand partisanship?
Chris Cillizza is a “Washington Post” reporter, and the “New York”
magazine‘s John Heilemann is co-author of the big book “Game Change.”
Let me start with Chris.
I seem to think—let me narrow this discussion. What it sounds to
me like the president is saying is, no more kumbaya...
MATTHEWS: ... no more hopes of a big meeting with him and Mitch
McConnell and John Boehner, and all agreeing to lock arms and do it
together. But, damn it, he still needs to get two or three Republicans to
on most bills to get something done on the following.
If he‘s going to need to kick butt on Wall Street, he‘s going to need,
you know, John—he‘s going to need Corker from Tennessee and a couple of
like Judd Gregg.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Yes.
MATTHEWS: If he‘s going to do something on immigration, he needs
Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and maybe a couple of other guys, at
least one other Republican. So, he can‘t give up on statistically needing
some Republicans. So, what‘s he giving up on?
CILLIZZA: You know, Chris, I think he can‘t give up on symbolically
needing some Republicans either.
Remember, one of the key components of Barack Obama getting elected
was: I can make Washington work again.
I think he has a huge belief in his own ability to bring people
together. I think that‘s why he was so out front, cocktail parties,
courting Republicans. And I think he was, frankly, surprised at the
reaction, particularly on health care, and a little bit on economic
So, I think congressional Democrats have a different agenda than
Barack Obama. Barack Obama is about, fundamentally, getting reelected and
getting things—getting things accomplished during these two years that
he can go sell to the American people. He needs Republicans, as you point
out, to do that.
Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, are about November 2010.
They have much a much shorter timetable. And I think they want him to be
that—a little bit more partisan, get the base fired up, say..
CILLIZZA: ... Republicans are blocking, you know, because they need a
fired-up base. If anything health care did, it clearly fired up their
base. They need that fired-up base to match the intensity on the
Republican side heading into the midterms.
MATTHEWS: Yes, he starts smashing Republican heads, though, he‘s not
going to get anybody to join him at all. That‘s the challenge.
It seems to me, let me throw out something at you, Mr. Celebrity,
bestseller, big shot...
MATTHEWS: ... John Heilemann, let me throw this out to you.
JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK”: Yes.
MATTHEWS: I still don‘t understand—call me yesterday—I don‘t
understand why the Republicans can‘t get euchred into a deal where they go
for a big jobs bill, not this puny $15 billion. Put the road builders out
there. Start building stuff. Put lots of—millions of people to work
and get through this recession. Just do it, and dare the Republicans not
to join them.
Why don‘t they do that? What‘s...
HEILEMANN: Well, you know, Chris...
MATTHEWS: Is that yesterday? Is this Pat Moynihan thinking or what?
HEILEMANN: That‘s Pat Moynihan thinking for you, and I respect it as
But the Republicans don‘t like big government. And they think they‘re
going to run in the midterms...
MATTHEWS: But they love jobs and appropriations.
HEILEMANN: Yes, but they like—they want to blame the jobless
recovery on Obama. And they don‘t want to see the—they can‘t be favor
of somebody that spends a lot more money and balloons the deficit, because
they think that‘s a big issue.
But I think you‘re right. The thing—everything Chris said is
exactly right. And I think more important than that is that Obama believes
in this. You know, he wants Republicans on these bills because he actually
believes that it would be good for the country to have some unity in terms
of trying to solve big problems.
The thing that—that works to his advantage now is that he‘s coming
at a lot of these issues from a position of strength, rather than a
position of weakness. I mean, he was trying to get Republicans to come on
to a health care bill that a lot of the country didn‘t like.
On the Wall Street stuff, the country wants the government to get
tough on Wall Street.
MATTHEWS: Yes. And don‘t—let me go back to Chris on this.
Don‘t Republican members of Congress want to be seen standing side by
side with anybody that kick the butt of the rich guys who grab the bonuses
and all that bailout money and don‘t seem to have an ounce of apology in
their beings up there in New York?
Look, I think you would—Obama would do well to push more things
like that, Chris, because, remember, what you want—what health care—
Republicans won‘t say this publicly, because they don‘t want to admit to
it, but what health care did was unify a very fractious party.
What did we focus on for the last year? Why can‘t Republicans get—
Democrats get this done? They have the White House. They have Congress.
Why can‘t they get more done?
Well, meanwhile, Republicans, they found a common theme to unite
behind in health care. I think he can—he, Obama, can splinter them up
by picking some issues like this, because some of them—look, there are
plenty of Republicans who represent states where they need to be for some
of these things. They can‘t simply stand in opposition...
CILLIZZA: ... states and districts, I would say. He needs to pick
and choose those sorts of things.
MATTHEWS: Find ways you can suck them in.
And, by the way, that was the president, I think, signing the—the
reconciliation piece to tweak the two bills, the two health bills.
Check out what President Obama said about working with Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)
OBAMA: What I have tried to say throughout is, I will continually
reach out to Republicans. I will continue to incorporate their ideas even
when they don‘t vote for the ideas that I have presented.
But what I‘m not going to be dissuaded from is us going ahead and
taking on these big challenges that are critical in terms of America‘s
long-term economic health.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK, enough of bipartisanship. Here‘s some nasty
partisanship, at least from a heckler, a very unhappy guy. You‘re watching
Emanuel Cleaver. See that guy? He‘s a member of Congress. He just
swatted back a guy. He likes he spat him. Look at this. Wait until you
see him now. He‘s really angry, this member of Congress, because that guy
did something with his mouth. Watch this. He‘s still angry at the guy.
Watch his right hand now.
You know—you want to watch that again? There he is again. That
guy did something to him right there. I think it was worse than yelling
something nasty at him. He hit him on the side of the face with spittle or
something, intentional or not.
Chris Cillizza, I can only interpret that one of two ways. Either he
actively spat on the guy, the member of Congress, which it looks like he
may well have done. Or he did what I guess mad comics used to call
Ballshaw (ph), where your mouth just spittles while you‘re talking. What
do you make of it? While you‘re yelling.
CILLIZZA: There‘s a very fine line between anger and passion that can
be directed against someone, and people have a right to be angry if they
disagree, and crossing a line. I think we‘ve seen some of these incidents
of crossing the line of late, this being one of them.
It‘s a hard thing, Chris, because passion in politics is what both
sides want. They want their supporters to be both energetic for their
side, and energetic to go defeat the other side. That‘s what elections are
about, getting your base out voting. The problem is at what point do you
cross the line, where that energy is both destructive to the general
conversation, the body politic, and also dangerous to individuals. It‘s a
very hard line to walk.
MATTHEWS: You know, it‘s one thing to throw tomatoes at politicians,
like they did for the last two or three hundred years. But it spitting on
a guy, that‘s what they did to Adlai Stevenson in Dallas before Kennedy was
shot. That‘s a sign of real contempt.
HEILEMANN: Chris is right. It‘s a hard line to walk, and it‘s a hard
line to locate. But I think—
MATTHEWS: There‘s a big difference between yelling and spitting.
HEILEMANN: That scene we‘ve gone on the wrong side of the line. I‘ll
tell you what that picture looks like to me. It looks to me—it has this
resonance of the deep south, during the civil rights movement.
MATTHEWS: When the young women were being integrated.
HEILEMANN: You have this African-American congressman walking along
here, all-white crowd. Spitting on the guy. It‘s very—
MATTHEWS: Look at this guy. He won‘t even quit yelling, either.
HEILEMANN: It looks like the scene from a different generation. It
looks like a scene—it‘s not what you think America is supposed to look
like in 2010.
MATTHEWS: I just saw one of those pictures the other day, a woman
down in Little Rock, Chris—Little Rock back in ‘57, when they were
integrating that Little Rock Central High School, with the wicked look of
anger, contorted face. Look at this guy. He won‘t stop. And he knows—
this is where the chicken aspect of this is. He knows that guy can‘t do
anything about it because he‘s a public figure. He knows, Chris, that that
congressman just has to take it.
CILLIZZA: Chris, again, John is right. I think we‘re—we all
grapple with these issues. There‘s a fine line between having the right to
express your opinions, which is in the Constitution—you get—you get -
if you don‘t like the health care bill, you get to call your member of
Congress or tell your member of Congress you don‘t like it. But then
there‘s the human decency aspect of it, that you don‘t get to stand a foot
from someone and throw a brick through their window. The line-drawing is
MATTHEWS: Chris, I have great respect for your ability to forecast.
Will there be a moment between now and November when we will see
bipartisanship on a grand scale on something?
CILLIZZA: Not on a grand scale, Chris, because nothing happens on the
grand scale in election years, particularly after they‘ve passed—I think
they would have liked health care not to have been in 2010. It wound up
being there. I think we‘ll see some small-bore measure like this jobs bill
that went through about a month ago. I think we‘ll see more stuff like
that, but nothing grand.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll do something on Wall Street, because they have to do
it, with a couple of Republicans, Corker and maybe Judd Gregg. Nothing big
HEILEMANN: Maybe on education you get a few Republicans. But
Republicans, as a party, has gone all in on the strategy of opposition.
It‘s a little too late for them to turn back now. I think he will get a
few. He‘ll be able to strip off a few Republicans on a couple of these
issues, especially where some of his policies are a little more
conservative, like on education. But it‘s not going to be half of the
Republican party, or a third of the Republicans.
MATTHEWS: I think Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are leading them
into being the scrooge party. I think it‘s a big mistake. They got to
join on the good stuff. They should be proposing some things on jobs.
Anyway, thank you. Congratulations, Heilemann. I‘m a little envious, but
that‘s normal, in this city, especially in this city.
Up next, what about the bounce in the polls the president was expected
to get after he passed health care reform? There‘s a little bit of a
bounce, you might call it, but let‘s talk about if it‘s big enough, and if
it‘s going to last. We‘ve got the latest numbers on the president and how
he‘s doing. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. After months and months of fighting, President
Obama and the Democratic party turned a health care reform bill into the
law of the land. But a week after signing the bill, the Pollster.com
average for President Obama‘s job approval has him absolutely even, about
48 percent are approving him and about 48 percent disapproving him.
Should there be a bounce? Those numbers don‘t really show much
change. Will the mood improve for the president and his party down the
road? Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief for “USA Today” and Josh
Gerstein is a pollster for “Politico,” very important journals, both of
I want you all to look at these numbers. These are the latest
numbers, looking at them all. Look at the movement. A few major polls
taken before and after—these are before and after numbers—show what‘s
happened. CNN‘s poll has the president up eight since he signed the bill.
The “Washington Post”/ABC poll has him up five since passing the bill. And
Gallup, which is, of course, the oldest of pollsters and the most
recognized, has no action.
I guess I‘m going to go to Susan Page with CNN to express that eight
points, since I like to be optimistic in this world. You have him eight
points. Your thoughts, Susan?
SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”: Actually, the “USA Today”/Gallup poll
has his approval rating up a point, but it has his disapproval rating
reaching a new high, 50 percent in the poll we took over the weekend.
That‘s the first time President Obama has reached the 50 percent
We showed a little bit of a bounce the day after the House vote. In
the poll we took over the weekend, we found that attitudes toward the
health care bill basically haven‘t changed since before it was passed. And
it continues to be something people are really skeptical about. It is not
helping Democrats and President Obama at this point. I think they really
have an uphill selling job to do.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Josh on that very question. Does this require
the president—if he wants a bounce, he has to still earn it. It‘s not
JOSH GERSTEIN, “POLITICO”: I think that‘s right, Chris. He has to
come out and continue to sell the bill. Of course, remember, the White
House has said they‘re planning a hard pivot here to move on to jobs and
some of these other issues, like the financial regulatory reform and
beating up the banks on Wall Street. So it‘s not entirely clear how much
time the president is going to spend trying to sell health care reform when
they have these other issues that people on the Hill are just desperate for
them to move on to.
MATTHEWS: Susan, that could be a real danger. You and I, and Josh,
have been through this. When they pushed through the big stimulus or jobs
bill back when they first came in, most economist, in fact practically
every Keynesian economist who taught us in school said they had to do it.
Yet, they lost the argument. Bailout became a bad word. Stimulus became a
bad word, because they were never able to make it tangible as a kitchen
table issue. They could never sell people on the fact it was helping them.
If he lets this slip by and lets the bang bang bang of negative
publicity build again, like it did against stimulus and the bailout, he
could end up paying for this the same way. Does he have to sell?
PAGE: Like it or not, this battle is not over. It is like the
stimulus bill. In our poll, people were inclined to think that the health
care bill was going to be good for America as a whole, but not good for
them and their families. They thought it was going to drive up their
costs, costs and quality of health care.
Those are issues that you need to address, for one thing, if you want
to help out those congressional Democrats who went out on a limb to vote
for you—you begged them to do it—to get this through, people from
maybe those 40 most competitive Democratic-held districts. They need this
argument to be made, and made for the next six months, that this health
care bill is really good for you and your family.
MATTHEWS: Josh, I don‘t want to spin for the president here. It
seems to me, based upon all my evidence, the Democrats look a hell of a lot
happier this week than they did two weeks ago. You see it in the mood.
You see it in the way the president, the way he was able to talk to
Netanyahu in the middle of the night, the way he was able to go visit the
troops and visit Karzai in Afghanistan. A real buildup in his prestige and
I guess his charisma, if you want to put it that way, that wasn‘t there a
week or two ago.
It seems, on the other hand, the Republican party is not that happy.
They wish they‘d beaten him on health care, no matter what they say. They
wanted to beat him and they couldn‘t. So how do those internal mood
improvements for the Democrats and downward movements for the Republicans
not get reflected in these polls?
GERSTEIN: Well, you know, I think you‘re quite right. The mojo has
definitely changed here. You have a lot of people comparing before and
after, like what do Obama‘s numbers look like now compared with what they
were just before the vote? That‘s not the valid comparison.
The question is, if this bill had gone down, if it had tanked, if they
had to pull it off the floor, about to lose the vote, if the president‘s
signature initiative had failed, imagine what his numbers would be then
now. He‘d be somewhere in the 20s probably. So I think it‘s a little bit
misleading to look at the before and after numbers, when the question is
how terrible this would have looked for the president if this situation had
collapsed around him.
MATTHEWS: Susan, do Democrats who are running in tough districts, you
know the districts that voted for McCain, the blue districts, do they want
the president to come and campaign for them, as of now?
PAGE: I think some of them do and some of them don‘t. It probably
varies district by district. They‘d certainly like the president to raise
some money for them. You know, all Democrats who are running in November
would be helped if the president got his approval rating up. We know that
for congressional races, the president‘s approval rating, when he‘s in your
party, makes a difference for how you do.
MATTHEWS: Susan, thank you so much. Susan Page and Josh Gerstein,
When we return, I‘m going to have some thoughts on the assassination
attempt on President Reagan, which happened 29 years ago today -- 29 years
ago, three decades. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with an account of grace under
pressure. Twenty nine years ago, shots rang out on Washington, D.C.,
sidewalk. The first hit Presidential Press Secretary Jim Brady. The
second hit D.C. police officer Thomas Delahaney. The third hit a building
across the street. The fourth hit Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy.
The fifth hit Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States.
The bullet that hit President Reagan was now lodged an inch from his
heart. Unaware of the president‘s condition, Jerry Par (ph), the chief
Secret Service agent in charge of presidential protection, shoved the
president into his car and jumped in on top of him. He ordered the car to
bolt for the White House, first cover, then evacuate. He was following the
Up T Street, then on to Connecticut Avenue, the presidential limousine
sped. Only when the car went underneath the tunnel at Dupont Circle did
Reagan see his napkin, the one he carried with him from his luncheon
speech, was covered in red. He was choking up blood. And Par, the Secret
Service agent, could see he was turning white.
At this point, neither Par nor Reagan knew he had been shot. But Par
made the life saving call. He told the driver to high tail it to George
Washington University Hospital. They made it to the hospital in three
“I forgot to duck,” he told wife Nancy, borrowing the line heavyweight
Jack Dempsey had used when he was knocked out by Jeanne Tunney (ph). The
heroes that day were police officer Tom Delahaney, shot in the line of
duty, Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy, who took a bullet either for the
president or for his chief agent, Par, who was guarding him, and Jerry Par,
head of presidential protection, who put his body between Reagan and the
gunman, and made the key realtime decision to get that car to the hospital.
Ronald Reagan made it that day. He made it in good spirits. No one
would know for a long time, long after the country had settled down, how
close it had come. He‘d lost half his blood supply that afternoon, with a
bullet an inch from his heart, and lived to lead the country, thanks to
some really good grace under pressure by a really good patriotic guy, Jerry
Par. I hope he‘s watching.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Catch us again
tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern. Right now it‘s time for “THE ED
SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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