Guests: Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, John Harris, Admiral Thad Allen, Ed Overton CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: President Obama takes responsibility. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight, oil and politics. We learned two important things about the gulf oil leak just today. One is that the “top kill” effort to stop the leak may—may—be working, though we don‘t know for sure yet. The other is that the leak is much worse than originally thought. Government scientists now estimate that between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels of oil are spilling out every day. And that certainly makes this the worst U.S. spill in history. Admiral Thad Allen of the Coast Guard joins us at the top of the show.
President Obama defended his handling of the leak—and “defend” is the operative word here. The president was on the defensive throughout a news conference this afternoon in which he insisted his administration has been in control from day one. Not everyone is buying that. We‘ll look at the political fallout.
Also, how much is President Obama to blame for what‘s happening in the gulf? How much is former president Bush to blame? And how much is honestly out of any president‘s control? That debate is on here. Plus, who would have ever thought that Bill and Hillary Clinton would turn out to be such huge supporters of the man who denied them four to eight more years in the White House. Today the Obama-Clinton coalition is in full throat (ph).
And “Let Me Finish” tonight with what I think is the information the American people need right now about this mess in the gulf. We start with the latest developments in the gulf. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen is overseeing “top kill.” Admiral Allen, thank you so much for this, and for your service. Let me ask you, is this working, top kill?
ADM. THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD: Well, we‘re watching it right now, Chris. And as you know, we‘re pumping mud down the well bore, watching the pressures and see if we can reduce them so we can put a cement plug in. I will tell you it‘s a work in progress. We‘re monitoring it very closely, maybe 24 to 36 hours. But they‘ve successfully done something at 5,000 feet that had not been done before. MATTHEWS: Is the—is the, what do you call it, the drill mud getting into the system down there? Is it getting in? Can you tell that much?
ALLEN: Yes, Chris, some of it‘s getting in, but if you see from the videos, mud‘s also coming out through the kink in the riser pipe. And what we‘d like to see is all the mud going down and no mud coming out of that leak. And they‘re bringing more mud out, and they‘re going to be pumping it down again. It‘s kind of a process that‘s in progress right now. We‘re just going to have to wait and see. But as I said, they‘ve been able to carry this technology down and start this effort, which is something that‘s never been done at that depth before. MATTHEWS: Do they have enough drill mud to keep going as long as they can (INAUDIBLE) the process works?
ALLEN: Well, Chris, I‘ve been in a helo for the last couple of hours while this has been going on. I haven‘t had a chance to talk to Tony Hayward. But at some point, there are other options to consider, including what they call a “junk shot” to try and put debris above the - where the mud comes into the blowout preventer to create more of a backstop to force it down. And ultimately, the other two options, if this is not successful, are to cut the riser pipe and put a valve in or put a brand-new blow-out preventer in.
MATTHEWS: No, my question is this. It‘s a particular one. Do we have enough drill mud to keep doing this?
ALLEN: Oh, I think there‘s enough drill mud to keep doing this.
The question is, at what point is it time to move on to another option? I don‘t think we‘re there yet. I think we‘re just trying to see what happens now, Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you—I want to you listen to a piece of tape. You can hear it, you (INAUDIBLE) see it. This is former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister. Here he is. He talked to engineers, he said, about how supertankers were able to clean up past oil spills over in the Arabian Gulf back in ‘93. Let‘s listen to his testimony here last night, then I want your reaction, Admiral. Thank you. Let‘s listen.
JOHN HOFMEISTER, FORMER SHELL OIL PRESIDENT: They came up with the idea of using a flotilla of supertankers which have the capacity to suck in through pipes in the sea the oil and seawater. And those supertankers hold a million barrels, and so they could cruise through, sucking up all of this oil and water, take it to a port, dump it into tanks, separate the water, clean the water, go back out, get another load.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s a big question here on this program, HARDBALL. Are we able to use supertankers from around the world, dragoon them into service to start sucking up the petroleum that‘s now in the gulf?
ALLEN: You know, Chris, this has been raised a couple of times in the media, so think we‘ll actually take a look at it and provide you an answer. But let me tell you this, I think there are some differences in the two spills. Given what‘s going on out there—and I‘ve flown over it many times and I‘ve been on both drill rigs that are drilling the relief wells—with what‘s going on with the subsea dispersants, the riser insertion tube, the operation of the remotely-operated vehicles, within about two square miles of the surface above that well, at any one particular time, there are 20 to 30 vessels that are actively doing something. I‘m not sure there‘s room for a supertanker in that aggregate amount of ships. And I think in some places, we may have a problem with the depth of the water. And we‘ll look into it and we‘ll release a statement, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, what is the ultimate plan from BP and the United States government on recovering the petroleum that‘s in the Gulf of Mexico?
ALLEN: Well, right now, we‘re using three methods. We‘re using mechanical skimming, in situ burning and dispersant application, although we‘re getting concerned about the amount of dispersants that have been applied. It‘s over 700,000 gallons at this point. And we know a good deal of this evaporates right away, based on conditions, and the hotter weather is actually helping us.
Beyond that, we‘re willing to look at new technologies. I‘m not sure this is one that‘s suitable for this location, but we‘ll look at it.
MATTHEWS: But what is the plan? Do we have a plan to recover all the oil that‘s come out of this well?
ALLEN: Chris, the plan is to stop the leak and the plan is to continue to conduct on-water operations out as far away from shore as we can. The technologies available to us right now are just what I explained. If there are other technologies out there, we‘re certainly willing to consider them, and we are considering alternate technologies and we‘ll take a look at this one.
MATTHEWS: But no—I‘m sorry, Admiral. I‘m asking, do we have—yes or no, do we have a plan, any kind of plan, to recover all this petroleum, or is it just going to be dispersed and left to rot in the Gulf of Mexico? What‘s the plan? Do we have one, any plan, to recover all the oil?
ALLEN: Sure, Chris. From the start, Chris, the way you recover oil on the water is one of three methods. You disperse it, you recover it mechanically through skimming or you conduct an in-situ burn. We have done that since the start of the operation and we‘ll continue. That is the plan.
MATTHEWS: And that would—that will recover the oil? ALLEN: It will recover the oil we can with those types of technologies. And to the extent there are other technologies, we‘re willing to consider them, as I said.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about the chain of command from the president on down. Who do you take orders from? Who is between you and the president?
ALLEN: Well, we have a combination of the national contingency plan that places me as the national incident commander, Homeland Security presidential directive 5, which makes Secretary Napolitano the incident commander—or the principal federal official. I report to her. She reports to the president.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s how—that‘s the command structure because there‘s been criticism that people on the ground in Louisiana and other states don‘t sense a clear chain of command, like in the military, where you have the secretary of defense and you have the Joint Chiefs, where there‘s a clear sense of who‘s calling the shots. Is there such a thing, a clear chain of command, from the president on down? You say it goes through the Department of Interior through you. And there‘s no—is there anyone in the White House...
MATTHEWS: Do you take orders from Rahm Emanuel, from anyone in the White House? Do they get involved in the chain of command? ALLEN: Chris, first of all, it‘s the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Interior. And we do not a monolithic organizational structure under Title 10 U.S. Code that DoD has. We don‘t have unity of command.
MATTHEWS: I see.
ALLEN: Once you get outside DoD, what you‘re trying to create is unity of effort because you have standing departmental secretaries. But I am the national incident commander. I report through Secretary Napolitano to the president.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, thank you very much for joining us on HARDBALL, sir. We‘ll be watching to see how top kill does over the next as you say -- 24 to 36 hours to get a firm grip on it. Thank you, sir, for joining us.
Let‘s go right now to Ed Overton. He‘s a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University—LSU. Sir, Professor, what is the—what did you make of that? I guess it‘s a little vague about whether we‘ll be able to recover all this petroleum, this enormous gallonage of millions of gallons that are out there in the water. Do they biodegrade? And this idea of dispersing scares me. It sounds like we‘re just pushing it off into somewhere. It‘s going to come back eventually. What form does petroleum take when it‘s out at sea?
ED OVERTON, LSU PROF. OF ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES: Well, Chris, a lot of things happen to petroleum. First of all, probably 30 to 40 percent of it just plain evaporates. Remember, this is a really light, gassy (ph) crude oil that‘s coming out. So you lose an awful lot to evaporation.
OVERTON: After that, there are a number of other processes which scientists collectively call “weathering.” Biodegradation is by far the most important. So bacteria start degrading the water, and basically, what that means in plain English is the bacteria turn it back to carbon dioxide. Oil started off as carbon dioxide, through photosynthesis ended up as living organisms, and it‘s turned into petroleum down in the ground. Bacteria take it back to carbon dioxide. So biodegradation is recycling, if you will, of the carbon matter in the oil. So that is a very important process.
And when you use dispersants, what you‘re doing is spreading the oil out. It‘s real concentrated. The bacteria can‘t get to it. You spread it out over a large area but at a low concentration. Now the bacteria can get to in these little microdroplets.
OVERTON: Instead of a big glob, small droplets. So that‘s what you‘re doing. When you skim it, you‘re of course collecting it up, putting it in a tanker and taking it off. And of course, the in situ burning it is converting it back to carbon dioxide.
MATTHEWS: The reason I ask that is the latest estimates are we‘ve seen 19,000 barrels. There‘s 42 gallons in a barrel -- 19,000 barrels, perhaps, a day for over a month now. That‘s a hell of a lot of petroleum at large in the Gulf of Mexico. Is it—how many years will it take for it to biodegrade, if we don‘t do nothing?
OVERTON: Well, of course, it depends on when we get the bloody thing stopped. I mean, you know, we‘re all praying that the top shot will get the job done. If it doesn‘t, the next step. But the first thing, the absolute first thing is we‘ve got to stop. Right now, we‘re piling oil upon oil.
OVERTON: Now, once it‘s in the environment, those processes start taking effect, and as well as the collection on the surface and the burning. So you—once the oil gets into the marsh, you‘re really limited in a lot of options that you have. You can get it off a beach. You can get it off a rocky shoreline fairly easily. On the marsh, trying to get it out of the marsh will do generally more damage than good.
There are procedures that can be used in not too heavily oiled marshes. But the bottom line is you scoop up and you burn what you can, and you make sure that Mother Nature can handle the rest by either dispersing it or using bioremediating agents, oxidizers and a variety of other chemicals.
MATTHEWS: The way you‘re looking at this now—you just heard the admiral, Admiral Allen, Thad Allen, talking about the chain of command coming out of the White House through the secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, down to him, and then describing what steps they‘re taking. They‘re skimming and they‘re doing some dispersal agents in the water.
Are you confident that this is the best way to go, or should we be bringing in supertankers and sucking the oil, the petroleum, out of the gulf much more directly and more immediately to get on top of this? OVERTON: Well, Chris, I think—I‘m not familiar with that accident that he referred to over in the Arabian Gulf, but I‘ll bet it was oil in a fairly contained area. It may have been very thick oil, but it was in a contained area where you could bring in a supertanker. But remember, these tankers, you can barely move them with a tug.
I mean, these things are gigantic, and they have zero maneuverability. You can‘t move them around. And you have to have hoses that go out and sit in the water and scoop it up.
So—you know, in theory, if you‘ve got contained oil, hey, that might work. Oil out in the gulf—I was out there yesterday and it‘s very patchy. And when you do see it, it was something on the order of a millimeter or two. Now, you know, a quarter inch is 2.5 millimeters. So that‘s what we‘re looking at, not very thick at all. And you can imagine this gigantic hose trying to suck up that little bit of oil. I think that‘s probably not very practical once the oil starts spreading out. In confined areas, yes. But maybe—maybe not out in the middle of the gulf.
And as well, you‘ve got to worry about other boats. So supertankers are petty tough vessels to maneuver. I‘ve watched them. MATTHEWS: I see.
OVERTON: We have a Louisiana offshore oil port which uses those. MATTHEWS: OK, sir. Thank you much, Professor, for joining us from LSU.
OVERTON: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Ed Overton.
Coming up: President Obama is clearly feeling the heat over the oil spill. We saw at this press conference today. A lot of pressure on him today. He held a highly-anticipated news conference. What should he be doing with the spill, and what can he do? Those are the questions right now. He has taken ownership, I believe, today much more than he did until now. It‘s clearly, as he put it, his responsibility, not BP‘s. They‘re going to pay for it. It‘s his responsibility, he said, the president‘s, to get it done.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those who think that we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don‘t know the facts. This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred. (END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, here‘s a big one. Voters in Connecticut don‘t seem that bothered by Dick Blumenthal‘s outright lies about serving in Vietnam. A new Quinnipiac poll—and that‘s a good poll—shows Blumenthal with a 25-point lead over Republican nominee Linda McMahon, the former pro wrestling executive. I guess you have to choose, finally, and they‘re choosing him. Thirty-eight percent acknowledged that Blumenthal lied, yet 61 percent say his lies won‘t make a difference to how they vote. I guess they decide on what party to vote for—numbers that show Blumenthal may be able to survive despite his bogus claim to have fought in Vietnam, which he never did. More on that with the strategists later in the hour.
HARDBALL will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: My job right now is just to make sure that everybody in the gulf understands this is what I wake up to in the morning and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about, the spill. And it‘s not just me, by the way. When I woke up this morning, and I‘m shaving, and Malia knocks on my bathroom door and she peeks in her head and she says, Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Obama near the end of his press conference, about an hour into it. And boy, was that a sound—talk about a sound bite, guys. Did the president deliver? I‘d say personally there in a way he rarely does. Chuck Todd‘s NBC News White House correspondent and political director, and “Newsweek‘s,” Howard Fineman—well, OK, you two pros. Here‘s the question. President Obama is notoriously private, Chuck Todd. CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. MATTHEWS: He hates the press‘s—well, he may hates us generally, but he hates our invasiveness, period.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a fact. The fact that he resorted to that personal declaration about his family and his daughter, bringing her in, I thought it was fine. I thought it was good. But what brought him to that point, Chuck?
TODD: Well, you know, it‘s funny. It was almost as if a lightbulb went off in his head as he—because the press conference was very—you know, he was having to talk about the law, that 1990 oil drilling law. And he kept having to cite it, kept having to talk about the government‘s relationship to BP and not be able to just beat up on BP maybe the way you would politically wish you could do in a moment like this.
And it was as if he realized he wasn‘t really connecting. And then all of a sudden, at the end there, with that entire—you know, This is all I‘m working on, I wake up, it‘s what I‘m worrying about, number one at this point, and then the moment with his daughter. I think it was—
I don‘t know if that quiets James Carville or if it totally satisfies James Carville and some others who have been upset down there. But I got to think that that moment helps at least calm down Carville and some other critics a little bit because it was—that was more of a gut moment. It was more of a—that‘s the personal connection moment that you know, this guy has never been—it‘s never been how he practices politics. He really is more cerebral about these things.
MATTHEWS: Well, Carville can speak for himself. It didn‘t quite answer my concerns. And that has to do with executive command. But let‘s take another look here. Here‘s the president talking early in the press conference this afternoon about who‘s in charge and who‘s responsible—this is where I‘m interested—followed by another comment near the end. Let‘s listen.
And then, Howard, get in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort. As far as I‘m concerned, BP is responsible for this horrific disaster, and we will hold them fully accountable on behalf of the United States as well as the people and communities victimized by this tragedy.
In case you were wondering who‘s responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Howard, I still think we‘re looking to BP to do the job. We‘re sort of their proctor. But it‘s them. It‘s not the federal government. Even though they‘re operating supposedly in the national interest, they‘re operating in their interests. And we‘re hoping that they will do the bidding of the United States.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. MATTHEWS: And I‘m not sure you can expect any private sector institution to the bidding of our country—but your thoughts. FINEMAN: Well, a couple problems.
First of all, the president spent—as Chuck pointed out, spent a lot of that very legalistic, detailed, almost bureaucratic press conference talking about the various lines of authority and what BP was supposed to do down below and who was responsible on the surface and all that business.
So, at the end, he had to say what he said there. And he did man up and say it, which was very important.
MATTHEWS: That‘s right. But the flash point between those two thoughts...
MATTHEWS: In the beginning, he said, BP‘s responsible. We‘re going to direct them.
MATTHEWS: Later on, he said, I‘m responsible.
FINEMAN: Yes, right, and, also, not just within the press conference, but over this five-week period.
At the very beginning, almost as if this was all that needed to be said, the president said, you know what? BP‘s going to pay for every dime of this.
FINEMAN: It‘s BP‘s thing, and so on.
Now, in fairness to him, he didn‘t realize at the beginning—and let‘s give BP the benefit of the doubt—maybe they didn‘t realize—just how much oil was spewing out of there at first, that it took five weeks for an independent commission of experts, not including BP, to come up with a finding yesterday that there‘s a half-a-million barrels of oil that have been coming out of there.
MATTHEWS: I guess my problem has to do with command structure and whether the president has accepted the fact this is a national responsibility that BP may be handling, but you can‘t outsource it. TODD: Right.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this again, Chuck. Who in the White House, besides the president and the—and the telephone operators that connect him to Janet Napolitano, who connect her to Admiral Allen, who in the White House is working on this, besides the flacks, besides the P.R. guys?
TODD: Well, it‘s Carol Browner is the point person inside the West Wing, if you want to, and, to a lesser extent, actually John Brennan, because Homeland Security is part of his detail. So, he certainly has a piece of this.
TODD: But Carol Browner.
But I will tell you, you know what? Behind the scenes, these guys actually feel handcuffed by this 1990 law. The problem for the rhetoric portion of this and all the criticism that‘s being leveled on these guys is the law. The 1990 law was written in such a way so that the oil companies would be the ones that have to pay for it. And they‘re forced into this situation until they can figure out a way to not be forced into this situation.
TODD: And I can tell you this. I have talked to a whole bunch of folks on there, and they actually do feel handcuffed by this 1990 law. MATTHEWS: Yes, well, we feel it. We feel it outside, too.
FINEMAN: The whole country—country feels handcuffed. I don‘t - politically, it doesn‘t do the president any good to go on and on about the 1990 law.
First of all...
MATTHEWS: Explain the 1990 law.
FINEMAN: Well, 1990 law is the oil spill control law that went in after Exxon Valdez in Alaska, OK?
FINEMAN: And Chuck‘s right. It puts the responsibility on the oil companies, created a whole new category of business of oil spill removers, you know, that are supposed to be included in any plan for that.
But BP has in a way taken the handcuffs off by saying, we‘re going to be responsible beyond the limits of that law to clean up. You know, they have said, we‘re going to be responsible.
FINEMAN: The president also keeps talking about the national incident commander. That‘s who Thad Allen is, under the law. He needs to realize that he, as president, is the national incident commander. MATTHEWS: The national incident commander, that seems so small.
FINEMAN: It‘s too bureaucratese.
FINEMAN: Bureaucratese. I‘m sorry.
MATTHEWS: You know, I was talking to—I respect, of course, the service of Admiral Allen, the Coast Guard commander in charge. FINEMAN: Right.
MATTHEWS: But, Chuck, back to you, I asked him, why don‘t we have that unity of command, like you have in a military, where it‘s clear? If we‘re going to go to nuclear war, we‘re going to go a conventional war, it‘s clear, the president of the United States, the Pentagon chief, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs.
You know how the thing works. You know how the government works. You can visualize it. The complaint from the Gulf I‘m hearing and reading about on the front page of “USA Today” and everywhere else is there‘s no chain the command. And that‘s the problem. There‘s no sense who to blame. And the fact that Rahm Emanuel, who is chief of staff to the president, is not involved—I know he‘s away on a family matter this week, but there‘s no sense in my heart and head that this president, this White House that we elected, as the American people, is in charge. I don‘t feel it.
Your thoughts. You say it‘s all statutory; they can‘t be in charge.
But the problem also is down in the Gulf. And I felt like that this is where—you know, I followed up on this question with the president, where the folks on the Gulf don‘t trust BP. And so to hear, to continue to hear that BP is sort of, you know, they have got all the contractors and they have got all this and they have put it in place, you know, the full—what they want to hear is the government‘s—you know, the government‘s got this. Get out of the way. The government‘s got this.
TODD: But this—again, when you talk to these folks behind the scenes, they do. They feel handcuffed by this 1990 law. And they—they don‘t feel like they have a legal way around it. And they certainly don‘t want see BP...
MATTHEWS: I think that law was written for smaller spills.
TODD: Well, clearly.
FINEMAN: Also, things like—events like this—events like this press conference operate on two levels, Chris.
One of them is the legalistic gotcha level with the press corps inside the White House. The other is with the real people in the country, especially—especially in the Gulf.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I‘m...
FINEMAN: If the president wanted to declare this a national security emergency or something, or invoke some kind of powers as commander in chief and so forth, I‘m sure he could do it, and worry about the 1990 law later.
FINEMAN: But their first instinct—their first instinct was, it‘s BP‘s problem.
Now, interestingly, Barack Obama, who doesn‘t know that much about technology or business, put too much faith in technology and business five weeks ago. He‘s only now discovering, through his own experts, what needs to be done.
MATTHEWS: You know, this is like the people waiting for the sheriff of Nottingham to protect them, the little people. They‘re waiting for King Richard the Lionheart to show up... (LAUGHTER)
MATTHEWS: ... the president of the United States to show up tomorrow and defend their interests. They don‘t count on the sheriff of Nottingham, some guy making a buck off this thing.
BP is not the...
MATTHEWS: ... the galloping knight of hope here.
Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Howard Fineman.
MATTHEWS: Up next: What would Bill Clinton do about the oil spill if he were president? Well, you have got to believe Pennsylvania Governor Eddie Rendell knows. He‘s a good pal of the former president‘s. He thinks he might be very interesting to watch in this situation.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the “Sideshow.” First: border wars. Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa apparently thinks one of America‘s neighbors—Guess which one? -- is trying to take over parts of the Southwest.
Here‘s King on the House floor, somehow jumping from a discussion about Israel‘s self-defense to the U.S./Mexican border. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE KING ®, IOWA: I would very much encourage the people in this administration and across this Congress to support Israel, support them in their—in their self-defense in the Middle East. We have no neighbors that draw maps of the world that erase the United States from that map.
We do have some neighbors that would like to take some chunks out of the great Southwest of the United States and change the map of the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, you just heard a definition of the paranoid right wing.
Next: The mayor of Reno needs to get his head checked or his mouth zipped. Remember former state Senator Sue Lowden of Nevada? I do. She was the early Republican front-runner for U.S. Senate who took a lot of heat for how mentioning how frontier folk used to pay doctors with their farm produce.
Well, now Reno Mayor Bob Cashell—I don‘t know who he supports—has taken a shot at Senator Lowden, saying her ideas about bartering for medical treatment make her—quote—“Suicidal sue.” And he‘s supposed to be a supporter of hers.
Anyway, fact-check here. From what I have been able to read about that race out there, the one Republican candidate Democrats are afraid of in Nevada is Sue Lowden, who you just saw there. She would be a hell of a candidate, they say, against Harry Reid.
And, finally, what would Bill Clinton do? When it comes to dealing with the horror in the Gulf, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says—quote—“If Bill Clinton were president, he would have been in a wet suit, you know, trying to get down to see the spill.”
Well, there‘s a not-so-subtle nudge of President Obama and his handling of the disaster and a subtle little kiss, of course, to the former president, who happens to be a big friend of Rendell‘s. Up next: How much is President Obama responsible for what is happening in the Gulf, and how much blame does former President George Bush deserve? That‘s next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks roaring higher, after China shows confidence in the struggling euro, the Dow Jones industrials soaring 284 points, the S&P 500 jumping 35 points, and the Nasdaq bounding 81 points higher. Investors ready to take on a little bit more risk today, after China shot down rumors that it was considering cutting its exposure to European debt.
In economic news, new jobless claims falling last week, but the jobs market is still lagging, despite three straight quarters of economic growth. And the Commerce Department revising last quarter‘s GDP numbers lower, from 3.2 percent to 3 percent. It was a broad-based rally today, with retail stocks showing surprising strength, Tiffany‘s shares jumping an incredible 7.5 percent on a blockbuster earnings report.
And warehouse club Costco climbing almost 5 percent after reporting a big jump in quarterly profits.
And bargain-hunters snapped up BP shares, sending them an even 7 percent higher.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Republicans routinely knock President Obama for blaming problems on the Bush administration. Well, the oil spill disaster is no exception. But how much of the blame should go to the previous administration in this case? And how much of it sits squarely on the current one? For more on that and the festering foibles of some Democratic Senate candidates, let‘s bring in the strategists, Democrat Steve McMahon and Republican Todd Harris.
I think Pat Buchanan is writing this stuff these days.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, let‘s take a look. Here‘s the president today taking a shot at the Bush administration, I think a fair one, based on what I know about the MMS, the agency supposedly that looks out for oil safety. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There‘s no evidence that some of the corrupt practices that had taken place earlier took place under the current administration‘s watch. But a culture in which oil companies were able to get what they wanted without sufficient oversight and regulation, that was a real problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, he‘s talking about scandalous performance by the MMS, which is an agency that supposedly looks out for safety of the oil industry and how they do their drilling and their pumping, et cetera, offshore. And he says there‘s coziness, there‘s corruption, there‘s scandalous behavior in the ties between the government and the industry. What do you say? Because he‘s blaming it all on Bush. TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it‘s outrageous to politicize and blame it on Bush. There was scandalous behavior that went on at MMS.
MATTHEWS: But didn‘t Cheney pick all those people?
MATTHEWS: Held all those private energy meetings?
HARRIS: These are people who worked in Lake Charles, Louisiana. These were government bureaucrats who had been in this office—in those offices for a long time.
MATTHEWS: What about all those private meetings Cheney used to have with the oil industry.
HARRIS: Hold on a minute. It‘s shameful for the president to do this.
Republicans have, by and large, not politicized this spill. I have been on the...
HARRIS: Hold on. Hold on, Steve. I have been on this show saying I don‘t care right now who‘s to blame. I just want to know who‘s in charge and I want to get it cleaned up and I want to get this thing fixed.
So, for the president now to come out and say, oh, well, don‘t blame—you know, he‘s taking the heat now—don‘t blame me, all these problems started under the Bush administration, this is not going to do a damn thing to help those people on the coast.
MATTHEWS: Let me get this straight. Is Sarah Palin a Republican these days? What party is she in?
HARRIS: Look, I said...
HARRIS: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: She‘s out there trashing the president for taking money from BP. You‘re not...
HARRIS: She is and Rush Limbaugh is. There‘s no question. But...
MATTHEWS: She‘s not a Republican?
HARRIS: No, of course she‘s a Republican. I said, but, by and large...
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Aren‘t they the leaders now of the Republican Party?
HARRIS: No, you want them to be the leaders of the Republican Party.
MCMAHON: They are.
HARRIS: But, by and large, the Republicans have not been out there every day bashing the president on this, because we want him to succeed on this.
MCMAHON: Todd, Todd...
HARRIS: But if he‘s going to politicize it, we‘re more than happy to do so in turn.
MCMAHON: OK. So, Todd‘s always half right. And what he said was, we want him to succeed on this. And everybody does. But the Republicans have been bashing him on this. And they have been bashing him pretty consistently, while the American people have been looking for leadership, which he provided today. And he did I think what you said earlier in the show, Chris. He stood up and he said, I am in charge here. This is an operation that‘s being run by the federal government, and it‘s an operation that I‘m responsible for.
MCMAHON: He did what people have been waiting for him to do. And he did, frankly, what was the right thing for him politically, too. HARRIS: Thirty-five days later.
MATTHEWS: I want to go to this Dick Blumenthal—I‘m waiting to see how you guys do on this, Dick Blumenthal.
By the way, the Quinnipiac poll coming up shows that Blumenthal has still got a 25-point lead over Linda McMahon, who is their—looks to be the Republican nominee up there, without Rob Simmons running. He‘s not running.
That race—do you think you got Dick Blumenthal? And why don‘t - why don‘t you close that gap? I mean, you got him dead to nails. He clearly lied about his war record. He didn‘t have a war record. He made it up.
HARRIS: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: You caught him. And yet your candidate is 25 points back.
HARRIS: This is Connecticut.
MATTHEWS: What? What?
HARRIS: The fact that we‘re—
MCMAHON: He‘s got an excuse for everything.
HARRIS: The fact that we‘re even talking about Connecticut at all shows how many problems the Democrats have. There‘s no—
MCMAHON: We don‘t have a problem in Connecticut. HARRIS: Yeah, you do, because your candidate lied about his military record.
MCMAHON: We‘ve got a World Wrestling Federation candidate.
HARRIS: God only knows what else he would lie about.
MATTHEWS: No, he created—he lied that there is as one.
HARRIS: Right, exactly.
MATTHEWS: That‘s amazing.
HARRIS: Blumenthal‘s got big problems. And McMahon‘s got a whole lot of money.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s watch Jim Webb. Here‘s the Democrat. I love it when candidates come on—I don‘t like it when they don‘t speak literally, but they speak with their body English and they imply. Here‘s a fellow who served valiantly in Vietnam, Jim Webb, who cannot stand this kind of lying, but he can‘t quite say it, because he‘s a fellow Democrat. But here‘s Jim Webb.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Dick Blumenthal, he on a number of occasions has said that he fought in Vietnam. Does that concern you as a Vietnam veteran, the character issue there?
SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Well, I think, here‘s—you have to I think you need to understand the emotions of the Marines who did go to Vietnam. We sent 400,000 Marines to Vietnam; 103,000 of them were killed or wounded. It was a horrendously difficult war on the ground, the conditions under which we fought it.
So I think people can understand how emotionally the people who were in Vietnam reacted to this incident. But it‘s for Mr. Blumenthal to move forward and prove himself on.
MATTHEWS: Would you like to see him apologize for lying?
WEBB: My impression is that he has done that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He‘s being nice.
HARRIS: He‘s being very nice.
MCMAHON: He is being nice.
MATTHEWS: Do you want to pass on this one? You can pass on this one. Just pass on it.
MCMAHON: Yes, I pass.
MATTHEWS: There‘s no defense for the guy, so let‘s move it. Let him defend himself. He has to have something to say. I think he has a lot more to say on this. He better say it for my satisfaction. But I don‘t live in Connecticut. I wouldn‘t vote for him right now. I think he would just say something that would make this better, if he would just say, I was wrong, it is a character mistake; I shouldn‘t have been bragging about something I didn‘t do. One in four casualty rate, I shouldn‘t be saying I was a Marine in combat. I was in the Reserves. Let‘s talk about—those Reserves, not today‘s Reserves. Let‘s talk about Joe Sestak. Here‘s the president. This is one of the great intrigue, Alfred Hitchcock things I‘ve ever seen in a press conference. Here he is responding to a question about Joe Sestak and whether he got offered a job not to run against Arlen Specter. Here‘s the president serving up a story for everybody. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue, which I hope will answer your questions. You will get it from my administration. So—and it will be coming out when I say shortly, I mean shortly. I don‘t mean weeks or months.
With respect to the first—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you assure the public it was ethical and legal, sir?
OBAMA: I can assure the public that nothing improper took place.
But, as I said, there will be a response shortly on that issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Steven McMahon is the Democrat. Can you explain what the secret little story is about whether the president‘s people, with his approval or not, offered a job to Joe Sestak to keep him out of that race?
MCMAHON: I think the answer he gave is the answer, nothing improper occurred.
MATTHEWS: No, the answer he gave was there‘s going to be an announcement made about what happened.
MCMAHON: OK, but the lad should have been nothing improper occurred.
MATTHEWS: No, he‘s so great.
MATTHEWS: This is fabulous.
HARRIS: Nothing improper took place, but I can‘t talk about it, but soon I‘ll have something to say.
MATTHEWS: After I‘ve talked to all the lawyers and fessed up, after we get our story—you know ha what it looks like? The Menendez Brothers trying to get their story together. It seems like they‘re trying to decide, now, what happened. Let‘s agree to say the same thing. They get Sestak in the room. They get whoever in the White House in the room, maybe Bill Clinton, somebody. Get them all in the room and say, let‘s just say we said sort of, maybe.
MCMAHON: No, they‘re not doing that.
HARRIS: They‘re calling Sestak on the phone right now, please say this.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Steve. More coming on Joe Sestak‘s job offer. Steve McMahon, Todd Harris.
Up next, inside the relationship between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Who would have thought that that one-time rivalry would have ended up in such a strong partnership. It is really strong. She is a good soldier. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with big story. The Obama-Bill Clinton-Hillary Clinton coalition is in full force these days. Former President Bill Clinton ripped into the Birthers, as we know them, during a commencement address at Yale the other day. And today, Secretary Clinton defended President Obama on all kinds of things, domestic, foreign, everything. She made sure to remind people the mess the Bush administration left behind for him.
Here‘s what she said about the troubling state of our deficit, that president Obama inherited. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a very personally painful issue for me, because it won‘t surprise any of you to hear that I was very proud of the fact that when my husband ended his eight years, we had a balanced budget and a surplus.
And when President Obama came into office, he inherited a very different situation. And now we‘re paying the piper. And, you know, it‘s unfortunate that this president has to, you know, take the necessary and difficult steps, which he clearly is committed doing, that are not politically easy. You know, I remember very well how hard it was—you know, there‘s something called the 1994 election, which in part that to do with some very tough votes that members of Congress took to lower the deficit. And there is a very difficult political terrain. (END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Andrea Mitchell is NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent and the host of “THE MITCHELL REPORT” here on MSNBC, and John Harris is editor in chief of the “Politico” and a Bill Clinton biographer. I want to start with Andrea. You have traveled the world with this incredible important person, Hillary Clinton. And she is—she just got back from China. That‘s pretty far away. There she is addressing Brookings on all matter of subjects, defending the president on every front. Pretty dramatic.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No sign of jet lag. She is just off the plane. She was in Beijing and Shanghai opening the Pavilion.
MATTHEWS: I know. My wife and daughter were over there. MITCHELL: I know. And that tough issue of North Korea. She ended up in South Korea trying to deal with that and dealing with the Chinese. Look, she is passionate on this subject of the budget deficit. She is the most loyal—
MATTHEWS: But she is outside her kin. Here she is, for the first time I‘ve seen her, defending as a man, as a leader, not as just a foreign policy guy.
MITCHELL: She‘s done this repeatedly. I‘ve seen it around the world.
MATTHEWS: You‘ve seen more than I because you‘ve been with her. John Harris, I have always thought this was one of the most fascinating political coalitions since Lincoln put one together back in the old days of the Civil War. Here you have the Clintons not just performing but being allies of the president.
JOHN HARRIS, “POLITICO”: That‘s right, Chris. They‘re delivering on their end of the bargain. It was, effectively, a coalition government, not a coalition of ideologies, but a coalition of two outsized personality. Barack Obama won the election. That was a bitter pill for the Clintons. But certainly Hillary Clinton is a highly disciplined person. And Obama‘s end of the bargain is I‘ll put you on the world stage; I‘ll give you a central role in my administration. Hillary Clinton‘s end of the bargain, I don‘t think it‘s hard for her to deliver on, is I‘m going to be loyal. I am going to defend you. She‘s a disciplined person and a passionate advocate. So that‘s what you‘re seeing here today.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to see more perhaps in the days ahead, between now and the next election. Here‘s Secretary Clinton slamming the Bush administration‘s foreign policy approach in conflict zones. Let‘s listen here. This is impressive again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: One of the mistakes that the military itself believed had been made in the prior administration is that we militarized America‘s presence in these difficult conflict areas. There are a lot of good reasons why that had to be done in the first instance. But we cannot have a militarized model of diplomacy and development and expect to be successful in making our case on all these other issues that we engage with governments on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It‘s so smart. It‘s just good policy because the fact is winning the hearts and minds of people out in the Bush and Afghanistan and Iraq is not a basis of military strength because you‘re eventually going to leave. And that means you have no military strength when you leave. So it can‘t be the basis of a foundation of foreign policy.
MITCHELL: Her big ally in this is Bob Gates. This has been the most unusual pairing of a defense secretary and secretary of state, because they know that the civilian side is what they really need to do, to build up the civilian side in Afghanistan, and of course in Iraq, if they‘re going to get the troops out.
MATTHEWS: John, you don‘t have time to show it, but Bill Clinton was—former President Clinton up at Yale, one of the great places to give a commencement address, where Jack Kennedy gave one back in ‘62 -- up there saying that this Birther thing is crap. It was so impressive. Let‘s take a look at it. We have time. Let‘s look at Bill Clinton, the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hawaii, the state where President Obama was born, has done everything they can to debunk this myth he wasn‘t born in America. They‘ve done everything but blow up his birth certificate, put it in neon lights and hang on it the dome of the Capital. But 45 percent of registered Republicans still believe that he is serving unconstitutionally.
Why? Because they‘ve been told that by the only place they go to get information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: There he is taking a hard whack at Fox and Rush Limbaugh and that sort of crowd and defending his guy, the president. Pretty strong politics there. John?
J. HARRIS: This is a topic that Bill Clinton has been warming to for almost 20 years now. I remember the summer of 1994, right before that tough election that Hillary Clinton mentioned in that clip. He was giving an interview almost word-for-word some of the same subjects, railing on Rush Limbaugh. So this—
MATTHEWS: The vast right wing conspiracy.
J. HARRIS: Exactly. This is a familiar topic and one close to heart of both Clintons.
MATTHEWS: It‘s true now, by the way. Just like Jerry Ford, it finally was true about Poland. Anyway Andrea Mitchell, thank you. John Harris.
When we return, let me finish with what the president I think still needs to say about the Gulf. I‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the horror in the Gulf. The president again paid tribute today to the energy secretary for having a Nobel Prize in physics. Well, Mr. President, that‘s not exactly the information the American people need right now. The information the Americans want and want desperately to know is whether the federal government is using all its power to dragoon every resource, public and private, into clean up the millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
Have we drafted super tankers into service to suck up the oil? Is BP itself doing anything to suck up the oil? If not, why not? The president was asked in today‘s press conference why he is not doing what was done in the Arabian Gulf back in 1993 for an oil spill there? He didn‘t answer it. Why aren‘t the world‘s super tankers all doing that in the Gulf of Mexico right, what they did then, sucking up the oil?
Second question, do we have an estimate now of how many gallons, millions of gallons of oil now float in the Gulf of Mexico? If not, why not? Is there a problem measuring the oil flow? Isn‘t this what oil companies do for a living? Count the flow of oil and gas through pipelines?
Third question, is the president satisfied that he now has adequate personnel regulating oil company safety. Has he ended what he called today the cozy and corrupt relationship he described in today‘s press conference. Has he killed what he called the scandalously close ties between oil company and federal regulator? Has he committed his own administration to creating the capability to monitor and enforce pipeline and drilling safety on land, as well as at sea? Today‘s presidential news conference was a good start. It established the president himself as the person responsible for protecting the country in this horror. He‘s heading in the right direction. I still don‘t buy, however, his argument that BP shares this country‘s concern for stopping this horror, not as long as they devote so much effort to denying the magnitude of it.
As for Secretary Chu‘s Nobel Prize, I‘m reminded of what President Kennedy told Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev about his Lenin Peace Prize at the heat of the cold war, “I hope you keep it.” That‘s HARDBALL for now. Right now it‘s time for THE ED SHOW, with Ed Schultz.
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