Guests: James Cameron, Buck Lee, John Hofmeister, Robert Baer, John
Heilemann, Howard Fineman
CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST: Obama tries to feel the gulf‘s pain.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chuck Todd in Washington, in tonight for Chris Matthews. Leading off: The waiting game. One thing President Obama hoped to hear when he traveled to the gulf today was that BP gained control of the leak. The cap has been fitted on that blown-out well, but the jury‘s still out on whether the oil can be siphoned off in some sort of controlled manner. The real solution, of course, the relief well, is still months away from happening. And in the meantime, the oil slick is now threatening Florida‘s shores.
Award-winning “Titanic” director James Cameron recently offered up his expertise in underwater technology to federal officials, and he assailed BP executives for not knowing what they‘re doing. James Cameron will be here in just a moment to talk about that.
The president‘s visit to Louisiana this time around was more about what local residents and struggling small business owners wanted to hear from him, a little sympathy and compassion. So did the president prove his mettle today as consoler-in-chief? And did he show that he‘s in control of this crisis and not the other way around?
Plus, a top Taliban commander was killed by Afghan coalition forces in Kandahar last week and the number three al Qaeda leader was taken out by a drone strike in Pakistan earlier in May. I‘ll ask two intelligence experts why the president isn‘t getting a lot of credit for what seem to be some big victories.
Also, this week‘s political headlines were dominated by a trio of bad themes—meddling, lying and accusations. We‘ll break down who weathered the firestorm, plus preview the biggest primary day of the year. That‘s Tuesday‘s 11-state primary-palooza.
And what do you get when an oil company worth tens of billions of dollars uses underwater robots, domes and a saw to try to fix an oil leak? Perfect fodder for the late-night comedians.
Let‘s start with the latest on the oil spill and BP‘s efforts to control it. And first we‘re going to go to James Cameron, award-winning director, who was in Washington this week brainstorming solutions to the oil spill disaster, and he joins us now.
Mr. Cameron, thanks for coming on HARDBALL. And I want to start with something you said on Wednesday and get you to sort of add some more context to it. Here‘s what you said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CAMERON, MOVIE DIRECTOR: Over the last few weeks, I‘ve watched, as we all have, with growing sort of horror and heartache, watching what‘s happening in the gulf and thinking those morons don‘t know what they‘re doing, of course, you know, as we all do watching what we‘re getting on the media. And I thought, Wait a minute. I know a lot of smart people in deep submergence. Yes, they don‘t drill for oil, but they operate all kinds of vehicles, all kinds of electronic optical fiber systems have all the remote manipulators, and so on. And most importantly, they know the engineering that it requires to get something done at that depth. And I thought, Why don‘t I just get all these people that I know together for a brainstorming session?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: All right. Obviously, the “morons”—the word “morons”—got taken and written. Obviously, we put it in context a little bit. And you seem to be speaking, frankly, like the rest of us watching everything. But tell us more about what you meant.
CAMERON: Yes. Well, what I was doing is I was starting to tell a story. And the second part of the story has gotten cut off, which is that I was—I was about to say, and I did say in that venue, that this group, when it came together, what we discovered as we did our due diligence and talked to petroleum engineers and pieced together a picture of what‘s happening at that well, is that this is an amazingly complex problem and that these engineers out there, these BP guys, are doing the best they can to manage something that‘s very complex.
And it‘s really about what‘s happening down this hole 13,000 feet below the seabed. The pictures that we‘re seeing are just up at the top. It‘s what‘s happening down in what they call the formation, down inside the well. And you know, there‘s a chance that if they make the wrong move, they could make this thing a whole lot worse. I mean, you know, we look at it, right, and we say, Well, this is a plumbing problem, just cap it or put a flange on it or do something like...
TODD: Some people even want to put a nuclear bomb down there, yes, which seems a little crazy.
CAMERON: Yes. I don‘t recommend that, you know? I mean, do you want oil-tasting shrimp for two years or radioactive shrimp for 10,000 years?
TODD: Right. I want to—the other issue that we seem to have is that the government has no technological expertise. Is that your understanding? I mean, obviously, you came out to Washington to talk with government officials, as well. I mean, are they—are—is the government flying that blind?
CAMERON: No, I think they know what‘s going on. I think they‘re briefed well. I mean, the Coast Guard, you know, has authority and their incident command is briefed on a daily basis.
I think the point that—one of the points that we came to a conclusion, as our working group, our workshop group, was that the government needs its own response team that has deep ocean assets, whether it‘s ROVs or deep cameras, vehicles that they can get down there that supply them with their own independent imaging and data because right now, you know, we‘re looking at the feeds that the BP ROVs give us, which is a little bit like, you know, getting the crime scene video done by the criminal.
CAMERON: And I think that we need, you know, independent verification.
TODD: And would you—would—but is there a concern that this could get in the way of certain efforts? Obviously, time is of the essence here and the BP folks—I think one of the things they say is, Hey, we appreciate all this help, but frankly, getting a good photograph for the public isn‘t what we‘re worried about. We‘re worried about trying to plug the leak. What do you say to that?
CAMERON: Well, I think that that‘s a concern, but that same argument could be made in a combat theater to exclude journalists, and we don‘t do that. We say that the American public has the right to know what‘s going on in the things that affect them deeply. And I think we can all be in agreement that this is the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history, and I think there needs to be transparency there.
But more importantly, I think the government needs its own information so that its experts can independently assess BP and—or whoever is in charge of an incident like this in the future, and you know, make informed decisions.
TODD: Are you feeling as if—I mean, obviously, look, you can get people to return your phone calls. You have a high profile. Do you feel like you‘re—you‘re getting through? Do you feel like someone‘s returning your call and saying, Well, look, we appreciate your efforts? Has it gotten better? I know you were frustrated a few weeks ago.
CAMERON: Yes. Well, actually, you know, a few weeks ago, I offered—I offered the MIR (ph) submersibles, which I‘ve worked with extensively over the last 15 years, to BP, and they said, No, thanks, we‘ve got vehicles on site. As I‘ve gotten into it with our team, some of whom are, you know, piloted submersible type players, our conclusion was that BP does have it. They have the vehicles that they need.
We would offer the services of our vehicles to the government collectively...
CAMERON: ... whether it‘s Woods Hole or Phoenix International, any of the people that were involved in this meeting. We would offer our vehicles for the government to do site surveys, ongoing monitoring, the research that‘s necessary afterwards to study the environmental impact, and so on. So in a sense, BP were correct to say, We‘ve got this, at that time to me.
TODD: Walk us through what you—if the government said, OK, James Cameron, here you go, lead this working group. First thing you would do is what? You could get these submersibles and go down, and you‘d start to do what?
CAMERON: I wouldn‘t leave this group. I mean, we put together a great team of the top—the top deep submergence people really in the world. It was an international team—French, Russian, you know, the top American institutes, Harbor (ph) Branch, Woods Hole, and so on. I would keep the team together as an advisory body to BP. And you know, we came up with some technical solutions that we think are viable, and you know, we would very much like BP to...
TODD: Walk me through a couple.
CAMERON: OK. Well, here‘s an example. We predicted that the top kill—or you know, the members of this group had predicted that the top kill procedure wouldn‘t work because there‘s not enough back-pressure to drive the mud down, and there‘s a certain threshold pressure that they can‘t go beyond without causing a blowout down—you know, down in the formation, which could be disastrous because it could compromise the relief well.
CAMERON: So in the capping process, if they can increase the back-pressure in the capping process by adding a valve to the type of cap that they‘re putting on, they can repeat the top kill. And we also have some other—some other procedures that they could follow to do that.
Now, they may have already thought of this, and there may be reasons that we‘re unaware of why that wouldn‘t work. But from where we were sitting in terms of all the information we could muster from our petroleum engineer consultants, it seemed pretty viable and it seemed like the right answer.
TODD: Will the—have you had any evidence that the government is saying, You know what? This might be a good idea, let‘s get these folks together and let‘s have them—have an active working group, or did you feel like it was lip service?
CAMERON: No, no, I don‘t think it was lip service at all. I mean, Lisa Jackson at EPA was very supportive. I met repeatedly while I was in D.C. with Christina Johnson (ph), who‘s undersecretary of energy. We had NOAA representatives right at the meeting, who were advising us, giving us information, and the head of NOAA was very supportive of the meeting. And we had, you know, a Coast Guard representative at the meeting also giving us information.
So there was a sense here that everybody just came to this wanting to be constructive. It‘s a national crisis. We get our best people on it, and what can we do?
TODD: One last thing. You‘ve done a lot of stuff with this deep water exploration. Is it just that we‘re good at the exploration, but working down there, that maybe there isn‘t a lot of expertise outside of the oil company? Because where else is there expertise on this deep-water exploration that doesn‘t involve an oil company?
CAMERON: Well, a lot of the—a lot of the deep ocean people do work also for the oil companies. So there‘s—so there‘s—there‘s expertise in companies that service the oil industry and also do government and research projects, as well. And there‘s a lot of—of depth of knowledge in academia because you have universities that teach petroleum engineering and geology, and so on. So you know, the government has many, many resources in academia, in the private sector, and in these operating deep submergence research groups.
TODD: Is it fair to say—I know I said one last question. Is it fair to say the government spends more time trying to figure out how to explore space than it does the bottom of the ocean?
CAMERON: Well, certainly, space is much better funded than the oceans. And of course, we rely on the oceans to provide our oxygen, to provide a good part of our food, to stabilize the temperature of the planet, and so on. So I think it definitely would behoove us to look in that area in terms of research and in terms of having a response capability for this type of incident.
TODD: All right, James Cameron, thanks for your time, sharing your expertise and clearing that up a little bit when it came to your last meeting here in Washington, D.C. Good to see you. Thanks.
CAMERON: Thanks for the opportunity. I appreciate it. Thank you.
TODD: OK. All right, now let‘s go to one of the first responders on the ground. We‘re going to go to Buck Lee, executive director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority. He‘s in Pensacola, Florida, Pensacola Beach.
Mr. Lee, I know we talked a couple of days ago. You were bracing for the first signs of oil. You‘re no longer bracing. It‘s there. You‘re seeing oil now wash up on the shores of Pensacola Beach, is that correct?
BUCK LEE, SANTA ROSA ISLAND AUTHORITY: Well first of all, Chuck, welcome to beautiful Pensacola Beach. And we are seeing spots of oil. It‘s not covered all over the beach. You can walk a mile and not see anything, and then all of a sudden, for about 20 yards, you‘ve got little spots, some size of a quarter, some size of a pancake. I took a stick and flipped one of the ones like a pancake over. So it‘s not all over the beach. Occasionally, you‘ll hit a spot. It may get worse. We hope not. But we‘re going to be out here trying our best.
TODD: A couple of days ago, you were sort of waiting for some more help both from the government and from BP. Tell us—give us an update today. What kind of help are you getting from not just your state government but the federal government and BP?
LEE: Well, of course, BP said our first line of defense here along the Gulf Coast were going to be skimmers. I haven‘t seen a skimmer out there.
LEE: In fact, I saw on my cell phone an ad for anybody that has a 50-foot-long boat or longer to go to training this Saturday, Sunday, to learn how to skim. So undoubtedly—it‘s been over six weeks, and they‘re just now thinking...
LEE: ... Well, maybe we ought to get some skimmers off the coast of Florida.
Second of all, we noticed the first ball this morning approximately 5:00 o‘clock. We called the so-called BP subcontractor clean-up team. About 10:30 they arrived, about five two-people groups, and came down and had little gloves and their garbage bags and were picking it up.
TODD: I have to ask you, have you ever dealt with a potential clean-up like this before? I know you‘ve gone through plenty of hurricanes. I know the area well. That‘s something that all of you are very well trained in dealing with. Have you ever had to deal with an environmental clean-up that you think you‘re facing like this?
LEE: No, we‘ve never dealt with an oil spill. But we do one heck of a job before, during and after a hurricane. We know how to clean up. We know how to get contractors and subcontractors in here that do what we ask them to do, to show up on time, to work from daylight to dark, and that‘s what we need.
TODD: It‘s funny you just put it that way. Right now, it appears it‘s BP that runs these contracts and BP that calls in these contractors. Would you like to see that shifted? Do you want the federal government to say, Here you go, Mr. Lee, you run the Santa Rosa Island Authority. Here is the contract. You tell these clean-up crews where they need to go, what time they need to be there and how long they need to work?
LEE: That should have been handled from the very beginning, is let state and local governments decide what needed to be done to protect their assets. Some counties may want to try straws. Some of them may want to try absorbents. Some may want to try pulling a machine behind a tractor that separates oil from the sand.
We need to be able to try everything. But right now, all we‘re doing is depending on BP. We have our hands tied. We can do a good job.
TODD: All right, Buck Lee, head of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, now dealing with the oil spill on his shore. This is the fourth state being hit with oil already. Thanks very much for joining us. Hopefully, somebody is hearing your plea. Thanks.
LEE: Thank you, Chuck. Thank you.
TODD: All right. All right, coming up: President Obama is back on the Gulf Coast today, in Louisiana, and he‘s postponed his big trip to Asia. As this crisis worsens, will this spill, the biggest environmental disaster in American history, end up having defined this year of his presidency? And what can he do about it?
Plus, new calls for the head of BP to resign. And in one minute, we‘re going to have information on how you can help if you want to go down to the gulf, if this stuff has been driving you to want to do that.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD: All right, we‘ve been getting e-mails from people who want to help down in the gulf. So to volunteer or report oil on the shoreline, call 866-448-5816. If you‘ve got a boat, you just heard they need some skimmers down there in Pensacola, and you can use (ph) in this skimming effort or if you have an alternative idea to help the clean-up, call 281-366-5511. And to report oiled wildlife, call 866-557-1401.
We‘re going to give you those numbers later in the hour. And please, flood those numbers. They haven‘t figured out how to use all of good volunteers. Maybe the more you flood it, the more they‘ll figure out they need to do that.
HARDBALL returns after this.
TODD: Welcome back to HARDBALL. President Obama is back in Louisiana today, surveying the damage done by the oil spill and talking to people who‘ve been directly affected. Savannah Guthrie, my partner in crime—she joins me now from Grand Isle, Louisiana. And Savannah, I know that the president has still not done any on-site touring of Grand Isle, but he‘s gotten a big briefing in New Orleans. What did he learn? And what‘s his tone?
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Oh, wait until you hear the
tone. The tape is just being hustled back right now, Chuck. But he
really basically unloads on BP for more than five minutes with no
provocation whatsoever. He kind of is going through, as we‘ve seen so
many times, after getting an update from state and local officials and
Admiral Thad Allen, through what he‘s learned, what the progress is, and
then just starts laying into BP, this time for the fact that it spent
millions of dollars on a PR campaign, an image campaign, as he called
it, and is prepared to spend billions on shareholder dividends at time -
when you talk to people around here, they say they‘re being hassled by BP when they try to come (ph) back (ph) to make claims. The president -
we‘ve seen it before, not often, but we‘ve seen it before when he has that tone of almost kind of a real disappointed parent in some ways...
GUTHRIE: ... where he just kind of lays into them. And that is what we heard. And, as I said, it went on and on today.
TODD: Well, ask—ask and you shall receive, Savannah. Hang on a second. We‘re going to play a little bit of what President Obama said, because we now just got the tape. Just a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My understanding I, is that BP is—has contracted for $50 million worth of TV advertising to manage their image during the course of this disaster.
In addition, there are reports that BP will be paying $10.5 billion
that‘s billion with a B—in dividend payments this quarter. Now, I don‘t have a problem with BP fulfilling its legal obligations, OK? But I want BP to be very clear, they have got moral and legal obligations here in the Gulf for the damage that has been done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Well, there was what you were just describing, Savannah.
And you have been talking to a lot of locals down there. Their anger, you said that they don‘t—they‘re not—they‘re not angry with the president. But they are angry with BP.
And, I mean, I asked them again and again, who are you mad at? Who do you blame? They say BP. Look, they wanted the president to stay longer last week. They want him to stay longer today, frankly.
GUTHRIE: They were hoping he was going to spend the night. But they‘re glad he‘s coming. And we heard—and I‘m sure you did, too, when you were here just last week. They really are just so happy that people are paying attention to their plight.
GUTHRIE: So, they‘re very angry at BP, particularly because of this issue of the claims.
You know, a lot of them were able to go in initially, present, it sounds like, a minimum amount of paperwork, but get a check for $5,000. And that‘s tided a lot of folks over for the last 45 days.
But now those checks are running out. And now they‘re looking at mortgage payments, or rent payments, groceries. And they‘re saying, what do I do? There‘s a lot of confusion around here. Well, where do I go? And that‘s what the president clearly heard loud and clear from state and local officials when he met with them this afternoon. And, obviously, it seeped out in his comments there. He really let BP have it.
TODD: All right, I know, Savannah, we have got to let you go. You have got to finish your reporting for “Nightly News” later, and we will check you there. Thanks very much.
TODD: All right, John Hofmeister is the former president of Shell Oil. And he‘s author of “Why We Hate the Oil Companies.” And he joins us now.
And, Mr. Hofmeister, I have got to say, I want to play another bite from the president that actually has to do with offshore oil drilling and this moratorium, because I want to talk about that. Take a listen to that, and then we‘re going to talk about his comments about BP as well.
But, first, here‘s what he said about more—the drilling moratorium.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I made the decision to issue the moratorium. We knew that that would have an economic impact.
But I—what I also knew is, is that there was no way that we can go about business as usual when we discovered that companies like BP, who have provided assurances that they had failsafe backup redundant systems, in fact, not only didn‘t have failsafe systems, but had no idea what to do when those failsafe systems broke down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Mr. Hofmeister, has not just BP, but the entire oil industry, lost the benefit of the doubt now when it comes to this, and that this drilling—they can‘t expect the government to lift this drilling moratorium until they‘re convinced of these failsafe backup plans?
JOHN HOFMEISTER, AUTHOR, “WHY WE HATE THE OIL COMPANIES: STRAIGHT
TALK FROM AN ENERGY INSIDER”: Well, I think that was a political decision, not an operational decision.
Somebody hit the panic button in the White House, in my opinion. Those 33 rigs that were shut down had each been inspected by the government after the blowout took place. All of them passed inspections.
We have over 2,200 wells that have been safely drilled. They have operated fine, over 35,000 wells in the total Gulf. I think there‘s a historic precedent here that the industry does a pretty good job. This blowout is horrible, no question about it.
But I don‘t know why it happened yet. And no one else does either. So, rather than blanket the entire industry with the blame and shame that—as if they are, you know, doing things wrongly, why don‘t we find out what really happened on the Deepwater Horizon?
Some 50,000 people could end up losing their jobs, and the six-month moratorium is not going to be six months. It‘s going to be potentially years, because those rigs are not going to sit idle for six months in the Gulf. They‘re going to go somewhere else and be productive. And they‘re just going to disappear.
TODD: I understand that you‘re saying that these—these oil wells passed inspection post-blowout of the Deepwater Horizon. But everything, frankly, that we‘re learning about the Minerals Management Services agency and what Interior was doing, these folks may not have been up—you know, do we suddenly think they got good at inspecting after the blowout?
I mean, I understand you‘re assuming that they probably got a little bit better and they were a little more careful. But, considering the track record here, don‘t—shouldn‘t there be some sort of pause?
HOFMEISTER: I think we ought to have a fact-based analysis of what this so-called track record is.
My personal experience, my hands-on experience, which is a little different than some of the people making blanket negative statements about this so-called cozy relationship, is quite different.
I found professionalism and integrity. I found tough decision-making. I found the kind of government I would expect. And the culture that—that—that leads to the kind of abuse you‘re talking about, I didn‘t see that. But I‘m just one person. And I didn‘t hear about it inside my company.
HOFMEISTER: So, I think we may be using a wide paintbrush to paint everything...
HOFMEISTER: ... which may not be warranted.
TODD: All right, a couple of other topics.
You were the first person talking about it. I remember an interview you did with Brian Williams talking about the supertanker idea, this idea you bring all of these supertankers in and basically just start vacuuming up the oil at the spot of the well. Now, we have since heard that this isn‘t like—this isn‘t like that issue in the Persian Gulf where could you sort of surround it and keep the oil in once place, that it‘s too dispersed.
What is—do you—do you buy that that is the answer in this case? And what would be your plan B?
HOFMEISTER: Well, plan B to me is the whole suck-and-salvage methodology of setting up barges with pumps on them in critical locations.
HOFMEISTER: Unload the barges, separate the water from the oil, clean the water, put it back in the sea. The supertankers can be cruising back and forth.
Supertankers cover a wide space. And, if you have several of them, back and forth, day and night, week in, week out, it would be a whole lot better than watching that oil wash up on Pensacola Beach or in the marshes of Louisiana.
TODD: One other thing: BP‘s P.R. campaign. If you were BP, would
basically, you would cancel these ad—would you cancel this ad campaign pretty much immediately?
HOFMEISTER: I don‘t believe in television advertising on your image when you got a serious problem.
I think what you should be doing is sending your managers out into the communities and engaging with real people where they live, talking real person to person, and that will do more good. You could also bring cameras into the crisis room and show the nation what a job is being done.
Or you could show how these robots actually work undersea. There‘s all kinds of things you could do to explain the situation, rather than try to paint a pretty picture.
TODD: Educational—educational public relations there. All right, John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil, thanks for joining us. Thanks for you views.
HOFMEISTER: Thank you.
TODD: All right, up next; The disaster in the Gulf is no laughing matter. Well, except if you‘re Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Stick around for their take on BP‘s struggle to plug this leak next in the “Sideshow.”
And tonight on NBC, a “Dateline” special, “Disaster in the Gulf”: a look inside the relationship between big oil and Washington, plus some never-before-seen video from the night that the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up. That‘s “Dateline” tonight 9:00 Eastern tonight on your NBC broadcast station.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD: All right, back to HARDBALL now for the reason why I love subbing for Chris, the “Sideshow.”
Last night, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert took on BP‘s as-of-yet-unsuccessful efforts to stop the oil leak in the Gulf. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Underwater robots have successfully cut through the pipe on top of the blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.
JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”: Hooray for underwater robots!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
STEWART: The next step, now that they have cut the pipe there, is to lower a dome—well, another dome—over the pipe, although, unlike the first two failed domes, this dome is heated to either prevent ice crystal buildup or to appease the leak by building it nicer and nicer places to live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Workers free a saw that got stuck while cutting the damaged pipe.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”: They got their saw back.
COLBERT: I was worried because it was a really nice saw.
COLBERT: It had diamonds on it.
COLBERT: They chose it for the occasion because, like a diamond, this oil spill is forever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Oh, man.
I will tell you, the diamond stuff is always what got me.
Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, Republican candidate for governor in California, well, she is rolling out some big guns ahead of this Tuesday‘s primary. But how much has Whitman‘s campaign been spending these past few weeks? Well, according to “San Francisco Chronicle,” she‘s spending $500,000 a day. Most of it is her own money, by the way.
The spending looks to be paying off. Whitman leads rival Steve Poizner, who is also spending his own money, just a paltry $20 million or $30 million, 2-1 in the latest poll. Whitman‘s half-a-million a day spending fix, that‘s tonight‘s unbelievable “Big Number.” She‘s already spent more money than anybody in the history of a California campaign, and it‘s just the primary.
All right, up next: Another top Taliban leader is killed in Afghanistan. Is President Obama not getting enough credit for these victories in his war against these terrorists and these extremists?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
A sharp sell-off snowballing towards the close, the Dow Jones industrials plummeting 323 points, the S&P 500 falling nearly 38 points, and the Nasdaq tumbling almost 84 points.
A disappointing jobs report coming on the heels of Thursday‘s weak retail report, sparking fears that the economy is stuck in a cycle of sluggish consumer spending and a reluctance to add new workers.
Employers added 431,000 jobs in May, but 411,000 were temporary census workers, and the private sector adding only 41,000 jobs, well short of the 500,000 analysts were expecting.
But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Online job sites report a jump in new listings across the board, especially in the transportation, retail, and hospitality industries.
Just about the only bright spots for stocks today were health insurers. Investors went digging for bargains in the wake of a long slide due to health care reform.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
TODD: All right. Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Obama has scored some big victories in his stepped-up war against these terrorist extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, a senior Taliban commander was killed by Afghan and international forces in Kandahar just last week, though confirmed today.
And, in May, the third-highest ranking al Qaeda leader was taken out by a drone strike in that sort of ungoverned region there of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
So, is the president getting enough credit for his Afghan strategy?
Roger Cressey is an NBC News terrorism analyst, and Bob Baer is a former CIA field officer and an intelligence columnist for TIME.com.
Roger, I want to start with some breaking news.
James Clapper, NBC News has learned, is going to be the next director of national intelligence. This is supposed to be the top intel post in the U.S. government. We know that Dennis Blair was fired by the president in the wake of these last sort of intelligence breakdowns, both the Times Square bomber and the underwear bomber, to put it that way.
What can you tell us about James Clapper?
ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, he‘s a career intelligence officer, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and currently the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
So, what is important about him, Chuck, is that he knows the community. He knows all elements of it. And more—and, most importantly, he‘s going to know which fights to take on, as the DNI...
CRESSEY: ... with—against Panetta and others, and which ones to lay off of.
So, it‘s a good choice. If people were looking for some, you know, internationally-known figure to take charge of the intel community...
CRESSEY: ... forget it. That wasn‘t going to happen.
TODD: And, Mr. Baer, would you say now, when you see this appointment of Mr. Clapper and what happened to Dennis Blair, that, despite the efforts of this reform of the intelligence apparatus of the United States government, that Leon Panetta is—is back to being—the head of the CIA is back to being the top intelligence officer in this country, unofficially?
ROBERT BAER, INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, TIME.COM: Oh, I don‘t think so. I—I disagree with that. The military has a much larger budget. And it‘s predominant in Iraq and Afghanistan and even Pakistan.
In appointing somebody from DIA, Clapper, as competent as he is, is
the message is, the military still is predominant in the intelligence community. And I think the CIA is fighting a rear-guard action to stay relevant.
TODD: All right. Roger, I want to go back to you. This gentleman that they killed in this beginning of the Kandahar offensive that‘s going on right now in Afghanistan. How important was he to the Taliban? And is this telling you, OK, this offensive, while it‘s going to be a lot slower than maybe the military planners originally wanted it, it‘s starting to work.
CRESSEY: Well, we need to keep in mind that this offensive has been going on now for several months, but at a special forces area. There‘s been a middle layer of Taliban commanders in the Kandahar area that we‘ve been either capturing or killing, if you will, to prep the battlefield for what‘s going to be the ground operation coming this summer. So the more of these individuals that are taken out increases the chance that the Taliban command and control won‘t work as well as they would hope once they try and confront U.S. forces.
But it‘s important to remember that even though these guys are now out of the picture, the Taliban are not going to just walk away from Kandahar. It‘s their spiritual center. It‘s where they originated from. They‘re going to stand and fight. If they don‘t, then they made just fade into the background and then launch traditional counterinsurgency attacks against the U.S. as this offensive plays out.
TODD: Mr. Baer, I want to do—the premise of this segment had to do, actually, with al Qaeda and the efforts that this administration, the stepped-up efforts that they‘ve made in going after this—in this ungoverned region in between Pakistan and Afghanistan. How would you grade the Obama administration‘s efforts, say, compared to what we saw toward the tail end of the Bush administration? Or is this really almost a continued policy?
BAER: It‘s a continued policy. But I think the Obama administration is doing better in that regard. What we‘re doing is denying al Qaeda territory. We force these people back into caves and basements and the rest of it. The whole idea of a Caliphate existing in the tribal areas of Pakistan is a complete fantasy. We‘ve cut al Qaeda from contacts with its ground forces around the world. It‘s remained an irrelevant organization largely.
We‘re winning this war of attrition. It doesn‘t seem like very quickly, you know, but we‘re winning. There‘s no—been no major al Qaeda attack for five or six years.
TODD: I want to change subjects to what we saw this week in the Middle East and with what‘s going on with Israel and this blockade going on with Gaza. We know that we may be within a few hours of another confrontation, where there‘s another humanitarian ship trying to go through. From what you understand, did Israeli intelligence fail the Israeli military leadership here? And they ended up falling into what someone described to me is they fell into a PR trap?
CRESSEY: I don‘t think Israeli intel failed. I think they got sucked into a situation that they quickly lost control of. Chuck, the two biggest issues coming out of this are what is Israel‘s relations with Turkey going to look like? Turkey is one Israel‘s most important allies. It‘s its only real Muslim ally. Defense, intelligence cooperation is enormous between the two. If that goes away, then Israel has suffered a real strategic hit.
The second thing is, do you think a lot of people in the international community realize there was a three and a half-year blockade going on with Gaza? No. Nobody knew. Nobody around here knew. Now everybody is paying attention to it. That‘s not good from Israel‘s perspective, either.
TODD: Mr. Baer, really quickly, anything you want to add to that on how sort of Israel made a strategic error here?
BAER: It‘s a catastrophe as far as I‘m concerned. What‘s happened is that Turkey is being driven into the arms of Iran as an ally. It‘s exactly what we didn‘t want. The only person to benefit—country to benefit from this is Iran.
TODD: Wow, that‘s some tough words to hear. Roger Cressey, Bob Baer, thanks for sharing your expertise in this area. Thank you both.
Up next, the White House meddles in a couple of Senate races. Illinois Senate candidate Mark Kirk apologizes. And what in the world is going on in that south Carolina governor‘s race? We‘re going to have the hottest political stories of the week next. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD: And we‘re back. Believe or not, big week in politics, too, from the White House‘s newly-found fingerprints in Colorado, Mark Kirk‘s endless explanations in Illinois, and Nikki Haley‘s denials in South Carolina. It‘s been quite a hot week in campaign politics. We‘re going to try to make sense of it.
MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman of “Newsweek,” and “New York Magazine‘s,” of course, John Heilemann, of course, co-author of “Game Change.” John, I want to start with you. You covered all of these political brainiacs in the Obama campaign, and they were just that. They were brainiacs. They were incredible at managing Obama‘s politics. What‘s happened to the Obama White House political shop that they seem to not just botch Colorado and Pennsylvania, but also they‘ve not had much luck in any other race they‘ve tried to get involved in.
JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK MAGAZINE”: Well, Chuck, you‘re right. It certainly is a change from the discipline and precision that they exhibited all throughout Obama‘s run for the presidency. I can‘t help but put some of it down to a combination of I think they‘re distracted, to begin with, by obviously the huge things that are going on, that are taking up the president‘s mind-share at this point. But also, you know, as you point out, they‘ve had trouble in places they‘ve tried to get involved.
And I think a lot of that has something to do with the fact that Obama‘s coattails right now, in a lot of these races, just aren‘t that long. So you have people like Sestak and Romanoff who have come out and not felt much fear about coming out with their stories. They don‘t seem to fear the White House very much. I think that‘s a reflection of the president‘s—some of the president‘s problems with popularity in a lot of these states.
TODD: Howard, put this White House political shop in terms of previous White Houses. It is amazing. He brought up the fear factor. There is none with this White House.
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: No, there isn‘t, because that‘s the flip side of what made Obama president, was that brilliant campaign that John described in the book. It was of—it was its own world. It was because it‘s its own world that it won. It doesn‘t translate easily to the Hill or to the nuts and bolts of campaign politics when you‘re trying to move pieces around in other campaigns. That‘s a dumb thing.
If you‘re going to offer somebody a job, don‘t do it in an e-mail. Jim Messina put it in an e-mail. You pick up the phone. You don‘t put that stuff on paper. That‘s a small point.
TODD: Another sort of White House official record-keeping 101. John, speaking of one of those races where the White House sort of bombed, which was Illinois, but they may be catching—the Democrats may be catching a break. This Mark Kirk situation, where he has basically had to deal with five days of explaining what was a good record about his military, but he had to reexplain it because, apparently, he exaggerated or lied depending on your view.
HEILEMANN: Yes, it‘s really pretty incredible. That race, I think, for a lot of Republicans was starting to look like a lay-up until these allegations and these facts came out. I just find it amazing, Chuck—you know this about as well as I do; in the world of Youtube and Google politics, not to mention the very sophisticated opposition research operations that all these campaigns have, what is it that makes these people think they can get away with exaggerating or lying about their records? I just can‘t imagine that, this day and age, that people don‘t realize that their bios and their claims on the campaign trail about what their lives have consisted of have to be spotless and accurate. It blows my mind.
TODD: Speaking of opposition research, South Carolina, this Republican gubernatorial contest, we care about it, you and I, for one reason. You know the next governor of South Carolina becomes the next kingmaker of the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. This Nikki Haley, two people have claimed that they‘ve had affairs with her. She came out today with a denial that said, if anybody can come out with proof that I had an affair, she will resign her governorship, that she is putting it out there. South Carolina Republicans politics, this is a rough and tumble business. Is it the dirtiest in the country?
FINEMAN: I think it is. I think it‘s been very personal that way for a long time. Just go back and look at the 2000 primary between George W. Bush and John McCain. That was as nasty and as vicious as it gets. Especially on the republican side, it‘s very personal. It seems like everybody in South Carolina knows each other, to begin with. And all the Republicans are in that world together. And they know the stakes.
You‘re absolutely right. South Carolina is both Iowa and New Hampshire put together for the Republican party. You get national players in there working the phones.
TODD: Howard Fineman, John Heilemann, stay with us.
Next block, we‘re going to look at primary day next Tuesday. It‘s a big one. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD: All right. We‘re back with Howard Fineman and John
Heilemann. We‘re going try to do a little bit of lightning round. It‘s
June 8th is basically the biggest primary day of the year. You have California, nine other states, never mind the Arkansas runoff. So let‘s do that. I want to start with the Arkansas runoff. John Heilemann, you‘ve done plenty of reporting on Bill Clinton. He is basically trying to put Blanche Lincoln on his shoulders and take her across the finish line. Is it Bill Clinton‘s Democratic party anymore in Arkansas?
HEILEMANN: That is the question, Chuck. You know, he‘s devoted a lot of time and a lot of effort for her there. I think that she—it‘s always been my conviction that it‘s going to be—it was very hard for her to win this race if she got into a runoff. It doesn‘t—people know Blanche Lincoln pretty well in Arkansas. It‘s hard for me to imagine there are a lot of Democrats who don‘t vote for her the first time around who are going to vote for her this time around. That will be a pretty stinging blow to Bill Clinton, given how much of his prestige and credibility he‘s put on the line behind her in this runoff.
TODD: Howard Fineman, it used to be the California governorship was the second most powerful office you could hold after the presidency. Now nobody apparently wants to have that office. A lot of people are going to wake up Wednesday morning and outside of California say, wait, Jerry Brown is running for governor again? Jerry Brown, Meg Whitman; we‘re assuming Meg Whitman gets the primary. Quickly tell us about that race.
FINEMAN: Well, she‘s already spent 80 million dollars of her own money and she will probably spend another 80 to 100 million, if not more. And the key thing there that she‘s done is moved to the right on immigration. She didn‘t quite come out in support of the Arizona law, but tip-toed right up to it, and used Pete Wilson in the ad, who is hated in the Latino community, to say she‘s tough as nails on immigration. I bet she spends the first 50 million dollars on ads in the Latino community.
TODD: Somebody told me they‘ve already had a bunch of ad dollars put in for Univision for the World Cup. World Cup just started.
FINEMAN: She‘s starting to repair her—
TODD: John Heilmann, we could have Meg Whitman—the Republican ticket in California could be Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, another former CEO. She was the former CEO of HP. Forget whether the politics of this a minute; how important is it for the Republicans that they‘re actually nominating a whole bunch of women, particularly out west, a New Mexico governor, you have it. You may have a woman Senate nominee for the Republicans in Colorado, possibly in Nevada, and maybe the entire ticket in California. Big deal for the Republican party?
HEILEMANN: Certainly an unusual deal, Chuck, no doubt about that. And might give them some advantage in some of those states. I have to say, you pointed out that Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman are both former Silicon Valley CEOs. They‘re also former McCain campaign economic surrogates who did not like each other very much during that campaign.
HEILEMANN: The funny thing would be to see them—if they had been in the same primary running against each other, that would have been a show, because the two of them really are the closest of frenemies.
TODD: It‘s funny you say that. Meg Whitman tried very hard to get Carly Fiorina almost out of that other primary.
FINEMAN: I was just out in California. The mood out there is so angry and so dark. I think anybody who‘s a real politician—and that has to include Jerry Brown now. There was a time when he was the un-politician politician. Now he‘s the veteran. I think that makes it tougher. I think it‘s going to be tough for him. I think that both women are going to have a good shot.
TODD: Very quickly, is Arnold Schwarzenegger, Howard—is he—how much of a liability is he for the Republican nominee? Or does he become sort of shunted to the side?
FINEMAN: I think he‘s so a person on his own that it doesn‘t kill the Republican chances, especially against Jerry Brown.
TODD: All right, Howard Fineman. John, I have to cut you off there. We‘ll get you. We‘ll hear you on “MORNING JOE.” I promise. That‘s it for HARDBALL. Thanks for being with us. Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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