Guests: John Hofmeister, Trent Lott, John Breaux, Sebastian Junger, Roger
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Oil summit.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews from Washington. Leading off tonight: Command and control. It has now been eight weeks since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, and President Obama‘s reputation for handling a crisis has become collateral damage. He has taken friendly fire from usual allies, like “The New York Times” and Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” He needs to demonstrate command and control. Translation: He needs to show who‘s calling the shots down there.
He‘s in the gulf region today and tomorrow, makes a speech to the nation tomorrow night, and meets with BP executives on Wednesday. We‘ll go to the gulf for the latest on the political and environmental damage caused by the spill. Plus, the one good thing that might come out of this tragedy is that Americans might finally agree it‘s time to wean ourselves off our addiction to oil. But not everyone agrees. I‘ll take on two former senators who are for more drilling.
Plus, the forgotten war, Afghanistan. NBC‘s Richard Engel with was American troops when they came under fire this weekend and filed an unforgettable report.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It‘s the most intense assault ever on the outpost.
MATTHEWS: There‘s much more to see. And author Sebastian Junger, who has been reporting from Afghanistan, will join us.
Also, candid camera. We‘ll show you what happened when a group of students, a couple of them, working with a right-wing Web site ambushed a Democratic congressman. It‘s in the “Sideshow.”
And “Let Me Finish” tonight with the extent and limits of presidential power. How can President Obama use his full powers in the gulf?
We start with President Obama‘s trip to the gulf. NBC News political director Chuck Todd is traveling with the president and joins us now from Theodore, Alabama. Chuck, this sense that the president is taking command and control—I watched you this morning on rundown (ph). What does that actually mean he‘s going to do?
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what you‘ve got to look at, it‘s over the next three days, Chris, and you look at the different things he‘s doing. So today and tomorrow, it‘s getting the sense from local officials, trying to get an assessment of the collateral damage to the entire Gulf Coast.
Today, for instance, it‘s all been about the economic heartache that has hit in, for instance, Mississippi. No oil‘s ashore, but no tourists are there, either. And the message Governor Barbour wanted the president to send, which the president did, was, Come on down. You know, you can still come here. The best way for you to help out is to still keep your plans to visit the Gulf Coast.
For Alabama and Florida, there‘s this sense of trepidation. You can hear it in some local officials. They know all this oil is out there. They‘re watching the currents. They‘re trying to figure it out. So he‘s trying to get an assessment of what‘s out here.
Then tomorrow, it‘s that Oval Office address tomorrow night. And then Wednesday—and the president discussed this here a few minutes ago—
Wednesday, in the meeting with BP officials, it appears we‘re not just going to hear rhetoric but a plan about how to pay—essentially, that how to distribute the money that BP has to pay to people down here that are impacted by the oil spill. Who‘s going to make those decisions? Is it an escrow fund? He wouldn‘t address the details of it, but he says they‘re close. They‘re trying to come to an agreement.
And that‘s going to be the big moment, I think, Chris, when the president says, This is how we‘re writing the check. That‘s a command and control moment, as far as the people down here are concerned.
MATTHEWS: What power does this president have or any president to tell a big oil company like BP that they have to put $20 billion or whatever amount into escrow for future use in meeting the suits against them?
TODD: Well, I think that that‘s—that‘s the—why you heard the president today saying they‘re still trying to figure out how this is going to work because they don‘t have the power to order some sort of escrow. It‘s certainly what everybody, I think, on both sides wants to come up with some sort of idea. BP obviously wants some protection that if they agree to this escrow, they would like protection to know that, you know, somehow, there isn‘t going to be more money asked for at the end of the day. The government wants to make sure it‘s a big enough account and that they do have some safety net in case they find out this things is years, that there‘s some sort of environmental impact that they—we don‘t know about now, but if it‘s discovered in a couple of years, that they can still go back to BP and hold them responsible. So I think those are the big sticking points here, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at something the president said the other day in his interview with Roger Simon, who‘s going to be on the program later. Quote, “I think it‘s fair to say if six months ago, before this spill had happened, I had gone to Congress and had said we need to crack down a lot harder on oil companies and we need to spend more money on technology to respond in case of a catastrophic spill, there are folks up there, who will not be named, who would have said this is classic big government overregulation and wasteful spending.”
Now, that may be the most profound thing the president said in the whole month-and-a-half of this thing going on. What good is it to say that now, just to remind everybody in the middle that the right wing has always been against regulation?
TODD: I tell you, you know, there‘s a number of ways to interpret that quote. I was surprised that it came from a president. I think it‘s one thing for somebody to analyze the situation from the outside looking in. It was surprising to hear a president give this assessment.
He may believe this deep down, but to give the assessment, it sounded pessimistic and it sounded somewhat cynical, as if he‘s already cynical to the process, that he‘s so beaten down by his frustrations in dealing with Congress, which, by the way, is controlled by Democrats. So you know, it was, I think, a moment where he let his frustrations out publicly. I‘m guessing the White House would love for him to walk that back. Not that they don‘t believe that, but that it can come across a little “Woe is me” or “Woe is us” and “This process is broken,” rather than saying, OK, this is the plan going forward.
And if you noticed, there was none of that today. I don‘t think you‘ll hear any of that tomorrow. It‘s now, OK, this is the plan forward. And of course, it‘s going to be a big pitch. Tomorrow night, yes, there‘s going to be an outline of a plan going forward about the oil spill, but he‘s also going to make his direct case yet for new energy and climate legislation, which some—you know, which might not have the 60 votes in the Senate that he needs, but he wants to get it done this year.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well said. Good luck down there. Thank you, Chuck Todd, who‘s down there watching the president perhaps turn this whole thing around.
Let‘s turn now to John Hofmeister, who‘s former CEO of Shell Oil. I guess that‘s my question to you, sir. You‘ve been so good on this program and elsewhere for the last couple weeks on this question because you have an independent voice. And my question is, what power do you believe this president really has? He says command and control. That‘s the favorite phrase now. Does he have any command and control over BP to say, Give us a $20 billion escrow account for use in proceeds to people who‘ve been hurt?
JOHN HOFMEISTER, FORMER SHELL CEO: I think he really only has the power of influence, Chris. And he has tremendous influential powers, but if he pushes this too hard, he could push BP into a corner where it starts using legal means in order to protect itself and to protect its shareholders. So what we need here is a dance of the elephants to try to find the right solution where we can set aside money to pay legitimate claims, but at the same time not push so hard that the BP board really gets its back up and says, Enough.
So it‘s a negotiation. And I think the negotiation should go on for some period of time, so it‘s money now, it‘s money later, it‘s money even later. And I think that will solve the problem.
MATTHEWS: What is this Sumi (SIC) wrestler‘s approach the president‘s done with Tony Hayward? Why doesn‘t he grab the guy? Why hasn‘t he called him up? Hey, bud, get your act together. We‘re coming at you. Why does he say the other day, I haven‘t called him because he won‘t talk the truth to me? Well, he talks to people all the time that don‘t give him the straight skinny. Why won‘t he talk to Hayward? Why isn‘t Hayward definitely on the dance card this week when the executives come over?
HOFMEISTER: Well, I think from the very beginning, the president wanted to distance himself from this whole process. Now he can‘t. Now he‘s in the middle of it. I think what we‘re seeing is a bit of the inexperience as a president that we expected...
HOFMEISTER: ... because he‘s learning on the job. But when you are in a direct conflict with somebody, of course you talk to them. Tony Hayward should have beaten a path to the White House. And if he didn‘t, or if he was told stay away, that‘s not good. That‘s wrong. These parties have to talk to each other.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this mess that goes on right now. Do you have any sense that they‘re going to accept responsibility for management error or management shortcuts? Are they going to blame it on their equipment? You know that old expression, It‘s the poor workman who blames his/her tools. Are they going to blame their tools?
HOFMEISTER: I think they‘re going to have to participate in a totally transparent investigatory process for both civil and potential criminal reasons, where they‘d better be open kimono because there is no advantage to try to keep something secret or hidden. We have to get to the bottom of this. The president...
MATTHEWS: But wait a minute. You‘re saying open kimono. That sounds faintly indiscreet. Are they willing to say, We had management screw-ups? There was—there should have been drilling mud in there instead of seawater, we should have looked at the faults in the cement job, we should have seen those red flags flying, we should have stopped and we didn‘t, we didn‘t stop, look and listen while we were building this thing?
HOFMEISTER: If they don‘t do that...
MATTHEWS: Do think they‘ll admit that? (INAUDIBLE) actually admit that? Doesn‘t that put them—doesn‘t that expose them?
HOFMEISTER: If they don‘t do that, they will lose all credibility. And they‘re going to have to deal with the consequences of it in an honest and transparent way because something went wrong here. This is not what you would expect in the normal drilling procedures. I think we‘ll see executives tomorrow testifying as to the robustness, as to the thoroughness of everything from well design to process execution when they testify in Congress. This looks like all of the human factor issues that you would have in a plane crash, where too many poorly made decisions resulted in this catastrophe.
MATTHEWS: Will they admit, like we do in airplane crashes after they crash, when they go in and find the box, the black box—will they admit error? You think they will? I guess that‘s what you‘re saying. Pilot error, in this case management error. They‘re going admit that they made mistakes at the middle level, management level, perhaps all the way to the top. Do you think that‘s likely?
HOFMEISTER: I think...
MATTHEWS: In their interest.
HOFMEISTER: I think they‘re going to have to or they won‘t have a credible case.
MATTHEWS: Well, that is astounding. I wonder why they‘re lawyering up, then, if they‘re going to do that because they‘ve got the top lawyers up. I‘ve been hearing about it all over the weekend. They‘re hiring the best in town here.
Hey, thank you very much, John Hofmeister.
HOFMEISTER: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: You‘ve been great on this issue, and you‘ve been independent.
HOFMEISTER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I really like.
Coming up: If nothing else, the disaster in gulf means some Americans might just be willing to kick our addiction to oil, at least in principle. But not everyone‘s on board. I‘m going to ask former senators Trent Lott and John Breaux—they‘re from the oil patch down there—why they want to keep on drilling.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Wow. Last week, we told you about Alvin Greene, that unemployed veteran who won South Carolina‘s Democratic U.S. Senate primary, despite having no campaign structure, no ads, no fundraising, no anything. Anyway, Congressman Jim Clyburn called him a Republican plant. David Axelrod says he doesn‘t appear to be legitimate. And today, Vic Rawl, the establishment candidate Greene beat in the primary, has challenged the results of that primary. Rawl says his protest isn‘t about Greene, it‘s about getting to the bottom of what he calls voter irregularities in the vote totals.
Anyway, strange things continue to happen down in South Carolina. Stay tuned for this one, Vic Rawl‘s coming to HARDBALL tomorrow. We‘re going to talk to the guy who lost in this crazy race to this guy who doesn‘t seem to be a real candidate. We‘ll right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. My next two guests are sitting in front of me right now. Both are from the hard-hit gulf region. Democrat John Breaux of Louisiana represented that state in the United States Senate for many years. Also for nearly 20 years, and Republican—in the Senate for 20 -- how long were you in the House?
JOHN BREAUX (D), FORMER LOUISIANA SENATOR: Fourteen years.
MATTHEWS: And how long in the Senate?
MATTHEWS: That‘s a lot. And Senator Trent Lott, of course, was majority leader of the United States Senate. He‘s from Mississippi, of course. He was in the Senate for at least 30, 40 years anyway.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) represent clients, including some of the biggest oil companies, like Chevron and Shell, not BP, through the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group, a lobbying firm.
So you‘re here to represent the oil companies, gentlemen. Now you have your chance. I want to know one thing. How can anybody defend BP or any company like it that gets all these red flags? And I‘m using “The Wall Street Journal,” not “The Daily Worker,” here as my source. Red flags—the cement wasn‘t ready. The drilling mud should have been put in, not seawater to counterforce the oil coming up and the gas coming up, red flag after red flag after red flag. They preceded ahead apparently to save money. Now we have 11 men dead and we have a catastrophe because of shortcuts to make money. How can the oil industry say now, Trust us, Senator Breaux?
BREAUX: Well, number one, serious mistakes were made, very serious mistakes were made in a number of different areas, probably by a number of different companies that caused this Deepwater Horizon to have the catastrophe it did. But if you look back over the last 60 years, Chris, production in the Gulf of Mexico, you‘ve had over 40,000 wells drilled successfully with a minimum amount of damage to the environment, producing energy for this country. One mistake does not an industry make, and that‘s this unfortunate...
MATTHEWS: But it‘s destroyed the gulf, hasn‘t it?
BREAUX: Well, it hasn‘t yet. There‘s been a grave damage to it, and it can never happen again. But if you look at the past 60 years, we‘ve been producing down there...
BREAUX: ... successfully and safely. You can‘t ignore that type of a record.
MATTHEWS: Yes, you know—you know, John Wilkes Booth had a clean record until he did what he did. This is catastrophic. Let me just ask you about this. Do you think we should continue with deep water drilling, even though we don‘t have safety procedures, deep water drilling where they admit they can‘t fix it?
TRENT LOTT ®, FMR. MISSISSIPPI SENATOR: Well, you should have safety procedures.
MATTHEWS: But they don‘t have them.
MATTHEWS: They don‘t have them.
LOTT: Well, most of the companies do have safety procedures.
MATTHEWS: No, but BP doesn‘t have them. And if some other company has it, why aren‘t they offering it now to this company?
LOTT: Well, we don‘t know that they haven‘t. And I do know that the other companies have tried to be and have offered and have been helpful in this process. But there‘s no question that you need to have clear, identifiable safety procedures in place. We need to look at what happened...
MATTHEWS: How do we—how do we know a company that says, like Shell or one of these other companies, comes along and says, We want to do deep water. We want to get down a mile below the surface of the water. We want to drill two miles below that. And by the way, we know what happened with this one, Horizon, but we can do it safely. Now, that‘s what...
LOTT: But they have been doing it safely, Chris.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what BP swore to in its permit. They said, We have the safety precautions. We can deal with a catastrophe even of—of exponential...
LOTT: ... plan in place to deal with it if a catastrophe did occur.
MATTHEWS: But they lied.
LOTT: Well, they didn‘t—they didn‘t have...
MATTHEWS: They didn‘t have what they said they did.
LOTT: ... obviously, a sufficient plan in place.
MATTHEWS: OK. How do we know that some other companies have that?
LOTT: Well, we‘ve got to check and make sure that there is a procedure, that they have these plans in place.
LOTT: And yes, we should continue to...
MATTHEWS: OK, other countries...
LOTT: ... the deep water drilling.
MATTHEWS: OK, Norway, for example, I just heard over the weekend, has a requirement you have to have a relief well dug at the time you dig the well, so in case this happens—if we had a relief well, we wouldn‘t have the catastrophe. Is that a reasonable safety procedure?
BREAUX: I doubt that it is. I think if you have blowout preventers that are inspected regularly, that work properly, you do not need to drill two—you know what the cost would be to the American public at the pump if we had to have two wells instead of one? It would not be, I think, reasonable.
MATTHEWS: What‘s this cost going to be?
BREAUX: Well, this is terrible, but...
MATTHEWS: We‘re wiping out a region.
BREAUX: But Chris, go back to the last 60 years. We‘ve drilled 42,000 wells, and we didn‘t have one with a relief well and it was done successfully with no problems at all. When the space shuttle crashed, did we kill the program? We paused. I think we ought to have a pause in deep water, look at the rules and regulations make sure the Minerals Management has the tools, equipment and the manpower and personal (ph) power to do the inspections. Apparently, they did not.
MATTHEWS: One thing we know after all these weeks, gentlemen, is that nothing has worked so far. Junk shot hasn‘t worked. Top kill hasn‘t worked. Cut-and-cap hasn‘t work. Not—this sort of thing is working, like, it gets rid of three days every two or three weeks of what we‘re losing here in terms of oil going into the gulf. So all we know works, maybe, is relief wells. You‘re saying you don‘t have to do it, you shouldn‘t have to do it. The only thing we know that might work, you‘re saying we shouldn‘t have to do.
BREAUX: Well, they announced today that by the end of this month, in two weeks, they‘ll have a system where they can pick up 50,000 barrels a day, reprocess it...
MATTHEWS: Which is what we‘re getting coming out of the hole every day.
BREAUX: Well, that would be zero...
LOTT: I think...
BREAUX: That would be zero released to the gulf if they could do 50,000 barrels a day.
MATTHEWS: A day?
BREAUX: Fifty thousand barrels a day, which would take all of the oil coming out of the well right now and reprocess it. I mean, I‘m not saying mistakes were not made. They...
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m wondering how we avoid doing this again, Senator.
How do we make sure this doesn‘t happen again?
LOTT: Well, first of all...
MATTHEWS: Is there any way to do that?
LOTT: ... energy production...
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying there‘s no way. You‘re saying...
LOTT: No, no, no, I‘m not saying there‘s no way.
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying we—we shouldn‘t have to do a relief well.
You‘re saying we have a great track record.
LOTT: Human beings and mechanical things make mistakes.
LOTT: We run that risk. It‘s a very dangerous business.
But there are a lot of things that can be done. Redundancy can put in place. It can be done safely. But here‘s another thing I want to emphasize to you, Chris. We can‘t ignore the fact that this involves thousands of jobs. This involves the energy security of our country. We need this oil. Twenty-seven percent of the oil that we have in this country comes from that region...
BREAUX: And natural gas.
LOTT: ... and 18 percent of natural gas.
So, this is—this is a very important decision for our own economy.
MATTHEWS: Let me read something to you from Roger Simon, who is coming on this program. This is what President Obama said to him over the weekend.
“I think it‘s fair to say if, six months ago, before the spill had happened, I had gone up to Congress I had said we need to crack down a lot harder on oil companies and we need to spend more money on technology to respond in case of a catastrophic spill, there are folks up there who will not be named who would have said: This is classic, big-government over-regulation and wasteful spending.”
Suppose he had come to you, Senator, when you were in office and said I want to double the number of people or quadruple the number of people at the MMS in Interior, and we‘re going to make sure that we have safe drilling.
What would you have said. Would you have said more government bureaucracy?
LOTT: I probably would have. But I would have said, let‘s—let‘s see what you‘re talking about. Let‘s review what is being done. I don‘t think doubling or tripling the number of people at MMS would solve the problem. In fact, I think MMS is probably part of the problem.
MATTHEWS: How about saying they can‘t be people looking for better jobs in the oil industry when they have done a nice job?
LOTT: Well, you know...
MATTHEWS: Have you heard the stories, Senator, where the MMS people apparently let the industry folk, like BP, pencil in their inspection reports, and then wrote over them in ink to make it look like they had inspected?
MATTHEWS: Is that inspection? You guys don‘t think this happens.
But it does. And the characters they have been putting in these offices. This person once worked for the House Administration Committee. Next thing you know, they‘re running MMS, Birnbaum.
LOTT: That‘s a problem.
BREAUX: I think this is a classic example of both private industry screwing up and government screwing up.
BREAUX: The people that were running the program for the government were not doing a sufficient enough job. They need more people.
MATTHEWS: Did you like regulation when you were representing the oil companies?
MATTHEWS: Did you think the government should have been in that business?
BREAUX: The government should be in the business of protecting the safety of...
BREAUX: This is a federal land. This is government property.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a question. Should we trust the oil industry now to make decisions about safety in drilling? Should we trust the industry?
LOTT: I think it‘s going to be a lot more careful than they have ever been before.
MATTHEWS: But should we trust them?
LOTT: Yes. We‘re going to have to, because...
LOTT: ... what they do.
MATTHEWS: We shouldn‘t regulate them?
MATTHEWS: You disagree. We should regulate them?
BREAUX: Yes. You can trust, but verify, the old Reagan line?
MATTHEWS: You say trust, but verify.
MATTHEWS: Do we need regulation of these guys you represent?
LOTT: Well, we may need more. Let‘s see what happened. Let‘s see how it can be fixed. Let‘s see what we learn from this. Let‘s take action to make sure, as best we can, that it doesn‘t happen again.
MATTHEWS: OK. You say put a moratorium on deepwater or not?
LOTT: I think you have a pause on deepwater until we figure out what caused this.
MATTHEWS: Do you want a pause or not?
LOTT: A pause is in place, but not for six months.
MATTHEWS: Not for six months. OK.
Senator Trent Lott, you have made yourself clear. You represent your clients. We disagree.
MATTHEWS: Senator Lott, Senator John Breaux.
Up next—if we had agreed, you wouldn‘t be working for those guys.
Up next: It‘s a campaign you have to see to believe: A Republican running for Congress in Alabama basically is advocating taking up arms against the government. This is the closest thing. Well, I‘m not going to say it. Well, it‘s the closest thing to “Let‘s revolt‘ that I have seen.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Have you seen this guy?
MATTHEWS: Wow. Back to HARDBALL. Now to the “Sideshow.”
First tonight: A Tea Partier declares more. Rick Barber, one of the candidates competing in the Republican run-off in Alabama‘s 2nd Congressional District, has just come out with an ad for TV that tells you the true dimension of the Tea Party mentality.
The spot begins midway through an imagined meeting with founding fathers Sam Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK BARBER ®, ALABAMA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: And I would impeach him. And if that‘s not enough, some of you men own taverns.
Sam, you are a brewer, Mr. President, a distiller. You know how tough it is to run a small business without the tyrannical government on your back. Today, we have an Internal Revenue Service that enforces what they call a progressive income tax. Now, this same IRS is going to force us to buy health insurance, cram it down our throats, or else.
Now, I took an oath to defend that with my life. I can‘t stand by
while these evils are perpetrated. You gentleman revolted over a tea tax -
A tea tax! Now look at us.
Are you with me?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Gather your armies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Actually watched him put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
Well, this is the lock-and-load mentality you just saw there of the Tea Party. They see themselves involved in a battle with the federal government, which they view as a foreign occupying force, like the British during colonial days.
For more on this sort of thing, watch our documentary “Rise of the New Right” this Wednesday at 7:00 Eastern.
Next: ginning up a skirmish. Democratic Congressman Bob Etheridge of North Carolina was ambushed by a group of unknown activists last week, and didn‘t like it much. An edited version of the video first appeared on the Web site of a former Drudge Report editor. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you fully support the Obama agenda?
REP. BOB ETHERIDGE (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Who are you? Who are you?
Who are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa!
ETHERIDGE: Who are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa!
ETHERIDGE: Who are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m here for a project, sir.
ETHERIDGE: Tell me who you are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re just here for a project, sir.
ETHERIDGE: Tell me who you are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re just here for a project.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, could you please let go of my hand?
ETHERIDGE: Who are you? Who are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please let go of my arm, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir...
ETHERIDGE: Who are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, sir, sir, please...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, please let go of me.
ETHERIDGE: Who are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, after that video spread over the Internet, today, Congressman Etheridge issued a statement saying: “I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction. And I apologize to all involved.”
By the way, no word yet on who those self-proclaimed students working on a project are.
Anyway, up next: It‘s been a deadly month in Afghanistan. Our own Richard Engel was with U.S. troops when they came under attack. It‘s unforgettable video. And what a story behind it. And it shows us exactly what we‘re up against over there. War reporter Sebastian Junger will join us.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MARY THOMPSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Mary Thompson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks getting back some early gains, as renewed fears about Greece‘s economy took hold—the Dow Jones industrial average shedding 20 points, the S&P 500 slipping almost two, and the Nasdaq posting a fractional gain.
The markets were rallying for most of the day on a report showing industrial output surging in the Euro Zone. But stocks started losing steam around midday, this after Moody‘s downgraded Greece‘s debt rating four notches to junk status. Greece‘s economic woes are no surprise, but citizens there aren‘t exactly embracing the new government‘s new austerity measures.
BP shares plunging again today, down more than 9 percent ahead of an expected grilling of its executives tomorrow on Capitol Hill. Financials taking a hit late in the day on lingering uncertainties about the financial reform bill ahead of a Fourth of July deadline.
And mining companies surging on the discovery of nearly a trillion dollars worth of uncapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
MSNBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Richard Engel, is embedded with the 82nd Airborne over in Afghanistan. And, this weekend, the division came under Taliban attack, as they returned from a memorial service for one of their fellow soldiers. This is part of that report.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After the salutes and prayers, Charlie Company marches back home. The Taliban are watching them. They attack as soon as the troops return to their outpost. The soldiers rush to the roof to return fire.
It‘s the most intense assault ever on the outpost. They launch mortars almost straight up because 20 Taliban fighters are just 100 yards away. But in the chaos they‘re just realizing how bad it is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any others? How many we have?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got two in there.
ENGEL: In the guard tower on the roof, soldiers find more injured.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay low. Stay low.
ENGEL: Now three soldiers are wounded. They‘re treated under fire and evacuated off the roof.
The troops keep firing, now supported by helicopter gunships. In minutes, the guard tower is back up.
(on camera): There‘s now been a lull in the fighting. The air support seems to have stopped the attack, at least for now. The soldiers are still all here on high alert in case there‘s another attack.
(voice-over): After 30 intense minutes, it‘s finally over. Medevac helicopters lift away the injured.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s an honor, of course, to be in the same news organization as Richard Engel.
We have got Sebastian Junger joining us right now. He spent 15 months in Afghanistan with a single platoon, seeing up close the raw, grim reality of war, like we just saw and are going to see later in the program here. The title of his book is War.
Sebastian, thank you so much.
I can‘t say enough about our colleague Richard Engel. He‘s there.
When you‘re in it over there, tell me about the Taliban, the enemy that showed up 20 yards away out of nowhere on the way back from—on the way back from—Americans soldiers back from a memorial for a fellow soldier.
SEBASTIAN JUNGER, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST: Well, you know, the Taliban are very, very effective fighters.
Where I was, they had roughly 30, 40 minutes to attack until airpower showed up. So, it was a fair fight for 30, 40 minutes. They would try to get inside the belt buckle, which means they would get so close to the wire that the base‘s mortars or supporting artillery could not hit them without being in danger of hitting Americans themselves.
They were very, very effective at maneuvering and they were essentially fearless.
MATTHEWS: What is their motive? Nationalism? Religion? Take back the country? Throw out the invader? What do they—how do they look at it? What is their—why do they want to die?
JUNGER: They‘re—you know, they‘re not a unified group. At the lowest end, they are local guys who get paid $5 a day to do low—very low-level operations, shooting off an AK at the Americans and disappearing.
Their motivation is $5 a day. As you climb up the scale, there‘s guys
like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who have economic and political interests in
Afghanistan. And then there‘s Pakistani fighters and foreign fighters who
really are waging an ideological war against infidels in Afghanistan. But
but those are not Afghans, necessarily. A lot of those are foreigners.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about our guys. What‘s it like, the morale, the fighting strength, the ability, the whole, what do you call it, esprit de corps?
JUNGER: Well, you know, the Army is a complex organization. And there‘s good units and bad units. I was with one of the best units, Battle Company of the 173rd in the Korengal Valley.
They were in something like 500 firefights during the course of their deployment. Their morale was amazing. They were incredible soldiers. They were effective under fire. They were extremely well-disciplined. They were very careful about civilian casualties. I was—I was really pretty much amazed by their abilities.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at another bit of Engel‘s incredible reporting.
Here he is—here he is interviewing Sergeant Louis Loftus (ph) of the great 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan. And he asked him about a fellow soldier who had just been killed. Let‘s listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, I‘m kind of numb to it. Like, to be honest, I just don‘t really feel much.
I—I pray for his family. I pray for his soul that he, you know— yes. You see, I try not to think about it, because, when you think about it, then I get like this. And it‘s not—you‘re not—yes.
So, yes, you know, everyone deals with it their own way. I try to hide it. I try not to think about it, because I got to stay 100 percent. You know, I got to—I got to keep a good example in front of the other soldiers.
MATTHEWS: You know what‘s awful? Well, war.
But the American people don‘t want to hear about these wars. They don‘t go to the movies about them. They didn‘t go see “The Hurt Locker.” It wins the Academy Award. Nobody goes. Nobody wants to hear about—they will see a war—about World War II. You know, they will go see “Inglourious Basterds” and have some fun.
But nobody wants to go and think about what—these guys on post and these women on post right now. And I try to think once in a while, right this second, at any second of the day, there is some guy who is on post facing death, facing their buddies getting killed.
Isn‘t that a problem with this war, people just can‘t—that humanity that Engel brought us there is so hard to get these days.
JUNGER: Yes, it is unfortunate. I mean, I don‘t know quite how to judge that quite.
But, I mean, the book that I wrote, “War,” I wanted to write a completely apolitical book that just explained what it‘s like to be a soldier at a remote outpost.
One of those guys up there said to me once—on a very cold winter night, he said: “Hey, let me ask you a question, Sebastian. Do people back home even know we‘re out here?”
And, frankly, I wasn‘t sure what to tell him. And it was a—quite a poignant moment up there.
MATTHEWS: Well, what—what do you think about the war?
JUNGER: Ha, it‘s a big question. You can divide it up into our interest and the Afghan interest. Four hundred thousand Afghans were killed in the ‘90s, during the chaos of the ‘90s.
If we—in the past 10 years, while we‘ve been there, 10,000 Afghans have died. So, if NATO pulls out, presumably we could—it could well go back to the 1990s, just horrific levels of casualties.
On the other side of the equation is U.S. security. Al Qaeda was able to attack the United States on 9/11 because they had a refuge in a rogue nation, a failed state, Afghanistan. Presumably, it could go back to that, but I don‘t know. You know, it can‘t see the future.
MATTHEWS: It reminds me so much of Vietnam (INAUDIBLE). We all thought would cut a separate piece for the communists, the VC, and the North Vietnamese. And that‘s one reason why I think we bumped them off, to be blunt about it.
But this guy Karzai seems to want to cut a deal with the Taliban.
What do you make of that?
JUNGER: That is what it seems like. And, you know, for several years, he has been really playing a double game with the United States. It‘s our soldiers who are dying over there for his government. There‘s a lot of evidence of corruption.
He said outrageous things about the United States, including that we, U.S. forces, were the ones that launched missiles against the peace negotiations recently.
I think the only way out of this to a good place is to take an incredibly hard line with him and essentially threaten to walkout if he doesn‘t cooperate with us. If we walkout he‘s dead, and I think he knows that.
MATTHEWS: Wow. Thank you so much, Sebastian Junger. The name of book is “War.”
Up next: How frustrated is President Obama these days over the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? “Politico‘s” Roger Simon interviewed the president. What a great interview he got.
We‘re going to welcome him back to HARDBALL. We missed him. He‘s coming back. Roger Simon.
And a reminder, my big documentary, MSNBC‘s big documentary, “The Rise of the New Right.” You have got to see this on Wednesday night at 7:00 Eastern, or midnight or whatever. You got to see it at 7:00. See it a couple of times. This is amazing to learn what we‘re dealing with this country in terms of the far right and where they‘re headed right now.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: House Democrats are doing everything they can to keep their majority. The speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is leading the way. According to “Politico,” nine top Democrats at the House raised $50 million for the DCCC—that‘s the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—this election cycle, with Speaker Pelosi raking in a whopping $23.5 million on her own.
House Republicans have brought in about $12 million for their congressional committee.
The Democrats hope that raising money, their fundraising, will help them stave off Republican gains expected this November.
We‘ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I promise you this: that things are going to return to normal. This region that‘s known a lot of hardship will bounce back, just like it‘s bounced back before. We are going to do everything we can, 24/7, to make sure that communities get back on their feet. And, in the end, I am confident that we‘re going to be able to leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Obama late today.
The president told “Politico‘s” Roger Simon this weekend, quote, “In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy is shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come.”
Well, is the president right? And what else will this catastrophe shape for our future?
“Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is, of course, an MSNBC political analyst. We‘re also joined by our old friend, and our young friend, Roger Simon, himself.
Roger, welcome back. You got a difficult health challenge. And there you are with us again.
ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: So, you get to speak first. You get the honors this time.
I guess the first question is: can this president honestly claim he has command and control when it looks like BP is the boss?
SIMON: No, he can want. And he said in the interview that we analyze the problem and we had no greater ability to stop this leak than BP did. So, we‘re going to let BP do it. And he can‘t control BP.
MATTHEWS: Well, looking down the road, is BP going to be the big shot? And he‘s going to be, as I call him, the Vatican observer watching him do what they do, and that‘s all he can do?
SIMON: All he can do is threaten them. All he can do is send the attorney general down there. All he can do is threaten to depress their stock price to such an extent they‘ll go belly up.
That‘s all he can do. He‘s not iron man. He cannot dive a mile underwater and stop this by himself.
MATTHEWS: By the way, the balloons and cake are for you. They‘re not for Howard. OK.
Howard, the question I have is: what can he do? I‘m looking back to history and I‘m a political person, (INAUDIBLE) first, as we all are. Harry Truman, the coal miners wouldn‘t mine coal after World War II. He conscripted them, he drafted them.
When big steel raises its prices and sort, Kennedy thought, was screwing them basically, he said, OK, I‘m sending the IRS to your house. I‘m going to seeing if you got any action going on with your secretaries at work. He was unavailable. He went after them and said, Bob McNamara, don‘t buy any more steel from U.S. Steel. I mean, he was unbelievable.
Will this president be that tough? Will he threaten—really threaten BP with all the actions of the executive?
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if he does, he‘ll only be dragged kicking and screaming into it because that‘s just Barack Obama‘s nature. He‘s judicious—
MATTHEWS: Does he know he‘s a powerful man?
FINEMAN: He‘s an observer. I think he‘s usefully and rightfully dangerous about power. I think he thought George W. Bush overstepped in terms of executive power. And also, he‘s an observer by nature.
But before I continue, I just want to say that Roger, who I‘ve known for decades, is the best in the business. We‘re so happy to have him back.
And he‘s seen this before. He‘s seen presidents who use power or don‘t use power. If you don‘t use it, you lose it. Barack Obama should overdo. He should overstep.
MATTHEWS: Even at the risk of being called a socialist again?
FINEMAN: Even at the risk of having a lawsuit filed against him, the Army should be in there. The Navy could be in there.
FINEMAN: And by the way, BP is not in danger of going broke tomorrow. But yet Obama is putting this whole escrow idea out there so that BP can still possibly do with dividend on June 21st.
MATTHEWS: The American people, Roger, want to see a president lead right now, left, right and center. Even the right that hates big government wants to see a boss now, I think.
SIMON: They want to see a boss and they also want to see something else. I mean, Barack Obama was an agent of change in his campaign. And he made an emotional connection with the voters. I mean, he had an intellectual basis for what he was doing.
But millions of people made an emotional bond with him. They felt good about him. They felt good about themselves for voting for him.
Whenever he steps away from that role and becomes professorial or stands off to the side, or becomes too analytical, that bond is broken. And you can see his numbers plunge—
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s listen to what he said to you and see if he
meets that test, is he connecting with us or is he acting like an off-stage
observer. Quote, “Obama expressed frustration with press coverage of his
administration‘s response, declaring that, quote, ‘the media specifically
is demanding things that the public aren‘t demanding.‘ He contended that
the overwhelming majority of people have reasonable expectations. ‘What
they hope and expect is for the president to do everything, not (ph) to do
everything that‘s within his power, however, they don‘t to us be
He‘s acting like we are like hyping up the public. Is that—is that what he‘s saying?
SIMON: That‘s what he‘s saying and he‘d better hope so. But I have a feeling, in this case, perhaps this one case, we‘re not hyping up the public. The public is angry.
MATTHEWS: You know, every time I‘ve heard presidents on left and right, he‘s a man at the center-left I guess it‘s fair to say, say the media is calling the shots. They say, wait a minute, didn‘t the media get Colin Powell elected president a few times? Didn‘t the media get Mario Cuomo elected a few times?
Every time the media has a favorite—by the way, he was a favorite. John McCain was favorite in 2000. They don‘t always win. Well, the argument doesn‘t always prevail.
FINEMAN: First of all, to Roger‘s point about BP. I mean, BP is horribly unpopular. Politically, they got an 85 percent disapproval rating at this point. It‘s not like there‘s—
MATTHEWS: Who were the 15 that like them?
FINEMAN: Who were the 15 that like them? I like to know who.
They‘re probably all working for them here in Washington, lobbyists.
MATTHEWS: I think Trent Lott was just here actually.
FINEMAN: There‘s no political danger here. So, you know, threaten to attach their assets. Threaten to take them to the court, in the world court.
MATTHEWS: I think you were going to say the president to attach their assets.
FINEMAN: Well, OK. I mean, you know, see what the Defense Department can do.
FINEMAN: See what the local (INAUDIBLE) can do.
MATTHEWS: OK. But that‘s the question. President Kennedy—
MATTHEWS: I dug this up—President Kennedy said to Robert McNamara, secretary of defense, no more buying steel from big steel, no more buying from U.S. Steel. They‘re the bad guys. They raised prices to the price leaders. Let‘s let them have it.
He sends the IRS after their executives saying, what are you up to?
The FBI checked on their lifestyles. How rough do you get?
SIMON: Well, he could send federal marshals and arrest the chairman when he‘s here on Tuesday.
MATTHEWS: OK. Why won‘t he meet with Tony Hayward, the CEO? He said the other day, I forget who interviewed him, oh, it was Matt—why don‘t you—Matt Lauer of NBC.
Why don‘t you meet with the head of BP? We‘ve been fighting with this guy through the airwaves for seven or eight weeks. Talk to him on the phone. He said, “I don‘t think he‘ll tell me the truth when he talks to me.”
FINEMAN: Well, it‘s because the original sin here politically was at the beginning. The White House said let‘s keep our distance from this. This is BP‘s problem.
BP for its part says, don‘t—to the White House—don‘t worry, there‘s really not a lot of oil leaking. We can take care of this. So, everybody—
MATTHEWS: They lied.
FINEMAN: They were lying perhaps or certainly underestimating it at best. The president kept his distance. We don‘t want to talk to Tony Hayward.
Now, the situation is Tony Hayward isn‘t really the boss of BP. There‘s a guy in London who is, who used to be head of Ericsson telephones in Sweden.
FINEMAN: He doesn‘t know anything about the oil business.
MATTHEWS: So, why does the president want to talk to him?
FINEMAN: He wants to talk to him because he is head of BP. Tony Hayward is also the guy who said, “I want my life back.” You know he‘s the guy who politically has ruined his own standing in this country.
SIMON: This was the subjects of a 15-minute exchange at Robert Gibb‘s briefing the other day, on why he wouldn‘t meet with Hayward, why he would only meet with the chairman.
MATTHEWS: Why won‘t he meet with the lead?
SIMON: Because the chairman legally is the only guy responsible at BP. And the president of the United States is not going to meet with some lower figure, some lackey.
SIMON: Yes, if he wants to bash somebody, he wants to bash the guy at the top.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll see. I think Tony Hayward is the guy who‘s portrayed himself as the leader. Maybe it‘s like Ahmadinejad, the mullahs, you have to know who the boss is, you know? Who‘s carrying the gun?
Roger, welcome back.
MATTHEWS: Roger Simon, a really smart guy. I could go on a cameo about your writing over the years but—
FINEMAN: It‘s the best.
MATTHEWS: -- it‘s the best. Still like the fish house dinner with Jesse Jackson 20 years ago. I just think the best political interview ever. I could smell the fish in that fish house.
SIMON: Two of the nicest guys in the world are sitting here and I‘m not one of them.
FINEMAN: We want the cake also.
MATTHEWS: OK. When we return, let me finish with some thoughts about how the president can use his full power to fix the Gulf disaster.
You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a thought about what President Obama is about to do. Tomorrow night on national television, the president, we are told, will assert his command and control over the horror now taking place in the Gulf of Mexico. I wish him well.
The American people need to be told with great conviction and full authority that the interest of our people, of our land here in North America, is not at the disposal of the British Petroleum Company. We‘re not some weak defenseless land into which a corporation from a modern industrialized country can enter, exploit for gain, and leave behind hurt and broken and spoils in its wake. We refuse to let North America become a casualty to the bad management, risk-taking and economic ruthlessness of those seeking private profit wherever they are based.
So the question comes down to what powers the president has he can wield here and how he should wield them. What resources exist to cap the haul and clean up the oil spreading into the Gulf and hitting the shore? What command does the president have over those resources, oil tankers, equipment to skim the oil from the water, equipment to drain it from the depths of the Gulf, and restore the shore land and wetlands?
These are the questions: What powers does he have over the private sector? Using all the agencies of the federal government, interior, homeland security, commerce and the treasury, what powers does he have and how can he leverage them to get the Gulf safe for posterity?
Truman went after the coal miners and got them mining. Kennedy went after big steel and got them to roll back prices. Neither president worked off the short lists of presidential powers. Each thought outside the box and let the perpetrator in each case know he was willing to do whatever necessary. That goes beyond filing some amicus brief down to the road on behalf of those who will be hurt by the spill. Some NGO could do that; any well-intentioned soul could do that.
The question the White House is asked tomorrow night is: what can a strong daring president of the United States do?
President Obama has been dealt a bad hand. As our president, he needs to find some way to win it.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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