Guests: Alan Mollohan, Charles Peters, Barbara Lee, Chellie Pingree, Matt Bai, Chuck Schumer, Ted Kaufman
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight: tradition and change. Two huge stories are dominating Washington today, both involving the departure of an institutional figure in the arc of the nation‘s history and the person who will replace him.
The first involves Elena Kagan, nominated to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. Kagan made her opening statements at her Senate hearings today. We‘ve already seen the Republican game plan—portray Kagan as some sort of elite West Side New York liberal. Will they try to filibuster her?
The second is the death of Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in American history. Who was he, and who will replace him? We‘ll get into all of that.
Plus, does the U.S. actually have a plan to win the war in Afghanistan? Does anyone think so? And a lot worry we‘re just sending young Americans to war but can‘t admit the strategy has failed.
Also, President Obama‘s poll numbers are at lows for his presidency, but maybe he began to find his rhythm last week with the firing of General McChrystal and the agreement on financial reform. Are we looking at the beginning of a turnaround?
And “Let Me Finish” tonight with a tribute to a U.S. senator who shared my deep American objection to the Iraq war.
We begin with the Kagan hearings today. Here‘s the nominee in her opening statement late this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I will listen hard to every party before the Court and to each of my colleagues. I will work hard. And I will do my best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle and in accordance with law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator Charles Schumer is a New York Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee. Senator, thank you for joining us. I want you to listen to something said today, a very tough charge by the ranking Republican on Judiciary. Here he is criticizing Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court nominee, for her position in supporting that boycott of military recruiters at Harvard law school. Let‘s listen to the senator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: During her time as dean at Harvard, Ms. Kagan reversed Harvard‘s existing policy and kicked the military out of the recruiting office, in violation of federal law. Her actions punished the military and demeaned our soldiers as they were courageously fighting for our country in two wars overseas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Pretty tough stuff. He‘s accused the nominee of demeaning our officers serving in the field.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Yes, I think it‘s a little bit over the top, and I don‘t think it‘ll stick. What Kagan did at Harvard law school was try to combine her own personal belief that “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” was wrong, but at the same time not prevent military recruiting. And the recruiters were able to recruit at Harvard, a little bit through a separate program, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Military recruitment actually went up during her tenure. So she hardly kicked them out. That‘s the wrong word.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at something else. This is on terrorism, another shot by Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on Judiciary. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: Dean Kagan also joined with three other law school deans to write a letter in opposition to Senator Graham‘s legislation establishing procedures for determining who was an enemy combatant in the war on terror. She compared this legislation, which passed 84 to 14, to the fundamentally lawless actions of dictatorships.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there he is. And by the way, this was part of a
barrage of attacks, Senator, as you know. He began the hearings by going -
basically saying she‘s anti-military, pro-terrorist, pro-illegal immigrant, I mean, just about every attack culturally. Later on, one of the senators said her signposts on the Upper West Side of New York. I mean, it was regional. It was—I don‘t know what it was, but it was definitely making her into a big New York liberal, the enemy of the people, whatever. It was pretty strong stuff.
SCHUMER: It was strong stuff, but I think, in a sense, it was so over the top, it‘s not going to stick. I mean, all—I think her testimony itself, which is what people will focus on, rebuts all of these sort of over-the-top type of language because not only did she talk about modesty, her whole demeanor was modest, the way she spoke, what she said, her body language.
When the American people see her, they‘re not going to see some wild-eyed radical, they‘re going to see a very sensible, moderate woman who works hard, who‘s very smart but very practical, who has a great record. So I don‘t think this stuff is going to stick.
MATTHEWS: You know, there seems to be—you know, we all know this. You know this. We all know this. There seems to be a big cultural, geographic fight going on in the country. If you look at your fellow members on Judiciary, They‘re all from Sunbelt states—Alabama, Sessions, Utah, you‘ve got Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, these Sunbelt states all lining up against Northeasterners, part of the—sort of the cosmopolitan settings, the Ivy League. There‘s a lot of attitude in those members.
Are they just fighting potentially primary challenges in their party or what? What‘s going on here? It‘s pretty right-wing stuff.
SCHUMER: Yes, it is very right-wing stuff. I don‘t know if they‘re fighting potential primary challenges, but on this issue, frankly, both sides appeal to the base. It‘s not one of those issues that brings out moderation. But at the end of the day, the nominees are quite moderate. Kagan is moderate. You know, you could point to the fact that she defended the materiality provision and was praised by a few Republicans on the issue of terrorism. You could point to the fact, again, that she allowed military recruiting, when many universities didn‘t at all even during those very sort of hot times on that issue.
And so she‘s always sort of tried to find a practical middle ground. That‘s how she comes across. That‘s who she is. And that‘s why the hearings are good. The American people aren‘t going to decide what‘s exactly her view on this specific case, but they‘re going to get a feel for who she is and what she‘s like, and they‘re going to like her.
MATTHEWS: What do you—I think she got hit on one point there. That was the question about business people hiring people in the country illegally, that don‘t really have a right to work in this country. And she said that she filed a brief against Arizona on that particular issue. Here it is, by the way. Let‘s take a look at what she said—or what he said, Jeff Sessions, about Kagan‘s position on illegal immigration and what employers should have to face if they hire somebody illegally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: Also, as solicitor general, Ms. Kagan approved a filing of a brief to the Supreme Court asking that it strike down provisions of the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which suspends or revokes business licenses of corporations which knowingly hire illegal immigrants, even though federal law expressly prohibits such hiring.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHUMER: Yes, again...
MATTHEWS: Well, what‘s wrong with a state matching up to federal purpose in terms of stopping illegal hiring?
SCHUMER: Well, first, she did that as—I believe, as solicitor general, so she was simply there being a lawyer and representing the views of the administration.
Look, I‘m pretty tough on illegal immigration, but there are a lot of ways to skin this cat and there are many different views on how to do it. The American people, frankly, if you look at the polling on immigration, they certainly don‘t like illegal immigration, but they are not for the most draconian of measures.
SCHUMER: They are for a sort of sensible program on immigration, a moderate program, not what the left wants, that‘s for sure, but a moderate program. And again, she‘s going to be in that place and be right where the American people are.
MATTHEWS: What‘s wrong with taking away the licenses of businesses who knowingly hire people in the country illegally? They‘re the magnet for the illegal immigration.
SCHUMER: Well, first the question is...
MATTHEWS: The business people that hire them.
SCHUMER: Yes, first the question is, What is “knowing”? Are you supposed to know that the driver‘s license they give you or the Social Security card they give you is forged? There are all kinds of problems with that kind of law. It‘s vaguely drafted. It‘ll lead to all kinds of economic disruption. Again, I believe, frankly—I would correct it by—
Lindsay Graham and I require a secure Social Security card with a biometric that can‘t be forged, and then we throw the book at employers. But just writing...
MATTHEWS: You‘re one of the true liberals.
SCHUMER: ... sort of—yes, writing...
MATTHEWS: You‘re one of the good guys. I have been saying this, by the way, not just because you‘re here, Senator, but because you and Lindsey Graham and couple other people like John Kerry are truly for comprehensive reform...
MATTHEWS: ... truly stopping illegal immunity, not throwing people out of the country, not being unhuman...
MATTHEWS: ... but simply stop this economic draw that creates illegality and creates all these problems. And you‘re doing the right thing. Thank you so much for...
SCHUMER: Thank you. And my guess, by the way, Chris, that‘s where Kagan is, too.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York...
MATTHEWS: ... on the Judiciary Committee.
MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware. Same question to you as I‘ve been putting to Chuck Schumer. This—this is pretty rough stuff. I‘ve been saying this morning, watching the hearing, it‘s almost, to use an old crude phrase, they‘ve turned this nominee into a voodoo doll...
SEN. TED KAUFMAN (D-DE), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Yes.
MATTHEWS: ... and they keep putting pins in her as a way of getting at President Obama.
KAUFMAN: Yes. Well, look, you know, what the (INAUDIBLE) if you don‘t have the facts, bang the table. I mean, as you know—you‘ve been through these things, Chris. This is my 12th one. And you know, when—the more violent and the more out—over-the-top the charges get, it means they have less and less that is—that‘s having an impact. So I think right now, Elena Kagan‘s in a very enviable (ph) place. They‘ve been firing at her ever since she was nominated, and so far none of it‘s sticking, so they‘re going to try, you know, more over-the-top kind of charges. And I think that they won‘t stick, either.
MATTHEWS: Well, here‘s some—an interesting array of charges. A lot of people would say getting into Princeton or Harvard law...
MATTHEWS: ... would be an honor.
KAUFMAN: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Listen to Kyl. Listen to Senator Kyl of Arizona. These are like a rap sheet. Wait until you hear him describes her background. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Not only is Ms. Kagan‘s background unusual for a Supreme Court nominee, it‘s not clear how it demonstrates that she has, in the president‘s words, a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people. One recent article noted that Ms. Kagan‘s experience draws from a world whose signposts are distant from most Americans, Manhattan‘s Upper West Side, Princeton University, Harvard law school and the upper reaches of the Democratic legal establishment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the—I love the phrase...
KAUFMAN: If we use Harvard law school as a disqualifier, how many of the Republican members of the present Supreme Court went to Harvard law school? I know there‘s a bunch of them. So I think, you know...
MATTHEWS: I know...
MATTHEWS: ... Roberts definitely went there.
KAUFMAN: Right. That‘s right, Scalia—where did Scalia go?
MATTHEWS: ... Clarence Thomas went to Yale. It‘s even better a law school—better law school.
KAUFMAN: Well, the other thing is when you listen to what they‘re saying, they‘re accusing her of being like, heaven forbid, Thurgood Marshall. Oh, my goodness! How can you say that? I mean, I wonder how many members would vote against Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. The way they were throwing his name around as an activist Court—really, truly, I really do wonder if they‘d would have voted for Thurgood Marshall for the Supreme Court.
MATTHEWS: Let me try this at you. I don‘t know if you heard my conversation with Senator Schumer, but it‘s so geographic. You‘ve got people from South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma Texas, wherever, going after her -- Arizona—blasting her for being from the Northeast. That‘s their main attack line.
KAUFMAN: Yes. Well, basically, it‘s red states. I mean, come on, Chris, you know. Basically—I have noticed on the floor and in these hearings, many Republican colleagues really are talking back to their home state. It isn‘t part of any strategy, they talk back to their home state. And we look at these states, these are very, very red states. You know, this country‘s really, really split, and they represent very, very red states, and that‘s what they talk about.
MATTHEWS: Are they really running against J.D. Hayworth and the guys who knocked off Bob Bennett? Are they really running against potential more conservative, more right-wing primary opponents, that‘s why they‘re putting on this show today?
KAUFMAN: Well, they seemed to be doing it even before that. I mean, when I came back here—you know, I‘d been away for a while. And I came back, and it just seems that listening to them on the floor when I‘m presiding, just the whole thing is very, very playing to the base. I mean, they‘re following on in kind of the Bush tradition of playing to the base. And I don‘t think it‘s anything beyond that.
MATTHEWS: You‘re a very intellectual fellow. You‘re in trouble.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Senator Ted Kaufman.
KAUFMAN: Hey, Chris, thanks for having me on.
MATTHEWS: Your discernment is going to get you in trouble. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: When we return, Senator Robert Byrd. What does the death of the longest serving member of the United States Senate in history mean for history?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: John McCain and J.D. Hayworth will meet in back-to-back debates next month. Mark your calendars! The debates are set for July 16th and 17th. McCain agreed to the debates after a very bad week for Hayworth, who had to explain why he appeared in an infomercial for the National Grants Conference business. That definitely was off-message. It‘s all about how to get money from the federal government. McCain and Hayworth will be joined by a third candidate, Navy veteran and conservative activist Jim Deacon, who could draw support away from Hayworth in a three-way race. Maybe this is McCain‘s strategy, get the far right to split.
We‘ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He never lost sight of home. He may have spent half a century in Washington, but there‘s a guy, if anybody wonders, he never, never, never, never took his eye off his beloved Mountain State. And we shall not—to paraphrase the pope, we shall not see his like of again and the Senate is a lesser place for his going.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Vice President Joe Biden on the loss of our longest serving U.S. senator, Robert Byrd, who died early today.
Joining me right now are two people who knew Senator Byrd well, the former “Washington Monthly” editor Charlie Peters, one of the great neo-liberal reformers of all time. He‘s got a new book on Lyndon Johnson, which I‘m sure to read, mainly because it‘s only 200 pages...
MATTHEWS: ... and West Virginia congressman Alan Mollohan. Alan, thanks for joining us. Congressman, you worked with Bobby Byrd in his later years. What was the story on this guy? I mean, he was—he started as a Klansman. Now he ended up with, like, 100 percent rating with—with the Civil Rights groups. What turned his heart in a state that has very few minorities?
REP. ALAN MOLLOHAN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Yes, well, Chris, America has lost a real statesman. West Virginia has lots it best advocate. And the United States Senate has lost its strongest spokesman for standing up for the prerogatives of the legislative branch.
Senator Byrd, as you allude to, was a compelling personal story, an orphan raised by his mother‘s sister, a coal miner. He worked hard for everything he got. And he even went to law school after he was in the United States Senate. He was driven, intellectual, full of integrity, and just a marvelous legislator, a student of the legislative process.
He did change over the years. Obviously, he changed with the times. But at the core, he was grounded in his personal history. He was grounded in his West Virginia roots, and he stood by those faithfully all during his service. He was a wonderful friend and mentor to me and a wonderful representative for this state of West Virginia.
MATTHEWS: Charlie Peters, you know what I liked about him? When everybody else forgot the Constitution, when we went to war in Iraq, this guy stood up and reminded us. It didn‘t work. The country fell for Bush. But he‘s one guy that said, You know, we don‘t start wars. We play defense in wars, we don‘t play offense.
CHARLES PETERS, FMR. “WASHINGTON MONTHLY” EDITOR: I was proud of him. I was proud of him particularly because I‘m from West Virginia and I know what courage that stand took for him to take because West Virginia has a long tradition of being pro-military. And if you say something that is against—seeming to be against supporting our troops in any way, you‘re taking a political risk.
And Bob Byrd, even though he‘d been reelected over and again by huge majorities, like every senator I know, he was worried to death about being reelected. And he still had the courage to make that speech which (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: He ran scared for 100 years. Let‘s take a look at him.
Here he is, opposing the war in Iraq. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ROBERT C. BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts, when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman Mollohan, I don‘t know if you agree with me, but I like the fact that this guy from the country, a country boy, understood the Constitution and law and the big-city sophisticates forgot about it. We don‘t start wars. We play defense.
MATTHEWS: But let me ask you about this. Who is coming in to replace him? Do you know? What‘s going to happen down there?
REP. ALAN B. MOLLOHAN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Oh, I don‘t know.
But can I just say that there he is speaking out for the prerogatives of the legislative branch, saying the president of the United States ought not be doing that without congressional input.
When I said he was a mentor, Congressman Rahall and I both felt better about voting against the Iraq invasion with Senator Byrd‘s position on it. He was strong. He stood up. And we‘re going to miss him for all those reasons.
It‘s too early. This is a day that Senator Byrd passes. It‘s too early for me to even think about what happens after Senator Byrd.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Charles Peters.
Down there, we‘re hearing a lot of machinations, but it‘s going to be a Democrat, right?
CHARLES PETERS, FORMER “WASHINGTON MONTHLY” EDITOR: Oh, sure, sure, sure.
MATTHEWS: So, it‘s not going to affect Carter‘s 60 votes? I mean—
MATTHEWS: Listen, I just saw Jimmy Carter, watching a picture of him.
It‘s not going to affect President Obama‘s 60 votes?
PETERS: No, no, no, no, no.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about West Virginia and the whole politics down there. Coal. Here‘s a guy that was talking about coal mine safety, Senator Byrd.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Mollohan on that one, too. Sorry.
Congressman Mollohan, we have all been concerned, like everybody, about the coal mine safety issue down there. Senator Byrd was getting pretty tough with the coal mining industry toward the end there.
Yes, he‘s very tough with the coal mining industry, and particularly with regard to this tragedy. He spoke out strongly against it, against Massey, against the violations that Massey had amassed, and the consequences that resulted. He was very strong. He would have been moving on coal mining safety in the aftermath of this disaster, as we all will.
PETERS: Not only that, but he spoke out against the environmental damage. He—the first statement I ever heard from a West Virginia politician rightly stating that the state could no longer be the servant of the coal industry, that you had to face the fact that—the harm the coal industry was doing to the environment and the danger it posed to worker safety.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of this idea, Congressman, of people who decide they want to die in the United States Senate? Sometimes, I think these fellows, they stay to the very end—Stennis did to the very end—a lot of them with the idea they‘re going to somehow, I don‘t know what, stay there until they die. Is that tradition going to die with this fellow, with Byrd?
MOLLOHAN: I don‘t know whether it will die with Senator Byrd, but if there were anybody who should pass in the United States Senate, it would be Senator Robert C. Byrd. He was a part of that institution. He defined that institution for decades. And I know he felt strongly that he wanted to serve the people of West Virginia just as long as he could.
And he did. He was active. He was talking. He was on the floor voting up until the end.
MATTHEWS: I‘m not sure that‘s a Northern tradition. That‘s a Southern tradition. Northerners tend to have a rotation. You serve two, three terms. You‘re out. There‘s a lot more competition in the North historically. But there‘s no sense the Senate is a place to retire.
PETERS: Well, certainly, it was a Southern tradition at the time he came in.
I want to be sure to tell you, Chris, about one thing that Byrd did that is not known. It was the first time I began to think this man has got something special. And it was 1972, March of 1972, during the Watergate hearings, but not—before the formal—the Ervin committee, before that.
He was questioning Pat Gray, head of the FBI. And he got Gray to admit—in March of...
PETERS: ... ‘73 -- ‘73 -- that he got Pat Gray to admit that he was taking orders from the White House. That night, John Dean heard that. John Dean decided he that had to go to the U.S. attorney. And that is what broke the case open. and it was Bob Byrd‘s questioning of Pat Gray that elicited the crucial decision by John Dean to go to the prosecutor.
MATTHEWS: So, the rats started leaving the ship?
PETERS: Yes, right, right, right.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, that‘s a very happy moment. By the way, your book is great. I love these books. It‘s a whole series, Arthur Schlesinger series. If you want to read a book and get it done, actually, not one of these doorstops—you can actually finish this book.
MATTHEWS: And Lyndon Johnson, there‘s a fascinating guy.
Thank you, Charlie Peters, one of the great journalists of our time.
Thank you, Congressman Alan Mollohan. Sir, thanks for joining us.
MOLLOHAN: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Mike Huckabee grades the 2012 Republican field. Wait until you catch this. He trashes one guy, the one guy he thinks is going to beat him. Everybody else, he is sweet to. Wait until you catch the politics of Mike Huckabee, the former priest, or minister, preacher.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the “Sideshow.”
First: the trouble with being too casual. Here‘s some informal banter between Vice President Joe Biden and a Milwaukee custard shop owner on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What do we owe you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don‘t worry. It‘s on us. Lower our taxes and we will call it even.
BIDEN: Why don‘t you say something nice, instead of being a smart ass all the time?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me, guys. We‘re done. Thank you.
BIDEN: Say something nice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That ice cream guy sounds like me.
Next: a picture that says 1,000 words. Check out this scene from Saturday. That‘s Terry McAuliffe, his buddy Bill Clinton, the former president, and Rolling Stones star Mick Jagger all watching the U.S. World Cup team together in South Africa. Do you think the topic of Al Gore might have come up once there?
Anyway, by the way, the U.S. lost to Ghana, heartbreaking as it was, was the most watched soccer game in American history. Catch this, 19 million viewers, the hottest game of the year in soccer for us. That means as many as 20 million Americans have never watched a soccer game. It‘s still not a hot sport yet in this country. Compare that to the 106 million people that watched the last Super Bowl.
That‘s in America.
Finally, handicapping the race on FOX this Sunday, Mike Huckabee has gracious things to say about his potential 2012 rivals, all of them, that is, except for one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”: Sarah Palin.
MIKE HUCKABEE ®, FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: She‘s got the fire, the energy, and I think there are a lot of Republicans who love her.
I‘m a big fan of Mitch Daniels. I think he could be one of our most qualified potential candidates.
I love Jeb Bush. He‘s one of the smartest. He‘s one of the most articulate.
WALLACE: Mitt Romney—you said recently he‘s always trying to figure out where he stands on issues.
HUCKABEE: Well, what I mean by that is even on the health care bill -
I mean, the Massachusetts health care bill essentially is the blueprint for Obamacare. That‘s going to be an issue he‘ll have to confront.
There‘s no doubt in my mind that he‘s running, and I think he‘s a formidable candidate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And I don‘t like him. If you had any doubts before, you can be sure now that Mitt Romney is the 2012 front-runner. Look at Huckabee. He can‘t stand the guy. He‘s the one guy Huckabee dumped all over there, which brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Mitt Romney has been busy today rolling out a bunch of endorsements up in Maine. Per “The Washington Post”‘s Chris Cillizza, that brings the total number of states where Romney has endorsed candidates up to 24. You can bet Romney will still have favors to call in once the presidential season rolls around -- 24 states and counting for Mitt Romney‘s endorsement campaign, just about half the map already, tonight‘s GOP “Big Number.” Keep your eye on Romney.
Up next: the Afghan war. President Obama changed the commander, but what‘s the mission? Do we really have a strategy to win there? Or are we staying in because we don‘t want to admit the strategy hasn‘t worked? Liberal Democrats are already questioning the mission. We‘re going to talk to two members of Congress next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Amanda Drury with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks edging lower today, with weakness in the energy sector offsetting gains in consumer staples. The Dow Jones industrial slipping five points, the S&P 500 down two points, and the Nasdaq falling closer to three.
Two rulings from the Supreme Court having a rare,but noticeable impact on Wall Street today. Tobacco company shares on the rise after the high court refused to consider the government‘s claims that tobacco companies should pay hundreds of billions of dollars in damages in a lawsuit dating back to the Clinton administration. And another ruling knocking down Chicago‘s across-the-board ban on handguns sending shares in gun makers higher as well.
Elsewhere, a mixed bag of economic news today—personal incomes are up for the sixth time in seven months, but a relatively sluggish increase in spending was not enough to kick the economic recovery into higher gear.
That‘s it from CNBC for now. We‘re first in business worldwide. Now it‘s back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In the wake of General McChrystal‘s dismissal, liberal Democrats are challenging President Obama on his war strategy in Afghanistan. This is big stuff now.
California Congresswoman Barbara Lee has written a letter to the president asking for a clear plan for troop withdrawal before Congress votes on any more war funding. She wrote—quote—“We believe that it‘s imperative for you, the president, to provide Congress and the American people with a clear commitment and plan that would draw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. This should include not only a date certain for the initiation of this withdrawal, but a date for its completion and a strategy to achieve it.”
I don‘t think she‘s going to get it. So, does President Obama really have a clear strategy to win in Afghanistan?
U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee—Foreign Affairs Committee—and Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is a member of the Armed Services Committee and has also signed onto that letter.
Thank you, both, Congresswomen.
I want to ask you this. Barbara Lee, Congresswoman, I was watching you yesterday. You made a strong case. But bottom-lining this thing, do you think this president will ever give you what you want, a date for the beginning of the withdrawal and a date for the final removal of all troops from Afghanistan?
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: I certainly hope so, Chris, because, remember, nine years ago, when we went into Afghanistan, the president then was given authority to wage what I considered then an endless war, and I did not vote for that resolution.
But the American people were told that we were going into Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden and to stop bin Laden—and to stop al Qaeda—excuse me. This is now the longest war in American history. The American people are war-weary, Chris. We need to develop an exit strategy, a plan, and a timeline to begin to safely redeploy our young men and women out of Afghanistan.
I did not support the July timetable, because, when you look at what is happening in Afghanistan, it‘s not getting any better, Chris. Our young men and women are exercising their job in a brilliant way. They‘re doing everything we‘re asking them to do.
As a daughter of a military officer, I know the sacrifices that they‘re making and that their families are making.
LEE: And so it‘s time that we have clarity, and that‘s why many members of Congress are beginning to have the debates that we should have had nine years ago.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s go to Congresswoman Pingree.
I know Maine is a tough state. It‘s a very independent-minded state. It‘s not left. It‘s not right. I worked for Ed Muskie for years. I know that territory.
They‘re—they must be getting pretty skeptical about whether we can win anything. Karzai is a crook. He stole the election. Karzai is in bed with the Indians. The Pakistanis don‘t trust him. I mean, I went through the whole list Friday night. There‘s just nothing good to say about this situation. Is it—aren‘t we being blindsided? Aren‘t—isn‘t Karzai going to cut a deal around our back, when we‘re still fighting? What is going on with him?
REP. CHELLIE PINGREE (D), MAINE: Oh, first, let me say thank you for mentioning Maine and our great hero, Mr. Muskie. I am glad to know that you have involvement with him in the past.
But you‘re right. This is a corrupt government. And people are increasingly getting discouraged. Congresswoman Lee has been fighting on this issue for a long time. I‘m a freshman member of Congress. And I ran against the war in, as you said, a Republican and Democratic state where, frankly, independents rule.
People are concerned with the loss of lives, and people are concerned with the fact that this now costs us $7 billion a month. Our strategy isn‘t working. That was clear when General McChrystal had to resign and some of the things that we learned there.
But the fact is, people are increasingly concerned about this. We‘re not making progress. And I think the congresswoman is right.
PINGREE: We have to have a lively debate here in Congress before we approve more money for the president.
MATTHEWS: George Packer is a great writer. He‘s over there in -- over there for “The New Yorker.”
Let‘s look at what he wrote—quote—“Obama is trapped, not by his generals, but by the war itself. It takes great political courage to face such a situation honestly. But, if in a year‘s time, the war looks much the way it does now, or worse, Obama will have to face the public, force the public to deal with the likely reality, Americans leaving, however slowly, Afghanistan slipping into ethnic civil war, Pakistan backing the Pashtun side, al Qaeda seizing the chance to expand it safe haven.”
My question, Congresswoman Lee—and I‘m sure it‘s on your mind as well—whenever we leave, what assurance do we have that al Qaeda won‘t come back into that country? And, by the way, that‘s an open-ended question. It may mean we leave right now. It may mean we leave in 20 years or we never leave.
But do we have any assurance, no matter when we leave, that al Qaeda won‘t come back right where it was before we got there? Do we?
LEE: Chris, first of all, I think you remember General Jones indicated that al Qaeda really is not in Afghanistan. There are less than 100 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan.
MATTHEWS: Yes, we kicked them out.
LEE: Al Qaeda is in Somalia. Al Qaeda, though, is in Somalia. Al Qaeda is in Yemen. Al Qaeda is throughout the world. This—this organization is viral. You know, we have to understand how to address terrorism in a real way, because, in fact, we cannot allow our national security to be at risk. I believe, like many believe, that by militarily occupying a country, we create more danger, more terrorists, and our security is not what it should be. We become less secure when you occupy a country.
We have to do this differently. The president indicated early on that he was going to come up with a review in December, and then in July, he was going to begin a drawdown.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: I know.
LEE: I think it should have been much earlier. But let me tell you, I think the longer we stay there, if it gets better, they‘re going to come back and ask for more money. So, to create a longer time frame—
MATTHEWS: I agree with you.
LEE: And if it gets worse, they‘re going to ask for more money also. It‘s an endless—
MATTHEWS: You didn‘t answer my question. Won‘t al Qaeda come right back there? Sebastian Junger, who‘s an expert over there, he said they‘ll come right back in where they were before. They don‘t like it in the mountains of Pakistan. They loved it when they had the whole country to themselves.
What‘s to stop al Qaeda from using the same base they used to attack us on 9/11? What‘s to stop them once we leave? Is there an answer to that question?
LEE: Chris, let me say, first of all, we know that if we don‘t leave, our young men and women continue to be in harm‘s way. Al Qaeda, as I said, is gullible. Al Qaeda is in Somalia, and I‘ll say this again, in Yemen.
So, we have to come up and our military experts have to help us develop a strategy that ensures our national security, that ensures that al Qaeda is addressed and dealt with the way nine years ago the American people thought we were going to deal with.
This is a war that cannot go on forever and ever. The resolution, again, that I voted against was a blank check. It gave President Bush and now any subsequent president the authority to continue to use force --
MATTHEWS: I know. I agree with all of this.
LEE: And so, let me say, our military experts have to help us come up with a strategy to knock al Qaeda out and to ensure our national security. And that is the bottom line. That‘s what the president said he was going to do.
LEE: It‘s about our own national security, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I know. Let me try Congressman Pingree. What stops al Qaeda from going right back into Afghanistan once we leave? I‘m still looking for an answer.
REP. CHELLIE PINGREE (D-MAINE), ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: It‘s a perfectly reasonable question. But let‘s say we don‘t know the answer. The question is: are we succeeding in what we‘re doing now?
I sit on the armed services committee. We had General Petraeus in there last week. There are people who say, you know, it‘s going to get better, maybe it‘s going to be better in five years, the loss of life, the costs. We also have people who testify before our committee who say our presence there—as Congresswoman Lee was alluding to—our presence there exacerbates the situation.
PINGREE: If it‘s not improving, if our strategy isn‘t working, if we continue to lose lives, and this is money our country can‘t afford in an economic downturn, what‘s the argument for staying? We don‘t know what—
MATTHEWS: I think you got great arguments. I agree with the arguments. I still have questions.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look. Here‘s John McCain who‘s got another point of view. And I think he‘s so invested in this war he‘s unlikely to change ever in life. But here he is talking about this timetable. He does not want a timetable. He doesn‘t want our president to announce next July we‘re leaving.
Here‘s John McCain yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I‘m against a timetable. In wars, you declare when you‘re leaving after you‘ve succeeded. And, by the way, no military adviser recommended to the president that he set a date of the middle of 2011. So, it was purely a political decision. Not one based on facts on the ground, not based on military strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you the bottom line to Congresswoman Lee and then Congresswoman Pingree. Do you believe the president, or do you believe Joe Biden? Because the president says we‘re not leaving basically in July, we‘re only going to start maybe moving out of there slowly. Joe Biden says large numbers will be coming out of there next July. Who‘s telling the facts?
LEE: We have to have a timetable, Chris. We have to make sure that our young men and women—some have served one, two, three, four tours of duty. We have to have clarity. We have to have a timetable.
Again, the president committed to December for a review. He committed to July to begin to end this.
LEE: Again, personally, we should end it quicker than that. But I think we have to have clarity from the White House. That‘s why many members of Congress wrote a letter, and we‘re going to standby that and continue with this debate that should have been done nine years ago.
MATTHEWS: I like your letter. Congresswoman Pingree, I like your letter. I think it asks for clarity. Do you think you‘ll get it?
PINGREE: I don‘t know if we‘ll be successful this time. But we have to continue to have this debate. We have to attempt to stop the funding for continuing the war.
PINGREE: You know, we‘re not succeeding, as Congresswoman Lee said, this has gone on longer than any other war and we‘re not being successful.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think you‘re doing a good job here. Thank you very much, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
PINGREE: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next, President Obama‘s poll numbers are hitting new lows, of course. But last week, he started to get his groove back, many people think. Things are starting to happen. Of course, we‘re all looking at the unemployment rate coming out this Friday. We‘re going to talk about it when we come back.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of duty as commander of the Afghans war last week by President Obama. Of course, we all know that. But tonight, McChrystal is ending his political career. The general informed the Army that he will retire after 34 years.
HARDBALL will be right back.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back.
President Obama is, of course, leader of the Democratic Party. As president, it comes with the job. But with the election just months away, is he helping or hurting the Democratic Party and people who are running for re-election? Obama ran as an outsider and he didn‘t rise through the ranks, of course.
Does President Obama think he‘s above party politics, above Washington?
Matt Bai writes the “Political Times,” columnist for “The New York Times.”
Your reporting says that the president has been high-hatting the Democrats on the Hill. They‘re all grubby, trying to get reelected, sweating it out. They‘ve got to run this year. He doesn‘t.
MATT BAI, THE NEW YORK TIMES: He doesn‘t.
MATTHEWS: What‘s their attitude towards him about that?
BAI: The aims are conflicting. Well, they had a meeting a couple of months ago where some—all the leadership of the House Democrats basically said to David Axelrod and a couple of other aides, stop saying Washington is broken, stop saying Washington is—
MATTHEWS: What did they say back?
BAI: By the way, we run Washington.
MATTHEWS: I know. I mean, Democrats in the majority and they‘re majority everywhere in the Congress. They run the House and Senate. They run the agencies. They run all the departments. They are the government party.
Can they deny they‘re the government party?
BAI: Well, they heard him. And I think the White House has done a couple of carefully orchestrated speeches specifically to sort of calm that particular problem. But I think, you know, there‘s different aims as you mentioned at the outset, which he is not a party leader. He doesn‘t fancy himself a party politician, and his brand, his appeal, in this era where parties are sort of losing their grip on the electorate is about his independence from that structure.
And to the extent that backing his party, leading his party in November, starts to undermine that brand, I think that‘s the line from which they draw back.
MATTHEWS: You know, is the public going to buy this that the president isn‘t president?
BAI: I don‘t think—
MATTHEWS: I mean, he runs for re-election, he‘s running for re-election as the incumbent. And the government agencies that serve him and serve the people, you know they‘re all (ph) --
BAI: That‘s different from being a party leader, Chris. I mean, you can run the government and not be a party leader.
MATTHEWS: He‘s not the leader of the party.
BAI: We have five living men in the United States who served as president. Every one of the other people who have had that job have worked in some party or strategic capacity on the web. Even Jimmy Carter ran the 1974 midterm election campaign before running for president.
This is a guy who didn‘t get into the political process through his party, who came at it from the outside who took on its establishment, who never worked in the party structure. And I think, fundamentally, he just has less emotional interest, less actual intellectual inclination to lead a party structure. I think in that way, he‘s emblematic of, really, a new generation of voters and politicians.
MATTHEWS: What would you say he‘ll do this October?
BAI: Well, I think he‘s going to go out and do a lot. This is a—this is a—
MATTHEWS: Is he going to get out there?
MATTHEWS: Suppose he loses—you know, if he loses the house, he losses subpoena power. Does he know that? Does he know he has years and years of investigation of his administration once he loses the House?
BAI: Yes, I don‘t think—I don‘t think they want to lose the House. I think they‘re going to got out—
MATTHEWS: Charlie Cook thinks it‘s within reach.
BAI: No, I think they can lose the House. I‘m saying I don‘t think he wants to lose the House. I mean, there is a continuum here. It‘s not an neither/or. It‘s not campaign—
MATTHEWS: How do you square this daintiness he has about talkingheads, about Washington, us? He seems to not like anything to do with politics.
BAI: Well, I don‘t know. I‘m not sure who “us” is because I—I mean, I think—
BAI: -- he‘s pretty good with writers. I think they‘re, you know,
I think, they‘re—I think, in some ways they‘ve been fairly open with the press. But I think the culture of Washington as you discussed.
MATTHEWS: You think he likes Maureen Dowd of “The New York Times”?
BAI: I have no idea if he likes Maureen Dowd.
MATTHEWS: You think he likes Frank Rick?
BAI: I think—
MATTHEWS: Do you think anybody who writes a column about him?
BAI: I think it is—I think it is beneficial for him to be outside the culture of Washington and to castigate the culture of Washington. And I think it‘s at least in part genuine expression of how he feels.
MATTHEWS: You know, it‘s interesting that we‘ve had so many presidents—Nixon had a western White House like he was somehow out there. Reagan was on vacation all the time in California.
MATTHEWS: But, you know, I mean, that idea that you can like deny your role as party leader, I mean, I don‘t know. It seems to me this is going to be self-defeating.
BAI: Well, I think parties are different than they used to be. One of the things we‘re trying to figure out is what it means, right, to be a leader of a party.
MATTHEWS: OK. You‘ve given me the square circles. He‘s the Democratic leader. He‘s the president, but he‘s not really a Democratic leader.
BAI: They would say that party leadership is to help Senate and congressional—I‘m not saying this is right. But they would say that leadership is to help these candidates update their campaigns, run grassroots-centered campaigns, 21st century sort of machinery, rather than to go out and do the—you know, the rallies where you scream about Republicans necessarily.
MATTHEWS: So, that‘s why they showed up for Specter at the end?
BAI: Well, I mean, I think that the primaries is a whole different story.
MATTHEWS: Jeb Bush, is he going to run against him the next time?
Is he coming out?
BAI: He says he‘s not, but I have to believe he‘d be open to hearing it. I mean, he‘s clear that he has no plans.
MATTHEWS: Is there any other Republican heavyweight that could take on President Obama and beat him right now? Republican heavyweight?
BAI: I have no idea.
MATTHEWS: Mitt Romney is not a politician.
BAI: We‘re not voting right now. I mean, I think there are some credible candidates. But I will say this, having interviewed Jeb Bush last week, he is—he‘s an idea guy and he is very articulate on the direction of the country.
MATTHEWS: I think what the country—
BAI: To dismiss him because of the Bush name would probably be a real mistake on the Democratic side.
MATTHEWS: No. I‘m big believer of Jeb Bush, because I think he‘s got the personality, look, the style, immensely popular at home. And he comes off even though he‘s a conservative as not a winger.
BAI: That‘s right. That‘s right. He has this ability. This is the big—you talk about square circles.
MATTHEWS: He‘s also a political natural which Mitt Romney isn‘t.
BAI: He is. And you talk about square circles in the Republican Party—this is what you‘re facing.
MATTHEWS: Tell me—tell me, do you think is he going to get talked into it or not?
BAI: I don‘t think so right now because—
MATTHEWS: Will he get talked to in 2012?
BAI: -- because there are a lot of candidates out there.
MATTHEWS: I think he‘s going to get talked to because he‘s the only guy they got.
BAI: It would be pretty interesting, wouldn‘t it?
MATTHEWS: It would be very interesting.
When we return, let me finish with a tribute to one of the proudest votes of a distinguished Senate career, Robert Byrd—his votes against the war in Iraq.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a tribute to a U.S. senator who shared my deep American objection to the Iraq War. I love this country and believe in its historic greatness. I don‘t know how those Founding Fathers found themselves in Philadelphia in the late 18th century but they did. And we are incredibly fortunate for that.
And I love the symbol of the Gadsden flag that, coiled rattlesnake against a field of yellow. “Don‘t Tread on Me‘ -- it warned our enemies, and that included especially the British government and London.
This morning, a man died who treasure this country and that flag. For those reasons, Senator Robert Byrd opposed both wars—both wars with Iraq.
Here‘s what he said in the fall of 2002: “For the first time in the history of the republic, the nation is considering a preemptive strike against a sovereign state. And I will not be silent.”
And on the eve of that second Iraq War, he said, quote, “We proclaim a doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We saw that the United States—or we say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. There is no credible evidence to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11.”
I was personally stunned and remain in awe that a president of George W. Bush‘s abilities was able to take the attack on us of 9/11 and upturn two-plus centuries of American doctrine “Don‘t Tread on Me.” We don‘t attack but if you attack, we attack back. We oppose aggression. We are not the aggressors.
President Bush and his cohorts in and out of the government were able to construct a new doctrine: If we don‘t like you or your policies we attack. If you cause trouble in your region, we attack. If we think you have WMD, we attack.
And millions went for it, hook, line and sinker. Senator Byrd did not. That he was so alone out there makes the swooning of America generally Bush‘s war so frightening.
If someone of Bush‘s ability can make America forget its most basic, most time-honored standards, then imagine what a gifted demagogue could do. It‘s one thing to send us off to Afghanistan, the base of those who hit us. Bush was able to then drive the entire country off to an altogether different direction. That‘s what Bush did.
It‘s interesting that he could not woo two people in his charge to Iraq, Robert Byrd and Edward Kennedy. Both would say their vote against Bush‘s war was the proudest of their careers.
That‘s HARDBALL for now.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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