Guests: Kweisi Mfume, Susan Molinari, Sam Stein, John Heilemann, Chris
Cillizza, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon
CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST: Howard Beale goes to Washington.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chuck Todd in Washington, filling in for Chris Matthews.
Leading off tonight: A day of headlines. This is one of those rare days where any story could be our lead. We have the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee stepping on his party‘s message of saving jobs to defend himself against ethics charges on the House floor. The White House picked a fight with its allies on the left. It‘s primary day, with some important races in the balance. And we learned of the death of one of those anti-Tea Party, old school, bring-home-the-bacon senators in a plane crash today.
We‘re going to start with one of the most remarkable performances we‘ve seen in a long time. Congressman Charlie Rangel took to the House floor for exactly 30 minutes, defending himself against ethics charges in a speech that was carried live by all three cable networks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I don‘t want anyone to feel embarrassed or awkward. Hey, if I was you, I may want me to go away, too. I am not going away! I am here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Rangel went after the Ethics Committee, fellow House Democrats, and without naming him, President Obama. He said he‘s not quitting or going anywhere.
Also, the White House‘s frustration with the left boiled over this morning in an interview Robert Gibbs gave to “The Hill” newspaper. Among the things the White House press secretary said about the left‘s criticism of President Obama was this. “I hear these people saying he‘s like George Bush. Those people should be drug-tested. I mean, it‘s crazy.”
Gibbs walked that and other statements back later in the day. We‘ll talk to one member of what Gibbs calls the “professional left” at the top of the show.
Plus, it‘s primary day in Colorado, Connecticut, even Minnesota and Georgia. And who needs a win the most? Well, the White House does, which has backed its share of losers this year.
Also elephants in the room. Two very big-name Republicans are making noises about getting into the 2012 race against President Obama.
And we learned today of the very sad news that former Alaska senator Ted Stevens was among those killed when a small plane went down near Dillingham, Alaska. It was a reminder of just how many politicians have lost their lives in plane crashes in Alaska, no less.
But we‘re going to begin with Charlie Rangel‘s stunning display on the House floor. Former congressman Kweisi Mfume is a Maryland Democrat who also served as president and CEO of the NAACP. And former congresswoman Susan Molinari is a New York Republican, a New York City Republican.
You‘re both here. I want to go immediately to more from Charlie Rangel today. This is about the charges themselves from the Ethics Committee. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Nobody has tried to protect the integrity of the Congress where (ph) two years—almost two years of investigation, they say—said the mistakes that Rangel has made should be public, and it should have been public earlier than now. And I couldn‘t say anything because I didn‘t want to offend and don‘t want to offend the Ethics Committee, but the Ethics Committee won‘t even tell me when I‘m going to have a hearing.
I don‘t know what changed their minds about settling this case. But my lawyer says, Don‘t offend them. My friends say, Don‘t go to the floor. And I say, What are you going to do to me, you know? Suppose I do get emotional. Suppose I do think of my life, the beginning and the end. Are you going to expel me from this body? Are you going to say that while there‘s no evidence that I took a nickel, asked for a nickel, that there‘s no sworn testimony, no conflict, that I have to leave here?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: All right, Kweisi, that is a man who apparently is looking, in his mind, for due process.
KWEISI MFUME (D), FORMER MARYLAND CONGRESSMAN: And he should. I mean, two years for an investigation in the Ethics Committee, and they‘re not going to hear or convene again until one day before the election. It‘s not fair to Charlie Rangel. It‘s not fair to the people of Harlem. It‘s not fair to the Democratic or Republican Party.
I mean, there is such a thing as due process. Criminal trials are taking less time than that. So I think Charlie‘s right. I mean, you want to hear your fate. You want to have an opportunity to defend yourself. You want to have this taken care of.
I served on the Ethics Committee, so I know that there‘s an even balance there and you try not to be partisan. But this has taken a long time. It‘s taken ha long time for Republicans also who‘ve had charges brought against them, where this committee, for some reason, just seems to be moving slow.
TODD: Susan, obviously, something motivated him to take the House floor. He‘s upset. Things are taking a long time. We are four weeks from the New York primary.
SUSAN MOLINARI ®, FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSWOMAN: You bet. He‘s got a difficult primary coming up in New York, although, you know, Charlie is a legend in Harlem and all of New York City. But you know, he‘s taken—he‘s taken hits. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the RNC, Republicans have called into question every Republican and every Democrat in New York who has taken money from Charlie Rangel. He‘s probably doing some polling, I would imagine, that may have led him to say he needs to get out there and vindicate himself.
Pretty astonishing that he—on a day when the Democrats were leading with the message that was supposed to take them through from now to the general election, to save jobs, to try, and you know, put the Republicans in embarrassing positions, what are we opening up the show with?
MOLINARI: Charlie Rangel. The Democrats are furious right now with Charlie.
TODD: Well, here‘s what Rangel said. He went after his own party and members of his own party. Take a listen to this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RANGEL: And all I‘m saying is that if it is the judgment of people here, for whatever reason, that I resign, then heck, have the Ethics Committee expedite this. Don‘t leave me swinging in the wind until November! If this is an emergency, and I think it is, to help our local and state governments out, what about me?
I don‘t want anyone to feel embarrassed, awkward. Hey, if I was you, I may want me to go away, too. I am not going away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: All right. He somehow linked what they were there to do—I mean, I have to repeat it because I couldn‘t believe what he said. He said, “I think it is to help”—you know, “This is an emergency and I think it is to help our local and state governments out. What about me?”
This gets to this issue that some Democrats are saying, Hey, that‘s a little bit selfish of him today.
MFUME: Well, it‘s timing, too. I mean, I don‘t understand why you adjourn, go away for the summer, and then call everybody back at the last minute to pass a bill where you had the votes to pass it to begin with. Now, I don‘t understand that. So you know, the idea, I guess, was to have this a single moment in time, in history, in August, and to do—
MFUME: -- a rah-rah-rah. But you know, it happened to coincide with the fact that Charlie Rangel is saying, Look, if you‘ve got charges, bring them. And if I can have my day in court, let me have it. So I think it kind of backfired on the party. But you know, I come from the old school, where you got the votes, you vote them. You don‘t go away and come back and do it this way.
MOLINARI: Pretty stunning, though, because clearly, whether Charlie woke up and decided to do it this morning—
MOLINARI: -- he clearly did not tell the Democrat leadership that this was something that was coming down.
TODD: Susan, I want to read you something. This is from the Speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi put out a statement about Congressman Rangel‘s remarks. She said, quote, “As I have repeatedly stated, the independent bipartisan committee is the proper arena for ethics matters to be discussed. The process is moving forward in a way that will ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld in House of Representatives.”
Not very much a defense of Charlie Rangel here at all.
MOLINARI: Well, not at all! I mean, listen, Speaker Pelosi, from her position, has to protect her majority.
MOLINARI: Charlie Rangel, guilty or not guilty, is—is, you know, making this a very difficult time for Democrats to hold onto that majority. It‘s a micro issue in—as Chris Cillizza said today, in New York, New York state. It‘s a macro issue in terms of ethics and the Democratic Party.
MOLINARI: And he just brings it up at a time when the Democrats were seeking to change the topic and sort of reinstate the argument on jobs! That‘s gone!
TODD: Well, now, Congressman Rangel didn‘t leave anybody untouched here. He went after President Obama. He seemed to be pushing for—as you know, President Obama seemed to be pushing for Rangel‘s exit in a CBS interview. The president said, “I‘m sure that what he wants is to be able to end his career with dignity, and my hope is that happens.”
Now, listen to how many times Congressman Rangel uses the word “dignity” in this response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RANGEL: I do want the dignity that the president has said. And the
dignity is that even if you see fit to cause me not to be able to come back
because you‘re not going to do it in my district. But if there‘s some recommendation that I be expelled, for me—for me—that would be dignity because it shows openly that this system isn‘t working for me. And I hope some of you might think if it doesn‘t work for me, that it may not work for you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Well, Kweisi, if you‘re the president and you see Charlie Rangel, an elder statesman in your party, go after you, frankly, that personally, do you think the president regrets trying to push him out the door last week?
MFUME: Oh, I don‘t know. The statement was so vague, it‘s left to interpretation, and so—
TODD: That wasn‘t mean on purpose?
MFUME: I think they‘re going to rise above it. But let me go back to Charlie. This is a guy who has spent 40 years of his life fighting for the Democratic Party in the good times and the bad times. He‘s not charged with corruption. He‘s not charged with criminal malfeasance. He‘s charged with violating House rules. And he‘s just saying, Why does it take two years to let me have my day in court? I just want the American people to see what the charges are and to hear what my response is.
So the fact that the committee is not going to meet until the day before his election is a little suspect. And the fact that it‘s taken two years to get to this point doesn‘t help the process. And so that‘s why you have Republicans saying this is not fair.
MFUME: You have Democrats saying—
TODD: We have had some Republicans actually step up and say that.
MFUME: Oh, absolutely.
TODD: Susan, even in Staten Island, is somebody going to vote out a Democratic member of Congress because of Charlie Rangel?
MOLINARI: I think that the issue becomes more of, it‘s time for a change again. We gave the Democrats another change. (SIC) They said they were going to drain the swamp. The swamp is still, you know, full of (INAUDIBLE) you know, questionable ethical issues that are out there. Maybe—but if you couple it with—
TODD: Right. Right.
MOLINARI: -- you know, 9.5 unemployment—
TODD: Right, right, right.
MOLINARI: -- if you couple it with, you know, a stimulus bill that‘s not going—if you couple it with, you know, concerns in the Democratic Party and some in the Republican on the war in Afghanistan—when you put that all together and you have this—and you have somebody in a district that‘s accepted, you know, a large amount of money—
MOLINARI: -- from Charlie Rangel and won‘t give it back or won‘t (INAUDIBLE) it does become an issue. It‘s a tipping point.
TODD: Kweisi Mfume, Susan Molinari. Had you ever—when was the last time you remember something like this on the House floor?
MFUME: Well, Susan and I served together, so we kind of went through it all for a while.
MOLINARI: Well, unfortunately I was not on the Ethics Committee.
TODD: Anyway, thank you both. What a day on Capitol Hill.
All right, many on the left are frustrated with President Obama, and the feeling apparently is mutual. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs laid into those on what he called, quote, “the professional left,” saying progressives are crazy if they think Obama is anything like George W. Bush. We‘re going to get into that next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD: By the way, in case you were wondering, the story that Charlie Rangel‘s speech stepped on—the House of Representatives today passed that $26 billion aid package that Democrats say will save 300,000 state and local jobs. The vote was 247 to 161, with two Republicans voting with the Democrats and about a little less than 10 Democrats voting with the Republicans. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back into session for the vote over opposition from Republicans who called the package an expensive giveaway to the labor unions. President Obama signs the bill into law later today.
We‘ll be right back.
TODD: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Today we saw it doesn‘t take much to fire up the left sometimes. In an article in “The Hill” newspaper, Robert Gibbs vented some frustration. Here‘s an excerpt. Gibbs dismissed the, quote, “professional left,” saying “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we‘ve eliminated the Pentagon. That‘s not reality.”
At today‘s press briefing, I asked for some clarification of what “professional left” means. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: What was Robert‘s definition of the “professional left”?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that—the way I took it—and haven‘t spoken with Robert (INAUDIBLE) I think he was just talking about folks who mostly live in this town and talk on cable TV.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Well, OK.
TODD: We‘re on cable TV. And apparently, all three of us live in this town, so (INAUDIBLE) Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post,” Sam Stein, (INAUDIBLE) political reporter for The Huffington Post.
And earlier today, he got a comment from Gibbs, walking back his remarks, so Sam, I will start with you. The first thing he admitted was he stood up and said, I watch too much cable TV. What else did he says to you?
SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, he said, basically, that it was an “inartful” way of expressing his frustrations with the political narrative. Now, we all know that this White House thinks it‘s being mistreated in—by punditry. They think they‘ve gotten all these legislative accomplishments and they should be rewarded for it with public opinion.
That‘s not always the case, certainly not on the Internet, certainly not on cable TV. And they sit there and they watch the commentary. They say they‘re above it, of course, but it affects them. And so they go into these interviews, sometimes perhaps not in the best mental state of mind, and they mouth off.
TODD: You know, it was interesting, Eugene. There‘s a lot of whatever you want—the blogosphere, the triggerati (ph), whatever we want to refer to them—and there was one very smart comment from somebody on the left who said, You know what? This White House thought that the liberal blogosphere was going to be like the conservative talk radio for Bush and was just always going to support whatever they did. Fair?
EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and I think that is fair, actually. I think that‘s a—that‘s a smart analysis of what happened and of the White House reaction. And you know, I‘ve noticed that they are really stung by this criticism that they get from the left. And if—you know, if people who would prefer that we didn‘t get so deeply into Afghanistan or would prefer that perhaps health care had been a bit more universal or whatever are part of the “professional left,” you know, A, I have not been paying my professional left association dues—
ROBINSON: -- and B, I haven‘t been getting my check from the professional left.
TODD: But Sam, you know, some of the—look, they will sit there and say—and you know this, you‘ve heard—you hear the same thing. You‘re in those White House briefings every day. You cover this White House. You hear the beast (ph), Hey, we‘re pulling troops out of Iraq, say.
TODD: We are—we are—we are keeping the big promises. We got universal health care, something that wasn‘t done. OK, you‘re going to question the details, but we live in a reality of Washington and of a pragmatic, big-tent Democratic Party. Cut us some slack.
STEIN: Sure, but these are two—these are two entities that are really talking past each other. I mean, in Gibbs‘s interview with “The Hill,” he talked about, you know, what was it, eliminating the Pentagon and what was the other thing?
TODD: Canadian health care.
STEIN: I mean, listen, Obama himself has touted Canadian health care. He said as a senator and as president that it was a good system, but it was not practical. No one is talking about eliminating the Pentagon. It‘s sort of a rhetorical bomb-throwing characterization of the left.
The left meanwhile is criticizing Obama for saying—for pushing the individual mandate for insurance coverage on the American people. They were critical of Obama for not having the individual mandate when he was a candidate for the president. So yes, there are legitimate grips on each side, but they‘re really just talking past each other.
TODD: Well, and speaking of talking past each other, on of the defense Bill Burton made—and by the way, Bill Burton was in for Robert Gibbs today—I talked to Robert Gibbs—because the guy does have a cold. He does have—
TODD: Trust me. We actually tried to get him on. He wanted to come on. He really has borderline laryngitis. I‘m sure there‘ll be conspiracy theories about that.
But I want to show you a poll number from our last NBC/”Wall Street Journal” among self-described liberals. President‘s job approval rating, 76 percent. The disapproval rating, 15 percent. Are all 15 percent on Twitter?
TODD: Is that what‘s going on? I mean, this is a case that backs up the White House, which they say, Hey, this is a—opinion elite, professional left, not what‘s going on in the progressive grass roots.
ROBINSON: Well, yes, but I think if you take that 76 percent of whatever and you slice it and dice it, I‘m confident that you‘d find a lot of people who would say, Well, yes, I would have preferred if he had done this, or I would have preferred if he had moved more quickly on that. So you know, I think what that indicates is that, in general, the president‘s base has not deserted him and I think is unlikely to desert him. The question is enthusiasm and passion and—and the sort of enthusiasm gap that we talk about as we approach the midterms.
TODD: Now, Sam, you know, one of the other things—and Mark Murray, deputy political director here, brought this up to me—it‘s like, you know, there‘s this—conservatives will always say and some of the media will say, hey, it was the progressive blogosphere that got Barack Obama the nomination.
STEIN: Not true.
TODD: No, John Edwards was probably—if there was a straw poll of the progressive blogosphere, John Edwards --
TODD: Barack Obama was never their candidate.
STEIN: There were straw polls. There were straw polls, actually, and John Edwards was the leading candidate up until he basically fell out of the race.
Now, Hillary Clinton also was the candidate of the labor unions. And when Obama won Iowa, that‘s when everything sort of coalesced around him. So, he doesn‘t feel a sense of gratitude towards these communities. He‘s very grateful for what they did post-Iowa, but it‘s not like he—
TODD: Markos was an Obama guy early.
STEIN: But then there were others who were Edwards people.
STEIN: And these are not monolithic entities.
STEIN: I think the major point and what Gene is getting at is, yes, they‘re generally content with the job Obama is doing. But it‘s not an enthusiastic content.
And you look at the most recent Gallup numbers—and this says everything -- 22 percent of Democrats are very enthusiastic for voting in this next election, 44 percent of Republicans. I mean, that—that‘s really the story and that‘s really the fear right here --
TODD: Is one of the things—one of—the Bush administration was always very good at sort of they would give the base something while they went over here.
ROBINSON: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
TODD: You know, sometimes, they would do the dance. Has not Obama done that? Is there more things he needs to—quote—“give the base”? Is—for instance, Elizabeth Warren, is this something that may quiet this down a little bit?
ROBINSON: That could be an example of something that would make a lot of people in the base very happy and would anger only the people who are already angry at the president. So what‘s the loss there?
ROBINSON: But, you know, it‘s interesting, because I just happened to speak to an audience last night that is very liberal, very well-heeled, full of Obama supporters. And I was surprised at the number of people who are not about to abandon him, but who complained specifically, why hasn‘t he done this? Why hasn‘t he done that? Why is Guantanamo still open? Why is this? Why is that?
So, this kvetching in the left is something that I really don‘t think it‘s wise for them to totally ignore.
TODD: Elizabeth Warren, though, could this calm things down for a while?
STEIN: I mean, temporarily.
TODD: -- never goes away.
STEIN: Yes, exactly.
STEIN: There‘s always angst. There‘s always going to be problems.
STEIN: This is not the first. Remember, David Axelrod called Howard Dean insane for saying he wanted to kill the health care bill. The whole political world was in an uproar for a day. It went away.
There may problem here I think is there may be a potential for acrimony between House Democrats and Robert Gibbs. This is not the first misstatement. He also said a couple weeks ago that there was potential for them to lose the House. He‘s establishing a narrative that I think a lot of people on the Hill find frustrating.
TODD: Rahm Emanuel or Robert Gibbs, who is more popular in the progressive blogosphere these days?
STEIN: Oh, man. I don‘t know. I would have to do my own straw poll.
TODD: Who knows?
TODD: Anyway, Eugene Robinson, Sam Stein.
Eugene, I guess you have to pay your dues.
ROBINSON: Yes, I have got to write that—
STEIN: You‘re going to be sent down to AAA.
TODD: All right, up next: the sad news that former Senator Ted Stevens was killed last night in a plane crash in Alaska. What is—just how tragic there has been—with so many politicians dying in plane crashes in Alaska.
We are going to get into that with somebody who has covered Ted Stevens for years, NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell.
We will be right back.
TODD: All right, back to HARDBALL.
There was some sad news today for all of Washington and all of Alaska, as we learned that former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was killed in a plane crash in southwest Alaska last night. The 86-year-old Stevens was the longest serving Republican senator in history. He served from 1968, when he was appointed to the seat, to 2009. He had survived a plane crash in 1978 that killed his first wife.
Former NASA Chief Sean O‘Keefe was also on board the downed plane. He survived the crash.
Joining us now with the latest on this is NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.
But, of course, you have had previous beats, including Capitol Hill.
You covered Ted Stevens very closely.
I just want to people to know Ted Stevens. This was a guy, he was the ranking Republican and sometimes chairman of the Appropriations Committee. This was a—as anti-Tea Party, frankly. He believed in pork barrel.
TODD: He was sort of an old-school senator. Tell us more about him.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, he lived the life, the history of Alaska. When we talk about Alaska, his family, his grieving family, issued a statement tonight, saying that his legacy will be the 49th star on the American flag.
And we interviewed Danny Inouye for our “Nightly News” story tonight, two World War II veterans, one Democrat, one Republican, from Alaska and Hawaii, the two final states. And they both saw themselves as foreigners, they said, according to Inouye.
MITCHELL: Inouye best man at Stevens‘ second wedding.
TODD: They developed those two states in the—
TODD: Using the federal government, using their powers in the Senate, and teaming up together, Democrat and Republican, money went to these two states because of these two men.
MITCHELL: And you didn‘t want to be on the wrong side of Ted Stevens.
But that‘s true of anybody who has ever been Appropriations chairman.
MITCHELL: They are feared.
TODD: They‘re very powerful.
MITCHELL: They are loved. They deliver.
He was a larger figure than people might caricature him as being. And he did go through federal trial. He was convicted for ethics violations, for taking gifts and services from contractors for a vacation home in Alaska.
MITCHELL: And then Eric Holder, none other than Eric Holder from the Obama administration, exonerated him and vacated the charges because of prosecutorial misconduct.
MITCHELL: But he lost his reelection clearly because of that conviction.
TODD: That‘s right.
And one could argue that what Ted Stevens was guilty of was practicing accepting politics of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. That doesn‘t make it right, but that is—is—seems to be what happened. And, in the 21st century, you can‘t get away with that stuff.
MITCHELL: But you also can‘t get away with convicting someone if the prosecutor hid evidence that would have exonerated him.
TODD: There‘s no doubt. But this cozy relationship with lobbyists that is what happens with Appropriations, we‘re seeing it with Charlie Rangel. It‘s this idea, sort of the—there was the—quote, unquote—
“old-school way of doing it.” And you had guys that saw others do it. And they think, well, geez, it‘s been allowed.
And so that‘s where the—the gray line --
MITCHELL: In defense of the old school, which is—I‘m not defending ethics violation by anybody, alleged or not alleged.
MITCHELL: But in defense of the old school, the old school was also the fact that Danny Inouye and Ted Stevens would work across party lines.
MITCHELL: And Inouye campaigned in Alaska for Ted Stevens.
TODD: Always for some—yes.
MITCHELL: And Stevens campaigned in Hawaii for Inouye. And their two party caucuses had to ignore the fact that they were crossing every rule in the political playbook.
TODD: I want to talk about two parts of this on the plane crashes.
One is, if you‘re not from Alaska, if you have never been to Alaska, you don‘t understand the constant danger there is of plane crashes. This is now—I can think of just off the top of my head—the third major politician to die in a plane crash in Alaska, Hale Boggs—
MITCHELL: And Nick Begich, the father of the—
TODD: And Nick Begich, the father of the current senator who beat Ted Stevens.
MITCHELL: Who beat Ted Stevens.
TODD: And now Ted Stevens.
MITCHELL: Who beat Ted Stevens.
And we‘re talking about decades. Look, when you‘re campaigning or flying around to go fishing on these private planes, that‘s the way people travel in Alaska. I have relatives in that area who fly around.
MITCHELL: And that—I have flew to Dillingham to cover Sarah Palin and to do that interview a year ago July.
MITCHELL: And we were in that very airport. And that is—that is very wild territory. It took them 12 hours to get rescuers there. And we think about the history, the terrible history of plane crashes.
TODD: Well, it‘s funny you bring it up. And a week ago—look, Paul Wellstone, Mel Carnahan, Governor George Mickelson of South Dakota, John Heinz, John Tower. We talked about the folks in Alaska, Nick Begich and Hale Boggs in that crash, and Ted Kennedy, Birch Bayh both walking away.
MITCHELL: Walking away from plane crashes.
TODD: Politicians and campaign operatives push the limit maybe too often. Now, we‘re not saying that‘s what happened here, but pilots push it too often. Is that not fair to say?
MITCHELL: No, it‘s absolutely true.
And remember former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. That, of course, was a hideous crash overseas. But the fact is that all of us, everyone in this world of political figures, reporters and the diplomats and others, we fly into terrible places, and we go to rough terrain.
TODD: We do things we would scream bloody murder with if they did it to the American public. We would not want to see it happen to them.
MITCHELL: And we should say that Sean O‘Keefe survived. At least we know that Sean O‘Keefe—
TODD: He did.
MITCHELL: The other thing, quickly, is that the other members—
MITCHELL: -- of—the other group of people on this plane, they were all former aides to Ted Stevens on the Appropriations Committee who had gone onto other jobs. But they were really a tight --
TODD: All right, Ted Stevens, he was a giant in the U.S. Senate, longest serving Republican senator in history. Some of us will remember him for those Incredible Hulk ties on the floor of the U.S. Senate. So, he had—while he may have had a quick temper to some, he also had a great sense of humor anyway.
MITCHELL: Six children and of course his wife Catherine.
TODD: Anyway, Ted Stevens, he will be missed by many.
Andrea Mitchell, thanks very much.
Up next: It‘s also primary night, and the big focus for a lot of folks in Washington: Colorado, where there are hot fights for Senate nominations on both sides of the aisle—the White House hoping for a rare victory this cycle with appointed Senator Michael Bennet facing challenger Andrew Romanoff.
We‘re going to get into all the big races next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SCOTT COHN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Scott Cohn with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks pared losses toward the close, not enough to go positive, though, the Dow industrials down 54 points. The S&P 500 slipped six. The Nasdaq shed 28.
Stocks started bouncing back around mid-afternoon, after the Federal Reserve said it‘s going to reinvest money from maturing mortgage securities back into the treasury market. Economists call that a small step aimed more at reassuring investors than boosting the economy. So, investors took that as a sign that things could be worse.
But the economy could use a boost, nonetheless, wholesale inventories up an anemic one-tenth-of-a-percent in July, while sales fell seven-tenths-of-a-percent.
Meantime, the Labor Department says productivity on the decline in the second quarter. That could be good, though, because it may push employers to add workers to pick up the slack.
In earnings news, Walt Disney delivered quarterly sales and revenues well in excess of estimates. And Netflix shares soared nearly 7 percent on a deal with three major studios to release their films just three months after they appear on pay TV.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Why do you think Andrew Romanoff is challenging you for this nomination?
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: I think it‘s because he wants the job, which I—if I could describe the job to him, he might not want it as much as he does.
But—but he wants the job. And that‘s fine. Having a primary is what this country is all about. I‘m happy to have the competition. And I think we‘re going to be successful today, largely because he has run such an extraordinarily negative campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: A fascinating moment of candor there from appointed Senator Michael Bennet, saying, if Andrew Romanoff knew what the job was, he might not want it as much.
Well, that was my interview today on “The Daily Rundown.”
Colorado, Connecticut and Georgia will decide big primary fights tonight. Don‘t forget Minnesota.
We are going to turn now to Chris Cillizza of “The Washington Post” of “The Fix” himself, John Heilemann, who covers politics for “New York” magazine.
Chris, let me start with you.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Sure.
TODD: Colorado, Colorado, Colorado. What‘s fascinating to me about this Senate—these two Senate primaries, they‘re mirror images of each other. On the Democratic side, the insider, Michael Bennet, outsider, Andrew Romanoff. On the Republican side, the insider, Jane Norton, the outsider, Ken Buck. And both are nail-biters.
CILLIZZA: And, you know, Chuck, I think—well, certainly—let me talk about the Democratic one first, because I think it‘s the big one.
I hate to say this because it makes me look dumb, though that probably won‘t come as a big surprise to a lot of people watching, but I didn‘t see this coming. Bennet did everything right. He ran ads in which he sort of appeared behind the Rocky—in front of the Rocky Mountains, no tie, kind of, I‘m not here long, but I have been here long enough to know it‘s broken.
CILLIZZA: He raised a lot of money. He put very good people in, including Guy Cecil, who wound up being a political director for Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign.
So, he did everything right. Meanwhile, Romanoff struggled to raise money, struggled to differentiate himself ideologically from Bennet. And yet, and yet, and yet here we are with even the most optimistic Bennet folks saying I think we might be able to eke it out.
I think it says something about what having senator before your name, particularly appointed senator, in an environment like this can do.
John, we want—everybody in Washington, we always want to buttonhole anything, right. Oh, it‘s an anti-incumbent move. Oh, wait a minute. Not many incumbents have lost. Well, it‘s anti-establishment. But there is something to this anger. People—people seem to be shopping for candidates all the way up to the last minute.
JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK”: They do. And, in this race, again, the Bennet/Romanoff race, you have the added extra bonus special sauce of the fact that Michael Bennet has these ties to Wall Street.
HEILEMANN: He‘s a guy who has a private equity background. And Andrew Romanoff hit him hard on that.
HEILEMANN: I mean, in many ways, it was the only thing that Andrew Romanoff was running on.
HEILEMANN: He could not come up with a substantive difference between him and Michael Bennet. And so he hit him over and over again on his ties to Wall Street and being an insider, which is funny on many levels, including the fact that this is, I believe, the first time that Michael Bennet‘s name has ever appeared on a ballot in his entire life.
TODD: If anybody is a career politician, Andrew Romanoff has run for office more times than Michael Bennet.
HEILEMANN: Exactly right. Exactly right.
TODD: Go ahead, Chris.
CILLIZZA: Just really quickly, to John‘s point, like, I think, in that interview you just played from “Daily Rundown” this morning, I think Bennet himself is kind of not surprised, but kind of like, I can‘t believe not that I can‘t believe I‘m losing this guy.
CILLIZZA: But like, I can‘t believe that I‘m the insider, like I‘m the insider? How did that happen? This guy is the former speaker of the state house. I‘ve been in office for a year.
TODD: I want to jump to Connecticut and the catnip that is Linda McMahon. But, John Heilemann, is it is going to be fair to hold the White House accountable if Bennet loses?
HEILEMANN: I don‘t think it‘s going to be fair. It‘s going to be—it will be fair, though, to give a lot of credit to Bill Clinton, who rather extraordinarily came in on Romanoff‘s side and did the robocall for him just yesterday.
TODD: All right. Chris, here‘s Linda McMahon last night with ABC‘s Bill Weir on “Nightline” last night. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL WEIR, ABC NEWS: As a rating for a younger audience now, did that have anything to do with your political ambitions?
LINDA MCMAHON ®, CONNECTICUT SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: My political ambitions had nothing to do with that. The evolution of moving to P.G. was already under way before I even thought about—
MCMAHON: entering the political arena.
WEIR: And why?
MCMAHON: Because, as I said, it‘s good business.
WEIR: Is it because the audiences wanted that, do you think?
MCMAHON: Bill, let‘s take a look at what we‘re talking about today. We‘re talking about my running for the United States Senate. We can talk about WWE until tomorrow, but I think the people of our state and what I hear when I‘m around in the state is not. They‘re not concerned about soap opera story lines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: You know, Chris, what struck me about that, Linda McMahon,
former CEO of WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, the wife of Vince
McMahon, probably a more well-known figure to wrestling fans out there,
what struck me about her answer to that is she said, I don‘t want to talk
about that. But her main qualification for running for the United States
Senate is running this Fortune 1,000 company
CILLIZZA: And, Chuck, let me add to that. The reason she is going to win tonight is because she spent $20 million plus of her own money that came from the successes of the World Wrestling Entertainment.
CILLIZZA: I mean, it‘s not just that her background, it‘s that this is financing the campaigning. Look, she says that voters in the state are worried about it. Whether they‘re worried about it or not, I guarantee you from tomorrow to November 2nd, Dick Blumenthal, the Democratic nominee, state attorney general, is going to talk about it. Democrats have talked about this relentlessly. They think it essentially disqualifies McMahon. Her proposition is: if I can spend enough money, if I can tell my own stories, successful businesswoman—
TODD: Right. The story is close.
CILLIZZA: -- I come—yes, keep it close and hope there‘s a slip up at the end there for Blumenthal.
TODD: Hey, John, you know, what I‘m fascinated about Linda McMahon and watching this is wondering, Vince McMahon over the weekend seemed to lament the fact that he thought, gee, the Senate campaign is kind of hurting the brand of the WWE a little bit, kind of play defense.
Do you think the folks are eBay are worried about that when it comes to Meg Whitman who‘s doing the same thing, spending millions based on her work from eBay, and no doubt, Democrats are going to go after that a little bit?
HEILEMANN: You know, I don‘t think they‘re as worried about it, Chuck, because Linda McMahon really is a unique property in a lot of ways. And it‘s funny—you know, she‘s obviously being put into the category of, rightly, that there‘s a trend towards successful Republican female businesswomen getting into politics and doing really well.
HEILEMANN: But she, as both of you—both of you and Chris just pointed out, this is kind of a tricky business for her because she‘s—on the one hand, she‘s running on her business credentials, on the other hand, the business she‘s in is kind of complicated and problematic and not necessarily one you would necessarily want to brag about.
I love the fact that her husband thinks it‘s hurting the brand because it also shows you that it‘s a lot easier to run if you‘re totally separated from your business and can look back at it as a piece of history, as opposed to still having a continuing tie, even if it‘s only a familial tie.
TODD: Yes. It‘s interesting.
All right. Chris Cillizza and John Heilemann, look, these are some great races tonight. We didn‘t get to Minnesota, the return of Mark Dayton. We didn‘t get to Georgia, that crazy runoff with Karen Handel and Nathan Deal. But we‘ll have to have you back from that.
All right. Thank you both.
HEILEMANN: Thanks, Chuck.
TODD: From 2010 to 2012, too varied big Republican names taking serious steps to challenge President Obama two years from now, but perhaps this thing gets started two months from now. That‘s ahead.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD: Rand Paul is firing back at “GQ” magazine. Yesterday, we told you about an article in “GQ” about Paul‘s college days. “GQ” reported that Paul, the Republican nominee for Senate in Kentucky had a—well, shall I say, a wild time while he was a student at Baylor University back in the early ‘80s, and recounted one episode in which he supposedly, allegedly blindfolded a female classmate and tried to force her to smoke a bong. Later today—late today, Paul denied ever blindfolding anyone or forcing anybody to use drugs and he‘s threatening to sue the magazine.
HARDBALL will be right back.
TODD: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It may seem early to some of you, but come on now, we can already see Republicans truly beginning to lay the groundwork for 2012. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has sent direct mail fliers to Iowa voters over the weekend. And Newt Gingrich is featured in a new “Esquire” article.
He‘s an excerpt where Gingrich described himself. Quote, “There‘s a large part of me that‘s 4 years old. I wake up in the morning and I know that somewhere there‘s a cookie. I don‘t know where it is, but I know it‘s mine and I have to go find it. That‘s how I live my life.”
Well, I guess, now, everybody is going to put this guy in the couch.
Could the cookie Gingrich wants now be the presidency? Could he do it?
Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist. Todd Harris is a Republican strategist. None of them for now have horses in 2012.
Although, as a Democrat, you have to say you‘re for the president.
So, I‘m not.
TODD: I‘m just setting you up.
I want to read you one more Gingrich excerpt and then, Todd, I want to go to you on this. Gingrich also said this, quote, “I see myself as a citizen leader trying to understand three things: What the country has to do to be successful, how you would communicate that to the American people so they would let do it and how you‘d actually implement if they gave you permission to do it.”
I talk to a lot of Republicans who say Newt Gingrich‘s brain is the exact brain a Republican candidate for president needs but—
TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, and of course, it‘s the “but.” I mean, Newt has been the intellectual driving force behind some of the greatest successes that the Republican Party has had over the last, you know, 15, 20 years. There‘s no question that he would be, as far as his intellectual firepower, a compelling candidate.
TODD: Nobody wants to debate the guy, put it that way.
HARRIS: Well, can you imagine a debate between Newt and the president. It would be the most cerebral thing that you‘ve ever seen—debate via talking point.
HARRIS: And I‘m a huge Newt fan, and I wish him all the best in 2012, but he will have a tough—a tough road.
TODD: Well, let‘s talk about some of that tough road which “Esquire” got into. They spoke to his ex-wife. Here‘s one quote and there‘s a ton in here and I‘m going to pick one. Quote, “He believes what he says in public and how he lives don‘t have to be connected, and if you believe that, then, yes, you can run for president.”
Steve, you‘ve been in a lot of presidential campaigns. How you‘ve lived your life is part of a presidential campaign. So, Newt can‘t run his past successfully, can he?
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That‘s right. And fortunately for Newt his (AUDIO BREAK) knows his past, and so, it‘s probably to some degree, reflected in the data that you see, and he‘s leading in a number of these states in the Republican primary for president. But she‘s absolutely right. You cannot be one person publicly and another person privately and Newt Gingrich for a long time was that.
She has more reason to know than anybody. She was married to him for 18 years. He asked her to marry him before he was divorced the first time, and apparently according to her, asked his most recent wife to marry him before he was divorced from his second wife. So, it‘s been an interesting life, as well as an open book.
TODD: As somebody used to joke about Rudy Giuliani, you know, it is -
there may be—three marriages is one—is maybe two too many.
HARRIS: You know, the interesting thing about Rudy, though, is that, you know, there were a lot of problems obviously in Rudy‘s campaign when he ran, but Rudy didn‘t lose because of an ex-wife or because of really even anything that had to do with his personal life. And I think a lot of the stuff about Newt has been litigated already. Obviously, if he were to run, he‘s going to have to address all of these issues, but in this economic environment right now, people are far more interested in his plan to cut spending and create jobs than they are about his ex-wife.
TODD: All right. I want to move on. Haley Barbour sent this flier to Iowa voters. It says, quote, “We can‘t wait until 2012 to start taking our country back. We need to elect conservative governors and members of Congress in 2010.” He sent this to Iowa voters.
TODD: Haley Barbour is not up. Yes, there is a governor‘s race in Iowa. Thank God there‘s something to cover.
I have to say, I think a lot of people weren‘t sure where Haley‘s head really was. This says he‘s much more likely to run maybe than not, does this not?
MCMAHON: Well, I think what this says he‘ll be deeply involved in the Iowa governor‘s race. Whether or not that means he‘s going to run or not run I think is something that he‘s got to figure out himself.
He is a very, very, very talented political operative. He‘s done actually I think a pretty darn good job in Mississippi. He did a great job during Katrina, and I say that as somebody who doesn‘t agree with him on policy. And I think he‘s navigated the recent last few years in Mississippi pretty effectively, too. He‘s very popular there, and he‘s, of course, the Republican Governors Association chairman.
TODD: He never criticized President Obama during the BP oil spill. You know, he did it behind the scenes, never did it publicly. The White House noticed that, and they were in many ways grateful of that because of what was going on with some of the other Republican governors.
Todd, very quickly, is there room for both Haley Barbour and Newt Gingrich in a competitive Republican primary?
HARRIS: Well, they‘d be two enormous presences in the race.
TODD: Southerners, too.
MCMAHON: Poor Sarah Palin.
HARRIS: I think it‘s very interesting the fact that both of these guys who are both so compelling come from the 1994 Republican revolution.
TODD: Says a lot, doesn‘t it?
HARRIS: It sure does.
TODD: Todd Harris and Steve McMahon, we‘re going to be right back because we‘re going to talk about this other person you just brought up. Some woman named—
MCMAHON: She pales in comparison to—
TODD: Sarah, Sarah something (INAUDIBLE).
Anyway, she was caught on tape and it was a fascinating, she almost couldn‘t look away. We‘re going to show it when we‘re right back.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD: We are back. A little 2012 talk. Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, Republican strategist Todd Harris.
OK. The other elephant in the room any time you talk about 2012 is Sarah Palin. Take a look at the reality show star that is Sarah Palin. Here she is engaging with a woman holding a massive sign that says “Worst Governor Ever.” Let‘s listen to this confrontation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN ®, FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: That‘s what I‘m out there fighting for Americans to be able to have a Constitution protected so that we can have free speech. And also there—
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you fighting for that?
PALIN: Oh my goodness!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In what way?
PALIN: To elect candidates who understand the Constitution, to protect our military interests so that we can keep on fighting for our Constitution that will protect some of the freedoms that are evidently important to you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By using your celebrity status, certainly not by political status.
BRISTOL PALIN, SARAH PALIN‘S DAUGHTER: How is she a celebrity?
That‘s my question.
B. PALIN: I‘m honored! No, she thinks I‘m a celebrity.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you‘re certainly not representing the state of Alaska any longer, even though—
S. PALIN: That‘s funny that you think she is. She‘s representing the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I know. You belong to America now and that‘s suits me just fine. Yes.
S. PALIN: What do you do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m a teacher.
S. PALIN: Oh.
B. PALIN: Oh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I also have a few other jobs. I‘m married to a commercial fisherman. And so I fish.
S. PALIN: Oh, that‘s cool. So am I. I‘m married to—we probably have a lot in common.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: You know, Steve, what struck me here—look, Sarah Palin is like nothing we‘ve ever seen in American politics. It‘s just a cross between entertainer and politician. I can‘t—every day, I try to figure out what she is, but it‘s sort of like live by reality TV show, die by a reality TV moment. That was not a great moment for her.
MCMAHON: Oh, my God, if you gave her a piece of bubblegum, she could go on “Saturday Night Live” and play a valley girl. And it‘s remarkable to me that you could have Newt Gingrich, one of the most thoughtful, articulate, intelligent men in politics in the same political party getting beat by that. I mean, she—she thinks that we should have a country and candidates who believe in the Constitution and freedom of speech, and she‘s fighting to protect freedom of speech.
HARRIS: I‘m sorry, you don‘t believe in that.
TODD: OK. That‘s one hand. On the other hand, I can‘t picture Newt Gingrich going to the Iowa state fair and having a believable conversation with the state fairgoer.
TODD: I can believe Sarah Palin.
HARRIS: It‘s the point we‘re making before, about how cerebral he is.
Sarah Palin would do a great job—
MCMAHON: Would you say Sarah is cerebral, wouldn‘t you?
HARRIS: She would do a great job at the Iowa state fair, better certainly than Newt. Not sure she‘d do better than Haley. Haley would know all their names by the end of the day.
TODD: But Haley would eat the fried food, he‘s got to be careful.
MCMAHON: Haley would eat the fried food.
TODD: All right, guys. Quick.
MCMAHON: I‘m just reminded, though, Chuck, two times on this show, Todd said he‘d vote for Sarah Palin. Would you after watching that?
TODD: All right, guys.
TODD: Todd Harris, and, Steve McMahon—I‘m going to save Todd from that one.
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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