updated 11/9/2010 10:47:51 AM ET 2010-11-09T15:47:51

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Ron Christie, Joan Walsh, Sam Stein, Elijah Cummings, Jason Altmire


Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

On the 50th anniversary of America‘s election of John F. Kennedy, who do the Democrats want to have leading them?  Are Democrats in Congress willing to go with the same leaders who presided over last week‘s wipe-out?  Do they want to put up the same posters that people voted against?  Nancy Pelosi‘s running for Democratic leader in the House despite sharp criticism from within the party.  Tonight, we talk to one of the Democrats who does not want her serving as the Democrats‘ top leader in the next session.

The fight for number two leader is between the party moderate Steny Hoyer and the party‘s highest-ranking African-American, James Clyburn.  Our stop story tonight, following their worst debacle in history last week, who are the Democrats going to put out there as their leaders?

As for the Republicans, some of their rising hotshots took their victory laps over the weekend, but they‘re also facing big questions about who‘s in charge.  Will the Tea Party rule?

Plus, President Obama in isolation.  He‘s managed to alienate Republicans, some congressional Democrats, the left, big business, the top donors.  So is the president willing to shake up his White House and make the changes necessary to regain control of the nation‘s capital?

And it turns out George W. Bush had his own problems with Dick Cheney.  The former president actually considered dropping him, he says, as his vice president and infuriated Cheney when he rejected his push—Cheney‘s—to pardon Scooter Libby, Cheney‘s felonious chief of staff.  That‘s just one bombshell from Bush‘s new memoir.  We‘ll get to all of it tonight.

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with some thoughts on that election I mentioned of John F. Kennedy, November 8th, 1960, 50 years ago tonight.

Let‘s start with the Democrats‘ leadership battles in the House. 

We‘re joined by Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland and U.S.

Congressman Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania.

Congressman Altmire, would you think that Nancy Pelosi would make a great leader for the Democrats in the next Congress?

JASON ALTMIRE (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  I don‘t.  I represent middle America.  You know Pennsylvania well, Chris.  And if you look at the results in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin—that‘s middle America.  That‘s the industrial Midwest.  And we didn‘t fare so well last Tuesday.  And I do think it‘s time for a change in direction.  If you gauge effectiveness by a willingness to push forward legislation that‘s not popular with the American people and have literally multiple dozens of members cast politically suicidal votes, then yes, Speaker Pelosi was effective.  But I don‘t think that‘s the direction we want to keep going.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Clyburn, your view?  I mean, Congressman Cummings!


MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry!  Clyburn‘s running for whip...

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  That‘s quite a compliment, by the way.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know it is.  It ought to be.  He‘s running for whip, as well, to keep his seat.  Let me ask you about the question of the Speaker first.  The Speaker—should she be the leader of the Democratic Party in the next Congress or should she step aside?

CUMMINGS:  I think that she should remain.  Speaker Pelosi, I think, has done an outstanding job.  And I think, basically, what has happened is that you‘ve had folks all over the country demonizing her.  But let me—let‘s be frank.  There is no one that I know of that has the passion and compassion of a Nancy Pelosi.

And keep in mind that there were 49 districts that McCain had already

had won in, in the last election.  So I mean, come on.  She‘s taken on monumental tasks with boldness and clarity.  Health care reform—nobody was able to do that in 60 years, and there‘s no way that we could have accomplished that, by the way, without Nancy Pelosi.

Here in Maryland, Chris, we ran on the health care bill.  We talked about it.  We talked about saving lives.  And all of our members won handily, except one, one of our new members, who was in a McCain district.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at the fight over the weekend because we‘re going to have the real James Clyburn coming up here on this—we didn‘t have him on the show tonight.  We got to settle for you, Mr.  Cummings.  But let‘s take a look here at Cantor.  He‘s one of the top Republicans.  He‘s from Virginia.  He‘s on Fox News on Sunday, and then Jim Clyburn, the Democratic whip.  He‘s on “MORNING JOE” this morning.  Let‘s listen to both these gentlemen.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MINORITY WHIP:  If Democratic members in the House elect Nancy Pelosi as their leader, it‘s almost as if they just didn‘t get the message from voters this election.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), MAJORITY WHIP:  This had nothing to do with Nancy Pelosi‘s leadership.  It had everything to do with an economy that was close to collapse.  It has everything to do with an environment that we found ourselves in.


MATTHEWS:  Well, let me read you the “New York Times” editorial from this morning.  I thi8nk it‘s pretty tough.  “What Democrats need is what Ms. Pelosi has been unable to provide, a clear and convincing voice to help Americans understand that Democratic policies are not bankrupting the country, advancing socialism or destroying freedom.  If Ms. Pelosi had been a more persuasive communicator, she could have batted away the ludicrous caricature of her painted by Republicans across the country as some kind of fur-headed commissar jamming her diktats down the public‘s throat..”

Let me go back to Congressman Altmire.  I know Pennsylvania and I know what happened up there.  And I looked at all the interesting members of Congress who I happen to like, like Murphy and Carney and Kanjorski, and all these guys went down the drain up there.  And I want you to talk about what role—and I saw the ads, Mr. Cummings, over the weekend up there in Philly a couple of weekends.  I was up for my daughter‘s parents‘ weekend.  I got to tell you, those ads blamed members—people running for Congress, who weren‘t event members of Congress, Democrats, for Pelosi.  They were using her as a battering ram against these guys.

So what Altmire‘s talking about here is the reality on the ground in Pennsylvania.  Explain to me, as a fellow who‘s been around talking to voters now for months and years, what do they think of Pelosi?  What‘s the truth about Pelosi?  Is it the same thing?

CUMMINGS:  You asking me, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  I want to go to Mr. Altmire first.  I‘m talking about the bad news here for the Dems.

ALTMIRE:  Yes, Chris, you hit the nail right on the head.  She became the symbol of what the American people were uncomfortable with, a big government agenda, a big spending agenda.  I don‘t question where Speaker Pelosi‘s heart is.  I don‘t question her passion on the issues.  What I question is whether the future of the Democratic Party is well served with her continuing as leader.  And I know in my region of the country, in the one district that I‘ve been elected to represent, her views are inconsistent with the views of my district.  It‘s as simple as that.

MATTHEWS:  What view is different between you and her?  Give me the biggest difference between you and her, Congressman Altmire, on substance.

ALTMIRE:  What she pursued with regard to cap-and-trade in western Pennsylvania.  That‘s not good policy.  I voted against the health care bill because I didn‘t think that was the right direction to go.


ALTMIRE:  And if you look at the region in eastern Ohio and in West Virginia, in northwestern Pennsylvania, we lost Democratic members that have constituencies very similar to mine.  I survived a very close race, but a lot of my neighbors in Congress got literally wiped out because of the agenda that she pursued.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Cummings, your view of this?  Because we‘re looking at reality on the ground.  And you saw the TV ads, I‘m sure.


MATTHEWS:  They ran against—as if she was, I don‘t know, Bella Abzug, somebody—another one of these characters that come up (INAUDIBLE) They always come up with one, the Republicans, someone in the Democratic Party that they use as the worst case scenario for whosever running.

CUMMINGS:  Yes.  I think that, basically, again, you nailed it, Chris.  I think they picked out Ms. Pelosi and made her the person that they wanted to use to symbolize exactly a lot of the things that the Republicans did not want.  Keep in mind that Mr. Foley, Congressman Foley lost a few years ago, and he was the leader, the Speaker.  And so I think we‘re going to have those—I mean, those things are going to happen.  They‘re going to got to pick somebody to do that with.

Now, I think no matter who had been head of the Democratic Party in the House, I think they probably would have suffered the same things.  It was Jim Clyburn, I think, said it right.  I mean, we‘re dealing in a difficult situation.  We‘ve got a jobs problem that this president has been trying to address, but with phenomenal opposition by—from the Republicans.


CUMMINGS:  And so we‘ve had a lot to deal with.  And I think Nancy Pelosi has done an outstanding job, and she will be the leader.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you an intellectual question, but it gets really political.  Mr. Altmire first, then Mr. Cummings.  Is it better for a party, either party, to have a leader who‘s from a safe district, like—well, Tip O‘Neill, in the old days, Cambridge, Massachusetts—I think he had a communist run against him once.  That was the only opponent he ever faced up there in his later years—or a Chuck Schumer or somebody from a safe district like Pelosi‘s, or is it better to have somebody who has to fight like hell to get reelected every six years, like Harry Reid in the Senate?

Do you want somebody from a tough district or someone from a safe district?  Because if you‘re from a safe district, you know the problem, which is they are too far over.  If it‘s from a tricky district, they got to keep playing games with Hispanic votes and every trick in the world to save their seat.  That‘s just my way of putting it, but you have to play a lot of games to hold onto some of these seats.  Your thoughts, Mr. Altmire.

ALTMIRE:  It‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Should it be better to be a swing seat or a safe seat?

ALTMIRE:  It depends on what you...

MATTHEWS:  Because you‘re knocking Nancy Pelosi because she‘s on the left representing well, I think you‘d agree, San Francisco.  But you‘d say that‘s not representing western Pennsylvania.  San Francisco is uniquely liberal, like Cambridge, Massachusetts, or parts of New York City.   But if you have a leader from them, they will represent their areas, and then you will have a poster child, if you will, or woman or man, for what the voters love to go against from the middle part of the country.  Your thoughts.

ALTMIRE:  Chris, you‘ve outlined exactly the decision the Democratic Party needs to make.  Do they want to continue to be the loyal opposition, fighting for a left-of-center ideology that is relevant only in a few areas of the country, or do they want to continue to try to be a national party, a party that can win in the deep South and in the industrial Midwest, places where the party got crushed?  I would suggest you have to have a leader who understands the issues that are relative across the entire country, not just along the coasts.

MATTHEWS:  OK, who are you for in—who are you for in the leadership race for—let‘s get this down right now, Mr. Altmire, Steny Hoyer, perhaps, who‘s going to run again—looks like he‘s running against Jim Clyburn for whip, the number two position after Pelosi?  Who are you for?

ALTMIRE:  I support Steny Hoyer.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Cummings, another tough question for you.  Do you (INAUDIBLE) do you support Mr. Clyburn or (INAUDIBLE)

CUMMINGS:  I‘m for both of them.

MATTHEWS:  ... or do you...

CUMMINGS:  I am for both of them.  I think that we‘re going to end up with a deal where they‘re both in leadership.  Both of them bring phenomenal skills to the plate, and we need both of them.  And I think we‘ll find that happening.

MATTHEWS:  Well, who should be whip, number two?

CUMMINGS:  I‘m not—I‘m not going to go into that.  But I can tell you...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I love it!


MATTHEWS:  I love it!


MATTHEWS:  In Philly, they call this “middling” a guy, forcing you to choose between geography and the Black Caucus.  I can really hit you with this one.

CUMMINGS:  When all the dust settles, both of them will be at the table.  And I applaud that.  I think we need both of them.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mr. Cummings, I appreciate fully your situation being from Maryland and being a member of the caucus.  Thank you, sir.  I think this fight should be interesting, if there is one.  Thank you, gentlemen.  I think, Mr. Altmire, you are a courageous fellow for saying what you do.  And I do think that Pelosi was a problem in Pennsylvania.  I think she‘s a problem in that middle part of the country.  Part of it‘s looks, style, manner, ideology.  Parts of it‘s geography.  Part of it‘s—who knows, could be gender, I don‘t know.  But I think there‘s something that the Republicans love to run against in that part of the country.  And I know you have to face the fire for it.  Thank you, sir, for joining us.

ALTMIRE:  Thank you.

CUMMINGS:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next: As Democrats in the House debate over who will lead them, Republicans are fighting over the role the Tea Party‘s going to play in their caucus.  If you think the Democrats have a fight brewing between left and center, look at the Republicans between far right and right of center there.  It‘s a little different.  It‘s a little different.  And after energizing the party for the mid-terms, do Tea Parties deserve spots in leadership?  Wow!  That‘s a—are they going to go right to the top?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  There weren‘t a lot of bright spots for Democrats in last week‘s mid-terms, as you might have noticed, but Democratic Association is crowing about its record in last Tuesday‘s contests.  Of the 22 races where the two sides spent heavily, Democrats won 11, Republicans won 10.  An independent won one—that‘s in Rhode Island.  The DGA, Democratic Governors Association, is also bragging that they flipped five governorships from red to blue, including California, and fought off Republicans in key target states like Illinois.  Who would have thought the Democrats would get out of this thing with Illinois and California?

Still, Republicans won in 11 states formerly held by Democrats and they won control of at least 18 legislative chambers, which gives them the upper hand heading into, of course, the battles for redistricting, which are decided by state legislatures.

We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Establishment Republicans and Tea Party newcomers, we‘re calling them, are facing a lot of awkward questions about how each side will get along with each other and just who‘s in charge of shaping the Republican agenda.  Kentucky senator-elect Rand Paul was unabashed about the Tea Party‘s power coming into Washington.  Let‘s listen to Rand Paul.


RAND PAUL (R-KY), SENATOR-ELECT:  And I think the Tea Party actually is coopting Washington.  You look around...


PAUL:  Absolutely.  We‘re coming.  We‘re proud.  We‘re strong.  We‘re loud.  And we‘re going to coopt—and in fact, I think we‘re already shaping the debate.


MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Will the Tea Party call the shots or will Republicans find a way to sideline them?  Howard Fineman‘s an MSNBC political analyst and senior political editor at the HuffingtonPost, and Eugene Robinson‘s also an MSNBC political analyst, and of course, a great columnist for “The Washington Post.”

Gene and then Howard, this question.  These guys aren‘t coming in with humble pie.  They‘re not Uriah Heeps.  They‘re coming in, We won, we‘re the best guys in town, we‘re the coolest guys, we just arrived at the dance.  See our new clothes?


MATTHEWS:  We‘re the coolest guys.  We‘ve got engineer boots on.  We got (INAUDIBLE) engineer boots, we got the coolest clothes.  We‘re the ones that have beaten the big shots.  Listen to us.  Take orders from us.  I don‘t think Rand Paul is going to get in line and do what Mitch McConnell tells him to do.

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I really don‘t think so, especially since Mitch McConnell did everything he could possibly do to keep Rand Paul...


ROBINSON:  ... from being nominated.  But no, they‘re coming in as if they have the mandate of heaven.  You know, it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to be the best thing ever happened to the Democrats, to have these guys out there?

ROBINSON:  Potentially, it is.  It‘s going to be interesting.  It‘s going to be great for all of us because...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, because we...


ROBINSON:  ... this is going to have a great storyline.

MATTHEWS:  I have just served up to Altmire, Jason Altmire, who‘s a bright young guy, obviously—not being condescending, he is—he just got elected in the toughest year in the world for most—Gene Atkinson‘s (ph) old seat.   And he‘s worried about having himself branded with an unpopular image, icon, Nancy Pelosi, who‘s very attractive, obviously, to most people in that part of the country, not so attractive to people in the hardscrabble areas where the Rust Belt dominates.  Same problem with—will the Tea Party scare the suburbs to death and chase them right back to the Democratic Party in a year or two?


MATTHEWS:  The Christine O‘Donnell crowd.

FINEMAN:  They could, if the Tea Party is true to its claims.  They‘re saying they want to, for example, cut $100 billion out of the non-defense discretionary budget.  Now, we could say that‘s just peanuts compared to the giant debt.  However, if you‘re actually going to do that, you‘re going to cut about 20 percent—that is $1 out of every five—out of that whole thing.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a lot of squeal there.

FINEMAN:  That‘s a lot of money.  So if they‘re serious about it, yes, they‘re going to scare some people, but that‘s what they claim they want to do.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s get the real—here‘s Jim DeMint, who‘s, of course, the sort of the godfather of—no disrespect—well, maybe some disrespect—godfather of this.  He‘s talking about the relationship between Republicans and the Tea Party.  He‘s the member of the Senate from South Carolina who was one of their biggest cheerleaders, if not their number one sort of senior member.  Let‘s listen.


SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I‘m hoping the Republican Party will embrace a lot of the ideas of the Tea Party, but it‘s a mistake to think that the Tea Party is one big organization.  It‘s made up of thousands of leaders all across the country, of citizens who are just tired of out-of-control spending.  They want to take back the power from the Washington politicians.  And I think they made a huge difference in the election.  But they‘re just a part of this awakening of the American people, the citizen activism I think that‘s realigning politics in America today.


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Rand Paul again here.  He‘s—let‘s have what he has to say here, Rand Paul.


PAUL:  Primarily, the Tea Party is about the debt.  It‘s concerned and worried that we‘re inheriting or passing along this debt to our kids and our grandkids, is the number one thing of the Tea Party.  I don‘t believe I‘ll vote to raise the debt ceiling.


PAUL:  No.  I think that we need to send a message—we need to send a strong message that...

AMANPOUR:  The government would default, then.

PAUL:  Well, only if we won the vote, would they default. 

AMANPOUR:  So, you think it won‘t pass?

PAUL:  You know, I think it‘s unlikely.  There are people who vote against the debt ceiling every time to send a message that adding more debt is wrong. 


MATTHEWS:  So, is this the little square dance they‘re putting together, that the Tea Party guys give the symbolic votes against government, while the regular Republicans fill in for them and make sure every—the ship stays afloat?


MATTHEWS:  In other words, it‘s a game.  He‘s setting it up as a game.

FINEMAN:  I was amazed that Dr. Rand Paul, who‘s this supposed neophyte, who is coming from the wilds of Kentucky up here, unschooled in the ways of Washington...



FINEMAN:  ... has already figured out...

MATTHEWS:  The game.

FINEMAN:  ... the game. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  He‘s going to vote for it secure in the knowledge that most others people won‘t be crazy enough to vote for. 

ROBINSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  The oldest Washington trick is to be on the losing side of an unpopular winning issue on the winning side of some... 

FINEMAN:  Exactly. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so simple.  They always need 218 in the House and 51 in the Senate.  So, he says getting a bunch of these squirrels together and vote for the thing.  I‘m not going to be one of them.

FINEMAN:  OK.  Well, what Mitch McConnell‘s going to say—and it‘s going to be fascinating. 

Now, I used to work in Kentucky, so I now see everything through the lens of McConnell vs. Rand.  But what a dance that is going to be for the next year or two, because McConnell will say to Rand, OK, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling.  But what are you going to do about earmarks?

Because Mitch McConnell, of course, loves earmarks.  So, he will make...


MATTHEWS:  There‘s another political party that‘s still around.  In fact, they control the Senate, at least nominally. 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re Harry Reid and you‘re ticked off as hell at these guys.  And you say, you want to play this little dance, so, the right-wingers get to vote against everything and the regulars get to vote minimally for what we have to do to pass? 

How about if I don‘t give you any Democratic votes for the debt ceiling?  How about I make you guys come up with the 50 votes or most of them?  What happens then?  Then Rand Paul can‘t play his little game of playing hard to get.  He‘s got to be one of the Republicans who served up the vote for unpopular things like funding of the IMF and all these things you have to do every two years, every year, that nobody likes to do. 

FINEMAN:  Well, the only problem with that is, I can all—we can all see where this game is headed with the debt ceiling thing.  It‘s going to be, who is going to get the blame?

If the Democrats, who still nominally control the Senate, sit on their hands and don‘t vote for it, then that gives the Republicans...


MATTHEWS:  But, if you‘re Harry, you‘re going so say—Mr. Reid, Senator Reid, you‘re going to say, OK, buddy.  I know this game, 50-50.  I will give you half.  You give me half. 


MATTHEWS:  And every one of my members who is running for reelection next year ain‘t going to be one of them.  Everybody who just got elected for six years, yes, you got—you got Pat Leahy‘s vote.  You got Mikulski‘s vote, but you‘re not going to get the other guys‘ vote.


ROBINSON:  Right.  If some of your guys get to sit out, some of my guys get to sit out. 


MATTHEWS:  So, if we‘re figuring it out, aren‘t the voters watching the show know the game and how it‘s going to be played?


MATTHEWS:  That all the people are going to posture themselves.

Well, let‘s go.  Here‘s more DeMint.  Let‘s see if we can figure out what they‘re up to.  Here‘s DeMint, of course the South Carolinian.  He seemed to say the Republicans owed their victory to the Tea Party and he defended his support for Christine O‘Donnell, of all people, a very nice person I think most people in Delaware agreed shouldn‘t be in the U.S.  Senate.  Let‘s listen. 


SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  The Tea Party are responsible for just about every Republican who was elected around the country.  This time last year, if people will think about it, we were concerned about holding our own. 

Many thought Republicans would fall below 38 in the Senate, so I supported all the Republican candidates, including Christine O‘Donnell.  Unfortunately, she was so maligned by Republicans, I don‘t think she ever had a chance. 


MATTHEWS:  That‘s absurd talk. 

Her own problems are her own problems.  I mean, she has a delightful personality, a delightful appearance.  She has a lot of spirit.  And maybe some day, she will get elected to some lower office.  I think the Senate is beyond her reach.

Let‘s take a look at Lindsey Graham, because he comes off as sort of a thoughtful person in this fight.  But maybe he‘s just a favorite of ours.  But here he is. 

That will get him in trouble.

Here he is.


MATTHEWS: “If you think what happened in Delaware is a win for the Republican Party, then we don‘t have a snowball‘s chance to win the White House.  If you think Delaware was a wakeup call for Republicans, then we have shot at doing well for a long time.”

In other words, when you run a person who shouldn‘t be nominated, you learn your lesson.  Let‘s not have too much fun in this business.  Let‘s take it seriously.


FINEMAN:  I can‘t tell you how much the Republican Senate establishment hates Jim DeMint. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  They hate him. 

ROBINSON:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  And one reason they hate is he‘s complaining about the fact that they were trashing Christine O‘Donnell, where he, Jim DeMint, went around the country for the previous year, trashing all of the Republican candidates that he thought were not sufficiently Tea Party-esque. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t want to defend the establishment, but this is...


ROBINSON:  Well, but this is going to be the fight.  It‘s going to be the Republican establishment vs. the Tea Partiers and DeMint.  And that‘s going to be fascinating. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think, Howard, you started off really well here tonight with the question of—well, you did—with the question of, if you‘re going to promise to cut everything, cut everything, and then pay the price for it, because there is not a game here. 

These programs have been worked up for years by constituency groups to live off them.  And there‘s going to be a lot of yelping and pain when you cut them, even if you have to cut them. 

FINEMAN:  I think if they—if the Tea Party Republicans and other Republicans are willing to talk straight about what they‘re proposing to do...

MATTHEWS:  Real pain.

FINEMAN:  ... and really talk about it and be brave about it, then...


FINEMAN:  ... they will get a lot of respect for them.


MATTHEWS:  Well, they will get some from me.


FINEMAN:  That‘s not what they‘re planning...


MATTHEWS:  I remember Ronald Reagan.  Remember Reagan?  Reagan never cut anything, really.  He would say—he‘d talk about cutting, and then he would get waste, fraud, and abuse. 


ROBINSON:  What they have in mind is waste, fraud, and talking about that. 


FINEMAN:  Social Security.  I think one of the people over the weekend mentioned hundreds of billions of dollars that you could save in waste in the Social Security program... 

ROBINSON:  Yes, right.

FINEMAN:  ... which I don‘t think is true.  I think the Social Security program, vast though it is, is probably one of the best...


MATTHEWS:  And, by the way...


FINEMAN:  ... best administrated programs ever.


MATTHEWS:  Yes, you could have a means-testing program.  You want that?  Oh, you make too much money.  You‘re not going to get it.  See how that goes over.

Thank you, Howard.  Thank you, Eugene.  Professors.

Up next:  President Obama traveled to India to try to create more jobs in the U.S.  Well, that‘s the argument.  But what will he be remembered for most over there?  We have got the answer next in the “Sideshow.”

This wasn‘t the best-timed trip in the world, I don‘t think.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 

First tonight: dance diplomacy.  Yesterday, a reluctant President Obama was pulled into a dance with Mumbai schoolchildren to celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. 

While Michelle is trying to groove with the kids, do what they‘re doing, the president seems like he‘s staying American, doing some sort of  frug or whatever we call dancing that we do these days.  That‘s sort of what I do.

Anyway, the local “Mail Today” newspaper wrote that while Michelle Obama was—has a natural sense of rhythm, her husband—quote—“looks lost on the dance floor”—pretty well-written there.

Next, tell us what you really think.

Here‘s Gotham, New York, Mayor Mike Bloomberg this weekend at an environmental summit over in Hong Kong—quote—“If you look at the U.S., you look at who we‘re electing to Congress, to the Senate, they can‘t read, he said.  I will bet you a bunch of these people don‘t have passports.  We‘re about to start a trade war with China, if we‘re not careful here, only because nobody knows where China is.  Nobody knows what China is.”

Well, Bloomberg added that he‘s not planning a run in 2012 for president.  And with comments like that last one, I‘m inclined to believe him. 

They can‘t read?  He‘s talking about senators and members of Congress. 

They can‘t read.  Nobody can call this guy a pander bear.

Now to tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Texas Governor Rick Perry is again thumbing his nose at the federal government.  This time, he‘s aiming at the Environmental Protection Agency. 

In the past nine months, how many lawsuits has the state of Texas filed

against the EPA?  Seven, seven lawsuits, about one a month, lawsuits

against the EPA‘s efforts to battle climate change.  Well, he‘s out his way

tonight‘s “Don‘t mess with Texas” “Big Number.” 

Up next—and that guy‘s running for president.

Up next: George W. Bush‘s new memoir.  The former president thought about dumping Dick Cheney as vice president and says Cheney was angered when he, Bush, refused to pardon Scooter Libby, Cheney‘s chief of staff, his felonious chief of staff.

More from the former president‘s new book when we return.  We got the

we got enough information from the book.  Let‘s put it that way. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A higher dollar taking a toll on stocks, the Dow falling 37 points, the S&P losing two-and-a-half, and the Nasdaq higher by just one point.  Investors turning their attention back to European debt levels, after a busy week of U.S. news.  The Irish bond market is in freefall on government plans to double spending cuts and increase taxes.  Big banks are in the red on concerns low interest rates are hurting profits and a report that the SEC is weighing whether Citigroup was up-front with investors about debt fund risk levels.

In the telecommunications sector, JDS Uniphase surged after “Barron‘s” spotlighted its work boosting video capacity on the Internet.  Amazon is higher on the plans to buy Diapers.com and Soap.com for half-a-billion dollars.  And travel sit Priceline‘s shares are surging after-hours on a late earnings report showing bookings are up nearly 50 percent from one year ago. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to



GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This may seem strange to you.  I really don‘t care about perceptions at this point in time.  I served.  I gave it my all.  And I am a content man.  And the book has been part of a transition process to private life and it‘s a way for me to put the reader in the environment in which I had to make decisions. 


MATTHEWS:  That is the strangest setup, where they‘re sitting across -

they usually have chairs, wing-back chairs, in some posh hotel room. 

There they are, sitting across from each other like—it‘s not like a prison scene. 

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  Kind of looks like a dark room.  What the heck is that? 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sure Matt and the producers at “The Today Show” figured this out, but it‘s really an amazing—I thought Matt did a hell of the job with this interview, when he got the president to be so personal there.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Bush‘s discussion with Matt Lauer of course on NBC about his “December Points,” the name of the book.  It‘s literally coming out tomorrow, though everybody has gotten a peek at it.

The books begins with an effort to shape his presidential legacy, obviously.  Earlier on “The Today Show,” Matt Lauer asked him about Scooter Libby.  Now, Scooter Libby, to those who are not experts on “HARDBALL,” was chief of staff to Vice President Cheney.  He got convicted of about five felony counts of obstruction of justice and perjury.  The president commuted the sentence to time served or whatever.

Let‘s listen to him discussing that now. 


BUSH:  Scooter is a loyal American who worked for Vice President Cheney who got caught up in this Valerie Plame case, and was indicted and convicted.  And I chose to commute his sentence.  I felt he had paid enough of a penalty. 

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  Critics immediately said, if you‘re loyal to Bush, you don‘t have to go to prison.  So, it didn‘t come without a price. 

BUSH:  That‘s right. 

LAUER:  And yet, Vice President Cheney wanted more. 

BUSH:  He did.  He wanted me to pardon him.  And this was a decision that was—well, the last decision of the presidency, really.  And I chose to let the jury verdict stand, after some serious deliberation.  And the vice president was angry. 

LAUER:  Yes.  When you went to him and you told him, you said he was furious.  And he said, “I can‘t believe you‘re going to leave a soldier on the battlefield.”

BUSH:  Yes, he did. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, he didn‘t actually leave the verdict stand, because Scooter was supposed to go away for many years to prison for numerous felonies, but apparently the president let him off and thought that was letting the jury have its way.  The jury wanted to send him to prison for many years.  The president let him off.

Ron Christie is a former aide who never got in trouble working for Vice President Cheney, not yet. 


MATTHEWS:  I‘m just kidding. 

And Joan Walsh is editor at large of Salon.com.

Joan, I—here‘s the president of the United States, the former president, has been in—basically in hiding for all these months, appropriately so, I think.  He stayed out of the game of politics.  Fair enough.  Now he‘s back selling a book.  They all do it.  Nothing new here. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you find of his remarks with Matt Lauer the other night educational?  Anything new there?

WALSH:  I don‘t think there‘s anything terribly new there. 

He wants to make it clear that he stood up to Cheney.  He wants to make it clear that he was really his own man, and so he reveals a few things that basically we already new about Libby.  I find it—the idea that Libby was a soldier on the battlefield left behind is just so self-pitying and so dramatic on Cheney‘s part.  But I guess I...


MATTHEWS:  Especially since Cheney made a point of never being a soldier on the field, with five deferments. 

WALSH:  Really.  Really.  Exactly. 


MATTHEWS:  And so the common soldier on the field, or use that

reference, like I‘m an old battle hand.  I have been out there as a

warrior.  I know how these...

WALSH:  And we‘re all out there taking fire, when we‘re sitting in comfy offices and we‘re outing a CIA agent and putting her in danger. 


It‘s just like the self-dramatization and the self-importance of that line.  It‘s a great line.  But we all—we knew that they fought about that.  You know, I wish he would have stood up.  If he was going to stand up to Vice President Cheney, it might have been better over the Iraq war.  And some of his revelations about the war are patently ridiculous. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron Christie, what did you think of the president? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, I think he looks very relaxed. 

This is the George Bush that I have seen, Chris, since he‘s left

office.  I have seen him a couple of times.  I will see him later on this

week.  And I think it‘s really important now that people, after two years -

and he really has taken himself out of public light—it‘s his opportunity to explain some of the key decisions in his life, not just his administration‘s.


MATTHEWS:  How do you explain a guy who committed five felonies, and the jury found him guilty, they sentenced him to prison, I let the jury verdict stand, but I let him off?  That doesn‘t make any sense.

CHRISTIE:  I think Scooter Libby, that was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice we have seen...


MATTHEWS:  But he let—no, where‘s the consistency in the president‘s account here?  He said he let the jury decision stand, but he let him out. 

CHRISTIE:  I think, if you listen to what the president said, Chris, he said, “I think that Scooter suffered enough.”

I think he did. 

MATTHEWS:  What, by going to trial?

CHRISTIE:  His kids were getting—his—his kids were being harassed at school, his family.  He lost all of his money.

And, frankly, if you want to get to what Joan said—and Joan, I‘m

not going to argue with you today—but if you get to Joan said, Chris,

she said

MATTHEWS:  Argue with me.

CHRISTIE:  Well, I‘ll argue with you.  I‘m in a good mood today.

The underlying issue is that Scooter did not out Valerie Plame.  She had, of course, her identity—


MATTHEWS:  The jury found him guilty of forgery and obstruction of justice.  Was he guilty?

CHRISTIE:  Exactly.  Chris, look, I don‘t think he was.

MATTHEWS:  So, if you were on the jury, you would have forced a hung jury?

CHRISTIE:  Well, of course, I didn‘t sit and I wasn‘t in the jury deliberations.  But as a lawyer, you can indict a ham sandwich, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  No, he‘s convicted.

CHRISTIE:  He—I‘m very well aware of that.


CHRISTIE:  I don‘t think we want to relitigate the Scooter Libby—

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just trying to know if the president of the United States knows reality.

CHRISTIE:  The president of the United States does know reality.  He said Scooter suffered enough.


MATTHEWS:  He says he let the jury decision stand and he didn‘t, Joan.  That‘s all I‘m asking.  Can the president separate reality from his own subjective universe?  When he says I let the jury stand, then he said, I let him go, most people will say, I‘d like to have a jury like that where they let me go after convicted by a jury of 12 people.


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to a thing, much more serious than the war itself, which cost the lives of 77,000 people and counting.

President Bush writes about not finding weapons of mass destruction, quote, “When Saddam didn‘t use weapons of mass destruction on our troops, I was relieved.  When we didn‘t discover the stockpile soon after the fall of Baghdad, I was surprised.  When the whole summer passed without finding any I was alarmed.  No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn‘t find the weapons.  I had a sickening feeling every time I though about it.  I still do.”

So, he‘s talking about his subjective feelings here again.

And here‘s the question: he says later on that he protected us from being hit again by attacking in Iraq, but then says I didn‘t find any weapons.  He protected us from the weapons that didn‘t exist.

WALSH:  That didn‘t exist.

MATTHEWS:  I think it makes no—Joan, it makes no logical sense to say, I protected us from the weapons they didn‘t have.  There were no nuclear or biological or chemical.  They weren‘t there.  I protected us by going to war, 77,000 dead people later, and I should get credit because we weren‘t hit again by weapons that don‘t exist.

It doesn‘t make sense to a regular person listening to this.


WALSH:  It doesn‘t make any sense.  I mean, come on, he sits there and says he‘s sickened, he‘s saddened, he‘s angry about it.

MATTHEWS:  Who cares?

WALSH:  And then, the three—but also the three of us remember he did that funny little routine at one of the—one of the big Washington dinners where he‘s on his hands and knees, looking behind the couch, where the WMDs?  That was hilarious.  Are you sickened?  Are you sickened or do you think it‘s funny?  I mean, that‘s where this guy‘s moral compass and psychological compass—something‘s always off to me.  Something—


CHRISTIE:  Wait a second.  I am not going to let you sit there and talk about his psychological compass for someone who you don‘t even know.


MATTHEWS:  Help us explicate this poetry.  How can you—


MATTHEWS:  He said that he was sickened by the fact there was no WMD there.  Then he said, by the fact, we fought the war, he protected us from being hit again.  By what, the WMD that wasn‘t there?  There‘s no logic to that.

CHRISTIE:  No, the logic is very simple.  The fact of the matter of is, we were hit on September 11th, 2001.

MATTHEWS:  By al-Qaeda.

CHRISTIE:  By al Qaeda.  The president of the United States took every step necessary, going to war in Iraq, he believed that was the right thing to do—going to war in Afghanistan, working with Congress to create the Department of Homeland Security.

MATTHEWS:  But the question was Iraq.

CHRISTIE:  No, Chris, the question is—

MATTHEWS:  The question was Iraq.

CHRISTIE:  You asked me to justify—


MATTHEWS:  Matt Lauer asked him, how do you justify all the horror stories that were accompanied to the Iraq war?  He answered it was justified because we weren‘t hit again.

CHRISTIE:  Correct.

MATTHEWS:  Nobody got killed when we defended—let‘s listen to Matt.  Let‘s listen to the exact discussion so you can focus here again.  Here‘s President Bush in the 9/11 attacks in his interview with Matt Lauer. 

Let‘s listen.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS:  Here‘s something else from the book, “September 11th redefined sacrifice.  It redefined duty and it would redefine my job.  I could never forget what happened to America that day.  I would pour my heart and soul into protecting this country whatever it took.”

It took two wars.


LAUER:  It took thousands of lives, American lives, billions of dollars.  You could say it took Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

BUSH:  Yes.

LAUER:  And government eavesdropping and waterboarding.  Did it take too much?

BUSH:  We didn‘t have an attack.  Three thousand people died on September the 11th, and I vowed I would do my duty to protect the American people and they didn‘t hit us again.


MATTHEWS:  The decision point was going to Iraq.  How does that decision to go to Iraq save lives?

CHRISTIE:  Part of his overall strategy.

MATTHEWS:  How did that—that‘s the issue.


CHRISTIE:  Well, you‘re taking out a very unstable dictator.

MATTHEWS:  Seventy-seven thousand people dead.  How did that stop us from being hit again by the al Qaeda?

CHRISTIE:  Because you‘re taking out a very unstable dictator who used weapons of mass destruction against his own people.


CHRISTIE:  You didn‘t let me—

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Make your point, but I don‘t hear anything here.

CHRISTIE:  My point is it was part of a broader comprehensive strategy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Homeland Security.  You can quibble with his decision to go to war, Chris, but the fact of the matter, is president was able correct.  We were not hit again after September 11th.

MATTHEWS:  What does Iraq have to do with the decision by the enemy, whoever it is, which enemy we‘re talking about here.


MATTHEWS:  Joan, what is the role of an Iraq in keeping us safe?

WALSH:  I don‘t believe that there‘s any role, Chris.  I don‘t believe there‘s any role.  There was no al-Qaeda involvement in Iraq.  There was no Iraqi involvement in 9/11.

It was a war of choice.  It was a war that the neocons had been pushing and pushing literally for years.  They got their man.  They got their man to do it, and, you know, we‘re still stuck there many thousands of lives later.


MATTHEWS:  It‘s the same old conflation, game of conflating.  He always conflates.  He conflates 9/11 with Iraq.  He did it again there.  He kept conflating weapons of mass destruction, keep it confusing what kind of weapons we‘re talking about.

CHRISTIE:  We didn‘t get hit again.  You can say all you want conflation all you want.


CHRISTIE:  Part of a broader strategy, we were not hit again.  He made it his number one mission to protect the American people and that, we have a lot to be grateful for.

MATTHEWS:  And to 77,000 people dead in Iraq had nothing to do with it.

Thank you, Ron Christie.  Thank you, Joan Walsh.

Scooter Libby, what is he?  (INAUDIBLE) I can‘t tell from the president.

Coming up, President Obama—is he a soldier on the field or what?  He‘s a casualty of Dick Cheney I think.  Anyway, let‘s get into the question, the right and left and what‘s coming up here.

We‘re getting—is the president isolated?  See that man right there.  Is he isolated from this kind of debate we‘re having right now?

What‘s it going to take for the president to get things back on track?  Does he need to do a major shake-up inside the White House to get it done?  That‘s my question.  I think it‘s an open question.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back for what President Obama needs to do to get back in the game.  He‘s over in India.  What‘s he need to do when he gets back?

HARDBALL, back after this.



OBAMA:  Part of my promise to the American people when I was elected was to maintain the kind tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable.  And I think over the course of two years, there have been times I‘ve slipped on that commitment.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

President Obama took a somber tone in that “60 Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft.  It was taped before his overseas trip, obviously.

How does he bounce back from defeat?  People do it.

Joining me now: our MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe, and the “Huffington Post” White House correspondent, Sam Stein.

I mean, it‘s really the toughest question in the world when you get hit hard, 60 something seats, almost up to 70 almost in the House.  Holding a Senate but with a lot of scar tissue here now.  The president seems unclear what he wants to do now.

I can‘t predict by listening to him—will it be a shake-up?  Will he go to defense?  Will he bring in the real heavy weights chief of staff?  Will he do the kinds of things I‘ve mentioned, other people have mentioned.

Will he do something in terms of ideological nuancing, finding a way with the business community to do something that makes sense to progressives but also makes sense to business.  Will he thread the needle?  Survive but still stand for something?

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST:  Yes.  Well, I talked to a White House staffer today about that “60 Minutes” interview because he seemed so somber there and reflective, and there‘s no aggression to it.  And they say that was sort of deliberate.  It‘s time to look and figure out what‘s going on.

I suspect that in this trip back from India, he and his advisers are going to talk a lot about whether to do staff shake-up, how to handle things legislatively.  They‘ve come to grips that there‘s not much they can do now legislatively in these next two years because Republicans will block it up.

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s expected he‘s got to use the executive?

STEIN:  He‘s got to figure out what tools he has in the executive branch to actually, you know, affect change and get this economy back on track.  It‘s not an easy task.

MATTHEWS:  He has one advantage.  The Republicans have a simple agenda, but it‘s not a grand agenda: cut taxes, screw around with the health care bill.  That‘s not going to excite people yet.

What‘s he going to do to control events?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s also contradictory and this is where he gets into his default position, which is to say: I‘m the only grown-up in the room.  I‘m the one who‘s serious about this stuff.  You want to talk about the politics, about the deficit—and that‘s what independent voters talk about—but you cannot manage the deficit.  You cannot cut the deficit if you‘re going to go after tax cuts all the time.

So, he can play the grown-up and say, I‘m above the fray.  That‘s the tactical place he‘s going to be.  But that‘s still not selling what he wants to do.  That‘s just outmaneuvering the other side.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the president on leadership versus legislation. 

Let‘s listen.


OBAMA:  We were so busy and so focused on getting a bunch of stuff done that we‘d stop paying attention to the fact that leadership isn‘t just legislation, that it‘s matter of persuading people and giving them confidence and bringing them together and sending a tone.  We haven‘t always been successful at that and I take personal responsibility for that.


MATTHEWS:  You know, Reagan did a lot on his first year, a lot of presidents, George W., they think it‘s his first year, I didn‘t agree, but he did them.  They tended to get credit for them and get re-elected.  This time, there seems to be disconnect.  Maybe it‘s because he wanted to do progressive things and not just cut taxes.

STEIN:  Sure, well, there‘s two things here.  One is that, you know, the galvanizing force in the campaign 2008 was that he was going to bring civility to politics.  That‘s a two-way street.  You need to have the other side—

MATTHEWS:  How do you do that in a world of Rush Limbaugh?

STEIN:  You don‘t.  And that‘s the problem.

MATTHEWS:  Setting the tone and then forcing the left to respond to that, in the Congress and in the media, a forcing a kind of an environment which is all polarized.  How do you say, well, I‘ll be a reasonable a center-left politician in that environment?

STEIN:  But that‘s my point.  You don‘t—you can‘t do that.  And that sort of why you decide to press turn among the Democrats, because there wasn‘t that galvanizing “Let‘s bring civility to politics” message.  The second thing is, and this is why people are saying there shouldn‘t be a staff shake-up or there shouldn‘t be a leadership shake-up.

MATTHEWS:  What do you say?

STEIN:  Well, this is the point.  They make I think it‘s a valid point in some respects.  Legislative accomplishments are going to outlast this Republican majority in the House.  They are.

MATTHEWS:  Sorry, we‘re short today.  Richard Wolffe, thank you, sir.

WOLFFE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve been here before.

Thank you, Sam Stein.

I‘ve got thoughts about President Kennedy‘s election and for those older people here, you remember, it was 50 years ago today, November 8th, 1960.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with a roar.

Fifteen years ago—I‘m sorry -- 50 years ago today, this country experienced the most exciting presidential election in our history.  Two candidates raced to the end.  Every two weeks, the Gallup Poll showed them barely within a point or two of each other.  It was never more neck and neck when they crossed the finish line, this date, November 8th, 1960.

It was an election that truly set the course of this country.  I can imagine the America that would have emerged from a Nixon victory, it would had been a continuation of the 1950s: dull, complacent, grumpy, Cold War-weary—yet still living with a mindset that like the reasonable fear of nuclear war.

What Kennedy brought to the White House was a sense of optimism.  We could get to the moon!  We could find common ground with the third world.  We could rebuild America‘s prestige after Sputniking, Castro and too many years of Jim Crowe.

Jack Kennedy believed in his own and the country‘s basic strength.  Nixon, for all his brains, would have viewed the Cuban missile crisis the most frightening episode of the time as a test of his manhood, and that would had been trouble.

That election campaign of 1960 showed so much of these two men.  Kennedy had promised to get the country moving again.  Nixon had to defend against the sense we were slipping, that the Soviets were getting a jump on us, but he also had grit, the regular guy against the movie star.  The scholarship kid, if you will, against the legacy kid—the cloth-coat Republican against the rich man‘s son.

I love this quote of his, “You know, it‘s not Jack‘s money you‘re going to be spending,” he said standing in the rain one day with all that 5:00 shadow.  It was that kind of an election as you see in these Life.com pictures, all personality and all issues and excitement and debates and big city motorcades where each candidate would draw a half million or a million people into the streets.

People wore skimmer hats with their candidates name on it, millions wore buttons, had lunch time arguments with their closest relatives and friends and watch through the night to see who‘d won.  Millions cried.  Millions more were thrilled.  Everyone listening.

Now knows what I‘m talking about and remembers the excitement of a country picking a leader and we had two smart candidates to choose from.  It was the emotional investment of that campaign with 80 million people voting and a much smaller country than this one that made the horror of three years later so awful.  We‘ve done it all to pick a leader only to have them take it away.

If you‘re young, ask your parents about it.  If you‘re older, you know.  It‘s something we‘ve never gotten, never really gotten over.

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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