updated 11/17/2010 9:15:03 AM ET 2010-11-17T14:15:03

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish

Guests: Karen Bass, Steve Southerland, Mark Udall, David Corn, Shushannah Walshe, Michael Carey

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST:  Tomorrow‘s election day, at least for Nancy Pelosi.

Let‘s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews, who‘s in Rome for the Vatican ceremony elevating Washington archbishop Donald Worl (ph) to cardinal.

Leading off tonight: Challenges in the House.  You can add Charlie Rangel to the list of embarrassments on Nancy Pelosi‘s plate.  The New York congressman was found guilty on 11 counts of breaking House ethics rules and now awaits punishment.  Pelosi may have held onto her job, but she‘s still facing down challenges to her leadership team from both the Blue Dogs and the liberals.  Now, on the Republican side, at least 39 new House members are Tea Partiers, and they‘re not shy about making their voices heard.  We‘ll talk to two incoming freshman of the new Congress, a Democrat and Tea Party Republican, tonight.

Plus: Here‘s a sign of Tea Party power.  At least 27 Republican senators have agreed to ban earmarks, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who secured $113 million in pork projects for his state just last year.

And how far can a presidential library go in shaping the legacy of George W. Bush?  Will a record that includes Iraq, Katrina and Wall Street‘s collapse be overshadowed by that which is now under construction at Southern Methodist University?  Among those celebrating with Bush today, former vice president Dick Cheney, who found a way to knock the current president at the ground-breaking.

Also, Lisa Murkowski took her best shot against Sarah Palin.  Now that the Alaska senator leads Palin favorite Joe Miller in the vote count, she said Palin lacks, quote, “leadership qualities and intellectual curiosity” that are needed to be president.

And “Let Me Finish” with some counterintuitive advice for the National Football League.  If you want to cut down on head injuries, consider ditching the face mask.

Let‘s start with the new face of Congress.  We‘re joined by two incoming members of the House of Representatives, Congressman-Elect Steve Southerland, Republican of Florida, Congresswoman-Elect Karen Bass, Democrat of California.

Let me begin with you, Mr. Southerland, if I may.  You‘re in the midst of orientation, back to school for some.  What have you learned in the last 48 hours that you didn‘t know?

REP.-ELECT STEVE SOUTHERLAND ®, FLORIDA:  Well, I‘ll tell you, we‘re busy learning the lay of the land.  Even the floor plans are all new to us.  We‘re learning about our budgets and how to go about hiring our congressional staff, which will certainly be helpful, you know, going forward.  So it‘s been a lot of information, somewhat overwhelming at times.

SMERCONISH:  Do you feel more of an allegiance to the Tea Party or to the Grand Old Party at this stage?  And are the two yet in conflict in any way that you can discern?

SOUTHERLAND:  Well, let me say this.  I am a candidate who has run on the desire of representing all the people of Florida‘s 2nd congressional district, so I believe that the Constitution is the law of the land.  I believe it should be honored.  But I also believe that common sense and accountability must always be honored and recognized in this great House, the people‘s House.

SMERCONISH:  Congressman-Elect, tomorrow Nancy Pelosi presumably gets elected as minority leader.  Does she have your support?

REP.-ELECT KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA:  Absolutely, she has my support.  I was, frankly, very excited to serve as speaker of my house, as the first African-American woman, and have been very honored to see her leadership over these last couple of years.

SMERCONISH:  But Congressman-Elect, to an outsider, one looks at the recent election results and says perhaps in the best interests of her party, she should stand down and not be seeking that position.

BASS:  Well, I think what one has to remember is four years ago when, she became Speaker, she did bring us to the majority.  And I have to say that I think the number one message from voters and the number one problem was unemployment.  In my state, for example, unemployment is 12 percent.  What we have to focus on is on jobs.  There was all of the outside money that we don‘t even know where that money came from that also helped to defeat the Democrats.

SMERCONISH:  Any lesson in what happened to Congressman Rangel today for either of you?  I‘ll start, Congresswoman-Elect, with you.  I note that on your agenda in the last 48 hours was a briefing on standards of official conduct and legal issues.  When you put that together with the recent experience of Congressman Rangel, it tells you what about carrying out responsibilities?

BASS:  Well, I‘m sure that both of us agree that what we heard yesterday in terms of standards and ethics means that we always have to keep our eye on the ball.  We, frankly, have a lot more to learn in that area.  We were given a very thick handbook and encouraged to read it, and I will certainly make sure that I do that.

SMERCONISH:  Congressman-Elect, any surprise for you when you got the briefing on the do‘s and don‘ts as member of Congress?

SOUTHERLAND:  Well, there‘s a lot to digest, as the Congresswoman just outlined.  We must be patient.  I‘ll tell you, it‘s impossible, as she would probably attest to, to digest everything that we‘ve got.  I think that we must be committed to right, as opposed to wrong, and I think that no matter how long you‘re a part of this great institution that you must be committed to accountability and committed to what is right.

SMERCONISH:  Mr. Southerland, what must you do, sir—and please be specific—so that in two years, presumably, if you wish to stand for reelection, you can face those who just sent you to Washington and say, There, I got it done?

SOUTHERLAND:  Well, I think the American people spoke very loudly and with great clarity last week.  They‘re concerned about the economy.  They‘re concerned about jobs.  I know down in my own state of Florida that we are running almost historic unemployment numbers, near 12 percent.  And I think that if people do not have gainful employment, then they cannot realize the American dream of home ownership and sending their children to college.  And I think that they‘ve been very, very clear.  They want government spending at the federal level to be drawn back, and they want more power in their own family budgets and family pocketbooks.

SMERCONISH:  I noticed, in looking at the agenda of some of the briefings that have been offered to you, Congressman-Elect, and not to Congresswoman-Elect Bass—heck, I just want to call you each Congressman, if that‘s all right—


SMERCONISH:  -- and Congresswoman.  I‘m getting all tongue tied.  But Mr. Southerland, if I may stick with you, sir, I noticed that there were briefings offered by Tea Party Patriots, by FreedomWorks and also by the Claremont Institute.  And you know, those are groups that represent the grass roots of change on the GOP side.  And yet when I look at who the speakers were, it‘s the same old, same old.  It‘s Bill Bennett.  It‘s Ed Meese.  It‘s Dick Army.  You know, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

BASS:  Sure.  Well, I will tell you, on Sunday, we took advantage of the time we had here.  We interviewed potential candidates for chief of staff.  We were not able to attend any of those functions and organizations and the meetings that they had because we felt like we needed to get a drop on maximizing our time here.  So I had—you know, as far as attending those, I was not able to do so, so I can‘t really go into what was said and how it was said or how it was interpreted.

SMERCONISH:  Congresswoman Bass, tell me about the minutiae.  Did you pick out your office?  Do you know where to park?  Did they give you the double-top secret pledge pin yet?


BASS:  No, we don‘t have the pledge pin until we are sworn in on January 5th.  We pick our offices on Friday.  And no, frankly, you know, we have been immersed in the day-to-day work of what it means to be in office, learning about it.  And for me, it‘s a bit familiar because, you know, I was sworn in six years ago in the state assembly.  And so some of what we‘re going through in our orientation is very familiar.

SMERCONISH:  But that‘s a pretty quick career—that‘s a pretty quick career path for you.  Six years ago, and you‘ve been the speaker of the California Assembly.

BASS:  Well, you know, in California, we have very strict term limits.  And so that‘s right.  I was speaker in my third term.  And our current speaker, John Perez (ph), is actually a freshman, so he‘s finishing his second year in office.  That‘s California.

SMERCONISH:  Let me ask you, if I may, the same question that I put to Congressman Southerland.  What must you do so that in two years, you can go home, if you choose to, and say, You wanted me to do it, I did it?

BASS:  Well, let me just tell you, first and foremost, what I can do is move our country forward in terms of jobs, to make sure that health care reform continues and goes forward, making sure that there‘s transportation resources for the state of California.  And then having gone through the crisis that we went through in California over these last couple of years, I know that all of my colleagues in the state legislature are very hopeful that I will be able to bring some resources back to California so that we get out of this economic crisis.  But order number one, two and three is jobs, jobs, jobs.  That‘s what we have to move forward on.

SMERCONISH:  You‘re each joining an organization that is not held in the highest of regard by the public.  I‘ve got some data I‘d love to show to you.  Bottom line is that only 26 percent approve currently of the way that Congress is doing its job, 71 percent disapprove.  You know the old adage, everybody hates Congress, but they seem to love their member of Congress.  Congressman Southerland, what can you do, sir, to raise the esteem of that collective body?

SOUTHERLAND:  Well, you cannot have any trust among the people if you don‘t have a conversation, if you don‘t listen to them and hear them out and understand their needs and where they are.  I think the American family is disenchanted.  They know that this institution, and in many ways, Washington, D.C., has not been a reflection of the American people.  So we got to start with that conversation.  We got to listen.  Great leaders listen and they listen well, and they act in an honest way, hard work with honest dealings.

SMERCONISH:  Does that also go for listening to your opponent?  Congresswoman Bass, are you ready to reach across that aisle?  You both seem awfully reasonable.

BASS:  Oh, you know what?  You know what?  I am used to reaching across the aisle.  I‘ve reached across the aisle for six years.  I will continue to do that.  But let me just say that if you look at it historically, when you look at the numbers, the poll numbers for legislative bodies, whether you‘re talking about on the state or on the federal level, it tends to go along with the economy.  So when the economy turns around, when we actually have the jobs, when health care reform is implemented, I do believe that the prestige of this institution, as well as the institution that I‘m leaving. will go up.

SMERCONISH:  Congressman Southerland, many say that those elected with Tea Party support have been sent to Washington simply to put the brakes on this administration.  Is that a fair characterization?

SOUTHERLAND:  Well, I think that not just the Tea Parties, but those that are not a port of a formal Tea Party organization, they want common sense.  They want the unemployment numbers, as the congresswoman mentioned.  They want jobs.  They want this economy moving forward.  And they want—they do want the brakes put on federal spending.  It has increased 20 percent over the last two years while the family budgets and small businesses who have been crushed over the last two years have decreased.  So I think they spoke loud and clear on that subject.

SMERCONISH:  And Congresswoman—

BASS:  And—

SMERCONISH:  Go ahead.  I‘m sorry.

BASS:  Yes, let me just say that having gone through the crisis that I mentioned in California when I served as speaker, I came here and we desperately needed the help of the federal government, frankly, so that the state of California didn‘t go over the cliff.  And it wasn‘t—if it wasn‘t for the resources that were sent to us, for education, for public safety, not only would you have a higher unemployment rate in the state of California, but our economic crisis really would have been severe and we would have been thrown into a depression.

So on the one hand, I do recognize that people are concerned about federal spending.  On the other hand, our country was in an absolute crisis.  We needed that economic stimulus dollars, and those dollars have helped California from going over the edge.

SMERCONISH:  Congratulations to both of you.  I wish you all good things and appreciate you being on HARDBALL.

SOUTHERLAND:  Thank you very much.

BASS:  Thank you.

SMERCONISH:  All right.  Congressman-Elect Steve Southerland, Congresswoman-Elect Karen Bass.

Coming up: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell caved into the Tea Party Caucus on earmark reform, and now 27 Republican senators say they‘re committed to banning earmarks.  What does that say about the power of the Tea Party and how much establishment Republicans now fear them?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH:  President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta.  Sergeant Giunta braved enemy fire during an ambush in Afghanistan to rescue two fellow soldiers, one of whom was being dragged away by Taliban fighters.  This 25-year-old soldier from Iowa is the first living recipient of the military‘s highest award for valor since the Vietnam war.

We‘ll be right back.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  I know the good that has come from the projects that I‘ve helped support throughout my state.  I don‘t apologize for them.  But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight.


SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That‘s Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, siding with the Tea Party wing of his party and announcing his support for an earmark ban.  But is this proposal a distraction from the real heavy lifting required to get the budget under control?

Senator Mark Udall of Colorado supports an earmark ban.  Senator, thank you for being here.  Here‘s my initial question.  Now who decides?  If there‘s a community good works project that requires funding, will it be bureaucrats as compared to elected officials?

SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO:  Well, Michael, this is a really opportunity for us.  And I got to tell you, it‘s not really a Tea Party initiative, it‘s Americans across the board who think that spending needs to be reined in here in smart ways.  And one of the ways we can do that is to end this practice of earmarking.

What we can do, to your question, is upgrade and redouble our efforts on the grant-making progress.  About $9 billion comes to Colorado every year.  Less than 1 percent of that‘s through earmarking.  I have a staff person who‘s dedicated to working with colleges, with universities, with non-profits, for-profit companies that want federal funding.  That‘s the way to send federal dollars into the states.  This earmarking process has resulted in some bad habits.  It‘s resulted in a focus on pet projects to the exclusion of really managing our budget and our appropriations responsibilities in the right way. So this is a Democrat and Republican—it‘s really an American idea to eliminate this practice of earmarks.

SMERCONISH:  Allow me to share with you the words of one of your colleagues, Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, who said of earmarks, “They help hospitals.  They help clinics.  They help educational establishments.  They can be a good thing for our country, and Mitch McConnell knows that.  Basically, the Republicans are using it because they don‘t really want to deal with the real budget issues that we‘re facing.”

How about those hospitals, et al?  What can we do to protect them?

UDALL:  Yes, most earmarks are very useful and important.  I‘ve earmarked for government and university and public sector entities and organizations.  If you go and look at the earmarks I‘ve generated, they‘re good earmarks.

But the point I want to make is, because we‘ve focused so much on these pet projects, we really haven‘t performed the oversight duties that the Congress should perform.  And in many cases, we‘re forced into a corner to support funding in big bills that we really don‘t support.  So by setting this aside, I think we have a better chance to get our budget on a sustainable basis.

Look, we didn‘t earmark for over 200 years, Michael, and the republic survived.  And plenty of resources were directed into the individual states.  The process has gotten out of control, and I think it‘s time to end it.

SMERCONISH:  To what extent do you feel that your role as a member of the United States Senate is diminished if earmarks should go away?

UDALL:  There are plenty of other ways I can support what my state needs.  One of the ways in which I can support my state is to get on the front end when the president presents his budget and advocate for all those funding needs in the state.  I can also, as I‘ve pointed out—and I‘ve done this—Anticipate and redouble the efforts that we can make on the part of those who want grants, federal competitive grants, that are generated across the board.  And that would include some of the projects that Senator Brown has mentioned that are very worthwhile and need to be supported.

SMERCONISH:  Senator, let me show you, if I may—or you can at least listen—a clip of the final debate.  As I recall, it was from Hofstra.  Of course, it‘s Senator Obama at the time, Senator McCain on this very subject.  Let‘s listen.

UDALL:  Of course.  Yes.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator McCain talks a lot about earmarks.  That‘s one of the centerpieces of his campaign.  Earmarks account for one half of 1 percent of the total federal budget.  There‘s no doubt that the system needs reform and there are a lot of screwy things that we end up spending money on and they need to be eliminated.  But it‘s not going to solve the problem.


SMERCONISH:  Senator Udall, in my home town of Philadelphia, Chris‘s home town, We would call that chump change.

UDALL:  Look, it‘s $16 billion, Michael.  That‘s not chump change.  It‘s not a significant portion of the federal budget, but we make an enormous statement to the American people, who again, I think, across the board, and certainly in my state, think we‘ve got to get spending under control.

And by the way, we also have to strengthen Social Security and Medicare and we do have to look at the tax code, so it‘s going take all three of these steps to get our federal budget on a sustainable path.  I was the CEO of a non-profit business for 10 years, and I want to tell Democrats and independents and Republicans watching, if you don‘t have a strong balance sheet, you can‘t pursue your mission.  And, as a Democrat, my mission in part is to preserve the safety net, make sure Americans have opportunity.

If we go broke, if America goes broke, we‘re not going to be a strong country; we‘re not going to be able to do what we want to do for our own people.  That‘s—and this earmark reform is one step in that direction.

SMERCONISH:  And, Senator Mark Udall, many thanks, sir, for your time. 

Appreciate it. 

UDALL:  Hey, thanks, Michael.  Look forward to coming on again with you. 

SMERCONISH:  All right. 

UDALL:  Thank you. 

SMERCONISH:  Howard Fineman is senior political editor of The Huffington Post and an MSNBC political analyst.

And to Howard, I shall ask the same question.

Is it chump change? 


arithmetic terms.  But I think, Michael, the people who are supporting it -

and there are—and the senator‘s right, there are Democrats and Republicans—argue that it‘s—these—these earmarks are kind of like the appetizers that whet the appetite for all the fiscal gluttony that‘s been going on here.

And it‘s also a way in which campaign donations can be focused to get specific projects.  And, of course, everybody who wants their project is going to look to give the donation to the member of Congress, which is legal, rather than trying to twist the arms or whatever in the bureaucracy, which they‘re not allowed to do.

SMERCONISH:  But, Howard, won‘t it—

FINEMAN:  So, in theory, in theory, it makes some sense. 


SMERCONISH:  But won‘t it give elected officials the opportunity to go home in two or maybe in four years, depending on when they come up, and thump their chests and say, see, this is what I did for deficit or debt reduction?  And it‘s like beer muscles. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I couldn‘t agree with you more.  If this is all they do, it‘s laughable. 

If this is just the prelude and the sort of moral scene-setter, if you will, to something real, then it‘s valuable.  There‘s no doubt that right now, the Republicans are doing it because they‘re running scared of the Tea Party.  And Mitch McConnell switched positions because Rand Paul, whom he originally opposed, got elected in his state as a Tea Party candidate. 

But—and it‘s not only—not only is it not a lot of money, Michael.  It‘s not going save much of that money, because that money will just be reprogrammed back into the bureaucracy, where it may well be spent if, as you point out, the members of Congress don‘t take the further step of actually looking at what the bureaucracy itself spends, which is trillions of dollars. 

SMERCONISH:  What I was trying to get across in my brief conversation with Senator Udall is the fact a hospital, by way of example, still requires funding.  There‘s a lot of good that has come out of the earmark program.  And I think when constituents now appreciate the fact that bureaucrats may make those calls, as opposed to a senator or a member of Congress, on whom you can lean, they might not be too happy with the outcome. 

FINEMAN:  Right.  I think that‘s quite possible. 

And I think, as you know, both Harry Reid, who survived to live another day as Senate leader, and Nancy Pelosi, who‘s clinging to that job and will have it, are earmark fans.  You know, they say there‘s more transparency and they‘re going to do to the reforming that Barack Obama talked about when he was a candidate.

But they‘re not—the Democratic leadership‘s not about to give up earmarks for precisely the reason that you said.  And there may be an even more cynical game going on here, because, on the Senate side, if Harry Reid is correct, Democrats are going to still try to put earmarks into legislation. 

The Democrats are still going to have the majority.  And the Republicans may beat their chest and complain about earmarks, but if some just happen to slip into a bill courtesy of the Democrats, and Barack Obama doesn‘t veto that bill, then they will hope to get part of that action, if they possibly can, if there‘s a way they can do it subtly. 

And you had a situation where Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota, already talking about things she wanted to exempt from the earmark ban, including transportation projects.  Well, transportation projects are one of the main things that is being earmarked these days.

SMERCONISH:  I‘m glad that you raised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid‘s name, because here‘s what his spokesman said on the earmark ban.  “It‘s up to each senator whether or not they will support congressionally directed funds to their state.  Senator Reid makes no apologies for delivering for the people of Nevada.”

It‘s reminiscent of my conversation at the outset of the program, where everybody castigates earmarks, but if they came home in their community or their state, hey, it was a great thing.  Where‘s that ribbon cutting?

FINEMAN:  Well, what‘s happened is that everybody comes to Congress with a list, really like first day of class.  You hand in the last of your wish list of projects.  And even Barack Obama participated in this when he first came to the Senate. 

And that is a habit of the way you start your year in the Congress I think is what the reformers are talking about.  But you‘re absolutely right.  If this is all they do, then it will be worse than nothing, because it‘s not going to save very much money at all.  All that money, as I said, will be reprogrammed.  And it will give people the illusion that something has been done, when nothing really has. 

SMERCONISH:  Howard Fineman, many thanks, as always. 

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH:  All right. 

Coming up;  Talk about hypocrisy.  An incoming congressman who ran against President Obama‘s health care plan is up in arms that he has to wait a month before his federal health care kicks in.  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the “Sideshow.” 

First:  The Beatles and Apple come together.  Today, the computer maker announced that it struck a deal to bring the Fab Four‘s music to the online iTunes store.  It‘s been a long and winding road.  The Beatles‘ record label, also named Apple, has accused the computer maker for decades of its infringing upon its trademark. 

This is a big coup for iTunes.  Not only are the Beatles the top-selling band in history.  Their greatest hits collection was the biggest album of the decade. 

Now to a media rights tussle that isn‘t going as smoothly.  Former Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller is suing video game publisher Electronic Arts, claiming they have illegally profited from using images of him and other players portrayed in their NCAA games.  Electronic Arts argues that free speech allows for use of these athletes‘ images.  Image rights vs. free speech, the courts are expected to tackle this tough one in the months to come. 

Next:  An incoming freshman gets a big-time reality check.  During his campaign, Republican congressman-elect Andy Harris said he would fight to repeal health care reform, or, as he called it, government-run insurance.  So, when he got to Washington, what did Harris ask for?  His government-run health insurance. 

At a freshman orientation meeting, Harris was reportedly dismayed to

discover that his policy only kicks in four weeks after he starts his job

as a lawmaker.  Politico reports of Harris—quote—“‘He stood up and

asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so

long.  What he would do without 28 days—for the next 28 days of health

care?,‘ said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange. ‘Harris then

asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap,‘

added an aide.‘”

Congressman-elect, some might say millions of Americans go without health insurance all the time for a lot longer than 28 days.  And they will continue to do so if you and those in your party succeed in repealing health care reform.  Food for thought.

Now to tonight‘s HARDBALL “Big Number.”

Sarah Palin‘s racked up big wins with campaign endorsements and book deals and, most recently, reality TV.  What are the chances she uses that success to launch a presidential run?  Well, according to the traders at Dublin-based Intrade.com, 68 percent.  The Irish oddsmakers say there‘s a 2-1 chance that Palin makes the big run.  Sixty-eight percent is tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  George W. Bush breaks ground on his presidential library today in Dallas.  Between the library and his new book, can Bush reshape the legacy of Katrina, Iraq, the Wall Street collapse?  We will find out.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A significant sell-off on worries about overseas debt and inflation, the Dow plunging 178 points, the S&P skidding 19, and the Nasdaq tumbling 43 points.

Ireland‘s debt troubles dragging on the euro, lifting the dollar and weighing on stocks.  The European Union is discussing a bailout package similar to Greece funded by that financial support group set up in the wake of Greece‘s near default last May.  Meanwhile, China says it will impose food price controls and crack down on commodity speculation, in hopes of tamping down inflation there. 

So, materials took a beating.  They have been benefiting from a booming demand in China.  A handful of retailers reporting earnings today.  Wal-Mart posted a higher profit and raised its full-year outlook.  Home Depot beat expectations, thanks to supply chain improvements and cost cuts.  Abercrombie & Fitch beat estimates on strong demand for its clothing overseas.  And GM has just announced it will boost the size of its IPO by 30 percent, making it the largest ever. 

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



GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And now, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. 


BUSH:  The speeches are over.  It is time to shovel dirt. 


SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Michael Smerconish. 

That, obviously, was former President George W. Bush today at the groundbreaking for his presidential library at Southern Methodist University outside of Dallas.  The president was joined by his wife, Laura, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the ceremony. 

Much more than a building is being built at SMU.  They‘re building a legacy.  But what will that legacy be? 

Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC analyst.  “Mother Jones” Washington bureau chief David Corn is a contributor to PoliticsDaily.com. 

Men, thanks for being here.

I want to show you a snippet of former Vice President Dick Cheney delivering a zinger to President Obama earlier today. 


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Of course, the George W. Bush Presidential Center isn‘t much to look at just yet, but the workers are ready.  Construction will move fast after today‘s groundbreaking.  This may be the only shovel-ready project in America. 




SMERCONISH:  Now, true to his recent form, President Bush didn‘t take the bait, in other words, didn‘t behave in kind.  Here‘s part of what he had to say today.


BUSH:  The decisions of governing are on another president‘s desk. 

And he deserves to make them without criticism from me. 


SMERCONISH:  Pat Buchanan, you‘re a student of political history. 

Which one is more in step with predecessors? 

You know, here‘s Vice President Cheney, who has—who has been relentless against the current president, and President Bush, who‘s taken a decidedly different path. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, first, let me say I was at Jimmy Carter‘s library dedication.  And the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, flew down there.  Of course, that‘s when it was finally dedicated.

But I think, quite clearly, the president of the United States, former President Bush, has handled himself magnificently, I think.  Since he‘s been president, he‘s been silent.  She‘s stayed out of the news.  He‘s been used as the butt of attack by Democrats, but he has not responded.  I think he‘s done well.

But I also think Cheney—of course, that was sort of a cutting jab -

but I think Cheney feels that he‘s the Darth Vader of the administration. 

He‘s got an obligation, especially to defend the foreign and war policies. 

And that‘s what he‘s done.

I don‘t fault either of them for how they have handled themselves since the presidency. 

SMERCONISH:  David Corn, do you think that Pat‘s defense of Vice President Cheney‘s reaction to Obama cuts the mustard? 



CORN:  Listen, Vice President Cheney, he may forget this, but it was because of the financial crash that happened on their watch that we lost eight million jobs in this country and we needed a stimulus program.

So for him to go around making any jokes whatsoever about the economic condition of this country shows that the guy has no class and is out of touch and still hasn‘t come to terms with the destructive legacy of his own time in office.  And you know what?  It doesn‘t surprise me.


SMERCONISH:  Patrick, what‘s the vibe between—between Bush and Cheney?  How do you read the—you know, play Dr. Buchanan for me.  How do you read what‘s going on, on that dais, that stage today? 

BUCHANAN:  I think Dick Cheney feels very, very badly that Scooter Libby, who was his top man, was not pardoned by George Bush.  And Cheney is a loyalist.

And I think, however, it‘s got to be a mixture of feelings.  I mean, it was George W. Bush that pulled Cheney out of that business community down there in Texas and made him the most powerful vice president in history and a real figure in history.  So, I think there‘s got to be some tensions between the two because of that last episode. 

At the same time, there‘s no doubt about it.  Dick Cheney was the most powerful and influential figure in the Bush administration. 

SMERCONISH:  In the book, Pat—you know that, in “Decision Points,” President Bush talks about how he gave some thought to removing Vice President Cheney and replacing him with then speaker—Majority Leader Bill Frist.  Do you think he regrets not having done so? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I don‘t -- 


BUCHANAN: -- quite frankly. 

CORN:  Well, of course not.


BUCHANAN:  I think that Dick Cheney was—look, I don‘t agree with Dick Cheney.  I don‘t agree with the wars. 

And, incidentally, this is what‘s the administration‘s going to be judged on.  If Iraq and Afghanistan turn out badly—and they could—for our country, there‘s no way the Bush administration presidency is going to be a success. 

You know, as to what David Corn said about the economy, look, that—that—what happened in the economy is a result of the Federal Reserve, just like it wasn‘t Hoover‘s fault that the economy crashed on his watch. 

But there‘s no doubt about it that the wars—

CORN:  Wait a second. 

These guys, while they were slicing and dicing subprime mortgages, Bush and Cheney did nothing.  They fought for deregulation.  Now, the Clinton people did the same as well.  I‘m not saying it‘s just a Republican problem.  But that problem exploded because of their negligence, because they thought there was no rule for government in watching out for Main Street, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  But, David—David, the Hoover of this piece is Barack Obama who has done nothing in two years to turn it around and has been thoroughly repudiated by the American people.

CORN:  Every mainstream economist says that the stimulus he passed saved 2 million to 3 million jobs, which is more than Dick Cheney and George Bush did.  But speaking of—you can laugh at that, Pat, but they‘re the ones that got—


BUCHANAN:  You saved your state government jobs all the politicians and all the—

CORN:  Well, excuse me


BUCHANAN:  But look what‘s happening in the economy.  Look, you cannot

look, I don‘t defend what President Bush—I think he overspent, and I think No Child Left Behind—


CORN:  But it wasn‘t overspending that led to the crash, it was letting Wall Street run wild.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST:  Hey, gentlemen, I want to show a piece of footage from earlier today.  This is President Bush standing by former Vice President Dick Cheney.  Let‘s all listen and watch.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I can‘t thank Dick enough for coming.  I—you know, I‘ve been doing these interviews trying to peddle my book.  I‘m asked about Dick Cheney.

Here‘s what I say: Dick Cheney was the right pick in the year 2000 and as I stand here, there is no doubt in my mind he was the right pick then, he was a great vice president of the United States, and I‘m proud to call him friend.



SMERCONISH:  Hey, David Corn, I read your thesis on Bush‘s handling of Rove, complete with five footnotes.  Can you give me the dumbed-down version?  What is it that do you think he left out of the book relative to Karl Rove?

CORN:  Well, there‘s a one—there‘s a one-page description of the whole Valerie Plame leak case that led to the issue of whether they should be a part or not.  And in that, he talks about how Dick Armitage was the source for the leak that outed CIA office Valerie Plame in Bob Novak‘s column.  Throughout his own description, he leaves out who was the number two leak, the second leak, the confirming source to Novak, and that was Karl Rove.

To write about the CIA leak case without mentioning Karl Rove shows that the guy is not really interested in coming to terms with some of the darker, more inconvenient moments of his presidency.

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Pat, I‘ll give you the final word, but go quickly.

BUCHANAN:  You cannot be saying—

SMERCONISH:  Go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.  You cannot be saying that silly episode is the darkest moment of any president.


BUCHANAN:  David, you are involved in trivial pursuit as usual.

CORN:  That‘s what he talked about with Dick Cheney.  That was the thing that led to, you know, have—be at odds.


BUCHANAN:  What was the significance of this thing?  It‘s a minor matter.

CORN:  CIA operations were blown.  CIA operations were blown because of this.

SMERCONISH:  Gentlemen, to be continued.  Appreciate very much.  Pat Buchanan and David Corn, as always.

CORN:  Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH:  All right.  Up next, Senator Lisa Murkowski is headed to a third term.  That‘s because she‘s on her own way to an unprecedented write-in campaign victory.  But she‘s making bigger headlines by bashing fellow Alaskan Sarah Palin.  That‘s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH:  Is this the final nail in Michael Steele‘s political coffin?  One of Steele‘s top aides quit today and is said to be considering challenging his former boss as chairman of the Republican National Committee.  The aide, Gentry Collins, skewered Steele in a memo where he detailed the disorganization he says plagues the RNC and he says Republicans could have won Senate races in Colorado and Washington with a better ground game.

At least one other Republican is in the race to challenge Steele and several others are considering doing so.

HARDBALL comes back right after this.


SMERCONISH:  We‘re back.

Senator Lisa Murkowski is leading Republican opponent Joe Miller in the race for Alaska‘s Senate seat.  Now that she‘s won about 97 percent of the write-in vote, she went after the one person who boosted Joe Miller‘s campaign, former Governor Sarah Palin.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI ®, ALASKA:  She would not be my choice for president.  I just do not think that she has that—those leadership qualities, that intellectual curiosity that allows for building good and great policies.  I don‘t think that she enjoyed governing.  I don‘t think she liked to get down into the policy.


SMERCONISH:  Michael Carey is a columnist with “The Anchorage Daily News”; Shushannah Walshe is a senior reporter with “The Daily Beast.”  She‘s also the co-author of a book, “Sarah from Alaska.”

Shushannah, she essentially called her a dope.

SHUSHANNAH WALSHE, THE DAILY BEAST:  Well, those aren‘t the words that she used.  Yes.  But—I mean, their relationship has been fractious for a very long time.  They do not get along.  So, I don‘t think that this was really surprising that Lisa Murkowski is not going to back Sarah Palin.

Yes, she was very open and forthright about it.  But you have to remember that Sarah Palin has gone after Lisa Murkowski pretty hard during this process.  She hasn‘t just backed Joe Miller.  She slammed Lisa Murkowski.  She called her shameless throughout this process on her Facebook post about Joe Miller.

So, their relationship is a long time robbery and right now, it‘s at its worse point that‘s ever been.

SMERCONISH:  Michael, help me educate a national audience of the family history here.  I guess it begins with Governor Frank Murkowski having picked his daughter for the Senate over Governor Palin?

MICHAEL CAREY, ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS:  No, Governor Palin was not really a candidate for the United States Senate, but she was the candidate who beat Frank Murkowski, Lisa‘s father, in the election four years ago.  And, so I think it all starts right there in the family differences.

SMERCONISH:  Palin becomes governor by defeating Frank Murkowski, and then Palin, of course, was for Miller and not with Murkowski in this race.  Talk to me about the status of this recount.  What‘s being allowed?  What is not being permitted thus far?

WALSHE:  Well—

CAREY:  Well, they‘ve counted almost—

SMERCONISH:  Go ahead, Michael.  Michael, go ahead.

CAREY:  OK.  They‘ve counted about—they‘ve counted somewhere 100,000 votes.  They‘re eventually going to count 100,000 votes.  They are counting right now, today, in Juneau, where—and they are getting down to the end of the absentee questioned ballots and overseas ballots that might be coming in from the military or travelers or missionaries or who knows what.

It‘s pretty clear that Senator Murkowski is going to wind up ahead.  Here, intent of the voter is paramount and Gail Fenumiai who is the director of elections has been generally liberal in interpreting the intent of the voter when they are trying to write Murkowski, to the dissatisfaction of Miller who‘s in court.

SMERCONISH:  So, in other words, it‘s a phonetic reading of these ballots, for lack of a better descriptor?  If someone can look at it, the individual that you‘ve identified and make out how it would sound, and if it sounds like Murkowski, then the vote counts?

CAREY:  Yes, but it hasn‘t been in that sense.  In “The Anchorage Daily News” today, there were several examples of attempts to spell Murkowski that seemed phonetically close to the ballpark but were overruled.  This is a tremendous responsibility that Gail Fenumiai has had as director of elections, reviewing thousands and thousands of ballots personally.

SMERCONISH:  Shushannah, play paleontologist, if you would, please.  Everybody, of course, is marveling at the success of the initial episode of the reality program.  You‘ve written a book about her.  Do you think this is all a precursor to her getting into 2012?

WALSHE:  I have to say yes.  I think that this—the reality show is

going to be very good for her because you see a different side of Palin

that we haven‘t seen over the last year, not the person we see on Facebook

blasting Obama, a softer, more appealing side.  It‘s more of the Palin that

before she was picked to be John McCain‘s running mate, the Palin that Michael Carey knows very well, that is a softer, more appealing Governor Palin.  And I think that this will really help her going forward.


You know, I spoke to some political operatives and they described it

as an eight-week bio ad.  Every candidate has a bio ad, introducing the

constituency, a potential constituency to their family.  This one is paid

by TLC.


SMERCONISH:  There is more of Senator Murkowski on former Governor Palin that I‘d like to air for the two of you and everyone else.  Let‘s roll that.


MURKOWSKI:  Since she left the governor‘s office, we just really don‘t have much in common.  I mean, we don‘t—we don‘t talk to one another.  I would like to think that if there were an opportunity to help—help do something good for Alaska, she would call me or I could call her.

But she—in fairness, she is not—she is not really that keyed into the state anymore.  She is looking, obviously, at a bigger—a bigger pond and so we don‘t see her up north as much.


SMERCONISH:  Michael Carey, how is she regarded at home?  Can you offer me a personal take as to whether you think she could win a state-wide race in Alaska?

CAREY:  Sure.  Well, first of all, I think Senator Murkowski was very restrained in her evaluation of Sarah Palin.  But a lot of Alaskans would agree with her, that she‘s in a bigger pond, she‘s gone elsewhere.  If she came back here and ran in the statewide election, it would depend who she was running, and I don‘t think she could beat Lisa Murkowski.  And I don‘t think she could beat Mark Begich, who is our other senator.

SMERCONISH:  Shushannah, one wonders how it should play, should she move forward for 2012 given that she did not fulfill that term in Alaska?

WALSHE:  I think really that this is going to be her biggest Achilles heel to get over.  You can see her potential rivals already running ads, saying, hey, if you can‘t fill out a term as governor of Alaska, how can you be president?  And she‘ll say what she calls frivolous ethics complaints.

But it really, I think, going forward, going to be the hardest thing for her to explain to the American public if she decides to run.  And, you know, I think that‘s really going to be her hardest hill to climb.

SMERCONISH:  And speaking as one who answers the telephone for a living and deals with a number of talk radio callers, I don‘t know that it matters much because people seem they‘re so fixed in their views, they either love her or they don‘t love her.  And I think that that television program is reinforcing whatever opinions they already hold.

I mean, the only conclusion I can come to is everybody now wants to come and visit Alaska.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Carey, and thank you, Shushannah Walshe, for being here.

WALSHE:  Thank you.

SMERCONISH:  When we return: some counterintuitive advice for the NFL. 

If you want to cut down on head injuries, ban the players‘ face masks.

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH:  Permit me a final word tonight about football.

First, how about those Eagles last night?  Michael Vick played so well, he almost made me forget what happened off the field.

Second, thinking of the NFL brings to mind a commentary that I saw Bryant Gumbel deliver recently on HBO‘s “Real Sports.”  Like Joe Paterno before him had, Gumbel offered a simple way for the NFL to cut down on the high-impact helmet hits that can lead to concussions: ban the face mask.

His logic?  Well, without the protection the mask affords, no player would want to lead with his head.  It‘s not so outlandish.  Face masks weren‘t recommended in the NFL until the 1950s.

Now, I doubt the NFL players‘ union would buy in, and I can already hear die-hard fans across the country decrying the sissification of America‘s real national pastime.  But here‘s my proposal: let‘s give it a test run.  Ban face masks in one preseason game.  Think about it—the best players hardly hit the field during the preseason and almost never in that final tune-up game.  And nobody in their right mind, not owners, coaches or fans believes the preseason is any accurate predictor of how good or bad a team will be in the regular season.

Case in point: 2008, the Detroit Lion also a preseason record of 4-0.  They went 0-16 in the regular season.  Meaning, the NFL‘s preseason is a joke.  The only reason they played four games is so the owners can collect the television, ticket and concession revenue they‘ll inevitably bring in.

So, why not make at least one of those contests a meaningful one by pulling the face masks?  It will give the league a sense for whether helmet-to-helmet hits decrease and for fans, it will make watching third stringers and the practice squad infinitely more interesting.

The NFL loves dressing its players in vintage throwback jerseys each Sunday.  Well, time for the league to really go vintage by removing the mask at least once next preseason.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

It‘s now time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.




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