updated 11/18/2010 2:25:09 PM ET 2010-11-18T19:25:09

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Richard Wolffe, Melissa Francis, John Larson, Dan Boren, Richard Blumenthal, Steve Womack, John Pistole

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST:  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Let‘s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews. 

And leading off tonight: No change.  House Democrats took a historic debt on election day.  Independents abandoned them.  Moderate Blue Dogs were crushed.  Republicans are readying to take control.  And how do the Democrats show voters they‘ve heard their message?  How do they prove they‘re willing to change?  By keeping the same exact leadership that presided over their colossal defeat.

Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants will hold onto their jobs, despite challenges from both liberals and moderates.  And tonight, we‘ll talk to one of those leaders who‘s keeping his job and a moderate Democratic who‘s been a vocal Pelosi critic.

Plus, Connecticut senator-elect Richard Blumenthal was one of the few Democratic candidates who beat back the Republican tide.  I‘ll ask him what he‘s going to do to help his party regain voter confidence and fix the economy.

And can you believe Republicans actually rebuffed President Obama‘s White House invite for tomorrow?  Will this play right into the president‘s hands?

Also, more than 80 percent of Americans support the use of those new airport body scanners, so is that enough to quell calls by privacy rights advocates to boycott those intrusive scanners on the day before Thanksgiving?  The head of the TSA says passengers who object to all enhanced screenings will not get on the plane, and he will be here tonight.

And “Let Me Finish” with some thoughts about homework.

We start with the Democratic leadership, same as it ever was. 

Congressman John Larson of Connecticut is the Democratic caucus chair.  Congratulations on maintaining that position.  There‘s a perspective you‘ve heard from others that says you didn‘t get the message.  More than 60 lost their seats, and it‘s the same face for the leadership of Democrats.  How do you respond?

REP. JOHN LARSON (D-CT), DEM. CAUCUS CHAIRMAN:  Well, no, we did get the message, and it was a heart-felt message.  We heard in more than five hours yesterday from our members, including members that won‘t be joining us in the 112th Congress, Michael.  It‘s about jobs.  It‘s about the economy.  We get it.  And certainly, while it was a historic caucus (SIC), we didn‘t get enough done on behalf of people.  We had a Roosevelt moment, and we responded in many respects like Hoover.

So we know that we have a lot more to do, and we hope that we can work with the Republicans now.  Instead of saying no, they have an opportunity to come forward and create jobs.  We will join with them in that.  We understand this is about the American people.  And when you‘re out of work and you don‘t have employment, times are tough.  They‘re tough, but we‘re committed to respond in a way that will be helpful to the American people and put them back to work.

SMERCONISH:  Congressman Larson, there‘s a temptation to think that this is a lot of inside baseball, but I offer you the perspective of a radio host who sits in a studio and hears commercial after commercial in that last cycle on radio stations across the country where Speaker Pelosi was the face, speaker Pelosi was the voice that Republicans very effectively used in a successful campaign.  So you know, to that person‘s perspective, you kept her in position, albeit not as the speaker.

LARSON:  Well, I think anyone who‘s demonized with more than $75 million, ratings are going to be low.  But what I would say to the American people, and certainly what our caucus had to say, is that we understand her heart and we understand her will.  We understand her effectiveness.  That‘s why she was demonized.

And frankly, what this is about, at the end of the day, isn‘t about Nancy Pelosi or John Larson or any of our leadership.  This is going to be about the American people and working on their behalf.  And so that‘s what the caucus came together around.  And everybody had an opportunity to speak.  And I am so proud of the camaraderie and the feelings that were emanating from our caucus.  It was actually uplifting and a very difficult two days.

SMERCONISH:  Take me, if you would, sir, inside that caucus and paint the picture for me.  What did the Speaker have to say?

LARSON:  Well, what the Speaker—I think what‘s important is what the members had to say, what the members had to say about her and about her effectiveness and about their districts and about their willingness to run again, and how we have to keep the faith.  And also members in striking candor were talking about how difficult it was to be associated with her and to be branded that way.

What people talked about was the Citizens United decision and what happened with the Disclose Act.  Members stood up and said, We shouldn‘t pass anything from the Senate until they wake up and pass the Disclose Act, so that all the dirty money that‘s gone into soiling not only the good name of Nancy Pelosi but all of these races across the country—we‘ve got to wake up to that.  I thank a lot of people on MSNBC, who at least get it and talk about it, as opposed, as you pointed out, Michael, to a lot of the stations around the country that don‘t.

SMERCONISH:  Well, regardless of how we got here, one wonders if you did a favor to the president today because it now sets the stage for 2012.  Presumably, he‘s running for reelection, and you can already see those images and hear those commercials.

LARSON:  Well, I think, again, it‘s going to be about jobs and it‘s going to be about the economy.  And certainly, I think the president understands this.  And I said before we have a Roosevelt moment.  There‘s got to be more fireside chats and connecting with the people.  We‘ve got to have the ability to do that.  We have an articulate, young, visionary president who is certainly very capable of doing that.  We look forward to working with him to achieve those goals.  But we‘re certainly bound and determined to focus on jobs and this economy.  Our slogan continues to be, Make it an America so that every American can make it.

SMERCONISH:  Congressman, there was an interesting analysis offered at Politico today by Jonathan Allen and John Harris that suggested that among the reasons why the Speaker maintained her leadership position within the Democratic Party was to hold the White House in check, that she would be a progressive check on a president‘s temptation, this president‘s temptation, to gravitate toward the middle.  Does that make sense to you as someone who was supportive of her?

LARSON:  Well, certainly, you know, it‘s important that Congress as a body be an important check on the executive branch, but we look forward to working with this administration.  Certainly, Nancy has demonstrated that she can do that, but she is—I think that‘s a good analysis.  She is an important check not only on the president but on the Senate, as well.

And I think you‘re going to see a more determined House come around in terms of our relationship with the Senate and our ability to work with the executive branch.  And she certainly does represent that.

But more importantly, we know how to work together with people.  We‘re willing to reach across the aisle to the Republicans.  They‘ve got a difficult task in front of us.  We‘ve got to put aside differences of Democrat and Republican and work to put America back to work.  That‘s what our charge is.  We will not turn back the clock.  We will stick with our principles.  We will not allow the privatization of Social Security and the vouchering of Medicare, and we will fight for American jobs.  That‘s as we see our goals.  We won‘t turn back the clock again on Wall Street reforms, either.  That‘s what we stand for.  That‘s why I‘m proud to be a Democrat.

SMERCONISH:  You mentioned working across aisle.  I think it doesn‘t bode well for the country if a dinner invitation extended by the president is snubbed, and that‘s what it appears to be, from all accounts, for tomorrow night.  Is that a sign of what‘s to come?

LARSON:  Well, I think the Republicans are in disarray.  They‘re having a battle within their own caucus in terms about who‘s controlling their caucus.  Is it the Tea Party?  I heard John McCain today questioning the Tea Party and their influence within the Senate, and within the House, as well.  So they‘re going to be going through struggles, as well.

I think the important thing is to focus on jobs.  We demonstrated in our caucus that we can work together.  Dan Boren, who you‘re going to hear from next, and I (ph) have worked together with a guy like T. Boone Pickens to put America‘s energy system back together, in support of the Natural Gas Act, create the kind of jobs that we need here in this country and put America back to work.  That‘s what we‘ve got to do.  That‘s what our caucus is focused on.

SMERCONISH:  You make reference to Congressman Boren.  And of course, I think of Congressman Boren as Blue Dog Democrat.  Does this spell the death knell, politically speaking, of Blue Dog Democrats, the result of this vote today?  Is there a place for them in your party?

LARSON:  Not at all.  There‘s a big tent in our party and a huge spot for the Blue Dogs.  They were articulate.  They did a great job both yesterday in our five-hour-long caucus and today in our organizational meeting.  And the important thing in our caucus is that we can sit down and reason together, even where we disagree.  And we‘re not always going to have agreement.  That‘s why we have such a huge tent.  But what we know is that we can work together towards a common goal, and a common goal that we share is jobs.

SMERCONISH:  Thank you very much, Congressman John Larson.  We‘re going to talk to Blue Dog Democrat Dan Boren in a moment.  But first, take a listen to Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur last week right here on HARDBALL.


REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D), OHIO:  I was just going to say, if I might just mention, I look forward to alliances with some of the Tea Party Republicans that have just been elected because when NAFTA passed in 1993, we only had a 12-vote margin that would have made the difference.  And look at the terrible hemorrhage of jobs that occurred because of that.  I‘ll tell you, I think that there‘s a real Democratic/Tea Party Republican alliance to be born in this new Congress.  And if it doesn‘t happen, the people who don‘t support jobs in this country won‘t be reelected two years from now.


SMERCONISH:  And the suggestion of Congresswoman Kaptur‘s comments and the reason I wanted you to hear that is that she expresses a willingness to work with the Tea Party.  I wonder if Congressman Dan Boren feels the same way.  Congressman, I know you heard just the tail end of that.  What‘s your willingness to reach across the aisle and work with Tea Party-elected candidates?

REP. DAN BOREN (D), OKLAHOMA:  I‘m willing to work with anybody, anybody that wants to bring this country together to solve problems.  I think the electorate said they‘re tired of the partisanship.  They want people who are going to work for common sense solutions to bring this economy back.  We‘re so tired of the polarization.

I don‘t care who it is, whether the Republicans, Democrats, Blue Dogs, independents, you know, progressives, whatever the strife, we‘ve got to set these differences aside.  And frankly, today, we had a big leadership election, and some of us on the more conservative side of the Democratic caucus were disappointed.  But the focus is going away from the Congress to the president.

SMERCONISH:  Did you—you had said, sir that you intended to vote against the Speaker in her leadership capacity.  Did you, indeed, cast that ballot?

BOREN:  I did.  I voted for Heath Shuler of North Carolina, a more conservative Democrat.  I will vote on the floor of the House for a more conservative Democrat than Nancy Pelosi.

SMERCONISH:  Well, let me say—let me ask you, if I may, what I asked Congressman Larson, which is from the outside looking in, I mean, here‘s a party that got drubbed in the election, lost more than 60 seats, and holds onto the same leadership.  It seems as if the party‘s tone deaf.

BOREN:  I agree with you.  The problem is, we only had 43 votes.  I think most Americans would agree there needed to be some changes.  But unfortunately, they didn‘t have those votes.  There were over—there are 150 Democrats who voted to stay with the same leadership.

But what I‘m going to try to do is move forward, see if the president, frankly—again, back to the president.  He‘s got to move to the middle.  He is way off on the left flank, frankly, from—I can tell you from Oklahoma, he is.  He‘s got to get to the middle.  Is he going to be Bill Clinton, or is he going to be Jimmy Carter?

SMERCONISH:  Would you—

BOREN:  Is he going to be a one-term president or a two-term president?

SMERCONISH:  Would you go so far, Congressman, as to say that it was selfish for those who maintained leadership positions not to stand down?

BOREN:  Well, I was very public.  I thought that we needed a new direction.  We needed new leadership.  But you know, the elections are over with.  I tried my darnedest.  I‘ve been speaking out all over, not only in Oklahoma but all across the country, here in Washington, D.C.  And unfortunately, my caucus did not listen.

But you know, what do we do now?  That‘s the thing.  The leadership election was lost.  Now what do we do?  I think it‘s really up to the president.  The president has the big podium, not necessarily the minority leader.

SMERCONISH:  Do you interpret—and I only have 30 seconds left.  Do you interpret Speaker Pelosi‘s success today as progressives saying, We need her here to hold him, the president, in check so that he doesn‘t drift toward the middle?

BOREN:  Well, they did say that, but that‘s why it‘s so important to see what the president‘s reaction is going to be.  Is he going to extend the tax cuts, which I support?  We cannot raise taxes in the middle of a recession.

SMERCONISH:  Congressman—

BOREN:  We‘ve got to work with the business community.  People are not talking about that.  Democrats need to work with the business community.  Barack Obama needs to work with the business community, the people that create jobs in this country.

SMERCONISH:  Congressman Dan Boren, many thanks for your time.  We appreciate it.

BOREN:  Thank you.

SMERCONISH:  Coming up: Meet the freshmen.  Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal beat Linda McMahon in the Connecticut Senate race.  He survived a Republican wave, and now he‘ll tell us what he‘s planning to do once he takes his seat.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH:  It‘s official in Alaska.  NBC News is projecting that Lisa Murkowski is the apparent winner in the Alaska Senate race.  She‘s won reelection as a write-in candidate.  After two weeks of counting write-in ballots, Murkowski has a lead of about 10,000 votes with only a few hundred ballots left to count.  That makes Murkowski the first Senate candidate to win a write-in campaign since Strom Thurmond did it back in 1954.

HARDBALL back after this.


SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  All this week on HARDBALL, we‘re meeting some of the newest members of the House and Senate.  And joining me now, Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal, who currently is Connecticut‘s attorney general.  He defeated former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon by 12 points.

Senator, full disclosure.  I once predicted on HARDBALL that you‘d never survive, politically speaking, that flap over your military record.  Congratulations.  You did so.

SEN.-ELECT RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  A very decisive victory, and I‘m very glad to have won after being outspent 7 to 1.  But I‘m here because people of Connecticut know me.  They know my record.  And that may not have always been as apparent to folks who didn‘t live here and perhaps the national press, as well.

SMERCONISH:  Earmarks.  Senators McCaskill and Udall say ban them. 

What do you say?

BLUMENTHAL:  I say at a minimum—at a very minimum—we should end the secret earmarks that have so bedeviled the process and undermined confidence.  And there ought to be a rational process if there are designated spending for any state or any district.  But you know, earmarks are really only a tiny part of the deficit and debt problem, less than a fraction of 1 percent.  And I‘m much more concerned about the major opportunities for cutting spending and getting serious about reducing our national debt.  And I made some very specific proposals about how to do it.

SMERCONISH:  How would you treat those upper 2 percent income earners who are getting so much attention in this conversation?

BLUMENTHAL:  I believe there ought to be an extensions of tax cuts for the middle class.  I have opposed extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent.  The idea that somehow those tax breaks benefit small businesses I think is a complete ruse.

But I would—and I stress I am very strongly in support of tax relief for small businesses.  Priority number one has to be aid for those small businesses in the form of more capital, more and—and more secure deductions, R&D tax credits for small businesses that are the major source of job creation in this country, more than 70 percent of all new jobs.

And we need more infrastructure investment.  So getting America back to work, putting America become on track, in Connecticut, fighting for those people who are out of work and small businesses that need that kind of tax relief and capital, because the banks aren‘t making loans, has to be priority number one.

SMERCONISH:  Speaking of your home state of Connecticut, where you remain the attorney general, I‘d be remiss if I didn‘t ask you for a comment on that horrific set of circumstances presented in the home invasion case that has captivated much of the nation.  You‘d agree with me, I hope, that the death penalty is warranted in that case, for he who‘s already been convicted and for number two, should he be convicted, as well?

BLUMENTHAL:  Absolutely.  If the death penalty is warranted in any case—and I support the death penalty in cases of heinous and horrific crime—certainly, this one is absolutely a poster person for it.  Both Hayes and his co-defendant certainly deserve the death penalty.

SMERCONISH:  And that Dr. Petit, a rock, a—a steel-willed individual, un—unlike any I have ever paid attention to in the past. 

BLUMENTHAL:  You know, I think he has provided inspiration, not only for his immediate family and for people who know him, but really for the entire state, maybe for others outside the state of Connecticut, not only in his courage and dedication and his perseverance, coming to court every day, staying with the process that, unfortunately, as some criminal justice cases illustrate—and I say this as a former United States attorney, as well as now attorney general—sometimes fails to move as quickly as it should. 

SMERCONISH:  Another issue that‘s been on your agenda as attorney general that you will deal with now in the United States Senate, health insurance, and I know, if not today, perhaps it was yesterday, Anthem.

Can you give us the Cliffs Notes version of what is going on? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I was in the Insurance Commission hearings literally today opposing a 20 percent rate increase request, completely unjustified.  I have fought Anthem and other insurance companies in their rate increase requests year after year. 

Last year, Anthem received a 20-plus percent increase, recently, a 30 percent to 50 percent increase.  Now it wants a 20 percent increase on some of its plans.  And I have also fought, by the way, insurance companies when they fail to cover people under policies, using excuses like preexisting conditions, and the doctor‘s out of network, the treatment is experimental. 

My experience leads me to believe we can‘t go back to a time when insurance companies made the rules and ran the show, which is why I want these protections for consumers, improve the health care bill by cutting costs, but not repeal it. 

SMERCONISH:  I wouldn‘t want to be on the receiving end of a 20 percent increase, but why can‘t the market solve that problem?  Why does it require government intervention? 

BLUMENTHAL:  Because the market is not as competitive as it should be, very simply. 

As you know, the antitrust laws fail to provide the kind of protection in this industry that they might in others, and the free market fails to operate in a way that it should, which is why there has to be stronger regulation or scrutiny, at least, oversight and scrutiny.  This health care bill fails to provide it.  I see it firsthand in Connecticut, where there‘s no right to a hearing, no right to appeal.  And consumers deserve better protection.

SMERCONISH:  Senator, I‘m just a fill-in guy.  Help me make some news tonight.  Are you for Lieberman in 2012?

BLUMENTHAL:  You know, I‘m not going to make news for you there.

We have just finished literally a little more than two weeks ago an election.  And I think folks are pretty well tired of elections, campaigning.  And I‘m going to let that one go. 

SMERCONISH:  All right, thank you, Attorney—I had to try. 


SMERCONISH:  Thank you, Attorney General Blumenthal, the incoming senator from Connecticut.  We appreciate your time. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Thank you. 

SMERCONISH:  Up next;  Now that he has broken ground on his presidential library, what is President Bush planning to do with this infamous banner declaring mission accomplished?  The “Sideshow” is straight ahead. 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


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

First up:  Now that construction is under way for President Bush‘s library, what to do with that mission accomplished banner.  You remember it, the banner that hung on the USS Abraham Lincoln when Bush declared the end of combat operations in Iraq?  That was May 1 of 2003. 

Now the banner‘s in storage and will become part of the library‘s collection.  Whether and how it‘s displayed is still to be decided, but if the decider has his way, I think we know what he would prefer. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No question it was a mistake.  And I say so—

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  Yes, and it‘s one of those times where you used—your words were used against you over and over again.

BUSH:  No, and that happens when you‘re president.  It‘s—and if I had to do it over again—which you don‘t get to do when you‘re the president—you know, I‘d have said, good going, men and women.  Great mission. 


SMERCONISH:  Sounds like it might stay in storage for a while. 

Remember the Florida pastor who threatened to burn the Koran to protest an Islamic center near Ground Zero?  Now, he says his anti-Muslim zeal cost him his congregation.  Yesterday, as he visited Ground Zero, he told reporters they left because—quote—“They are not interested in the truth.”

Well, flock or no flock, the pastor keeps on going.  He has got a Facebook page for his new effort, Stand Up America, an organization that he says will teach about the dangers of radical Islam.

And, as for the book burning, Pastor Jones told a reporter no plans to burn the Koran, but he may call for International Judge the Koran Day. 

That‘s a way to build a congregation, I imagine.

Next:  Could Jim Morrison finally get justice?  Outgoing Florida Governor Charlie Crist will submit Morrison‘s name to the clemency board.  In a 1970 trial, Morrison was convicted on charges of profanity and indecent exposure during a 1969 concert in Miami.  Governor Crist says that he‘s reviewed the evidence and—quote—“We don‘t really know if the alleged act occurred.”

Morrison was appealing the conviction when he died two years later.  Now, imagine if Crist had done this before the election.  A coalition of baby boomer Doors fans might have sent him to the Senate. 

And, finally, tonight‘s “Big Number,” it involves a beverage quaintly nicknamed blackout in a can.  Today, the FDA moved to clamp down on these drinks which combine alcohol and caffeine, sending warning letters to four companies that make them. 

One of the most popular, which is the equivalent of drinking three beers and a tall cup of coffee, is called Four Loko.  So, that is tonight‘s “Big Number,” four. 

Up next:  President Obama invited Republican leaders to the White House tomorrow night, but the Republican snubbed him.  They are not going.  What does that tell you about how things will go in Washington for the next two years? 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


MELISSA FRANCIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Melissa Francis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks trading mixed most of the day, ending right about where they started, the Dow slipping 15, the S&P up a fraction, and the Nasdaq moving six points higher. 

Investors trading cautiously today, wondering what the European Union has in mind for dealing with Ireland‘s debt crisis.  A team of E.U. and IMF experts will land in Ireland tomorrow to begin hammering out a rescue plan. 

And back here at home, an avalanche of strong earnings and outlooks from the retail sector, Target, Chico‘s, B.J. Wholesale all delivering better-than-expected earnings and strong holiday forecasts. 

But homebuilders took a hit, as housing starts fell to an 18-month low in October, mortgage applications also falling to their lowest level in four months. 

And GM is back.  It just priced its IPO at $33 a share.  That is the high end of expectations on 478 million shares of common stock.  It starts trading tomorrow under the symbol GM.

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


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

Republicans indicated how they intend to deal with President Obama when they rebuffed his post-election invite to the White House, which was scheduled for tomorrow.  The president billed the summit as a necessary first step in the reconciliation process for both sides.

So, will their snub give him the upper hand? 

Eugene Robinson is a “Washington Post” columnist and MSNBC political analyst.  MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe is the author of a new book called “Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House.”

Gene, what a sad day, if, because of the optics, an overture from the president to the incoming class and leadership is canceled, snubbed, use whatever word choice you see fit. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes.  It is pretty amazing.  I mean, I think it is—it does certainly make the president appear to be taking the high road.  He invited them.  He is the president of the United States.

To kind of turn down that sort of invitation or at least postpone that sort of invitation from the president doesn‘t really look good.  One can understand.  Remember, the last time there was a kind of public encounter between the president and Republican Caucus, it didn‘t go that well for the Republicans in that session. 

SMERCONISH:  You talking about Baltimore? 

ROBINSON:  Up in Baltimore, that‘s right. 

And you can—one can understand the Republicans wanting to kind of have their act together, get on the same page about how they are going to go into this new phase, you know, before doing that.

Nonetheless, it is the president of the United States.  And when he invites you to the White House, it is protocol to go. 


I don‘t understand, Richard, how the optics are for or against one or the other side, if the invitation is to come and break bread in the presidential quarters of the White House. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, you‘re right.  And people are paying attention right now.

You know, the Republicans need to learn the lesson from recent history, which is that when Obama came into power and he started just dealing with Democrats, it backfired on him.  You cannot go out there—if you think you‘re winning elections because of independent voters, you cannot go out there and just deal with your own side and play to your own base.

And if Republicans are going to go down that track, if they draw that conclusion, they are not going to find they have enough votes when it comes to 2012.  They need to hold onto independent voters.  And Obama needs to pull them back.  So, an outstretched hand in this situation is what independent voters want.  They shouldn‘t spurn it, in all political sense. 

SMERCONISH:  Richard, allow me to tap into some of that inside knowledge that is in evidence of your new book, “Revival.”

How do you believe, within the White House today, it plays that Nancy Pelosi has maintained her leadership position?  Because I‘m sitting here and I‘m saying, you know, he is next in 2012, and he will be saddled now with her role.

And I can tell you, it was used effectively throughout the country.  I referenced earlier having heard umpteen radio commercials in markets all across the country where it was Nancy Pelosi, the face of the Democratic Party.

WOLFFE:  Well, to put it mildly, they are conflicted about this one. 

You know, as I recount in “Revival,” they had an extremely difficult set of negotiations with Nancy Pelosi.  The president told me that he enjoyed negotiating with her.  I kind of was a bit skeptical about that, because those negotiations over health care were so painfully drawn-out that they cost them not just time, but political capital, because things extended into Massachusetts and beyond. 

So, you know, what you have here is someone who they need for her discipline and her organization.  On the other hand, there is some tactical advantage.  This is a president who liked to say, well, on the left, they want to do this kind of big-government stuff, and, on the right, they‘re all, you know, you are on your own.

Pelosi and Boehner are two useful extremes for the president to say: 

I‘m in the middle here. I‘m grown-up, and I can pull these sides together. 

SMERCONISH:  Eugene Robinson, I would love to share with you something that Ohio Governor Ted Strickland said relative to tax cuts. 

He said, “I would like to see the president say, I will not borrow money from China in order to give a tax break to people who make over $1 million a year, and thereby explode the national debt, and say it over and over and over,” then he added, “like they do on FOX News.”

Might we hear something similar to that from the president? 


ROBINSON:  Well, I suppose we might. 

I mean, that is one of the kind of ways this—this issue could be finessed.  It has got to be finessed some kind of way.  So, you could say make it $1 million and not $250,000 or whatever.  I‘m not sure that is the road the president is going down. 

I think, in the end, you know, there is a—there is—there is a lot of sentiment on the left of the Democratic Party to hold tough on the line that the president drew, $250,000. 

And, in the final analysis, the president—a deal has to be made.  And if I had to put money down on it, it would be that they are going to make a deal, maybe with some sort of finesse about $1 million, as opposed to $250,000.  Maybe they can get that. 

SMERCONISH:  Richard, tomorrow is the GM offering.  And perhaps you just heard that the stock has been valued on the high end at $33, meaning the high end of expectations.

You talk a lot in the book about the poor communications, how it sort of went wrong from the campaign.  They were very adept, to becoming very inept. 

So, prognosticate for me.  What is the spin tomorrow about GM?  How is this portrayed by this White House? 

WOLFFE:  Well, Axelrod told me for my book that people confused a lot of these bailouts.  They confused TARP and recovery and the auto bailout and it all merged into one. 

Something they have to do over the next couple of years is explain how actually the taxpayer is coming ahead on a number of these things, on Wall Street and everything else.  It‘s not easy to do that when the economy is still sluggish, but as the economy picks up, as the numbers become clear, there is a story they can tell and will have to tell, because this debate is not going to go anywhere unless they do something about it.

And that means telling their own story. 

SMERCONISH:  Eugene, no conversation about the headlines of the day would be complete without reference to Governor Palin. 

WOLFFE:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm. 

SMERCONISH:  Barbara Walters interviewed had her for her most interesting people special to air next month. 

Now, check out what Governor Palin said about challenging President Obama.  Let‘s listen. 


SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I am looking at the lay of the land now, and—and trying to figure that out, if it is a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family, if it‘s a good thing. 

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS:  If you ran for president, could you beat Barack Obama? 

PALIN:  I believe so. 


SMERCONISH:  Eugene, I mean, what else could she say, right? 

ROBINSON:  What else could she say? 

You know, I‘m hearing distant chorus from the White House saying, run, Sarah, run.  Run, Sarah, run.  As you know, her negatives are stratospherically high for someone who wants to be elected president.  And so, that would—that would be—that would be very, very difficult for her and I think it would—it would be good political news for the White House if that was the matchup.

SMERCONISH:  You know, it‘s interesting, you say that and my hunch is that someone else cheering this on might sound counterintuitive would be Governor Mitt Romney, because I think putting her in the race guarantees a split of whatever conservative vote might be out there that‘s not going to go in his direction and, you know, come backs to this issue of who is able to be dominated versus who‘s able to be elected and they‘re not necessarily one in the same.

Richard, you want a piece of that?

WOLFFE:  Yes.  Look, I cover the Dean campaign and it‘s brief and glorious life in 2004, and it strikes to me that there‘s a similar dynamic here—grassroots, untested candidate who can go off the rails.  And when Democrats look to the numbers, they decided they had to go for a more electable guy, whether it‘s Mitch Daniels or Mitt Romney or any of the other governors out there running against an incumbent president, the bar is that much higher.

I will say I agree with Sarah Palin.  For the discourse, at least on cable TV, it should be wonderful.

SMERCONISH:  Yes, my business is dependent upon it.

Thank you, Eugene Robinson and Richard Wolffe.  I appreciate your time.

WOLFFE:  Thank you.

SMERCONISH:  Up next: we‘ve heard lots of anger about the use of full-body scanners at airports.  But what‘s the alternative?  We‘ve got the man.  The head of the TSA joins us next.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH:  The Democrats lost in a slew of swing states in this year‘s midterms, but the electoral map for President Obama may not be as narrow as some now feared.  We‘ve got a new poll from Virginia.  Obama was the first Democrat in a generation to carry the state back in 2008 and he looks to be in decent shape against the top Republican challengers the next time around.  Obama would beat Mitt Romney 48 to 43.  He can top Mike Huckabee by the nearly same score of 49-44.  And if Republicans run Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich, President Obama‘s lead widens to 11.  He‘d beat Palin 51-40, Gingrich by a spread of 52-41.

HARDBALL back after this.


SMERCONISH:  We are back.

As the fight over new airport security screening procedures continues, some pilots are speaking out against them, including the nation‘s best known pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.  Here he is on today‘s MSNBC programs.


CAPT. CHESLEY SULLENBERGER, HERO PILOT:  Airlines have concern about the screening procedures.  First, they are not an effective and efficient use of our limited resources.  I think we need to do a much better job of taking a risk-based approach.  And I think since airline pilots are already the last line of defense in defending the cockpit against those who might use it for ill and since we are very trusted partners in this important security process, I think we need to be treated as such.

And we already have the means, if the TSA would choose to use it and implement it nationwide, to very quickly identify and verify each pilot‘s identity, to verify their current employment status, and that would go a long way to be much more effective meeting any possible threat.  And we also have concerns about the small additional radiation exposure.


SMERCONISH:  But a new CBS news poll shows that the public overwhelmingly supports the procedures.  Four out of five say airports should use full-body X-ray machines.

John Pistole is the administrator of the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration.

So glad that you are here.  Respond if you would to Captain Sullenberger.


I actually spoke with Sully yesterday.  We had a good discussion and it‘s interesting that when I started in this position, July 1 of this year, I brought a risk-based, intelligence-driven approach to how we go about our job of trying to provide the best possible security.  So, I agree with many of the things that Sully mentioned.  The question is: what is the best way of implementing some of this risk-based approach.  So, I hope I have announcements about a good way forward as it pertains in the very near future.

SMERCONISH:  I fear that this is getting away from you on the basis of Internet lore.  And I would to break down as best we can within a short time period and explain and separate some of the fact from fiction.  Give me the short version, what‘s the drill?  I fly, I walk up, what‘s about to take place?

PISTOLE:  So we have advanced imaging technology in about 80 airports now.  And if you go there and you want to opt-out of that AIT machine, then you go through the walk-through metal detector and you would receive what we describe as a thorough pat down.  If want to go through the AIT or walk-through metal detector and there is no alarms, no alerts, then there‘s no pat down.  So, that‘s the basic process.

The best way people can prepare is to make sure they have everything out of their pockets and that there‘s nothing in there that would showed up on the advanced imaging technology machine.

SMERCONISH:  Relative to the full body scan, have you fully vetted the health concerns?

PISTOLE:  Before they were deployed, this actually goes back to the fall of ‘07, when the first ones were deployed.  So, this has been in process quite a while, actually accelerated after the 12/25 event with Abdulmutallab, and a nonmetallic device.  The FDA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Johns Hopkins all did independent assessments and all found that the radiation from these machines are well within the acceptable safety limits.

SMERCONISH:  All right.  I‘m glad you referenced Johns Hopkins because, Mr. Pistole, this morning on my radio program, I had James Babb.  He is one of those—he wrote for “USA Today.”  As a matter of fact today, he‘s one of those trying to organize a grassroots protest movement.

And when I raised that subject with him, here‘s what James Babb, who runs the “We Won‘t Fly” organization, said.  I want you to respond.


JAMES BABB, WEWONTFLY.COM:  The study you mentioned from Johns Hopkins says, you know, because of the large number of people doing this, somebody is going to get cancer from it if this is allowed to continue.

SMERCONISH:  Wait a minute.  You‘re not saying that the Johns Hopkins people said that, are you?

BABB:  Yes, I am.


SMERCONISH:  What‘s the story?

PISTOLE:  As I understand, that study, it talks about the probabilities, but it looks at the underlying issue, how much radiation is a person exposed to—and the analogy was about three minutes of flying at altitude.  So, let‘s say 30,000 feet.  There have been other people who have done their assessment of the study who‘ve come up with this idea that given the millions of air hours people are flying, there is a possibility out there, at some point, that somebody may—may—and so many “mays” built in here—may have some additional exposure concerns.

So, I think I just have to go back to what the FDA, NIST and Johns Hopkins say what is safe and acceptable.  And that was their conclusion.

SMERCONISH:  All right.  Here‘s another one that I hear from radio callers, the Muslim garb exception.  You may not even know what I‘m talking about.  But if someone approaches a TSA checkpoint and they‘re wearing, by a way of example, a burqa, what‘s the drill?

PISTOLE:  Everybody goes through the same process.  So whatever their ethnicity or religious beliefs which I‘m sensitive to and appreciate, the bottom line is people are treated the same in terms of either going through the advanced image technology if that‘s available or the walk-through metal detector.  And if they alert, then they have to have that alert resolved, and the best way of doing that is through a thorough pat down.

SMERCONISH:  No free rides, right, Mr. Pistole?

PISTOLE:  That‘s correct.

SMERCONISH:  OK, another question.  How invasive should a properly carried out pat down actually be?  Because you know you hear some of the horror stories, there‘s this kid in California who was raising a beef.  How invasive a process should it be?

PISTOLE:  So, the pat down needs to be thorough enough to detect well-designed, well-concealed, non-metallic especially, explosive devices—such as we saw on 12/25, last Christmas.  It needs to be thorough, and that this pat down, coupled with the technology, is designed to identify and neutralize any possible threat in that regard.

SMERCONISH:  Are you comfortable in saying that there‘s no way that someone who subjects themselves to the full body scan, will ever have the image that‘s created, broadcast, saved, put out on the Internet, et cetera, et cetera, fill in the blank?

PISTOLE:  Yes, I am because the machines that we have deployed at airports are deployed in the way that has all those capabilities that you mentioned rendered inoperable.  So, we don‘t have the opportunity to either store, transmit, do anything with those images.  They are deleted as soon as the person is cleared, the next image comes up.  And, obviously, we don‘t allow camera, cell phones with cameras or anything in that screening room.

And, of course, we have the screener who sees the image—and again it‘s an image, I‘ve seen these crazy things out there about the photos and different things.  It‘s an image and with parts blurred and things.  But the person who sees that image never sees the person.  The security officer who sees the person never sees the image.  And again, those images are deleted and not retained.  It‘s not possible to retain them.

SMERCONISH:  And, finally, Mr. Pistole, Captain Sullenberger made

reference to risk-based processes.  I‘m not sure what he meant.  And you

also used some of that terminology.

To me, risk-based means taking into consideration the commonalities of those who threaten the United States.  I‘m not going to use that dreaded “p” word because of all of the connotations associated with it.  Are we taking into consideration, as we seek to prevent an attack, the commonalities of those who would wreak havoc on this country?

PISTOLE:  Michael, we‘re trying to do everything possible, inform by the latest intelligence, to insure that the traveling public is safe.  So, if intelligence says, you know, there is a group of individuals or specific individual—obviously, that‘s the best way to go.  When we don‘t have that intelligence, then we try to do a risk-based approach in saying what information do we know about the person, how can that help inform our judgments and actions.

But we are moving forward—in a risk-based perspective, I think there‘s more to come on that.  But the pilots that we are talking about, I think is a first step, again, in terms of how do we best apply this approach.

SMERCONISH:  Got it.  Mr. Pistole, thank you so much for your time.  I appreciate it.

PISTOLE:  Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH:  When we return, why I‘m no longer of use helping my fourth-grader to do his math homework.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SMERCONISH:  Let me finish tonight with an update from the home front.

I have apparently reached the point where I‘m of no value when it comes to helping our youngest son with his homework.  Sooner or later, it happens to all of us.  The problem in my case, our youngest son is only in the fourth grade.

Now, here‘s the brain teaser that he came home with just last week.  Ready?  Mrs. Roden (ph) buys a table and six chairs for $1,233.  The table costs $750 more than each chair.  How much does Mrs. Roden pay for the six chairs?

Easy I thought.  Take the total amount that Mrs. Roden spent, the $1,233, subtract the $750, divide by six, right?  Wrong.

A couple minutes later, I had the iPhone out.  The calculator function was turn on.  I still couldn‘t figure it out.

Soon, I was daydreaming about details we didn‘t know.  What kind of table was it?  Where did she buy it?  Is it clean?  What do those chairs look like?  And what exactly do we know about Mrs. Roden?

I was within an inch of pulling out a slide rule or an abacus.  And granted it‘s been 30 years since I had to do intensive math without a Texas instrument next to me, but I was still embarrassed—just not too embarrassed—to mention my math deficiencies on the radio the following day.  And sure enough, plenty of callers couldn‘t figure out the answer either.

It took an aerospace engineer, literally a rocket scientist named Josh to correctly lay out and solve my fourth grade son‘s extra credit problem.

The equation he told me looks like this: 6x, the number of chairs, multiplied by each one‘s cost, plus x, plus $750, the cost of the table, which is $750 more than one chair, equals $1,233, the total cost.

So, here‘s what it looks like.  You work it out.  You get $414 for the six chairs, or $69 per chair.

The whole episode left me contemplating a different answer for this and any other math problem that our son should bring to me in the future.  Son, I shall say, your mom is upstairs.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thank you for being with us.

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.




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