Guests: Mark Halperin, Eugene Robinson, Richard Wolffe, Barbara Boxer, Anthony Weiner, Sal Russo, Joan Walsh, Todd Harris, Claire McCaskill
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: It‘s the economy, America.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews up in New York.
Leading off tonight: The president‘s speech tonight. What I‘m telling you right now, by the way, had to be held for release until this very moment, 5:00 Eastern time. This afternoon, I was at a presidential briefing with President Obama at the White House to preview tonight‘s State of the Union address, and I can tell you now the main themes of the address tonight.
The president will push a significant progressive agenda of government spending, “smart spending,” he calls it, on education, basic research and development and infrastructure spending on things like highways, bridges and various kinds of transportation. He‘ll also discuss long-term deficit reduction.
The administration‘s focus will be on the economy, however, and on job creation, both public and private investments to do that. The president will encourage Congress to make decisions that reflect, as I said, smart spending and also spending cuts. But the spending will produce jobs, he believes, and greater economic growth down the road.
Despite the progressive agenda, some liberals, of course, in the party are nervous, or say they are. We‘ll talk to two who worry Mr. Obama‘s courting the center politically—although why wouldn‘t he—for political advantage at the expense of what they believe are the party‘s progressive agenda items.
Well, when Mr. Obama talks about winning the future, he‘ll also be thinking about winning in 2012, of course, and facing a resurgent Republican Party dedicated to one thing, getting rid of his presidency. So what‘s at stake for the president tonight?
And then there‘s Michele Bachmann. I have said before that she has zombie-like qualities. I have never—I think she‘s on hypnosis, but it turns out she just doesn‘t know anything. What she did this weekend was say, basically, that we did not have slavery after the days of the Founding Fathers because they were so great, they managed somehow that we didn‘t notice to get rid of slavery.
This is an incredible statement. The American people lost 600,000 lives in the Civil War, the worst catastrophe in our history, because of slavery continuing well past the mid-point of the 19th century. And this person—and you have to use the word “balloon head” -- said that we had slavery eradicated in the days of the Founding Fathers. I have never heard anything—people like that should not be in politics. They didn‘t go to first grade in history. What is this person doing on the national stage? Go home to grade school. Start around 3rd, and you might be able to catch up with the class. Anyway, she‘s going out tonight as the spokesperson for the Tea Partiers. They must be really desperate.
Anyway, finally: They‘re calling it “congressional prom night,” Republicans and Democrats sitting together in pairs out there tonight. Well, let‘s face it, where they sit really isn‘t where they‘re going to vote, of course.
And a program note. I‘ll be back at 7:00 o‘clock Eastern tonight with a brand-new edition of HARDBALL. We‘re going to have Robert Gibbs here to give us a real full-throated, I hope, explanation of what the president‘s going to say tonight. Later, of course, I‘ll be joining MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Ed Schultz and Eugene Robinson for complete coverage of the State of the Union. Our coverage, of course, begins at 9:00 o‘clock with the speech.
We start tonight with the big night for the president, of course, “Time” magazine‘s Mark Halperin‘s an MSNBC senior political analyst and “The Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson is an MSNBC political analyst, as well.
Eugene, I think we all have had some experience. Of course, African-Americans have had a horrendous experience with slavery. I just have to get over this point. Michele Bachmann believes that slavery disappeared because of the hard work of the Founding Fathers in their time. She included among the Founding Fathers John Quincy Adams, who was obviously a later generation. What about the compromise of 1840, 1850? What about all the war (ph) with Henry Clay and Webster and all the debates and then the horrendous Civil War? That never happened!
EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I could suggest any number of history books or biographies she might want to read.
ROBINSON: You know, George Washington throughout—throughout the Revolutionary War—
MATTHEWS: Every high school kid—
ROBINSON: -- worried about—
MATTHEWS: -- has gone to Mount Vernon and seen the slave quarters!
ROBINSON: Exactly. And during the war, he worried about the slaves and, Should we sell these, should we buy those? I mean, it—that‘s the way it was. Now, it‘s not that he wasn‘t a great man, it‘s that‘s the way he was. And let‘s not sugarcoat it.
MATTHEWS: Well, why are the Tea Parties—just for (ph) a point, political speaking, Mark—why do the Tea Parties have to revise history? Are they trying to gussy up the Founding Fathers because they salute them so frequently that they have to deny them their own history?
MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: They like to elevate their Founders as part of their rhetoric. But I think—
MATTHEWS: To this point?
HALPERIN: I think the Tea Party movement—
MATTHEWS: Is she totally uneducated? Bluntly speaking, how could a person speak like that and claim to be an American?
HALPERIN: I‘d say she‘s not the only member of Congress who doesn‘t know history as well as she should.
MATTHEWS: Doesn‘t know that slavery led to the Civil War? Why are you so careful?
HALPERIN: Well, because I think—
MATTHEWS: How can you not know this?
HALPERIN: The Tea Party movement I think makes a mistake when they pick their leaders badly. They like to be a bottoms-up party, but they need—
MATTHEWS: Well, they‘re working with her.
HALPERIN: -- to pick better leaders. They need to pick better leaders if they want to be (INAUDIBLE) force in America.
MATTHEWS: Oh, you‘re so careful. Obviously, you need sources.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to the whole presidential speech tonight. First of all, let‘s take a look at Mitch McConnell, what he told Mike Allen this morning. Let‘s listen to Mitch McConnell basically throwing the wet blanket over the president‘s speech before it‘s even given.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I would challenge all of our friends in the press here to count how many times the president uses the word “investment” tonight. Investment, as you know, is a Washington—is a Latin term for Washington spending.
MCCONNELL: I‘ve noticed that our good friends on the other side, whenever they want to spend, call it an investment. And so it will be interesting. I may just keep my own count tonight to see how many times we talk about investing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What a frisky guy he is! You know, I just can‘t keep up with Mitch McConnell. Mark?
HALPERIN: I think—go ahead.
MATTHEWS: Obviously, investment means to the president doing things like, I don‘t know, the intercontinental railroad system, the intercontinental highway system, the Apollo program. There are true—I know there‘s government waste, but there are true investments, capital investments in things that we rely on to develop our economy. We do! There is such a thing as good government.
HALPERIN: Republicans have made great hay, political hay, for months and months just being against big government and government spending. If the president plays the speech well tonight, I think the Republicans are making a mistake. They‘re for investment. Mitch McConnell‘s for a federal role in building roads. He‘s for a federal role in education. He‘s for a federal role in research and development. It‘s a question of where they draw the line. They can‘t cut enough spending to balance the budget—
MATTHEWS: How many of their fathers went to school on the GI bill?
Mine did. I mean, I think everybody‘s did, didn‘t they?
ROBINSON: Absolutely. Everybody‘s did. And the other side of it is, of course, you know, investment as the Latin word for spending—well, “keeping America safe” is another Latin phrase for spending, right, because what chunk of the budget do we spend on defense? And is that up for grabs, as well?
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the economy. And it seems to me the president was open about that, that it was off the record. But let me just talk about the—the president will be judged—his acid test, I think it‘s fair to say, will be the unemployment number. Can he do anything tonight to bring confidence to business to begin investing and create jobs?
HALPERIN: He‘s got to give people a sense that he knows what he‘s doing, that with the limited tools he has at his disposal, that as president, like Ronald Reagan, like Bill Clinton, he‘s presiding over a federal system, making choices on spending in particular and deficit reduction, that will foster the willingness of business to spend. He has to do that. There‘s no one else in the country who can.
MATTHEWS: You see any progress, Mark, when you talk to people—he obviously brought in Jeff Immelt from GE—one of our owners, of course. He‘s trying to sit around with Tom Donahue, who trashed him in the campaign, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Do you think he‘s moving in that direction in a way that gets them to release some of that $2 trillion they‘re apparently sitting on, they don‘t want—they don‘t want to invest right now?
HALPERIN: Business people around the country have not paid as much attention or been swayed by the decision since the lame duck session as people in the political press. But at least now the White House has a plan. They make it clear explicitly—a high priority is to change the role with (ph) business. He‘s made some moves already. Tonight, he‘s got to make more moves, more rhetorical moves in the coming weeks and months, to get them to believe now‘s the time to spend.
MATTHEWS: You know, Gene, I get the sense they‘ve almost realized all their ambitions for spending. They got a huge stimulus bill. The president made his compromise on the tax cut. I‘m not sure he sees a lot of other leverage out there that won‘t—will help, unless business begins to have confidence in demand out there.
ROBINSON: Exactly. You know, I don‘t buy this whole thing about business—Oh, they‘re so nervous, oh, they‘re so worried, there‘s so much uncertainty. If there‘s demand, if they think they can sell their stuff—
MATTHEWS: Make a buck.
ROBINSON: -- then they‘re going to—
ROBINSON: They‘re going to—they‘re going to hire people.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at this, by the way. This president gets no credit—it‘s almost like Rodney Dangerfield—I get no respect. I mean, seriously. Suppose a Republican had done this. The Dow Jones, when he came into office in ‘09 in the spring, was down—at one point down around 7,000. It really dipped down there as he was coming in, in March. It‘s up now to 12,000. It‘s just on the cusp. It‘s been right up there.
A little drop today. But it‘s basically moving—went up 100 yesterday. It‘s—Gene, why doesn‘t he get credit—if any Republican Burger (ph) or Babbitt had come in, you know, a Bob Dole or John McCain, typical middle-of-the-road Republican, a Jerry Ford, and gotten the market up 50 percent, their Babbitry would be through the roof! Look what we did for River City! Look what we did for Main Street. This guy must have done something right.
ROBINSON: Yes, and—
MATTHEWS: These clowns won‘t give him any credit for this!
ROBINSON: -- administration that there‘s a lot of stuff that he doesn‘t get credit for. Nonetheless, people inside the administration are feeling better than they‘ve felt in many months now. They had a great December. They feel like the speech in Tucson—
ROBINSON: -- went over so well. They‘re not just back in the game, they feel they‘re back in control.
MATTHEWS: How can George W. Bush show his face after what he did to the economy, screwing everybody‘s 401(k)? Every regular person who‘s put a buck away was screwed by George—he‘s out selling books, acting like he‘s Mr. Happy. Mark, I know you don‘t want to be partisan here.
HALPERIN: (INAUDIBLE) Mr. Happy.
MATTHEWS: But the strangeness—
HALPERIN: He is Mr. Happy. Look, Democratic presidents always have trouble getting credit when the economy does well, for whatever reasons. Bill Clinton had the same problem. What Obama has to do to get credit—
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t it funny that they tend to bail out the—Franklin Delano Roosevelt bailed out capitalism in the ‘30s. He saved it from God knows what. And Bill Clinton gave them the best decade of their lives. And we‘re with a 50 percent hike in the Dow.
HALPERIN: Bill Clinton, every day, even during the peak of impeachment, got credit for the American people for going out and doing things to make the economy better. Barack Obama thinks he deserves credit for the stimulus law, the auto bail-out, the health care law, to making the economy better. The public, in the main, doesn‘t feel that way yet. His Republican critics bash against that every day. Tonight‘s his chance to be forward-looking but also to take a little bit of credit.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK, he‘s got to—he‘s got to go down, I think, a wide channel, Gene. And I think you and I are working (ph) through the 40-yard lines. I think it‘s a wide channel. He‘s got Bernie Sanders and Anthony Weiner, who‘s going to be on the program in a minute, over here on the left. And then on the right, he‘s got the Tea Party up there, whooping and hollering about socialism. He‘s a socialist. Bernie Sanders is a socialist! He certainly isn‘t going to call the president one!
MATTHEWS: Proud of it!
ROBINSON: But you know, the president—look, there‘s a Republican House now, so he‘s not going to get any big new health care-size package through right now. It‘s just not going happen. So he can—it‘s not just that he can afford to go down the middle. In fact, where else is he going to go?
MATTHEWS: Do you think he‘s going to say nice things about Boehner so he‘ll cry?
HALPERIN: I think he‘ll turn around, he‘ll say—
MATTHEWS: Do you think he‘ll try to get him to cry?
HALPERIN: He‘ll turn around and say puppies, children and holidays in his speech.
MATTHEWS: What do you think, Gene? He seems such like a regular guy.
I don‘t mind him crying a little bit.
ROBINSON: He won‘t have to get to children and holidays, just puppies, and that‘ll be enough.
MATTHEWS: I think he‘s going to talk about how he came up the hard way again, only he‘ll tell it this time. Well, anyway, good for the new Speaker, John Boehner. Thank you, Mark Halperin—very careful tonight. Even though I think Michele Bachmann has finally leapt off the cliff with this latest that slavery didn‘t exist after the Founding Fathers. I mean, George Washington—go visit Mount Vernon! They got the slave quarters out there! Thomas Jefferson! What are we talking about? Monticello! It was built by them! The Capitol was built by slaves! What are we talking about? Thank you, Gene.
HALPERIN: -- balloon head. That‘s a good one.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I use it carefully.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, why some progressives are nervous about what the president will say tonight. Do they have reason to be worried? Well, we‘ll see. They‘re coming on.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Well, you can call it total recall out in Omaha. Residents there are voting today on whether to recall their elected mayor, Democrat Jim Suttle. Recall advocates are citing, quote, “excessive taxes, broken promises and union deals that cost taxpayers millions and threaten Omaha‘s economic future,” close quote.
But the mayor says he‘s rescued the city‘s troubled finances and turned a $12 million deficit into a $3 million surplus. If this is how voters are channeling their anger over budget shortfalls, look out. It could become an epidemic that sweeps other cities.
We‘ll be right back
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Liberal Democrats in Congress say they‘re worried that President Obama may abandon them tonight in search of a politically potent center. They know his poll numbers have increased recently, along with the perception he‘s more of a centrist than people previously thought he was.
Well, joining me right now is Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who always wins reelection, even when we worry out there. She always gets elected. And she—it‘s “Perils of Pauline” sometimes with you, Senator, but you do it every time. You manage to win as a progressive in an enormous state—
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes.
MATTHEWS: -- without trimming your sails. We‘re hearing—I was at that briefing today, and the president—they‘re—I can‘t say what he said, but they‘re talking thematically down there about investment in education and basic research and development—
MATTHEWS: -- and infrastructure like rail. And it seems to me like that‘s pretty modern liberal thinking.
BOXER: Well, let me just say I don‘t think it‘s a question of liberal-conservative-moderate right now because our country has so many challenges. So I honestly think this ideological deal takes a back seat. How do we get people to work? I come from a state with a 12.5 percent unemployment rate. Jobs, jobs, jobs. How do we reduce this deficit in a common sense way? Not the way the Republican study committee said, which will result in a million jobs lost immediately.
BOXER: We have to do that. The last point I‘d make—and I think we will definitely hear this from the president—how do we continue this new civility, this working together? And I think he‘s going build on that tonight by talking about the Giffords tragedy and how we can look at it and see the goodness of people surrounding that horrible event. So he‘s going to do those three things, and I‘m looking forward to it.
MATTHEWS: Well, I hear you‘re sitting with Congressman John Mica of Florida, who‘s your—
MATTHEWS: -- counterpart on public—and it seems to me that you‘re trying to get some legislative work done in that seating arrangement. You want to get something done.
BOXER: Oh, without a doubt. And by the way, I met with him well before this Giffords disaster struck. I met with him right away when they won over there. I called him. We got together. And we know that we have got to keep goods moving. We know that we have to keep people moving. We have to reduce congestion on the roads. And we know we need investments.
And yes, I use that word proudly. I used to be a stockbroker a long time ago, Chris, and investment is something that pays dividends. And when you invest in the infrastructure, you move this economy forward. So we both agree on that. Now, we might have disagreements, Mica and I, in certain details.
BOXER: But in general, we‘re going to work together.
MATTHEWS: Well, California led the way in the days of Pat Brown. We all thought he was old hat—
MATTHEWS: -- but Pat Brown did the school system out there, the fabulous California school system for every level of ability, the best schools in the world, or the community college, whatever, the state university. You had the best highways out there. You had open beaches. It seems like you knew how to use public investment.
But my question is, why are we the only country in the world without bullet trains, with real rapid train? I mean, I was just in Rome, going to Venice in an hour. I mean, what is—why are we behind the Chinese, the French, the Italians? We‘re behind the Koreans, I believe? Why are we behind everybody, and we‘re still riding along on highways, trying to catch up to the guy trying to cut me off? I mean, why don‘t we go with rapid rail?
BOXER: Well, it‘s a very easy answer. The eight years of George Bush, there were no investments. There were tax cuts to the wealthiest among us. It led us to these horrible deficits—two wars, no investments. I know why Mitch McConnell doesn‘t like word. He doesn‘t like the idea of us doing anything.
I want to tell you, Chris, in California, our people voted to tax themselves billions of dollars for high-speed rail. And when the new governor Kasich over there—it‘s Ohio, is it not?
BOXER: Is it Ohio?
BOXER: -- said he didn‘t want the money—Senator Feinstein and I wrote to the president. We said, Send it our way, and they did, and then we‘re going extend it to San Diego. Why are we behind the times? Because we haven‘t had the vision, the vision of Dwight Eisenhower, who brought—
BOXER: -- us to, you know, a highway system.
MATTHEWS: How about Lincoln?
BOXER: But we‘re going to get it tonight.
MATTHEWS: How about Lincoln?
MATTHEWS: He gave us the railroads.
BOXER: -- you know, I wasn‘t around then.
BOXER: I wasn‘t around then.
MATTHEWS: I know.
BOXER: But I—I just—I want to tell you that Ike was the first person who said, you know what? You can‘t be a strong nation if you don‘t make these investments.
So, when Mitch McConnell makes a joke about the word, it just says so much to me, and I think a lot the American people. You invest for the future.
BOXER: If you turn your back on that, America is going to have our lunch eaten by every country in the world, and we‘re too good and too important and our people are too important for that.
MATTHEWS: Senator—Senator Barbara Boxer of California, thank you so much for joining us on HARDBALL—
BOXER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: -- the night of the State of the Union.
Joining me now—
BOXER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Joining me now is New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.
Congressman Weiner, you have been out there on the progressive front now for three months. You and Bernie Sanders and a few others, you have been out there basically challenging the president as he‘s compromised on tax cuts.
I get the sense from the White House that they believe those tax cuts, which the president went along with, including those for the high brackets, are now the main stimulative punch to try to get demand out there to buy stuff, so business will start dumping that $2 trillion they are sitting on.
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Well, I certainly hope that tax cuts for billionaires hasn‘t become the Democratic idea of a stimulus plan.
I think that—that, look, we must not get too memorized by the idea that there‘s a lot of bipartisan energy in the Congress right now. We might be sitting together, but we‘re not going to be working together all that much.
And the president needs to understand that. I hope that he comes to Capitol Hill tonight and stands firm around the idea that he‘s accomplished a lot and there‘s a lot that we want to accomplish that reflect Democratic values.
He‘s going to be talking to a room that is now a majority party that wants to privatize Social Security, make Medicare into a voucher program. That‘s what they campaigned on.
MATTHEWS: So, what can you get through that Congress, your House?
WEINER: Well, I‘m not sure. But I think that one thing that has—
MATTHEWS: Well, you have got to figure it out, don‘t you?
MATTHEWS: Don‘t you have to figure out what will pass?
WEINER: Well, but you—but you don‘t start with what you think is going to be the outcome.
I think this is a mistake structurally that the president has been making. He‘s put out this freeze—and I think there‘s something to be said for it, although I‘m concerned about him leaving defense off the table.
But now you have got a starting place. This is probably where we wanted to wind up. I think as a negotiating tactic it‘s a problematic.
WEINER: But I think that the president should be leaning into this challenge, not feeling defensive.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I was at the White House today, and I get the sense—I can‘t quote them—but I get the sense that the White House is looking at things like more money for the federal government in education, more in basic research and development, more on infrastructure.
This seems to be, you know, an adapted, if you will, progressive agenda.
WEINER: Well, I‘m going to wait and see what he says. I have always seen reports about a non-defense discretionary freeze for five years.
MATTHEWS: I know.
WEINER: The problem is our population isn‘t freezing. The number of hungry children isn‘t freezing. The amount of funds that we need for a lot of these programs isn‘t frozen.
MATTHEWS: Well, what would you do about the debt, the long-term debt problem?
WEINER: Well, I think a couple of things we have got to do quickly that save us a lot of money is, we have got to end war in Afghanistan and get us out. We‘re spending an enormous amount of money in Iraq.
And we have to realize something else. There‘s a structural reason we have more debt. When more people are unemployed, more people getting Medicaid, more people on unemployment insurance, the single best thing that we can do is try to stimulate the economy to get people working again.
I believe the stimulus program worked. Now, I understand we have a Republican Congress, but this is the moment on the political calendar that the president speaks to the aspirations of our country and for his philosophy on how you govern here, not necessarily how you figure out ways to make John Boehner happy.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but what will you say if he comes out for more spending on—on education, on research, on infrastructure? What will you say about that?
WEINER: I‘m going to support him. And I‘m going to support him hard.
I think we do need to invest more.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York.
Up next: more Chicago-style politics. Wow. The Rahm Emanuel saga continues. It‘s like watching “The Good Wife.” Will he be able to run for mayor? We‘re still trying to find out. He looks like he‘s going to be on the ballot, at least, which you would think meant he could run, but it‘s not that simple.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the “Sideshow.”
First, Rahm Emanuel catches a big break. The Illinois state Supreme Court issued a stay on yesterday‘s appeals court decision that ruled that Rahm did not meet the residency requirements for office.
Well, per the higher court, Rahm‘s name should still be printed on that February 22 mayoral ballot, a crucial decision for the Rahm team, which also got an unexpected boost today from the conservative “Wall Street Journal” editorial page—quote—“It‘s tempting to enjoy Mr. Emanuel‘s ballot troubles because he‘s a darling of rich Chicago liberals, and it‘s a rare misstep for the Daley machine, which is backing him. But we don‘t think Mr. Emanuel should be penalized or Chicago voters denied the chance to vote for him because he chose to serve his country.”
Wow. Well, the state Supreme Court says it will expedite the hearing on Rahm‘s eligibility for office. Stay tuned. It‘s like “The Good Wife,” as I said.
Next, Tim Pawlenty for president coming to a theater near you. TPaw‘s PAC just came out with a video that could easily be mistaken for an action movie trailer. Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA: If prosperity were easy, everybody around the world would be prosperous. If freedom were easy, everybody around the world would be free. If security were easy, everybody around the world would be secure. They are not.
None of this is going to be easy. But this is the United States of America. It takes an extraordinary effort. It takes extraordinary commitment. It takes extraordinary strength. Valley Forge wasn‘t easy. Going to the moon wasn‘t easy. Settling the West wasn‘t easy.
We are the American people. We have seen difficulties before. And we always overcome it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The trouble with those wow commercials like that is, when you finally meet the candidate, he doesn‘t measure up to the excitement.
By the way, we have got an early indication that Pawlenty is not as mainstream as he might be saying he is. The would-be president said earlier this month—catch this—he wants to reinstate don‘t ask, don‘t tell. Imagine going backwards on that, after all this debate, go back to don‘t ask, don‘t tell.
What a—what a progressive move he is. Anyway, a policy of the majority Americans simply wanted to repeal, they want it gone, he wants to bring it back for more cultural warfare. You know what he‘s up to.
Speaking of the right, let‘s take a look at Mitch McConnell‘s idea of bipartisanship. Catch this. This morning, the Republican leader was asked to give advice for the president on moving forward. Well, McConnell‘s answer—quote—“If the president is willing to do what I and my members would do anyway, we‘re—we‘re not going to say no.”
Now, there‘s an offer the president can refuse. Does Senator McConnell want to replace—or place the president of the United States on his personal payroll? Because doing what you‘re told to do is the definition of an employee.
Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Gallup did a study on whether the State of the Union speech has affected president‘s approval rating. It turns out there‘s just one president in recent memory who consistently got a boost out of these speeches. Who was it? You know it. Bill Clinton, with an average increase of three percentage points every time he gave one. At the time, people said the Clinton speeches, his State of the Unions, were way too long and way too much in the weeds.
Well, it turns out—and it always did turn out this way—people like the details. They like knowing about how the programs they care about were affected. Guess who is laughing now? Bill Clinton. Three-point boost every time he gave a speech—tonight‘s historic “Big Number.”
Up next: Michele Bachmann will provide her own version of the GOP response tonight. God only knows what that‘s going to be. She‘s going to take to it the leaders of the Republican Party. She‘s become a headache. Well, how can a balloon head have a headache?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SIMON HOBBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. I‘m Simon Hobbs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stock shaving losses in the final hour of the trading to finish flat on the day, Dow Jones industrial average up three points, S&P up a fraction, and the Nasdaq tracking up just over 1.5.
Kind of a mixed reaction today to some generally solid earnings reports. Chemical giant DuPont up slightly on better-than-expected profits boosted by strong demand for its automotive paints and plastics. Verizon up 1.5 percent as investors shrugged off weaker-than-expected revenue on a huge bump up in new wireless subscribers.
Johnson & Johnson falling almost 2 percent on plunging sales in the wake of a series of product recalls.
And Post-it maker 3M sliding 2 percent as—despite better-than-expected quarterly results on an upbeat forecast. And finally Yahoo! shares moving lower after hours. Earnings topped expectations, both the revenue outlook was weaker—weaker than predicted. Earlier today, Yahoo! actually announced it‘s laying off another 1 percent of its work force, about 150 jobs.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: We haven‘t heard specific cuts so far. In fact, we have heard that the president may be referring to investments, meaning more spending yet again, and spending that this country simply cannot afford, because, as we know, Mr. Speaker, we‘re falling off the cliff in terms of debt increases.
And that is not good for the next generation of Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota previewing her speech tonight, also talking about the president‘s State of the Union address, which is coming. Bachmann will be giving her own response to the president tonight on behalf of the Tea Party Express.
Is she going to trump the official GOP response by Republican Paul Ryan? I doubt it.
Are Bachmann and the Tea Party pushing Republicans further to the right and threatening to divide the right?
Well, for more on this, I‘m joined by Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo.
Sal, thank you for joining us. I want you to look at something here.
There‘s Joan Walsh as well.
Thank you for joining us.
Let me—and, Sal, I want you to look at something that was said over the weekend out in Iowa by Congresswoman Bachmann. Here she is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: Do you realize it‘s been 21 generations that America has survived? For 21 nations, we have passed the torch of liberty from one generation successfully to the next.
And the question we need to ask ourselves tonight is this. Will it end with us? Will we be that last generation? Will we be the first generation to fail to pass that torch of liberty? It doesn‘t seem like a very positive message, does it?
But I have to ask you, will we be the ones for whom this great experiment in human liberty will end on our watch?
We know there was slavery that was still tolerated when the nation began. We know that was an evil and it was a scourge and a blot and a stain upon our history.
But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States. And I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbearers, who worked tirelessly, men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I don‘t know what to make that, Sal. That‘s balloon head.
SAL RUSSO, TEA PARTY STRATEGIST: Well—
MATTHEWS: That‘s not what our history was founded on.
MATTHEWS: We found it on the Constitution, which includes treating slaves as three—three-fifths of a person. It went on all the way to the Civil War. We had compromise after compromise trying to avoid a war.
We went to war and lost 600,000 people in the worst catastrophe in our history, because slavery continued through the 1860s and only ended because of that war. And here‘s this woman you have made your spokesperson saying that, somehow, the founding fathers dealt with it.
That‘s the one thing they did not deal with. That was the horrible compromise that was at the heart of our Constitution. Why do you put someone like this forward who is a balloon head, who knows no American history?
It‘s a ridiculous decision you guys have made. Do you know how little this woman knows about our history?
RUSSO: I think Michele Bachmann is one of the best—been one of the best members of Congress.
MATTHEWS: Did you just hear that stuff? Did you just hear her? Do you want me to play it again? We could rub it in, Sal? It‘s horrendous.
RUSSO: I heard it.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it?
RUSSO: I heard what she said, but—
MATTHEWS: What is she talking about?
RUSSO: -- I think what she‘s trying—I think what—I think what she‘s talking about is that we cannot continue to spend money as recklessly as we have done.
MATTHEWS: What? That‘s not what she just said.
She said the founding—
MATTHEWS: -- fathers got rid of slavery. Why would you say that? Why? Every high school kid has been to Mount Vernon and seen the slave quarters. What are you talking about?
Jefferson had slaves. All those guys had slaves. I know they were great men in other regards, but they never got rid of slavery. It‘s right in the Constitution. And here‘s this woman waving the Constitution around, palling around with Scalia, and she doesn‘t even know what the Constitution had in it, the treatment of slaves, African-Americans, as three-fifths of people. That‘s in our history.
You can‘t take it out. Explain to me what this woman is talking about.
RUSSO: I think she‘s just using that as an illustration to point out that --
MATTHEWS: Of what?
RUSSO: I think—I think Americans are—
MATTHEWS: Balloon head thinking? What do you mean, sir?
RUSSO: I think Americans are concerned today that their children and grandchildren are not going to have the same opportunities of the American dream, because we have increased our debt to a—
RUSSO: -- extent.
MATTHEWS: Well, why are you talking like this? You‘re talking like her. That‘s how she talks. She goes on this tape. No matter what you ask her, she goes on a tape.
I want to ask you about slavery, sir. Sal, you know when slavery ended. It ended with the Civil War, right?
RUSSO: Well, some kind of slavery ended with the Civil War.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean some kind of slavery ended with—
MATTHEWS: Why are you hedging?
RUSSO: No. I‘m not—I‘m not hedging on it. I‘m saying that our—
MATTHEWS: When did slavery end in America? When did it become illegal? When did the 13th Amendment get passed?
RUSSO: Well, sure. I mean, that‘s—that‘s a different question from when we had to deal with our racial issues in this country. I think we still deal with them.
MATTHEWS: No, no, the simple question to you, sir. And I know you have an I.Q.
RUSSO: But I don‘t—I don‘t think that is what she‘s talking about.
MATTHEWS: When she we end—
RUSSO: Chris, I don‘t—I don‘t—
MATTHEWS: She said slavery ended under the founding fathers.
RUSSO: I—I don‘t think that‘s what she meant. I mean, I think she meant that, if we don‘t get control of our government now—
MATTHEWS: OK, you‘re just covering. You‘re covering. You made a terrible decision. You put a person out there that has no concept of American history.
I‘m reminded what Steve Schmidt said about Sarah Palin, she doesn‘t know anything. This is worse. This is claiming something that never happened. We have a problem—slavery and race are the San Andreas Fault of American history and you‘re denying it was there.
Let me go to Joan.
Joan, you take over this witness. I find him hopeless. I know he knows better. He‘s covering for somebody who knows nothing.
Go ahead, Joan.
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: You know, Sal has hitched his star to the Tea Party. Sal is a long time Republican entrepreneur out here in California who‘s worked for mainstream Republicans. He decided a few years ago he was going to go with the Tea Party and ride the Tea Party. And now, he‘s kind of stuck, you know?
The other thing, Chris, I want to point out one more thing that Michele Bachmann said that‘s related to her thoughts on slavery. She also said that we were a country, that it didn‘t matter your economic status, it didn‘t matter what country you came from.
That‘s ludicrous too, Chris. I mean, for even for white men, there were property requirements to vote in the early states. Up until 1830, we had white—some white men had property requirements. We know that immigrants, Catholics—
RUSSO: Look, I know you‘re ignoring the reality of what the Tea Party is all about.
WALSH: You had plenty of time to talk. You had plenty of time to talk. I‘m now talking.
Nativism, attacked Irish-Catholics, German-Catholics, burn churches and convents. We had the Chinese Exclusion Act. For 60 years, kept Chinese people out of this country.
So, this happy garbage version of history, I love our country, Chris. I know what we fought to do is make it better and better and better and we are trying to do that—but to say that it‘s always been easy and it always been equal, that lets them propose policies that profoundly hurt black people, that hurt immigrants, that hurt poor and working class people because they have this notion that everyone‘s always been equal which is garbage.
MATTHEWS: OK. I want to give Sal all the time even needs, sir.
Explain the history of American slavery as you know it.
RUSSO: This is not about—I mean, why do you want to keep changing the subject?
MATTHEWS: Because we‘re talking about your spokesperson tonight that you have designated.
RUSSO: Well, that‘s right. And what our spokesman is talking about is the fact that our spending is unsustainable. Our national debt has skyrocketing and we got to get on top of that.
MATTHEWS: No. You‘re trying to teach some kind of new notion of America that has to do with the infallibility of our Founding Fathers, some sort of new, almost scriptural notion of American history that somehow goes back to some perfection time that we‘re trying to recover. You guys are trying to sell that everything was perfect back in the federalist period, back in the late 18th century so that you can keep saying we got to go back that, where everybody had a musket and everybody had a small farm and everything was perfect.
MATTHEWS: No, that‘s what you‘re trying to sell. What you have scrubbed our history of slavery—I think it‘s a desecration.
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘ll give you one more chance, 30 seconds. What‘s the history of slavery?
RUSSO: That‘s not what anybody is saying.
MATTHEWS: I‘m asking what you think Sal of slavery. What was it?
Please describe it.
RUSSO: I think—I think our Founding Fathers developed a document, the Constitution of the United States that served America and serving the world for freedom for 200 and something years.
MATTHEWS: Why do you guys talk you‘re on hypnosis? Why can‘t answer a question? Are you hypnotized? Can you answer a question? What‘s the history of slavery in America?
RUSSO: Your question is irrelevant to what the issue is of the day.
MATTHEWS: The issue of the day is decreed by this speech by your candidate is slavery and it‘s history. She set the mark here.
Joan, last though, we can‘t—poor Sal is under the same kind of rule that apparently that a lot of Tea Party is. Look at the camera and repeat the speech.
WALSH: Also, you know, if—
RUSSO: We‘ve been on the same issues from the beginning, Chris.
WALSH: Really? Well, then why did you not have a Tea Party movement when George Bush was spending down the Clinton surplus, $200 billion a year surplus, and George Bush left behind a $1.2 trillion budget deficit?
RUSSO: We wouldn‘t have a Tea Party movement if it were of the fact that people were dissatisfied with Republicans.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Joan Walsh. Thank you, Sal. I know you‘re 10 times smarter than this person you put up there.
Anyway, up next, the president will talk tonight about winning the future. Does he mean 2012 first? Well, of course he does. He‘s a politician like all the other guys in that chamber tonight, all the other women.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Well, what‘s at stake for President Obama in tonight‘s State of the Union speech? Well, HARDBALL will be right. It‘s a big night.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back.
And what‘s at stake for the president tonight as he gears up for 2012?
Let‘s go to the Republican strategist Todd Harris and MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe.
I‘m going to lay off of you, Todd, about Bachmann. You can defend this for the rest of your life, though, that never any slavery in this country. Let‘s talk about this. I don‘t even want to talk about it. It‘s over. Neither one of us know what she‘s talking about.
I want to ask you guys about, quickly, political assessment tonight. The president has got to walk sort of a channel or swim a channel between the Tea Party people and the right, obviously, who are not going to be satisfied no matter what he says in terms of cuts and his own progressive base he has to be thinking about tonight.
You first, the Republican Todd Harris.
TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think if the president uses as a model the lame duck session of the last Congress, that would be a very good starting point. Republicans are going to be looking for him to talk about job creation and spending cuts. And as you saw—
MATTHEWS: How do you do job creation if you do is spending cuts?
HARRIS: Well, it depends—that depends on what your philosophy is. If you believe that government creates jobs, then you can‘t. If you believe that jobs are created by the private sector, then you absolutely can.
But, you know, the president saw his approval ratings start to go up when he reached across the aisle and worked with Republicans during the lame duck session. And if he‘s willing to do that again and show that willingness, then I think that‘s probably politically good.
MATTHEWS: So, you‘re like Mitch McConnell. If he rolls over and becomes a Republican, you‘ll accept him in the group?
MATTHEWS: That‘s what you‘re saying. I mean, in other words, if he does it your way, great. Otherwise, forget it.
Richard Wolffe, he‘s got to be something different than a Republican tonight or he will lose all credibility. He‘s not a Republican. He‘s somewhat of a centrist to progressive Democrats. He‘s somewhere in that area. We know it from history.
The question: How does he exemplify that tonight to his advantage?
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what I think is interesting is from my reporting is that he‘s going to be trying to make an economic argument from a bipartisanship. So, if you look at Tucson, that speech was a sort of moral or idealistic argument for bipartisanship.
I think what we‘re going to hear tonight is an argument that the real competition isn‘t between Republicans and Democrats. It‘s between American and China or any of these other rising economies, and that‘s an economic argument why people in front of him who incidentally are going to be sitting together should work together. And to that extent—
MATTHEWS: Is there a channel there that they can work together in? Can you be for tax reform? Can you be for any kind of government spending, whether it‘s education, R&D, or infrastructure, that Republicans who are not for them at least would buy into?
Richard, then Todd.
WOLFFE: Well, yes, there is. If both sides say they care about the deficits, and both sides, he‘s going to say, shouldn‘t leave things off the table. So, he‘s got this nonmilitary discretionary spending freeze which amounts to all about 15 percent of the actual budget, but if everyone is serious, then, yes, Democrats have to talk about entitlements and Republicans also have to talk about national security. You cannot deal with a deficit by leaving those big things out of the budget.
MATTHEWS: Todd, is there anything Republicans would agree to spend on? Outside defense.
HARRIS: Yes, look—yes, but it‘s got to be offset with real spending cuts. Richard is absolutely right. You know, we can talk all day long about cutting discretionary spending—until we‘re willing to tackle entitlements, none of it means a thing.
The Republican response tonight is going to be given by Congressman Paul Ryan, who has been very, very courageous in this town, talking about reforming entitlements, and what is the very first thing that Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid do? They attack him, saying he‘s going to take away Social Security. Until we stop those kinds of politics—
MATTHEWS: But Social Security is not adding—Social Security in the current period of time, the years we‘re talking about, does come out ahead, in the trust fund. So, why do you say it‘s adding to the deficit, Todd, Social Security? Why does it have to be cut, for the deficit?
HARRIS: Chris, it only comes ahead for about another—I think it‘s about another eight years, and then it starts falling behind, and within—in 20 -- I think it‘s ‘41, it‘s bankrupting.
MATTHEWS: OK. Todd, that‘s what you have to be talking about, cutting it for years now, because (INAUDIBLE).
HARRIS: No, we need to start right now.
MATTHEWS: We‘re on common ground, thinking ahead.
MATTHEWS: No, we can‘t talk anymore. We got to go. Todd Harris and Richard Wolffe, please, we‘ll be back.
When we return, just take a look tonight—Democrats and Republicans are going to be sitting together. They‘re going to be pairing off tonight. Will that set a different tone? A positive tone? Date night?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
At tonight‘s State of the Union, you‘ll see a switch up in seating.
Democrats and Republicans sitting together.
Back in 1995, I wrote a piece for “George” magazine, it was the first edition of John F. Kennedy, Jr.‘s magazine, and it shows how the House of Representatives, much like a high school cafeteria, where everybody sits together. As you know, at lunchtime at high school, you sit with your clique and you battle over who sits at what table. The bullies sit at one table, the loners sit alone, the chess players, the upper classmen, the jocks, everybody has got their tables.
So, tonight‘s seating changes—are they about optics? Or do they signal a real shift in the way Congress does business?
Joining me right now is Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
Thank you so much, Senator. I‘m kidding a bit about this, but when I worked in the House with the speaker over there, I used to watch how people sat together.
You know, some of that—some of that—we used to have redneck row in the back, they call it redneck row where the conservative Democrats all sat there. We had the smokers‘ caucus, all the guys in the back with the cigarettes. We had the wet-hair guys in from the gym. Pennsylvania, blue-collar guys in the corner, who all wanted to go home Thursday night.
What do you think? Is sitting together going to matter?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Well, you know, it‘s too early to tell whether this is some kind of made-for-TV stunt or whether something is really changing. Now, I‘m going to be optimistic, because I‘m an optimistic person and I like to think of American as optimistic country, so I‘m going to be optimistic that we really have turned the corner on some of the really ugly, mean, vitriol that had become so commonplace a year ago.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s talk gender for a minute because one things I‘ve always notice, thanks to my wife, that women tend to get along better than men among each other. They just have friendships all over the place, they make friends quickly. They‘re more communal than men. Less competitive than me, at least they seem to be.
Do you have good relationship for example with the two senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins? Do you have relationship with Republican women senators, for example, that are really friendly?
MCCASKILL: Absolutely. And we make a point to get together socially.
MCCASKILL: In fact, we had all the women go together to a play right around Christmastime, Democrats and Republicans. We all went together.
MATTHEWS: Well, how come that works for your side of the gender aisle and the men don‘t seem to get along? Is that just testosterone or what? What is the problem here?
MCCASKILL: Oh, I think part of it is, I think this is grown up, because there‘s been fewer of us.
MCCASKILL: And, you know, we had a lot of things in common in terms of raising children and wanting to talk about those kinds of things that are in many ways way more important than some of the petty fights we get around the Senate chamber. But let me also say that I got some good friends that are guys that are Republicans that I work with.
MCCASKILL: I mean, Jeff Sessions and I have been working on the spending freeze for the last year. And we‘ve gotten along well.
So, I think we got to start talking to each other more. We got to start being willing to compromise. And that‘s what‘s going to be interesting.
Now, we have closer numbers, so the Republicans have an obligation to participate in these debates and not walk away and blame us, but rather sit at the table and see if we can‘t find that really elusive middle ground that‘s real, as know, Chris, is essentially if we‘re going to solve any problems.
MATTHEWS: Well, Missouri seems to be the classic a middle-of-the-road state. It‘s right in the middle. It‘s very contentious politically because it‘s so even.
I mean, how do you get the guys from Brooklyn and the Bay Area of San Francisco to agree with the people in the middle of the country? Isn‘t that the real problem, the geography is just so disparate and politics in this country?
MCCASKILL: Well, and frankly, our political system doesn‘t reward moderates.
MCCASKILL: It‘s hard. It‘s hard. Our political system does a lot more pats on the back to people who are very rigid ideologues on the far left and the far right.
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re one of the best senators there is, because the very thing you have to fine-tune in your constituency. You have to do it.
MCCASKILL: Well—and it‘s America. We need to find that middle ground. That‘s what the people want more than anything. They don‘t want us holding hands and skipping down to the State of the Union address, Republicans and Democrats.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘ve got to go. That‘s HARDBALL—
MCCASKILL: They want us to work together.
MATTHEWS: Well, I got to go, too. Thank you, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
MATTHEWS: I‘ll be right back in one hour from now, 7:00 Eastern with a new edition of HARDBALL, right before the State of the Union. That was Claire McCaskill of Missouri. I meant it, she‘s one of the best.
Anyway, we‘ll be talking more.
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