updated 2/1/2011 1:00:49 PM ET 2011-02-01T18:00:49

Guests: Brian Williams, Hampton Pearson, Eugene Robinson, Chris Matthews,

Howard Fineman, Richard Engel, Marc Lynch, Brian Katulis, Robin Wright, David Corn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Big test for Obama.

This is HARDBALL.

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

Who‘s next?  To appreciate what‘s happening in Cairo and its potential for spreading beyond Egypt, consider this.  An NBC reporter—a producer, rather—in Beijing reports that Chinese authorities are censoring the word “Egypt” from social networking sites.  If the Chinese government is worried, imagine the frayed nerves in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries in the Middle East.

For a seventh straight day, crowds gathered in Cairo today calling for an to end the three-decade-long regime of Hosni Mubarak, who is promising not to fire on protesters but is also refusing to step aside.  Mubarak‘s seating of a new cabinet has done nothing to blunt calls for his removal.  We‘re going to go to Richard Engel for the latest right at the top of the show.

There‘s also so much at stake for the United States here, which, of course, is careful not to choose sides publicly.  Egypt is a U.S. ally, of course, and has helped keep the peace with Israel, of course.  It‘s a partner in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism.  Tonight, America‘s balancing act.

It‘s also a critical moment for the Obama administration, which was happy to be focusing on jobs and gaining momentum in the polls.  White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Egypt must change but that the outcome is up to the Egyptian people.  Republican critics—well, they‘ve been quiet so far.  What‘s at stake today and tomorrow and this week for President Obama?

And while Egyptians march for freedom, the birther crowd, for what

it‘s worth, is trying to nail President Obama here at home as—catch this

an impostor.  What a fine message of democracy to send to the world at this time.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” with Michele Bachmann‘s intriguing notion that the Founding Fathers eradicated slavery.  I‘m going to list tonight, with no joy, the American presidents who owned slaves.

We start with the crisis in Egypt.  Joining me from Cairo is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, Richard Engel.  Richard, we‘re there.  The million-man march tomorrow, just like we had here in Washington a decade ago, this one seems a lot more important in terms of changing a country‘s course.  Your thoughts about tomorrow?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  I think it‘s going to get a huge number.  I don‘t know if it‘ll be a million, but it could happen.  There are a lot of poor people who are now joining this demonstration.  Tahrir Square is just next to a neighborhood called Shubra.  There are millions of working-class and poor Egyptians living in that area, most of them frustrated with President Mubarak.  If just several hundred thousand or a million people from that neighborhood alone to Tahrir—went to the square, they could fill it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about, as you have watched over the weekend, what are the options we can see coming?  If you could pick them off, is there going to be—let‘s start—will there be an election this September that matters?  In other words, there won‘t be a Mubarak on the ticket?

ENGEL:  Oh, I thought you were giving me other options.  I think there will be elections here.  I‘m not sure if they‘ll be in September.  I think the only way out of this—and according to protesters we‘ve spoken to—is for Mubarak to either leave the country—and that‘s what they would like, but they would probably settle for him having completely new elections, preferably with him not on the ticket.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go the other options prior to September or whenever there might be elections.  What are the other options?  You mentioned him possibly leaving the country, the possibility of creating another government on his way out the door.  Who would create that government?  Who might likely be part of a coalition?

ENGEL:  There are a lot of scenarios right now and it‘s people reading the tea leaves here.  The protest movement is going on.  It doesn‘t really have a specific leader, although there are people who are trying to emerge as leaders.  ElBaradei is one of them.

The army is watching this very, very carefully.  The army has been very loyal to President Mubarak.  If the situation gets on the streets where it‘s total chaos, something like we saw over the weekend, more looting, people are really angry, then the army will have to intervene and have to have a coup against Mubarak and send him either into retirement or potentially send him out of the country.

So I think the army is watching.  If the situation really deteriorates, they will move in and topple this regime.  If they don‘t, then Mubarak might be able to hold on long enough to hold some sort of new elections.

Now, while this is all going on—that‘s the leadership.  While this is all going on, you have to also (INAUDIBLE) what‘s happening on the grass roots.  Who controls the streets?  And while this has been happening and there‘s a degree of chaos, the Muslim Brotherhood has been moving up and has been already taking on a degree of authority.  When looting took place, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that stepped up and said, We will help organize the vigilante groups and stop the looting.

So the army might take over.  President Mubarak might call new elections.  But while this is already sorting itself out, the Brotherhood is taking over more authority.

MATTHEWS:  Watching from here in America, as we see the crowds grow tomorrow, is at a fair guesstimate that the louder they get, the bigger they get, the more belligerent they get, the more likely the army will get a message that it has to topple through coup President Mubarak?

ENGEL:  I think if it‘s just loud and contained to Tahrir Square, I don‘t think the army would act.  It depends on the real fear people—I guess you could call it even the non-protesters, what they fear.  What upset the army and senior officials and what upset more Egyptians across the country was the collapse of law and order, the chaos.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ENGEL:  The army has taken steps now to contain Tahrir Square.  They put in—they have barbed wire ready.  I assume early in the morning, they‘re going to start sealing it off with barbed wire.  They brought in concrete barricades.  If they can contain it there, let the people scream, let the people blow off steam, I don‘t think the army would necessarily move.  If there‘s a massacre, if they try and—protesters try and charge the troops, the troops fire back, the army will intervene.

If there‘s more of this collapse of law and order and people are feeling terrified and wealthy Egyptians are once again leaving the country and the army officers feel themselves in danger, that they have to leave the country, leave the family, their families, send their families abroad, then I think the army will intervene.

MATTHEWS:  So it comes down to whether Mubarak survives as leader of the country, for a while at least, or the army topples him.  Is there any other possibility?  Could the army topple him and let a civilian group come in and take over, like ElBaradei—we‘re looking at him right now—an ElBaradei-led coalition, is that possible?

ENGEL:  It is possible.  You could have the army come in and say, The situation has gotten out of hand.  Egypt‘s—for the sake of national security, the army has taken over and will hold elections.  And then Mohamed ElBaradei could be one of those elections.  And while those elections are being held, they could form a “government of national salvation,” and they‘re already talking about—the opposition is talking about who would be on that government of national salvation, a caretaker government.  Baradei would certainly have a role.

But the way Egypt has been structured right now—and this is why I keep going back to the Muslim Brotherhood.  Baradei, if he becomes prime minister, it doesn‘t really matter that much.  The prime minister in this country doesn‘t have a great deal of authority.  Most people don‘t even know, outside of Egypt, who the prime minister is.  It‘s a presidential system.  The military is in charge.

And on the ground, you have to also look at who controls the mosques, the unions, the streets, the people who clean the buildings, the people who take out the garbage.  And that is where a lot of grass roots power takes place.  And the Muslim Brotherhood—the longer this chaos happens and the longer it takes for the decisions to be made, the reshuffling at the top, the more authority they are able to—they are able to gain.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s one thing we study in school in America is the difference between power and authority, true authority, belief that the people have in who should rule them.  You‘ve talked the last couple of days about the army‘s authority in that country, that it is different than the authority that it has in the United States.  In the country—our country, it‘s all civilian rule.  The army takes orders.

But in that country, you talked about authority, the legitimate

authority that the army enjoys for its fights against Israel, its fights in

well, it‘s leadership of the country since the days of Nasser.  Is it declining?  Is it holding?  And is it being challenged eventually by the Muslim Brotherhood because of its role in supporting safe streets right now?

ENGEL:  The Muslim Brotherhood, we‘ve been told, is actually in contact right now, secret negotiations going on between their leadership and military leadership.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

ENGEL:  The Muslim Brotherhood is telling the army that it can be a reasonable, rational organization.  I did an interview tonight with one of the senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.  He was telling me to tell the American people that the Muslim Brotherhood can be reasoned with, wants to be a player, isn‘t a radical group.  So you‘re trying—you are seeing the Muslim Brotherhood legitimize itself, much in the same way you saw Hamas try and legitimize itself during the elections in Gaza.

MATTHEWS:  Does that surprise you, as someone who really grew up over there as a journalist, living among the Muslim Brotherhood?  Does it surprise you that they could be copacetic with the military?

ENGEL:  Not at all.  A lot of them are truly patriotic Egyptians.  They don‘t necessarily want to overthrow the military regime.  In the belief structure and the political structure that the Muslim Brotherhood has, which is common in Islamic moments, they believe in a strict hierarchy.  There can be a ruler.  There can be a military ruler.  But as long as that military ruler doesn‘t impede on the ability of the Muslim people to worship, then they have no problem with that.  So they could live very copacetically with the military.  It‘s not that it is a Taliban kind of movement that wants to take over...

MATTHEWS:  I get you.

ENGEL:  ... and tell everyone what to do and how to do it.  They‘re very patriotic.  They have lot of supporters.  You mentioned I lived with a lot of them.  They were nice people.  I mean, If you fell down in the street, they would come and help you out.  If you didn‘t have enough money for the bus, they would give you money.  There was a community feeling that a lot of people are nostalgic about in this country that is still present in the poorer, more Muslim—more Islamic communities here.

What people are so upset about is prices have gotten so high, there‘s become this elite class of Egyptians that...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ENGEL:  ... no longer reflects a lot of the traditional cultural values here.  And the Muslim Brotherhood still does embrace those values very close to its chest.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great to talk to you in Cairo.  Richard Engel, our great correspondent over there, thank so you much for this report tonight.

Coming up: With so much at stake for the United States, the Obama administration has been careful, as you‘ve noticed, not to take sides, at least not publicly, although I sense they want to see some change over there.  It‘s a case of our principles versus our interests.  We are worried about too much change.  America‘s balancing act coming up next here on HARDBALL.  You‘re watching it, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow!  A federal judge in Florida has just declared a key part of President Obama‘s health care overhaul unconstitutional.  You‘ll guess which one it is.  U.S. district court (SIC) Roger Vinson agreed with 26 states that argued people cannot be required to buy health insurance, the so-called individual mandate.  Vinson is the second federal judge to say this, while two other federal judges have upheld the health care reform law.  Well, the Obama administration‘s already appealed this, and this case will no doubt end up with the United States Supreme Court.  That‘s where the fight‘s going to be.  It‘s probably going to be a 5-4, one way or the other.

HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The United States is in a precarious position trying to respond to the latest in Egypt, and the White House this morning held a meeting of Middle East experts to discuss the situation.  So just what do the protests and the unrest mean for us?

I‘m joined right now by two of the experts who were at the White House today.  Marc Lynch is director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University here in Washington, and Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Gentlemen, let me get this right.  Now, here‘s Secretary Clinton on “MEET THE PRESS” yesterday.  Let‘s listen to what she said.  She, of course, is leading our foreign policy in that situation, talking here about the transition that we want to see in Egypt.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future.  It need be an orderly peaceful transition to real democracy.

It‘s not a question of who retains power.  That should not be the issue.  It‘s how are we going to respond to the legitimate needs and grievances expressed by the Egyptian people?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is an interesting thing.  It‘s almost like riding a bike along a gutter.  You know, you move a slight inch, and you go into the gutter, so you get sort of nervous there.  Looks like that‘s where we are.  We‘re right on that edge there.

So are we for change in Egypt, or would we refer, if we had our druthers 30 years ago to happen right now, back to a military rule, back to Mubarak, we‘d better off, we‘d just like a military ruler that‘s on our side.  But now we have to pretend we really want democracy because we‘re faced with it.  Is that what‘s going on?

BRIAN KATULIS, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Well, look...

MATTHEWS:  Have we ever pushed for democracy before today, before we had to?

KATULIS:  Well, the Bush administration tried to, and it talked a good game.  But then it never delivered on it.  You know, you had protesters who were jailed and beaten and killed by the Mubarak government.

MATTHEWS:  What did we do about it?  What did we say?

KATULIS:  Well, we continued to talk, but we didn‘t change our policy.  And what this administration is trying to do, which—I think they stumbled in reaction to this, and in fact, I think they missed an opportunity last November when they had sham parliamentary elections in Egypt.  They didn‘t say much.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KATULIS:  Now they‘re saying a lot because there‘s a crisis in the street in Cairo.  Now I think they‘ve finally got their footing.  They said political reform and economic reform.  And here‘s the thing that‘s got to happen, Chris.  They better follow through on policy change because we‘ve had far too many presidents...

MATTHEWS:  So you say put the pressure, put the screws to Mubarak, tell him it‘s time to go.  That‘s what you say.

KATULIS:  Well, I didn‘t say that Mubarak should go...

MATTHEWS:  Well, tell me what you‘re saying?

KATULIS:  I think, essentially, they have—they put into place the right rhetorical policy, and now they‘re working the diplomatic contacts...

KATULIS:  OK, what do we want?  Put it in English.

(CROSSTALK)

KATULIS:  We want change that...

MATTHEWS:  So in other words, we don‘t want Mubarak.

KATULIS:  Yes, we want change that is...

MATTHEWS:  We want to get—we want to get rid of Mubarak.

KATULIS:  We want change that‘s led by the Egyptian people.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re talking talk like the administration.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m serious here.  What do we want, Marc?

MARC LYNCH, GWU CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST STUDIES:  Chris, I‘ll say it.

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me—do we want—does the American—what does the administration really want?  They would love to have some sort of democratic, vaguely capitalist-socialist mix like we all like in this country, pro-American, pro-Israeli, peacekeepers.  We want all that.  What are we likely to hope for?

LYNCH:  Chris, I‘ll say it.  They want Mubarak to go.  They don‘t know how to make it happen.  And it can‘t be imposed by us because then it‘ll be rejected by the Egyptian people.  That‘s the line that they‘re walking because...

MATTHEWS:  But the Egyptian people seem to want Mubarak to leave.

LYNCH:  Well, some of them do.  Some of them don‘t.  And I think that...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s 83 this May.  He will leave.  It‘s a question of how many months he serves at this point, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But he‘s not taking the hint.  I mean, I think that we want him to leave now.

MATTHEWS:  What is he, Mugabe?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think that...

MATTHEWS:  Is this Robert Mugabe...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When you‘ve been in power for 30 years, you can‘t imagine anything else.  He doesn‘t understand the idea of a next president.  And I think that we‘ve got to make him see and we‘ve got to make the people in the army who could make him leave understand that this is it.  It‘s over.

MATTHEWS:  Former secretary Colin Powell, in a very generalized conversation I once had with him, said one thing Middle East leaders have in common, whether they call themselves Ba‘athists or monarchists or Islamists.  They want their oldest son to replace them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, well, can...

MATTHEWS:  Is that it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s over.  You know, Gamal Mubarak...

MATTHEWS:  Is not going to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... the president‘s son...

MATTHEWS:  Is not going to get...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s, like, at least one consequence we can be certain of here.

MATTHEWS:  So there won‘t be a ballot printed in September that says Gamal Mubarak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  And there won‘t be one that says Hosni Mubarak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS:  So I finally got you where I want you!  See what HARDBALL gets me here?  So we got two guys here that say we‘re getting rid of Mubarak, but we‘re not (INAUDIBLE) people to do it.  Two options.  We just heard from Richard Engel.  Will the army topple this guy because this thing gets too hot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It could happen.

MATTHEWS:  You think it will?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it might.  It depends on how...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how‘s it stop?  If this keeps going on for two weeks, are they going to put up with the streets being burned...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... and buildings being looted and all the—the shopkeepers are going to start complaining, saying, Get rid of this guy, he can‘t keep peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think the army could do that, but that won‘t be enough for these protesters.  It won‘t be enough if Omar Suleiman is managing this process.  The people in the streets aren‘t protesting for the same security apparatus to stay in power.

MATTHEWS:  So they won‘t take a government in a new form, with a different face.

LYNCH:  Yes, that‘s right.  They don‘t want to just see Omar Suleiman, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Who is number two.  He‘s the appointed security chief and the sitting vice president. 

LYNCH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They are not going to accept the papering over? 

LYNCH:  They‘re not going to accept that.  And—and if...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, what do they want then?  A fall?  They want a new government elected? 

(CROSSTALK)

LYNCH:  Well, if what you get are elections where Omar Suleiman is on the ballot with 95 percent of the vote, then that‘s not going cut it.  I think what we need to have right now is...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  They want an election like we have in this country.

Here‘s Mohamed ElBaradei, of course, who is the head of the arms control, international arms control. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here he is on ABC yesterday talking about what he says Egyptian Mubarak should do.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC NEWS)

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LAUREATE:  People‘s concerns right now is, Mubarak has to go immediately. 

The first step, if we need to get out of this mess—and it‘s a total mess—security is not there.  It‘s a total chaos situation right now.  The first step, he has to go. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he has to go.  Do we have any hopes of getting a leader as loyal to us as Mubarak? 

KATULIS:  Absolutely.  I think the Egyptians have a lot of great people beyond the regime right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are pro-Western?

(CROSSTALK)

KATULIS:  Pro-Western, pro-democracy.  And we have got to move beyond this false choice between stability and freedom in a place like Egypt.  We can actually secure our counterterrorism concerns, our regional security concerns, while also helping Egyptians open the door to—to their democratic reforms. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re very positive.  You‘re very optimistic. 

KATULIS:  Yes, I am.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Are you optimistic?

LYNCH:  I‘m optimistic if we get this right.  I mean, even if the Muslim Brotherhood comes into—forms part of the government, that sort of thing, they understand they have got to run the country.  They have got to be on good terms... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but they‘re—they are on good terms with al Qaeda. 

LYNCH:  No, actually, they are not.  Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda hate each other. 

MATTHEWS:  Zawahri, where is he? 

LYNCH:  He‘s hiding out somewhere in Pakistan?

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t he loyal?  Isn‘t he part of the Muslim Brotherhood?

LYNCH:  No, no.  He‘s their worst enemy.  He hates them.  They hate each other.

(CROSSTALK)

KATULIS:  Yes, al Qaeda...

(CROSSTALK)

LYNCH:  Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are completely different.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s what I know about the Muslim Brotherhood, like most Americans.  They killed our hero, Sadat.  Therefore, we don‘t like them.

KATULIS:  That was Gama‘a al-Islamiyya, which was different from the Muslim Brotherhood. 

(CROSSTALK)

KATULIS:  The Muslim Brotherhood today wants to enter politics.  And I think Marc and agree that let them be part of the Egyptian politics. 

MATTHEWS:  So, if you‘re sitting in Tel Aviv right now, you‘re sitting next to Bibi Netanyahu, you‘re a real Likudnik, right, a real right-winger, are you happy about what‘s happening here or scared to death? 

LYNCH:  No, they got to be scared. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LYNCH:  I mean, they—they see what‘s happening in Lebanon. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if they‘re listening to you, they‘re not.

LYNCH:  They see what‘s happening in Egypt. 

Well, if they listen to us, they calm down and see that, if you want to have a stable Egypt, you have got to let this change happen. 

KATULIS:  Yes.

LYNCH:  We have—we have been holding up this house of cards for too long, and it‘s got us to where we are today.  You‘ve got to let it happen.  You‘ve got to have—if you want stability, you have got to have democracy. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t Hosni Mubarak the one guy holding up Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank, the one guy standing against Hamas, the one guy standing against Hezbollah in the region, the strong ally of King Abdullah of Jordan, the one really good, reliable ally of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia?  How can you say he can easily be replaced?  This guy is the George Washington of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... over there.

KATULIS:  Chris, we have got to beyond this—we have got to beyond this addiction to dictators that you just recounted right now.  That‘s the way we have done business since the end of the Cold War and during the Cold War.

And what we‘re saying is, you can walk and chew gum at the same time. 

You can actually have a more democratic Egypt.

MATTHEWS:  Where were you on the Iraq war? 

KATULIS:  On the Iraq War?  I was against going in, and I think we needed to get out as quickly as possible. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, then I trust you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Where were you? 

LYNCH:  We were on the same side. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s my litmus side, because a lot of guys love to talk democracy, the neoconservatives...

LYNCH:  Right.   

MATTHEWS:  ... the Scooter Libbys of the world.  Oh, we love democracy. 

What they really love is American intervention militarily to put down a government we don‘t like. 

KATULIS:  Which is why we can‘t say, Mubarak, go or stay.  Let the Egyptians say that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We have a voice of optimism here, first time.

You should get out in the rally out there and start joining these people, say, I‘m with you, brothers.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Marc Lynch, Brian Katulis, thank you, gentlemen. 

KATULIS:  Great.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sure we will have you back. 

When we come back, much more on the crisis in Egypt.  When we return, we‘re going to go to the ground and talk about what‘s actually happening with Americans over there trying to get out. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

Joining us right now from Cairo is the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” Brian Williams. 

Brian, you‘re on the ground.  What can‘t we see on television in these pictures?  Is there more to the story than we can grasp just looking through the camera lens? 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, HOST, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  Well, you know how vast this place is, Chris. 

Just to give people some perspective, population wise, you would have to smash together New York, California, and Texas, size-wise, about Texas and New Mexico.  And the city of Cairo is just enormous and sprawling.  And, of course, it‘s nighttime. 

Couple that with the fact that people are taking the curfew more seriously, ordinary folks who have a choice to drive or not, to walk around or not, other than just protecting their property.  So, it does get very quiet. 

Now, we‘re outside the main center of the city, where, of course, the gathering has kind of taken on a 24/7 feel.  There‘s a report late tonight that there‘s a private security service that is kind of checking people as they go into the larger organized protests in Liberation Square. 

That‘s new, but still nothing alarming.  And the big news, of course, the army saying they are not going to fire on the protesters during the march of millions tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  What was the airport ride?  I don‘t want to get all your information about your location and all, but what was the airport like?  Was there was concern about security, about anyone coming into the country at this point? 

WILLIAMS:  Not security.  I think that‘s a function of the fact that the airport feels quite secured as a location.  It‘s well outside of the center of Cairo that we have seen on television.  And it‘s really all about the business of flying in and out. 

Now, there are a lot of fairly desperate and very tired-looking people there, and we saw aircraft, clearly some of them from the United States, lined up on the tarmac.  And, clearly, they were part of this air chain of charters out of there. 

The terminal where we arrived had hours earlier been bedlam.  It was more like controlled bedlam when we got there.  And people by the hundreds are being told, guess what, you‘re going to Cyprus.  You‘re going to Athens.  We‘re going to take the rest of you to other cities in Europe. 

They are being given a boarding pass.  We got one of them.  It says printed on the front no name, just kind of generic here you go.  They fill out about six pages of paperwork, and then they are assigned a flight out. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I love Cairo.  I have been there a number of times recently.  And it‘s the most romantic city in the world, next to maybe Paris or Rome. 

You sit overlooking the Nile River, with the old boats going—the (INAUDIBLE) going up and down it.  You see the middle-class young people at the nightclubs and restaurants along the river.  It has a wonderful intoxication for the traveler.  What‘s it like compared to that tonight?  Last question. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, as you fly in, Chris, if you have been here often, you know well that when you get close, you can see the teeming already from the air, and—and that was not visible tonight.

Just striking, the vehicular traffic has just calmed way down.  A very simple ride on a normal day in Cairo can be a two- to three-hour excursion.  But that kind of social life, people‘s efforts, middle-class families with two teenagers, those teenagers are likely to be enhancing their rock collection for their balcony...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  

WILLIAMS:  ... just in case they need to fortify and make a last stand in their neighborhood. 

You know, the sprawl, the kind of high rises out in the concentric rings around the city, those neighborhoods are largely unaffected by this.  At the main center of the most dense population...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WILLIAMS:  ... is where most of the action is going on. 

MATTHEWS:  Brian, we will catch you on “The Nightly News” tonight on

NBC. 

Thank you, Brian Williams, anchor of “The NBC Nightly News.”  Thank you for reporting right now from Cairo. 

WILLIAMS:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  It‘s a critical moment for President Obama, who now has a balance to do, a major international crisis on his hands.  And he‘s focusing on the big issue here at home, creating jobs.  Can he do both?  This is hot.  And this is coming up ahead. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks posting solid gains after Friday‘s big sell-off, the Dow Jones climbing 68 points, the S&P 500 adding nine, the Nasdaq gaining nearly 13 points.

Investors still keeping a close eye on Egypt and companies with interests there.  Heineken and Nissan shares slipping on word they‘re suspending product activities in Egypt for the time being.  Concerns about the stability of the Suez Canal pushed oil prices to their highest level in 27 months. 

Pair that with some better-than-expected earnings from ExxonMobil and Imperial Oil, and energy stocks were squarely in the spotlight today.  On the tech side, Intel says it will have to spend about $700 million to fix a design problem with a new support chip.  Rival AMD enjoying a 4.5. percent bump on Intel‘s goes. 

And in economic news, personal incomes and spending are up for the sixth straight month, with personal savings falling to their lowest level since March. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY”)

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Are you calling the regime of Hosni Mubarak stable this morning? 

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  You know, I‘m not going to get into, you know, either/or choices. 

GREGORY:  Do you think that the Mubarak regime has taken the necessary steps to retain power? 

CLINTON:  Oh, I think that there are many, many steps that have to be taken.  And it‘s not a question of who retains power. 

GREGORY:  But you would like to see him stay in power? 

CLINTON:  David, you cannot keep trying to put words in my mouth.  I have never said that.  I don‘t intend to say that. 

I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future.  It needs be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, sometimes, you have to put in people‘s mouths, so they will actually be saying something.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday having an interesting conversation with David Gregory, the host of the program. 

Obviously, the Obama administration is in a very tricky situation now, facing a critical moment handling Egypt‘s—Egypt‘s uprising.  And Republicans are largely supporting them for the while right now, with some exceptions that don‘t really matter.  The serious Republicans are playing team ball here.

Robin Wright covered the Middle East for “The Washington Post” and covered everything else in the world in Africa and everywhere.  I have been following her bylines all my life—well, not all my life.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Last couple years.  Anyway, for now, she‘s now a scholar at the United States Institute for Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist—so, we have two smart people here—he‘s also with MSNBC.

So, here‘s the question. 

And I want to start with you, Gene, on this, because you follow politics. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Mm-hmm. 

MATTHEWS:  This president—and this is big casino—and the question is, I‘m getting the clear message he has more sympathy for those protesters than previous presidents, who tend to be Eurocentric in their thinking, stability-centric, not exactly thrilled by the look of a protest mob, whereas a guy who was a community organizer, when he sees protest crowds, he doesn‘t see the enemy. 

ROBINSON:  Well, I think that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my theory.

ROBINSON:  I think that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m putting words in your mouth.

ROBINSON:  I think that‘s true to a point.  I mean, I think George Bush followed the freedom agenda.  And, to his credit...

MATTHEWS:  In theory, yes.

ROBINSON:  Well, but to his credit...

MATTHEWS:  As long as it was consistent with the neocon agenda. 

ROBINSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

ROBINSON:  ... but to his credit, his theory was that the Arab world shouldn‘t be denied the fruits of democracy that...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  ... everybody else.

MATTHEWS:  As long as it justified attacking Iraq. 

ROBINSON:  Well, look, we can—we can get in...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what he was up to. 

ROBINSON:  With you on that.

But, yes, I think that we‘re at a—we‘re in a different point now. 

We‘re at a point where, remember, last week, the regime was stable.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  And the president was kind of temporizing.  By Sunday, we got to the point of orderly transition.  I think it‘s now time for the administration to go a step further:  Mubarak, get out.  Let us help you fuel the plane and... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Why did Secretary Clinton avoid it when David was trying to—logically trying to follow her train of thought and getting some clarity by saying, we want Mubarak to stay, because he was trying to get her to say, no, we don‘t want him to say.  I know what he was—I think he was trying to do, get some clarity of which way we‘re leaning.  And she wouldn‘t say it. 

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE:  The great conspiracy theory in the Middle East has always been that the United States picks who the rulers are, backs them, until they basically drop over.

And so the United States is actually trying very hard now not to be seen be the one to dictate.  I do think, behind the scenes, whatever the language is in public, that they have moved since Friday into a whole new phase.  The first time was the crisis.

Today, it‘s managing.  And it‘s not just managing Egypt.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  It‘s also managing the whole region.  How do you deal with a very nervous president or prime minister in Israel, an even antsier king in Saudi Arabia?

That they are—that the whole region, we‘re talking about 23 countries, is very unnerved by what‘s happened, and the administration is struggling, I think, to figure out, how do you balance all these and you ensure that the—the kind of turmoil doesn‘t disintegrate?  This is a country that accounts for one-quarter of the Arab‘s world population. 

MATTHEWS:  Mm-hmm.  Well, it is.  When you‘re there, it‘s quite a country. 

Here‘s Robert Gibbs today in his exchange with Chip Reid of CBS. 

Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIP REID, CBS CORRESPONDENT:  You said that this transition does not mean that Mubarak would have to go and that...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS:  No, no, no, I want to be clear.  I want to be very clear, because I don‘t—that is not for me to determine.  That is not for our government to determine.  That is for the people of Egypt to determine.  So I have—I have not weighed in on anything other than on—as we have throughout this process—on the side of the people of Egypt to determine what Egypt looks like in their future. 

REID:  Are you categorically saying that at no time will the president ever say it‘s time for him to go? 

GIBBS:  Well, I‘m not going to—Chip, I‘m not going to stand up here and—and—and look that far into the future.

REID:  It may be a few days in the future.  It sounds like you‘re leaving the door open to the possibility?

GIBBS:  I appreciate the game we‘re playing.  I rather you not put words in my mouth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  These guys don‘t want words in their mouth, but there no words are coming out, unless you put them in there.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, nobody will say a word.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the question.  Is this administration riding the tiger over there?  Are we telling the tiger which way to go even?  Are we showing any influence or just wait and see who wins?

ROBINSON:  Well, it‘s not clear.  Clearly, they don‘t want us to know what they are saying behind-the-scenes.  I hope they‘re talking to the army.  I hope they‘re telling the army, look, the jig is up, you need to ease this guy out—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ROBINSON:  -- so we can have—

MATTHEWS:  You think that‘s what they are doing.

ROBINSON:  I think that‘s what we ought to be doing.

MATTHEWS:  Is that what we‘re doing?  Is that what we‘re doing?  Are we telling the Army, if you guys dump this guy, like we did with Diem in Vietnam, we‘re with you.  That was a very clear signal (INAUDIBLE) at that point in 1963.

We sent a cable and said, we‘re with you if you dump the guy you got because we think he‘s no good for us.  Are we doing that now?

ROBIN WRIGHT, WOODROW WILSON CENTER:  Look, the military—

MATTHEWS:  Am I putting words in your mouth?

WRIGHT:  You‘re putting words in my mouth.  The military is very important player.  Many of them were trained in the United States.  But I don‘t think the military is necessarily the only decisive factor.  And I think one most interesting things happened on Sunday when the president reached out and he talked to the prime minister of Turkey.

This is a country that increasingly looks like it‘s a kind of model, a member of NATO.  It‘s deployed troops with—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s Islamic.

WRIGHT: It‘s Islamic.  It deployed troops in Afghanistan with the West.  It‘s taken strong stands against extremism and it‘s the kind of place that the United States hopes will play role in talking to Mubarak and easing him out, getting him to make the decision himself rather than to rely on the military.

ROBINSON:  But here‘s the problem.  Every day that Mubarak stays in power is going to be seen by a lot of people in that crowd as another day the United States kept Mubarak in power.  As you said, the belief is always the United States is pulling the strings behind-the-scenes.

So, we‘re going to get the rap whether or not we‘re doing it.  And I think that could be a problem down the road.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m a big believer—the sooner the change comes, the less dramatic it has to be.

WRIGHT:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS: And the lower you hold—it‘s just boiling the water.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  Keep the lid on.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You get the wildest change you ever didn‘t want.

WRIGHT:  And not only that, but you have Tunisia that preceded it. 

And this is something that now is rippling across the region.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

WRIGHT:  There is unease everywhere.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Who‘s the most important in Washington besides the president right now?

ROBINSON:  Secretary of state.

WRIGHT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s Donilon, it‘s not McDonough in the White House?

WRIGHT:  When it comes to a country like Egypt, which is a country -

she knows well from her time, when her husband was in the White House and as a secretary of state.

      

ROBINSON:  And right behind her would be Gates, Secretary Gates.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I would think secretary of defense.  And I want to know what Leon Panetta knows right now, the head of CIA.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to know how many people we got in the streets with nice Arabic looks and Arabic accents that can pass in that crowd and work their way into the Islamic brotherhood.  I want to have people in there.

I‘m a believer in intelligence.  I want to know we‘re in there and I want—I‘d like to think we can catch up the (INAUDIBLE) in that way.

WRIGHT:  And I suspect that on Friday, the intelligence estimate was that Mubarak couldn‘t last and that‘s why you saw President Obama come out seconds almost after—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, I‘d like to think the president is three days ahead of us and he knows.  A million people on the streets tomorrow.  And three days after that, Mubarak is gone.

Anyway, Robin Wright.  And thank you, Gene Robinson.

Let‘s go back right now to domestic politics and the birther crowd in Arizona trying to keep President Obama off the ballot this year.  They‘re going for keeps, these guys.  They‘re going to use this birther issue, not having an old birth certificate with a signature of a doctor, signature of witnesses.  If he doesn‘t have that, if the president doesn‘t have it, they‘re not going to let him campaign for office in Arizona in 2012.

This is fascinating—well, it‘s worse than HARDBALL, we‘ll be right back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Last week, we pointed out that Michele Bachmann seemed to be looking off camera during your response to the State of the Union.  Bachmann was actually speaking to a Tea Party event and was looking at the Tea Party camera.  The other camera, the one feeding pictures to us and the millions of Americans belonged to FOX News.  But aired it live only on CNN.

Bachmann was never told to look at the camera and that‘s why she seemed to us to be looking off into space.  So, it wasn‘t CNN‘s camera.  CNN was merely showing the pictures that were sent by FOX.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the birthers now have a plan to try to block Obama‘s re-election, well, in fact, the crazy world.  A Republican in the Arizona state legislature has introduced a bill that would require candidates to provide, quote, “an original long form birth certificate that includes the date and place of birth, the names of the hospital, and the attending physician and the signature of witnesses in audiotape the attendance.”

Without this, the candidates‘ name would not appear on the Arizona ballot this year.  Does this really have a chance to become law in Arizona?

Howard Fineman is senior political editor for “The Huffington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst.  And David Corn is Washington bureau chief of “Mother Jones.”  He writes for “Politics Daily,” and he‘s also one of our political analysts.

Gentlemen—Howard, I don‘t know what‘s afoot here, but this—the beard keeps growing on this thing.  It doesn‘t—it doesn‘t go away.  The birther thing is not shamed into non-existence.  They believe they have gotten something here they could embarrassed the president and they ain‘t going away.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s kind of been backed into the corner of the sort of the tender loin of American politics which is Arizona.  I mean, this is where all these resolutions and local laws come from.

MATTHEWS:  Some day, you‘ll be getting off the airport and somebody is going to remind you about the tender loin.  We‘ve got this seedy part of San Francisco.  I know where it is.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s the point.  We were talking before we went on during the break, that some of us have in our possession at home or somewhere, I have one in the office here, an actual copy of one of these birth certificates as described here.  It has a picture of Naismith (ph) Hospital in northeast Philly, a Roosevelt bulwark.  It has the name of the Dr. Langdon (ph), I believe we know him.  And it‘s got witnesses and my parents names, all old school written out, handwriting with ink and everything on it.

It looks like an old document, like letters of transit in

“Casablanca.”  Now, you have the new kind which is this digital thing printed out.  The president has produced this new kind.  It‘s been fine for him.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES:  Newfangled.

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s not fine.  There it is.  That‘s what he has.

CORN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t have the other kind, apparently.  So—

CORN:  But what the law says—and it‘s probably—the top Democrat in the state house of representatives told me last week that he expects it to pass because it already—

MATTHEWS:  There it goes.  OK, let‘s move ahead.  It depends.  Will Arizona deny our—the president of the United States a chance to run for reelection out there?

CORN:  It still has to be signed by Jan Brewer, a Republican governor.  And there are probably be court challenges.  But it passes, and it goes through and it says, if you don‘t give us the original long form—and to begin with?  What is original mean?  The one that might have existed?  Does a copy of the original if—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the one that has the names of the doctors and the signatures of witnesses.

CORN:  They want the original one.  Not just a copy, but the original one.  I mean, you don‘t have the original.  You have a copy of the original.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  What brand of stethoscope was used in the delivery?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  But the fact of the matter is, you may mock this by the fact, but a majority of people in Arizona passed vote for this, right?  So, they want to see it.

CORN:  And it will say that you can‘t be on the ballot as a president—

MATTHEWS:  So, what‘s going to happen?

CORN:  Now, in Arizona, if he‘s not on the ballot, it probably won‘t matter that much.

MATTHEWS:  Because he‘s not going to carry Arizona.

CORN:  Well, he didn‘t last time, probably won‘t next time.  But it maybe up for grabs.  But there are other states following suit now because what this is doing is giving the birther movement finally something to hang on to because they‘ve lost every court challenge until now.

MATTHEWS:  My own question, if you put these guys, including the congress people, there‘s like nine or 10 that who believe in this stuff, this malarkey, you might argue, if you put them under oath, if you waterboarded them, would they say they believe this guy is a complete imposter, he faked the announcement of his birth back when he was born in ‘61 -- that he faked that, all this was some incredible Manchurian candidate number, put together with the idea that after 45 years or so, this African-American guy of mixed background named Barack Obama is going to be elected president.  Therefore, we‘ll have this guy (ph) to use.

Are they saying that that was all conspiracy?

FINEMAN:  I think—I know a few of them and I think they probably don‘t think that necessarily.

MATTHEWS:  What do they think?

FINEMAN:  What they think is it‘s part of an effort to continue to attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the president.  The fringes of every party—

MATTHEWS:  If he produces a piece of paper, is it over?

FINEMAN:  No, the fringes of every party do it.  They tried to do it to Bill Clinton, because he only got 40, 42 percent of the vote.  They do it with Barack Obama over this.  Some people on the left tried to do it to George W. Bush because of the 2000 election.  That‘s really what this is about, the way I see it.

MATTHEWS:  With Clinton they tried to say he went to Russia on some kind of secret—back when we were fighting the Russians.

CORN:  And he was brainwashed.  I think there are people who

actually do believe this, who believe that he—that Barack Obama is

indeed some secret socialist Muslim who wants to take over America, ruin it

so it can become a socialist country.  None of it makes sense, but I think

--

      

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back to politics now.  The leaders of the Republican Party again and again, and I get back to you, the real politics of these guys, you ask Boehner who was levelheaded, whether you agree with his politics, he‘s a level-headed guy, right?  He won‘t disown these people.  He will not disown them.

He says they‘re entitled to their opinions.

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  As much as the person who believes that, you know, the Mets are going to win the World Series.  It‘s just another theory to him.  It doesn‘t—it is not considered seditionist or dangerous to the republic to constantly say the president of the country is not even one of you.  This is a very strong statement.

FINEMAN:  Well, I think—and I think, to look at it cynically, it serves their purpose on the fringes of their own base, not to denounce those people, because those are people that they‘re counting on to vote for Republican candidates.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Is there more here—

FINEMAN:  There‘s a constitutional issue here, though.  If all the states do this, then who determines the qualifications for being on the presidential ballots in the states?  I could see it being a Supreme Court case.

MATTHEWS:  Well, traditionally the states said qualification—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  This is national office, though.

MATTHEWS:  I want the honest answer here from you.

CORN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s always been questions about, well, George Romney was born perhaps outside the country.  It wasn‘t clear, on one of the territories.  Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona.  It was a territory.  It wasn‘t a state.  John McCain was born in the Canal Zone.

We‘ve had cases where people were not born in geographic United States.  It didn‘t meet the strict construction, right?  Would they be under this kind of assault if their name wasn‘t Barack Obama?  And he wasn‘t black?  Is this an ethnic card they‘re playing?  Or just a game they‘re playing with history?

CORN:  I think there‘s a movement on the right—not everybody who is opposed with Barack Obama, but to delegitimatize him as the other.

MATTHEWS:  A foreigner?

CORN:  It could be a—

MATTHEWS:  Not just happened to be born somewhere else, but is essentially a foreigner.

CORN:  But other people might just do it out of politics and ideology.  But to make him different, he‘s not one of us.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s what I think.  Do you agree with that?

FINEMAN:  Yes, and I think that‘s why his State of the Union was so important because that was—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Great.  Howard Fineman, David Corn.

When we return—when I return—“Let Me Finish” with a history lesson for Michele Bachmann.

You‘re watching HARDBALL—she could use one here, she ought to be lucky we still don‘t have literacy tests out there.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight by putting a cap on that story that was running by us last week.  It concerns the evil of slavery.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann who‘s making forays into presidential politics these days which will definitely add to the color of the competition told a group in Iowa recently that our country‘s Founders worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.  I think it was high time she said that we recognize the contribution of our Founders who worked tirelessly who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in our country.  Well, to those watching whose forebears know more of the true, sad story of this part of our history, let me confirm what your parents and grandparents told you, perhaps in trying to explain how attitudes about race crept into our American culture.

Did the Founding Fathers work tirelessly to end slavery?  Did they not rest until slavery was extinguished in this country?  We‘ll hear the facts.  I have a high school history teacher, a close friend of mine to thank for leading me to these details.

George Washington owned more than 200 slaves, some say between 250 and 350.

Thomas Jefferson owned as many as 200, his wife having brought 100 to the marriage as her dowry.

James Madison, who drafted the Constitution, had over 100 slaves, had them all his life, didn‘t even free them in his will.

James Monroe had about 75 slaves.

Andrew Jackson, about 160.  John Tyler, 70.  James Polk, 50 to 25. 

Zachary Taylor, up to 150 slaves.

Other presidents through those years, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison and Andrew Johnson also owned slaves.  So, if you want to get your history from the congresswoman from Minnesota, that‘s, of course, an option.  Or you can check it out yourself.

I recommend in this as in so many other cases you do some work yourself.  President Reagan used to say trust but verify.  When it comes to people like Bachmann and Beck and Savage and Palin and the rest of this jamboree, I think the smart move is to start with “the verify.”

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uyghur.

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