Guests: Richard Engel, Tyler Mathisen, Andrea Mitchell, David Corn, Denis McDonough, Jeanne Cummings, Robert Reich, Josh Marshall, Steve Kornacki
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A war without explanation.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
The Obama doctrine. Can you define it? We can‘t. President Obama has gone to great pains to distance himself from the Bush doctrine, whatever that ended up being, but some want to know why this administration doesn‘t have an organizing principle informing decisions to send American forces to defend civilians in Libya but not in Yemen or Bahrain. We‘ll begin tonight with a top White House official, and then we‘ll get a report from Libya from Richard Engel.
Also, whatever happened to the old argument that men made war and women made peace? Well, Maureen Dowd of “The New York Times” wrote today that the secretary of state and other women in the administration pushed the men into going to war in Libya.
Plus, does cutting taxes for the rich create jobs? No. Does cutting benefits create jobs? No. Does cutting the deficit create jobs? No, no, no, according to modern economic theory. So why do Republicans keep saying it does? And more important, why do the Democrats let them get away with that stuff?
And Donald Trump is going to be the headline speaker at Iowa‘s Lincoln Day dinner up in June? Is he serious about running? Is he a birther now, a pro-lifer? Really? Just ask comedian Lewis Black.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEWIS BLACK, COMEDIAN: That‘s right, Donald Trump came out as a birther, which is Republican for “I‘m running for president”!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: If he‘s saying this, does Donald Trump mean he‘s a serious candidate? It‘s a pretty good line by Lewis Black.
And finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with a tribute to a movie star, if there ever was one, Elizabeth Taylor.
We start with President Obama and the war in Libya. Denis McDonough‘s on the show right now. He‘s President Obama‘s deputy national security adviser. Mr. McDonough, thanks for joining us. Will the president give an Oval Office address at any time soon to give us a real sense of what his doctrine is and why we went into Libya and not getting involved in countries like Bahrain and Yemen?
DENIS MCDONOUGH, W.H. DPTY. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Chris, thanks a lot for the opportunity to be on the show. I appreciate it. You know, the president‘s been, obviously, communicating and speaking with the American people about this and with Congress about this now for several days, and with Congress actually for a couple weeks.
And so he‘ll continue to explain exactly what we‘re up to. He‘ll express his great pride in our troops, in our airmen, in our sailors, in our Marines who are undertaking a really remarkable action which has stopped the advance of Gadhafi‘s forces on Benghazi, a situation that even on your show was being reported last week was impending slaughter of innocents. And so we feel very good about the steps that our troops have taken to stop that.
So the president will continue to talk about it. And what he‘ll say is that having brought the United Nations along, we can now share the burden with other people‘s taxpayers, to make sure that we can hand off to our allies to run this no-fly zone in the days ahead. So we think there‘s a good story to tell, and we‘re going to tell it.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re on the inside, we‘re on the outside. And those of us who wish the president well and would like to explain this to the world and to ourselves, how do we explain it theoretically? What‘s the doctrine behind it? What‘s the concept that says, Let‘s go into Libya, it‘s going to be difficult, but we‘re going to go in there and stop the killing of people there? What‘s the doctrine that says do that, but basically, hands off Yemen and hands off Bahrain? What‘s that doctrine? I mean, you understand it from the inside. We‘re not inside. You know how you‘re thinking. What‘s the guiding principle of the president in doing this and not those things?
MCDONOUGH: Well, Chris, I think you‘ll remember that late last week -
early last week, Gadhafi said that he was going to, quote, “show no mercy” to his own people in Benghazi. So he was threatening to kill, slaughter even, his own people. Again, he said, “I will show them no mercy.”
So I think the president‘s doctrine is not an ideology. He‘s not an ideological guy. He‘s very pragmatic. And so he‘s for—as he said in the Situation Room, he‘s for what works. The opportunity at the time was a no-fly zone without additional authorities, without additional sanctions, without the international community backing it.
So what the president did is his worked with Susan Rice, his ambassador up in New York, to expand the authorities available to him and to the other members of the Security Council so that we could now enforce the no-fly zone but also push back Gadhafi‘s forces, which I think you‘ve seen our troops have done, our airmen, our Marines, our sailors have done with amazing alacrity over the last two, three days.
So we feel very good about it. It‘s not an ideological thing, Chris. I can‘t give you an ideology behind it. What I can tell you is that when we‘re presented with the kind of language that Gadhafi presented, seeing the kind of history that he brings to this kind of threat, and knowing that this is a moment of great opportunity in that region, he thought it was a good opportunity for us to take.
MATTHEWS: You basically are arguing common sense, and I can understand the pieces (ph). Tell me if this is true. Where we have an international community behind us, where we have the regional community behind us, the Arab League, and the U.N. behind us, where we have a dictator that no one supports, and we have no alliances with that person, no history with that person, we go in. Where we have a history with somebody and we don‘t have the world community behind us, we don‘t go in. Is that a fair estimate of what you decided here?
MCDONOUGH: Well, no, I think you—the bottom line here is that the president brought the international community along, I think, with an expanded set of authorities out of the United Nations Security Council that allows us, frankly, Chris, at a time when we‘re seeing us stretched—unbelievable military support of the situation in Japan, ongoing effort, obviously, in Afghanistan and our ongoing effort to wind down the war in Iraq—we thought it was much more important, rather than sit by and watch the slaughter of these innocents, to bring along the international community with a Security Council resolution.
So we didn‘t wait to see where the international community was, we brought the international community along.
MCDONOUGH: So now we have an opportunity to press for the kind of opportunity for the opposition that I think they‘re looking for and they‘re taking.
MATTHEWS: Denis, I just want to nail something down. You fellows, you people in the administration, led by the president, with the guidance of the people around him, including the secretary of state and others—you believed that Gadhafi was going to actually do what he said he was going to do. He was using terms like “disinfect the germs,” go house by house, go into closets. You believed he was going to go ahead and do that on a mass basis.
MCDONOUGH: Well, there certainly was a lot of evidence to suggest as much, Chris. And given the history of this country and the great things that we‘ve done to protect innocents in various instances across history and across the globe, we thought that we had an opportunity to stop it. So we constructed a strategy—the president constructed a strategy to bring the world along to do that. And in fact, we‘ve made good progress, such that in the next couple days, we‘ll be handing over to our allies for them to take over the enforcement of the no-fly zone. We think that‘s a good way ahead. We think that‘s better than the United States taxpayer being stuck with the bill.
MATTHEWS: How do you stop him from killing people in the alleys and basements of Tripoli, in the areas he controls?
MCDONOUGH: Well, what we‘re doing is we‘re bringing a whole range of efforts to bear, Chris. We‘re enforcing, as of yesterday, an arms embargo with our European allies to make sure that he doesn‘t get his hands on the arms. We‘ve frozen his assets, $32 billion in the United States alone—
ENGEL: -- to ensure that he can‘t take money, which is money that belongs not to him and his sons but money that belongs to the Libyan people. And we‘ve set that aside for when the Libyan people can spend it on their priorities, not on his family‘s.
MATTHEWS: Yes. You know, that‘s a lot of—
ENGEL: So we‘re going to continue to—we‘re going to continue to press him, to isolate him, and we‘ll create opportunities for the opposition, and that‘s exactly what we‘re doing.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s sounds like a very long fuse to get something to end. Let me ask you this. Have you made any effort—
MCDONOUGH: Well, Chris, you know what? The thing is, it is a long fuse. But you know what? We‘re asking our troops to do an awful lot.
ENGEL: We‘re asking them to finish this effort in Afghanistan, to finish the job in Iraq. Right now, they‘re doing an amazing job—
MATTHEWS: I know.
ENGEL: -- of bringing relief to people in Japan. And so insofar as the critique is that we‘re not doing enough in Libya, that we‘re asking our allies to do too much, I think the president recognizes that‘s part of our strategy, that we‘re going to bring the world along, to draw on their resources, to ensure it‘s not the Americans alone who are finishing this job.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you this. Secretary of State Clinton has mentioned that there was some communication with—evidence that there was members of the entourage, the people around Gadhafi, that they‘re making moves to get out of that country. Have we given them safe passage to, say, Venezuela? Have we made it clear that we won‘t grab him, that we will let him get out of that country, if he wants to get out?
MCDONOUGH: Well, the president communicated very clearly right here in the White House on Friday what we expected from the Gadhafi regime, and they did not live up to that. It wouldn‘t surprise me, Chris, given the intense pressure that he and his inner circle are under as a result of the remarkable work of our troops—it wouldn‘t surprise me to know that there are some of them who are reaching out, looking for their opportunities to catch—to get out of the middle of that.
But I‘m not going to get into any of those details, as I‘m sure you would respect here on your show.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser to the president. Thanks for joining us on HARDBALL, sir.
MCDONOUGH: Thanks for having me.
MATTHEWS: NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is in Benghazi. I want to get your reaction to that. He didn‘t deny that we‘re getting reports that the entourage around Gadhafi are thinking of ways to get out, a plan B, if you will. Have you heard anything like that, that he might be planning to skip?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: We have not heard anything that he himself or his sons might be planning to skip. There could be people in his inner circle. There have been many defections, as you know, of ambassadors, of people who worked with Gadhafi in the past who have already left the country and defected, changed sides, if you will, but no reports about the Gadhafi family that we‘ve received, at least.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the word? Are we holding together this coalition? Mr. McDonough was very clear saying we‘re trying to usher in the rest of the world to sort of get ahead of us. We don‘t‘ want to be first in. We want—we don‘t want to be last out, either. We want to get other people involved. Is this thing crumbling or holding together? Is the Arab league really behind us? Is Qatar really going to send planes in? Are the Arabs really going to put the oomph into this campaign?
ENGEL: I think the Arab world right now is not focused on this on a government level. For a while, this has been a welcome distraction for a lot of Arab states, but they are having such incredible problems in their own back yards, with Syria escalating, with Yemen deteriorating to the point that the president could leave at any day. So I think the Arab League and other Arab states were happy to focus attention on Libya. That way, they could say, Look at Libya, look how horrible that regime is, don‘t look at our cases.
But as this war drags on—and there are—all indications are that it‘s going to drag on—I think the Arab interest, at least from a state level, is going to wane.
MATTHEWS: Richard, you were reporting from the front line early today, and you had to hit the deck. What was that about? An incoming round came in a little too close. Let‘s listen to that—let‘s watch that reporting—
ENGEL: We were on the—
MATTHEWS: Let‘s watch that now. I‘m sorry. Let‘s watch that now.
ENGEL: I didn‘t realize until he put it in my hands it‘s actually just made of plastic. It‘s a toy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allah-u akbar!
MATTHEWS: Wow! What was the aftermath of that event?
ENGEL: Well, that was on the rebel front line. No one in that particular artillery strike was hurt, as far as we could tell. Five people were, however, killed on that front line.
Let me set up the—what you just looked at a bit. So we are now in Benghazi. About 100 miles to the south of here is the city of Ajdabiya. And I was listening to your previous guest. He talked about stopping the slaughter here in Benghazi. That‘s certainly happened. But there is a slaughter of innocent people going on right now, according to witnesses, right now in Ajdabiya. The city is still partially controlled by Gadhafi‘s forces. There are rebels in the center of the city, with Gadhafi‘s forces, a dozen, maybe several dozen tanks and artillery pieces on the northern edge of the city of Ajdabiya.
We went down, we drove down in our cars through a desert road to about five miles outside of the Ajdabiya. That is where the rebels have their front line. They can‘t get any closer than this five miles to Ajdabiya itself because every time the rebels, who are armed with mostly assault rifles, try and advance a little bit, the artillery rounds and tank rounds from Gadhafi‘s forces five miles away fire on them.
So the rebels have AK-47s, which are effective for a few hundred yards. They‘re no match for tanks and artillery that can fire miles. So they—the rebels we talked to said they need close air support. They need military advisers. They need a real partner in order to stop the slaughter in other cities, not just Benghazi.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Richard Engel in Benghazi, Libya. It seems like the killing continues. The president, our policy, is not stopping the killing. No-fly is not ending this horror.
Coming up: How Hillary Clinton and some other women, actually, in the administration are said to have played a major role in swaying President Obama to go into this war in Libya.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama signing that health care reform bill into law. And while many of the law‘s provisions don‘t kick in until 2014, Americans still aren‘t convinced of the merits of this bill. A new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 42 percent say they have a favorable opinion of the health care bill of Obama, while 46 percent see it unfavorably.
Those numbers, by the way, haven‘t changed much over the past year, evidence the White House may need to do a better sales job. We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Was it some of the women in the Obama administration that pushed the president toward military action in Libya? Here‘s “New York Times” White House reporter, Helene Cooper, on “MEET THE PRESS.”
HELENE COOPER, “NEW YORK TIMES”: You had Secretary Clinton, who was first lady during the Rwanda genocide and whose husband has said that not intervening is one of his biggest regrets. You had Susan Rice, who was the African adviser at the time, who also was—had a lot of Rwanda history there. And you had this sort of really unlikely combination, alliance between the two, along with Samantha Power, who‘s a top human rights advocate. And it‘s sort of—in a lot of ways, it‘s sort of the girls took on the guys.
MATTHEWS: Wow. Today Maureen Dowd in her column in “The New York Times” wrote, quote, “There is something positively mythological about a group of strong women swooping down to shake the president out of his delicate sensibilities and show him the way to war, and there‘s something positively predictable about guys in the White House pushing back against that storyline for fear it makes the president look hen-pecked.” That‘s Maureen Dowd.
Andrea Mitchell is NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and host of MSNBC‘s “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” on this network every day. Jeanne Cummings is, of course, assistant managing editor of Politico.
Well, I‘ve got two women on to talk about two women‘s reporting. I‘m staying out of this because it is very gender-specific. It‘s obviously very enjoyable to read a Maureen Dowd column. Your view. Was this the following line-up—Hillary Rodham Clinton, secretary of state, Susan Rice, ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power of the national security, against the boys‘ club, Donilan, national security adviser, Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Brennan, terrorism adviser, Biden and Gates on the other side? Was that the match-up?
ANDREA MITCHELL, HOST, MSNBC “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS”: That was the
match-up, but the pushback from the White House—and it is strong, I can
tell you, having heard it myself after reporting on this over the weekend -
is that it was a moving target. There were men and women on both sides.
But clearly, the preeminent women and the strongest men in the
administration were on opposite sides going into this debate. And Hillary,
by the way, was originally a skeptic, and then moved over—
MATTHEWS: But this pushback—
MITCHELL: -- once the Arab League endorsement—
MATTHEWS: Is it against the looks of this thing or the facts?
MITCHELL: They say both.
MITCHELL: Both for looks and the facts—
MATTHEWS: Because you remember the great line in the Profumo scandal
very different than this—where the guy denied he had the affair, the woman in question said, Well, he would say that, wouldn‘t he. I mean, they would deny that there was a gender make-up to this.
MITCHELL: And of course, their bottom line is, it was the president who decided—
MATTHEWS: OK, he‘s—
MITCHELL: -- everything—
MATTHEWS: -- the decider. Let me go to Jeanne Cummings on this because it is a fascinating story, and I want to get to the politics, not the gender of this, because I think the politics is—well, let me go to you. What do you make of this story? Is this, in fact, a match-up of men versus women here, with women convincing the one guy that matters, the president?
JEANNE CUMMINGS, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, POLITICO.COM: Well, I think that, to some degree, that is what happened, although the White House does say there were men and women on both sides of this argument, perhaps at lower levels, but they were there.
But I think what—what bothers me about the reporting on this particular story is that, really, what you had was the secretary of state going up against the secretary of defense, and the U.N. ambassador going up against Homeland Security. Basically, these are women, yes, but these are women with titles that matter.
CUMMINGS: These are experienced women, and they have—and they are powerful women. And they‘re not this there because they are women. They‘re in there because she‘s the secretary of state and she‘s the U.N. ambassador.
CUMMINGS: And it‘s in that capacity that they were making their cases.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s make it political. Skip gender, because we will learn a lot more. It‘s Clinton people who have been through the Rwanda genocide back in the ‘90s, who don‘t want it, seen it done again. That‘s another angle on this. And there you have obviously Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was first lady back then, who talks to her husband all the time, because he talks about it all the time, about how he feels terrible about what happened back then.
MATTHEWS: Susan Rice, who was back then assistant secretary for African affairs, very much on post at that time. Take it from that end.
MITCHELL: Well, the fact is that Rice and Clinton are not natural allies. They often come at issues from opposite side.
MATTHEWS: And Samantha has never been a fan of Clinton.
MATTHEWS: She called her a monster once.
MITCHELL: Well, Rice and powers were both in the Obama campaign against Hillary Clinton all through the primaries. So they were not—
MATTHEWS: So this isn‘t a cabal?
MITCHELL: No, not at all.
MITCHELL: What was really interesting, you bring up Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton spoke out very forcefully in favor of the no-fly zone.
MITCHELL: Very early. Had was in New York at that Tina Brown,
“Newsweek,” Daily Beast seminar, at that dinner, and he spoke out against -
in favor of it as Gates was speaking out against it the very next day at an Armed Services Committee hearing.
So, what—what—let‘s try to figure this out. In the administration, there is a division between—and I hear Biden—I have heard just today Biden was part of those who were skeptical, opposed. He sort of stayed out of the action this weekend.
What is the difference and what comes of it? Is there a doctrine? In the first segment of the show tonight, we had McDonough on trying to find out if there is a doctrine. Is there a vision—what did G.W.‘s father call it, a vision thing? Is there a vision thing here?
MITCHELL: Well, I think there is a vision. It‘s emerging, and I think people have questioned whether there‘s a strategy.
The president tried to outline that in answers to our own Savannah Guthrie last night at the news conference in El Salvador. And basically what he says is, when you have a catastrophe that you can avert and the benefits outweigh the costs, and you have international or multilateral support, go for it.
MITCHELL: You cannot stand idly by. That‘s what I would call the Obama doctrine.
MATTHEWS: It has conditions, too. We have to have friends who will join us, and we have to have an enemy who we can go after.
MATTHEWS: We‘re not going after our friends in this regard yet.
MITCHELL: We‘re not going after the crown prince of Bahrain.
MATTHEWS: And let me ask you this not, Samantha—not Samantha—
I‘m getting my names mixed up—Jeanne, of course.
Jeanne, let me ask you about the—the ongoing need of this president to say something. We had McDonough on, as I said. And I tried to get out of him what is apparently moving, some kind of talk, at least from some, that the president may need to get on the air, perhaps in prime time even, and do what he didn‘t want to do in this war, take a front role.
Is he going to do that? And should he do that? And are people saying he‘s got to get out and talk to us when we‘re home at night watching television and explain this war?
CUMMINGS: Well, there is a debate about really how much he should take this to the public.
I think part of what we hear on Capitol Hill is pressure to do just that, not just explain to the American public, but explain to Congress what in the world we are doing over there—
CUMMINGS: -- and how long are we going to be there and to lay out the parameters of what is going on. So there‘s that kind of pressure.
There is this other pressure, though, that you speak of, and that‘s that his mission right now is to hand this off to the internationals and move away from it and lower the American profile. And it‘s those two forces that are debating with one another. And I don‘t know that it‘s been fully resolved yet as to just how far he needs to go to put the American stamp and the American face on this.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I wonder if he wants to do it. You know this better than anybody, the nuances of this. He does not want this to be an American war.
MITCHELL: No, absolutely not. And, in fact, that was one of the arguments for not canceling the trip. He did not want to be canceling everything and hunkering down and being Barack Obama against Gadhafi and his countrymen.
MITCHELL: Look, the fact is that the president was greeted as he was arriving at Andrews Air Force Base by a letter that was issued by the speaker of the House, John Boehner.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the operative line. Just read it. “Many members of the United States House of Representatives are troubled that U.S. military resources are committed to war without clearly defining for the American people why we‘re doing it.”
MITCHELL: Notice he says war, because the administration would push back on that as well.
MATTHEWS: Right, war, committed to war.
MITCHELL: And the other thing, they put out, the senators, the allies, Levin, Durbin, Reid, on a conference call with us this afternoon, and they said you will be hearing from the president. He will be meeting with Congress.
That‘s one of the agendas for tomorrow. He‘s going to—
MATTHEWS: A little meeting, not a national address yet?
MITCHELL: I think so far.
MATTHEWS: So far.
MATTHEWS: He‘s gearing up for something.
MITCHELL: Work in progress.
MATTHEWS: He doesn‘t want this to—
MITCHELL: And a meeting in London next week with the allies.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much, Andrea Mitchell, an expert on this.
And thank you, Jeanne Cummings, so much for coming on.
Up next: Sarah Palin supporters may be dwindling, but one of them is actually making the claim that she‘s too big to be president. How is that for spin? The job is somehow beneath her. That‘s ahead in the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and time for the “Sideshow.”
First: The comics of last night weigh in on Libya.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)
JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”: Yes, you remember when President Obama ran for the president saying we couldn‘t fight two wars and he would change our policy? Well, he has. Now we‘re in three wars.
LENO: OK. We‘re in three wars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON”)
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, “LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON”: Everyone has been following March madness, but it‘s been a few days without any games. It‘s been so boring, President Obama said he actually wants to focus on situations in Libya and Japan.
FALLON: There‘s no games to watch.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)
JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”: I don‘t want to be a pain in the ass, but don‘t we already have two wars?
STEWART: You know, wars aren‘t kids—
STEWART: -- where you don‘t have to pay attention to the youngest one because the older two will take care of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”: You see, Reagan knew how to how launch Libyan airstrikes. He did it first and best in 1986 with Operation El Dorado Canyon.
COLBERT: That sounds some like some serious desert ass-kicking.
What‘s Obama calling this one?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yesterday President Obama announced Operation Odyssey Dawn.
COLBERT: Odyssey Dawn?
COLBERT: That‘s not a military operation. That‘s a Carnival cruise ship.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was the best. And there you have it.
Next: back to bed checks. You know, it‘s nice when we get a fight behind us in this country and a right extended to people.
Well, Mike Huckabee and Tim Pawlenty have paired up to take us backward, back to the lying and investigations of don‘t ask, don‘t tell. When asked whether he would reinstate DADT, Huckabee said in a recent interview, “I would, because that‘s really what the military wants.”
Oh, yes? Well, a Pentagon survey last year showed a strong majority of those in uniform, 70 percent, did not think DADT repeal would be harmful, a finding also backed by the country‘s two military leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.
So, what good reason could there be for this happy pair, let‘s call them good and Pawlenty, for going backwards?
Finally, a run through the right-wing spin machine. Conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart doesn‘t think Sarah Palin should run for president in 2012. Why? Breitbart says she‘s too big for the American presidency.
Well, catch this mind-bender from the right—quote—“I think the presidency is beneath her. There‘s more power in being Oprah Winfrey than in being Barack Obama. It would be my goal for Palin to become Oprah and be the ultimate kingmaker for 20-odd years.”
Well, Palin is Oprah Winfrey? That‘s like Snoopy thinking he‘s fighting the Red Baron.
Up next: Does a lie become truth if you keep repeating it? We are going to look at the Republicans‘ biggest whoppers about jobs and what President Obama needs to do to combat that stuff.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Tyler Mathisen with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
A modest midday rally pushing stocks to a positive close this day, and the Dow Jones industrial average up 67 points. The S&P 500 added three. Nasdaq gain 14.
Investors shrugging off a dismal U.S. housing report, focusing instead on global growth, starting with commodities. Gold prices climbed for the sixth straight session, hitting a new record high, $1,440 an ounce, silver prices also rising to a 30-year high. Big commodity names benefited, of course, mining giants like Freeport McMoRan, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto all with solid gains.
Meanwhile, plunging home sales taking analyst by surprise. Sales hit a record low in February, that is for new homes, down a hefty 28 percent from last year‘s level.
And, finally, some news breaking right at the closing bell. Portugal‘s Parliament has rejected plans for a fourth round of austerity measures aimed at avoiding a bailout, that prompting the resignation of that country‘s prime minister—the euro moving lower against the dollar as a result.
And that‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We have adopted a two-track approach. It‘s called cut and grow. Now, the first part, cut, is obvious. We know that we have to stop spending money that we don‘t have. And we have to begin managing the money we do have and spend it more wisely. The American people are tightening their belts, and Washington should too.
The growth part is about those gazelles, growing businesses that add new employees every month, keeping regulators from running amok.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Monday out at Stanford University. His speech on the economy prompted a reaction from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in The Huffington Post. We all read it.
Reich wrote about what he called Republicans‘ big lies about jobs. Reich says there are five of them: Deficits cuts somehow create jobs. Tax cuts for the rich create jobs. Corporate tax cuts create jobs. Wage and benefit cuts create jobs. Regulation-killing creates jobs and regulations kill jobs.
Secretary Reich joins us. He‘s a professor at U.C. Berkeley and the author of “Aftershock,” along with (INAUDIBLE) right now and editor of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall, two smart people.
Robert, you say what we were taught in school. So, is there somebody teaching something else? I mean, if you want people to spend more money, you give them more money in wages or whatever. You don‘t fire them and leave them as paupers, because they‘re not very good consumers then. You fire people, take away their rights to bargain for higher wages, you take away the ability of them to spend their wages.
So, what is this thing where—this sort of religion course we‘re getting, this primer we‘re getting from Cantor? What is it, neoclassical from the 19th century? Where does he believe that stuff from?
ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Well, I think, Chris, I think it does come from the early part of the 20th century. Right before the Great Depression, you had a lot of economists talking exactly like Eric Cantor is now talking.
But we learned a lot in subsequent years. We learned that when you‘re trying to get out of the gravitational pull of a great recession or a great depression, as we are right now, when consumers are still reluctant to buy, when businesses are sitting on—big businesses are now sitting on about $1.6 trillion worth of cash they‘re not going to invest until they have customers—
REICH: -- that‘s the last thing you—that‘s the time. You don‘t
want government to hold back; you want government right now. Yes, the
deficit‘s a long-term problem, but right now you don‘t want to cut
government spending, and yet Eric Cantor and the Republicans are indulging
I mean, they sit over and over and over. You see it. You hear it.
That‘s all you hear—
MATTHEWS: It‘s religion.
REICH: -- is this big—it‘s a big line.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t it—Robert, isn‘t it just selling what they want? They want to get regulations gone, so they can help their big corporate friends. They want corporate tax cuts because they want to help their big corporate friends. They want to get rid of unions because they want to help their big corporate friends.
It seems to me pretty obvious. Occam‘s razor should be applied here. Why are saying all this? Because it helps the guys who pay for their elections. Isn‘t that what‘s going on?
REICH: Of course it‘s what is going on, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t hesitate. Isn‘t that what they‘re doing?
REICH: Yes. Here‘s the problem.
I mean, this—George Orwell understood this in his dystopian novel “1984.” It came out in 1949. The big lie repeated over and over again, unless it‘s rebutted, unless there‘s a repudiation, a sharp, clear repudiation, people eventually start listening.
REICH: I mean, they hear it all the time. They start believing it, particularly if they‘re under some economic stress.
REICH: And that‘s the Republican—that‘s the problem. That‘s the problem right now. It‘s not that Republicans are repeating a big lie or—
MATTHEWS: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not being challenged.
REICH: Let me go to—
REICH: There‘s no challenge. I mean, the president ought to be out there. The president of the United States ought to be saying, this is rubbish. This is absolute baloney. Here is the truth.
MATTHEWS: OK. He‘s not saying that.
And here—Josh, why isn‘t he saying that? Because that is unfortunately the game the president has been forced to play, competing with the Democrats—the Republicans on how much you can cut. Well, you want to cut this. We want to cut a little less. You want to cut 16. We want to cut four. OK, we will cut six.
It‘s the Republican game. And he looks like he‘s trying to play their game of being a budget-cutter, but not looking as good at it. So he fails at their game. He never gets them to play his game, which is, why don‘t they just get serious and listen to the economic reports we put on every nights, which is about the screwed-up housing market and stuff that could really be fixed?
If you could get those homes sold at market right now, you could get young people into housing, you could get people buying houses, spending money, building houses, fixing houses. Money would be spent. The economy would boom again.
And nobody looks at the real problems. They talk this religion stuff from Cantor.
JOSH MARSHALL, TALKING POINTS MEMO: Well, I think there‘s two issues. One is exactly what Robert just said that the—you know, I guess you said, Republicans, their base is extremely committed to these budget cuts, but the public at large is into jobs. That‘s their big priority. So, they have to pretend that cutting the budget will create jobs.
The problem for President Obama is that he—you know, he is in a position where there is this—there‘s kind of a diffuse feeling in the country that, you know, that there‘s got to belt-tightening. I think that‘s not just Republicans saying that. That‘s something the public at large—
MATTHEWS: Is it economic sense or is it religion? Is it the Protestant ethnic? Is it just good old horse sense? But is it economics we‘re talking about? When we say cut the budget—
MARSHALL: I don‘t think there‘s any question. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Will it create a better economy?
MARSHALL: There‘s no question that—there‘s no way that that creates jobs. All I‘m saying is that I think there‘s a general sense a lot of people have that, in bad times, the government should cut back, too, even though everything we know about economic theory says that‘s not the case.
I think you‘re right, though, that President Obama is—you know, he‘s playing on their territory, is never going to be as good at it as they are. So, at a certainly point, he‘s got to make a political and a strategic decision that he‘s going to come down and, you know, have a basically different argument.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at more Cantor. He is their spokesman. Here‘s he is, he‘s a smart guy politically. I don‘t think he knows economics. Here he is on Monday again out at Stanford. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: It is just wrong that American companies are paying taxes at rates their 50 percent higher than even those in Europe. And it‘s causing us to lose jobs. And that‘s why we will bring to the floor a bill that will reduce corporate tax rates to at least 25 percent. Smart regulation is fine, as long as those regulations help steer businesses into the black rather than into a sea of red tape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What a dull crowd he was talking to out there.
Would you explain, Robert Reich, how a Republican can get an audience like that? Those people didn‘t move an inch. They looked like statues, and they‘re listening to their religion being pandered to them.
Let me ask you, before we lose you tonight, Robert, you‘re smart. We‘ve just had an economic report—we‘ve had economic reports in the show a lot. And we know what‘s wrong with the economy.
Houses are sitting out there because older people in them won‘t sell them because they know that their house is worth more. They think it‘s worth more than they sell it for, which is not true. So, this whole market is killing the economy. Housing doesn‘t—
ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: It‘s worse than that. You still have about one out of four mortgage holders who are underwater—
MATTHEWS: Right, underwater.
REICH: -- who owe more on their homes than their houses are worth.
You got a terrible housing crisis, but look it—
MATTHEWS: -- that Republicans are selling.
REICH: Look, this is exactly why. It‘s not only a mortgage and housing crisis. It‘s also wages are going nowhere, jobs are—I mean, this is the most anemic recovery we‘ve had from a deep hole since the Great Depression.
And, you know, the president—people they care about Libya, they care about Japan, they care about Brazil, that‘s all very fine, it‘s important. But the president has got to focus on what Americans care about the most, and that is jobs and wages. He‘s got to be here countering—
MATTHEWS: But he‘s got a Republican Congress now.
REICH: -- these Republican lies.
MATTHEWS: He‘s got Republican Congress that won‘t do it, Robert. And that‘s his problem. He‘s got Cantor running the show up there.
REICH: Well, the trouble—I mean, the president is the only one who has the bully pulpit. If he doesn‘t counter, and counter—and counter these Republican mistruths, then he is going to be in trouble next year.
MATTHEWS: Well, we got stagflation.
Robert, you speak the truth, but we got a stagflating (ph) politics as well as economy. The president is not doing what you‘re saying. He‘s not fighting out there for good old modern economics and he‘s not cleaning up this economic problem. He‘s allowing the Republicans to teach the religion and he‘s saying, I sort of go along with the religion but not as far as they go, and that is a problem for him politically. I think we agree—
REICH: Huge problem. It‘s a problem for the country, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming on. Thanks for shaking this up.
Somebody had to do it.
Robert Reich, thanks for it doing, from out west. Josh Marshall, as always, a smart guy.
Up next: Donald Trump well, from the sublime, I don‘t know what—
Donald Trump is, in fact, making a move to run for president out at Iowa. He looks like he‘s serious because he‘s a birther now. He‘s a pro-lifer now. He‘s doing the limbo you have to do out there to get the nomination from those people.
Why is he bowing so low? He must be serious, and you have to wonder about if he‘s going to say all this stuff, what does he actually believe? Does he believe the birther stuff, the lifer stuff?
We‘ll be right back with Donald Trump. He‘s doing something.
MATTHEWS: Big family dispute here. Tea Party Senator Rand Paul in Kentucky already thinking about thinks next job? Senator Paul just got to Washington, but he may have his eye on the White House already.
Paul was in South Carolina, an early primary state, said, “The only decision I‘ve made is I won‘t run against my dad.” It sounds like he‘s leaving the door open to a presidential run as long as he dad, Texas U.S. Congressman Ron Paul, stays on the sidelines.
It sounds like he really wants to run. Rand Paul for president, I guess.
We‘ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW”/COMEDY CENTRAL)
DONALD TRUMP, CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Part of the beauty of me is that I‘m very rich. So, if I need $600 million, I can put up $600 million myself. That‘s a huge advantage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow, we‘re back. The Iowa Republican Party has announced officially that Donald Trump will headline their Lincoln Day dinner this coming June. I don‘t why they have Lincoln Day in June. Anyway, I thought it was in February.
So, is the real Donald Trump really going to make this deal or is he just toying with Republicans, appealing to the birthers and the pro-lifers by saying he‘s one of them?
Steve Kornacki writes for Salon.com and David Corn writes for “Mother Jones” and he‘s an MSNBC political analyst.
Let‘s take a look at Lewis Black, one of the funniest guys around, having a little fun with Trump on “The Daily Show” last night. Let‘s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEWIS BLACK, COMEDIAN: Trump came out as a birther, which is Republican for “I‘m running for president.” What this country needs is a crazy third-world dictator, and Donald Trump has what it takes to be that.
BLACK: He‘s already got a plane with his name on it, solid gold buildings, a harem—take a look at these two buildings. Which one is Donald Trump‘s? And which one is Saddam Hussein‘s?
BLACK: It‘s a trick question. They‘re both Trump‘s! He‘s even got a look of a dictator.
Now, is this man‘s hair any less crazy than that man‘s hair?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I can‘t beat that guy, Lewis Black, but I‘m going to try.
Let‘s go right now. We got David Corn and Steve Kornacki.
You‘re both political experts, men of the progressive movement, but here‘s the question: is this going to be a carnival? Because once he gets in this, if he goes in and says, OK, I‘m a birther. This is the entry rules.
I‘m a birther, I‘m a pro-lifer. I want to put doctors in jail for having doing abortions. I‘m going to say Obama really isn‘t one of us or there‘s a big doubt there. I‘m willing say all the passwords.
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: Is he a candidate?
I‘m looking at the numbers, by the way. He‘s in the running. He‘s up to 10 percent and he‘s just teasing this thing.
CORN: Well, there are two things. To begin with, his show “Celebrity Apprentice” is over in June, so he needs a new reality show starting—
MATTHEWS: Well, look at the numbers. This is reality. He‘s in the list. He‘s ahead of Ron Paul.
CORN: And, of course, right now, the Republican contest, the main
show, the main ring of the circus is pretty barren. You have T-Paw, you
know, Tim Pawlenty running. Mitt Romney is not there. And it‘s creating -
MATTHEWS: Not a lot of personality on this list.
CORN: It‘s creating a lot of space for the side show.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t say it‘s the side show if it is the show because I‘m afraid—
CORN: The side show may become the main attraction.
MATTHEWS: And I‘m friendly with this guy. I like him. And I think he‘s an interesting guy, certainly. And I want to know, he‘s certainly successful at business. Businessmen usually turn out to be terrible politicians, starting with Joe Kennedy in the old days. They don‘t get it.
Your thoughts, Steve. Does he get it? Does he get the show business part of it enough to actually show his way into this thing, be one of the candidates for the next year and stay with it beyond what he usually does when he teases us on this stuff?
STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: No, I have very little money in my savings account.
MATTHEWS: You think this is all—
KORNACKI: You can have all the money in my savings account if this guy‘s name is on the New Hampshire primary ballot before next year. He has done this before.
MATTHEWS: How much do you have in your savings account?
KORNACKI: Probably about 200 bucks.
CORN: Steve, get a job.
KORNACKI: He‘s done this. He did this in 1999 before—
MATTHEWS: Oh, I know. Have you interviewed him yet? Have you interviewed him? Have you tested him on this? He looks right at the eye and says I am running.
KORNACKI: He‘s doing—he did the same thing in ‘99.
CORN: Listen, this guy—
KORNACKI: Mind you, back then, he was trying to run as an independent. So instead of doing birtherism and all the stuff you want to do as the candidate of the Republican Party, he‘s talking about universal health care and high taxes.
MATTHEWS: You know, this is like when I was a kid, I didn‘t want the peas to touch the mashed potatoes when I was eating, everything has to be separate because I didn‘t really like the taste when it got mixed up on the plate. Is he going to mess it up? He gets in this race.
Haley Barbour I think is going to get in. It‘s going to be a really interesting race, but the guys who have personalities are probably not going to win it. So, the guys who win it have no personality—people like Pawlenty and Romney are boring. They‘re polenta. They‘re—they make Mondale and the other guy, Dukakis, look exciting people.
So, the interesting guys are going to dominate the debates and now what happens? They won‘t have a Republican campaign.
CORN: Whoever starts to win, and eventually, we‘ll have caucuses and primaries, eventually there will be—
MATTHEWS: No, but for most of the year for now for almost a year, you won‘t have tests like that. You‘ll have polls.
CORN: That‘s right. And, you know, half the public or less than half the public will pay attention. And so, I don‘t think this is—I don‘t think Donald Trump is much of a threat to Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney, unless he gets in and dumps hundreds of millions of dollars.
MATTHEWS: He said he would.
CORN: No, he says he‘s going to tell us in June, which happens to be when his show is over.
MATTHEWS: OK. (INAUDIBLE) both as doubtful, but I think I wonder this is about.
MATTHEWS: And you think it‘s just a short-term thing, Steve, that he‘s just going to go up to June and walk out or he‘s going in. Let‘s talk about—will he be in this come Labor Day? Will it be in the race?
KORNACKI: Listen, he‘ll be making noise, I imagine. He made noise all the way into 2000, the last time—
MATTHEWS: Will he get an exploratory committee by September? Let‘s bottom-line this with pros here. Will he have an exploratory committee by September?
KORNACKI: No, I don‘t think he‘s going to do anything formal with paperwork, because then we talk about net worth, we got to start talking about assets and we got to start talking about all the things that he never wants to disclose.
MATTHEWS: I‘m not sure he‘s going to do it.
CORN: I‘d love to see him in a debate when a question is put to him, in 1999, you ran as a pro-choice—or you talked about running as a pro-choice candidate.
MATTHEWS: OK. I got to go. Thank you, David Corn. Thank you—
CORN: He doesn‘t want these questions.
MATTHEWS: You‘re getting into my movie commentary.
When we return, “Let Me Finish” with a tribute to the great Elizabeth Taylor, the epitome of a movie star.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: “Let Me Finish” tonight with Elizabeth Taylor.
This is about Hollywood, its legends as they‘re called, the power of these icons in our live, these larger-than-life stars.
There‘s something about the power of celluloid, appearing on that big screen, on 35 millimeter film, something about really only knowing someone that way.
Elizabeth Taylor was in “Lassie”—along with Roddy MacDowell—way back in 1942.
She did “National Velvet” the same year. Look at her in that picture and you can see already that beautiful face. There‘s really never been anyone like her, like that.
She did my favorite of her films in 1951 -- the great George Stevens masterpiece, “A Place in the Sun” with Montgomery Clift. It was based on a Theodore Dreiser novel “An American Tragedy.”
There‘s a scene in that picture that no one is likely to forget. It‘s when the rich girl comes to visit the doomed poor boy on death row, the guy who loved her more than life itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “A PLACE IN THE SUN”)
MONTGOMERY CLIFT, ACTOR: I am guilty of a lot of things. Most of what they say of me.
ELIZABETH TAYLOR, ACTRESS: All the same, I‘ll go on loving you, as long as I live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: She was 19 in that scene.
She did “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” when she was just 26, won the Academy Award at 28 with “Butterfield Eight,” that John O‘Hara story.
After “Cleopatra” and mating up with Richard Burton, the two of them did a great picture together, the Edward Albee classic, “Who‘s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Talk about rough marriages.
From there comes a mixed bag—Graham Green‘s “The Comedians,” Joan Didion‘s “The Only Game in Town” with Warren Beatty and the rest.
I caught her at the Kennedy Center with Lillian Hellman‘s “The Little Foxes” in which she was very good.
Who knows about all the marriages. Mike Todd got killed in a plane crash, that may have been the one best for her and she lost him, ended up with Eddie Fisher, and then, of course, my hero Burton.
I‘ve got just two things to say: pay tribute to Elizabeth Taylor for all she did for AIDS, long before the government did anything. And then treat yourself to one of the great movies ever made, go see “A Place in the Sun,” and find out what young men‘s dreams are made of.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.
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