updated 3/17/2004 10:22:30 AM ET 2004-03-17T15:22:30

Guests: John Fund, Jacques De Graff, Joseph Biden, Thomas White

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight on HARDBALL, Senator Joe Biden endorses a Kerry-McCain ticket. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Would you support that ticket for president?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  I would.  If John Kerry said that‘s who he wanted and McCain, I‘d encourage McCain to say yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)     

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Joe Biden endorsing a Kerry-McCain ticket.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

I‘m Chris Matthews. 

We‘re going to hear that full interview with Senator Joe Biden and especially the part where he says I‘m backing a Kerry-McCain ticket, in just a few moments. 

But first the Bush campaign is taking on John Kerry with both barrels. 

With 230 days before election day, the Bush campaign is running a new

advertisement, targeting Kerry in the key battlefield state of West

Virginia. A

And both President Bush and vice-president Cheney have criticized Kerry for his comments that foreign leaders are hoping he wins this election. 

HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster joins us now from MSNBC world head headquarters—David. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, the Bush campaign is absolutely convinced they‘ve been handed a golden chance to rip apart John Kerry‘s credibility. 

Kerry is standing by his claims that foreign leaders want him to win, so this morning at the White House, President Bush challenged Kerry to name names.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Look, if you‘re going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts. 

SHUSTER (voice-over):  Kerry is refusing to identify the leaders, citing the confidentiality of his conversations with them.  But it was Kerry who first spoke on the campaign trail about face-to-face meetings. 

Reporters thought Kerry said with foreign leaders when Kerry actually said more leaders, but when you listen to the audiotape obtained exclusively by HARDBALL, the distinction doesn‘t really matter. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘ve met more leaders who can‘t go out and say it all publicly, but boy, they look at you and say you‘ve got to win this.  You‘ve got to beat this guy.  We need a new policy, things like that.

SHUSTER:  On Sunday, Kerry offered a clarification. 

KERRY:  I think what I said was that I have heard from—heard from people around the world, leaders, people, that look forward to the day when they have an administration that they can work with.  Now I have; it‘s that simple. 

SHUSTER:  The White House has been steadily ratcheting up the attacks.  Colin Powell criticized Kerry on Sunday.  Vice President Cheney hammered away Monday night. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  These are not times for leaders who shift with the political, wind saying one thing one day and another the next. 

SHUSTER:  But when it comes to saying one thing one day and another the next, the Kerry campaign says the White House is in a league of its own. 

And Kerry staffers today turned the food fight into an all-out brawl.  They issued press releases listing dozens of conflicting statements the president, vice president, and secretary of state all made about the reasons for war with Iraq. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Strategists on both sides say this is another sign of the nastiness to come.  Both campaigns are hitting issues of credibility very hard, and they‘re determined, Chris, to counterpunch even harder—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Andrea Mitchell is the foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is an NBC News political analyst.  John Fund is a columnist for OpinionJournal.com, and Jacques De Graff is a Democratic strategist. 

Let‘s go to Andrea Mitchell on the diplomatic front.

Why would—given your knowledge and everyone‘s knowledge about the antipathy with which the president is held by foreign leaders in Europe, especially, want to raise the issue of who likes me out there. 

Is that smart politics?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Kerry thought it was smart politics, because it would undercut the whole image that Bush is trying to project as a strong leader and strong on terrorism, having the allies with him.  But I think it‘s actually backfired. 

I think at this point, the—President Bush, who spoke about it today in the Oval Office, wouldn‘t be talking about it if they did not think that it would be to their benefit. 

They think that it somehow shows Kerry as trying to exploit the war on terror.  And you can see that John Kerry has not spoken about Madrid except in very, very neutral terms. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is that?  Why won‘t he touch Madrid?  What happened with the train there?

MITCHELL:  Because it would be simply political suicide to talk about Madrid right now when it‘s so sensitive, when they don‘t know who‘s going to be eventually blamed, who‘s going to take responsibility ultimately.  It‘s the kind of thing that you don‘t want to talk about in the middle of a campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard Fineman, let me ask you about—do you share the analysis this is a winner for the president, the charge by the White House that the Democratic presumed nominee, John Kerry, is bragging out of school?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, here‘s how I see it, Chris, from down here in Florida, where I‘ve been running around interviewing undecideds, swing voters, you know, the endless pursuit of those down here. 

Even Democrats that I talk to don‘t like the idea of a candidate running on the theory that he‘s representing the views of foreign leaders. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  It just doesn‘t ring true. 

I had a Democrat last night, a very prominent Democrat, say unexpectedly to me, “I‘ll be darned if I‘m going to let the opinions and the views of some foreign leaders in Europe determine how we conduct our foreign policy.”  This was a Democrat and a fairly liberal one at that. 

I think that‘s what‘s at stake here, and I think Andrea is right, I think the reason the White House is highlighting it is because they want to turn this into an “us and them” election on a global scale. 

This is the first planetary election, Chris.  A whole world is watching, the whole world is involved, and what George Bush is saying is it‘s only for us in the United States to decide.  There‘s no role for foreign leaders.

So he‘s turning his lack of ties, in some ways, diplomatic ties to other countries into an attempt to make it a political...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s turning his loneliness into the Lone Ranger. 

FINEMAN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  John?

JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM:  By the time this is over the Bush people are going to try to paint John Kerry as Jean Francois Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  What does that mean?

FUND:  Well, that he‘s French, basically.  That he‘s representing...

MATTHEWS:  What does that mean?

FUND:  ... French interests.  Well, Chris, if you look...

MATTHEWS:  Help me.

FUND:  He‘s from France.  He speaks French.  He went to French finishing schools.  They‘re going to try to paint him as French.  Now here‘s the thing about...

MATTHEWS:  Are you serious?

FINEMAN:  He‘s not from France, you know.

MATTHEWS:  What does this mean?  Help me out here with this metaphor. 

FINEMAN:  The family isn‘t from France.

MATTHEWS:  What was the charge?

FUND:  There was a reunion of 200 people, a reunion of 200 Kerry relatives in France two years ago. 

Look, I‘m not saying this is accurate.  I‘m simply saying this is going to be the caricature that is going to be put down. 

MATTHEWS:  That makes someone a liar, because you can‘t call a person a foreigner who was raised and born in this country. 

FUND:  No, no, no.  It‘s going to be transference.  Dukakis—Dukakis was viewed as weak because he rode around in the tank and looked silly. 

MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t call him a Greek. 

FUND:  Because Kerry‘s—look.

MATTHEWS:  A scurrilous campaign.  You‘re going to call the guy a foreigner?

FUND:  it‘s a caricature.  Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon were both respected overseas by foreign leaders.  That didn‘t make them popular with Americans. 

Ronald Reagan was not particularly popular with foreign leaders.  They thought he was a dunce.  So I don‘t think the transference is going to work. 

MITCHELL:  That is the low road but the high road, quote unquote, the substantive road, they claim, is going to be taken by the vice president at the Reagan library in Simi Valley, California, tomorrow when tomorrow afternoon our time he is going to absolutely try to take John Kerry apart. 

MATTHEWS:  1:30 p.m. in the afternoon.

MITCHELL:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Will he claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan and say on behalf of the Reagan philosophy, “I‘m gunning this guy down?”

MITCHELL:  Well, he‘s going to basically take him apart, they claim, issue by issue, vote by vote, on defense and foreign policy votes, trying to contrast George Bush, strong leader they say, with John Kerry, who takes passionate views on subjects but they‘re going to say on both sides of the subject. 

So obviously John Kerry and the Democrats have a very strong rebuttal to this, but we‘re off to the races. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to a man who sounds suspiciously French, Jacques De Graff.  Jacques, I don‘t know where we get into xenophobia about looking for foreigners under every bed, but let‘s assume...

FUND:  A sense of humor, Chris, come on.

MATTHEWS:  No, because I sense that this isn‘t funny.  I‘m serious.  You don‘t think it‘s funny, because you‘re talking about it.  You‘re talking about strategy and these unspoken clever innuendoes that the guy is not quite one of us is not a joke. 

Let‘s go to this, what do you think Jacques, of his politics?

JACQUES DE GRAFF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Chris, there‘s another dimension to this and the other dimension is this.  It shows that the Kerry campaign has not messed with the DNC, and so he‘s pretty much responding, he and the campaign are pretty much responding on their own. 

The DNC needs to get involved, the national party needs to get involved for this to be engaged.  And that‘s a fact of the result of the accelerated campaign timetable, so that you have the nominee in the middle of March. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

FINEMAN:  Chris, can I...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Go ahead. 

FINEMAN:  I was just going to say from down here in Florida, I have agree with Jacques on that. 

The Bush campaign is up and running on all cylinders.  The Republican National Committee, the Bush-Cheney campaign, the surrogates, et cetera. 

And John Kerry, having wrapped things up, has not gotten the mechanics of the party and his own campaign up to the general election speed, which is why Bush and Cheney are trying to take advantage of this time period as much as they can. 

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t have a coalition of spokes people that go out there and blast away.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  He has to do it alone and he‘s the lone gunman.  Andrea.

MITCHELL:  You can see the theme that the Republicans are trying to establish with the ad that they put up in West Virginia, small ad, small buy, but just in West Virginia when John Kerry was there today, doing a town hall meeting.  And it was a very tough ad on defense. 

The Democrats, Kerry himself said immediately afterwards, it was completely misleading. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the ad, the one that‘s running in West Virginia that Andrea is talking about. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  George W. Bush, and I approved this message. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war.  Though John Kerry voted in October 2002 for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  Body armor for troops in combat. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  Higher combat pay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  And better health care for reservists and their families. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  Wrong on defense. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  Now that is a complete distortion, Kerry would say, and anybody who really covered the $87 billion supplemental has to agree.  A complete distortion. 

MATTHEWS:  Are those in there?

MITCHELL:  They were in there, but he was voting against one part of the bill. 

MATTHEWS:  But didn‘t he vote against the final?  Didn‘t he voted against final?

MITCHELL:  He did vote against final. 

MATTHEWS:  Then he voted against all those elements. 

MITCHELL:  He voted against those elements of the supplemental, but he was voting against it as a protest, he said, you know, again...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what he said; that‘s his spin.  I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, you said to me before we were on tonight, that was a tough ad. 

MITCHELL:  A very tough ad. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s devastating. 

MITCHELL:  Well, first of all, it‘s a simulation of a Senate vote. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, first of all, it made the sound of—that ominous sound of the guy calling the roll. 

FUND:  We now know that John Kerry would have been better off politically if he had voted against the war in Iraq.  That was Howard Dean‘s original indictment.  That‘s originally what brought John Kerry down. 

MATTHEWS:  He would have been better off winning the primaries, yes, but how about now?

FUND:  He still—I think he would have been more consistent, because the problem is not going to be just weak on defense.  It‘s going to be lack of consistency and lack of follow-through. 

MITCHELL:  This is the kind of thing John Kerry...

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you all around the table, why are they all—why are both sides agreeing to engage so early?  Howard first.

You notice that Kerry went in there gunning for the president.  He wants to stay in the news.  Why are they both gunning like middleweights instead of heavyweights, so fast here? 

FINEMAN:  Well, they‘re doing it for a few reasons.  One of them, Chris, is that they both are styling themselves as fighters.  George Bush is a fighter for values and his view of the planet, and John Kerry is a fighter, is a hero from Vietnam.  So it‘s the fighter personality. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  It‘s a fund raising thing.  It‘s a way to gin up the base.  It‘s a way to get free attention.  And there‘s a vacuum there, the domination having been decided so quickly. 

And as I said before, the Bush team wants to take advantage of this period of relative disorganization on the Democratic side to try to make Kerry spend money he doesn‘t have, and take advantage of the track record. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that, John, why they‘re coming out of the White House so fast with this guy?

FUND:  Sure.  And John Kerry has to spend an awful lot of money right now spending money, because he doesn‘t have the limits but he has to spend the time raising money.  That means he can‘t effectively...

MATTHEWS:  Do they keep this fight going until the summer, just like this, every day gunning at each other?

FUND:  We‘re going to be exhausted by this after 200 days. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Jacques.  If they keep firing like this, right through the conventions. 

DE GRAFF:  Well, I think what‘s going to have to happen is the things that usually happen at a convention, a number of them are going to have to happen much, much sooner.  The Democrats are going to have to circle the wagon and have some kind of high-level summit strategy meeting. 

MATTHEWS:  Before they circle the wagons, Jacques, they‘ve got to decide whether they‘re going to let McCain in the circle or not. 

Anyway, the panel is staying with us.  And coming up, the latest polls in the race for the White House.  They‘re getting tight.  Plus—they‘re staying tight.

Plus, Senator Joe Biden on why he wants to see a Kerry-McCain ticket this November. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the latest poll numbers in the battle for the White House.  President Bush and John Kerry in a tight race.  HARDBALL, back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the panel. 

According to the latest “New York Times”/CBS News poll, President Bush holds a slight lead over John Kerry among registered voters.  The numbers are 46 to 43. 

By the way, in February, Kerry was leading Bush 48 to 43. 

The poll also found that voters have a mixed impression, a small impression of John Kerry, with 28 percent viewing Kerry as favorable, 29 percent unfavorable.  And catch this: 41 percent undecided.  That explains the TV ad campaign.

By the way, here‘s what Senator Joe Biden said—he‘s going to say it later in the show—when I asked him about a Kerry-McCain ticket. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN:  If John Kerry said that‘s who he wanted and McCain, I‘d encourage McCain to say yes.  I doubt whether John would do it.  I doubt whether John McCain would do it. 

But you know, we need some unity here, man.  The red states and the blue states, we‘ve got to have something to coalesce around here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the strong sentiment of Joe Biden who himself ran for president.  He wants to see—He comes from a state that‘s half blue and half red.  It‘s right on the border, Delaware.  And he doesn‘t like that division.

He thinks these two guys, a Dem and a Republican, can bring the

country together.  You can hear the rest of my interview with Senator Biden

·         It‘s a newsmaker—at the bottom of this hour.

Excuse me.

Let‘s go to Andrea Mitchell.  I want to ask you about these polls. 

First of all, they‘re flipping a little bit toward the president.  Do you buy that as significant?

MITCHELL:  I don‘t buy it as significant at this point, although I think there might be a rallying around the president because of the Madrid bombing. 

MATTHEWS:  John?

FUND:  It‘s close and always will be close but this shows that John Kerry can be taken down.  That 41 percent that doesn‘t have an opinion of him, that‘s why we‘re seeing all of these ads.  You‘re absolutely right.

MATTHEWS:  So that‘s probably more important than whether he‘s losing.

FUND:  If the first impressions are negative, he goes down. 

MITCHELL:  That‘s why Cheney is giving the speech tomorrow.  They want to fill in the blanks and fill it in with their portrait, not his. 

MATTHEWS:  And the portrait‘s going to be based—Howard, it‘s going to be based on voting record, apparently.  They‘re going to try to hit him with hard information and nail him on hard stuff against the sort of the soft, we want somebody to beat Bush. 

FINEMAN:  They‘re going to paint him as a Massachusetts liberal who, despite his war record of bravery, is, quote, “weak,” unquote, on defense. 

What‘s going on here is that the Bush people are racing to define Kerry before he can define himself. 

And here in Florida, interestingly, they‘re running the attack ads on Kerry, not here in Tampa, which is a swing area of Hillsboro County.  They‘re running the attack ad on Kerry in North Florida, which is closer to the old South, sort of like the Georgia part of Florida.

So in other words, they‘re trying to firm up negative impressions of Kerry among the Republican base and then move out from here. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a cost here, Howard, in having the cavalry attack so early?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think that‘s the basic strategic play of the Bush campaign.  They‘re frantic to define Kerry before Kerry can present himself. 

This is the attempt to strangle the candidacy of the opponent.  It‘s what Bill Clinton did to Bob Dole in 1996.  It‘s what George H.W. Bush didn‘t do to Bill Clinton in 1992. 

And if there‘s one thing you can say about this Bush crowd, they want to try to learn in every way they can, maybe over-learn from the mistakes of the father. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Jacques.  What do you make of the early attack by the Bush administration on the facts, on the record of Kerry‘s voting record?

KERRY:  Well, I think as Howard said, they‘re trying to define Kerry, but by this early attempt to knock him out while he‘s still on his stool, in effect, I don‘t think that that‘s going to work. 

The challenge for the Democrats is going to be to start to rally the troops.  One of the things the polls...

MATTHEWS:  Jacques—Jacques...

DE GRAFF:  Go ahead. 

MATTHEWS:  Jacques, I have to challenge you, because the exact same thing that the Republicans are doing to Bush—to Kerry right now is what the other candidates did to Dick Gephardt.  And they erased him with negative advertising.  Who says that it doesn‘t work?

DE GRAFF:  Well, because of the time frame.  The time frame is that this has got to go on from now until November. 

And one of the things that the polls says also is that 75 percent of the people who said they were for Bush or for Kerry indicated that they have no intention about changing their minds at all. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens if they find a soft target, Andrea, in the Kerry candidacy and they find it works, like the old thing with the bayonet, you hit mush, you‘re jamming the thing in.  You hit bone, you pull back. 

If they find mush in terms of this guy‘s voting record, voting against the reconstruction program in Iraq, voting against various weapons systems, can they turn this guy into mush?

MITCHELL:  I don‘t think, because this is a tough candidate.  He‘s surrounded by very smart people, Bob Shrum and others, you know, who really...

MATTHEWS:  But didn‘t they have something to do with the defeat last time, the Democrats? 

MITCHELL:  No.  I think that the defeat last time with the Democrats, sure they had a lot to do with it, but I think there were a lot of other elements. 

MATTHEWS:  We have to come back.  John, back when we‘re first.  John, you‘re first when we come back.  I get my sentence out of order.

Anyway, more with the panel when we return.  And later, more from Senator Joe Biden on why he‘d support a Kerry-McCain presidential ticket. 

Plus, former secretary of the Army, Thomas White, gives his assessments of where we are in Iraq.  He also said even though he‘s appointed by Bush, “I don‘t know whether I‘m voting for him this time.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL.  That‘s HARDBALL.  On MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back on the air with this little sugarplum. 

The Bush administration is coming under fire from Democrats on Capitol Hill over a taxpayer funded Health and Human Services Department video news release, it‘s called, which touts the benefits of the new Medicare law. 

It begins and ends with an actress portraying a news reporter. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Medicare officials emphasize that no one will be forced to sign up for any of the new benefits. 

TOMMY RIDGE, HHS SECRETARY:  It‘s completely voluntary.  Seniors will be able to partake of the new Medicare system or the old Medicare system. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The new law says officials simply offers people with Medicare ways to make their health coverage more affordable. 

In Washington, I‘m Karen Ryan, reporting. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s Karen Ryan reporting, but it‘s Karen Ryan working for HHS in the department in a highly freelanced position, not as a reporter. 

MITCHELL:  Right.  She‘s a former producer.  She worked for business report and ABC. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that deceptive advertising by the United States government?

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  There‘s a law that says that if it is propaganda, according to the General Accounting Office, non-partisan—If it‘s propaganda, then it‘s illegal, so Congress is now investigating whether this was propaganda. 

MATTHEWS:  Jacques, I want to ask you as one who‘s supposed to be leaning left on this panel, the candidate that you support and have done so since the beginning of man, John Kerry, called this crowd a bunch of liars and crooks. 

Could it be said this ad is a lie by having a phony reporter advance the cause of the Medicare bill?

DE GRAFF:  Well, I think you have to draw your own conclusions but the key...

MATTHEWS:  What would be yours?

DE GRAFF:  My—It‘s duplicitous.  It‘s propaganda.  It‘s out and out propaganda, No. 1.  But it also, when you tie it with the fact about the $135 billion mis-projection or hidden projection with the Medicare costs, it really is a troubling fact for this administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Howard.  Is this going to be a little bit of a bump in the road for the administration when it‘s trying to counter the charge of deception, lying, and all that stuff, that‘s putting out an ad that‘s clearly deceptive?

FINEMAN:  Well, I don‘t know if this one itself will catch on, but I think it was a pretty outrageous thing to do.  But I‘m sure it reflects the White House‘s view of the role of journalists. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Hire one.  Hire one.  Turn them into a hooker and then say they‘re the real thing, you know.

MITCHELL:  The local stations that carried this ought to be ashamed of themselves.  They picked it up like it was real news.  It has been carried, John. 

FUND:  Not anymore.  Not anymore.

MITCHELL:  The real scandal is the fact that a budget official in the Medicare administration was not permitted to tell Congress before they passed this bill that the budget numbers were more than a hundred billion dollars off. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I‘d like?  To have journalists here who are paid to say everything I say is right. 

Anyway, I want to thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell, Howard Fineman, Jacques De Graff and John Fund. 

Up next, Senator Joe Biden.  Wait until you see him tonight.  He says he‘d endorse a John Kerry-John McCain ticket, a fusion ticket to unite the red and blue parts of the country. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, one of the Senate‘s most respected voices on foreign policy, Senator Joe Biden; plus, Iraq a year later.  Former Secretary of the Army Thomas White will join us. 

But, first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re joined right now by Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.  He‘s the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Senator, I‘ve got to ask the toughest question.  A year after the war with Iraq began, are we better off a year after the war started than before it started? 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  In some ways, a lot better off, in some ways, a lot worse off. 

We‘re better off now that Saddam is gone.  We‘re better off that he‘s not pursuing his weapons, although I never believed he had them.  We‘re better off in that there‘s a chance to establish a democracy in Iraq.  We‘re worse off in that we have mishandled the aftermath of the fall of Saddam to a degree that I think is almost breathtaking.

And now here we are with another opportunity to try to make something good out of a terrible situation and I‘m worried we‘re going to blow it again.  What we should be doing right now, we should have been doing the last six months, knowing Bremer was going to leave on January—or June the 30th—that is the CPA, the American presence—is, we should have negotiating with the permanent members of the Security Council what the follow-on entity would be to be the referee in that country, a little bit like we had Kouchner, who was a high commissioner in Kosovo.

And we should have been doing that right now because of an internal debate, Chris, within the administration.  You ask them—for example, Rumsfeld was asked by a mutual friend of ours, Friedman, on the Sunday talk show, what after Bremer?  And paraphrasing, he said, well, we haven‘t decided yet, we don‘t know who‘s in charge after Bremer. 

And so put it another way.  Can you imagine if we had a series of successes and brought security immediately to Iraq.  We had planned for this in the first place.  I doubt whether or not the world would be as hostile toward our actions in Iraq today if we were clearly viewed as succeeding than they are today.  We have to succeed now and we have to come up with a better way of doing this. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the carrot or the stick to bring the Security Council members in with us, so it‘s not just a U.S. force behind the new government over there? 

BIDEN:  They‘re ready—they‘re ready to come in now.  I reported to the president back after the 1st of the year where the meeting of all sort of the arch good friend enemy, you know, everybody likes to make fun of, President Chirac. 

Chirac told me personally and he subsequently told others he would support NATO in there, he would support even the possibility of U.S. forces in Iraq if in fact, if in fact not at the Security Council, but the permanent five at the Security Council actually were the ones that were in charge of the political decisions being made in Iraq after Bremer left. 

We actually even went through this whole little dance, he and I.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BIDEN:  About well if in fact Bremer left, we planned it now, etcetera.  Not only him, but then I went to speak to the United—excuse me, to our NATO allies.  And I spoke to the permanent representatives there, the five largest countries.  They‘re ready to come in. 

I have spoken to Kofi Annan.  But they‘re not ready to come in, Chris, if they‘re going to look like they‘re the handmaiden of the United States of America. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BIDEN:  And why isn‘t our interest to not have them in?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a precedent, of course.  After 1945, we had four men in a jeep regarding West Berlin and of course all of Germany—all of Germany was divided into four parts.  Does the president openly reject this proposition, this new formula of a united effort by the Western powers to govern or to underwrite the new government of Iraq? 

BIDEN:  The answer is, I don‘t know, Chris. 

I know there‘s this continual split—this is the most divided administration in the seven presidents with whom I‘m served.  The idea that you can‘t find a single person in the administration who is going to tell you who‘s in charge when Bremer leaves is a reflection that the president is at a minimum getting incredibly conflicting advice and he‘s yet to make up his mind. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s a scary thought, I think.  Well, I don‘t want to make policy judgments.  I‘m trying to be nonpartisan in this election year, but I have got to tell you a scary question here. 

If we get a new government in Iraq, and it is basically the kind of composition of the people over there that reflects the composition of the people—you have mostly Shiites, some Sunnis, some Kurds and they‘re all working together—Thomas Friedman of “The New York Times” was on HARDBALL yesterday and he said, well, it will be underwritten, it will backed up by the U.S. Army almost in perpetuity.

He says the United States government, our forces will become like the Turkish Army in Iraq.  In other words, it would be a situation like we‘ve never had, where our Army is used to back up another government in perpetuity.  Does that sound like a role for the United States government? 

BIDEN:  No, but it‘s not perpetuity.  I disagree with Tom about in perpetuity.  But I do think it is close to a decade. 

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN:  Look, when Dick Lugar and I held these hearings, we said, if we go into Iraq without a much broader alliance, we are going to be there with tens of thousands of troops for a decade after.  And that—that‘s exactly where we are now. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BIDEN:  I mean, and that‘s why we should turn this over to NATO.  That‘s why we should make this a NATO operation, a little like we did, by the way, in Western Europe and a little like we did in Japan for a long time.  This is a big-deal commitment we bit off. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the divisions—I want to talk about politics in the next break—but about the divisions in this country on policy, not politics.  It seems to me this country is divided between those who support the president, with all the flaws in the policy, the failure of Turkey to let us fight on their front in the war, who predicted that there would be European support for this war when it came to it, who predicted there would be weapons of mass destruction handily found, that there would be ovations in the street supporting our arrival, that the oil money would pay for the war, all that list of predictions that all didn‘t come true.

BIDEN:  Dead wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  And then there‘s other half of the people, maybe most of the Democrats or some Republicans, who say, I was right, you were wrong, I told you so, drop dead, basically. 

How do we bring together those two points of view, the people who know they backed a flawed policy and the people who said I told you so into some support for some new policy in this country? 

BIDEN:  By saying look, whether you thought it was a good idea or not, the president made some serious mistakes in terms of after-Saddam planning.  But there‘s a chance to get it right.  Let‘s join together.  We cannot afford to lose, the same argument I made to the Europeans. 

You may remember, Chris, I said about six months ago bring in NATO on

your program.  And you asked me the logical question, which every serious

person said.  They‘ll never do it.  Then they said, we‘ll do it if fact you

·         and give us some political authority in Iraq.  Why?  Not because they want to help us, because it is worse for France than the United States if we fail in Iraq.  They have over—between 10 percent and 14 percent of their population happens to be Arab. 

It‘s worse for Germany because of the oil they need from that region of the world, so there‘s a naked self-interest here, but we just make it difficult.  We make it difficult to take yes for an answer.  And that‘s the part that confuses me so much.  And it must frustrate the living devil out of some very high-ranking people in the State Department and the uniformed military. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s something in the president‘s sort of Texas personality that doesn‘t want to do it as a group?  He doesn‘t want to go in a posse.  He wants to go the Lone Ranger.  He likes being out there all alone in front and be right and have all them wrong? 

BIDEN:  Oh, God, I hope not.  Look...

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s a fair question.

BIDEN:  No, it‘s a fair question.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s the president.  He‘s setting the policy.  And you‘re saying he doesn‘t get when you‘re offering as an adviser to him.  You are on the other side of the aisle, but you are advising him right now.

BIDEN:  I‘m not the only one offering that to him.  He‘s getting offered that advice from serious Republicans inside and outside the administration.  It‘s not just Joe Biden. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BIDEN:  The answer is, I think there is a sort of great appeal to this notion—it even appeals to me sometimes.  I get my Irish up and I say, the hell with them all.  Who cares about the French and the Germans? Damn it, we did this ourselves.  We‘re going to have a—I mean, it appeals to our nativist instincts, but it isn‘t smart. 

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN:  It isn‘t smart.  It‘s not even sound policy.  And it‘s—fortunately, a significant portion of our military understands that, ranking military and a significant portion of people in this administration. 

They seem—I think it‘s Cheney.  I mean, I think Cheney has an incredibly disproportionate influence on this administration.  Everything I read in the book about O‘Neill...

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN:  ... was totally consistent, totally consistent, with all of my personal interactions with this administration. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The book‘s point was that all policies were set, especially foreign policy in going after Iraq, long before Colin Powell was even hired. 

BIDEN:  Ideology, ideology is not a thoughtful process.  It is a notion of what you want and what you believe and the facts be damned, and that‘s—ideology is running into reality. 

MATTHEWS:  Now that we‘ve avoided 10 minutes of talking about politics, we‘ll come back and talk about politics with Senator Joe Biden, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. 

More with him coming back.  Let‘s talk about the presidential race and whether John McCain is going to be the Democratic nominee for vice president. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Joe Biden on why he would support a Kerry-McCain ticket.

HARDBALL back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Senator Joe Biden. 

Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have criticized John Kerry‘s misquote on foreign leaders privately supporting him.  Here‘s the vice president from Monday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It is our business when a candidate for president claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders.  At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to foreign leaders that makes them so supportive of his candidacy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s President Bush himself speaking today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Look, if you‘re going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Senator Biden, what do you make of the White House‘s quick retort to John Kerry about his argument that he‘s met with world leaders and talked to them and they believe that he‘s right and the president is wrong in terms of Iraq and other policy issues? 

rMD+IT_rMD-IT_BIDEN:  They know it‘s true. 

Look, I‘ve traveled all over the world.  Ask anybody who‘s traveled all over the world.  Find—let me put it another way.  Other than possibly the prime minister of Israel, the prime minister of Italy, the prime minister maybe of England, can you name me anybody who you think, as Barry Goldwater used to say, in your heart you think is for George Bush around the world?  What do you think?

MATTHEWS:  Well

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN:  It‘s a rhetorical question. 

MATTHEWS:  Luckily for me, I have the latest poll—Pew Foundation numbers that suggest, around the world, that we‘re having problems. 

BIDEN:  Problems?

MATTHEWS:  In fact, we‘re less popular today than we were a year ago after the war. 

BIDEN:  It‘s a hemorrhage.  It‘s a hemorrhage.

And if you read underneath those Pew Foundation numbers, a significant portion of the problem is George W. Bush, fair or unfair.  That‘s the perception around the world.  Now, I have had world leaders, heads of state, make it pretty clear to me they‘re hopeful that there‘s a change of an administration.  Now, think of—look at the words that Cheney used and that Bush used. 

Quote—Cheney said, I think used—I tried to write it down—said at least we have a right to know what he‘s telling these leaders to make them say that.  Give me a break.  Nobody has to tell any world leader anything.  Even if George Bush is 100 percent right, it‘s pretty clear there‘s not many European leaders happy with him, is there?  It‘s pretty clear there‘s not many Asian leaders happy with him. 

Now, that doesn‘t mean that‘s good or bad.  I don‘t know why Kerry would say that because quite frankly it doesn‘t matter to me whether a foreign leader is for or against a nominee in terms of how I‘m going to vote for him.  The second thing, look what George Bush says.  He said, if he makes an accusation.  How is that an accusation?  What‘s he accusing anybody of? 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

BIDEN:  So just look at the way in which they deal with it.  I think it‘s because they‘re so incredibly self-conscious about how their unilateral policies, some of which I have supported, how their unilateral policies have offended, distanced other leaders from them and/or outright brought about a desire to see the change of administrations.

But, again, I don‘t think it‘s relevant what foreign leaders think.  I think it‘s interesting how close to home it seems to sting both the vice president and the president, but I asked a rhetorical question. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a hard question.  And that is, do you think the vice president of the United States is in jeopardy of being bumped from the ticket? 

BIDEN:  I really don‘t have any idea.  My experience, he‘s a very bright guy.  He‘s a very tough guy.  It seems to me President Bush relies very, very heavily on him. 

Now, I—you know, all the rumors in a town you and I work in is that the old Bush administration, from Baker and Scowcroft, those guys think he has the wrong influence, etcetera.  I don‘t know any—all I know is—

I‘m not being facetious.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I know exactly what you‘re saying, sir.  By the way, that is not—that is the buzz in this city, that people like Scowcroft and Jimmy Baker, the former secretary of state, and maybe even the former president, 41, as his son calls him, don‘t like this very adventurous go-it-alone policy.

They are superb diplomats.  They grew up in a diplomatic post-World War II world, where they‘re used to having allies in the world.  In fact, nobody had a better posse than 41 when he went to Iraq the first time.  They‘re different breeds of cat.

But let me ask you a hotter question.  I heard you this morning about McCain.  Now, what an interesting guy to be a colleague of. 

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN:  I agree.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re the one.  Let me ask you, do you think McCain is seriously—and I mean this professionally—flirting with the idea of accepting a second place on the ticket with John Kerry in creating a fusion ticket to run against the president? 

BIDEN:  Well, let me make it clear.  I‘m prejudiced here.  I go back a long way with John McCain.  When the president of the United States was trying to imply that he was unstable, I called him.  He was out West.  And I said, where do you want me?  It was the middle of the presidential campaign and I wanted the Democrat to win, but I said tell me, John, where you want me.  I‘ll hold a press conference.  I can make the case for you overwhelmingly clear.

And he thanked me and he said no, no.  I guess I would have hurt him more than I would have helped him. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BIDEN:  So that‘s where I come from, No. 1. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BIDEN:  No. 2, I think that this is time for unity in this country and maybe it is time to have a guy like John McCain, a Republican, on a ticket with a guy he does like, they do get along, and they don‘t have fundamental disagreements on major policies. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you support that ticket for president? 

BIDEN:  I would.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BIDEN:  Yes, if John Kerry said that‘s who he wanted and McCain, I‘d encourage McCain to say yes.  I doubt whether John would do it.  I doubt whether John McCain would do it.  But, you know, we need some unity here, man.  The red and the blue states, we have got to have something to coalesce here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, hearing you now, Senator, he may say yes.

Thank you very much, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations. 

Up next, former Secretary of the Army Thomas White on the reconstruction of Iraq nearly one year after the war started. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Thomas White served as secretary of the Army under President Bush.  He joins us right now.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us. 

Let me ask you about the war.  I asked this of Senator Biden, the ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations.  I said, are we better off than we were a year ago as a country with regard to terrorism in Iraq?  Let me ask you, sir, a more pointed question.  Are we better off in the war against terrorism having gone to Iraq or are we worse off? 

THOMAS WHITE, FORMER SECRETARY OF THE ARMY:  Well, I think there‘S pluses and there‘s minuses.  Certainly, it is a plus that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power and 25 million people are free.  It is a minus that IT has taken us an enormous number of soldiers and a major commitment that will clearly go on for quite some time inside Iraq in an Army that is of limited size. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the impact of our war in Iraq, going in there and knocking off that government, capturing Saddam, basically begin to reform that country, restructure it as a democracy, whatever?  Has that encouraged or discouraged the international movement of terrorism against us from the Islamic fanatics? 

WHITE:  Well, it isn‘t clear that it‘s had any significant impact. 

If what happened in Spain over the weekend or late last week is an indicator, there are still very effective international terrorist cells that are operating separate and independent from what‘s going on in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is that another way of saying what Secretary Rumsfeld said a couple of months ago?  We don‘t have any metrics—that was his sort of technological term for it.  We don‘t have my metrics to measure how much more recruitment of terrorism there‘s been because of the anger caused by our invasion of Iraq and taking over that Arab country.  Do you agree there‘s no metrics, there‘s no way of measuring how much recruitment has increased or accelerated because of our attack? 

WHITE:  Well, I think that‘s the case. 

I think Secretary Rumsfeld‘s right.  I think that CIA Director Tenet said basically the same thing, that these groups keep springing up.  And you may have taken out some of the upper echelon of al Qaeda, but the lower parts of it continue to function.  So it is really hard to tell whether we‘re in better shape today than we were a year ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, shouldn‘t we have better metrics?  Shouldn‘t we know when we‘re going to do something that‘s cost the lives of a lot of Americans and commit us to some terrible situation over in the Middle East for years to come when we go in what the cost is going to be in terms of how much new terrorism it is going to cause in the world?  Why don‘t we have the metrics before we go into these situations?

WHITE:  Well, I guess it is all based on intelligence. 

And our intelligence was a real challenge this time around as evidenced by the weapons of mass destruction argument.  And we just don‘t know enough about these groups to make the kind of call that you‘re suggesting. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the trickiness of being secretary of the Army.  You‘re there to represent obviously the American armed forces, the Army. 

All the music, by the way—I keep listening to it on the radio coming to work and going home, the country music, especially, Toby Keith, American Soldier.  Very strong sentiment for the soldier.  But it is also strong for the mission.  How in the world does this country separate the sentiment that says let‘s stand behind our troops, men and women over there who taking the bullets, and at the same time have a decent argument where we should send them?  How do we do that? 

WHITE:  Well, that is the—that is the difficult part, because some would suggest if you challenge the mission—everybody supports the soldiers, period.  And they always have and they always will.  It‘s what we do in the United States. 

But we ought to be able to have a real debate on the issues of the deployment in the first place without one side pointing the finger at the other and saying they‘re unpatriotic. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any way to say that John Kerry was right in saying he shouldn‘t have supported—he didn‘t vote for the $87 billion for the restructuring, the reconstruction of Iraq?  Could he possibly be right and also be patriotic, or is he dead wrong?

WHITE:  Well, let‘s remember, that $87 billion, the real point of dispute was not the $87 billion or the $65 billion portion of that that was for the American soldier and the deployed troops.  It was the other 20 or so in how it would be spent to support the reconstruction of Iraq. 

So there never was an issue, I don‘t think, on either side of the aisle about providing the money that was necessary to continue the support. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are going to vote for, Kerry or Bush? 

(LAUGHTER)

WHITE:  I want to hear all the arguments.  And I think all Americans should listen to all the arguments. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean you‘re open-minded? 

WHITE:  Yes, I am. 

MATTHEWS:  Even though the guy made you secretary of the Army, you‘re thinking of voting against him? 

WHITE:  I want to hear all the arguments.  I‘ve been a Republican all my life.  I‘ve voted for every Republican presidential candidate since I was 21 years old.  And I may well do so again.  But I think it‘s incumbent upon all of us to listen to the debate.  That‘s why we have an election.

MATTHEWS:  Using the parlance of my business of politics, I think you‘d be described as a gettable by the Democrats. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, Thomas White, former secretary of the Army.

President Bush, by the way, was in the Philadelphia area yesterday at an event with my brother Jim, who is the county commissioner of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  Listen to how the president introduced my little brother. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I see that Chairman Jim Matthews is with us.

Chairman, I‘m glad you‘re here. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

BUSH:  He is the smart brother. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  Well, don‘t—it‘s an inside joke. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mr. President, it‘s not an inside joke anymore.  You‘re talking about me, and you might be on to something. 

Anyway, join us again tomorrow at 7:00 Eastern for HARDBALL.  HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster will walk us through what it takes to make a political advertisement. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s go to Edwards positive. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Short sentences, punchy wards.  The two things that you always have to keep in mind, relevant and credible.  And if you make spots that are relevant and credible, you‘re way ahead of the game every single time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The inside political game, that‘s tomorrow on HARDBALL.

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END   

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