Guests: Bob Shrum, Susan Page, Susan Milligan, Tomas Lopez
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST: Will Mitt Romney`s flip flop?
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews.
Leading off tonight: The individual mandate is a tax. That`s the word
according to Mitt Romney, who reversed course and contradicted his own
campaign. Romney`s shift puts him in line with his party, which hasn`t
exactly been happy with his flat-footed response.
And if the mandate is a tax, does that mean Romney raised taxes with his
health care plan in Massachusetts? According to Romney, not exactly.
We`ll get to Romney`s verbal gymnastics at the top of the program.
Meanwhile, President Obama is on a bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Can he make inroads among those working class voters that he needs to win
And speaking of those working class voters, how will they respond to new
reports of Romney`s extensive offshore bank accounts? Does Romney have an
And a Florida lifeguard loses his job for trying to help save a swimmer`s
life. We`ll ask him what happened.
And finally, what went wrong at this 4th of July celebration in San Diego?
All the fireworks exploded at the same time, making for a bombastic but
brief display. We`ll figure out what happened in the "Sideshow" tonight.
We begin with Mitt Romney calling the health care mandate a tax. Former
Republican Party chair Michael Steele is an MSNBC political analyst and Bob
Shrum is a Democratic strategist.
Gentlemen, it took only a week, but Mitt Romney is now on board with other
Republicans when it comes to their attack line against the president. The
individual mandate is a tax. THat`s what Romney told CBS yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I said that I
agreed with the dissent, and the the dissent made it very clear that they
felt it was unconstitutional, but the dissent lost. It`s in the minority.
And so now the Supreme Court has spoken. There`s no way around that. You
can try and say you wish they`d have decided a different way, but they
didn`t. They concluded it was a tax. That`s what it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Romney contradicted his senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, who
on Monday told Chuck Todd the candidate believed the mandate was not a tax.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: The governor believes
that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees
with the court`s ruling that the mandate was a tax. But again--
CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIR.: So agrees with
the president-- but he agrees with the president that it is not-- and he
believes that you shouldn`t call the man-- the tax penalty a tax, you
should call it a penalty or a fee or a fine?
FEHRNSTROM: That`s correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Michael Steele, how can ``Obama care`` be a tax and ``Romney
care`` be a penalty?
MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, well, you
know, it`s good question. And I think from the governor`s perspective,
he`s looking at it from two levels. One is what states do and how states
handle these matters and what the laws allow them to get away with or do
with respect to penalties and taxes there, and of course, the federal
And he`s drawing a bright-line distinction between the federal government
imposing a tax as defined by the Supreme Court under the court`s-- under
the government`s taxing authority versus what they passed in the state of
Massachusetts, which was a penalty. It was not deemed a tax either
legislatively or legally by the courts there. So I think that`s the
bright-line distinction that he`s drawn.
SMERCONISH: Would Eric Fehrnstrom have said what he said without
authorization from the candidate himself? You`ve been around a lot of
campaigns at a senior level. Was he rogue at that point, or do you think
he had authorization?
STEELE: Sorry, Bob.
BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yeah, Michael. You made the best case
you could, Michael, on what I think is pretty technical ground. But look,
the candidate himself had said this before and had sort of conceded that
given what the court had done, this was now-- he was going to call it a
tax, but before it was a fine. I mean, he`s been all over the lot.
Fehrnstrom I think thought he was just following what the candidate wanted.
My guess is that Fehrnstrom, who is-- Fehrnstrom, who`s Mr. Etch-a-Sketch,
will be off TV for a while.
SHRUM: But the deeper reality here, Michael-- the deeper reality here is
this shows us not flip-flopping, it shows us how much this guy is
enthralled to the right wing. He`s on permanent probation in his own
party. If he were president and he didn`t hew to their line, he`d face a
primary in 2016.
He`s not like Ronald Reagan, who incarnated the Republican and who could
govern as president in a pragmatic way, raise taxes, negotiate to save
Social Security with Tip O`Neill, negotiate immigration reform with Ted
What this really tells us is that in this campaign, the Romney campaign,
the base calls the shots, not the candidate, and if he were president, the
same thing would be true.
SMERCONISH: Michael Steele, listen to Mitt Romney trying to explain why
the mandate in Obama`s plan is a tax increase, while the mandate that he
put in place is not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Actually, the chief justice in his opinion made it very clear that
at the state level, states have the power to put in place mandates. They
don`t need to require them to be called taxes in order for them to be
constitutional. And as a result, Massachusetts mandate was a mandate, was
a penalty, was described that way by the legislature and by me, and so it
stays as it was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: And then on MSNBC this morning, Obama spokeswoman Stephanie
Cutter hit on Romney on his tax language flip-flop.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The difference between
the Obama administration and the president and Mitt Romney is that we`ve
been consistent. This is a penalty administered through the tax code.
Now, contrast that with Mitt Romney. It`s a tax, it`s a penalty.
I watched a PowerPoint yesterday from 2009, where Mitt Romney was walking
through his health care law, which, as you know, is almost identical to the
president`s health care law-- well, he was talking about taxing people. So
he just needs to figure out what it is on his end. We`re pretty clear on
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Michael, here`s my question. What are people who at the beach
taking away from all of this? Because the three of us-- you know, we eat,
sleep and drink it. Most Americans I figure are half paying attention, if
we`re lucky. What`s the takeaway they are gleaning?
STEELE: Nothing. They`re at the beach, which should put it all in
SHRUM: Michael`s hoping that`s so!
STEELE: No, I`m not. No. Come on, Bob. You`ve been around politics long
enough to know that in the-- the 4th of July holiday, this is not something
that the American people are focused on.
This gives the-- I believe, the Romney team a window between now and the
convention to tighten the messaging up here because it is problematic, to
Bob`s point. You can make a technical argument, but when people aren`t
looking at it technically, they`re looking at the words and hearing the
words coming out of your mouth, you`ve got to ber clear and conccise. I
think this gives them the window to do that because no one`s really paying
attention to this now.
SMERCONISH: Bob, do you think this is an issue that in late October,
people will still be remembering?
SHRUM: Oh, I think this is going to get asked in the debate, and I think
Romney has to come up with a lot better answer because if it looks like a
tax, walks like a tax and is administered like a tax, the distinction is
going to seem terribly artificial.
Look, Romney`s had a tough three weeks on Bain Capital, on immigration, on
health care. And people like Bill Kristol, who`s a conservative, are
saying the campaign has to give some sense of vision and purpose beyond
trying to win this simply as a referendum, saying, If you`re tired of
Obama, vote for Romney.
I don`t think that one-dimensional approach is going to work. And I think
Michael`s absolutely right. They`re going to have to tighten up. They`re
going to have to come up with a message. They can`t just hope the economy
goes down the tubes and they win that way.
SMERCONISH: Well, listen, let`s get into that right now because there is
some thunder from the right. There were two strong attacks on Mitt Romney
today from conservative intellectual heavyweights. Take a look at what
"The Wall Street Journal" wrote in an editorial.
Quote, ``The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the
White House by saying the economy stinks and it`s Mr. Obama`s fault. We`re
on its email list, and the main daily message from the campaign is that
Obama isn`t working. Well, thanks, guys, but Americans already know that.
What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the
president`s policies aren`t working and how Mr. Romney`s policies will do
And then also this morning, ``Weekly Standard`` editor Bill Kristol wrote,
``It too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think
about the race that he`s running? Adopting a prevent-defense when it`s
only the second quarter and you`re not even ahead is dubious enough as a
strategy, but his campaign`s monomaniacal belief that it`s about the
economy and only economy and that they need to keep telling us stupid
voters that it`s only about the economy has gone from being an annoying tic
to a dangerous self-delusion.``
Michael Steele, is a shake-up coming? Could you see the ranks of the
campaign-- I mean, I`m thinking of the criticism from Jack Welch. I`m
thinking of the criticism from Rupert Murdoch, institutional kind of
STEELE: Yeah. I think you`re on to something there, Michael. And I don`t
know what the internal machinations are at this point, but there`s a
legitimate reason, if they do shake it up, to shake it up, that they need
to get this candidate out of his comfort zone.
You know, the Romney people can come back and Romney himself can come back
and say on this issue about the health care, Look, you know, call it a tax,
call it a penalty, when I`m president, I will call it gone.
That kind of rhetoric is strong rhetoric. But then you still have to come
to the table with the message of what you will do, and that`s what Bill
Kristol, "The Wall Street Journal" and others are looking for this
candidate to put on the table.
I think-- I still have faith he will because Romney`s strategy ultimately
is not to play this out in the summer, but to play it but to play it out
when people really begin to pay attention beginning at the convention and
forward. And I think that`s ultimately the end game here.
SMERCONISH: Hey, Bob Shrum, this makes Rick Santorum look like a bit of a
soothsayer because so much of these missteps are tied to health care and
just not being able to-- and I recognize what Michael Steele said a moment
ago, drawing that bright line between ``Obama care`` and ``Romney care,``
but where substantively, they`re essentially the same, this is hard to turn
around, is it not?
SHRUM: Sure it is. And look, he never got-- Romney never got pushed very
hard in the primaries. Santorum tried to push him. But now he`s playing
in the big leagues, and he`s not doing very well.
Just a day before the health care decision, he said if he were in the White
House-- or the Obama people in the Obama White House shouldn`t sleep very
well that night. He raised expectations. He assumed the law was going to
be thrown out. You can`t do that in the middle of a campaign.
And while I think Michael`s right in a lot of what he said, I actually
think the summer is a very critical, important period when candidates get
And I think right now, Romney`s getting defined, whether it`s this
outsourcing stuff, whether it`s his offshore accounts, whether it`s Bain,
immigration reform, health care-- he`s getting defined in a way that is not
going to help him, and he`s actually going to have to climb out of a hole
by the time he gets to his convention if this keeps up.
SMERCONISH: Bob Shrum, Michael Steele, thank you, as always.
SHRUM: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Coming up: President Obama`s wheeling his way through Ohio and
Pennsylvania. Can he make the sale with those critical working class
voters in those states? That`s ahead.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
SMERCONISH: Tomorrow`s the first Friday of July. That means new jobless
numbers will be out. The economy remains the most important issue in the
presidential race, and the unemployment rate is arguably the single biggest
driver of how Americans feel about the economy.
But get this. Americans are getting more and more optimistic that the
economy will improve. According to a new CNN poll, 6 in 10 say the economy
will be doing well by 2013, versus just 39 percent who say it will be poor.
Now, those numbers are the exact opposite of where things stood in the poll
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney said we
should just let Detroit go bankrupt. I refused to turn my back on
communities like this one.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: I was betting on the American worker and I was betting on American
industry. And three years later, the American auto industry is coming
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Obama this
afternoon kicking off his two-day bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania.
His swing through the two battleground states is headlined ``Betting on
America``-- at face value, a nod to his successful auto industry bail-out,
but altogether not far from his campaign`s number one rallying cry these
days against Mitt Romney, the, quote ``outsourcer.``
Chris Cillizza is an MSNBC political analyst and managing editor of
Postpolitics.com. Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief for "USA
Susan, dissect that slogan.
SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY``: I think-- ``Betting on America``-- that means
that Mitt Romney is betting against America-- I think that`s kind of the
subtext of this slogan, that whether it comes to the auto bail-out or it
comes to having offshore-- offshoring or outsourcing jobs or the whole
Swiss bank account thing, I mean, I think that is the contrast they are
trying to draw with this slogan on this first bus tour.
SMERCONISH: Does it work? Does it make sense to you, politically
PAGE: I think it`s a powerful case to make against Mitt Romney, especially
in this part of the country, which has been hit hard, the manufacturing
sector hit hard, by jobs that did move overseas and where the auto bail-
out, which is controversial and viewed negatively in some parts of the
country, is viewed positively in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and
SMERCONISH: The Obama campaign is doubling down on its message that
companies Mitt Romney invested in through Bain Capital shipped jobs
overseas. This ad is airing in nine battleground states, including Ohio
and Pennsylvania. Let`s watch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a president believes matters. Mitt Romney`s
companies were pioneers in outsourcing U.S. jobs to low-wage countries. He
supports tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.
President Obama believes in insourcing. He fought to save the U.S. auto
industry and favors tax cuts for companies that bring jobs home.
Outsourcing versus insourcing-- it matters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Obama echoed that message in Maumee (ph), Ohio today. Let`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Governor Romney`s experience has been in owning companies that were
called ``pioneers of outsourcing``-- that`s not my phrase-- ``pioneers of
outsourcing.`` My experience has been in saving the American auto
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: It seems like they`ve adopted that narrative now, that the
focal point-- and a lot of this, I think, has to do with a story coming out
of your newspaper and some back and forth on that, but outsourcing seems to
be the tag line.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, POSTPOLITICS.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know,
Michael, I think-- a lot of people talk about the presidential election,
that it`s decided on issues, it`s abortion or the economy or gay marriage,
whatever you want.
I actually think the-- presidential elections almost always are decided on
values, broadly defined, which is, Who is looking out for you? Who
understands your life? Who understands what you worry about? Who
understands what you hope for?
That`s why I think the ad is so fascinating and Obama`s rhetoric
fascinating because what`s the-- what`s the key in there? ``I believe.``
This is what Mitt Romney believes and this is what I believe, that in my
core, I am someone who`s looking out for the average person. In Mitt
Romney`s core, he`s a guy who`s trying to make money on the backs of the
Again, I sjust think so much of a presidential election vote is about feel.
What do you feel like the person says or does to you? It`s-- Obama has a
very tough economic argument to make simply because the numbers aren`t
there for him to say there`s a robust recovery under way.
So what do you do in the absence of those numbers? You say, Things aren`t
perfect, but I`m the guy who gets it here. I`m the guy who gets what you
need, what you want, what you`re worried about. This other guy, he`s
worried about the 1 percent.
CILLIZZA: --that`s the argument they`re trying to make.
SMERCONISH: I think Susan might be on to something in dissecting the
messaging, when putting together the ``Betting on America`` and the claim
of Romney being the outsourcer-in-chief. You know, the principle being
that Barack Obama is betting on Americans and America, and meanwhile, his
opponent is betting on that which may take place overseas, tapping into the
narrative not only of job oursourcing but now this issue of more offshore
Is that what you were saying?
PAGE: Yes, that is what I`m saying. To the point of what-- the point that
Chris was making, here`s the question I think a lot of voters will have.
Who stands up for me? Who can I trust to keep my interests at heart? And
that is the point that the White House is trying to make, that President
Obama has the middle class in his mind when he thinks about things.
Now, in some ways, it`s a tough message to make to these voters because
these are parts of the country that have been hit pretty hard by the
economy. Unemployment in Ohio`s been doing pretty well, but generally,
this is-- these are places where a lot of manufacturing jobs have been lost
and a lot of people have been struggling with housing, with jobs, and so
So he`s saying, as Chris was saying, Things aren`t perfect, but I`m
thinking about you. You can`t trust the other guy to be thinking about
your interests when he gets up every morning in the White House.
SMERCONISH: Well, I mean, the question is--
CILLIZZA: --can I just quickly--
SMERCONISH: Yeah. Go ahead.
CILLIZZA: --can I just quickly-- one very quick thing that i think is
fascinating. This election is made for an economic populist, someone who
says, you know, Everybody big is against you, big oil, big business, big
labor, fill in the blank. Neither of these guys is a natural populist in
any sort of -- any way, shape or form. Neither of them are Mike Huckabee.
Neither of them are Bill Clinton. Neither of them are John Edwards circa
They`re not in that mold. Both of them are trying to be in that mold
because they know what`s that works, but it`s not a natural fit certainly
for Mitt Romney and not even really for Barack Obama.
SMERCONISH: I was going to say that audience for the bus trip, it
might be Reagan Democrats, for lack of a better descriptor.
SMERCONISH: But the question of course is how is it going to play
with swing voters?
And to that end, polls show that this line of attack resonates with
swing state voters. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that Obama leads
Romney in Ohio by nine and he`s up by six in Pennsylvania. And it`s worth
noting that the unemployment rate in both of those states is lower than the
Chris, what`s the purpose of a bus trip in 2012 politics?
I mean, some of it is just pure symbolism. Michael, I think the cake
is large by baked when it comes to what people know about President Obama
and the economy. He can move things a little bit here or there, but we
have seen all these different things have happened in the campaign and it`s
basically Obama somewhere between 47 and 49 and Romney somewhere between 45
It`s just there`s not that many swing votes. To the extent there are,
I think what you want and do with a bus tour, and Romney did this last
week, is man of the people, someone who`s out there. He`s not flying from
place to place. He`s taking a bus. Again, it`s largely symbolic. I`m not
sure it sways.
It may sway the people who get to meet the president of the United
States in these two days or get to meet Mitt Romney on his bus tour. I`m
not sure broadly it sways an electorate that frankly has shown it cannot be
swayed by almost anything. We talked about the Supreme Court ruling on
health care just as on example. Oh, this could things.
Gallup polling, daily tracking, basically shows that where we were
last Thursday, the day of the Supreme Court ruling, is roughly where we are
today. I`m not sure any external event can really shape anything, much
less a bus tour.
SMERCONISH: Susan, I would think that Bill Clinton, even his worst
critics would have to concede, is among the best if not the best at retail
politics among the living politicians and political class.
As between the two of these fellows, Romney and Obama, who`s the
better retail politician?
PAGE: Well, one interesting thing is neither of these guys I think
really relishes this part of politics, the kind of getting on and off the
bus and speaking to a crowd, but I thought President Obama did pretty well
He not only was riding the bus, he was wearing shirt sleeves, he was
standing in the sun. I thought the speech he gave this afternoon...
CILLIZZA: Sweating it up.
PAGE: ... this morning was pretty effective, but if you ask him is
this the thing you would most like to do this afternoon, I suspect he would
have said no.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Chris Cillizza, thank you, Susan Page, as
PAGE: Hey, thank you.
SMERCONISH: Up next, the fireworks in San Diego, they didn`t last
long, but, man, they were cool, and now we know why. They all went off at
once. Stick around for the "Sideshow."
Remember, by the way, you can follow me on Twitter so long as you can
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
SMERCONISH: Back to HARDBALL and now for the "Sideshow."
Actor Alec Baldwin has been floating the idea of running for mayor of
New York for some time now, but is he for real and does Baldwin really have
the temperament for politics? Well, actor Billy Baldwin, Alec`s younger
brother, took on the subject with CNN`s Piers Morgan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT")
BILLY BALDWIN, ACTOR: At one level, it`s very real. I think he`s
very committed and extremely bright and knowledgeable and I think he could
do it and he could run.
On the other hand, I`m not quite sure if he`s cut from the proper
cloth, because it requires a lot of tolerance and a lot of patience.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": He`s temperamental. He`s
a bit hot-headed. He loves to...
BALDWIN: Let me remind you that John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are
quite the same...
MORGAN: Yes. Good point.
BALDWIN: ... and they are very successful and highly effective
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: All right, there you have it. I`m not sure comparing
him, by the way, to so-called hot-headed Republicans would do much help
with Baldwin at the ballot box.
He`s known as an Obama supporter and doesn`t shy away from using his
Twitter account to blast Republicans at every opportunity.
But speaking of getting heated, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie`s
YouTube channel has reached five million views and his office put together
a reel reminding us of how he got all that attention. But, really, are
these highlights or lowlights?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Let`s start with this. I sat
here, stood here and very respectfully listened to you. If what you want
to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, well, then I have no
interest in answering your question.
I got sent here to do a job. I didn`t get sent here to be elected
Get me out of the cage and let me go.
I have got to be accurate about who I`m assailing. It`s like your
money is stuck in their dead cold hands. I`m a nice guy. Ask anybody.
Well, not anybody. You should really see me when I`m pissed. I have
something better to do. I have to rearrange my sock drawer tonight.
Well, he should just write a check and shut up.
I`m the governor of New Jersey. Are you kidding? New Jersey, whether
you like it or not, you`re stuck with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: See what I mean? Last week, Christie drew backlash for
calling a reporter stupid and an idiot at a press conference. That one
didn`t make the reel.
Moving on to the bizarre, remember when Michigan Congressman Thaddeus
McCotter was a contender in the presidential race? No, you don`t? Well,
you`re not alone. The campaign failed to pick up any steam whatsoever. As
it turns out, McCotter had a side project going while his political career
was tanking. He was writing a TV show.
According to "The Detroit News" -- quote -- "`Bumper Sticker": Made on
Motown` starred McCotter hosting a crude variety show cast with characters
bearing the nicknames of his congressional staffers, his brother and a
drunk, perverted black satanic. It features a cartoon intro and closing
snippet with an Oldsmobile careening through Detroit and knocking over the
"The Detroit News" got the script from a former staffer who wanted to
show people how McCotter had been spending his time as elected official.
But the congressman says the project wasn`t created on taxpayer time --
quote -- "Most of my writing is done in my garage, where I can smoke."
At least he doesn`t have to worry about his reelection campaign.
McCotter recently failed to qualify for the primary ballot.
And, finally, a break from politics that`s just too explosive to pass
up. Last night, much of the country celebrated Independence Day by heading
to a fireworks display. For the crowd of onlookers in San Diego, the grand
finale came, well, a tad early.
A computer malfunction caused all the fireworks to go off at once,
making the whole shebang about 15 seconds long. According to a Coast Guard
employee, it took about 25 minutes to spread the word that the show was in
fact over. That`s even longer than the spectacle was supposed to last.
Up next: We`re learning new details about Mitt Romney`s extensive
offshore bank accounts. How`s this going to play in places like Scranton
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello. I`m Bertha Coombs with
your CNBC "Market Wrap."
The Dow sheds 47 points on a quiet day on Wall Street. The S&P was
off by six and the Nasdaq ends flat on the day. Private sector employers
added 176,000 jobs in June, according to payroll date firm ADP. That`s
better than the expectation of just 105,000 jobs.
Meantime, weekly jobless claims fell by 14,000 in the latest week, the
biggest decline since April. The June jobs report is due out tomorrow.
And many retailers reported weaker-than-expected June sales, but
Nordstrom`s and Saks, those high-end retailers, outperformed.
That`s it from CNBC. We`re first in business worldwide -- now back
over to HARDBALL.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Mitt Romney took some hits this week over photos like these of him on
a jet ski at his lakefront summer home in New Hampshire. That comes as new
questions are being raised about his offshore finances.
"Vanity Fair" reports that the Romney has assets stored in tax havens
around the world, like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. The Obama team has
a new Web ad out knocking Romney on the topic. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BARACK OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not have a bank account outside of the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do not have a Swiss bank account. I don`t
have an account in the Caymans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never heard of anyone that I know having an
overseas bank account.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn`t have an overseas bank account. And I
don`t think that our next president should have an overseas bank account
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs to come clean about where that money is
and why it`s there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: How big of an image problem does Romney have when it
comes to his wealth?
Eugene Robinson is a columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC
political analyst. And Susan Milligan is a contributing editor for "U.S.
News and World Report."
Now, according to "Vanity Fair," Mitt Romney has several offshore
accounts about which not much is known. He has money stored in tax havens
like Bermuda, Luxembourg, and the Cayman Islands, where according to the
magazine, he has personal interests in at least 12 funds worth as much as
In his 2010 returns, Romney listed a $3 million bank account in
Eugene, smart finance, stupid politics.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. You read the
kicker of the column that I have written for tomorrow`s newspaper,
actually, smart finance, stupid politics.
One other thing we have learned, Michael, is step away from the marine
recreational equipment if you`re running for president.
ROBINSON: We saw that with John Kerry and we`re seeing it again with
Mitt Romney. Just don`t get on the jet ski.
SMERCONISH: You know what surprises me about the money, Eugene, is
that in my view, he`s been running for a number of years. And I`m not just
going back four years.
And it seems to me that this was all so predictable that it would
become a campaign issue. Why a decade ago didn`t he decide that all of his
investments would be onshore?
ROBINSON: I have no idea.
I mean, why didn`t you think that at some point this would become an
issue? And I think it`s possible that it`s just the mind-set. I mean,
look at what he has done in his career. He`s had a highly successful
career in international finance, in the kind of finance where moving money
through the Caymans or through Bermuda, through Switzerland to take
advantage of this or that is perfectly normal. That`s what makes you
And so I think, on some level, he`s very proud of having done all of
this. It just didn`t play very well if you`re running for president.
SMERCONISH: Susan Milligan, I should point out that his campaign
raised $100 million this month, last month, which means it`s a high
watermark for the GOP. So we certainly know that within the base, being
wealthy, being successful is not a drawback.
In fact, often in the past, it`s been an asset with everybody. Is it
different this time?
SUSAN MILLIGAN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Yes, I think, look,
Americans don`t hate rich people. In fact, I think they...
SMERCONISH: ... want to be rich people.
MILLIGAN: ... admire and respect rich people.
And what`s different about Mitt Romney is how he made his money and
the secretive nature of his finances. I think people really respect you if
you`re like a Warren Buffett and you have built a business and people think
you created something, whereas, when you`re in venture capital, which,
granted, is a necessary part of a capitalist economy -- it absolutely is --
but you`re basically making money off of other people`s failures, as
opposed to making money off your own success.
And I think it`s hard for people to relate to that. If you actually
built a economy, built a business and took some risks of your own, that`s
something people can really respect. And you add on top of that this
labyrinthine financial structure that he has that people just can`t really
relate to, I think that that just makes it harder.
SMERCONISH: Well, the question I think is...
SMERCONISH: ... will voters look at it as sneaky? Will they look at
it as a manifestation of greed, a Gordon Gekko kind of a thing, or will
they say the tax code is fundamentally unfair to me, too, and if I had his
assets, I would be trying to park money overseas as well?
Eugene, what is your response to that?
ROBINSON: Well, I think the danger for Romney is that people will
look at this and say, gee, I -- I didn`t know you could skirt this tax or
that situation if you ran your money through Bermuda. I didn`t know --
that he`s taking advantage of shortcut and sort of ways of doing things
that other people didn`t know existed, that there are two sets of rules.
There`s a set of rules for people who are wealthy and in the know and
a set of rules for everybody else. And I think, if people look at it that
way, he may fall on the wrong side of that line. And I think that is real
trouble for him.
SMERCONISH: Susan, "The Wall Street Journal" took Romney to task
today on the issue of his nice vacation digs -- quote -- "The Obama
campaign is assailing Mr. Romney as an out-of-touch rich man, and the rich
man obliged by vacationing this week at his lakeside home with a jet ski
cameo," which Eugene mentioned at the outset.
I don`t begrudge him being on a jet ski.
SMERCONISH: My attitude -- and I`m going to talk about this later in
the program -- is, I want my president or presidential aspirants to cut
loose and be focused when they`re on the job.
SMERCONISH: How do you see the jet ski situation?
MILLIGAN: I think, look, we all -- they should take vacations. And I
think we beat up on our
presidents way too much because they need a break. And he`ll look
ridiculous if he tries doing something that isn`t natural to him. That
makes him look even less authentic.
But I do think that maybe he would have learned from John Kerry as
Eugene pointed out in 2008, not to participate in something that just
underscores what circles he runs in. It`s not that he`s wealthy. I mean,
Ted Kennedy was incredibly wealthy, but you never got the impression like
Kennedy didn`t how other people lived.
And Romney, you get the impression that he doesn`t -- not that he
doesn`t care, I don`t think that he doesn`t care. I just think he hasn`t
really been around people like that.
SMERCONISH: Gene, is this a wind surfing moment?
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don`t think it`s quite a
wind surfing moment. I think the wind-surfing moment was worse for Kerry
than potentially the jet-ski, the incident is for Romney. But I do think
it kind of -- you know, it`s only bad if it comes at a time when it
reinforces a sort of negative impression that may be forming. This is the
moment at which Mitt Romney is being defined in the minds of many voters.
And I think this helps that definition for the Romney campaign is not a
SMERCONISH: I think a jet-ski is much more every man. Kenny Powers
has a jet-ski. Hopefully, you don`t know who he is.
The former Labor Secretary Robert Reich had an interesting column
this week on Romney`s wealth. Here`s what he wrote:
"We`ve entered a new Gilded Age in which Mitt Romney is a perfect e
reflection. Romney looks and acts the part perfectly. Four years ago, he
paid $12 million for his fourth home, a 3,000 square-foot villa in la
Jolla, California, with vaulted ceilings, five bathrooms, a pool, a Jacuzzi
and unobstructed views from the Pacific. Romney has filed plans to tear it
down and replace it with a home four times bigger.
We`ve had wealthy presidents before, but they have been traitors to
their class. Romney`s the opposite. He wants to do everything he can to
make the super wealthy even wealthier, the poor even poorer and justifies
it all with a thinly veiled social Darwinism."
Susan, pretty harsh. I mean, come on, to say the guy -- he wants
people to even poorer? What`s your reaction?
MILLIGAN: Well, that is rather stark way of putting it. But I do
think he can get himself into trouble with not just the house, but saying
things for example, going to Nevada and saying that you know, they should
slow down the foreclosure process. That the market should be allowed to
work because then the real estate developers would come in and kind of get
things going again, which works out well if you`re a real estate developer.
It doesn`t work so well if you`re the person who lost your home, on the
backdrop of the labor stuff, of course, Romney embraced that labor law in
Ohio, the anti-labor law that was overturned by a referendum by a 2-1
margin. I think that could come back to haunt him as well.
Yes, there was a pretty stark way of putting it, but I think that
the, there`s some merit behind.
SMERCONISH: Eugene, final thought. We`ve never had a debate like
this play out against a backdrop of income disparity. I think that`s also
what sets this particular case and apart from the others that have had
wealthy candidates seeking very high office.
ROBINSON: I think it`s the income disparity and just a general
economic angst that the country is going through about the future. So,
it`s an interesting time to be having this discussion and we`ll see how it
plays out for Mitt Romney.
SMERCONISH: We will look at what you write tomorrow on the subject.
Thank you, Eugene Robinson.
Thank you, Susan Milligan.
Up next, why did a lifeguard in Florida loose his job for trying to
help save a swimmer? We`ll talk to the fire and lifeguard and find out
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
SMERCONISH: President Obama`s on a three-stop swing through Ohio
today. Tomorrow, it`s on to Pennsylvania. And now, the Obama campaign has
announced the president will be back on the trail tomorrow on Tuesday.
He`ll be in Iowa -- a state where Mitt Romney`s mounting a strong
Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard. Latest polling out of Iowa
shows the candidates in a dead heat. Obama, 45, Romney, 44. According to
a recent "We Ask America" poll. Obama carried Iowa in 2008 by 9.5 points.
We`ll be right back.
SMERCONISH: We`re back.
The word lifeguard seems self-explanatory. Guarding lives on the
beach and in the water.
But a young man in south Florida found himself without a job this
week after responding to the call of duty. The problem: the swimmer he
helped was drowning outside the patrolled section of the beach. Swimming
at his own risk. Today, the lifeguard was offered his job back.
The question is: Will he accept it?
Tomas Lopez is here tonight to tell us his story.
Tomas, thank you for being here. What happened?
TOMAS LOPEZ, FIRED LIFEGUARD: Thanks for having me.
Like you said, there was a young man drowning outside of my
jurisdiction and I went to assist him. We assisted him and we got a chance
(ph) and I lost my job.
SMERCONISH: In other words, you see him out there, and what? He`s
flailing in the water. How far away from you?
LOPEZ: No, he was -- he was a good ways away. He was a couple
hundred yards, maybe 200, 300 yards. I have a guest yelling at me, telling
there`s someone drowning, people are trying to get your attention, go.
And, so I went.
SMERCONISH: So you bolted. Now, when you took off from your
lifeguard stand, did you make sure that you had back-up for the area you
were there to protect?
LOPEZ: I told everyone on the radio I`m going in for a rescue.
LOPEZ: And when I told them it was out of the jurisdiction, when you
tell them that, they automatically cover your water.
SMERCONISH: About how many people were in your water at the time
when you went to help the man who was drowning?
LOPEZ: About 20 through 40 around that area.
SMERCONISH: OK. So, you hustled down to where the man is in
distress. And when you get there, what did you find?
LOPEZ: By the time I was in the water, he was already being pulled
out by two guests. I then moved the board he was on top of. It was a
small buggy board. I moved that away, carried him by his arms, other guest
carried him by his legs. And we got him right on the beach as fast as
SMERCONISH: And he survived, which is good news. Last I heard he
was in a local hospital. Is that true?
LOPEZ: Yes, it is.
SMERCONISH: So was this fella swimming in a non-designated swimming
area? I mean, we`ve all been to the beach. You know, usually, they`ve got
the flags in front of the life guard stand. A fella in your position is
there to make sure people stay within the flags. Was he swimming beyond
LOPEZ: No. How the contract works for our company on the beach is
we guard from a quarter mile stretch of the beach. Anything south of that
is just an unguarded. It`s allowed to be swam in but it`s just swim at
your own risk at that point.
SMERCONISH: Is it posted that way?
LOPEZ: I believe so. We have a sign after you leave our section
saying that it is at your own risk. I`m not sure about entering in that
SMERCONISH: I mean, the reason I`m asking you these questions is
because your former employer is getting hammered in the media. And, by the
way, I`m happy to hammer them as well. I don`t think you should have been
But the culprit in my mind is the guy who was swimming in area at his
own risk. He shouldn`t have been swimming there. He should have been
swimming in your area and then there wouldn`t be controversy.
LOPEZ: Well, I see what you`re saying there. To my knowledge, I
believe he was living in the condo in front of that. So he went for a
swim. It was low tide. I think he got too comfortable and he just got
SMERCONISH: So, they`ve offered you your job back. What`s your
LOPEZ: We talked and I humbly declined. I just -- I have other
plans already and I`m just going to get back in school. I`d just -- I`d
just rather not have the job anymore after everything that`s happened.
It`s not I`m upset with the company or anything. We`ve already talked
about it, it`s just -- it`s another chapter done in my life. I`m moving on
to the next one.
SMERCONISH: Have they been clear about the rules in advance of the
Had they said to you as part of your training, Tomas, if something
happens outside the area you`re here to protect, we don`t want you to
respond. Or did this all come as a shock to you?
LOPEZ: No. We were full aware.
SMERCONISH: How did they explain it to you? What do they say the
LOPEZ: They said somebody in your water could be at risk if you
leave to help someone in an unguarded area, which does make sense in a way.
But at the same time, we`re trained that to someone else watch your water,
another guard on duty to your watch your area while you go out.
SMERCONISH: Which you did. You make sure that you let them know.
LOPEZ: Yes. I`m positive I let them know and I told me to go back
to my tower which I didn`t listen to them.
SMERCONISH: OK. We wish you all good things. We`re glad you saved
LOPEZ: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: OK. Tomas Lopez, thank you very much.
When we return, I have some thoughts I want to share as to why I
don`t have a problem when presidents or presidential candidates for that
matter relax when they`re on vacation. Earlier we discussed this
controversy with the jet ski photo.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this. By now, you`ve seen
this photograph of Mitt and Ann Romney on a jet ski on Lake Winnipesaukee.
It has prompted some political analysis including a piece in today`s
"Boston Globe" by Joan Vennochi. She wrote, "The last thing Mitt Romney
needs is a John Kerry moment that conjured up F. Scott Fitzgerald`s
description of the very rich: `They are different from you and me.`"
I get the sensitivity after the way the Kerry wind surfing photo was
used. And I understand that politicians need to be portrayed as the every
man. That may be why the president isn`t returning to Martha`s Vineyard
this summer. And it applies to a wealthy businessman who made his money in
private equity, at a time income disparity is of increasing concern.
But the fixation on presidential leisure has gone a bit too far. I
say let them relax in whatever way they choose. The president`s opponents
like to call attention to his golfing. Well, I want him to golf or shoot
hoops or whatever else he needs to do to maintain his mental edge.
After all, as Mark Knoller White House correspondent for CBS News
once told me, the president is the president wherever he is. And Knoller
should know, he maintains lists of literally everything the commander-in-
chief does, from bill signings, to pardons, vetoes, Air Force One flights,
Marine One trips, and vacation destinations. Knoller spends an hour at the
end of every day updating his searchable database of presidential
As of Father`s Day, President Obama had played 100 rounds of golf.
And then there`s a subject of vacations. George W. Bush spent time all or
part of 490 days at his ranch over days in Crawford, Texas, over eight
years in office. Not to mention the 187 days that he spent at Camp David,
according to Knoller.
Over the course of his eight years in office, Ronald Reagan spent
almost a year at Rancho del Cielo near Santa Barbara. Those trips were a
top down directive. In her book "Reagan: An American Story", Adriana Bosch
recounts a conversation between the Gipper and deputy chief of staff
Michael Deaver earlier in their time at the White House. Deaver entered
the Oval Office one day to find Reagan at this desk inspecting a schedule
which the president lamented didn`t include any ranch time.
Deaver told him that was because of the press being critical of
Reagan spending so much time outside of Washington. Reagan`s answer: "You
can tell me a lot of things and I`ll do them. But you`re not going to tell
me the more I get to the ranch. I`m convinced that the more often I get to
the ranch, the longer I`m going to live and I`m going to the ranch. So,
you might as well put it in there right now."
Being on vacation doesn`t mean the same thing to a president or
presidential candidate as it is to the rest of us. To have the job is to
be always plugged in and ready to take the call or make a decision. The
black briefcase containing the nuclear launch codes never more than a few
feet away from a president, which is why no one should begrudge Mitt Romney
jet skiing or the president golfing.
The health of the country is in some part a function of the physical
and mental health of its commander in chief. If jet skiing or blowing off
some steam with a couple of bogeys and a beers in the clubhouse keeps them
sharper when their red phone rings, we`re all better off for it.
Now, everybody, get in the pool.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>