updated 4/28/2004 10:31:58 AM ET 2004-04-28T14:31:58

Guests: John Kerry, Chaka Fattah, Kurt Weldon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight the seventh anniversary of HARDBALL tour continues with an exclusive interview with John Kerry from his job summit in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Plus, Kerry on the host political battle between—being fought over his war medals versus George Bush‘s National Guard service. 

And explosions rock Fallujah as fighting erupts and a U.S. gunship hammers targets in the city. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And this is day two of HARDBALL‘s seventh anniversary week.  Tonight, I‘m in Cleveland, Ohio, where Senator John Kerry has wrapped up a summit on jobs.  He‘ll join me in just a moment for an exclusive interview. 

But first, American aircraft shelled Fallujah after a cease-fire with Sunni insurgents ran out. 

NBC‘s Richard Engel has this report from Baghdad. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, a major setback for the truce in Fallujah. 

The day began with optimism, with U.S. Marines and Iraqi police talking about conducting joint patrols in Fallujah tomorrow.  But just hours later, those Marines were launching some of the heaviest air strikes in weeks. 

(voice-over):  Tonight Marines pounded the al-Jalal (ph) neighborhood in northwest Fallujah with two AC-130 gunships and tanks. 

KARL PENHAUL, U.S. NETWORK POOL REPORTER:  There have been multiple cannon rounds.  We‘re being told 105-millimeter Howitzer cannon rounds from that Specter gunship have slammed into that position.  We‘re seeing some secondary explosions, some sparks coming from there. 

ENGEL:  The target: two buildings insurgents have been shooting from in the last two days. 

Yesterday‘s fierce firefight confirmed what some in the military suspected. 

SCOTT PETERSON, “CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR”:  What it really did was confirm fears that some of the Marine commanders were fearing that the insurgents were using the cease-fire to basically rearm, regroup and hone their—hone their defenses so that they could get there so that basically they would be ready for the Marines if the Marines decided that they were going to roll into Fallujah. 

ENGEL:  The al-Jalal (ph) neighborhood has seen the most intense fighting in the last month. 

RAJIV CHANDRASEKAHAN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  It‘s a hot and volatile neighborhood.  The Marine patrols aren‘t able to pierce into the heart of the area.  And often what happens is if they are receiving fire from positions in that neighborhood, they call in air strikes. 

ENGEL:  As tonight‘s strikes were underway, the Marines, using loudspeakers, warning people to surrender. 

At the same time, from the minarets of mosques, chants of “Allah Akbar,” “God is great,” a call not to lose faith. 

The images were transmitted live across the Arab world, including on the Arab TV network Al Jazeera.  A prominent Sunni cleric called into the station, describing the American strike as, quote, “a crusader crime.”

Today was the deadline for militants to hand over heavy weapons, and Marines entered the al-Jalal (ph) neighborhood twice and were fired on each time. 

(on camera) There are serious concerns that tonight‘s air strikes may have completely jeopardized the cease-fire and that the offensive both sides appear to have been planning may not be far away—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  NBC‘s Richard Engel will have more on the battle of Fallujah a little later in the program tonight. 

Coming up next, my exclusive interview with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. 

And on Thursday, I‘ll be over at the Pentagon for an exclusive interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, seventh anniversary tour, on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Chris Matthews was one of those Philadelphia boys who made good.  You know, he made a believer out of an awful lot of people.  I think HARDBALL has made a real contribution. 

And I must tell you, initially I refused to go on HARDBALL.  I refused to be part of the way used to call the shout shows.  And Chris has been straight as could be, tough as the devil, but I think he‘s first rate.  And I think he‘s a first rate mind, and I think that‘s always good. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up next, my exclusive interview with Senator John Kerry. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Chris, seven years ago they thought you wouldn‘t last seven weeks, much less seven years.  Congratulations.  I hope to be around for your 14th

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  And now we have Senator John McCain‘s good friend, Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.

As a man who was in war, and you were in a war in Vietnam, when you read the papers, like in Fallujah today.  You check up during the day, as you‘ve been doing today about what‘s happening over there with our men, coming back in, trying to retake that city.

What do you think you know that the average guy who hasn‘t been in a war knows?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I don‘t think about that, Chris.  What I think about, I just—I mean, I think about the safety and I think about the feelings of those guys right now.

They‘re—they‘re in the middle of a kind of hell.  And I think it‘s good for them to know that everybody here in America is thinking about them and hoping and praying for their safety.  I mean, it‘s—they‘re in a tough business.

MATTHEWS:  When you‘re in combat, and you‘re facing the enemy every day and you get up, do you have a sense of the politics of that war all the time?  Or is it, like in Vietnam—somewhere in the Vietnam experience you decided this war isn‘t the right war.

KERRY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about that.

KERRY:  Well, it was a gradual process over the course of a number of weeks and months.  But when you‘re in combat or when you‘re going into a river on a mission and you‘re doing something like these guys, you‘re not thinking about that. 

You‘re thinking about your friends.  You‘re thinking about the task, the mission.  You‘re thinking about survival.  And you‘re thinking about getting through.

MATTHEWS:  What do those medals mean to you?  There‘s been so much talk about these medals, and nobody‘s ever asked you what they meant to you.  Obviously, winning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts. 

You‘ve saved them through thick and thin, through all changes of attitudes about the war.  Why are they—what do they mean to you?

KERRY:  Well, when you say saved them...

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got them.  What do they mean to you?

KERRY:  Yes, I‘ve got them.  But—well, I‘m proud of them.  I‘ve said that before.  I said that in the beginning.  I‘ve never expressed anything except pride for our actions—our, and I mean our boat, our men, the people I served with.  I‘m proud of our service.

I‘ve said that in the days when I came back from Vietnam, even though things that were happening in larger policy I thought were wrong.  And I talked about them. 

But I think the way we tried to lead our lives, much of which is captured in Doug Brinkley‘s book, “Tour of Duty,” was both honorable and in the best values and traditions of America.  And I‘m proud of that.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe it‘s a small distinction, but I think people could figure this out if you helped them.  The difference between a medal, that you—that you keep and a ribbon that you might, for a political—to make a political statement in 1971, you might toss at the capital steps.

What‘s that distinction?

KERRY:  Well, there wasn‘t a distinction at the time, Chris.  You know, as I said previously, you know, I didn‘t have my medals with me.  But that wasn‘t the issue.  Lots of veterans didn‘t have them with them.

Your medals and your ribbons are the same thing, fundamentally.  The ribbons are medals.  They‘re—they‘re the ribbon that you attach to the medal.  You wear them every day, and it‘s a symbol of your medals.  It‘s...

MATTHEWS:  So when you see a senior officer, a chairman of the joint chiefs...

KERRY:  I know the medals that are...

MATTHEWS:  He has a big breast full of these things.

KERRY:  Yes.  I look at it, and I can see his medals.  I know what he won.  And the medal, it tells you what medal he has won.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think this is a stupid argument that‘s going on from the other side, attacking you for throwing away what you said, or implied, or allowed the people to imply were medals when in fact they‘re ribbons?

KERRY:  No—there‘s no question, Chris, about what I did.  There never was.  I stood up in front of cameras, in front of people, reporters.  I think Tom Oliphant (ph) wrote a column today saying he was there.  He saw what I did.  He wrote about what I did.

People knew—there was no—you know, this is, I think, an effort by the Republicans to do what they always do.  They did it to John McCain in South Carolina.  They attacked him on an extraordinarily personal level.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KERRY:  Challenged his patriotism and the quality of his service in prison in Hanoi. 

They took on Max Cleland, challenged his commitment to the defense of our nation and his patriotism.

And now they‘re trying to do it to me.  And I‘m not going to let them do it.  I‘m going to—you know, it seems to me that it—it shows how desperate they are.  I mean, they are—here they are, the president of the United States of America, the vice president, in the month of April attacking a not yet even completely nominated nominee personally...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KERRY:  ... in the most unbelievable way, spending $70 million, unprecedentedly, to try to rip me apart.  And we‘re still in a head-to-head race.

I‘m tell you, Chris, they‘re running out.  They‘re running out of gas.  They‘re running out of ideas.  And I think they‘re running out of the willingness of the American people to continue to listen.

Americans want a vision of where we‘re going as a country.  Americans want something that‘s going to put people back to work, like the people we just talked to in Cleveland.  They want health care.

And this administration doesn‘t have a record they can run on.  They have a record they have to run away from, and they‘re doing it by attacking me.  That‘s exactly what happening.

MATTHEWS:  But they do have, Senator, a piece of videotape going back 33 years of you talking to a Washington, D.C., reporter, a woman reporter, saying, after she says you threw—you tossed your bronze and your silver...

KERRY:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  “And beyond that,” you said, and you said “other ribbons.” 

You allowed her...

KERRY:  I didn‘t say other ribbons.  I said, “And the others.”

MATTHEWS:  And the others.  Well, you allowed—you allowed her to use the word “medals.”

KERRY:  Well, we all did.  We all...

MATTHEWS:  But you know they were ribbons.

KERRY:  They were—Chris, they were interchangeable.  We thought of them as medals. 

Stuart Simon (ph) and Senator Simon (ph) asked me a question in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he‘s a military guy.  He looked over at me, at my ribbons, and he said, “What are those medals you‘re wearing?”  That‘s what he said.

The Navy manual has the listing of medals under the ribbons.  I mean, all I can tell you is that we used the terms interchangeably.

This was a couple of months after we‘d done what we did in front of everybody.  I took the ribbons off, and I threw them away.

But look, I‘m the person who announced the distinction later on in life, when I was asked more specifically about what I did.

MATTHEWS:  If you—if you...

KERRY:  Chris, if I had something to hide, I‘d have never done that.  I have nothing to hide.  I‘m proud of what I did.  I‘m proud that I stood up. 

I served my country.  I bled for my country.  I defended my country.  And I decided when I came home I would stand up.  And it wasn‘t popular back then.  I‘ve heard people say, oh, this was opportunistic.

I said, “Opportunistic, man?  If I wanted to be opportunistic, I would have gone home, sat on my medals and gone to work and done anything else.”  Standing up there and taking on Richard Nixon and being put on an enemies list and getting a polarized nation that fought tooth and nail over an issue, it was hardly an opportunity.

I did what my conscience told me to do.  I‘m proud I stood up and fought against it.  And I think it is remarkable to me that so many years later the Republicans want to go back and argue about something, particularly when so many of them chose not even to be involved in it, not even to have an opinion about it.  And I‘m not going to let them get away with that.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think, along those lines, a vice president who has three deferments, why do you think he‘s putting his three deferments up against your three Purple Hearts?

KERRY:  Ask him.  It doesn‘t—listen, I‘m going to talk about things that matter to people.  I have a health care ...

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you what matters to a lot of people, our generation.  I‘m almost as old as you.  Very close. 

And I remember guys in college who were all right wing and hawkish on the war in Vietnam and then you said, “Are you going to join?”  Because they all could have been officers.

And they said, “No, I‘m participating in the system.”  Meaning they‘re going to—they‘re going to get out of it through deferments or whatever.

What do you think of guys like Cheney who said, “I‘m going to have a kid at the right time.  I‘m going to grad school at the right time.  I‘m going to stack up those deferments till I‘m 83 years old, before they get anywhere near me”?  And they‘re also hawkish.

KERRY:  I have historically never begrudged the choices that people made.

MATTHEWS:  Even hawks who avoid the war?

KERRY:   I didn‘t begrudge it.  But if they‘re going to attack me, and they‘re going to start accusing me of something, then I‘m going to demand a level of accountability from them that I think ought to be forthcoming.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You did that today, Senator.  You went after, you put out a statement in your campaign, asking tough questions, documented questions—you had all the material there—about President Bush‘s—

President Bush‘s participation.

KERRY:  I have not—I don‘t—I haven‘t seen what went out.

MATTHEWS:  What went out, it basically tracks what you did the other day on “Good Morning America.”  And the question your staff put out, under your name, is, is Bush telling the truth, President Bush, when he said he had no special privileges or favoritism in jumping 150 places to get in the Air Guard in Texas?

What do you think about that?  Is that something you care about?  You want to know the truth?

KERRY:  He ought to answer that question.

MATTHEWS:  Why?

KERRY:  Because I‘ve answered the questions.  I released all my military records.  Mr. Gillespie thought it was important enough to go travel to another state, make a big speech, demand that I release my records.  I did.  Everything.  All of it.  Including my officer fitness reports.

Accountability time.

MATTHEWS:  Is it accountable—should the president be accountable for skipping that—that physical when he was in the military?

KERRY:  It‘s up to—it‘s up to Americans to decide.

MATTHEWS:  Should he prove that he was in the Guard and actively involved in the Guard when he was out of town, he was in Alabama?

KERRY:  Chris, as I—as I said, I‘ve never begrudged people the choice they made.

MATTHEWS:  But your statement today asked for particular information.

KERRY:  But once you—but once you‘ve made a choice, I think you have an obligation to fulfill the choice you‘ve made.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the people around the president have hoisted themselves on their own petard by bringing up this issue of your service?

KERRY:  That‘s up to the American people to decide.

MATTHEWS:  Is it relevant that you served in combat and faced enemy fire and the president of the United States did not?  Is that a relevant fact, when picking a commander in chief for the next four years?

KERRY:  Again, it‘s up to Americans to decide.

MATTHEWS:  If you had to vote between two candidates, one who served in the military and one who didn‘t, and they‘re actively conducting a war, would you look at the service records of both men?

KERRY:  It would depend what other things the person believes.  I would look at the entire character of somebody, and I would look at their whole life experience.  I don‘t say that—look, we‘ve had presidents who didn‘t serve.  Franklin Roosevelt was a very...

MATTHEWS:  And you voted for Clinton, rather than George Sr., right?

KERRY:  I voted for Clinton because of his overall policy.  But we‘re in a different world today, No. 1.

No. 2, I think that people look at the entire life record of an individual, and you make a judgment.  It‘s part of my life.  It‘s not all of my life.  I was a prosecutor.  I was lieutenant governor.  I‘ve been an advocate.  I‘ve been a father.  I‘ve been...

MATTHEWS:  Are you a stronger man for having gone through that rite of passage?

KERRY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Facing combat?

KERRY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  With the enemy?

KERRY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And we‘ll be right back with Senator John Kerry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re here in Ohio with Senator John Kerry for his job summit here in Cleveland.  I want to get to the jobs thing.  I promise you, we‘ll get to it in a couple minutes.

But this president has made—and he is the issue, the president of the United States, because he‘s running for reelection.  And you‘re offering yourself as an alternative, as an alternative plan.

The president of the United States was asked by the press the other day if he‘d ever made any mistakes as president.  And he said he hadn‘t.  What do you think of that answer?

KERRY:  I think we‘ve all made mistakes, always, in our lives, in our careers.  And I think the president has made some colossal mistakes. 

Not the least of which is taking our nation to war in a way that was rushed, that pushed our allies away from us, that is costing the American people billions of dollars more than it ought to, that is putting our young soldiers at greater risk than they ought to be, without a plan to win the peace and broke his promise to go to war as a last resort.

I think that‘s a colossal mistake.

MATTHEWS:  The absence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, does that justify a statement that he did make a mistake?

KERRY:  I think the...

MATTHEWS:  Was he mistaken to think there were weapons of mass destruction there?

KERRY:  Well, everybody bought into the intelligence.  How—what bothers me about this administration is they‘ve even fought the effort to get to the bottom of why the intelligence was bad.

I mean, when Roosevelt was president and Pearl Harbor took place, it was almost instantaneous that he appointed a commission and said, “We‘ve got to know exactly what happened.”

In the case of this administration, not only did they fight against it, they‘ve stonewalled it.  They wanted to terminate it early.  And now, for some unknown, unbelievable reason, the president of the United States actually has to testify with the vice president at his side.  I don‘t get it.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s—he‘s afraid that his testimony won‘t jive with the vice president‘s?

KERRY:  You‘ll have to ask them what the real reason is.  I noticed in his press conference that he certainly didn‘t answer that question.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, they‘re not the Menendez brothers.  I mean, they don‘t have some major crime to hang—hang up.  You were a prosecutor.  You just brought me into an area of great opportunity here.

If you had two witnesses, two material witnesses, you had two, even defendants, and they said, and they were accused of operating together in some sort of theft or whatever, and they said, “Can we testify together?”  What would you have said as a prosecutor?

KERRY:  Well, first of all, I don‘t like the analogy you‘re making to the president and vice president.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I make the analogy, but generally, in terms of human nature, do you think people have good reason for wanting to testify together?

KERRY:  Fundamentally, I think you always want people to testify on their own two feet, standing alone.  And obviously, you want to be able to see what the different views are...

MATTHEWS:  But he says he never makes mistakes.  So why would he be afraid to do it alone?

KERRY:  Ask him.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a year ago.  There‘s a great picture that will probably be in our post-production here today on television of the president and the aircraft carrier.  Looking great.  He looked great.  And he said it was the end of all combat activity.

And here we are in Fallujah today, bigger than a firefight, a real big confrontation.

KERRY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Was he mistaken?  Was he led to make this mistake by his advisers, that these people are going to be happy as hell to have us be there and there wasn‘t going to be any nationalistic resistance to our—our occupation of Iraq?  Was that a big mistake?

KERRY:  I believe that it was an extraordinary miscalculation.  You know, John Kennedy took the heat and took the blame for the Bay of Pigs, even though the intelligence, again, was part of the failure.

MATTHEWS:  He fired some people, too.  He fired the chairman of the—the director of the central intelligence and his deputy, Ted Bissell (ph).

KERRY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Should this guy have fired a bunch of people for that intelligence failure?

KERRY:  Yes.  If he wasn‘t part of it.  I mean, you know, I think, and I‘ve said that previously. 

It‘s extraordinary to me that people who were responsible for this failure of intelligence are somehow still there, as if nothing happened.  There has to be some rationale for that.  And we‘re, again, not privy to what that is.

There was a gigantic intelligence failure.  And I think that it also was exaggerated.  We know that the president and the White House exaggerated material that they were given purposely, even though they were told otherwise.  We know that they gave misinformation.

And yet, the president says he didn‘t make mistakes.

MATTHEWS:  Did you ever get the...

KERRY:  I think that—I think there‘s no more important decision, obviously, that a president makes than how you take a nation to war and why you put young Americans in jeopardy.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve spoken at length and very completely about the how question.  But why do you think we went to war?  If there was exaggeration of WMD, exaggeration of the danger, exaggeration implicitly with the connection of al Qaeda and 9/11, what‘s the motive for this?  What‘s the why? 

Why did Bush and Cheney and the ideologues around take us to war?  Why do you think they did it?

KERRY:  It appears, as they peel away the weapons of mass destruction issue—and we may yet find them, Chris.  Look, I want to make it clear.  Who knows if a month from now, three months from now, you find some weapons?  You may.

But you certainly didn‘t find them where they said they were.  And you certainly didn‘t find them in the quantities that they said they were. 

And they weren‘t found—I‘ve talked to some soldiers who‘ve come back, who trained against the potential of artillery delivery, because artillery was the way that they had previously delivered and it was the only way they knew they could deliver.

Now we found nothing that is evidence of that kind of delivery.

So the fact is that, as you peeled away, I think it comes down to this larger ideological, neo-con concept of fundamental change in the region and who knows whether there are other motives with respect to Saddam Hussein. 

But they did it because they thought they could.  Because they misjudged exactly what the reaction would be and what they could get away with. 

And they did it, that misjudgment, against the warnings of countless numbers of people, including General Shinseki, who they then isolated and tarnished.  They did it against the warnings of Brent Scowcroft, Jim Baker, others. 

They did it against the warnings of his father in his book about why they didn‘t go in.  And they did it against the warnings of many of us who said winning the war is not the complicated part.  It‘s winning the peace that‘s complicated.

And I think presidents need to be held accountable for those kinds of decisions.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  We‘ll be right back with some final words with Senator John Kerry, especially about the job situation here in Ohio.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half hour on HARDBALL, John Kerry and George Bush both want to win the key battleground state of Pennsylvania.  Which way will the Keystone State go?  We‘ll ask Congressmen Curt Weldon and Chaka Fattah.

And when we return, more with Senator John Kerry as our seventh anniversary continues.

But, first, the latest headlines right now.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:   We‘re back with Senator John Kerry. 

You go through the towns of this state, like Spencerville, and there‘s only a few buildings left in the downtown areas, maybe a Blockbuster, maybe a dinette.  All the factories are old and rusting.  And can you change that or is that just the past? 

KERRY:  No.  You can change some of it. 

Can you bring back Youngstown, Cleveland Steel the way it was?  No.  Can you have the steel industry flowing the way it was?  No.  But can you save industries that are still threatened if you have an even playing field in trade?  Yes.  Can you help create a manufacturing credit to create more jobs?  Yes.  Can you help people who are dislocated with real job training and health care?  Yes.  Can you do a better job of pushing the curve of creating new jobs for the future?  Yes.  Can you put money into Cleveland and Toledo and Columbus and a lot of other cities in Ohio that need help in order to put people back to work?  Yes. 

There are all kinds of things we could do, Chris, that this administration isn‘t.  I can give you an example.  American workers, people in Ohio, are subsidizing jobs that are going overseas.  They‘re actually giving a tax benefit to the company that goes overseas.  Now, that‘s obscene.  We should be able to give the credit to the company that stays here and tries to fight and compete here.  George Bush has had four years to come here, sit down with the mayors, work at these issues. 

He just ignores them, gives a big tax cut to the wealthiest people and people are hurting more and more.  We need a president who knows what‘s really happening to middle-class America and the working people.  And we need to put people back to work.  And that‘s exactly what I‘m going to do with a plan to create 10 million new jobs in four years. 

MATTHEWS:  The other day, I bought one of those XM radios for the car and I called up to get it installed.  And I get a guy about a half-hour later.  He‘s got an Indian accent.  He‘s in Bangalore somewhere.  And it took the longest—and I said, forget about it.  I‘ll use online to get this thing fixed.

Why are we going around the world to get our radios set up or our computers set up, or why isn‘t there somebody in this town or city or this part of Ohio that can work for 15 bucks an hour?  Apparently, they‘re paying them good money over there in India to help us get our computers online or help us get our problems with high tech fixed up.

KERRY:  Chris, a lot of jobs pay so low that it‘s difficult to compete here.  But there are a lot of jobs like you just described which all things being equal, if we could reduce the cost of health care, if we could have a better tax structure, companies wouldn‘t decide to go, because, in the end, it wouldn‘t be that much more profitable or that much better. 

They do it today because it‘s part of their overall marketing strategy.  It‘s cheaper and they go and do it because the competition is doing it.  What we need to do is provide relief to our companies in America.  That‘s why—again, George Bush has had four years to address the fact that 43 million Americans have no health care.  Under George Bush, four million additional Americans have lost their health care.  He has no plan. 

He doesn‘t talk about how to reduce health care costs for Americans. 

He doesn‘t talk about how to bring those 43 million

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But is it that simple?

KERRY:  But wait.  I do.  I have a plan.  I have a plan that within three years of passage, we‘ll cover 97 percent of all Americans and we‘ll reduce the cost of health care for people today.

You know how we do it?  We have to take George Bush‘s tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, roll it back, and use some of that money as an incentive structure to do what I just talked about.  It can work.  It will happen.  We‘ll make American business more competitive. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you make health care cheaper than a phone bill?  That‘s what we‘re talking about here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Serious.  Long distance to India is cheaper for those companies than giving health care to an American worker.

KERRY:  No, but I can make it cheaper than it is today. 

Health care in America is the best health care in the world.  Technology does cost money.  New drugs do cost money.  But we can reduce the incredible rate of increase in that cost.  And we can reduce the burden on working people.  All the labor people that it talk to here, they go out and negotiate a new contract.  They just turn the money from their wage increase straight over to the health care industry.  It doesn‘t go in their pocket. 

And most Americans have seen tuitions go up about 38 percent over the course of the last three years -- 28 percent.  Health care costs have gone up anywhere from 25, 40, 60 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KERRY:  Gasoline prices are up.  And wages for most Americans are down. 

Chris, this president doesn‘t understand what‘s happening to the average person in America.  All he wants to do is do a tax cut that goes into effect seven years from now.  It will do nothing to put people to work today.  I have a plan to lower health care costs, help our schools, and be responsible about our budget, but at the same time, create jobs and grow our economy. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think this administration and its political handlers like Karl Rove are capable of realizing they can‘t beat you on the jobs issue, they can‘t beat you on foreign policy, so they are going to drop this nonsensical stuff?

Don Evans, the secretary of commerce and the president‘s good friend, said you look French the other day.  Are they going to after Teresa because she was born in Mozambique?  Are they going to try to build the idea that you‘re like Mike Dukakis or you‘re like Al Gore, a little different than most people?  You know what they did the last couple times.

KERRY:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Are they going to do that? 

KERRY:  Anything‘s possible with this crowd because they don‘t have a record to run on.  They have got a record to run away from.  I think the American people can see through it.

Maybe they ought to get really nervous in the White House, because I understand Karen Hughes was born in Paris. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

KERRY:  They better worry about it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Hah!  Tit for tat. 

Thank you very much, Senator John Kerry, in Cleveland, Ohio. 

KERRY:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with more on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the key battleground state of Pennsylvania—when HARDBALL‘s seventh anniversary coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER:  Congratulations, Chris, on seven great years.  I hope we‘ll continue to hear for years to come your trademark phrase, let‘s play HARDBALL. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Dr. Frist. 

We‘re out here in Ohio, in Cleveland, Ohio, actually, where I just interviewed Senator John Kerry tonight.  This is going to be a big, big battleground state. 

But we‘re going right now to another battleground state.  We‘re going to talk to two U.S. Congress people from the state of Pennsylvania, my home state, Chaka Fattah, Democrat from Philadelphia, and Curt Weldon from Delaware County.

Let me ask you, Congressman Weldon, this primary tonight, we‘re on both 7:00 and 11:00 East Coast time tonight, so I don‘t make to any predictions yet.  But what is the fight about between the longtime veteran, Arlen Specter and the challenger, Pat Toomey?    

REP. CURT WELDON ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, we‘re in a very unusual state, Chris.  We‘re a state that has a strong labor presence, but we‘re a very Catholic state that‘s strongly pro-life and has a strong basis of family values, especially in what we call the T. of the state. 

And what you are seeing today is a classic battle between those competing interests in the Republican Party.  Arlen Specter plays well to the more moderates in the Republican Party and appeals to many moderates and even Democrats.  Pat Toomey on the other hand has the best chance to win in the primary where he can play to the strong Republican conservative base.

But the state is indicative of this.  We have a Democratic governor, two Republican senators and a House delegation of 11 Republicans and eight Democrats.  So it‘s a state that can go either way. 

MATTHEWS:  Why has it been tending more Republican the last 10 or so years?  It used to be much more Democratic in that state. 

WELDON:  Well, I don‘t know. 

Even when we had Governor Casey, as you know, he was a pro-life Democrat who was to some extent ridiculed by the Democratic National Convention for that stand.  So the state has been one that‘s played to both sides and is a state that I think truly represents America.  And that‘s why it‘s always considered a battleground state for both parties. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to the Chaka Fattah from Philadelphia.

Congressman Fattah, if we have a situation tonight where the Republican Party in Pennsylvania is badly divided—it‘s roughly 50-50 between the incumbent, Arlen Specter, and the challenger, Pat Toomey, who is a pro-lifer, does this offer an opportunity for the Democrats to beat either man?  Joe Hoeffel is your candidate.  He‘s from the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Can he beat the winner of this bake-off? 

REP. CHAKA FATTAH (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  I think the set of conditions, in terms of loss of jobs, health care, the split in the Republican Party, a host of concerns as far away as Iraq and as close to home as mortgage foreclosures at a 50-year high, is enough of a reason that people will be looking for change in the fall. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania went for Al Gore last time, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.  This time around, I‘m looking at the numbers, Congressman Fattah.  And the latest numbers I‘ve seen have shown a tilt towards the president.  What‘s happened? 

FATTAH:  Well, look, I think that there‘s some polls across the board that say that the president is up by a few points.  I think that as a Democratic strategist and someone who is supporting John Kerry, I‘m not worried at all. 

I think what we need to do is build our base, register people to vote, continue to focus on the issues.  Republicans and to some degree the media has been buying into this distraction about what happened with John Kerry‘s ribbons or medals and all the foolishness.  But we are going to keep focusing.  And on the first Tuesday, I think we‘re going to see a major change of direction in this country. 

So it might be close, but Clinton won Pennsylvania twice.  Gore‘s won it.  Rendell just won it, and I think you are going to see John Kerry do very well in Pennsylvania. 

MATTHEWS:  As a big city congressman, are you comfortable with the fact that John Kerry has been out there hunting with a rifle showing that he‘s pro-gun or at least open to the idea of gun ownership?  Is that going to hurt you in the city? 

FATTAH:  No, it is not going to hurt us in the city.  And I think that Bill Clinton said it best, that banning an assault weapon doesn‘t have anything to do with hunters.  And I know any hunter—and I know plenty of them—that would use an assault weapon to go hunt a duck or anything else. 

So I think what Kerry is trying to make the point is, is that, with millions who have lost jobs, millions who have lost health insurance, with a three-year historic high in personal bankruptcies, we can‘t get sidetracked on these sidebar issues.  We have got to focus on the economy.  We have got to think about not how John Kerry got home alive from Vietnam, but how do we get these 135,000 Americans in Iraq home alive, because we‘ve lost over 100 since April 1. 

We‘re a year away from when Bush claimed mission accomplished.  There‘s some real need not to talk about distractions, but to focus on the main issues. 

WELDON:  Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman Weldon.

What do you think is the best issue for the president and your party?  Is it jobs and the economy coming back, if slowly, or is it the war in Iraq?  Or is that a bad issue for Republicans?

WELDON:  No, it‘s not a bad issue. 

Let me just respond once, Chris, because both John Kerry and my good friend Chaka made point of distractions with the Vietnam issue.  I respect the senator for serving his country and I hold him in high regard for that.  But I want to tell you, Chris, the phone calls that I received two weeks ago were from an elected Democrat, an elected Democrat Vietnam veteran that wanted me to do something about Senator Kerry‘s purported distortions of his own record. 

I will give you that name, Chris, off the record.  I won‘t give it to you on camera.  But it wasn‘t a Republican.  It was an elected Democrat who called me.  A lot of the concerns here are coming from Vietnam veterans, not from the Republican Party.  Again, I have the highest respect for the senator.  But I think to discount this as some kind of a Republican action is not totally true. 

In terms of the president, the economy, we‘ve gained 500,000 new jobs since January the 1st.  Every leading indicator indicates the interest rates are at the lowest level in 40 years.  Housing starts are at the highest level.  Job growth is continuing.  I would agree we need to do more to help the manufacturing industrial base.  I didn‘t support all the trade agreements that I think put us where we are today. 

But I think, with the economy being strong, we‘ll win this war against the terrorism.  Khomeini wants to undermine our efforts in Iraq as we get closer to the turning over of that country, because if we‘re successful—and we will be—then you will have Iran sandwiched in between Afghanistan and Iraq.  That makes it very uncomfortable for the radical Islamic fundamentalists controlling that country, because Khomeini and Khatami both know that 80 percent of the Iranian people want to be friends with the West.  That‘s what‘s going on here. 

FATTAH:  Well, look, what I think is going on

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Fattah, do you think that the war issue, the difficulty in Fallujah, the difficulty with Muqtada al-Sadr down there in the Shia area, the fact that a year after the president declared combat, major combat operations over when he was on the aircraft carrier, and here we are again in a bloody fight again, with high combat going on, is this a plus for the Democrats or is it a negative still? 

FATTAH:  Look, I don‘t think we should make it a partisan issue. 

There are no Republican or Democratic dog tags.  These young people are losing their lives over there because we don‘t have armored Humvees or because they don‘t have armor protection.  These are questions about the lack of focus in this administration.  It‘s not a matter of partisan politics.  The questions that we need to deal with in this country in terms of defense, in terms of Iraq, is the real question of why we‘re there anyway. 

There are no weapons of mass destruction.  The president said in his last press conference, he said, the Iraqis will not suffer through indefinite occupation.  What Iraqis are saying is, look, there are no weapons.  You have got Saddam.  You are here a year after you came.  When do we get to run our own country?  That‘s the question.  Where would you think me and Curt Weldon would be if somebody was occupying our country, giving us curfews, telling us where we could go and when we could go.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FATTAH:  Kerry wouldn‘t be the only one out with a hunting rifle. 

MATTHEWS:  But I don‘t hear Senator Kerry speaking with such clarity about the war.  Is he opposed to the war? 

(CROSSTALK)

FATTAH:  He‘s said that he‘s opposed to the way that this president has sidelined our traditional allies.  We have the French and the German soldiers fighting with us in Afghanistan.  And we have Republican leaders making light of their participation because they wouldn‘t support us in Iraq. 

It‘s wrong for us to pick and choose like that.  We need to be clear with the American people.  What Kerry has said is, we need to bring—internationalize this issue, bring the U.N. in.  I would hope that this administration would have some idea, like Republicans used to say when Clinton was president, that we shouldn‘t deploy our troops without an exit strategy.  Everyone one of them said it.  You don‘t hear one of them saying it today. 

WELDON:  First of all, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think we may hear more about that later.

Let me—Congressman Curt Weldon, thank you very much, sir, for coming on HARDBALL so often. 

And thank you, Congressman Chaka Fattah, Democrat of Philadelphia.

FATTAH:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Back with more HARDBALL right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to be HARDBALL. 

Colonel Ken Allard is a retired member of the United States Army. 

He‘s now an MSNBC military analyst. 

Colonel Allard, this fight in Fallujah, it has taken on almost a Stalingrad aspect.  Why is it so important for our troops and to our forces? 

COL. KEN ALLARD, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, Chris, for one main reason.

If you allow what‘s happened in Fallujah to stand without challenge militarily and every other way that you can deal with over there, you simply in no other place in Iraq will be able to have anything that you say taken seriously.  They have killed our troops, desecrated their bodies.  It‘s apparently a big hideout for the terrorists.  They‘ve got heavy weapons.  If you allow that kind of thing to go on, forget it. 

MATTHEWS:  So we have to take that city back and regain military control? 

ALLARD:  Either that or basically say that it‘s been a bad job, give up, go home. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It sounds like the former to me. 

Let me ask you about the leaflets.  I was struck by the language.  These are clearly being distributed in Arabic, but the English translations of the leaflets dropped by our troops prior to their entry into different parts of the city say: “Surrender.  You are surrounded.  If you are a terrorist, beware, because your last day was yesterday.”

That doomsday language, is that usually effective? 

ALLARD:  Sometimes it is.  What you are trying to do really is to get these guys to give up without a fight. 

But I just have to tell you that every time we try and do this over there, seemingly our psychological operations backfire, because the last time that we told these guys, hey, give up your weapons, go home, go back to your families, that‘s exactly what they did, right before we had the major part of the invasion.  Those are now the guys we‘re fighting on the lines across these street kind of barriers. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think the irony is that we would rather they had stood and fought.

ALLARD:  Absolutely.  If we can get them to stand and fight exactly where they are right now, that‘s going to save an awful lot of time and trouble on down the line, because how in the world, given what‘s happened in Fallujah, do you simply let that kind of thing fester and then say that you have any hope at all of turning military responsibility over to an Iraqi government?  Forget it. 

You have to take these guys on.  You have to defeat them.  And you have to be very visible about the way you do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the immediate tactics being followed as we follow the events from here the United States, Colonel.

The attack on those positions, those sites within Fallujah, I guess it‘s offense against—it‘s preemptive strikes, basically.  Those people have been shooting from those points and we have to overrun them.  Is that right, as I understand it?

ALLARD:  Well, the one thing that you want to hope for is the fact that we don‘t simply just go in there like as if we were kind of just leading with our chin.  We have some tremendous weapons and you saw some of them there today. 

You have got the C-130 gunship.  It‘s a devastating weapon.  We simply don‘t have to put infantry in there on point, although, I would tell you that, at the end of the day, you are going to have to put infantry in there to subdue what‘s there in Fallujah right now.  There‘s no substitute for that.

MATTHEWS:  How many troops—if we go in there walking arm in arm, basically, with Iraqi soldiers, we basically try to build a constabulary, a stabilizing force of Americans and Iraqi nationals...

ALLARD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... how many does it take to hold down, to stabilize, a city like Fallujah, which is totally hostile to our purposes?

ALLARD:  Well, I‘ll tell you, that‘s an awfully good question. 

My take on it is this, that we were originally putting in the Marines.  They were a force of about 1,200.  I think they‘ve been radically reinforced since then.  I hope they have been.  But Fallujah is a city of 250,000 people.  You don‘t subdue that with 1,200 guys.  I don‘t care how good they are.

But I‘ll tell you what.  If you then take the kind of forces in there that I know we have available to the commanders over there, you combine that with offensive airpower, then you have got something which—I don‘t care how brave those guys are.  They basically then face the choice of stand or die. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about that latter option.  When you read the papers, “The New York Times” the other day, this weekend, talked about young Saudis going into Iraq to fight.  Has this become a magnet?  You know the battle for Madrid back in the 1930s between the left and the right for control of that country.  Does this kind of a festering situation real zealots to come in from all over the place to fight us? 

ALLARD:  It‘s a good question, Chris. 

My answer is that it will if you let it go on for very long.  One of the reasons why you have to defeat this enemy decisively is that the longer you let it go on, it‘s like a festering wound.  And the longer that that infection is permitted to exist, the worse it‘s going to get.  You need to take these people on.  You need to put them down.  You need to do it now.

MATTHEWS:  You know, a year ago, the president was on the aircraft carrier and declared the end to all major combat operations.  Is it fair to say, without being partisan here in any way or too critical of the Pentagon, that we are, in fact, involved right now with major combat operations again a year later? 

ALLARD:  I don‘t know what else you would call it. 

The whole point is with land warfare is the fact that the enemy always gets a vote.  He always gets a chance to come back at you.  Unless they‘re totally stupid, and they‘re not, they come back at you with the kind of low technology that they can use and use very, very well.  They‘ve read their history and they understand that they‘re the ones who are going to live there.  They are going to be there the longest.  And if they have got the staying power that we lack, they are going to win. 

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s the problem with fighting an overseas war.  We eventually come home and they always stay. 

Thank you very much, Colonel Ken Allard, U.S. Army, retired, MSNBC political analyst. 

Tomorrow night, we have got Bill Maher, a whole different story, coming on the show.  He is doing a great job on HBO.  He‘s going to come on HARDBALL tomorrow.  And then on Thursday, a big guest on Thursday.  We have got Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  We‘re going over to the Pentagon to meet him on his turf.  That is going to be one great show Thursday night, Donald Rumsfeld.  Tomorrow night, Bill Maher. 

And I want to thank everybody for watching tonight with John Kerry. 

We‘re going right now to the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END   

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